January 17, 2013
What I'm Editing: The Easy Burden of Pleasing God
Next week we will send a PDF of Patty Kirk's The Easy Burden of Pleasing God (on my short list for favorite book of 2013--sorry, everyone else) to the printer. Six weeks from then we'll get it back as a book. Then, God willing, we'll start shipping it to readers, mostly via other booksellers.
That's all in the future. Today I'm simply taking my last look at it.
The last look is always a little angsty for me. What have I, the editor and primary interface for the author to date, forgotten to deal with? What new errors have entered the book since the look before this one? Is this book the best it could be? What will the reviewers say? What about the readers? What will the author think of the finished product? Of me?
Ah, the perils of people-pleasing. They can make what should be a celebration into an existential crisis.
In this case, thankfully, I feel pretty good. Patty Kirk is a great writer, and editing her (for the second time now; you can get her first book with IVP here) has been just a little bit like a master class for me. She's also a relatively unique persona in my network of author relationships. She's the only author I've edited who lives on a farm (some of my authors, frankly, give me the impression that they were born in a barn, but that's a different story), and her sensibilities reflect the farmer's life--something that for me evokes memories of my childhood, when I would play in the fields and occasionally assist in the chores at my grandparent's farm in northeastern Iowa. I've developed a great fondness for Patty as this book has made its way through our publishing process.
Moreover, I've developed a bit of a dependency on her thesis: that the work that God expects of us is nothing more and nothing less than to believe in Jesus, the One God Sent.
That's a burden, because any claim to godhood and messiahship is a totalizing claim on an adherent's life. Paradoxically, however, it's also a relief. As we've proven over millennia, we're not comfortable accepting simple belief as the whole work of faith. So we come up with burdens of our own devising, telling ourselves that they please God or somehow save us. And then we start judging ourselves and, worse, our neighbors by the quality and weight of our burdens. Every time we do that, Jesus suggests, we're missing the point; more than that, though, we're missing out on the rest that Jesus promises as a side effect of the burden he places on us.
Kirk demonstrates this insight into the gospel throughout the book, going so far as to reinterpret the ethical burden of faith in Christ not as human work but as the gift of a divine parent who knows us better than we know ourselves. For just one example, Kirk recounts a story of a conflict she had with a fellow teacher who "shared" (in the bureaucratic sense) equipment and facilities with her. When her best efforts to use the equipment well came into conflict with his own thoughts, the you-know-what hit the you-know-what:
She had just read Matthew 5:21-22, however, which doesn't entirely subvert the argument that anger is not sinful but does complicate it quite a bit. Here is where Jesus associates anger, as it is practiced, with murder, going so far as to say that "anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." Patty "detected the unmistakable trail of the Holy Spirit" and took on the burden inherent in the passage: not the burden of forgiveness, as we might expect, but one of confession.
Imagine God thrilled, the way you're thrilled when your kids hug it out and stop hating each other. Imagine the bizarre physics of taking on the burden of confession only to feel the burden of a strained relationship fall off. Imagine a world in which everyone abandoned the various burdens of their own devisings, or the burdens laid on them by people who loved them but didn't know how to love well, and instead took up the burden of believing in a God whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, for whom in fact the believing in is the burden itself.
If you have trouble imagining that, read Patty's book when it drops.
Patty's book is one of the first in a new line we've launched here. IVP-Crescendo offers dedicated space to showcase women we should all be listening to, women whose insights into the faith and the human condition are worth simmering in for 180 pages or so. You can take a look at some of the other initial offerings in the line here.