Sunday, July 30, 2006

Booklist review of The Suburban Christian

I just saw on the page for my book that it has been reviewed by Booklist, the review magazine of the American Library Association:

We often hear about the American dream, but the suburban dream? Is that an oxymoron? According to Hsu, more than half the American populace now lives in suburbia. There, he maintains, it offers a contemporary version of the huddled masses in search of a better life who populated modern America. A suburbanite himself, Hsu has a love-hate relationship with the suburban lifestyle. He easily lists the many negative aspects associated with suburban living: long commutes, anonymity and isolation, the generic nature of the housing, lack of true community. Is it possible, he asks, to live authentically Christian lives as suburbanites? Yes, he replies, and here discusses how suburbia can shape Christianity and vice versa. Making a well-meaning and honest appraisal of the way that many Americans live, Hsu offers suggestions on how suburbanites can become better Christians. He is an immensely appealing writer, and what he has to say, which includes practical and incremental steps to take, will resonate with many suburbanites and nonsuburbanites alike. June Sawyers Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Blogging and memoir

A comment on a previous post asked, "How is blogging (and reading blogs) like and unlike memoir or a collection of essays?" I started to write a comment in response, and it got long enough that I figured I'd just make this its own post.

We didn't discuss this question per se during our seminar, but the topic of blogging came up, especially in regards to how blogging is shaping how people read and write. Blogging certainly has stylistic commonalities with memoir, in terms of self-disclosure and self-reflection. I don't want to overgeneralize here, because blogs and memoirs both come in so many different styles and forms - some far more breezy and off-the-cuff, while others are more measured and reflective. I'd guess that a key distinction is that blogging is primarily addressing immediate, momentary issues and thoughts, whereas memoirs are at least intended to have a longer shelf life. To oversimplify, blogging tends to be timely but not timeless, while memoir, essay and other published work hopes to be both timely and timeless.

This of course affects the style, tone and quality of the writing. When I write a blog post, I'll look it over a few times and tweak it here or there, but I do far less revision than I do on writing intended for print publication. Blogs are meant to be much more immediate, so they have more of a "first draft" quality about them. This post is certainly different than what I might write if I were to develop a fuller journal article on the topic. And while the material that people write in blog form could be adapted or repurposed in memoir or other writing, I've told folks that writing for their blog is different enough a medium than writing for publication that they really shouldn't cut and paste blog posts into chapter drafts. Better to rewrite the material more thoroughly in long form, with the kind of care and attention that books and articles demand.

When blogging first started to emerge, some publishing houses offered book contracts to prominent bloggers. Some of those books by bloggers were little more than compliations of blog material, and it doesn't seem like those kinds of books have done very well. After all, little of the content is likely to have enduring value, especially given the time needed to publish a print book (often a year or so), and why pay for a physical book if the material is already online for free? On the other hand, some bloggers are good writers and thinkers whether they are writing for blogs, magazines or books, and publishing bloggers has been an opportunity for traditional publishers to find some fresh voices to contribute to cultural conversations.

There's also a new phenomenon called the "blook," in which books are written (in part or in whole) via blogging. For example, I recall seeing one where a woman was contracted to write a travelogue/pilgrimage book, and as she traveled from site to site, she would post sections of what would become chapters on her blog. This provides the opportunity to have immediate interactive feedback from readers during the writing process, and the comments that are posted shape the material in revision. So blooks could be a public way of writing a book in (virtual) community.

It has also occurred to me that blogging may well be a contemporary form of public spiritual journals and diaries, like those of David Brainerd or Richard Baxter. I could be wrong on this, but my understanding is that while they were certainly personal in nature, they were also circulated publicly to edify others. There has been some discussion about whether blogs are inherently narcissistic or whatnot, and I'd say that like all writing, everything depends on the writer. If a writer is self-absorbed and unreflective, that'll be true of his or her writing whether it's a blog or a book. But good writers will transcend the limitations of whatever genre or medium they're working in. And so I'm optimistic that the best Christian bloggers will stand in the tradition of Augustine, David Brainerd and other Christian journalers and memoirists.

As far as how reading blogs differs from reading (book-length, print) memoir, well, I'm not sure that can be answered apart from the larger questions of how we read a book differently than how we read online or onscreen. Too big a topic to get into here. But the ability to link to and from other sources is perhaps blogging's most significant distinctive, but it naturally has its pros and cons. I love being able to connect to interesting sites, articles and other blogs, but I have burned up so many hours of surfing the blogosphere just wandering from one thing to the next to the next. For a personality like mine (ENFP, described as a frisky puppy that wants to have his nose into everything, and Enneagram Seven, which takes joy in everything about the world and doesn't want to miss out on anything), the never-ending infinite nature of the blogosphere and the internet in general means that I waste a lot of time online when I should be doing something more productive.

Well, this has turned into a post more about blogging in general rather than blogging and memoir in particular. But on the whole, from a writing perspective, I think blogging has been helpful in that it has provided an opportunity for many to write, to learn to make careful observations about life and culture, to share their thoughts and tell their stories. I'm glad that the blogosphere is primarily a text-based, interactive culture rather than an image-based, passive medium (like television). Those of us in the publishing industry often bemoan the decline of reading and writing, but blogging may well herald a resurgence of love for the written word.

What is your suburb’s personality?

Back in college, one of the more influential textbooks I read was Ray Bakke’s now-classic urban ministry book The Urban Christian. It helped me and my predominantly rural classmates get a vision for God’s care for and call to the city. (I intentionally titled my book The Suburban Christian as an homage and tribute to Bakke’s book, and I see them as companions in metropolitan continuity.)

One insight from Bakke’s book that has always stuck with me is the notion that every city has a distinct personality and identity, usually shaped by that city’s particular history and geography. Bakke observed that some cities are industrial cities, like Chicago or Detroit. Other cities are financial or commercial cities, like New York. He also identified some cities as cultural cities, like Paris or Los Angeles. And others are administrative or bureaucratic cities, like Washington, D.C.

Of course, he’s making some fairly broad generalizations, and every city overlaps many of these categories, but some trait or another often does emerge as predominant. This is why some cities have reputations as working-class cities, cosmopolitan cities, intellectual cities or whatnot. The personality of a Berkeley or Cambridge is certainly distinct from a Tucson or Seattle. In a city like Chicago that has a history of multiple ethnic and cultural enclaves, this applies on a local neighborhood level as well; Lawndale is a different kind of Chicago neighborhood than the Gold Coast, Hyde Park or Chinatown. The better we understand our city’s history and identity and befriend our city’s unique personality, the better we will be able to minister to our city and seek the welfare of the city.

I would suggest that Bakke’s concept applies on the suburban level as well. Suburbia is often critiqued as the geography of nowhere, a place of cookie-cutter uniformity where every suburb feels much the same. But when we examine the suburban landscape more closely, we also find particularity and uniqueness from suburb to suburb even in the midst of general similarity. Some suburbs are historically residential bedroom communities, some are technological suburbs, some are more liberal, others more conservative. Some suburbs have a more established feel, with a sense of permanence and history, while others are more recent and have a more transient population. Often suburbs are shaped by the character of a prominent local industry or institution, like a company, hospital or liberal arts college.

One key to this that’s especially noticeable in the summer is how suburbs often have distinct themes for their local community festivals. Whether a community celebrates Heritage Festival, Railroad Days, Strawberry Fest or whatever, the traditions and emphases of individual suburban communities are clues to a suburb’s historic personality and identity. We who are suburban Christians ought to befriend our local suburb and get to know its distinctive personality, just as we would befriend and get to know our individual neighbors.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Calvin seminar: Writing as Christian Proclamation

I'm halfway through a two-week seminar on writing as Christian proclamation in Calvin College's Seminars in Christian Scholarship program. (I blogged earlier about some of the preparatory reading for the seminar.) There's about fifteen of us participating, including authors, editors, journalists, pastors, professors and other educators. We've been discussing the pros and cons of various recent Christian books and authors of note, such as Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, Patton Dodd, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Donald Miller and others. Thus far, we've focused on a few particular genres and categories, especially memoir and apologetics.

What's been interesting is the mix of perspectives on how effective an author or book might be. What struck some of us as authentic and honest struck others as contrived or artificial; some satirical or sarcastic passages seemed appropriately incisive to some of us but felt merely angry or cynical to others. It's been a reminder to me that just as each of us have different first impressions of the people we meet, depending on our personality or temperament or common interests or whatnot, we likewise all have different impressions of the authors and books we read. Books are an opportunity to befriend authors we might never tolerate at a dinner party, but the idiosyncratic nature of personal voice means that no matter how excellent the writing, no author or book will please everyone. Every book will naturally attract certain kinds of readers and repel others.

A few important distinctions came up - for instance, the nuance of difference between Christian proclamation and Christian witness. Proclamation, as in apologetic or evangelistic books, is intended to persuade or convince, and usually a particular reader is targeted by the author, with the hopes of helping the reader to "cross the line" or "pray the prayer," as in many traditional apologetics, or to simply bring the reader farther along on the journey, as in many more recent apologetic works. Witness, on the other hand, does not necessarily aim to persuade the reader but mainly just seeks to testify to what one has seen and experienced. Memoir is often witness but not necessarily apologetic, though of course, depending on the reader's location, it can serve as both. That was another point of discussion, the blurring of categories between apologetic and catechetical books. More often than not, books that are supposedly written with the intent of explaining the faith to outsiders have more significant usage and readership among insiders who are seeking to understand better the Christian life they have already committed themselves to.

Beyond the content, style and effectiveness of the writing itself, we've also been talking about the Christian publishing industry and marketplace. On Friday several of us "publishing industry professionals" talked about the business realities of Christian publishing. A guest speaker mentioned that "most of the time, spiritual memoir just doesn't work." Deb Rienstra (the convener of the seminar) asked in clarification, "When you say 'doesn't work,' do you mean 'doesn't sell'?" And the guest confirmed, yes, that's right - while a few spiritual memoirs have done very well, many, many more have completely tanked. One book that the group praised for its literary merit, creative originality and allusions to Flannery O'Connor was also a book that has not sold well at all.

Often we have no idea why one book sells while another doesn't. I cited something that my company's publisher has mentioned before: "Publishing is like shooting a gun in the air and hoping a duck flies by." I'm glad we're not just looking at bestsellers during this seminar, but also books that have performed poorly in terms of sales, despite their literary and editorial merit. I've been thinking in terms of what transferable principles we can learn from the books we've been studying. It's not enough for books to "be honest like Blue Like Jazz" or for authors to pitch themselves as the next Anne Lamott. Editors and publishers get hundreds of proposals every day that claim to be these things, but rarely has the writer honed his or her craft. I don't want new writers to copycat Anne Lamott's style; I want them to read these kinds of books, learn from them, but ultimately to find their own unique, compelling and distinct voice.

We've talked a lot about Brian McLaren and Rob Bell, both of whom have plenty of critics but also have legions of devotees. In a moment of convergence, this morning McLaren happened to be speaking at Rob Bell's church, Mars Hill Bible Church here in the Grand Rapids area, while Bell was out of town. Several of us from the seminar visited Mars Hill to hear McLaren, who spoke on themes from his new book, The Secret Message of Jesus, which I just started reading. Good material on the kingdom of God and the call to rebuild, restore and renew that which is broken in this world, not merely dream of escape from this world. Not particularly new, but McLaren is a compelling champion of his cause, just as other folks have championed their causes for years, like Richard Foster for spiritual formation or Ron Sider for social justice. An image McLaren used that captured my imagination was his description of a Christian as "a secret agent for the kingdom of God." My wife said that that was a particularly guy way of thinking about it. I said, "Sydney Bristow on Alias is a secret agent, too. We can all be secret agents!" Anyway . . . a lot to think about this week. More later.

P.S. The seminar is sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and their site and blog has some further thoughts and notes on the seminar here.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Superheroes in the suburbs?

Saw the new Superman Returns movie last week, and while it had some good sequences, on the whole I was somewhat disappointed. Maybe two stars out of four. The actors felt too young to be plausible for the story. It would have been better if they had rebooted it entirely, like Batman Begins, rather than try to have the story in continuity with the first two Christopher Reeve movies.

It seems that most superhero comic book stories take place in urban centers, not suburbs or rural areas. Superman is in Metropolis, Batman is in Gotham City, and most of the heroes of the Marvel universe, from Spider-Man and Daredevil to the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, all live in a hero-overcrowded New York City. And there's a strong East Coast bias; very few heroes are based in the west. Of course, this reflects the fact that both DC Comics and Marvel Comics are headquartered in New York. And Superman and Batman were created in the 1930s before suburbia really came to the fore.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because I just read the trade paperback for the first collected volume of a new DC character, Manhunter, who by day is a district attorney in Los Angeles and by night is a costumed vigilante that uses weaponry confiscated from captured supervillains. There’s a sequence where the protagonist, Kate Spencer, is standing beneath the “H” of the Hollywood sign (the closest thing Los Angeles has to an iconic landmark like the Statue of Liberty), and she muses to herself, “Now I know why there are so few active metahumans in L.A. Everything is so spread out. It’s not like I can swing from skyscraper to skyscraper.” Then she starts to follow a supervillain using a tracking device. Because she can’t fly, she gets in her car and drives to follow him. She thinks to herself, “This is pathetic. I need a jetpack or something.”

Unlike older East Coast urban centers, Los Angeles and other newer cities in the south and west are decentralized, multicentered metropolises that are suburban in form. As folks in LA know, you need to drive to get anywhere. (One of the improbabilities of 24 is that it seems to only take Jack Bauer twenty minutes to get places. If 24 really reflected LA, an episode would feature Jack stuck in traffic for the full hour.) I find it interesting that Manhunter’s writer, Marc Andreyko, acknowledges the geographic challenges of urban/suburban sprawl. It always seemed kind of unlikely that Batman or Spider-Man could travel great distances across a city simply by swinging from webs or bat-lines. Or that the Batmobile never gets stuck in traffic.

Now I’m trying to remember if any major superheroes are set in suburban contexts. Nothing really comes to mind. Green Lantern was set in Coast City (an LA doppleganger), the Flash takes place in Central City/Keystone City, which are Midwestern cities like St. Louis, and Hawkman and Hawkgirl patrol St. Roch, which is the equivalent of New Orleans. For a while, Wonder Woman was based in Gateway City, which I think was supposed to be San Francisco. I think Green Arrow’s Star City is somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, like Seattle or Portland, but I’m not sure. Superman, of course, hails from Smallville and moved to Metropolis, signifying the American historical shift from rural to urban areas.

(Sometimes Metropolis is written as an East Coast city, perhaps in Rhode Island, while other times, as in Smallville on TV, Metropolis is in Kansas, the big city closest to Smallville, like a Wichita, about three hours away. The best quote I’ve heard is from comic book writer Frank Miller, who says that Metropolis is New York during the day, and Gotham City is New York at night.)

If any suburban superheroes come to mind, let me know. And if you’re a comic book fan, check out the blogs Loud Time and Strangely Dim by my pal Dave Zimmerman, author of Comic Book Character.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Links: Burb, a theology of suburbia and suburban dreams

I’m now in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Calvin College, for one of their Seminars in Christian Scholarship. What’s great is that the SCS program “welcomes scholars as whole persons—as embodied creatures with spouses and children, hobbies and interests, passions and pastimes.” So Ellen and the boys are here with me for the next two weeks; they’ll get to do some kid programs while I’m in seminar discussions and meetings, and we should have free time and evenings together to play. We packed up the minivan yesterday with clothes and kitchen gear and linens and toys and whatnot (ironically, the sermon at church was on Mark 6, where Jesus sends out the disciples and tells them not to bring a bag or anything), drove to Michigan, and found our way to our campus apartment to move in. Josiah was pretty excited about the adventure at first and was thrilled to run around the campus and explore, though by evening he was getting a little nervous about being here and said, “Let’s go home now.”

The seminar officially starts today, and I haven’t done anything yet except the precourse reading, so in the meantime, I’ll post some links to other blogs and resources about suburbia that I’ve been meaning to highlight. Here are a few I’ve come across recently that are quite helpful. First of all, Burb: Where You Live is a magazine that tracks news about all things suburban, relating to demographics, architecture, housing trends, public policy and much, much more. Just about every news item Burb posts and links to has implications for suburban Christians interested in understanding and ministering to our suburban context. Next, a suburban seminary student, Scott Berkheimer of Theopraxis has a multi-part theology of suburbia here.

I also recently came across Simply Simon’s blog – Simon is in Australia, and I’m particularly interested in hearing about how suburbs look in other countries, how they differ from or are similar to American suburbs. Simon, a theology professor interested in urban planning, has some thoughtful reviews and analysis of recent suburban-related books, including Death by Suburb, Sidewalks in the Kingdom and The Good Life.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Books, books and more books

A postscript to my last post - besides the ECPA book awards, other Christian organizations have their own awards as well. The Logos bookstore chain has their Logos Book Awards, and I was thrilled to find out this week that two of IVP's books won Logos awards this year - God in the Flesh by Don Everts in the Christianity/Culture category, and Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton in the Spirituality/Devotional category.

Don is one of my authors, and Ellen and I had a great dinner with him last night. Don is best known for his book Jesus with Dirty Feet, and he's one of the key people in IVP's new Likewise line of books. He's an area director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship here in Colorado, and he drove in to the convention center to discuss various editorial issues and to just catch up and hang out. I was very happy to be able to inform him of his Logos award, since I worked with him to develop God in the Flesh. It's a great book, and I'm glad it was recognized.

I've had a good week at the convention both as an editor and as an author. As an editor, I've met with various folks, some of whom are already IVP authors, others who are potential authors. As an author, I did a booksigning for my book and did some media interviews with print and radio. I even had my first podcast interview. The ICRS convention is also fun for me because I get to see a lot of publishing industry friends, especially fellow Gen Xers and twenty/thirtysomethings in the business. We catch up, compare notes, talk about trends and funny things other publishers are doing. Book geeks hanging out with other book geeks - this is my tribe.

Part of the convention experience is seeing what new titles and authors are being featured for this next season. A lot of stuff doesn't interest me or intersect with me; for example, I don't edit fiction or children's books, so I mostly ignore those displays unless I see something that would be fun for Ellen or the kids. But there are some books that warrant notice. Some of the recent and new books that caught my eye here include:

The Great Omission, Dallas Willard's new book on discipleship from HarperSanFrancisco
Eat This Book, the next volume in Eugene Peterson's spiritual theology series from Eerdmans
The Missing Gospels, by Darrell Bock (Thomas Nelson) and What Have They Done with Jesus? by Ben Witherington (HarperSanFrancisco), both of which are responses to Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, Elaine Pagels, Dan Brown and other recent authors and books touting alternative gospels and early Christianities (IVP's own book in this vein is the forthcoming Fabricating Jesus by Craig Evans)

I also picked up a copy of Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus (W Publishing), which came out a couple of months ago, and Celtic Treasure by J. Philip Newell (Eerdmans), which came out last year. There's many more books that could be listed, but these are some of the highlights, the one's I'm excited enough to bring with me on the plane home this afternoon.

It's been a good week, but it's also been almost five days away from our kids. This is the first trip where both Ellen and I have been away from the boys since Elijah was born, and we're eager to get back to them. Heading home soon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Christian Book of the Year is . . .

On Monday night, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association had its annual Christian Book Awards ceremony. They award the best book in various categories (fiction, children, Christian life, etc.), and they also name a single Book of the Year overall. Previous winners have been books by Philip Yancey, Max Lucado, and for the last two years running, The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren.

This year, they cut the categories down from twenty categories to six, and they changed the judging so that of the six category winners, the one with the highest overall ranking score becomes the book of the year. (A full list of the nominees and winners is available here.) So - guess what was this year's winner?

The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, edited by Kevin Vanhoozer, published by Baker Academic.

Shock and scandal! A 900-page, $55 academic theological reference work is the Christian publishing industry's 2006 book of the year! Wow. I was bummed that it beat out our nominee in the Bible Reference & Study category (IVP's Dictionary of Old Testament: Historical Books), but I'm thrilled that such a weighty, substantive book was honored for its significance in scholarship.

The funny thing is that the industry had all these big plans to promote the book of the year with big endcap displays in stores and to try to get major media coverage and whatnot. Well, I'm not sure that Vanhoozer's dictionary is going to be a stocking stuffer that everyday folks will pick up at Wal-Mart. It may be the lowest-selling, highest-priced book of the year ever. But kudos to Baker Academic. It's a sea change in what is recognized as an award-winning Christian book.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dispatches from the International Christian Retail Show

This week Ellen and I are in Denver for the International Christian Retail Show, formerly known as CBA International, the annual convention of the Christian Booksellers Association. Something like 10,000+ Christian industry professionals - publishers, retailers, authors, editors, agents, sales reps, journalists, etc. - gather for a week of promoting and selling new Christian books, music, videos and gifts. I've been attending CBA/ICRS shows since 1998, and this year I'm wearing two hats - I'm here as an IVP editor, and I'm here as an IVP author. So I'm networking with my authors and industry contacts, and I'm also promoting my new book.

It's always interesting to see what big new books or authors are being promoted. It seems like every year there's a new trend - a few years ago it was Jabez stuff (including a Jesus fish that said "JABEZ" in it instead of "Jesus"), and more recently, it's been Tolkien tie-ins, Da Vinci Code critiques and Narnia spinoffs. This year there are a few Superman-related things, but not a whole lot. I saw one booth with a "Christian Pirates" theme, and I don't know if that was supposed to tie in to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie or what.

The Christian publishing industry is an interesting world. Lots of money goes into creating and promoting authors, artists and brand identities. Publishers sponsor all sorts of things here to get their message out - the keycard for our hotel room featured a publisher's new logo, as part of their branding efforts. General market publishers have been increasingly getting into Christian publishing because it's quite profitable; Christians are a big market and audience. AOL Time Warner's book division started Warner Faith a few years ago, which has had megasellers by Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer and the like, and just recently the book division was purchased by a French company called Hachette International, I think. So they renamed the division Hachette Book Group USA, and Warner Faith is now FaithWords. Too bad they didn't go with something like Hachette Faith. "Hatchet Faith - Christian books that cut to the heart." (The cheesy pun is a staple of the Christian industry - I saw a booth here for some Noah's Ark company that bills itself as "State of the Ark.")

Ownership and financial backing of Christian media is interesting. Zondervan is owned by HarperCollins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. I'm surprised that they haven't been rebranded as HarperGrandRapids, to parallel their other religious imprint, HarperSanFrancisco. Thomas Nelson used to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, but it was recently purchased by a group of private investors for something like half a billion dollars. I just heard yesterday that Multnomah Publishers (which was family-owned, I think), has just been purchased by somebody, but further details were not available.

At any convention or trade show, the cost of stuff is unbelievable. It would have cost us $600 to have internet access in our booth. It's often cheaper for exhibitors to buy stuff onsite (like tables, shelves, even TVs or DVD players) and leave them behind than to ship their own down or to rent materials from the convention center. At my hotel, bottled water is $3.00 in the snack shop and $5.00 in the rooms. A 20 oz. Coke is $3.00. I can't even begin to estimate how much money goes into one of these conventions, how much it costs individual bookstore managers and buyers to fly out, stay in hotels, pay for meals, etc.

And I happened to watch Rob Bell's latest Nooma video, Rich, on the hotel channel the other day. He talked about how all of us as North American Christians are rich. If we have clean drinking water, we are rich. If we've eaten today, we're rich. A billion people have not had a meal today. If we have a car, we are rich. 92% of the people in the world do not own a car. The video is quite well done and convicting, challenging affluent American Christians to be more generous and globally aware, to be better stewards and sacrificial in our giving. It's an important message.

And yet there's an irony in such a video being produced and promoted with tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hope Zondervan/HarperCollins/News Corp./Murdoch is also using its wealth and resources toward global justice issues, health care, etc. I'm encouraged that Bono, the Gates Foundation, Warren Buffett and others are championing philanthropy at really high profiles. I heard something on the radio from a philanthropic organization that talked about how when these media personalities give such large amounts, it encourages ordinary people to give as well. I know that a lot of Christian companies give a lot of their profits directly to various ministries; I think some might even tithe in some form or another. So while the commercial environment of the Christian retail industry is inescapable, I'm hopeful that the powers-that-be wield their influence and resources wisely and Christianly.

Well, I was going to say more about the actual books, but that will have to wait for another post.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On the radio

Last week I had a bunch of radio interviews relating to my book, and it was fun to interact with the hosts about the content. I've done a few dozen interviews in the past for my previous books, and you never really know what's going to happen. Some interviewers have not read the book and just ask questions from a pre-scripted list, while others have read the book and interact deeply with the content. (Those are the most satisfying, needless to say.) Some interviews are taped for later rebroadcast, and they can edit out all the "ummms" and "uhhhhs," but most are live, and it's a little freaky to think that what I say into the phone is being heard by thousands of people at that very instant. I have to fight off the occasional temptation to say something wholly inappropriate. The scariest interviews are the ones where the show is open to live callers - you have absolutely no idea where folks are coming from, and they could ask absolutely anything. When I did interviews for my book Grieving a Suicide, I got some heartrending calls from folks who had recently lost a loved one to suicide, and it's quite challenging to try to provide some degree of personal pastoral care over the radio.

This last wave of interviews for the suburban book went pretty well. While a few stuck to the script, the rest had either read the book or at least had acquainted themselves with the themes of several chapters, so they interacted with the content and asked their own questions. It's interesting to see what different hosts want to talk about. One fellow mostly asked questions about suburbia's consumer culture, while another show focused on the issues related to commuting. One host asked about racial diversity in churches, which relates to part of my topic but I wasn't sure that I could speak authoritatively on the issue, so I sort of punted and referred listeners to another IVP book.

The neatest thing about the interviews is that one host had been on a brief mission trip a few days before my interview with him, and he had not yet received a copy of the book before he left. His trip was with several other radio hosts, and on the plane one of them said something like, "Have you seen this book? You should have this guy on your show." And the book she pulled out of her bag was The Suburban Christian! So he read her copy on the plane and was prepared for the interview. How cool. Sure feels like a God thing to me.