I’ve started to think that there are three main types of writers in my little corner of publishing. There are the scholars, of course, and then there are the preacher/teachers. The preacher teachers, in particular, have caught my attention: they are the ones that have a message to share, a word to teach, knowledge that begs to be passed around, arguments to make, points to delineate. Whatever means necessary to share that particular message or truth – book, podcast, blog, sermon, conference circuit, curriculum, bible studies, every medium – will be embraced. They are preachers, with fire shut up in their bones. They are teachers, with truth and wisdom to impart, and if they need a wrap-around mic to do it, well, bring it on, and the more footnotes, the better.

And then there are the artists and storytellers. (You can guess where I self-identify.)

Even though my book is about a specific topic – it’s a gentle but provocative love letter to the Church about welcoming and affirming women – I approach it as art, not a message to be preached, or an argument to be made. I approach it as truth-telling, absolutely, but using beauty and holy discomfort, storytelling, and my own voice. I approach my work with a lot of fear and trembling, and when I sit down at the computer, and I pray and pray and pray before I write.

I read poets, not Christian living curriculum, I read memoirs, not how-to books with fill-in-the-blanks. My patron saints are Kathleen Norris, Madeline L’Engle, Anne Lamott, Mary Oliver, Luci Shaw. I read my Bible like a love letter, not for systematic theology and chart-making. I don’t want people to read my work and think that anyone could have written it, no, it’ll be all my own baby. I know that this book won’t pass as a textbook even thought it’s filled with truth, because it’s art, not science.

I believe that beauty and art honours God. I believe writing is my sacrament, and I have a pathological need to write and write and write about the things that interest me, and catch my eye. My next book will be about how I fell back in love with the body of Christ, after years of desert-wandering and resentments.

But my next book after that could be about my marriage, and the next book after that could be about how I referee street hockey games for a multi-cultural group of kids in my front street, and the next book after that could be about birth and breastfeeding, and the next book after that could be about social justice & poverty or maybe my husband’s garden or my mother or my kitchen sink.

You see? I just need to write, and I want to write for the rest of my life, and so I write about the places where I see God. This is my altar, my offering, my temple, my sacrifice, and I meet God here, at the computer, over and over and over again.

I just love that you’re here to partake with me.

I worry that people misunderstand the work I do, because I am a writer that is a Christian. I am not a Christian writer, that’s not an adjective I embrace. I worry that they might confuse me with a preacher or a teacher or a message-bringer, when the thought of speaking to groups of people makes me very nervous, and don’t get me started about fill-in-the-blanks being developed or book clubs convening, and I sort of resent the idea of being a mascot or, heaven forbid, a spokesperson or representative for anything.

I don’t even really like to talk about the things I write here in this little blog with other people, it makes me feel like someone just noticed I’m standing naked in the middle of the room, vulnerable while everyone else marches in suits of armour, I already said what I needed to say, I’ve moved on, let’s not pick it apart. I can’t imagine having to talk to people about Jesus Feminist.

I’m not an argue-er, or a debater, or a defender of the truth. I don’t have the energy to be outraged much anymore, I have supper to get on the table and laundry to fold, tinies to bath and friends to call. I don’t want to be the mascot of Christian feminism, I want to create, and when I am done, I want to let the work speak for itself. I’m a living-room chatter, not a stage performer. (This is a pipe dream, I know. I understand how the publishing world works, and I have committed to play my role. But that’s it: it feels like playing a role to do interviews or promotions or whatever.)

The times when I have tried to put on the mantle or calling of preacher or teacher, I have failed miserably. I would spend time, crafting a message, working diligently at an essay or a post, to make a specific point or teach a particular thing, and these posts, they always fly out the window and land with a dull reverberating thud on the ground below. But the posts or essays that I write for the joy of creation, when the muse is present, and I simply need to write and I have no agenda beyond saying what needs to be said, for some reason, those are always the posts that take off. Go figure. Lesson learned.

I can’t attach expectations – mine or anyone else’s – to my work, I simply need to do the work God has given me to do.

So I can’t work on this book as if I am a preacher or a teacher. I love preachers and teachers, theirs is a valuable and beautiful calling.

But I need to write as God has created me: I need to write like an artist, with my own voice, in my own way – without agenda, without points to make, without the weight of being a spokesperson for everyone that cares about this issue or is looking for a mascot or a caricature for their dart board, without plans for what-comes-next or pressure, without a thought of the haters and the angry fault-finders, without wrap-around mics or glossy headshots. I simply need to write and honour the work that God has given me to do, right now, to create it, bum in chair, word after word, and make a sacrament of it, day after day after day. God, draw near and move on these waters. And I need to fold the laundry, for the love.

(As I work on my first book, I have discovered I must write about the process and work of it. I hope you can bear with me as these posts may show up now and again, even if they are a bit more navel-gazing. As always, I don’t know what I think until I write it out. Thanks for your patience.)

In which I admit to being afraid of poverty
In which I am headed to Haiti
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  • Oh my. So much of my heart cried out “Yes!” and “Amen!” as I read this. Praying for you today as you write, even as I say a prayer and keep notes and records and write in my own journals and blog.

  • Diana Trautwein

    Uh-huh, yes, amen and hallelujah. Madeleine actually spoke in public a fair amount. BUT she spoke as an artist, and an eccentric one at that. She told stories. And she also led writing workshops, which I would have given my eye-teeth to attend. (I heard her speak twice.) So there are as many different ways to be up in front as there are to be alone at the keyboard. Don’t believe you have to defend/argue/mold yourself into anything other than who you are, for any reason whatsoever. Even to sell books. That is a lie, one that kills. Love that you’re writing it out here.

  • I love this post. It has reminded me why I write. I think I’ve often tried to be the more preacher/teacher but find it hard – I prefer simply to tell my story and see where that takes me. Often I find I can make a teacher-type point through my own journey. I think of myself as a creative – which takes in writing primarily, but also other creative work like podcasts and talks. To me its all creative work, and I see it as such. It’s all a work of art essentially, imagining new ideas and possibilities, thinking without the box, going on my journey and sharing the lessons I learn and the ideas I discover.

    I think I’ve also boxed myself into the ‘Christian writer’ box too much – when actually, I’m simply a writer. The label of Christian writer automatically puts limits and expectation on what you write. In some ways it’s better for us to allow others to come up with labels for what we create, and simply create regardless.

    I gave up blogging for a month or so – posting, not creating/writing – simply because I wanted to get back to the truth of why I write in the first place, which should be simply because there are things going on in me which I want to share, a story I want to tell – not to impress others, get readers or say what they want me to say.

    Thanks again for sharing this. A good reminder to us all.

    • There’s a sermon in there, James, you just write it so easily no one knows they’re being preached on down. Good stuff.

      • Thanks Sarah – great to hear. Took me by surprise too – didn’t even see the ‘sermon’ in there. I’m very lucky to have this gift of writing. I’m often reminded how easy it comes to me in comparison to many others and what a responsibility that actually is. Thanks for encouraging me – and looking forward to more posts from you & your book. (Oh, and if you do want to check out more of my writing, you are welcome to check out my blog – it’s simply my name and then dot co dot uk. I’d love to get your feedback.

        Thanks again for the encouragement. Be blessed!

  • kim

    Sarah, I am not sure I so much need many more of the great gifts, callings you described: teacher, preacher, etc. I am surrounded by those folks, their words. But, what I crave as I try to stay in it, this life in Chirst, with you all who do likewise, is stories, the honest and sometimes almost unbelieveable stories of the Holy Spirit at work. I need the heart breaking ones and the “wow, God is so dang near and real ones,” and the “one foot in front of the other ones,” too. After years in the ministry, working in churches and “Christian Schools,” I am overwhelmed with so much stuff that doesn’t ring real or seem helpful to people, me or those I teach.

    Your stories and sharing of encounter with God do more to compel me stay to in and dare offer others the same than any of the many, many types of works I have read. I miss Madeleine, the stories I suspect she would be writing to help us navigate this now. Please be encourged and confident to take up, in your own style, the mantle she wore to tell story, which is the best truth we have. I think you wear it well.

  • Thank you for sharing in such honesty, Sarah. I don’t want to speak for others who identify as Christians and feminists, but my (our) excitement for your forthcoming book Jesus Feminist is for your unique, holy voice — your artist, story-telling, truth-telling voice. Please let me know how I (we) can best support you in the writing process!

    • Oh, that just made me exhale, friend. Thank you!!

  • rayhollenbach

    I, for one, will come to the Table and receive the sacrament from you and with you.

  • deborahbeddoe

    Freeing.

  • You know, for some reason, your writing all this out is a relief to me. I’ve had these exact same thoughts, and some of them fears and I feel like I’m following you, learning from your journey as I walk my unique path. Loved this, even your naval gazing speaks to my heart. And your unique voice, the storytelling, it has a place in this world. Yes it does.

  • After just a quick think, I’m positing that those three types of writers are found in all areas of publishing (although there may be other types to add to the list elsewhere).

  • I speak as a preacher-teacher girl who likes the preacher teachers too – but oh! How I love your writing.

    It is not in the teacher-preacher mould maybe, but it is ministry certainly – and it ministers to me.

    I hope that you are able to continue to courageously be you.

    (I kinda enjoyed the naval gazing – I like the passion in it! It somehow gives me the confidence to courageously be me).

    • I agree. Sarah, your writing is beautiful and very soothing to this preacher/teacher soul.

    • Thank you, Tanya – appreciate it! I worry that I don’t fit and then I find people like you, so gracious and welcoming.

  • Lauren

    thank you for sharing. I for one will look forward to your thoughts on the writing process. Your creativity is beautiful and free and genuine.

  • Klucas913

    You (we?) storytellers, artists, poets. Maybe we are the see-ers, the hear-ers, the still small voice translators, maybe our medium is imagination. And maybe the mouthpiece is art. And, I think (though I don’t know) that there cannot be, that there never is a way that that can be done, except in the way that it happens. Prayer and communion with the Creator go in, and who knows what will come out? Blessings to you, friend, on your writing journey.

    • The unknown way, indeed. Beautiful way to put it.

  • hopejem

    A very wise Poet told me not too long ago “Write darling, just write”. You should follow her advice, she knows things… 😉
    Inspiration is a beautiful teacher and your inspiring words preach the love of our most wise Creator. I love when you write because you love it. Your story is becoming part of your reader’s story and that my friend is love and peace and joy.

  • Kelsey

    My Goodness- Beautifully Said. I recently read a book by Katherine Paterson about writing books for children. She has a similar viewpoint- that your book is sort of like a child that you put your heart into and then send off into the world. Its terrifying she said. So Proud of you and the journey you are embarking on. Check these out: http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/paterson/

  • Mme Zalopha

    Amusingly, the text box for comments says “Leave a message…” Hmm.

    I love what you have to say here, but I’m perplexed by your retreat from the word message. I would say that you do send messages: message-in-a-bottle hopes, whispers of faith, rumors of love.

    What I’m not hearing from you are trickle-down-from-the-top, i’ve-figured-it-all-out, do-as-i-say, obey-me messages — “pronouncements” one might say.

    And yes, “artist” sounds just right. However, if you want your readers to be complicit in pretending you are not teaching through your art, I suppose we can, but that would truly be a fiction.

    • you made me laugh, Mme, but you’re making me think, too. Thank you….

  • Monique Christiane

    I am so very glad that you write, as your sacrament, and that you continue to fight for your own truth in it all. And I am so very glad that you remain honest and vulnerable with us about this process. I identify so much with your writing struggle…I also feel that I am not the teacher/preacher…and can’t express how much I am learning from your words here. So thanks:-)

    • Oh, whew. Thank you, Monique. So thankful to hear that.

  • Oh, Sarah. Grateful for your word-weaving, soul painting – here for us, and in all the stories and books to come. Sing on, Sarah.

  • Yes. Wear only the mantle of who God authentically created you to be. And keep praying and praying before, during, and after you write. And let’s see what He does through His beloved creation.

  • i for one need you to process through this aloud–i am gleaning so much already! and thanks goodness for the slippery, beautiful, truthful artful writing that we can all be sharpened from.

    • Add me, too!

      I was drawn here by the beauty of your words, Sarah, and the Spirit fluttering playfully between them. Those of us who like to paint with word pictures are not here to argue. We are here to stand immersed in the Awe of the beauty of the things you create with your keyboard, heart-in-heart, soul-in-soul with your Creator.

      As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, we don’t write to make money, we write to make our soul grow.

    • Well, glad to hear that! I worried it was too much wah-wah-poor-writer but couldn’t help wanting to be honest as I work through this part of my life, now, too. Thank you, DL. xo

  • I think that’s why, as a fellow writer, I’m finding your work resonant. Because the super-clear theological arguments always leave me feeling a bit, well, flat. And I find faith flat, too, when it seems separate from all this life we’re supposed to be living. Mix the two, add some poetry, and stir well, please. Thank you for the work.

  • claire

    yes, yes, I believe you are!

  • Marina Lehman

    I’ll look forward to reading more posts about your writing process. My favorite line may have been, “And I need to fold the laundry, for the love.” I have similar writing aspirations, as well as a 6 month old son, and that line tells me what I need to know: that the glimpses that we get of your writing process will be glimpses of real work, grounded in your real, messy life with your tinies.

    • Yes, indeed. Lots of mess, lots of writing on the edges. I’m no CS Lewis in many ways, not the least of which is the lack of a housekeeper. 😉

  • Oh, whew. I have to admit, I have been a little nervous that your book would somehow be more, I dunno, expository. Preacherly, teacherly. (Ha, I had to stop the autocorrect from turning that into “treachery.”) I am so happy to learn you are writing Jesus Feminist as an artist. Because that’s what I want to read. Even as a preacher, I lean more toward artistry. It resonates so much more than three points and an illustration. I don’t know if you subscribe to the Century but you would love, love, love the new feature, The Power of Poetic Preaching.

    ( http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-08/power-poetic-preaching )

    • Treachery. haha That’s fantastic. Yes, I knew you would know what I mean, KWP! You are the same cloth, I think. I hadn’t seen that at Christian Century though – sounds fantastic.

  • I love this post and can really relate to it. I actually wrote about the same exact categories a little while back as a pastor, theologian, or artist:
    http://inamirrordimly.com/2011/03/18/pastor-theologian-or-artist-the-importance-of-knowing-our-role/

    Some insist that they are a mixture of two or of them all, but I keep finding that usually most of us lean heavily toward one. There are NT Wrights who do the theology, John Ortbergs who teach, and Lauren Winners who create art. All are important and all have something to share with us.

    One other thought I had is that while we still need to promote our work, we can build conversations, dialogue, and even bless others in the process. It’s tricky, but to the creative, there are many possibilities.

    • You’re always a few steps ahead of me, Ed! I should just give up and let you have at it. Love your post.

      • Except mine is, “Let me dump information on you” and yours is, “Let me share my heart with you.” I’m working on it!

  • Liz Colver

    thank you. In this post, I have found some freedom to do what I feel called to do without trying to squish that call into the proscribed box my church thinks it is. again, thank you sister.

  • Jen

    I so wish it didn’t have to be one or the other. I don’t know when art became a separate category, when Christian became its own section of the bookstore, but it makes me sad because I worry it diminishes both. There is larger discussion there. One I struggle with myself as I am editing my first attempt at a novel. I am a Christian. I am a storyteller. Where do I fit in?

    I try to remind myself that Jesus was a story teller. He wasn’t explicit but the truth shined through.

    • Yes, the demarcations are hard, aren’t they? I blame marketing. 😉

  • I look forward to reading your book. I occasionally feel compelled to try and slog my way through some theological book… and I always loathe it. But give me a memoir about someone sharing their personal experiences, their story, and I cannot put it down. Those speak to my soul.

    • I feel the same way, Deetz. I have a hard time with those “life-changing” theological books because that’s not how my brain works.

  • I needed to hear this, Sarah. A good reminder for the work I do. A call to begin anew on the project that is causing such frustration and making me doubt myself and my gift. Love you, friend.

  • I hope you always process it here, darling. I feel I’m often at a similar place in the life journey, not in writing a book but in living it all out as the voice God created us to be. I appreciate your call to just be an artist already, even if you didn’t know that this was that. xo

  • Esther

    Yes. I used to be very uppity and say this was the only real writing. Lately i wish I had been called to something else. But your call is clear, and I love it.

  • I just randomly found you via a friend’s retweet on twitter and saw this post. I was re-reading in one of my journals something I felt God was saying to me, “you don’t have to change the world, just paint it. You don’t have to preach, paint for me, and they will know.” So, yes the artist is so important.

  • “I don’t even really like to talk about the things I write here in this little blog with other people, it makes me feel like someone just noticed I’m standing naked in the middle of the room, vulnerable while everyone else marches in suits of armour, I already said what I needed to say, I’ve moved on, let’s not pick it apart. ” –You

    I think you just said something there that I didn’t know I felt. I don’t even like to talk about the blog or what I wrote EITHER … it makes me feel weirdo nude too. Huh. I am glad that’s not odd to feel (because clearly whatever you feel is NOT odd)!!! Hoping the laundry is folded and your heart is light.

    • Well, laundry is folded, but whether it’s put away….. I’ll never tell. 😉 Glad to know my weirdness isn’t mine alone, T.

  • “it makes me feel like someone just noticed I’m standing naked in the middle of the room, vulnerable while everyone else marches in suits of armour, I already said what I needed to say, I’ve moved on, let’s not pick it apart.”
    YES! I’ve never been able to put into words why it is so uncomfortable to talk about the things I blog. Especially the important stuff.

  • Janice

    I just found your blog recently because I’m in my tired thirties. (At the moment it’s more like the aching with exhaustion thirties but I THINK the baby’s fever finally ended last night so dare I hope that by Monday I’ll have worked my way back up to tired?) Anyway, I’ve been meandering through your blog this morning and thought I might stop lurking.

    I have, tangled up in my little self, a slightly snooty streak of intellectualism and a insecure but determined streak of creativity. Nothing is more invigorating than when the two twist together and some neatly laid out logical theological argument (which I thoroughly enjoy) suddenly bursts into life because it is reflected in something poetic. But these soul drenching epiphanies come and go on their own and might be afraid of children because they rarely show up when I’m surrounded by three chattering tiny people. Which is all day. Every day.

    The problem with these two streaks is that they often paralyze me when it comes to writing. I’m drawn to the artistic ideas but every time I start something that intellectual streak starts pointing out that I seem to be wasting a lot of my precious writing time on something wispy. It claims I should be contemplating theological arguments or practical life plans instead of writing something beautiful. Something more teachy. Then the creative part tries to point out that anyone with half a brain can see from the world that God spends a lot of his time creating beauty and that the most life changing things I’ve learned often come through it. And the intellectual streak doesn’t like to have its intelligence insulted, so things spiral from there.

    So thank you for this post because I feel like it validates the creative side. At first it freaked me out a bit because I can’t plop myself in a specific category, but then I felt so relieved to see you give such worth to the creative side. I feel freer this morning than I have in ages to let the writing come in whichever form it will.

    Oh, and how on earth do you write books with three little kids around? Magical powers? No sleep? An IV of some energy drink? Do tell. Or point me to a post where you’ve already told…

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  • This was wonderful. Thank you!

  • How do you always seem to write what’s in my head but I can’t articulate yet!!!!!! I love this post. I love that it describes me in a way i hadn’t recognised yet. It’s so encouraging and releasing without being preachy. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!!! I don’t know how I missed this post before but I think I needed to read it today, so i guess there’s a reason I missed it. Anyway, thank you for your words and your insight and your art. I pray it and you are blessed as you create it.