There are, of course, two relevant considerations in giving a lecture:  the ideas and the form.  Each has its own difficulties, and while they are inextricably linked, the form seems to pose the greatest challenge to me.  I may be able to think of interesting ideas, but ordering them is an enormous challenge for me.

It’s the same in writing, of course.  Ideas and content.  The word and the flesh.  We name those compositions prosaic that let the word linger with an anemic form, that embody the ideas in stunted and sickly flesh.

Bullet points.  Itemized lists.  Subheadings.

It’s all ordered, of course.  But it’s boring.  Tonight, after giving a lecture, I realized that I want to give symphonies, not lectures.  Sound the opening theme, devel0p the antithesis, turn them both inside out, and bring all the different melodies and harmonies together in a fitting conclusion that returns to the main theme with a new depth, a power, and an intensity.

That’s the sort of writing that, when I am writing well, I enjoy the most.  It weaves together several themes and explores the relationships between them, and attempts to bring clarity to the manifold nature of reality through that process.

Of course, symphonies are hard on the audience.  In a world that values simplicity over all, the complexity can confuse more than clarify.   It’s easy to get lost in the middle of the theme’s development, especially if you don’t know the genre.

But I for one want to write symphonies.  It’s easy for this to degenerate into pointless rambling, but if the ideas are both true and deep, they can support and sustain exploration from various vantage points and perspectives.  And that allows for a symphony-like structure to emerge through the lecture.

I didn’t get there tonight.  Not sure I ever will.  But that’s my goal.  And I’m sorry if you find it boring.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. A worthy goal. Unfortunately our culture and education system teaches people to think linearly and in bullet points. Watching (listening to) the process of a tapestry being woven demands people pay attention.


    1. S-P,

      Yup. I agree that it’s demanding, but the interesting thing is that if you do it, people tend to pay attention. That’s partly why people are still watching Lost. They appreciate and can go with the complexity, as long as they’re persuaded theirs something buried in there worth getting at.


  2. You do want to write fiction then, not non-fiction.


    1. No, Eric, I want to write good non-fiction. :)


  3. That is a noble goal Matthew, and I think an excellent recognition of the critical place of Form.

    Have you given a serious reading to Hans urs Von Balthasar’s The Glory of the Lord? The first of the seven volumes is called Seeing the Form.


    1. I.J.,

      Haven’t read it yet. It’s been on my list for a while….but I’ve got a lot more Barth to get through first. : )



  4. I like “smart” television, but Lost has lost me. I think it made the connections too difficult to follow. Same goes for a lecture: one can weave it together, but one can’t make the threads too fine.

    The problem is that the speaker can’t really gauge ahead of time how fine his threads should be and must leave room to improvise. So what you really want to give is a partially improvised symphony. That sounds easy.


    1. Gary, good points. An improvised symphony is exactly right, I think…


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