Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Introduction of Gravity to the World: An Anniversary Post

I remember the first time I interacted with Chris Heuertz. At the time he was the international director of Word Made Flesh, a network of folks who love one another in real and practical ways whether they come from the wealthy West or were born into and trapped in extreme poverty or systems of injustice in the Majority World. I was a book editor; Chris wanted to convert some of the essays he'd collected from friends on behalf of WMF into a book. I told him that was a bad idea--collections like that don't sell. I hung up the phone and felt a little bad that I'd squelched this guy's vision and lamented that collections like that don't sell. And then I went on with my day.

Turns out I hadn't squelched Chris's vision. We stayed in touch and went back and forth about what would make a more appropriate and viable first foray into book publishing. Soon enough we had a good idea that was true to the heart of Word Made Flesh and played by the rules of the publishing industry. Now all we had to do was come up with a contract. I sent the contract to Chris and he proofread it, finding numerous spelling and grammatical errors (filling him with confidence in us, I'm sure) and demanding (in jest, it turns out) cell phone charms and bobble head dolls and other forms of ridiculousness. I fell in love a little that day, I'm at home enough in my sexuality to admit.

As part of the editorial process--the part of our contract negotiation that he wasn't kidding about--I flew out to Omaha to spend time with Chris and his community. It was an unbelievably fun trip, with Chris's manic humor mirrored back to him by his staff and harmonizing well with the depth of soul I discovered in his wife, Phileena. While Chris and I ate Pop Tarts in their library, Phileena spent a chunk of time in centering prayer--right there in the midst of us.

Not long after I wrapped up working with Chris on his book Simple Spirituality (which he's since followed up with two others: Friendship at the Margins and Unexpected Gifts), I started working with Phileena on her first book, Pilgrimage of a Soul. Contract negotiations, I'm happy to say, were much more straightforward, and the experience was just as delightful and soul-shaping for me. In the Heuertzes I discovered a rare quality: totally invested in the hard work of bringing justice and compassion to overlooked and exploited people throughout the world, they are nevertheless at peace with themselves and joyfully engaged in the day-to-day experience of life. They are big-hearted in ways I've never seen before.

A year ago today Chris and Phileena ended their tenure at Word Made Flesh to devote the next chapter of their lives to helping people find their center even as they pour themselves into the problems of the world. Gravity is a center for contemplative activism, bringing the insights of Thomas Keating and other mystics ancient and contemporary to bear on the challenges of global justice work. They offer retreats and pilgrimages, spiritual direction and other services throughout the year with the goal of keeping activists in touch with their souls and spurring the rest of us to live out our spirituality in ways that improve the lot of our neighbors. It's a remarkable vision, and the two of them are uniquely gifted in it.

When Phileena and I first talked about Gravity they had already launched it; Chris had given me the scoop, but Phileena rounded out the vision. She did so, oddly enough, while we were riding to a retreat on a disco party bus, complete with neon lights and what I have convinced myself was not a stripper pole. She told the story of Gravity in patience and good humor, given the chaos of our environment, and I was struck again by how centered, how tethered to reality, these two people really are. I'm blessed by them--and I find that language far too earnest to say about too many people too often. But today, the anniversary of the introduction of Gravity to the world, such language is only appropriate: I'm blessed by Chris and Phileena and the vision that motivates their work:

It IS possible to live from the Divine center of gravity within us that orders our chaos and frees us to live the values of the Gospel: freedom, reconciliation, peace and unconditional love. Values that can change the world.
Visit the Gravity website to get a better sense of them and to consider how you can support their work. Doing so will be a great anniversary present to them and a great investment in the well-being of the world.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hugs Aplenty! #HuganAuthorDay 2013

Many of my friends have written books. It's a remarkable feat in and of itself: in the cracks of an already full and busy life, they toiled at odd hours or on rare and costly retreats, drafting and redrafting the best possible ways to say a million different things about an idea that'd been burning a hole in their soul.

They worked up the courage to share that idea with loved ones, friends, an editor or two or three hundred.

They faced the hard realities of the publishing industry--increasingly demanding of an author's time for ultimately not a lot of money.

They committed themselves passionately to their work, all the while striving to not lose their humanity while they built their brand and platform and invited the world to treat them like nothing more than the words on their pages or the concepts in their chapter titles.

They dealt with the indignities of being misunderstood by reviewers, interviewers, readers, audiences, even their publishers.

They sweated their Amazon ranking, loitered in the subject-specific aisle of their local Barnes and Noble, cyberstalked GoodReads, bookmarked the Library of Congress.

Lots of people in the world need and have earned a hug, not the least of whom are the authors among us. So today is Hug an Author Day. Not all of us have direct access to an author, but in a virtual age, all of us have myriad ways of hugging them:

* Write them a letter or email, or comment on their website. Trust me, their publisher has made them get a website.

* Write a five-star review of a book you loved reading somewhere where people will see it; make sure to remind your readers that behind the book is an author in flesh and blood.

* Pin your favorite books on Pinterest. (That's how that works, right?)

* Invite some friends to read and discuss a book you've had on your mind. (Not Fifty Shades of Gray--that would be creepy.)

* Or you could, you know, buy a book. Or two.

I'd love to hear how you celebrate Hug an Author Day. You can let me know in one of two ways:

1. Post a comment on this post. (On the off chance you don't have anywhere to write a five-star review of a book you loved reading, feel free to do so in the comments here.)

2. Add the hashtag #HuganAuthorDay to your review or your pins(?) or your comments or whatever. That way I and others can track your contribution down.

I see no reason why we couldn't have other similar celebrations--Hug a Firefighter Day, for example, or Hug a Transportation Security Administration Employee Day (although those folks might return the favor with Invasive Pat-Down Day, so maybe not). But today is for the authors. Let them know you love them.