I always wanted to be the type of writer Madeleine L’Engle was. who was a Christian and was also a writer, but spurned the label “Christian writer.” In an interview, she called herself “a writer who is struggling to be a Christian.” Those words, perhaps, best encapsulate my current moment as a writer.
After a few years of trying to brand myself as a spiritual writer, I’ve currently let go of brands, let go of labels, and let go of blogging. I’m not sorry. I needed to move most of my writing out of the public realm for a while. But somewhere during those years, I wrote a burning, sad, hopeful essay about my brother’s death, the movie Tree of Life, the Orthodox Church, and the Biblical Jacob who wrestled with God. Here’s an excerpt:
The camera shots: unusual, sideways, angled – that’s how it is when someone dies- everything is out of place, jumbled, uncomfortable backwards. No truth is upright anymore.
Everything created: the burning fires of the sun, the depths of the ocean brimming with gorgeous creatures, the sky full of wings – all of that incredible creation collapses when part of it dies.
The music: It could be the soundtrack to my childhood – the piano and organ, watching my mother’s hands and feet moving, listening to my father’s tenor voice flowing all over the house. And then, it stopped. Dammed up. Silence.
It’s when the older brother says, Where were you? You let a boy die. It is me. I am the older sibling, always expected to do right. I am walking through that desert, searching for Will, searching for that perfect family that I lost.
Oddly enough, even before my self-proclaimed faith crisis, I was already squabbling in doubt and uncertainty.
My essay, “Wrestling with God in the Arthouse Theater,” was accepted into an anthology, and just when I thought the project had dwindled to nothing, I got an email that the book had a new agent and a new publisher. Soul Bare, a book of stories of redemption and raw, real faith, comes out July 8 from InterVarsity Press, after four years in the making.
Soul Bare is a wealth of authentic stories that don’t sugarcoat the struggles of faith. You will find essays from Sarah Bessey, Seth Haines, Emily P. Freeman, and many other spiritual writers. These stories are tenuous and beautiful.
Do I still fit among these Christian writers even though I struggle to state what I believe anymore? I think I do. I know that there are other people out there like me: stuck in a gray area between belief and unbelief and unsure where to go next. Is God really out there? I hope so, but I’m not sure, and I think there are others who are longing to admit that they aren’t sure either, that they sometimes question everything they’ve been taught.
I want this book to be a gift for people like that. People like me, who have received a great legacy of faith, but who sometimes feel uncomfortable with it. People like me, who think Jesus showed us the way to live, but who still question him sometimes. People like me, who got lost in the middle of the map they knew by heart.
And I also want it to be a gift for people who believe. For the people who’ve never doubted or struggled or asked the hard questions. I want them to see a faith that digs deep into the psyche and soul, a journey that can feel bewildering to some. I want them to see the amalgam of pain and hope, confusion and peace that I find in these essays.
I’m proud to have a voice in this book, even though I’m still not sure what kind of writer I am or where my beliefs fall. And really, that’s what the entire book is about: searching for God, searching for truth, in the midst of raw human life.
Praise for Soul Bare:
“What does it mean to be ‘authentic’? We give the word a lot of reverence, but actually stepping out in authenticity remains a frightening prospect for many of us. There are those parts of our lives that we would rather not acknowledge, that we would rather forget, that we assume would isolate us if they were found out. Soul Bare is proof that authenticity never isolates, but always invites new growth and community. Any reader is bound to find him or herself in these pages somewhere.”
—Matt Appling, author of Life After Art and Plus or Minus
“Wading through the waters of Soul Bare, I felt I’d been entrusted with something precious. These pages are filled with the all-too-true and all-too-resonant stories of real people who have loved, lost, sinned, survived, hoped, and healed. The fact that these contributors happen to be gifted writers only makes the reading that much better. They are in essence ‘going first,’ bringing their scars into broad daylight so the rest of us will follow—and Lord knows we need to. It’s way too easy to hide behind small talk and Christian cliche. You can get away with it for quite a long time, but real life begins in real relationship. And relationships are born of vulnerability. We’ve got to learn to drop our masks and be human together. I’m grateful beyond words to the brave women and men who shared their humanity and God’s goodness on the pages of this book. It’s an absolute gift.”
—Christa Wells, award-winning singer/songwriter