Writing for Baptist News Global is a great job. The compensation is not much and there are no benefits, but I get to work at home and I almost never see my boss. This job forces me to pay attention. Once a month I get to ask, “What’s happening that people of faith want to read about?”
I carry a composition book everywhere and hope something interesting will happen. While other church staff members want the annual pancake race to go off without a hitch, I, who have a column due, hope something goes awry. When Mary and Joseph showed up at our church’s meal with the homeless on a cold night in December, I was as disappointed as Joseph to learn that Mary was there with Kevin. I would never have attended the hot dog eating contest at Coney Island without knowing my disgust would become fodder for a column.
“Releasing a book during a global pandemic is not going to be good for sales.”
Prior to rejoining the clergy ranks, writing this column as a seminary professor made me consider what serving on a seminary faculty should mean. When my school increased its number of online classes, I began writing a complaint and was surprised when it turned into a thank-you note to my former professors. When gathering info for a column about race and seminary education, I had an opportunity to talk with three African American preaching students. When I was dealing with grief over leaving my seminary, I had an excuse to list the things I would miss – and the things I would not.
For the five months that Carol and I lived in Santiago, Chile, writing columns felt like writing home. When I got lost, I thought, “This will read like it was more fun than it is.” When I was in a grocery store unable to come up with the Spanish word for salad dressing, I asked myself, “Is this amusing?” When I realized that being in South America turned everything I had learned about missions on its head, I needed to write about it.
When a friend asked, “Why are you moving from Atlanta to Brooklyn?” I said, “We’re trying something different.” He responded, “I think you overshot.” On the days when it felt like we overshot, writing a column was cheaper than counseling. Many BNG readers understand why I miss Waffle House and do not quite get bagels. Writing about your new home makes it feel more like home.
Church is more interesting if you write about it. When I overheard an usher complain about someone drinking coffee in the sanctuary, I got to research the religious implications of caffeine. I have poked fun at Calvinism, Second Coming goofiness and The American Patriot’s Bible. I wrote a column mocking people who lead marriage retreats right after Carol and I led a marriage retreat.
Writing a column makes me think deeper thoughts about politics. I have discovered that more people read a column if it has Donald Trump’s name in the title. In July 2017 (which seems like an eternity ago), “Donald Trump Stole My Old Church” led to 73,000 shares on social media and two radio interviews. When U.S. Representative Paul Ryan forced the House chaplain to resign, I was sad but also thought, “That’s strange enough to write about.” When a patriot handed me a tiny American flag, it felt like I was being handed a writing assignment.
I have better, clearer childhood memories thanks to more than a decade of writing regular columns for baptistnews.com. When I met my eighth grade social studies teacher for coffee, I appreciated the chance to tell my readers how my old friends Goony and Peachy are doing. When I write about racism in 1960s Mississippi, I become more determined to write for change. When my youth minister told us not to date Methodists in 1974, it was not funny; but now it is.
I am grateful to David Wilkinson, BNG’s executive director and publisher, for inviting me to write and to Keith Gammons, publisher, and Leslie Andres, editor, at Smyth & Helwys for putting these columns into a collection. Releasing a book during a global pandemic is not going to be good for sales. I cannot stand two feet away from my friends and beg them to buy the book. But I can write a column begging them to go to https://www.helwys.com/sh-books/funny-when-you-think-about-it/ and order Funny When You Think about It: Serious Reflections on Faith.
When I saw a “Before I die” wall in Asheville, North Carolina, I took notes on what people had written. Before I die I want to “Swim in a pool of golden retriever puppies.” “Straddle the international dateline.” “Fall in love.” I should have added, “Before I die I want to write a book of columns on the marvelous confluence of faith and just about everything else.”