I GOT A BOOK CONTRACT ... and our pipes backed up
I have big news.
I SIGNED A BOOK CONTRACT WITH FORTRESS PRESS.
The book is part of Fortress' Theology for the People series, which Fortress describes this way: "it's theology, broadly conceived, and it's for the people-- that is, for everyone. We are bringing readers and writers together around the topics of God, truth, reality, ethics, and sacred text, and we catalyze conversations around ideas that matter."
Basically, it's a perfect fit for me. It's an opportunity to tell stories to people both inside and outside the church; to Christians and non-Christians; to people interested in stories about people, about truth, about God, and about life.
It brings together my journalism and reporting background with my theological and pastoral training in a really beautiful way. And I am indebted to a number of folks at 1517 Media, Sparkhouse and Fortress Press for giving me opportunities along the way: Beth Lewis, the CEO of 1517 Media, for meeting with me this summer, getting me in the door, and listening to my sort of whacky book pitch; and Tony Jones, well-known Christian writer and speaker in his own right, now the Senior Acquisitions Editor for Theology for the People, and the person who took my whacky book pitch and made it into an even bigger project than I could have ever conceived of on my own - who believed in me, "got me" creatively, and gave me my first chance to do what I've always dreamed of doing.
I was that person who always said: well someday I would like to write a book. I never imagined I'd begin doing it at age 32, but it seems God has other plans for my life.
Wondering what the book is about? The working title is Red State Christians: Meet the Voters who elected Donald Trump.
You are going to be hearing a lot more about this book over the next year. I am in the process of planning several reporting trips across the country to meet people, learn from them, tell their stories, and figure out how the Gospel and Jesus is speaking in the midst of their stories.
My original book idea that I shared with Beth and later with Tony was a more narrowly focused look at Orange County Christians. My time as a Pastor in Orange County shaped me deeply. I still miss my congregation in Yorba Linda, Calif., dearly, and it was in Orange County that I believe I gained a new closeness to God and a new understand of the Holy Spirit.
I also experienced political polarization while in Orange County, and I saw the destructive ways that politics could distort the Gospel and divide Christians; I saw how politics could make people question their own faith; and I saw politicians use religion for political gain.
So I approached the project with a real internal tension. If you have read this blog or my writing, you probably know that I have struggled with Trump's appropriation of evangelical Christianity. I have heard him speak words and support legislative or judicial actions that seem to marginalize and oppress people, particularly people of limited means, people of color, immigrants, and women. That is by no means a comprehensive list. I have doubted Trump's own commitment to his Christian faith, and I have wondered how Jesus might push back against American Evangelicals who have supported actions against marginalized groups.
All that said, the tension inherent in my original proposal was this: I simply love, admire and have learned from many Christians who voted for Trump. Many of you are in my family. Many of you have attended churches I've attended or pastored. Many of you are dear friends. My faith has been shaped by Evangelical Christianity. I preach with screens and worship with guitars because of my roots growing up at Baptist summer Bible camp, and at Lutheran congregations that operate much like Evangelical churches. I've attended the Catalyst conference and the Exponential conference, two of America's largest Evangelical Christian conferences. I often feel more at home among conservative Christians than I do among liberal Christians.
From Christians who voted for Trump - and churches that have been places where Trump support is strong - I have also seen incredible examples of hospitality, of meeting people where they are, of lifting up voices of people of color and women -- despite official theology that often does the opposite.
So I admit that I've been at a conundrum as well in this political cycle. A homeless Evangelical if you will.
I've heard Christians on both sides of the political divide say this: They just don't understand us. They don't understand me. And they never will.
When I met with Tony about my original proposal, he said he had a bigger - but related - idea, and with my journalism background and my heart for conservative evangelical Christians - he believed I was the right person to write this book. He pitched the title Red State Christians, and in a follow-up revised proposal, I pitched the subtitle and a possible breakdown of chapters and people/places to include. Don't worry, I'm not planning on writing about friends or family -- though if you're interested, or have someone you think I should talk with, please do let me know!
The book is scheduled to be finished by January 2019.
One question I always get from people is why did I leave sportswriting to become a pastor? I tell them the story of sitting on the media bus on the way back from the Super Bowl in Tampa in 2009, and still thinking about seminary -- even then, even there.
I also tell them that I see a lot of parallels between the two callings in my life. I believe God has called me and equipped me to tell peoples' stories. When I was a sportswriter, sometimes athletes and subjects would share with me about their faith. And I could kind of sort of touch on it, but I couldn't tell the Gospel story in their story, because I was a secular reporter.
So I tell people that I see my calling into ministry in a similar way. That I'm still a storyteller, that I still - as I did as a journalist - seek to tell the truth. Now I get to tell the greatest story, and the greatest Truth, of all. I love to do that through the stories of ordinary people, from all different walks of life.
One of my goals for Red State Christians is not to talk to the people who are always featured in the media. No Jerry Falwell. No visit to Liberty U. Instead I want to talk to real people across the country. People in rural Lutheran congregations in Pennsylvania. People in border towns in West Texas. People all across the country who want to call on Jesus, but who have different political convictions than I do when it comes to Trump. I will tell their stories with compassion, but I will never lie or cover up the truth. My goal is that this book promotes understanding, as a journalist, and as a pastor my goal is that this book somehow conveys the truth of the Gospel - and how it is both lifted up and brought down in the stories of conservative Christians across America.
There will probably be some people who show an ugly side of conservatism. I'm betting there will be a lot of folks who also show the face of Jesus in conservative Christianity. And I trust that the Holy Spirit will speak through all of this information to make a contribution to a Christianity, and an America, that is both less polarized and more justice-focused.
So that's the book. I am super, unbelievably excited, and I wanted to share it with you as the beginning of a journey. My first reporting trip happens next month, to Washington, D.C., and I'll share more about that as the details are finalized. Would love to connect with many of you as I take these trips.
I also wanted to share about this book to share just a little insight into my personal journey to becoming an author. In 2014, shortly after beginning my first faith blog and having some pieces picked up by Red Letter Christians, a progressive evangelical movement and website - I was invited to attend Red Letter's annual Speakers Gathering. I felt totally and completely intimidated as I read the bios of the other attendees. They'd all written books. They'd all spoken at huge Christian conferences, pastored large churches, were activists and movers and shakers - walking the walk as well as talking the talk of being Christian leaders.
Here I was, former sportswriter with my puny little blog.
I looked at the process of writing a book much like I once looked at getting married or having children, or even becoming a sportswriter or becoming a pastor. I thought - wow - those people have it made. They could never understand me or my problems, working with this tiny, older Lutheran congregation. Spending hours at council meetings discussing the cleaning service or pest control. Fighting destructive church gossip. Canceling a worship service because it only had 15 regular attendees, on a good day ...
I remember thinking similar thoughts when I was single. Those people who are married, they could never understand me. They've got it all.
Or when I was searching for a pastoral job: these people with pastoral calls, they never get it. Everything is so much easier for everyone else.
And all my life I sort of had this pervasive idea that once this next big thing happens, I'll be set.
So I spent my 20s moving across the country, from one job and one opportunity to the next. I got married and had two babies. It's all been incredible. And then we finally settled down and bought a house in Minneapolis and I thought: ahhhh, OK, this is it.
And then I could. not. get. a. call. I came here with the intention of working part-time in a church and it just wasn't working out. Most churches wanted full-time. The latest blow came just a day after I met with Tony the first time. A church I'd been meeting with for months, and even attending with my family, pulled out my opportunity at the last minute. We went from discussing finances and start date to boom! No job anymore.
I was devastated, embarrassed, and overwhelmed by financial anxiety. I hated going to church Sunday mornings and being embarrassed to answer that I didn't have a church to pastor. And I was still mourning our California congregation. I'd left there knowing that it would be tough to find a fit for me like that church.
Meanwhile, my writing career was taking off. I'd been contacted by multiple publishers for book proposals. I'd been published in the Washington Post and appeared on national Canadian TV. Nearly every day I received a new request for an article or blog assignment. I was writing curriculum as well, and finalizing speaking engagements for 2018.
It was pretty clear. God had a new path for me, one I'd always dreamed of, but also one that came with risk and fear, and financial and emotional anxiety.
I learned something about authors this week like I had learned earlier about pastors and married people and really ... just about people.
We've all got crap to deal with.
See this is a funny story. A few Fridays ago I was sitting on our couch waiting for the plumber to arrive. We'd woken up that morning to OLD FOOD BACKED UP IN OUR LAUNDRY SINK. Yes, it was extremely bizarre, but when I went to the basement to start a load because Josh had peed through his overnight diaper again, I found the sink full of lettuce and oatmeal, and a flood starting in the corner of the laundry room. My plumbing engineer husband figured out it was a clogged pipe, but we had to call someone with a snake to unclog it. We also found another dead mouse that morning, so it was sort of a banner day.
It was at that moment, sitting on the couch, when I received an email attachment:
Your book contract with Fortress Press.
It was fitting.
When Tony and I talked this week to finalize the contract, I missed his call because I was vacuuming. Then later, I signed the contract. I permitted myself some silent jumping up and down. Then I changed Josh's diaper and finished cleaning the toilet.
Because really, no matter how high you get or how much you achieve -- life goes on. We are neither the sum of our high points nor the devastation of our low points. I am God's precious creation when I am being rejected by congregations and when I am being offered book contracts and speaking gigs.
I am God's precious creation when I bask in the glow of waking up at home with my two little boys: the space God has created in our family for me to be home with Jake and Josh as I write this year and explore a freelance writing and speaking career.
When Ben makes me a spreadsheet to organize my assignments: the engineer way to say I Love You.
When my parents, just 30 minutes away, become a part of our every day - making reporting trips possible for me.
When I jump up and down and when I bury my head in the pillow, depressed and feeling alone - God is somehow within it all. For that I am grateful, and for the opportunity to continue to explore where Jesus is leading me now.
Merry Christmas, friends.