From August 2000 to June 2015 I was part of a congregation that was both timeless and new. It didn’t begin when I moved to Waco, but it sometimes feels as if I did. University Baptist Church in Waco, TX shaped me, and I hope that in some small way I helped to shape it.
In the summer of 2015, after financial matters led to the dissolution of my staff position, the church gifted me with a sabbatical to rest, reflect and write about the season of my life that had come to an end. The result is the book 17th and Dutton: At the Intersection of Beauty, Beer, Hope and Heartache. (As much as I love writing, I am horrible at coming up with titles. A big thanks to my friend Mark Stephenson for helping me flesh this one out.)
Since returning from sabbatical I have barely begun to scratch the surface of agents, publishers, etc. But what I’m hearing from the ones I have spoken with is that it is a long process, that you should expect to speak with 80 agents before one agrees to take you on, and after that to expect numerous rejections from publishers. I’m also learning what was beginning to be true during my latter days of working in the book retail business: Memoir-ish books generally don’t get published by first time authors who don’t already have a built in following, either as a result of their being a celebrity or as an expert in a certain field.
Since I have a day job, which makes it difficult to become an expert or a celebrity, I’m left with a couple of options– Self publishing or blogging my book. (I suppose I could also just leave it in my computer and hope to accidentally become a celebrity, but that could take a long time.) I’ve decided that since the majority of people who would purchase this book are people I already know, and who I interact with online often, then blogging the book is just as easy as self-publishing it, and more accessible to those who want to read it.
I will be releasing several sections a week, depending on how often I can edit what I already have written. I hope you will do a few things.
First, if you are so inclined, read it. Although the writing process itself was cathartic and healing, I also wrote with an audience in mind. The audience? You. The people who know and have loved me over the years. (As well as those who know but don’t love me.) If you don’t know me, or only know an online version of me, but are interested in the emerging church movement, ecclesiology, Waco, Celebrity Church Culture, God, the idea of “calling,” Christian Community, tragedy, ambition, grief, conflict, friendship, or any combination of these, then you may find the story interesting as well.
Second, I would love if you would interact with what I have written. Post it, Tweet it, Instagram it, SnapChat it (whatever that is,) Social Media it. Start conversations with me about it. Start conversations with others about it. Tell me where I was wrong, where I was right, where you wish I told more and where you fear I told too much. This is the advantage of putting this out online as opposed to publication. We can “talk” about it. (Not to mention that your promotion/interaction what I am writing might help give a publisher more courage to publish this or another future book.)
Lastly, donate. I’ve had enough friends who are published authors to know that writing is only a financially viable career path if you are able to write all the time, and if you get very lucky. (Or blessed, depending on your worldview.) So I never expected to make significant bank from this. But I had hoped to sell a few books and have something to show for my time. I’m asking that if you become a regular reader that at some point between the beginning and the end, you make a minimum donation of $17, which is roughly the cost of an average paperback book (plus a processing fee.) As an incentive for you to give, I am making a commitment to split half the proceeds between two churches that were an integral part of the writing process.
My sabbatical was spent in Tartu, Estonia, with a community I had worked at 19 years before as a student missionary. During the summer I lived in an apartment located in the building of Salem Baptist Church, and wrote mostly in the mornings at a table at the entrance of their sanctuary. On Sundays I worshipped with Tartu International Fellowship (TIF,) an English speaking mission church of Salem’s. Both Salem and TIF consist of beautiful people, inside and out. They live out the Gospel of Jesus in the midst of a culture that is (at best) indifferent to God. These churches took me in and exhibited radical hospitality to me during my time with them. I would love the opportunity to bless them and their work, and to thank them. I have set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $4,000, half of which will go to the work of Salem and TIF.
Whether you are able to give or not, I hope you enjoy what I have written. Many of you have encouraged me for many years to write about my experiences, and the opportunity to do so was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I pray that in my story you will see a flawed follower of Jesus who fell in love with a community, an idea and a place. I hope that love is evident in every word.