Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Difficulty of Writing in the Vernacular, Henri Nouwen, comments, & Say Yes to No

This entry is a bit of a miscellany (as you can tell from the title)....

I've been pondering an comment on Say Yes to No, primarily because I wrote the book as a way to connect with those outside the church. It appears that, at least for one reader, I failed. Listen to what Christy Pinhero offered:
The review is only two stars because, in it's [sic] description, this book is portrayed more as a book that will help you arrange your priorities. We are told that the author was a pastor, but nothing more. The publisher should have been more honest and revealed that this is Christian non-fiction. God is mentioned on every page, every story has a moral message. While I don't think this is necessarily a problem, I DO think that someone who is looking for something like, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" is going to be sorely disappointed. I was really expecting this to be a non-fiction book on time management, but this book has a clear religious bent that would render it unreadable to many. 
Mainly, I want to take in the difficulty of writing for those outside the church, or in the vernacular of everyday culture. I simply attempted to talk about work life balance and time management as a Christian without assuming my reader was spiritually identified. (I would note that Stephen Covey, whom she presents as a contrast and who wrote "Seven Habits," is Mormon.) There honestly aren't references to God on "every page" (as she asserts) of Say Yes to No--she admits to reading just the first three chapters--but still there are too many for her. And that only underlines the challenge.

I've also been pondering it because I'm teaching tonight on the great 20th century spiritual writer Henri Nouwen and the amazing accessibility of his writing. Nouwen once wrote a book for his secular friend, Fred. When the book was completed, Fred declared the book a failure, at least from the perspective of reaching those outside the church. Life of the Beloved left open some fundamental questions, Fred said, such as
Who is God? Who am I? Why am I here? How can I give my life meaning? How do I get faith?
I suppose the consolation is that, if someone of the stature of Henri Nouwen had difficulty, writing from a Christian commitment to those who don't share it, is in fact difficult. I do note, however, that others who commented on did not share this conclusion.

What do you think? Is it possible for someone with strong convictions--in my case religious ones--to speak to those who don't share them? How do you do it?

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