Tuesday, January 12, 2010

She is now what she will always be.

My first book, Between Two Kingdoms, goes to print this week. It is to be released sometime in March. This fact has caused a lot of reflection on my end this week. The first words that would become Between Two Kingdoms were hastily typed out in the fall of 1999 for a message series called "A Tale of Two Kingdoms" for Apex Church in Las Vegas. It was a teaching series through the Sermon on the Mount crafted shortly after reading Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, a book that would change my understanding of the gospel forever. My friend Jennifer Parks read each chapter after I would speak. It was an engaging time of growth for Apex. I have fond memories of that time in my life.

Writing the story was a way to try to contextualize my emerging theology. I grew up with what Willard called a "gospel of sin management" and was replacing that gospel with the gospel of the Kingdom. I was growing up in my faith and this fairy tale/kid's story was the most adult thing I had ever written.

I never intended to publish it. It was part therapy, part sermon illustration, part history of our little church plant. In 2000, I wrote a few more chapters during a vacation. Mainly out of boredom. Then it rested.

The story slept on the hard drive of an old Dell laptop while my life continued without her. She slept through the harder years of Apex, when we aggressively moved toward house churches and wrestled with the thousands of practical implications of discovering the centrality of the Kingdom. She slept through my resignation from church work and my years as an entertainer in Las Vegas. She slept through our move to Los Angeles in 2005 and first few years of our life there.

Then one day in early 2007, I woke her up. I had to find my old laptop and dig around, but there she was. Just the way I left her. Snoozing away - grammatical errors, missing plot points and all. I decided to share the story (what is now the first nine or so chapters) with my new church community at The Crossing in Costa Mesa. They received her kindly and resurrected a puff of life back into her.

Then the most unexpected thing happened - God picked us up by the shirt collar and brought us back to Cincinnati. So we came - with all that was ours - some cheap ikea furniture, a Toyota Corolla with manual locks, a few boxes of toys...and a half-finished fairy tale.

After a year or so, I shared a chapter of the story with my new family at The Vineyard. The following week I spoke at a conference at my alma mater. There I met Dale Reeves, the Director of Acquisitions at Standard Publishing. We talked and exchanged emails. Somehow my story came up...so I sent him what I had with little expectations.

The folks at Standard liked her - sort of. She was a little rough around the edges...and way too short, but she had potential. So they agreed to publish her. That was August, 2008. Nine years after her first incarnation. That is when the hard work began - I had to actually finish the story. I fearlessly immersed myself back into a world that I had created a decade earlier. I had changed a lot in ten years. She had not changed at all. She was going to have to. Exactly one year ago I turned in the "final" draft of the extended story to Standard. Then it went to edit. For the last twelve months the story has bounced back and forth between several editors and myself. At last, it landed in the capable hands of Laura Derico, a lifelong friend of mine. She massaged my words into something exponentially better than I could have ever done alone. I learned that editors probably never get the glory they deserve on projects like this.

Last week I sent in a few final notes and that was the end of it. She is finished. If I had to guess, less than ten percent of those first words written in 1999 remain. She evolved. And like me, she has grown up over the last eleven years. I hope that lots of people like her...but even if they don't, I do. She's not perfect, but she has persevered...and she has now done something I have never had the courage to do. She has, for the rest of time, elected to stop evolving. She is now what she will always be. She is finished.


eaglegirl said...

You are truly a gifted writer. Just the awesome way you described the conception to fulfillment of your book is riveting.
How wonderful that what God started in you years ago is coming to fruition. Congratulations.
I like the way you describe your book as a she, a person who is alive.
I will be waiting in line for an autographed copy.

Lori Lee said...

I remember the nights clearly when you read your story at Apex. I've thought and pondered what I heard in the story over and over throughout the years. I was sad when Apex at the church ended and especially when you left ministry-you are a gifted teacher. You had a huge impact on my then-new husband and I our then-differing theological perspectives. It is largely because of your teaching at Apex that we are who we are today as a happily married couple living in L.A. with 3 kids-one of whom has a disability. It was in those early years that Apex helped to build a foundation for us. Thank you!

All this to say, I will definately be buying the book!

kimche said...

congrats pastor joe. the end of this post sounds a little like the end of "Amadeus," no? how it reads, it sounds like you just finished a masterpiece akin to the heft and weight of mozart's requiem. looking forward to seeing it!

btw, my husband and I wanted to thank you for the current series that you're doing in Acts. we left church last sunday, saying the word "awesome" over and over again. we tried to cover that passage with our small group a few months ago, but remembered feeling like we were missing something! looking forward to this week!

Sandy Maudlin said...

Just read the edited Chapter One -- it's even better than before...more intrigue and suspense. Can't wait to read it all!

_ said...

I can't wait to read your book! I have loved your blog and wish you the best of luck.

This is a strange time (if there is ever a "normal" time) to be a follower of Jesus... much less attend church. Thanks for trying to listen to the voice of the Father and share what He is saying.