About Pam Collage Art by Pam Writing Life Manifesto

On the day of my fortieth birthday I had finally ripened enough to know what I wanted  to be now that I was all grown up: a writer. Specifically, a Christian writer.

Two letters I had written to the newspaper had been  published which resulted  with  a call from a reporter in Los Angelas who saw one of  them and wanted a quote from me for an article he was writing. This helped me realize that I had a voice and that my voice could be helpful in informing other people.

I began to study the art of writing as well as the work of publishing. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest magazine, voraciously devouring every issue cover to cover. WD became my go-to source for learning the business of publishing as well as the craft of writing.

One day, a full page ad  caught my eye.  Christian Writers Guild, a well established writing program based in Colorado Springs, CO (of course!!) touted  a two-year apprenticeship writing course called, What’s Your Story? I signed up for the  two-year program and  proudly earned my certificate of completion.  I blogged about my positive experience in a  post titled , Roger and Me, a reference to the mentor I was assigned  to during the course. And though I learned so much from Roger and CWG, there began a distant disquiet in the far back corners of my mind during that time:  What if I’m not Christian enough to be a Christian writer?

I starting blogging around then as well as dipping my pen into the inkwell of freelance writing.  (You can view a list of  writing credits clicking HERE). Compelled to write on issues of faith and Christian spirituality, I nonetheless felt a steady tension about forging a writing identity as a Christian writer. It was like  having a low degree fever that makes one feel achy yet still functional.  Am I cut out for the Christian writing scene?

A true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life. – Tobias Wolff

I fretted privately about my misgivings.  My blog was gaining readership and people were responding to my angsty posts about all-things-faith-and-church.  I made many new friends,both virtual and face to face as a result of blogging. This was during the apex of the Emerging Church conversation, as so many are fond of calling it. That’s it, I decided. This is where I belong. I am an Emerging Church kind of Christian writer. 

With renewed vigor, I forged ahead with developing my voice and reputation as a woman who writes on issues of faith.  I submitted articles to Christian publications, I read books by progressive-minded authors and even attended a conference or two that gathered together the growing tribe of heretics that I was becoming fond of.

My writer identity began to flourish.

Yet there was still the internal censor to contend with, that inner guide who is steadfast in pointing out how mismatched I was for a Christian audience of any type.  The evidence seemed to correspond with my inner critic. I would peruse the  back covers of authors who seemed to be like me and began to realize that I lacked the credentials they possessed.

  • I am not an educated woman.  At least formally.
  • I have no ministry accomplishments. At least formally.
  • There is no grand testimony found in my life story…at least formally.
I began to wonder if a woman like me could ever publish beyond the realm of the blogosphere or small press publications?  
 
During these important formative years of my writerly persona, I slowly gained confidence to just write.  This blog has been the place I cut my teeth learning how to communicate effectively through the written word. Yet even in the comfort of my own blog digs,  my evangelical conscience warned me to tread carefully into controversial topics.

This is from a collage art banner I made that hangs up in my writer cave.

Like the time I decided to blog about my shifting views on same-sex unions. I had decided to be public about my changing mind on the controversy of  same-sex unions.  It was a deliberate break from keeping my views to myself, for I knew that there was a possibility that going public would have consequences.  I decided Screw it, I don’t want to hide my changing views about homosexuality to preserve my space as  an emerging Christian writer. And so, with a bit of chutzpah, I pushed the publish key to herald to the blogosphere that I was a Christ follower who accepted  same-sex unions and gay orientation as normal rather than unnatural. Be bold, I thought. Be that writer who doesn’t play it safe.

Tell it true, tell it strong,” became my ethos.

Forward I went in forging my path as a writer. “What do you write on?” people would ask when I told them that I was not only a professional house cleaner (at the time) but also a writer. “I write on issues of faith and Christian spirituality,” I’d reply having rehearsed how to define my writer self when called upon. Unclear and always unsure of what that meant, it was, after all, the kinds of caves I was exploring through my blog posts and freelance articles. My readership was slowly growing and the all-important platform was steadily being built. Whatever kind of Christian writer I was becoming, there was certainly a readership gravitating to the things I had to say.  I decided to stop worrying about if I was Christian enough or whatever and just write honest and bold. Fears on my writing path were monsters to be slayed.

I took the advice of writing guru Ralph Keyes deep into my heart:

Good writing is honest, alive. The more honest and alive our writing, the more we show ourselves.  The more we show ourselves, the greater danger we’re in. The greater danger we’re in, the more scared we are. Hence fear is a marker on the path toward good writing.  Ralph Keyes  The Courage to Write

I was thrilled when after five years of hard work an author I admire invited me to coauthor a work.  YES! This was the break I had been hoping for and dreaming of.  The author had several books out and a firm relationship with a large Christian publisher.This author knew me, my views, and loved my writing voice. I was honored to be invited to join in the project.
We had greenlights all the way with the Big Publisher.  Until one day one of the members of the publishing board googled my name.  Fair enough. They need to know who I am. They found this blog and discovered that I have sometimes used naughty words when writing….and that I openly support same-sex unions.

Total deal breaker.

More from my collage art writer banner

I was crushed. After I stopped crying, I thought hard about my decision to be transparent about  my views.  Had I been foolish?  Ought I  have kept my changed mind about same-sex unions on the downlow?

No, I decided before the tears had even dried.  I do not regret telling it true, telling it strong.

The next day I wrote the editor we had been working with to express my gratitude for the opportunity and to also affirm that I understood the company’s decision. “Your publisher has their convictions to live by, I have mine,” I wrote. “I want to be known as a Christ follower who accepts our gay brothers and sisters and same-sex unions. Obviously we are not a good fit together and I am glad this is now realized before we had proceeded further.”

Being axed by this publisher became a defining moment for me, a life shaping experience to my writer identity.  It forced me to pay attention to what was becoming apparent to some of my friends:  Pam, you are not a Christian writer.  Stop trying to be one. 

I have now come to view that episode in my life as a bullet dodged.  What if the publishers found out about my blog’s content after the book came out? What  if bookstore owners did? I began to hear stories of books pulled from circulation when a bookstore or distributor became leary of an author, like my friend Kathy Escobar who had a book pulled within weeks of being published.  Her crime?  The distributor realized Kathy was titled as a pastor on the cover. Nope. No women pastors allowed through their gates. 

Our beliefs, when spoken out loud, can get us into trouble with the thought police.  

Her story confirmed to me that it was only a matter of time before my blog and public voice would get me blacklisted from the Christian book arena. In fact, not too long after that, a local Christian bookstore owner here in Portland told me to leave his store when he heard me tell another customer where to buy a copy of The Shack  (a Christian novel considered highly heretical in many conservative circles).  Our beliefs, when spoken out loud, can get us into trouble with the thought police.

One of my fave bloggers recently wrote a kickass post about her views on the Christian book industry. Her point of view is authoritative since she is a Christian writer experienced with the Christian book market:

Christian bookstores have developed a reputation for producing a highly sanitized customer experience, purging from their shelves any language, content, or theology that doesn’t meet their uber-conservative standards.  Walk into your local LifeWay and you will find plenty of Precious Moments statues, specialty Bibles, Veggie Tale movies, and Thomas Kinkade prints…but little trace of art or literature that intrigues, agitates, and inspires—as true art should!  The Christian bookstore experience is, in a word, safe. Butsafe is not how Christians are called to live, and safe is not what artists who are Christians are called to create.  In fact, based on LifeWay’s own standards, the Bible itself—which includes profanity, violence, and sex—should be banned from the shelves.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that the problem of sanitized Christian bookstores extends far beyond the inventory on the shelves to create an entire Christian subculture that is so sanitized and safe it often fails to produce art that is relevant to our culture or our lives.  (emphasis by the author)    From Rachel Held Evans 

There is so much to say here to what Rachel is addressing. Words have power, they are the vehicles for ideas and beliefs. What we believe affects how we live, move and have our being. The collective of any group thinking and behaving the same way is how culture is bred and enforced.  Books are not just books. They are cultural markers.  Books that do not match so-called Christian culture (which is grossly mistaken for kingdom of God culture)  become cancers that have to be eradicated.  Thus, the Christian book market is in danger of being a propaganda machine that keeps us from thinking (or behaving) outside of what is considered normative Christian beliefism. 

Propaganda invites passive agreement; change writing invites original thought, openheartedness, and engagement. Change writers trust that readers can handle multiple points of view, contradictions, unresolved questions, and nuance.  Mary Pipher   Writing to Change the World

Where then is the prophetic power of the heralds and writers?  The town criers become the town mutes when their voices are quieted by the spirit of fear.

When Christian culture has become inherently stifling to it’s artists, storytellers and writers, than it is time for the artists, storytellers and writers to create new access points for telling it true, telling it strong.   For me, it has also meant I must  abandon the hope of becoming a published Christian writer and instead aim for Just Being a Writer. An honest, bold, fearless writer who says out loud what is simmering beneath the veneer of conscience. It’s why I wrote my first book, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church.  It’s why I happily published with a small, assisted self-publishing press.  It’s why I look ahead to the many other books that lie in my bones, knowing they will become realities for I no longer am waiting or looking for permission.

Never has there been such a time in the history of humankind–or the church!–to be a writer, artist, musician, poet or prophet.  Technology has made accessing the public square available to anyone. I do not have to strive to become a Christian writer, to fitting myself into a role that I do not occupy very well. Instead, I am running the gauntlet of just writing as the writer I am meant to be. The only gatekeeper I contend with now are Readers. They will always be my most important gatekeeper as they decide whether or not to let me and my dangerous ideas cross the threshold.


Comments

Why I’m Not a Christian Writer — 21 Comments

  1. Pingback: Standing Up Alone | Kelly J. Youngblood

  2. Hi Pam,
    I recently came across your post as I, too, do not feel I could fall under a “traditional” christian writer label. I am far from perfect and those women whom I read from each day seem just that – the perfect pastor’s wife. I have been going through some self-reflection as I know that God has gifted me the ability to write, and it is up to me to use that gift for the purposes of furthering His Kingdom. I’m at the stage of learning just what to do with this gift and I came across your blog. Let me tell you, this was way more assuring than the multitudes of writing “schools” and communities set up for “christian writers”. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there’s probably value in them, but do they lack that acceptance of authenticity you and other commenters mentioned? God has great plans for us. He will guide us in our words and if He deems our words worthy, have no doubt that they will be heard. =)

  3. I have friends who publish or will publish in the Christian market. I love them. I love their work and insight. But you have articulated so well why I have always felt squidgy about trying to do the same myself. It comes down to this: my writing sucks when I’m not completely authentic. I have a hard time being authentic even in Christian community. I’d never succeed in an impersonal marketplace.
    Thanks for the great post. I’m excited to see more of your writing.

    • Hi Heather, squidgy Love how you used this word! And I love that you are able to affirm the writers you know who are gaining access in the Christian book market yet realize that it may not be best for you. You bring up another important point about authenticity. Lest you or I be misunderstood as condemning Christian authors for sacrificing authenticity for the sake of the Christian market, I want to voice that just a there are all kinds of radio stations for us to choose from, each with their specific genre and playlist, so there are all kinds of spiritual writers. You and just don’t fit into the traditional Christian genre. And those who do are not necessarily less artistic nor expressive. You and I just have stuff to say that the Christian market doesn’t have on their playlist.

      And this is where it gets fun: we can create our own stations and our own playlists and trust that the folks who are meant to hear us out, will find us if we keep singing.

      Sing your songs true and strong Heather. I know I will!!!

  4. Hey Pam,

    I really enjoyed reading your post today. I am struggling a lot with feeling like I am not a Christian or that I belong to the body, which is hard for me, because, I want to be honest and write to inspire and encourage and challenge both those inside and outside the church, too. But, I find myself feeling so scared and anxious and alone, that I can’t even do it. I used to write a lot, but these days, I feel afraid to write, or if I do write, I delete it all and wish to take back all the words I wrote. I feel like I am a trouble maker, like my voice makes things worse and I feel like a lot of times, I have a hard time making genuine friends. I’m just having such a hard time finding the courage right now to open up to some people.

    • Hi Rachel
      thanks for reading and for your comment. Man,have I felt what you are describing more than once during my journey.

      There is much to be said about courage and writing. If writing is how you best express yourself, I encourage you to read writing books that inspire bravery. Fear is a common dragon that EVERY writer has to face. This is why I love Ralph Keyes’ book, The Courage to Write. I’ve read it three times, mostly recently I reread it while I was writing Unladylike. I needed Ralph’s steady voice to remind me to make the fear work for me as a writer rather than freeze me up. Writers block, says Ralph, is simply “page fright,” the fear of writing out loud what’s going on in our heads and in our hearts.

      For the Christian woman, I am of the opinion that we have a few extra hurdles of fears to overcome. Our patriarchal Christian culture has conditioned us to be silent and compliant, especially if we are strongly opinionated about something. It can feel unnatural to express deep things as if we are committing a wrong.

      I will tell you the secret of overcoming this kind of psychic barrier: Write anyway. If only for yourself. Write what you are scared to write. You are your first reader. The more you write, the weaker those fears as if they shrivel up each time you defy them and write it down. This is why journaling and keeping a diary is so good for the soul.

      There is a liberty for you just around the corner if you keep moving forward and don’t let fear freeze you in your tracks.

      Keep me posted, and if you ever want to share a piece of writing with me (not for critique but for sharing) then email me. I promise I’ll read it and respond!!!

  5. Wow – “rel­e­vant to our cul­ture or our lives” – you’re right in that some Christian books can be so unrelated to reality as to be bewildering. My daughter in law, Sofia Carter, has just written a book about Christian dating, with the slightly outrageous title “Christian dating doesn’t suck” which certainly hasn’t gone down too well amongst some folk – yet addresses some issues that young Christians in a relationship are desperate to know how to handle. We need to be braver!

    • Hi Jen
      Love your daughter-in-law’s book title! Did she self-publish or did a Christian publisher pick her up?? Good for her and her chutzpah to tell it true and tell it strong.

      The Christian book industry is a market place so there is the aspect that they are the way they are because this is what Christian culture wants. Having said that, it seems rather clear that there is an entire segment of Christ followers who are not satisfied with what they are finding on the Christian bookshelves anymore. I count myself as one of those. And so, I choose to write for people like me. It’s a bit trickier finding this tribe…as bookstores are such great community meeting spots in many towns…yet we have the great wonder called The Internet which is a total game changer. I am convinced that change in the church is accelerating because of digital technology. There are literally thousands of faith bloggers who are challenging the status quo and freely exploring taboo ideas and new ways of looking at things. Nothing is sacred or off limits. I love it. God is not confined to one way of thinking. We don’t have to be either!

  6. You are one courageous and inspiring woman! Many of us are trusting you to keep telling it true, telling it strong.

    Your voice is helping us to find ours.

    • Lorraine!!! Thanks for reading and for your encouragement. Your voice is helping us to find ours. This is the best kind of compliment I could ever hope for as a writer. My Writers Prayer is this:

      God,help me to be the most effective communicator I can be for the sake of others.

      I’ve been praying that for years. And then one day it occurred to me: the most effective communicator is the one who helps others to communicate for themselves. It’s that old adage, If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I strive to be the kind of writer who helps others find the power in their own unique voice, whatever that means for the reader.

      Seriously. Thank you so much. Made my day!

    • Thanks Sarah!!!!!

      I am so excited about your book coming out. Jesus Feminist….do I remember the title rightly?? When does it release? And are you with a publisher or self-publishing? I want to read it ASAP!!

  7. I feel like I should comment on this because it is something that shouldn’t be ignored. I read it the other day and felt like it was speaking to me, though I’m not entirely sure how. I wrote a while back on my blog about “writing naked”, which I think you are doing, and even though I *want* to be able to do it, I am still a bit chicken to express everything I want to say.

      • Oh, I’ll keep at…of course it’ll be much easier when school starts again! Those 3 hours in the morning 3-4 days a week when my older son is in school were my writing time and with summer I don’t have much time to write. Can’t wait to get going again. I think school starts in about a month.

        • I hear ya. Blogging totally slows down during the fair weather months. I live in Portland which means our Pacific Northwest summers last in weeks, not months!! In fact,I am planning to take four weeks off from blogging soon, before our sunnier, dryer weather comes to a close. Gray winters (and school time!) are the best, most productive times to get writing done. I’ll look forward to when you write again!!!

  8. Another great post, Pam, with a lot to think about. THis is something I’m struggling with too–I have thoughts and stories within me that I want to write, but I am sure they would not be acceptable within the Christian community of which I am a part, let alone in the Christian book market. I have stories I would like to publish–no, not in the Christian market, but in secular market–but what happens if my church family hears about my book? Will I be banished or reprimanded or–again–asked to step down from a ministry? I love your idea of tell it true, tell it strong, but I am not there yet.

    • Hi Deb,
      Thanks for reading and for commenting!! I hope you are writing them, even if just for yourself right now until you figure out how to “go public.”

      As for being asked to step down from ministry due to something you wrote about, well…yes, there can be a cost for telling it true and telling it strong. Wisdom is needed yet so is courage. I definitely pray and ask God to help guide me in my decisions about what and when to write.

      At the very least, I hope you’re writing it down in private!

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