I’ve been following someone for a few years now. From the anchor desk to the halls of power, from backstage to the network, I have been on the heels of the words that have drawn me in and kept me. I’ve been listening to how Aaron Sorkin has been writing. If you’ve been listening with me, you know that there is something tangibly forceful in his words. I’ve wrestled to put flesh to bone, but when I heard Sorkin articulate his writing aim, I finally had vocabulary to describe why I loved it so. Sorkin appeared on Fresh Air in 2012 plugging his latest work, The News Room.
GROSS: So what about you? Why did you want to set a show in a newsroom?
SORKIN: I like writing idealistically and romantically, and if you can do that in a place that’s usually looked at cynically, the way journalism is now, you can get something fun out of it.
GROSS: Why do you like writing idealistically? Another example of that would be “The West Wing.”
SORKIN: Sure. It suits my style. I like writing about heroes that they don’t wear capes or disguises. It’s aspirational. You feel like, gee, it looks like the real world and feels like the real world. Why can’t that be the real world?
That was it – it looks like the real world and feels like the real world, written idealistically and romantically…in a place that’s usually looked at cynically. As if he dared to write how he wished the world would be.
Lately I have been re-watching The West Wing, and in hearing Sorkin’s aim – I realized what exactly was stalking me through the halls as I followed others. I like writing idealistically and romantically, and if you can do that in a place that’s usually looked at cynically, the way religion is now, you can get something fun out of it.
I’ve also been following Jonathan Edwards this last year. Specifically his view on the power of the imagination, how the language used by man to communicate has immense force to illustrate ideas and realities that are beyond tangible grasp. The imagination, loved by creatives and lost by seminary students. Edwards spoke of the discovery power of the imagination – the ability of words and phrases to illustrate for the mind the images of the everyday as they pointed towards the image of the Divine.
This is why Sorkin’s language rings in my ears, because it is written to be heard, intended to leave you a bit unsettled because you are engaged at every comma and enthralled at every period. Edwards believed that the pastor’s words were to take the everyday experience of the person in the pew and use it to point to the nature of God. The imagination discovers something it cannot create, but will continue to discover for eternity.
For all my listening and all my reading, the puzzle for me is why our words are so weak. We hear of the beauty of Christ, we know that there is something there to be understood, but we have a hard time seeing what it means in the concrete. Tell someone that Christ is their treasure, not their possessions or their family or their job, and there is little framework for them to comprehend. Their hearts are tied up in all those things. We speak to the mind with language of the heart, but the heart is engaged elsewhere.
Then I came across this gem from Tim Keller’s work, Preaching the Gospel in a Post-Modern World:
If the people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. It means they have not truly understood what it means that in Christ we have all riches and treasures. It means their ‘affections’ are clinging to material things–their souls are inclined toward riches as a source of spiritual security, hope, and beauty. They may have superficial intellectual grasp of Jesus’ spiritual wealth, but they do not truly grasp it. Thus in preaching we must re-present Christ in the particular way that he replaces the place of material things in the affections. This takes not just intellectual argument, but the presentation of the beauty of Christ. Edwards believed that at the root of the heart’s affections was the search for ‘excellency’–that which is appreciated and rested in for its own sake. Edwards essentially defined a nominal Christian as one who finds Christ useful (to get those things the heart found ‘excellent’ or beautiful), while a true Christian is one who finds Christ for who he is in himself.
There is a reason that our hearts swell when writing enflames our affections, when it helps our imagination discover what we could not see before. Edwards knew it, and he knew the human heart. Sorkin knows the heart, and in his best moments he touches the edges of beauty, but not what is truly beautiful.
That is the work of the preacher, to point to what is truly excellent. There is a particular work of the Spirit that gives this sight, and he has chosen to do it through preaching the Word. We are speaking about the hero who needs no cape, who entered into the real world that we might know true ideal and romance in his excellency.
We follow beauty, and Christ is most beautiful, so let us use every syllable to paint the colors of his excellency in the minds of our hearers. It would be a shame to do otherwise.