Part one of two
“Now is not the time for bad theology,” a classmate of mine said. He was recalling a story of being comforted about the death of a friend. People responded to their own fear and uneasiness with platitudes like, “He is in a better place,” and “This is God’s will.” Why do we feel the need to cling to these Christan-ese easy answers? And this isn’t just with the discomforts of death…
We are beginning our trek together of learning how to be practical theologians. We’re reading for hours each week, writing papers and studying the culture around us. This is my life and will be. I am seeking to understand how the world works and how to bring a little more healing into it. Easy answers no longer sit well and oftentimes feel like they bring more hurt and false comfort than reconciliation into the world. They tiptoe around the deep emotions we don’t know how to express in a healthy way.
One way I am wrestling with this is with my writing, my creative non-fiction writing. A genre publisher after publisher has broken up with me about. I got the ole “It’s not you it’s me,” line from two people who had gotten to know me fairly well in the past months. Well, I should say, they knew my work. These people were high up at two prominent publishers. They reviewed the proposal I sent in for my newest book. We chatted past the perfunctory conversations, moved into final approval, and then seemingly headed from the DTR to the commitment phase, I was abruptly let go.
These are just the latest in a string of similar interactions. I walk a weird line where I am not willing to sacrifice my values and faith for profit. I won’t be put in a box to sell books to a mass market. Of course, I am flexible and a learner when it comes to areas I don’t know – I will change a title; I will accept edits. But there is a line where one can lose her identity and I’m not willing to go down that road.
The Christian publishing world is a weird one. Sorry, but it is. It is a tension-filled industry where you have to know markets and numbers and profits and sometimes at the sake of the message an author really wants to tell. If you look at the best-selling Christian books right now, there are quite a few on there with prescriptive messages: Heaven-exists-types and 30 ways-promises-prayers to improve- unclutter-bless your life. It is a reassuring type of faith that sells; it doesn’t want to ask for discomfort. It becomes inspiration outlined with formulas.
I don’t seek to convert people in my writing. I tell stories which educate and hopefully build understanding. I’m burnt out on books detailing what is wrong and what is right. I want truth, but the thing is, truth comes with risk and personal discipline and interpretation, not a checklist.
I love books about the Eucharist and heady academic endeavors about theological contexts, but so many people don’t. I want to make these messages accessible to more people, but also treat people like they can think for themselves. But here is the thing about the Eucharist: this table does not invite comfort; it’s not a checkbox activity – it calls us into awareness. It was what Jesus did right before he gave his life… it pushes us to see suffering, to see what needs healing. Eucharist is not a template for reassurance. It is a reminder to be uncomfortable – to open our eyes to who is at the table around us: friend and traitor as well as who is not present and welcome all of them.
We want to cast votes for issues and read books about platforms without even understanding people who have dealt with said issues. I’m not an issue/platform kind of girl. I don’t like formulas; I like critical thinking with user-friendly, responsible research. I live for honest relationships. This is why I write how I write – I have no interest in making this book something to comfort people for my own gain. I want to tell our story. I can’t tell you what happens in the afterlife because no one really knows until we get there. I can’t write out 31 prayers that will help you because I don’t know you.
Maybe our story is too much of a niche talking about things like remodeling a house, meeting our neighbors, and raising chickens… but somehow, it doesn’t ring true when books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and others like it are inspiring faith-filled conversations nationwide. I’m just not sure why Christian markets are seemingly scared to push this message out there – one where we care about a life-lived intentionally in the details; a message non-Christian publishers have adopted interestingly enough.
What I do know is this: we spent the last four years descending into a lifestyle of figuring out what it means to live in the seasons of our life. The ups and downs, the messes and fights along with the small victories and lessons. We’re not trying to arrive anywhere but rather to seek out what it means to live into who we were created to be – and who I am created to be is a person living in awareness of learning to understand. I am called to be a disciple – not a convert.
…more of what I mean about that in a couple days…