On October 25, 1997, my husband and I went shopping. I was very pregnant, with the baby’s due date three weeks hence. Although we had a crib, we realized that we hadn’t yet bought a stroller or a car seat — pretty basic things to prepare for a new arrival. We weren’t ready. We spent the day at a baby supply box store, chose the appropriate necessities and planned to return to the store in a few days to purchase them.
Later that evening, just as I had started dinner, my water broke. We rushed to the hospital and twenty-four hours later, our daughter was born. Ready or not. She arrived on her own schedule.
I’ve sometimes used that story as a sermon illustration for Matthew 25:1-13 — the parable of the five foolish bridesmaids who weren’t prepared for the wedding when the groom arrived unexpectedly. Jesus issues many warnings about not being ready when something big is about to happen. Indeed, Jesus seems uniquely concerned that his followers be proactive and prepared, sometimes leading me to wonder if he was an ESTJ Myers-Briggs type.
One week from today, my new book comes out. Every day, there are mountains of details about podcasts and interviews, people I need to talk to, study guides and excerpts that need to be approved. Book launches are exciting and wonderful — and full of surprising stress and anxieties. Bringing a new book into the world is often described as a birth. That’s true. Yet, like the birth of my daughter, I don’t feel ready.
I blame the pandemic. It has turned us all into procrastinators.
I’m not the only person to prepare for an event this year only to discover the celebration couldn’t happen as planned. Some such events could be put off, but most went on differently than we might have wished or imagined or arranged. Graduations, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, births, retirements. As a nation, we even held a presidential election and inauguration — ready or not, they all came.
We humans mark time by such events, as they enable us to embrace change and express gratitude for accomplishments. Yet, this year, we’ve not been able to depend on familiar practices and rituals associated with these celebrations. We’ve needed to be more creative, attending to such passages in ways that elicited bittersweet emotions — thankful, yes, but longing to share joy and gratitude with others with cheers and feasts and music and dance. This pandemic year, my family has marked my daughter’s college graduation and my husband’s retirement. Happy, yes. But sad, too. Graduation and retirement happened. But very differently than we’d hoped or planned. In effect, we weren’t really ready.
And now a book launch. Since this isn’t my first book tour, I remember the fun of what was — airports and hotels and in-person interviews and lectures and book-signings. I look at the list of upcoming Zoom presentations and bookstore events. I’m grateful. Grateful that readers are excited for this book, grateful that a book from my heart finally will be shared. And yet. It won’t be the same. I don’t know how “ready” I feel for this particular book birth. Indeed, I find myself putting off making decisions, hoping somewhere deep inside that I could have the old way back. The pandemic has turned me into a procrastinating book launch mom.
When I see spring-breakers party in the streets, I understand why they want to cut loose. We all do. We all deserve a huge party in the streets, the biggest concert of all time, the best fireworks show ever, a grand vacation! Several more weeks, another few months, and we hope we’ll be able to return to familiar gatherings, parties, and celebrations without guilt or fear. But, even then, when what we knew becomes possible again, we will still carry the bittersweet memories of now — of what was lost, of what we mourned, all the passages marked in isolation. As eager as we all are to get back to “normal,” I can’t help but wonder if we are really ready.
Oh well. I guess I’ll think about that when we get there.
Today’s preview of Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence shares my passionate belief that theology is the work of the people — all people.
From Freeing Jesus (HarperOne) pp. 264-265
c. Diana Butler Bass, 2021
We know Jesus through our experience. There is no other way to become acquainted with one who lived so long ago and who lives in ways we can barely understand through church, scripture, and good works and in the faces of our neighbors. In these pages, I have shared six Jesuses whom I experienced through something I call “memoir theology” (not theological memoir). Memoir theology is the making of theology — understanding the nature of God — through the text of our own lives and taking seriously how we have encountered Jesus.
In seminary, I asked a professor why we only read theology written by men—books by Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, and Wesley. He told me that women did not write theology.
I quickly replied, “What about Perpetua? Julian of Norwich? Hildegard of Bingen? Teresa of Ávila and Catherine of Siena?”
He replied, “That’s not theology. That’s memoir.”
I fell silent, unsure what to say.
I stewed over that remark for a long time. It is clear that we call it “theology” when men write of Jesus. But we call it “memoir” when women do? What — other than memoir — are Augustine’s stories of stealing pears and weeping over his lost love? Or Luther writing of his fear of death or proclaiming, “Here I stand”? Or Wesley sharing his experience of the heart strangely warmed. Or Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisting the Nazis? All the “big-name” theologians in church history wrote of Jesus from their own stories; their theologies were born from experience. Without their struggles and sins, their theologies would not exist. Theology is born when we wrestle with God in our lives. Spiritual memoir is theology, and experience is a text of Christology.
Of course, women are not the only ones whose experience has not counted in the making of theology — men and women of color, indigenous people, LGBTQ people, disabled people, working-class people, laity, anyone outside of the academy, the poor and outcast. For centuries, church authorities silenced all these theologies by discounting the experiences of most Christian people, consigning them all to some category of “less than” the few men whose experiences were deemed normative to interpret the experiences of the rest of us. As a result, Christianity has lost the wisdom of millions and millions of faithful people whose journeys with Jesus may have reshaped the faith and perhaps inspired the church to live more justly and compassionately.
FREEING JESUS comes out on MARCH 30! It combines spiritual memoir, history, the Bible, and cultural observations into a genre I call “memoir theology” to unpack who Jesus is — and can be — in our lives.
NEWS AND EVENTS
Please join us on April 26!
BREATHE: Making sense of the past year, finding hope for the future
This one-day virtual gathering is for women in spiritual leadership (trans women and non-binary persons who are comfortable in women-focussed events are - of course - welcome) – clergy, spiritual directors, lay leaders, authors and poets, and teachers – to catch our breath after this difficult and challenging year.
Breathe is an opportunity for you to be encouraged, affirmed, and to connect with others from across the country. Together, we'll find new grounding for the final stretch of the pandemic. The gathering will allow time to reflect on what's happened to us in the last year, and open our hearts toward a new phase in our lives and ministries.
For booking events, including events based on Freeing Jesus, please contact Chaffee Management. We’re booking virtual events through spring 2021, and blended and in-real-life events for later 2021 and into 2022.
For podcast, media, review, and interview inquires and availability regarding the book launch, please email Dan Rovzar at HarperCollins publicity: Dan.Rovzar@harpercollins.com.