June 13, 2006
Embrace the Tension
So we had this Likewise Gathering over the weekend. Nineteen guests of InterVarsity Press came in to discuss the faith + publishing needs of people in their twenties and early thirties. Among the things I learned: "young adults," in the ears of most people, means "adolescents." I wonder what "old adults" means, but I fear that it would mean me.
But the word that kept coming up was tension. The tension of enjoying your youth but being taken seriously as an adult, the tension of living in a consumer culture while knowing that children are being victimized around the world by consumer practices, the tension of making ethical decisions in real time, the tension of navigating adulthood when the primary adults in your life checked out years previous, the tension of living up to the life handed you as a child of promise, the tension of bearing someone else's legacy as your lineage. My nails are getting shorter by the minute.
Add to that the tension of a faith rooted and established in paradox: Jesus the fully human and fully divine, one God in three Persons, the now and the not yet, and on and on and on. The rallying cry of the weekend seemed to be the concept statement of Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz: faith, like life, doesn't resolve.
As a publisher we face our own tensions. Do we publish books for the mind or the heart? Do we publish to social-justice activists or pop culture gluttons? Are we a ministry or a business? And on and on and on.
In a culture characterized by tension, the misery index is going to be pretty high, but it's only aggravated by the fact that we've been, in the words of Sam Phillips, "raised on promises." I certainly expected to be president of the United States by now, but instead I can't decide which pile of work I need to do first, which denomination I should invest my energy in, and on and on and on.
So perhaps the job of a publisher is to find and produce books that train people to tolerate tension--and beyond that, perhaps, to even embrace the tension. If God, after all, is paradoxical, then even our happy ending will have a fair bit of tension built into it.
The logo for Likewise displays some tension; a man leads a donkey, with a taut rope between them. An earlier draft, believe it or not, was even more tense: the donkey's legs were locked tight. Our designer hinted at motion by bending the donkey's leg. Clever, huh?
I can't imagine that selling tension is an easy task; good thing I'm in editorial.