On my Facebook page, I have the following quotation from T. M. McNally: “When you die, I believe, God isn’t going to ask you what you published. God’s going to ask you what you wrote.”
Despite having a difference of opinion with McNally on what happens when we die, I believe there is something valid—and reassuring—in that passage. First, the obvious. Yes, I consider myself a writer and have published a few books, articles and stories during the past three decades. One of the memories I have from when I arrived at Southwestern in 1998 was having a journalism student tell me that he’d heard I was coming to the school and he came here because he wanted to be my student. Even now I occasionally get a positive comment from someone who read a book I might have written years ago.
But the comments are few and far between these days, mostly because the stuff I write doesn’t neatly fit into a particular category that book publishers and their marketers can sell. Having been a book editor, I know the process. And despite my own better sense, I have a bad habit of writing books that don’t fit the common mold.
But at this point in my life, I’ve decided to spend my time writing what I consider important, rather than trying to meet the demands of book marketers. If I were to talk to my younger self—the one that was a book editor—I am sure I would have a lively conversation.
Editor Glen: So, what are you working on?
Professor Glen: I’m continuing my book series on the pastor who is accused of being a terrorist because he does what God asks him to.
Editor Glen: (shaking head slowly). Uh, right. What else are you working on?
Seriously, I spend a great deal of my summer writing Christian fiction, as well as secular fiction that has a more subtle Christian message. No takers yet—at least on the latest batch of stuff I’ve come up with—but I keep trying. I firmly believe in the words of J. B. Phillips in his book, Your God Is Too Small: “The continuous emergence of the God behind God is the mark of creative courage in the religious sphere.” In other words, which layer of the onion are you at in your understanding of God? Let’s not all just look at the surface layer. Instead, Phillips—and God—challenges us to open up new understandings of God using new techniques and new concepts offered to new audiences.
Students have varying definitions for the word “success,” as we all do. It’s nice to get published, but it’s nicer still to have a message that you feel strongly about AND to find someone willing to publish it. My goal in teaching communication students here is to give them the skills they need to communicate on a professional level as well as give them the Christian foundation and opportunity to find out what message they need to communicate. As I told one of my journalism graduates a few years ago, “It’s not enough to know how to write; you have to have something to say.”
That’s the real benefit of a Christian liberal arts education. We provide students with both the tools to communicate as well as the spiritual foundation that gives them something to say.
And to me, success isn’t just in getting someone to listen to your words. It’s much more satisfying to dig deeply into your soul and share the Christian experience on a level so truthful and honest that it takes every ounce of our courage to share it.
Whether the world listens to what we have to say or not is not really our burden to bear. Of course, we have an obligation to present it the most professional manner that we can. But we shouldn’t be embarrassed by the message we have to share, especially if we believe God has given us that message. We have to be sensitive to the audience, and do what we can to put it in words they’ll feel comfortable with. But there comes a point where you have just put it out there and leave it in God’s hands. To me, that’s a comfort, knowing that it’s inevitably up to God.
In the meantime, I think back to all the Adventist pioneers such as William Fagal, H.M.S. Richards and George Vandeman and remind myself that often they were looked at as wasting their time. They were driven to take a new approach by what they believed, and a conviction deep in their soul that there is more than one way to share Good News. Time after time, it wasn’t until pioneers were successful that their techniques and strategies were accepted by the Church as a whole. And I thank God that I—and my students—have the example of these mavericks to look at.
Communication—especially here at Southwestern Adventist University—has never been a cookie-cutter approach. Instead, it’s a matter of encouraging talent, honing skills and fostering courage on an individual basis, student by student. That’s, I believe, what it will take to finish the great task that God has given us of communicating His love to the world.