Disrupted by Julie Anderson Love

This is cross-posted from the RevGalBlogPals site.

This is, on one level, a very extraordinary story. In Disrupted: On Fighting Death and Keeping Faith, Julie Anderson Love battles a brain tumor, something that most of us will not have to undergo, especially in the third decade of life. Love moves us with medical accuracy, spiritual awareness, and emotional depth through the painstaking decisions and healing.

On another level, however, Love’s story is an ordinary one. She is an Associate Pastor, she clashes with the Interim Senior Pastor, and he retaliates. Let me sound the spoiler alert here—if you have not read the book and want all of it to be a mystery, you can stop reading.

The heart of our discussion resides in the fact that the church fired Love while she was fighting for her life. Yes, you read that correctly. They took away her insurance and her livelihood while she had a brain tumor. When they should have been bringing her casseroles, flowers, and cards crafted by Sunday school children, they brought her a pink slip.

When Love’s pastoral counselor recounted the devastation that she had been through that year, he was pretty sure that the brain tumor was less traumatic than the church letting her go in the midst of it all.

As stark and traumatic as Love’s story is, what’s even more difficult is that we hear about this stuff happening all of the time. Something similar has probably happened to many of our dear readers. When it does, we are told to be quiet, gloss over it, and move on as quickly as possible. Most of us do. Then we try to negotiate a new job, entering another church, becoming a chaplain, or dropping out of the clergy ranks altogether. But does all of this playing nice help in the long run?

I don’t think so. I mean, it helps in our particular circumstance (and looking after yourself is the most important thing in these devastating situations). The opportunities for secure employment increase when we don’t make much of a fuss.

But how does it help clergy in general when we constantly cover up the sins of our congregations in order for us to come out less scathed? I think we need to find creative ways to be able to break the silence that so often enshrouds our positions.

We all know stories that make us shudder–women who have been sexually harassed, fired without cause, or paid unfairly. How can we tell these stories and still protect our positions?

Reading this book made me thankful that Julie Anderson Love was able to break through that code of silence under which we work. She told her story, with courage and honesty. She did not shy away from all of those secrets that we often have to keep. And for that, we all owe her.

Quick thoughts on writing…

I’m writing a lot right now, but I’m underground. I’m putting something together that will emerge in book form some day… but I’m not one of those authors who can put up her thoughts on a blog while formulating a book.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate and rely on the opinions of others. It’s that I appreciate and rely on them too much. I’m easily swayed by the comments you leave. Which is wonderful, once I have sorted out what my own voice has to say about a matter, but if I stay in constant conversation while I’m writing, then I tend to never settle on an idea long enough to write it down.

So, I found that I need to let a book grow inside of my belly, let it have some strength and maturity before I can expose it to the world. I have to have some confidence in my own opinion, thoughts and ideas, before I publish them in any form.

I’ll be checking in again soon. I have a couple of things out there that I’ve written that I’ll be cross-posting.

Until then… here are some writing goals that I’ve been concentrating on for this week.

Guard your thoughts gingerly and carefully until you’ve done your research, soul-searching, and put something on paper. See above.

Make space. This might mean calendar time, physical space, or psychological energy. It might mean turning off the Internet so that you can work (I literally have to unplug the modem and go to another part of the house so I won’t be tempted to plug it back in).

If you have to let some drama at work slide so that you can write, then let it slide. (Pastors have an endless source of drama that we can obsess over if we want to avoid writing.)

If you’re in the middle of something that is taking your time and energy, and it would be unhealthy to avoid it, then put it in the creative laboratory. Try to dissect your thoughts and feelings. Open yourself up like that frog in ninth grade, and try to examine the parts. What is your stomach doing? How does your neck feel? Can you label those raw emotions? Don’t publish it, but get it on paper as much as possible.

[Aside… I keep saying “on paper,” but that’s an irrelevant term now, isn’t it? How much of our writing actually makes it to paper?]

Say what you need to say, without trying to figure out the political ramifications. I just wrote a post about this for Two Friars and a Fool, so you can read that later when it’s up… but I’ll quickly say that many times in my writing, I have been told to pretend that I’m something that I’m not in order to sell more books (usually, I’m told not to write anything that a conservative Evangelical might not approve of). I’m glad I never followed that advice. And neither should you.

If Only You Were More Educated, Then You Would Agree With Me

I was sitting with a woman—a Mainline Christian woman—and we were chatting about my background. I explained to her that my family is politically and theologically conservative but that I had changed many of the views that I grew up with as a young adult. She shook her head, sighed, and said, “Well, people just need more education, that’s all.”

It’s a common mistake that progressives make, but I really wish we would stop it. More education did, indeed, make me become a more progressive Christian. But I always cringe when I hear progressives say, “Well, they just need more education” when it comes to political, sexual, or theological issues. Why?

•We are assuming that conservatives are uneducated, and that is not true. We are way past the point in our country when we can make those assumptions, and it’s naïve to do so. In D.C., there are plenty of conservative religious think tanks, with highly skilled and educated men and women who have been pumping out articles for decades. But I cannot think of many progressive religious think tanks. Only a few come to mind. Please correct me if I’m wrong about this…but religious progressives seem to be woefully inadequate in this area.

•When we assume conservatives are uneducated, that makes us arrogant and unattractive. I write for the Huffington Post, and often, when I put up a positive article about religion, inevitably a rash of atheists will break out to tell me how unintellectual I am. The logic is that if I were educated or if I were an intellectual, then I would think like they do.

Does this make me want to run out and join the Dawkins book group? No, it does not. It just makes me roll my eyes and think rather poorly of atheists. Which is too bad, because I rather like the atheists that I know in real life. I am not anti-intellectual, anti-science, or anti-education, and false assumptions that I am are annoying.

We do the same thing as progressives. Imagine a Midwesterner who went to work as a car mechanic instead of going to college, because he realized that he could make a whole lot more money as a mechanic in his town, and come out with a whole lot less debt. Would it be attractive to him if we said to him, “If you had an education, you would think like us”? No, it would not. We need to begin to accept people for who and what they are. We don’t need to go around imagining that if they would better themselves than they would look like us.

•If we really believed it then we would be better at resourcing education. If you’re a church professional who has been to seminary, it’s easy to find wonderful, scholarly work on all sorts of areas that are important to progressive ideals.

If you want to hand something to your members, if you want to educate them, you’re out of luck. I often hear people on Twitter asking, “Does anyone know of a progressive resource for (fill in the blank—marriages, same-sex partners, parenting, finances, devotions)?” And then the only response is “if you find out anything, can you let me know?” When I bring this up to people who might provide the resources (scholars, publishers, etc.), they say that they don’t want to “dumb down” their material. They are providing resources for a scholarly audience.

The problem with this idea is that the people in our pews are not dumb, they are just not educated in the same things that we are. I could not pick up a biology textbook and get much out of it. Why do we expect that the biologist in our pews should have to pick up a theological text, written for a handful of people at AAR and expect to understand it? Why do we expect that mechanic–who can fix my car when I have a difficult time finding the dipstick–to understand it? Sometimes the books only seem to be written so that other scholars can check the index to find out if their names appear in it.

When I met a representative from a denominational publisher, the first thing he told me was, “We would never publish one of your books.” It was a strange thing for him to say, since I had never sent in a proposal or even made an inquiry. I mean, to get a rejection out-of-hand like that seemed odd.

I laughed and said, “Why?”

He answered, “Because we only publish scholarly work.”

On one hand, it felt like a personal rejection that I’m still reeling from a couple years later (I’ve told the story countless times to others who have received rejections). But on the other hand, it was a clear statement of strategy on behalf of denominational publishing that had nothing to do with me, personally.  And so it also made me wonder a deeper “why.”

If we believe so much in education, if we believe that it is transformative, why aren’t we providing education for anyone but those who are already highly educated?

Reframing Hope Has Arrived

I’ve been told that my new book, Reframing Hope is now at Alban’s distribution office (you can get the first chapter and a great deals on it here).

It was a very fun book to write, because I was so excited about the topic. But it was also challenging. I talk a lot about social media, so I felt like it was important to be fully engaged with blogging and Twittering as I wrote it. And since social media can be a total time suck, it often took over my writing hours. I started speaking and traveling more, because Tribal Church did well, so that often took my days off. Then there was that weird second book thing. There can be a bit of pressure, internally and externally, to make your book better than the first one. With your first one, you can labor away in obscurity, but with the second, there are expectations…. Through it all, I’m pretty sure that I threw away more pages than I wrote (that’s not usually how I do things).

Eventually I learned to balance my time a bit more and turn off the Internet when I needed to. I even realized that I don’t need to put up a blog post every day, and it’s okay if I don’t respond to every comment, even when the comment is critical of my work (that was very freeing, indeed). I learned to turn down some speaking engagements. And I got over that second-book thing. And after a good long time, it’s out.

Now, I want to thank you all for your comments and conversations. They have fed me throughout the process. The book and article recommendations, your reflections of when I was on point and when I was off, the interview suggestions–it was all of great value as I put the manuscript together. I struggled as I wrote the acknowledgements for the book. Some of the people were easy to point to. There was, of course, my family, my husband, Brian Merritt, and my daughter, Calla. Diana Butler Bass wrote a great forward, and I was humbled by the kind endorsements of Phyllis Tickle and Paul Brandeis Raushenbush. Ruth Everhart, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Jan Edmiston, and Leslie Kingensmith were all a part of a writing group that I attended as I formed the proposal. As I wrote, I worked closely with Bruce Reyes-Chow and Landon Whitsitt on God Complex Radio. They are pastors, true techies (I’m not so much), and the former Moderator and present Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). They both have a unique perspective on the church. I learned a great deal from them, both in practice and long conversations.

But other people were a bit harder to point out. Ryan and Meredith Kemp-Pappan have been great friends and support throughout. And there were networks that I was a part of and struggling with as I wrote: RevGalBlogPals, Presbymergent, Beatitudes Society, D-mergent, Outlaw Preachers, and Transform. Each one of them, in their different ways, are faithfully sorting out what it means to be church in this time and place.

It’s sort of overwhelming when I imagine the great network of people who have encouraged me and fed me throughout. I think of those people in the Bible—the prophets, slaves, and outcasts—who ended up in the wilderness. They were hungry and exhausted, and somehow a raven came with bread, or manna poured down from heaven, or they miraculously saw a well in the horizon. I know I’m far from the wilderness, and I’m no slave or outcast. I don’t want to be too dramatic about all of this… but I have to say that I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when I think of all the generous spirits of the people around me. People who have said kind words, linked to articles, extended invitations, and sent emails. On many dry and anxiety-filled days, these things nourished me more than you could know.

I cannot thank you enough.

How to Get Published

Recently, I’ve had a lot of people picking my brain about how they can become a writer/speaker. Here’s what I tell them… or what I wish I would have told them, depending on the situation.

1) Have something to say. Yeah, I know it seems obvious, but there are a lot of charismatic people out there who… well… don’t have much to say. You don’t want to be one of those.

How do you figure out your message? Well, pray about it. If you listen to someone else speak, and you get really, really angry, figure out why. Is it because they are not saying it the way that you would? How would you say it? Listen to your own petty jealousies, because they just might be directing you. Think about what gifts that you bring to the ministry. Do you have a unique perspective because of your religious background, age, ethnicity, technological skills? Have you done some interesting activism? Is your church growing? Do you have artistic, poetic, or musical skills? What do you have to say that the church is dying to hear? Be certain that you’re passionate about the subject, because you may be speaking about it for a long time to come.

2) Produce work. When you know what the topic is, then begin to read everything you can on the subject. Don’t just limit your reading to church books. Reach outside of our field and find out what other experts are saying as well, because sometimes the most interesting work is done when a religious leader takes cutting edge research and then reflects on it within his or her context. Then, start to write. Blogs have lost a bit of steam, but they are still an excellent way to get started when you don’t have another platform. Writing a blog can get you into the discipline of working every day. You can rework blog posts for magazine articles. And, for a while, more people knew me from my blog than my published works.

While you’re at it, begin to use Twitter as a public figure. Yes, Twitter matters. Talk to people. Unlock your privacy settings. Put your real name, position, and blog on your bio. If you’re used to being semi-anonymous on Twitter, it may take some of the fun out of it, but it’s also a powerful tool in making publishing connections. I have a wonderful friend who randomly Twittered his book idea, and a publisher contacted him. I have been contacted three times by publishers who are interested in my work because of Twitter.

3) Get published. Once you have your blog up and running, look for other places you can be published. We all think we know more than Elizabeth Gilbert, and we want to be the ones with the New York Times bestseller and big movie deal, but we may not be able to get a contract with Penguin right away. But there are places you can get published. There is a ladder. It’s not that hard to climb, but you may have to start on the bottom rung. Look at your denomination’s weekly newsletters. Are there respected religious blogs that you can write for? Often if a publication is not paying its writers and/or it has to publish often, then they’re always looking for good stories or book reviews.

Publishing (like so many things) is in a strange transition at the moment. Most publishers are having a hard time figuring out their strategies during this Internet age. This makes them very wary to publish authors who don’t sell, but it may also be helping them take a chance on newcomers. At least that’s how it seems. I don’t know… what’s your sense of this?

4) Don’t back-stab (i.e., I just changed “we all know more than Elizabeth Gilbert” to “we all think we know more than Elizabeth Gilbert”). And certainly don’t backstab in public. I said to be aware of your petty jealousies, but don’t blog about how much you hate another author. (Just to be clear: I love you, Elizabeth Gilbert). You might only have six people reading your blog, but one of them is the person who set up the blog alert to find out the feedback on his book. The religious writing world is very, very tiny. If you want to write, then you may have to be careful with your snarky comments. Of course, you can write something like this sweet homage.

Don’t write a nasty review of an author’s book on Shefari, and then turn around and ask her for a contribution to your blog. She read your review. And she might be your editor one day. Even if she’s not your editor, she may be making editorial decisions about you. (Publishers–large and small–contact me regularly to ask me what I think about certain authors or book ideas. And I’m just a small fish. I know I’ve advised against authors who have been rude to me. Not out of pettiness or vengeance, but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to their work.) You may criticize in broad terms, you might have a constructive dialogue, but don’t throw your hope-to-be colleagues under the bus. It might give you a short-term audience, but it makes you untrustworthy and it might destroy you in the long run.

5) Help and ask for help. You have a great amount of power in this new era of publishing. You can write a good Amazon review. You can Twitter when you’re enjoying a book. If you want to be a published author, help to promote the authors you enjoy. Some authors might ignore it when you do (authors often ignore me), but the smart ones will pay attention. I have scored big interviews for God Complex, because I’ve helped the author promote his or her book. I’ve made great friends this way too.

When you’ve been working hard on proposal, ask for help. And women, I’m talking to you. For some reason, it seems that men contact me for help often, and women rarely do. I mean, really close friends will send off a proposal without asking for my help. What can a seasoned author do for you? He can look at the query and proposal and tell you where your mistakes are. Often, he can make a contact with the publishers and put in a good word for you. Of course, you need to build a relationship with the author before he or she will do this. And some authors don’t have the time. There have been situations when I can’t get back to someone with advice, because I’m swamped. If I’m one of fifty people copied on an email, I’ll ignore the request. I can give advice as one person, but I don’t have time to be part of a survey. If you don’t hear back from an author, don’t take it as a failure, it’s just the nature of writing. The workload is often feast or famine, and when it’s feasting time, then the writer has to concentrate hard on prioritizing. He may not get back to you, but that’s probably not because your work sucks. It’s probably just because the writer has put it on the back-burner and forgotten. Or they don’t have the time to help new authors.

And… that’s my advice for publishing, but I’ve gone on too long and haven’t gotten to speaking. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow. So, what would you add?

Around and on the Horizon

As different opportunities come up, I am coming to the startling realization that there are only a certain number hours in the day, and the hours that were once filled with blogging are now filled with other stuff.

But, I do want to let you know about the other stuff. I’m writing for the Huffington Post’s new Religion section. I was happy to see that my first post on Miriam’s Kitchen made it on to the first page. At least for a while. (Scroll down. Below the Lame Oscar Moments, below the Hustler article. Keep scrolling… there.) There will be a link to my blog on HuffPo, but I’m not sure what it is yet. I’ll be writing there a couple times a week, so I’ll let you know.

Also, God Complex Radio is doing really well. Most recently, I interviewed David Batstone about Not For Sale and the modern abolitionist movement. Coming up on Friday, we’re celebrating Women’s Day with an interview with Cynthia Rigby on the life and legacy of Mary Daly. Ryan Kemp-Pappan is also on that episode. And, I had a chance to talk to Eboo Patel for a podcast that will be coming up on the 19th. And if those amazing people are not enough to get you to iTunes to subscribe, then you surely will when I tell you that Serene Jones will be on a couple weeks following Eboo.

I’m doing a monthly post for Duke Divinity’s Faith and Leadership blog.

And… finally… I want to let you know that I’m going to be at Stony Point on March 21-23. I’ll be leading a seminar, along with Rick Ufford-Chase on Ministering to the Missing Generation, and registration is still open if you’d like to come.

Theopoetic

The study of theopoetics fascinates me. Scott Kinder-Pyle first introduced me to the word, although as a lover of literature, poetry, and God, the idea has always compelled me.

In exploration of this idea, I am hosting a conversation with two wonderful Poets on God Complex Radio today.

Ted Kooser is a National Poet Laureate, and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Literature. My husband knew him before he was famous (or at least before he was famous outside of Lincoln, Nebraska). He was Brian’s poetry professor, and his instruction had a great affect on the way that we preach and write. I owe him a great debt for that.

Nancy Arbuthnot is a poetry professor at the US Naval Academy. Her talent as a writer is matched only by her gifts as a teacher. She teaches poetry at Miriam’s Kitchen and Calvary Women’s Services. She teaches children, teenagers, and adults. And, she is going to teach us some techniques as well.

Join us live, today at noon (EDT) if you can. If you are not able to be there live, you can pick up the download by clicking on the BlogTalkRadio box on the right-hand side of this blog.