Newspapers, Food, & Churches: An interview with Ted Shockley, part 2 of 2

Version 3In the previous segment of this interview, I talked with Ted Shockley, publisher of Eastern Shore First, our new local paper, about his approach to his work and the way that the community is changing.  Ted has a preference for print (as opposed to online news) and I was particularly impressed with the way he sees a page layout as a visual representation of the community, with businesses existing side by side as they do in real life.  He’s also got an eye for the humanity of the people he covers in those businesses.

In this segment we talked about newspapers, food, and churches.  You know—-the essentials.

So, how has it been?  Working on your own, is that a good thing?

It’s exhilarating. It’s hard to describe, because I’ve always felt like when I worked for any publication, I worked for them like I owned it.  I always wanted to go home and say I put more into it than I got out of it.  I always felt that way until it was my publication.  I like it when it’s up to me to pass or fail.  I like that challenge.

I don’t want to be challenged in anything else.  I was never a great student, and I don’t want to do any chemistry, and I don’t wanna be challenged in any other area.  But I enjoy writing and communicating to a community. That’s been a fun challenge for me.  I like it coming down on my shoulders.

Fortunately, the reading public has responded very well.  It’s been very humbling that people responded the way they have.

Well, I think it was something we needed, right?  

Thank you for saying that.  It’s probably a bad analogy, but I think of this as food.  This is locally grown, organic, farm-to-table journalism.  There are not huge corporations.  There are no investors.

No antibiotics.

No antibiotics.  This is organic.  People want that in a dining experience, and I hope they also want it in a reading experience.  I think of it like delivering a food.

You do the photos?

I do the photos.  I’ve worked with people who are fantastic photographers.  I’m an adequate photographer,  just trying to catch moments.  When I go to an event, I really want to take pictures of the people there.  I might go and cover a concert, and never take a picture of the singer.  I might take a picture of everybody in the audience, because I really want smiling faces.

Yeah.  

FullSizeRender 2When I was a kid and worked at the Eastern Shore News, I would go to Assateague in the summertime.  I had a summer job there for three years, and they let me write summer stuff.  I would go to Assateague, and I’d take pictures of people, and I’d never get their names.  That’s like taking half a picture.   If you don’t get their names, you really don’t have much.

That’s really good.

I also want, whenever possible, when I write about somebody, I want to know who their parents are.

That’s an Eastern Shore thing.

I want to put them in the paper.  If you’re in the ESO ballet, and you’re one of the stars, I want to say you’re the son or the daughter of so-and-so, because nobody does that.

I am doing a story in next month’s issue on the Eastern Shore bakeries.  We have these wonderful bakeries.  I’m talking about an authentic bakery experience where you walk in and the smell.

All of them agreed to do it.  So, I walk in and I’m talking to Shirleen [at the Anointed Hands Bakery].  She looks at me and she says, “You don’t have on your green shoes.”  I said, “How did you know that I wore green shoes?”

She said, “You don’t remember writing about me?”  I said, “Well, I remember the green shoes.  I remember the year.  It must’ve been 2012.”  She said, “You wrote several stories when my son was burned to death.”  I said, “Well, I remember exactly talking to you.  I remember all of those stories.”

It’s good to talk to people three years later, four years later.  These people who you had covered during their worst moments of their life.  And now, they’re successful and happy, have found this great calling, and created this great business.  That was humbling to go talk to somebody who…you were there for their worst moment.  Now, you’re going to write about them in their best.  She’s a great person.

Those are neat stories.  I know that the mainstream news is important, and we need people to cover when things catch on fire, people die on the roads, and when there’s a shooting.  But I want to write about the new bakeries.

That was humbling to go talk to somebody who…you were there for their worst moment.  Now, you’re going to write about them in their best.

Okay.  

I’m glad to see that there are places [like the Crossroads Coffee Shop where we are meeting right now].  I mean, you can have a McDonald’s experience at any town in America, but we have places that can only be experienced here on the Eastern Shore.

My analogy for newspapers, in addition to restaurants, is that they were like churches.  You have these traditional, faithful readers and they are getting older.  What does this church do, what do newspapers do to bring in younger readers?  I don’t know the answer.

I started from scratch.  It’s a lot easier to start a newspaper from scratch or start a church from scratch than it is to change this 150-year-old tradition.  How do you change that without making everybody mad?  Because you’ll alienate the people who are your bedrock supporters.  And I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I see them playing out everywhere.

One of the movements within churches is to try to get outside the building; moving into places like this which are third spaces, they call them, which is not a private space.  It’s not a church space, but it’s a third kind of space where community can happen and where connections can happen.  

So, we’ve been encouraging people to take their Bible studies into restaurants and coffee houses, and make connections with people who you just meet incidentally.  Even  meetings.  I do a lot of meetings out now.  It’s a whole lot less of a barrier for somebody to walk into a place like this than to walk into a church if they haven’t been there before.

Right.  I’m always looking for these parallel roads.  That’s a good way to think about something like this.  It’s almost like a third space where, as you said, community happens.  Community is a hard thing to make happen.

And when you try to make it happen, it’s forced and artificial.

It’s not very organic.

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Ted’s Truck

When it rises up from relationships, that’s different.   Because we talk so much about needing to get younger and needing to reach people of different generations, sometimes older people hear that as an indictment against what they’ve done and who they are.

It’s all about finding the right words to make everybody part of it.  About finding the commonalities. It’s just fascinating, because it’s so easy to find the words that exclude and really hard to find the words that include, in my opinion.  What are the words to make people want to be a part of something?

It’s so easy to find the words that exclude and really hard to find the words that include…What are the words to make people want to be a part of something?

I hope it’s not sacrilegious to align my newspaper analogies with church, but if people leave and say that they’ve been bored, your church doesn’t survive, and your newspaper doesn’t either.

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Back to the Cross: The Inclusive Vision of Fleming Rutledge

 

yY623rKO_400x400If the theology podcast Crackers & Grape Juice has any redeeming value*, (and Lord knows they have interviewed some questionable characters in their brief existence—primary evidence: their January interview with me!), it is the recurring “Fridays with Fleming” segments that have introduced the Episcopal priest and theologian, Fleming Rutledge, to a wider audience.  With her Tidewater Virginia roots resonating in her every word, Rutledge makes an enthralling and poetic conversationalist, touching as easily on literature and the arts as on theology.

Beneath the gentility and on the page, however, Rutledge is a lucid and systematic thinker who has a preacher’s knack for communicating difficult theological concepts.  That’s nowhere more present than in her 2015 book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.  It is a massive tome filled with footnotes, but every page and every note is worth it for the comprehensive journey the reader takes with a gifted and entertaining author.

51EUda6wF3L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Rutledge’s primary conviction is that the cross of Jesus Christ stands at the center of the Christian story.  Her primary worry is that, in our efforts to divert our attention from the cross—its violence, the way that it has been captured by a narrow, individualized, evangelical message—we have lost the richness and fullness of biblical motifs that would help us understand why it is so central.  “No one image can do justice to the whole; all are part of the great drama of salvation,” she says.  “We need to make room for all the biblical images.” (7)  And so she does.

You will find here sacrifice and substitution, the themes that make many mainline theologians nervous, but you will also find a thorough-going apocalyptic vision that reclaims Christus Victor language, not as an exclusive lens for seeing the crucifixion, but as a dominant one.  Rutledge finds her way to this by reviewing Paul’s neglected language of the Powers and by taking seriously the cosmic conflict of God and the Devil.  “Most biblical interpretation in the modern age has been done as though there were only two dramas personae,” Rutledge says, “God and humanity—thereby demystifying the New Testament, which presents three.” (377)  Rutledge wants to have us be witnesses to the invasion that is taking place in the Incarnation as God confronts the powers of Sin and Death.

Rutledge has heavy-hitting theological partners on her side – Karl Barth and David Bentley Hart, but she has Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison as well.  Her argument is for inclusion of voices and against the flattening tendencies of so much post-Enlightenment discourse.  “Much of today’s literal-mindedness is doubtless owing to the fact that fewer and fewer people read novels and poetry,” she says. (211)

So the authors and theologians mingle with the preachers in these pages, all seeking something more than a pristine plan.  There are no innocents in human history, Rutledge emphasizes frequently.  “An eight-year-old can see more clearly than some of the rest of us that well-meaning programs for improving the human species are not going to accomplish much besides making the designers of the program feel good about themselves.  We don’t need a program; we need deliverance from this whole cycle of violence and vengefulness.  Humankind needs to be saved from itself.” (308)

It is for this reason that Rutledge comes to an appreciative evaluation of the theme (biblical!) of substitution.  Surprisingly, she quotes a passage in Barth that brings home the implications of the motif with psychological insight:

“It is a constraint always to have to be convincing ourselves that we are innocent, we are in the right [and] others are in one way or another in the wrong…We are all in the process of dying from this office of Judge which we have arrogated to ourselves.  It is therefore a liberation that…[in Christ] we are deposed and dismissed from this office because he has come to exercise it in our place.” (519)

In a land and a time in which the greatest victory any one side of the Great Divide can claim is the marginal satisfaction of knowing how wrong the other side is, such an insight as this feels like a deep inhalation of the Spirit.  Freed from being innocent, we are capable of participating in a story that is ultimately not about us, or perhaps more accurately, far more than only about us.  It’s about a God who goes the distance, to Death itself, and thereby raises the dead.

In a land and a time in which the greatest victory any one side of the Great Divide can claim is the marginal satisfaction of knowing how wrong the other side is, such an insight as this feels like a deep inhalation of the Spirit.

There’s far more here.  Evil, hell, the wrath of God—she tackles them all.  But there is poetry and light and fodder for a hundred sermons and more.  This is equally important and lovely.  It makes this book great.

*There is actually much to recommend Crackers & Grape Juice and its 4-person hosting crew of United Methodist pastors – Jason Micheli, Taylor Mertins, Morgan Guyton & Teer Hardy.

The Future is Print: An interview with Ted Shockley, part 1 of 2

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Alex with Ted Shockley, publisher of Eastern Shore First

Last week I got my hands on the second edition of Eastern Shore First, the new, local, free paper in our community.  People will tell you that newspapers are dying, particularly those that rely on old-fashioned print.  But Ted Shockley, the visionary publisher (and writer, editor, photographer, and marketing department, among other things) of ESF is somebody who believes in the importance of community and the place of a local paper in helping create it.

I sat down with Ted at the new Crossroads Coffee Shop in Onley recently to interview the interviewer.  (Ted has a long history in the local newspaper business, primarily with the Eastern Shore News.)  I found someone who is unabashedly upbeat, from his affirmation of local businesses to his psychedelic pickup truck that he is painting with his son.

He is a bit of a homer.  Don’t get him started on Guy Fieri and why he won’t be eating at the Food Network star’s new Norfolk restaurant.  (Hint: How many times has “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” come to Delmarva? Bigger hint: None.) But talking to Ted I was grateful for those who see the possibilities of this place and operate out of that vision.

So, how do you describe what you’re doing?  What is Eastern Shore First?

FullSizeRenderIt’s just a vehicle, just a truck that picks up the good stories of this community and the good businesses of this community.  It transports those stories and those businesses to a big audience.  There are so many really neat businesses around here and there are so many really neat stories around here.  They need that transportation that a monthly, upbeat publication can provide.  So, it’s really just a box truck of stuff that I distribute, that distributes the stories.

But it’s not a Chamber of Commerce publication.  It’s a lot more than that.

There’s a difference between a “chamber of commerce” publication and our [Eastern Shore] Chamber of Commerce publication, which are really directories of businesses and services.  And they’re particularly well done.

So, it’s important that this be different from that.  The term ‘Chamber of Commerce publication’ means that the sun is always shining and everything’s always great, and lives usually aren’t that tidy.

Yes.

So, I can foresee this [paper] talking about challenges overcome, but you talk about the challenge, too.  The Shore certainly has those.  But the people that I’m spotlighting next month…they’ve overcome challenges that have happened in their lives, and they’ve persevered, are doing well and have a story to share.  Maybe that’s different from ‘it’s sunny all the time.’

Right.

This is decidedly upbeat.  There are very good journalists and very good publications on the Eastern Shore that write about critical issues that might not be upbeat, and I don’t want to replicate what they do.

But do you think of this as local journalism?

Yeah, there’s a journalistic aspect to it.  The stories are chosen independent of outside influence.  So, that makes it journalism to me.  Journalism could take a wide range of forms.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be Watergate.  It can be an education to the public.

So, for you, what makes a good story for this paper?

IMG_6298For me, they’re the stories that are quintessentially Eastern Shore.  They’re the stories about businesses, about people, about the environment, and about our geography that affirm why I like to live here.  There are a lot of little stories and I think that they define why a lot of people like to live here.  We look through these publications like this and say, “This is a good community because of these people, these businesses, because of this geography, because of these natural resources.”  And it’s kind of fun to know more about that if you like it.

Even when I was a kid, I enjoyed reading the local paper. I looked to the local paper to really describe what a community is—the Zeitgeist of the community.  I wanted to create that.  I wanted to create a paper that, when people read it, they say, “This is my community.”  Not just the one percent of the people who really make bad decisions and that gets them publicity–because that’s what newspapers do.

If it bleeds, it leads.”

If it bleeds, it leads.  And I’m glad that there are newspapers that do that, but this publication is not that.

I wanted to create a paper that, when people read it, they say, “This is my community.”

So, what’s changed about the Shore from when you were young?

I am taken aback by the really neat places that are on the Shore today.  There have always been some really neat shops and stores on the Shore; but, Cape Charles all the way up to Chincoteague, there are these places that you find in resort towns, these amenities that have come about since my childhood.  If you try hard enough, you can almost live on the Eastern Shore full time as if you were in a resort town.  There are places on the Eastern Shore of Virginia that you can get probably the best slice of pizza that you ever wanted.  Coffee shops.

Yeah.  Finally.

Wonderful, well-run restaurants from one end to the other.  The artistic and the musical scene seems to explode more each year with this array of offerings.  You could literally listen to live music seven days a week, several evenings of the week on the Eastern Shore.

It’s not really growth as people would define growth.  Growth has a negative connotation.  It’s really a coming-of-age of a community.

It used to be opening up a McDonald’s on the Eastern Shore was a big deal.  These days, opening up a new pizza shop is a big deal.  People are coming up with creative ideas on food, and on the arts, and dances.  They’re really working hard to make them come true and I love watching it.  I want to help.

Part 2: Newspapers, Food, & Churches

Why I Took Jacob to a Wedding

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photo by Andre Hunter via Unsplash

I brought Jacob to a wedding last weekend.  You know, Jacob the biblical heel-grabber, trickster, tent-dwelling, mama’s boy?  Not usually thought of as a model for 21st century marriage ceremonies.

Particularly since his own marriage history is so strange: Boy meets Girl.  Boy falls in love with Girl.  Boy talks to her father.  Father agrees to a marriage if Boy will work for him for seven years.  Boy marries Girl…but its the wrong girl because Father has slipped Older Sister into the service under the veil of darkness.  Boy makes second bargain with Father.  Boy marries Girl—the right one this time.

You see what I mean.  Officiating ministers don’t tell this story at weddings.  Unless they’re me.

But what I really wanted to talk about was not Jacob’s marriages but his encounter with Esau on the road back home.  Esau, his twin.  Esau, whom he had tricked out of blessing and birthright.  Esau, who when last Jacob heard of him, was muttering murderous threats against him.

On the night before his reunion with his brother, Jacob sat alone on the banks of the Jabbok.  He had heard that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 armed men…and that didn’t sound good.  So Jacob split up his family and his cattle and his servants and sent them across the river in two parties so that maybe some of them would survive.

IMG_6354Jacob spent the night wrestling with God.  And that’s not just a figure of speech.  He threw down with a man who turned out to be God.  So much so that he left the match with a limp.  He renamed the spot Peniel, which means, “the face of God,” because he had seen God face to face.

The next morning he’s across the river and he meets Esau on the road.  Burly, hairy, huntsman, aggrieved Esau.  Jacob falls at his feet and begs mercy…only to look up in his brother’s face to see tears.  Esau embraces him and for the second time Jacob says that he has seen the face of God.  “To see your face,” he tells his brother, “is truly like seeing the face of God.”

It’s a beautiful wedding story.  Really!  Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams once offered a wonderful interpretation of the wedding tradition of unveiling in his book A Ray of Darkness.  The couple, he says, in that act:

“are promising to look at each other for the rest of their lives, and to be looked at by each other, lovingly, faithfully, and, above all, truly and honestly.  The married man or woman has opened the doors to let another person in.”

It is an echo of God’s unveiling in the incarnation and crucifixion.  “There can be no reconciliation between God and humanity,” Williams says, “until they see one another face to face.”

IMG_6348What I’m saying is that marriage is a disarming.  In that act, both partners say, “I am taking down all my walls.  I am taking down all those things I do for self-protection.  I am laying aside all my defenses and all my weapons.  I am making myself absolutely vulnerable to you.  I am giving you everything I’ve got to give – the good and the bad, the richer and the poorer, the sickness and in health.  And all I have to offer is that I will receive the same from you.  All of you.”

It’s what Jacob has to offer Esau.  It’s what Jesus offers.  That’s so much more than the unicorn and rainbow promises of unending bliss.  It’s the risk of being unalterably wounded and yet the potential for being absolutely known.  It’s the chance to see the the face of God.

It’s the risk of being unalterably wounded and yet the potential for being absolutely known.

Jacob.  Totally appropriate for a wedding.  Totally.

[with best wishes and blessings for Brian & Jennifer Stern Schollhammer.  It was a beautiful night.]

Grant’s Migraine – Tuesday Poetry

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photo by Malik Earnest via Unsplash

I know what caused

Grant’s Appomattox migraine,

not death

nor politics

or Sheridan’s whereabouts.

It was the slant light of April

nigh to the equinox.

The same light troubling my eyes

on this slatted porch.

It should fall gentle in this season

or so I advise the Crafter

but instead it blotches my retina

sears into my brain

wanders off with a morning

condemns me to dark.

I’ve no armies to command

but I fight the light like Ulysses.

In these seasons of change

the sun sneaks through the cracks

needles through the trees

flares even off this pen I use

to describe its dangers.

We live with an excess of light

and, when it is not high overhead,

an excess of shadow,

And if you raise your eyes

to look at it

if you go unshielded into the bright,

you will be felled

as sure as any furnace can fell.

You will await in some darkened, fetid room

the return of your senses

Or you will soldier on

anticipating that even in the cruel light of the world

some good news must come.

–Alex Joyner

Guest Blogger – C. Christopher Smith: Stirring the Economic Imaginations of Churches

 

I’ve learned a lot about books from C. Christopher Smith.  Chris is not only the editor of the Englewood Review of Books, to which I occasionally contribute.  His press is also the publisher of my book, A Space for Peace in the Holy Land: Listening to Modern Israel & Palestine

He’s a great observer and interpreter of where the church is and what it could be in the 21st century.  He’s also charting new paths by caring about books and the people who write them, or as he puts it: “We review books that we believe are valuable resources for the people of God, as we follow the mission of God: i.e., the reconciliation of all things.”  Today he’s guest blogger on Heartlands:

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C. Christopher Smith

As I’ve traveled across the US talking with churches about my recent book Slow Church (co-written with John Pattison), I’ve found that many mainline churches and some evangelical ones – largely in urban or rural places – are struggling with shrinking congregations and shrinking budgets. Many leaders of these churches are bordering on despair, because like most people in the Western world they have been formed by an economics of scarcity: there are not enough resources to go around.

A careful reading of the scriptural story, however, reveals a God who abundantly provides for the health and flourishing of creation. Maybe we can no longer fully rely on meeting our budgets by passing the offering plate, but this economic reality in many churches does not mean that we have to despair.  Times of tightening budgets demand economic imagination of us, and the stirring of our imagination begins with reflection on the abundance that God has already provided for us. Specifically, our churches should reflect on the assets God has provided in our people, our buildings, and our land.

Times of tightening budgets demand economic imagination of us, and the stirring of our imagination begins with reflection on the abundance that God has already provided for us.

I’ve been fortunate to see and hear stories of churches across North America that are thinking creatively about these resources and drawing upon them as a means of sustaining themselves economically. In order to get your own imagination moving, I wanted to briefly share some of the creative economic activity that churches are doing.  (I don’t expect that all of these ideas will be applicable to every church situation, but hopefully there might be an idea or two here that might have potential for adaptation in your church.)

Human Resources: What has God provided in the gifts and skills of your congregation (and/or your neighbors)?

And how can these gifts be leveraged in a way that benefits the church, the neighborhood or both? Many churches are starting businesses that draw upon skills in their congregation or neighborhood to bring in additional income.  Some churches start coffeehouses, restaurants or gathering places. University Christian Church in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati, for instance, has started the very successful Roh’s Street Café.

61DJ2UqrooL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Here at Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, we have started half-a-dozen businesses over the last two decades, each of which began on a very small scale with the intersection of a gift that we had in our congregation and an opportunity to serve others in our neighborhood (or beyond).  Our businesses include an early childhood education center, an affordable housing operation, a hydroponic farm, and our magazine The Englewood Review of Books. Other churches have started businesses in catering, cleaning, and painting among other things.

Building Resources: What has God provided in the building(s) that we own?

While there are many missional advantages to owning a building, we should always be mindful that many churches through the ages – including most in the New Testament stories – have flourished without owning a building. Selling your building may be the most extreme case, and may not even be possible for some churches, given their denominational arrangements, but it is good to be reminded that churches can survive without owning a building.

Many churches are finding creative ways of sharing their buildings, and the cost of their operation. Sometimes these creative uses intersect with businesses that the church has started (such as Roh’s Street Café mentioned above). With careful coordination of schedules, some churches share their buildings with other churches. Other churches make space in their building available for rent: for office or co-working space for non-profits or entrepreneurs; for studio space for artists; for meeting space for neighborhood groups; or if they have a commercial kitchen, for catering or other food-based entrepreneurs.

And building assets might include more than just the traditional church building. Some churches own parsonages or other residential buildings. If these residences are empty or under-utilized, they could be sold, rented out through a traditional lease, or even operated on a short-term rental basis through services like AIRBNB.  Here at Englewood Christian Church, we have a former 5-bedroom parsonage that we have renovated and use as a hospitality house for retreats, for people who are visiting us from other places, and for other situations where friends need a short-term place to stay.

Land Resources: What are the assets God has provided us in our land? 

Many churches are starting community gardens that provide good, home-grown food for church members or neighbors.  Community gardens may not be the most profitable venture, but there are ways to generate small profits from them.  In addition to selling some of the produce, there are many grants available for community gardens, and some of these may allow for a portion of the grant to go to the personnel who administrate the grant, or for a minimal lease of the land being used for the garden.

Some churches like Central Congregational UCC in Atlanta have allocated part of their land as a nature preserve. Under-utilized portions of church land could be developed or sold, particularly if doing so would benefit their neighborhood. Grandview Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver, BC realized several years ago that it had more parking lot than it needed, and in one of the highest cost housing markets in the world, they are in the process of developing affordable housing on this land, which will be affordable because the land – the most expensive part of any development in Vancouver – was already owned by the congregation.

———-

God has indeed provided abundantly for us, and for the flourishing of our neighbors in this place! 

May we have eyes of gratitude that see the riches God has provided for us, and imaginative minds that discern how to use these resources in ways that sustain and bless our congregation and our neighbors. As our eyes and minds are opened to God’s provision, we will be led out of despair and into hope.

C. Christopher Smith is founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He and his family are members of Englewood Christian Church on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis. Chris’s most recent book is Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish (IVP Books, 2016).

Writing: “A Blessed Unrest” – An interview with Trudy Hale – part 3 of 3

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Trudy Hale

Trudy Hale, editor of Streetlight magazine, and owner of The Porches writing retreat, has talked in previous segments of this interview about her love affair with the retreat house and the writing life.  In this segment we continue the conversation about the compulsions of writing and the forms it takes in her life.  And we come back to something dear to this site as well – the importance of place.

So, you’ve got that quote on your welcome sheet from Martha Graham.  That’s one of my favorite quotes, and I saw it for the first time on your sheet.  That last line: “There’s only a clear, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching, and makes us more alive than the others.”  You know, the fidelity to that process.  I know why that speaks to me.  Why does it speak to you?

It goes back to that idea that if you’ve been given a gift–the writing.  It’s like the biblical thing, the person with talent.  We all have different degrees of talent, but if you don’t use that talent in some way, you’re not going to feel fulfillment.  There’s some dis-ease; something’s not right.

But there’s another part of the quote that I really like: “It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions.”  There’s always going to be others writers infinitely more brilliant, and you can’t get in there and do these comparisons.  It’s your job to let your expression come out, and that’s your purpose.  You’re always going to feel as an artist, that gift, and it gnaws if it’s neglected–it’s kind of that thing.  It’s a gift, but also somewhat of a curse; you can’t just sit around and not use it.  You’re troubled by not using it.

It’s the fire in your bones.

IMG_2930Yeah.  It’s gonna give you unrest.  It’s a gift, but it’s gonna…what is it?  Prickle, and poke, and holler at you if you’re neglecting it for too long.  And [the quote] also gives you permission to express, to have your expression, and not–  There’s something writers have, that overly self-critical voice.

Yes.

Their editor comes in before you’ve allowed the expression to get out on the page.  You can always go back and make it better.  That’s why I love that Annie Lamott quote: you just gotta get it down.  It’s so easy to get discouraged.  A writer once told me, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

It’s so easy to get discouraged.  A writer once told me, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

The whole thing about honoring the time, too.  The thing I fight in myself is the feeling that, “Oh, well, that’s the frivolous side.  That’s the frivolous thing to do.”  Rather than see it as the most essential thing to do.

That’s exactly it.  That’s another thought–“I’m wasting my time.”  Those are little demons, you know?  You gotta shut them up.  But that’s that voice, that self-condemnation that’s trying to prevent you from expressing yourself and getting the work done.

There’s nothing like tapping into the creative.  William Blake wrote a lot about the creative and the artist, and that artistic expression and that act of creation, no matter what medium or form, is the closest that we get to the divine.

So, all those little thoughts like, “Oh, I’m wasting my time,” I’ve had–everyone has that, like, “Oh, what’s the point?”  And that’s a little demon.  You gotta chase that one out with a broom.

Absolutely.  And then, seven more will come in, right?

I know.  It can happen. You’ve written a scene and it’s not alive in some way.  It’s flat on the page.  And just to think, “Okay, I’m just going to keep working on it,” and not pass any judgment on it, and not beat yourself up.  There’s a lot of interior work that has to be done in the writing and the process of creation.

A lot of times in my writing, I would seek distraction, and not sit down and do it; something to distract me from writing.  We do something else, and we try to feel virtuous.  You sit down and write, and you go, “Oh, I’m wasting my time.”  But then, I’ll get up and make up a bed and feel like I’m virtuous.  But I’m not fooling myself.  I know what I’m doing.

You sit down and write, and you go, “Oh, I’m wasting my time.”  But then, I’ll get up and make up a bed and feel like I’m virtuous.  But I’m not fooling myself.  I know what I’m doing.

That’s right.  Wherever you go, there you are.  So, how does Streetlight fit into all this for you?

When I first moved to Charlottesville, I met a writer who was involved with Streetlight, a literature and arts journal, and they needed an editor.  At the time, it was a hard copy magazine  Then, in 2008 with the crash, the printer who was donating fell through.  For a while, we went on a hiatus.

Then, (and this is where the old house once again came to the rescue), I had a writer in residency at Porches who was a web designer.  I said, “Hey, I’ll trade you some time at The Porches if you can set Streetlight up on a digital platform.” So, that’s how the magazine was able to reinvent itself.

Then, our editor-in-chief moved out of town and I was asked to step into the position. “Temporarily,” I said.  Well, cut to three/four years later, I’m still the editor-in-chief and loving it. We have a talented, dedicated volunteer staff.  Just recently we’ve added podcasts and we’re publishing an anthology of 2016.  You’ll be able to download it as an ebook or a hard copy.

hneader-imageThe magazine, I realize, shares a similarity to what we’ve been talking about with the retreat. And to Heartlands.  It’s about place. The power of place. The magazine especially likes pieces that have a strong sense of place. We are excited by writing with an emphasis on the interaction of place and one’s personal relationship to it.

This same idea is what I try to keep reminding myself in the writing of my memoir.  When I describe the three flights of steep stairs, the rattling hand-blown glass in the windows, the groans of the heart-pine floors, I struggle to make it like the material equivalent of my inner being, and how fixing what’s broken in the house, fixes what’s broken in me.

Fidget Spinners, Coffee Mugs, and the Hope of the Church 

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photo by Alzinous

What the church really needs for revival is to be socially relevant.  No, it all starts with a great music program.  Wait, we need a mission statement that’s clever and quippy.  How about a Bible study that offers applicable principles for everyday living?  Don’t forget the giveaway mugs!

There’s no end to prescriptions for turning around churches.  And there’s an element of truth to most of them (although I wouldn’t build a revival around coffee mugs!).  But if the main actor in the proposal isn’t God, then you haven’t started in the right place.

I’m sometimes overwhelmed by the volume of advice that churches are given, (I’m sometimes the giver!), and usually underwhelmed by the amount of actual turn-around that happens as a result.  Most of our advice for church renewal stems from both an unwarranted belief in the quick fix and a deep anxiety about institutional survival.  But God knows we are called to something different.

Most of our advice for church renewal stems from both an unwarranted belief in the quick fix and a deep anxiety about institutional survival.  But God knows we are called to something different.

Our emphasis, as Virginia United Methodists, on deepening our practice of spiritual disciplines, begun under Bishop Cho, and Bishop Lewis’ current invitation to engage in daily Bible reading points in another direction.  God doesn’t need new techniques or slogans – God desires a people who have been claimed by Jesus Christ and whose identities are now inseparable form his.

God’s work is to transform us and the world.  The good news is that we get to participate in what God is doing.  If that’s true, there’s no room for our frenetic, anxious activity.  That’s what fidget spinners are for.

The good news is that we get to participate in what God is doing.  If that’s true, there’s no room for our frenetic, anxious activity.  That’s what fidget spinners are for.

Instead, we get to embody hope.  In a recent article in Faith and Leadership magazine, Allen T. Stanton says that’s something rural churches can offer to their communities – not because it’s a niche to be exploited, but because it’s who we are.  Churches should stand out because their identity is not grounded in the narratives of decay that afflict so many of our rural communities.

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Alex with Bishop Sharma Lewis

“In a community of decline, hope becomes countercultural,” Stanton says. “While it would be wrong to foster a false sense of optimism or to promise that manufacturing and young adults will return, the church has a unique ability to stand in the hard realities and still preach hope.”

Why?  Because we know a risen Savior who has conquered sin and death.  Plus…somewhere around here I’ve got a mug that says that.