When teaching at Ezell-Harding, I assigned research papers and often used essay questions on tests. Writing well leads to thinking well, I told my students. Before you can write you must first think, I stressed. Though a few papers and tests each semester clearly demonstrated that the students hadn’t communicated anything in their writing (one can only imagine their thought processes…but that is another story), by and large it went pretty well. A few students remarked how they even liked it (bless their souls). For what I was trying to accomplish in my classroom, writing was a means to an end. I wanted my students to begin to think well about Scripture. I wanted them to begin to become life-long learners, equipped with some basic skills for reading Biblical narrative, or poetry, or letters. I wanted them to leave my classes with both a desire and a confidence to love God with their minds. I used writing as a tool to move them towards that goal.
Writing is a discipline I try to maintain precisely for the reasons above. I also like to write (chalk it up to the Ice genes). I’m working now on C. E. W. Dorris because I think he made a significant contribution to Churches of Christ and no one has yet told his story. His story needs to be told, and it needs to be told well. Furthermore, telling his story forces me to search out the primary documents, read and sift them, and then present what I find in a clear, readable and compelling way. I must also interact with the larger story of the Stone-Campbell movement and Churches of Christ not to mention the social and cultural milieu of the American south 1860-1960. How about that for a writing project? I think for my purposes chronicling his life and ministry will be about all I can do. It is one contribution; hopefully others will add to it, change it, revise it, expand it…better it. I think if we explore our past and interact with it in a critically responsible way, we will find much in it that can teach us. But it all comes down to caring about our past, searching it out, writing it up and then sharing it. The better we do that (all of that)…I think…the more apt folks will be to listen and learn from our history. The task demands excellence and good writing is a tool useful for the goal.
Chris Heard makes helpful suggestions for better writing here (scroll down for a few additional posts; he has also tagged them under ‘writing’).
Mac is Special Collections Librarian and Archivist at Abilene Christian University.