December 16, 2010

True Believers?

Every so often, in the course of my adventures in writing and editing, someone will ask me to take a “religious test” of some type.  It might be a publisher reviewing my work, or a writer who needs a critique for a manuscript.  They might ask specific questions about my beliefs, or ask me to sign their “statement of faith,” and they won’t do business with me unless I give the right answers.    

Do I have the proper view of Jesus, the Bible, or the Trinity?  What are my views on baptism, or the famous Pastor So-and-so, or the end times?  The motivation behind this analysis seems obvious: They desire to be true to the Lord, to the Gospel, to their convictions.  I get it.  I’ve made my peace with it; sometimes I get the job, sometimes not.  Life goes on.

At times, however, these well-intended safeguards turn into needlessly restrictive barriers to fellowship.  And it seems particularly strange when the project in question is a novel about a young girl and her new pony, and there are no discernible doctrinal issues involved. And besides, I might be able to persuade you that I’m the most faithful Christian since Peter or Paul, but that doesn’t mean I know the difference between eschatology and entomology, or a split infinitive from a split pea.

A couple of years ago, I received an email from an eager young writer who wanted to attend our local writers’ conference.  I answered her questions, and she submitted her registration the following day.  Her excitement was palatable, even across the ether.  But then she revisited our website, and observed that it refers to God as a “he.”    Another email arrived: She couldn’t bear to do business with such a narrow-minded sexist heretic (me), and demanded a full refund.  I tried to discuss the issue with her, but no deal.  Because of this petty argument, she missed out on a wonderful opportunity to advance her career.

When I attend writers’ events it makes my heart glad to see that we can come together in such a gracious spirit, setting aside our sectarian differences (which, let’s admit it, can sometimes be substantial) in service to something greater than ourselves.  Yet I sometimes detect a subtle undercurrent of unholy pride, a predisposed aversion to the kind of meaningful dialogue that could lead us into deeper friendships with people we might never have met any other way. 

In my local writers’ group we have people representing just about every Christian tradition imaginable.  In this setting we’re exposed to a broad range of perspectives and we continually learn from one another.  We’re all better off for it, both personally and professionally, even if we continue to disagree.  I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Accordingly, when I write something new, I often seek out an editor who I know doesn’t share my opinions, someone who represents the target audience I hope to persuade.  I need someone to challenge me, to argue with me, to point out my false logic and weak arguments.  It keeps me humble; it sharpens my thinking and clarifies my message.  When I learn new points of view it makes me a better person, a better writer, a more faithful Christian.  I often advise prospective clients to do the same.

At the Mt. Hermon Writers’ Conference in California, the five-day event always ends on Palm Sunday.  The morning session begins with an ecumenical worship service, complete with a celebration of the Eucharist. Conference Director Dave Talbott is keenly aware of the diversity of faiths represented in the room, and he invites everyone to participate: “This is the Lord’s table, not Mt. Hermon’s table.”  The ensuing rite is a bit more formal than I’m accustomed to, yet probably a bit more relaxed than what the next guy has come to know.  Which tells me that they’re doing it about right.

This is our golden opportunity to change the world.  Let’s make the most of it.

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