Hey, guess what? It’s November, and that means my latest book is finally here! I’m sure you’re all dying to get your hands on a copy of this magnificent treatise on faith’s place in a fast-paced digital culture. It’s basically like Me Talk Pretty One Day and Eat, Pray, Love got together and had a baby, and that baby was this book.
Just kidding. It’s absolutely nothing like that. Seriously, don’t buy this book based on that idea. If anything, buy this book because you feel bad for me. Being a full-time writer is awesome and I love it, but it’s not a big moneymaker. (Unless you’re Neil Gaiman. I like to imagine him swimming in a room full of gold coins; in fact, I assume his publisher is contractually obligated to pay him in gold coins for just such a purpose.) I write some fiction, and I still dabble in poetry (even though trying to sell poetry is like choosing to stand in the stocks and have rotten fruit chucked at you), but my bread and butter is worship resource books.
It’s pretty sexy work, I know. I don’t talk about it much here because religion is a touchy subject, and the moment people even start breathing in that direction, it gets heated. I do my best to steer clear of the topic since I never want anyone to feel pressured to agree with my perspective on the matter.
For the record, my opinion is that faith is a mountain with an infinite number of paths; the top of the mountain is not God, but a place where respect, tolerance, and justice coexist. For me, God is everywhere and accessible to any and all interested parties. My faith in God doesn’t conflict with my belief in scientific fact or my desperate hope that I will someday get to meet an alien. I have friends of many different faiths, and I have friends who are atheist and agnostic; I love them not because of what religion they may or may not practice, but because, like me, they believe all people deserve equal rights and a healthy dose of compassion.
That being said, I often struggle to live up to that in my day-to-day life; it’s gotten to the point where I notice the opportunity to be a more generous person but walk straight past it because, for whatever reason, the opportunity makes me feel uncomfortable. As it turns out, my faith is all about radical discomfort. There is very little room in it for lip service; the path is all about action, and the seed for this book came from a desire to explore what that really means.
It turns out, that’s a huge question, and not one we could tackle in a single book. As we talked about it together, and turned to others to hear what they had to say on the matter, we began to focus on an idea that I love: How do we climb out of the out-dated confines of a faith we grew up with, as individuals and in community? And as we do it, how can we translate that faith into something less focused on tradition and more connected to real-world need?
When we started this project, I was overwhelmed by a desire to connect to a more radical, messy, challenging faith than the one I experienced on Sunday mornings. I love my church and my denomination, and I know that many people involved in it are doing great work living out the verse my husband and I requested for the benediction at our wedding:
What does God require of you
But to act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)
But I didn’t feel like I was doing enough of that. I was practicing a safe, comfortable, childish version of my faith, and I didn’t know how to change. When we wrote this book, we called on people of all ages from around the world to help us dig into something real. When I read over the page proofs at the beginning of October, I was reminded that the best part of this experience has been reading what they wrote. We asked for prayer and practice, and our contributors came back to us with a raw faith that inspired me. The end result wasn’t a complete answer to the puzzle, but it gave me hope.
This book isn’t a step-by-step guide to faith. It’s more like a party where it’s completely acceptable to discuss the stumbling blocks on the way to the mountain top. It’s a place where, by silent agreement, we looked around and said, here, it’s okay to fall apart, or to be on the way to dying, or to simply be trying to live a life that’s a little more thoughtful. It’s alright to be clinging to constant, avoidable failure even while others dance chaotic, arms-outspread rejoicing for tiny, nearly forgettable blessings. Once I arrived, I realized I’d found my tribe – people as troubled and lost as I was who hadn’t given up hope.
Now, I know this isn’t a book for everyone, and we wrote it knowing our audience might be small. I’m okay with that. I’ve published six books in this vein, and this is by far the one I’m most proud of. Given that fact, if any of you are interested in buying a copy (or four – to subsidize the poetry, you know?), hit me up in the comments and I’ll point you in the right direction. For those of you who aren’t, we’re still good, right? The world is full of books on lighter subjects, and I promise we’ll be back at them next week…