11.25.2013

On Regretting Snark

So, earlier today I dashed off a post to which I gave very little thought: An Open Letter to LifeWay Christian Bookstore.  It has very quickly joined Through the Lens of the MagnificatNaked Ken and my Open Letter to My Evangelical Friends in my top ten most popular posts of all time. Even though it has elicited a fairly positive response, I've rarely experienced such a significant wave of blog regret.

One, I didn't think about what it would mean to take five quotes from my book out of context. Two, I didn't think to check and see if LifeWay stocks other Chalice Press books, which they do, and which could potentially be negatively affected by my moment of snarky glory. Three, nor did I think about the reputation I have carefully tended since I first joined the social internet around-about the year 2001.

I'm going to start with number three, and work backwards.

3.
Starting with three means I'm going to start with my friend Keith. I can't think of Keith without thinking of his full Orchard name - Keith From NY. The Orchard was, of course, the now defunct message board community that was hosted by Over the Rhine for their many avid Over the Rhine fans. I was a fairly active member during seminary, and have often thought of my participation in that community as a sort of parallel training for ministry. I learned to interact with a whole bunch of very different people, from fundies to atheists and everyone in between. I determined from the very beginning that I would be kind online. Possibly even sweet, but definitely respectful. And practicing kindness on the Orchard helped me become a person who more readily practices kindness in "real life".

All of this is to say that when Keith, in a perfectly supportive and positive comment, mentioned the "uncharacteristic heights of snarkiness" to which I had risen (or, perhaps, fallen) in that open letter, I took pause. Snarkiness has its place, yes. But I'm not entirely sure it has a place here. I can do snarky - ah yes, I can do snarky - but do I want to do snarky? I'm not so sure.

2.
Can I just take a moment to give some props to Chalice Press? Despite the fact that a negative response to my half-baked blog post could potentially cost the company sales, they didn't send off an angry missive demanding that I take the post down. They also didn't eviscerate my book manuscript, even though it had several elements that send conservative Christian publishers running for the hills. In her thoughtful critique of Christian booksellers, Rachel Held Evans wrote,
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.

Now I’m going to say something that will probably get me into some trouble, something that many editors and writers are afraid to say for fear of losing their jobs or their book contracts, but something which desperately needs to be spoken out loud: Christian bookstores have a chokehold on the Christian publishing industry. And this chokehold not only affects the inventory you find on Christian bookstore shelves, but which books are contracted by publishers, what content gets edited in the writing and editing process, and the degree of freedom authors feel they have to speak on their own blogs and platforms. As a result, the entire Christian industry has been sanitized, while its best artists look elsewhere for publication.
What you should know is that while this is true, this is not true of publishers like Chalice Press. Chalice didn't suggest a single sanitizing edit to my manuscript. They didn't blink at my language or my theology. As the publishing house of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - a denomination that is currently headed by a (fabulous) woman - they did not even think to take issue with my vocation as an ordained clergy woman. Indeed, they pursued a publishing relationship with The Young Clergy Women Project. They don't merely give lip service to female voices, or toss a few token ladies onto the project shelf. They are serious about publishing books by women and men who have something to say, and they have published a catalog of progressive, faithful books. You should check them out.

And finally...

1.
I really took those passages out of context, and in retrospect I'm not convinced that tactic really does justice to what I was trying to do in my book.

Yes, the manuscript had a lot of ladyparts in it. Childbearing does generally involve vaginas - and breasts and hips and hands and hearts. The physicality of motherhood has never ceased to astound me; years after the actual bearing of these children, my body is still critical to my care for my children. Sometimes there is nothing they need more than a parent's embrace, and this is all part of the "incarnationally-shaped bodiliness" Jason Byassee praised in that first exhilarating endorsement of the book.

As for my Jesus Feminist ways... yeah, there isn't really a lot to add. It's true. I can't apologize for being called to ministry, even if it makes some branches of the Church uncomfortable.

I wish that I could be prouder of my support and advocacy for my gay and lesbian friends. I did indeed write "Mazel Tov" about gay marriage, but in a pretty wishy washy way: "[My opinion is], for the record, that same--sex relationships are less of a threat to marriage and society as a whole than, say, divorce. Mazel Tov!" Surely I could have been a little more enthusiastic than to say same-sex marriage is not as bad as divorce. Maybe the understatement was obvious; I wholeheartedly supported same-sex marriage, voting against California Proposition 8 just months after Juliette was born. But maybe times of social transformation are not times for diplomatic understatements, but courageous stands. And I didn't really take one.

I also wrote that the Bible is "far from inerrant." And I still think this. I don't believe that the Bible is inerrant, nor do I think this is remotely a problem. But I did go on to talk about the saving grace of Jesus Christ in that chapter. Truly, my purportedly transgressive preaching about how I did not have the authority to preach ended up being a fairly evangelical message.

And as for that "bullshit"... honestly? I think it could have just as easily been "claptrap", or "crap", or even "baloney." In my old age (ha ha), I've actually decided it is far more charming to curse like a Mennonite housewife than to curse like a sailor. I'm the one who pulled a couple other curse words from my final manuscript - not because of any moralistic hysteria, but because I respect language too much to use the strongest words lightly.

What's done is done. I could pull the post, but the snark is already out of the bag. The best I can do is follow up with an overlong post that will be read by a fraction of the people who read the first.

Mazel Tov.



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