If you wait for inspiration to write, you are a waiter, not a writer. Among many other things I learned from Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life during my junior year of high school, this one has stuck with me. I know I am a writer, and was drawn to preaching because I can both write and speak compellingly about the love of God.
Since joining The Young Clergy Women Project (now called Young Clergy Women International) in 2014 when the convention was held in Minneapolis and I was about to go on leave from call, I have seen writing a book as what is next for me. YCWI has a connection with Chalice Press, a small, progressive publisher that wants to change the world through books that give a progressive take on subjects that are perhaps more loudly discussed by conservative Christians.
What is my expertise for such a book? I wondered. I had been a mother for two to three years or so, when I came up for air after our youngest’s demanding first year of life and was ready to attempt it. Since we adopted first, and I am a voracious reader, I had been looking yet found quite a vacuum of helpful, progressive theology about adoption available in book form. I organized myself, made a letter of inquiry, was invited to make a full proposal for a book on “adoptheology,” and got a very positive rejection.
We usually reject proposals based on quality of writing or relevance of content, however this is not the case. While there is a case to be made that everyone in the world should buy this book, we believe a niche market would actually buy it, and doubt our ability to market it to financial viability. We suggest sharing the content via articles or in blog form. (paraphrase)
So, that is what I have done (see my list of publications). But I was still stuck on the subject, and hatched the idea of folding it into a broader concept about the “our church is a family” metaphor many, many churches seem to use, for good and for ill. I’d include all the subjects my clergy peers lament insensitivity about, like: how to include families whose members have behavioral issues without alienating them; how to openly talk about and do solid theology with families who separate or divorce, find faith language for multi-racial, multi-ethnic families that would guide our churches too, etc etc.
My basic push was that not just church leaders, but lay Christians as a whole can and must do better theology in practice, and I would sneakily use the metaphor they already use about themselves to convince them to better embrace those who have not experienced belonging. Heh heh heh.
After writing an article on “Preaching Adoption” for Working Preacher, for which our pastor’s spouse is the content editor, he and I launched a series of articles for preachers to talk about all kinds of “lived experiences” that we don’t talk about theologically nearly enough, which creatively fed my new book proposal.
Before working up a proposal on this expanded version of a book, I gave myself a timeline for building up “clips” or credits for online articles, and reached out to all the contacts I could think of, and all the subjects I can speak on authoritatively. A workshop at the Collegeville Institute certainly helped me grow in understanding on those things.
This fall, when my pile of credits had grown sufficiently, I heard that another publisher was looking for book proposals for “Theology for the People.” Since I think the “church family” is a concept that mostly lay people need to unpack themselves, I believed my book proposal fit the bill.
The acquisitions editor was really gracious. She even invited me to think about how it could be broadened to not just about the congregation. But it was clear that my subject was the church. The board of this imprint at the publisher feels strongly that only church professionals read books about the church. Lay people who are not employed by the church read books that help them lead more meaningful lives. This threw me for a bit of a loop, but slowly it has sunk in. I can’t make people read a book in which I am trying to convince them to care about practicing better theology and love towards their neighbor. A book is not like a sermon, where you give them what you think they need, given the Scripture, then deal with the fall-out or lack of response. People are only going to buy and actually read a book that promises some kind of self-improvement that they already want to achieve, or to speak to their situation in ways they didn’t know how to express on their own.
The acquisitions editor sent my proposal on to her colleague who handles books for church professionals, but I never heard from them. Shortly thereafter I read the “Fall Books” issue of Christian Century magazine, noticed, and got myself a copy of the newly-released book Adopted: A Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World. Written by a progressive Christian who is both an adult adoptee and an adoptive mother in a cross-racial adoption, I am loving it so far. She definitely should have written this book, more than me, and it encompasses helping the church to identify as an adoptive family, without it being about the church.
Driving to have coffee with a colleague, I had an idea for an article: “Theology for Parenting the Strong-Willed Child.” I mentioned it and he immediately said, “I’d read that and share it like crazy!” Last week I sat down to write that article, and wrote a different one instead, “Breastfeeding God,” which I sent to Red Letter Christians, an outlet another colleague suggested. But RLC does republish blogposts, so I put it on my blog and it has generated the most traffic of anything I have written yet (over 400 separate visitors in 3 days). It is resonating with people who don’t even go to church.
Why did I think I needed to write to the church or about the church when I am pretty frustrated by it? I am pleased to be at home with my kids and writing, and just doing occasional fill-in preaching or teaching in congregations. I do not need to justify my ordination or decade of ordained leadership by writing within the constraints of the same stagnation and incremental improvement I left. I am grateful for the authority that credential and experience gives me. But I have other expertise too, as a trained writer, as a person trained to think theologically, as a parent – both through adoption and birth, and as an involved community member in a diverse neighborhood.
I have a new angle, a new direction for a book proposal, and feel really excited about it! Meanwhile I’ll keep writing. And perhaps the third time will be the charm.