Seminary is a unique type of graduate school. I felt it while I was there studying theology. I heard about it from friends and colleagues. People, including myself, seemed to benefit greatly from conversation about the joys and struggles of seminary’s uniqueness. So when the opportunity to edit a compilation of essays about the seminary experience crossed my path, I accepted the challenge of my first editing project.
Editing felt like coaching. I thoroughly enjoyed helping writers ask big questions, get to the truth in their stories and communicate their experiences effectively. Editing is the art of gentle nudges amidst encouragement. It is inviting the already existing voice to strengthen through distinctness and heart. I loved staring at the list of essays and re-arranging them until they fit and flowed. I put Marc’s essay on humor first, so that each time I edited it I would remember not to take myself too seriously. I put Dan’s essay about destruction and creation on the Ground’s Crew last. Like in ministry, in any work we feel a true vocation for, he looks at a wilting, thin garden and must walk away with faith that some of the planted seeds may in fact take root. Gardens are messy, beautiful metaphors for work we love and tend to daily. That is what the book was for me– a messy, beautiful garden that I have faith will take root in the most unexpected places. In spite of me.
Somewhere around the 9th time of reading the book cover to cover with the Chicago Manual Style next to me checking on obscure grammar rulings, I lost the magic. I went numb and wanted to be finished with the project. But on each read through, some of the essays (new ones every time) would shine, and snap me out of my editing stupor. I felt lucky to be working with such brilliant people. Again, by the time the book came out, I barely felt a thing. I knew these seventeen essays backward and forward, yet somehow in memorizing the essays I forgot about the people. And then the craziest thing happened– the seventeen writers got sent a copy of the book. For the first time, they were a part of the bigger project, and I was not isolated anymore. They got to read their stories in the context of the larger conversation. They brought fresh eyes and excitement to the book, and it came back alive for me. Some say the Church is dying. If the exciting people I had the pleasure of working with on this project are any indication, I’m not so sure. Their ingenuity and commitment to life-giving communities is an inspiration to me.
A few of the writers were able to gather last week with family and friends to celebrate the book release. For some writers who had never been published before, it was fun to watch them sign copies and marvel at their name in print, their voice and ideas being shared with friends and strangers. The community grew once again. It is amazing to send stories out into the world and see where they land and who they encourage or challenge. It has struck me yet again that all the work– from naming initial themes to going back and forth with writers to agonizing over reduction of typos– the work is instantly worth it when one unexpected person finds comfort and aliveness by having access to a writer’s thoughts. Thus, in the relationships that came from editing, I was offered grace.