Tag Archives: The Kilns

Thoughts After Writing a Book

In the year 2000, I wrote a list of goals for myself. Life goals. They included such things as traveling across the world, writing music, working at Disney World for a time, and opening a “small, elegant eatery.” Number 6 on the list was “write a book.”

It was around this time last year—the first week in August—when I was sitting at a computer at a hostel in London, checking email frantically before my 30-minutes-for-1-pound window closed. I got an email from an editor at Baker Books who had been interested in my proposal about a book on hip Christianity. The subject of the email was “Good news.”

A year has now gone by. And quite the year it was. I mailed off the manuscript for Hipster Christianity this afternoon—283 pages, 79,000 words. It was a year that took me on amazing research trips to Seattle, Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York, Oxford, London, and Paris. It was a year that found me writing more constantly (like, every spare moment) on one topic than I’d ever done before. It was a year that took a lot out of me personally, spiritually, physically. But it was a good year. I wrote a book that I’m proud of. A book that was sometimes hard to write and sometimes seemed to write itself.

Now that it’s done (at least the first manuscript), I feel excited, relieved, tired, renewed. But mostly I just feel humbled. I still can’t believe I was given the chance to write this book. I’m still pinching myself that I got to write part of it at C.S. Lewis’ desk in Oxford. I thank God for entrusting this project to me and I pray—I PRAY—that what I say in the book leads the church to a productive place of questioning, considering, and defining its identity in the 21st century.

As I write in the Introduction, my motivation in writing the book is not to position myself as some sort of expert or to make some audacious claim about anything, but simply because I love Christianity and I love the church. She is the bride of Christ. I want to see her thrive, expand, and be all that she can be for the world. I want to see the cause of Christ advanced and not muddled up. And this topic—the relationship of the church to the notion of “cool”—strikes me as a vitally important thing that needs to be addressed with tenderness, nuance, and—when appropriate—constructive rebuke.

I’ve always viewed this book as a gift—as something I didn’t think I’d get to do and yet got to do. I’ve always felt like it was a book that needed to be written by someone and that things just happened to come together in the right way so that I could be that someone. It just floors me.

So yeah. The book is written. It’s now going to be edited and doubtless revised over the next few months. If all goes well, it should be on schedule for an August 2010 release.

Thanks for listening and offering feedback along the way. I look forward to the book’s release and all the conversations that will ensue. This exploration is really just beginning.

In the meantime, I’m going to relax and enjoy my favorite things that I’ve mostly neglected in the hectic last eleven months of writing. Things like classical music, fiction, daytrips to the desert, Heidegger, not talking about hipsters, and being still.

And maybe I can also get to the task of opening my quaint elegant eatery. There will be cask ales, Spanish cheese, dark wood interior, and lots of pine nuts.

My Work Here is Done

It’s amazing what a week of focus, peace, quiet and no distractions can do for a writer. Being at the Kilns this past week has been that for me, and it’s paid off. I wrote two whole chapters in my book (I am now two chapters away from the end!), plus the preface. Being in C.S. Lewis’ house has been quite an inspiration, and I’m so blessed to have had the chance to come here.

The week here has been something of a blur (probably because I was plunged into writing so wholeheartedly), but it’s been full of great moments of spiritual rejuvenation and sensory delights. I’ll take you briefly through some of them:

-Eating Ben’s cookies in the Oxford covered market. Anyone who’s had these cookies knows what I’m talking about.
-Waking up whenever I wanted to for seven days straight, with my window open and songbirds singing right outside. Truly glorious.
-Spending time with the two people who are also living at the house right now—Donna and Tammy. So great to hear their stories and share mine with them, and to know that our paths crossed in this place at this time for a reason.
-British grocery stores. I forget how fun and clean and interesting they are. And MAN have they mastered the art of self-checkout technology!
-Watching collegiate rowing on the river in downtown Oxford while drinking Pimms and eating strawberries and clotted cream. Apparently this is what they do here in the summer, and it’s fantastically British.
-Meeting Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson, who popped in to the house a bit today.
-Having coffee in the morning, tea and crumpets in the afternoon, and some sort of wine at dinner. If this is how retirees live, I want to be old.
-Watching no television for a week. Good thing all my shows are done for the season.
-English cheddar cheese. Amazing. And combined with fresh herbs from the garden and organic eggs, it makes a mean omelet.
-Being part of the tour. As tour groups came through the house (usually 1 or 2 a day), I was often sitting at a desk somewhere writing. “Oh, this is one of our resident writers,” the tour guide would say when they came into my room. Among the tourists in these groups was Dr. Timothy George, renowned theologian and Dean of Beeson Divinity School.
-Hitting the hipster jackpot in the Hackney borough of London on Sunday. The church I visited (Grace Church Hackney) was a great place to worship and will be featured in my book.

All of these things have made this an incredibly memorable, enriching, useful week for me… one of those weeks that feels more productive and full than the average month of “regular life.” I’m so incredibly thankful that I am here, and when I leave tomorrow it will be bittersweet. But it’s off to the next exciting place—London (for 3 days). And then Paris for the final 3 days of my trip, before returning home to California next Tuesday. Until then—Further up and further in!

What Does “Mere Christianity” Look Like?

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“It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.”

-C.S. Lewis, preface to Mere Christianity

I always loved C.S. Lewis’ idea of “mere Christianity”—that there are fundamental beliefs about God and Christ that bind the church together, even while so many of the particulars might be different or contradictory. It’s an idea that makes sense. And it’s comforting. It helps explains why Christianity as a belief system has managed to survive so many centuries and penetrate so many disparate cultures. There are certain core beliefs (amazing, world changing beliefs) that can’t help but endure. And as I’ve spent the last few days in Lewis’ house here in Oxford, his idea—“mere Christianity” is one I’ve thought about again and again.

I think about it while I’m writing my book, for one thing. If there is any underlying reason why I’m writing the book, it’s that I think the church today needs to rediscover “mere Christianity” as opposed to “cool Christianity” or “jazzy Christianity” or “online Christianity” (or whatever other conflated, stylized “Christianity” you can think of). I think we’ve become obsessed with the form and presentation of the Gospel while forsaking its substance (or divorcing substance from form, which is equally problematic). And I think a good dose of “mere Christian” back-to-basics and unity-mindedness could do us some good.

I also thought about this idea as I was in downtown Oxford today, looking at old cathedrals and convents and churches and vestiges of Christianity’s indelible impact on this place. I especially liked seeing the Oxford Martyrs monument, on the spot where Thomas Cranmer and 2 others were burned at the stake for their beliefs. Though the church is not alive here like it once was, the physical and spiritual remnants are enough to inspire anyone. Sitting in the University Church of St. Mary’s on Thursday I was able to catch a free chorale concert by a touring choir from William Jewell College in Missouri. It was sad to me that beautiful cathedrals like this in Oxford are now primarily venues for concerts and tourism, but then when the choir started singing the American folk hymn, “What Wondrous Love is This,” it didn’t matter. It was beautiful and transcendent. When songs like that are still being sung in places like this, the worldwide church is alive and well.

I think about the idea when I’m chatting with Tammy, the other writer who is currently staying at the Kilns, or Donna, who is the caretaker of the Kilns and also lives here. We are all from different backgrounds and Christian traditions, but we are all fond of Lewis and fond of “mere Christian” fellowship. It’s been great hearing about Tammy’s passionate and daring preference for the book of John over anything Paul wrote. It’s fun having an afternoon Pimms-and-pineapple juice with Donna and talking about our mutual appreciation for Tim Keller. It was fantastic when the three of us had dinner and drinks at a restaurant on the banks of the Thames last night in Oxford. The C.S. Lewis Foundation always has a knack for bringing unlikely groups of people together and allowing them to experience the heavenly feeling of mere Christian fellowship… and this week has been one more instance of that.

I will probably be thinking of this idea tomorrow when I go to London and visit some churches (Grace Church Hackney and Hillsong London). I love going to Christian churches in foreign countries (I love going to churches just about anywhere) and seeing how the Christians in a given community worship. I love having communion at these churches—jumping right in to this ultimate sacrament of community, like every Christian should wherever they are in the world. Every church is a little different, and some are very different—but ultimately they all are centered around the same Someone—Jesus Christ—and speak praise and thanks in the same voice—that of the worldwide body of Christ, the Church.

Finally, I think of Lewis’ idea as I sit here, in his bedroom, thinking about the type of Christian he was. Lewis gave so much of himself when he was alive. I think about how he took in some kids from London during the war, and how he gave away most of his income from book sales, and how he replied to every fan letter he ever received. And this is to say nothing of his immense scholarly and literary contributions to the Christian tradition and the world at large. He was a man of God, to be sure, and if I can be a mere Christian in the Lewisian mold I will certainly have lived a good life.