I have big news on this week's blog.

After nearly a year of research and writing, I HAVE COMPLETED MY MANUSCRIPT for my upcoming book, Red State Christians!

This is my "I'm gonna be an author!" pose ...

Now, before I go into total hysterics and excitement, I realize that this is but one (HUGE) step along the journey. Now that I have submitted my manuscript to my editor, we'll go through several months of editing and promotions, making sure that the right people have review and pre-release copies of the book so that it can be shared with as many people as possible. I'd love your help with this!

I am so incredibly excited for what is yet to come, and I am so incredibly grateful for what I've already experienced as part of writing this book. I have traveled all across America, in some cases to cities and places I'd never been before. I even drove across the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and I ended my last big chapter just a few hundred miles from Canada in rural New Hampshire.

I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the book is full of surprises, and one of my goals for everyone who reads the book - whatever your background - is that you are open to being surprised, learning where your preconceptions about red state Christians or about yourself may have been wrong. I also hope that reading the book opens you to further engagement with people who think differently than you do. I think that idea goes hand in hand with grace, and with the idea that we all can start from a place of humility and openness -- without ignoring the real presence of evil and manipulation of the Christian story in some corners of America.

Much, much, MUCH more to come from me and from the awesome folks at Fortress Press.

That's about all I can summon today, writing-wise. The other truth about writing the book is that it has been tough. I've been working basically a second full-time job, without being paid a regular salary for my writing work, just a small advance. My family has had to deal with missing me for research travel and writing time, and we've all made big sacrifices to make this book happen, including my parents helping out a lot with taking care of the boys. My church, Easter, has supported my writing with enabling a part-time pastoral schedule, and my colleague pastors have also supported me as I write and attempt to pastor at the same time.

I am looking forward in the weeks ahead to a little slowdown, even as I know many edits and questions are still to come. Our family will be heading to Missouri for Thanksgiving, and now that I've finished my manuscript, I'm looking forward to turkey, brisket, football, and Boulevard beer in Kansas City and with our Denker/Reagan relatives, and maybe some Flathmans, too. We have so much ahead for the Christmas season at Easter, and I'm really excited to have the chance to preach some family services at the Lake campus on Christmas Eve.

One last thought. One common thread throughout Red State Christians is this idea that God through Jesus is constantly surprising me, and surprising all of us, by using what we last thought possible as a means to advance the Gospel (like, remember, death on the Cross!?).

Now, spoiler alert, this doesn't mean I think Donald Trump is King Cyrus. But it does mean I recognize that the Holy Spirit is at work in all sorts of inconspicuous and under-the-radar places, forming all sorts of unexpected alliances between all sorts of unexpected people.

Still, I think I know too much all the time.

Lately, I've said a few times to a few people that one thing I really super hate is when liturgical churches try to add liturgical elements to contemporary worship, such as call and response liturgies, unison prayer, or sung liturgy that is attempted to be adapted and made "contemporary." Most of the time, it just falls flat, like the guitar version of "Lamb of God," with cymbals.

But today at Bible Study we read Psalm 51:6-12. And all I could hear in my head was the guitar version of the liturgical song, "Create in me a Clean Heart," sung around a campfire in Northern Minnesota.

Create in me a cleeeaaannn heart 
Ohhhhh oh oh God
And renew a right spirit within me

I was indubitably moved. Suddenly I was right back there, a little girl at church camp, singing louder than I ever had before, unashamed to say yes I loved Jesus and yes I believed and yes I wanted to renew a right spirit within me.

There was nothing fake about it; nothing that fell flat.

I realized in this remembering, my own hypocrisy. Sure, in general I hated when liturgical churches adapted liturgy to try and fit contemporary worship. But in particular, I loved it, and in this song I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. It's much more difficult to hate things - and people - in particular than it is to hate things - and people - in general.

It was a reminder to me of the same thing I had written about last night in my book. That sometimes God speaks in spite of us. That sometimes what - or who - you think you hate is the source instead of love and revelation.


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