A New Pitch

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent.”

—C. S. Lewis, from God in the Dock

Back from SD Festival of Books with treasures to help with the writing: a book on publishing, my novel manuscript, and of course coffee.

Back from SD Festival of Books with treasures to help with the writing: a book on publishing, my novel manuscript, and of course coffee.

Last weekend, I returned to a goal I’d nearly forgotten, thanks to a dead British apologist and a pastor often referred to as the “Methodist Pope.”

The latter refers to Adam Hamilton, far and away the most successful church planter in United Methodist history. Every year, his Church of the Resurrection hosts a leadership conference that is akin to UM Mecca, where church leaders from across the country gather to drink in the wisdom of church rock stars. It’s a family reunion of sorts, at least for those of us with much time in the business.

But I am one of the black sheep in the UMC, and I couldn’t bring myself to join the flock at COR. These are mostly good and well-meaning people, of course. But I find myself increasingly distanced from my denomination’s definition of both success and ministry. The thought of another COR “training” event made me cringe.

Instead, I decided to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books—in particular the “Pitchapalooza” event that allowed authors 60 seconds to pitch their manuscripts to a duo of publishing veterans.

The book I chose to present wasn’t one of the churchy proposals I’ve worked on in recent years, worthwhile though those projects may be. I chose instead a novel I’ve been writing (and re-writing). The market is already flooded with church books by church writers for church readers, as a quick review of the COR presenters attests. Fine people, I’m sure. But I wanted to do something different.

That’s how I remembered a line from C.S. Lewis (above) that I’d first read in college. In his view, we need fewer specifically Christian books. Rather, we need books by Christians who excel in their fields, whether science or literature or any other discipline. When written so that their Christianity is assumed by the text rather than imposed upon it, such books, he believed, will have a bigger impact on secular readers than even the most cogently argued book on Christianity.

Create excellent work, and trust that the excellence itself will point to Christ. What a wonderfully subversive thought!

Twenty years ago, I told myself I would be among those who answered Lewis’ calling. But somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked, letting go of fiction for the sake of lower-hanging fruit in Christian publishing.

Working on my novel pitch and presenting at the Festival of Books reminded me of my first love. It’s a more difficult path, at least to traditional publishing. I may never see a book in print. But my experience at Pitchapalooza reminded me how important it is to try.

The world is counting on Christ followers for good news, even as they shut out the voices from within the church. Perhaps there is a revolution coming, one in which less churchy writers point others to Christ through the excellence and subtle faithfulness of their work.

If such a revolution is coming, I’ll gladly make my pitch to join it.

Longhand

File my no electronic weekend under “seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I woke up Sunday morning in a hotel in St. Louis. After a grueling start to the school year, I’d hatched a plan to spend Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in baseball therapy. That is to say, with the Cardinals, and without digital distractions. I planned to spend Sunday morning exploring downtown, possibly including a stop by a church.

What I didn’t plan on was the rain. By 8:00am, it was coming down in sheets with no sign of stopping. No good walking, and no way to get the car out of the parking garage without losing my space. On a normal day, I would use this unexpected free time to take out the laptop and do some writing.

Only the laptop was two hundred miles to the south, on the kitchen table next to my tablet. And I had promised myself that I would leave the phone powered down except in case of emergency. I wouldn’t be typing anything.

So I did something I haven’t done in ages. I found a pen in the drawer and some blank paper in the courtesy business station. I sat down at the desk, and I got ready to write. Then I got up and brushed my teeth. And sat down again. And got up to take a shower. And sat down again. And got up…

You get the idea.

I have heard second-career students fret during their first semester about being back in the classroom after X number of years, worrying about taking notes and taking tests and being able to dust off their ability to learn. As I stared at those blank sheets of paper and searched for any excuse not to sit down and write, I found an analogous feeling settling into my gut.

The problem, as I have diagnosed it, goes back to appearances and judgment. When I am typing out something and part of it doesn’t work, I can delete it with a simple swipe of my touchpad. That awkward phrase or sloppy sentence—exactly how many adverbs can one clause hold?—disappears as though it were never there. The screen remains tidy, with spellchecked words and style-proofed sentences and crisp margins to inspire plenty of confidence.

Not so the handwritten page. Once I finally put pen to paper, I found myself constantly scratching out and scrawling in. When I’d finished (or better said, when I’d run out of paper), I was left with a jumble of bad handwriting and scribbled notes that made me wonder if I had done anything at all worthwhile. Every mistake remained on the page, pitifully hidden beneath a scribbled swirl. Anyone who looked at those pages was bound to think, “Whoever wrote this doesn’t know a thing about writing.” It was quite humbling.

And glorious.

I have not yet had a chance to pull those pages from my luggage and go over their content to see if they are worth uploading for other eyes to read. But this I do know: they are real. They do not exist in digitized format on my online storage site. They cannot be deleted with a keystroke, and no one will confuse their appearance with something masterful. But they reflect, more than anything I’ve written in awhile—this blog post included—the processes of creativity, the necessary mess that ideas create. What a refreshing reminder!

Perhaps I will file them away somewhere, in some actual folder. Maybe entitled, “Seemed like a good idea, and actually was.”

The creative process--not nearly so neat as it looks when fanned out.

The creative process–not nearly so neat as it looks when fanned out.