Interview with an Author!

Wow! What a week for the blog! I finished two books, and after the review of Youth Ministry 3.0 Marko stopped by to comment. Awesome! But I have been looking forward to this blog post for about a week and a half now!
While I was in Africa, my pastor suggested a new reading technique for me. He suggested that I approach books as though they were a conversation between me and the author, where I would underline and write questions or comments in the margins. And so when I began this new years resolution, that's exactly the method I used. Little did I know though, it would turn out to be less of an excercise and more of a reality.
After mentioning that I was reading Coffeehouse Theology, author Ed Cyzewski e-mailed me and told me he was looking forward to the review. This turned more into a conversation with Ed, and has led us to today. In addition to my review, Ed was gracious enough to do an interview! So let's see how I'd do as a journalist and try this out!
Me: For promotional purposes among my friends, how exactly do you pronounce your last name? (There was quite a debate raging in our staff kitchen at lunch yesterday...)
Ed: Cy-zes-ki. The "w" is silent. It originally sounded like coach K's name, but my great-grandfather tried to Americanize it by removing a "z" that used to be between the C and y, thus playing havoc with pronunciation. I hope you didn't wager too much money on it.
Me: You reference Latin America several times as an example, particularly their love for Liberation Theology. Did you share any experiences there that have given you a heart for that location?
Ed: I read a number of books by Liberation theologians in seminary and am drawn to their thinking because they are coming at theology from a very different angle with so much poverty and political instability, including a huge gap between the haves and have nots. If you look at Latin American history, there is a strong tension between the majority of the population living in poverty and the wealthy land owners. While Americans think of theology from the standpoint of wealth, influence, and, to be frank, power, many Latin American theologians come to theology from the standpoint of minimal wealth from the neglected margins. We have a lot to learn from them, as well as theologians from all over the world.
Me: Several times throughout the book, you refer to the concept of heresy. I've never really had anyone give me a decent definition of that word, particularly now that we live in a post-modern context where different contexts and perspectives are valued. How would you define heresy?
Wikipedia says, "Heresy is an introduced change to some system of belief, especially a religion, that conflicts with the previously established canon of that belief."

I would define heresy in the Christian faith as a departure from the essential dogmas of the Christian faith as spelled out in the rule of faith, meaning the creeds adopted by the vast majority of Christians throughout history. In other words, the Nicene Creed is one place where the common beliefs of Christians throughout the early church were brought together. When we start denying parts of the Nicene Creed, we are in danger of departing from the historic Christian faith. This leaves a lot of room for theological diversity while holding to a number of essentials that have withstood the test of time throughout Christian history.
Me: Also several times throughout the book, you mention that Christians have a prophetic calling to share truth with the world even if it's unpopular. This was kind of a point of tension for me, because of my reading of 1 Corinthians 12:27-31. Do you think it's true that all Christians are called to be prophetic?
Ha! I didn't expect to have that kind of misunderstanding with my evangelical target audience! Yes, there is the prophetic office that God has called specific people to. I have experienced first hand the ministry of prophets today who are blessed with clarity to hear from God.

However, in a very broad, general sense, I do believe Christianity is a missional faith, where God sends us out to live and share the Good News. In the most basic sense we are all apostles since we are all sent. We are also all tasked with the prophetic task of sharing a message from God, even if we are not prophets per se. The Old Testament prophets were empowered by the Spirit of God to communicate God's message to Israel. Today we have all been blessed with the Holy Spirit, and so we all bear that mantle to a certain extent. While there may be specific prophets with that gift, the very essence of Christianity is to challenge the powers of this world in a prophetic manner.

Me: 5. Does God possess truth, or is God truth itself? Jesus claims in John to be "the way, the truth, and the life". What kind of implications does such a statement make in a post-modern world?
Ed: I hesitate to make any statement about whether or not God "is" truth or merely "posses" it. All I know is that God's ways and thoughts are not my own and that Jesus claimed to be the truth, so there's a sense in which God has a handle on reality that I'm not capable of grasping. To be frank, this is wonderful news in a postmodern world. Even as philosophers deconstruct systems of knowledge and criticism, we can rest in the fact that God knows all and stands above these quests. We can rest in the leading of God's Spirit to keep us on track as we read scripture in Christian community. This should keep us humble, yet hopeful.

Me: Since this blog was originally intended to be by youth pastors for youth pastors, what advice would you give to new and budding youth pastors who are trying to wrap their heads are this big idea of theology?
I'm not an expert, but I've done my time leading youth in college, so here's my two cents for what it's worth—I apologize if I sound preachy. Churches will never be able to compete with the entertainment available today. However, we have an opportunity to help youth and their families to deeply experience the love of God. In other words, theology doesn't have to be a dry practice. Study some scripture about prayer and put it into practice, let the kids bless and pray for one another. Encourage them to practice it with their families. Look at the hundreds of passages about caring for the poor and then figure out some ways to do it.

You can make theology a priority without making youth group boring. We need to think of creative ways to live theology, to make this stuff real. I can think of no better book to stimulate that kind of thinking than Jesus for President.
Me: Stepping away from the book a little bit, what made you decide after seminary to pursue a carreer in writing, rather than the pastorate?
Ed: Wow! I'll try to be brief. The short story is, I stumbled into it during a four-year sojourn of uncertainty.

I spent a lot of time volunteering in church and worked at a church during seminary. I saw the resources poured into Sunday, saw the minimal fruit, and eventually gave up on it all. I just couldn't ask people to pay me to be a pastor—we were hoarding all of our resources and time within the church walls. I knew that I personally would never be able to be God's ambassador to the world if I got tied down in a church. I respect the men and women who are pastors and there are many days when I am deeply envious of them. However, God just moved us out of the traditional church altogether. I see it as God making Peter an apostle to the Jews and Paul an apostle to the Gentiles. God has called me to minister elsewhere, and so while it doesn't work for me, I understand that God is still working in many congregations today.

That led to four years of heart-breaking uncertainty, condemnation, and several attempts at finding some kind of Christian fellowship. I kept asking God about planting a church, but the answer always seemed to be no. Then one day my agent wrote the briefest of notes and mentioned my "writing ministry." That opened my eyes to the way that God wants to use me, and it's been a couple of incredible years since then. God has opened opportunities to minister in a local prison and Coffeehouse Theology provides almost daily opportunities to naturally talk about the Gospel with people. The general trajectory of my writing from here on out will be helping to build bridges both among Christians and between Christians and those outside the Christian faith.

I've realized that all I want to do every day is write books that will build these kinds of bridges, and that is the greatest feeling in the world.
Me: If you could give only one piece of advice to a new author, what would it be?
Ed: I once asked a writer the same question. He replied, "Write your ass off." Stephen King says, "Read and write your ass off." To be honest, it depends what you want to do. There are so many pieces to the puzzle here.

For nonfiction: "Daily reading and writing." Since you already have a blog, I would block off 30-45 minutes each morning to post on it, but that will mean nothing if you fail to read voraciously. When you read a book that works, study it and ask yourself, "What makes this so good?" Then integrate those lessons into your daily writing. However, if you're going into fiction, I'd say you must join a serious writing group and take some courses.

Me: Do you have any new projects you're working on?
Ed: A few, but the main one is tentatively titled Saving Evangelicals from Themselves. I'm really pumped about writing it because evangelicals, such as myself, need to understand why people hate us, how this happened, and what we can do about it so we can become more effective as salt and light in our world. It's due out in February 2010 with NavPress.
Me: (This should have been question one) You live in Philadelphia. Do you enjoy the Flyers? If so, we might have some tension...
Ed: I am from Philly originally. I currently live in my wife's native state of Vermont. I am a Flyers fan, but before you drop the gloves, keep in mind that Philadelphia sports fans have mixed allegiances. We completely love and hate our teams in the kind of mysterious way that Jesus is fully God and fully human. So anything you can say about the Flyers I'll probably agree with. And besides, we haven't won the Cup since the early 70's. It's not like we've stolen anyone's championship dream of late.

What a tremendous experience! Thanks to Ed for doing this interview with me!
This book has challenged me a tremendous amount. When I began the book, it became clear to me that Ed came from an Evangelical background, while I very much did not. Can I confess publicly here? When I started to see that background, I painted Ed with very much the same brush of a few other evangelicals, which was clearly the wrong thing to do. By the time I had finished the book, I really had to think through what I thought about those I might disagree with from time to time.
Some things I loved about it: In chapter 5, Ed does an AWESOME job of explaining the concept of the postmodern world. His analogy of combining The Andy Griffith Show with The Real World was epic. In a world in which absolutely no one has provided me with a decent explanation of postmodern, chapter 5 in Coffeehouse is the first description I've seen that makes a ton of sense.
I also really loved the place and role of the Church Tradition in Ed's theology. For me, we have to be examining our past in order to be making any strides forward at all.
Some things I wished had been a bit different: As I mentioned, I could tell right away that Ed came from an evangelical perspective, and I could also tell that he had a very high veiw of Scripture. In chapter 8, Ed does a great job of explaining Scripture, and it's role in our theology. I wish from my perspective that said explaination would have happened a bit earlier in the book, so I could have understood a bit more of his perspective. However, I think that has a lot to do with my background and less to do with the actuall lay out of the book.
If I had to give the book a grade: A. It's tremendously well written, and challenged me to think outside my world view. What more could you possibly ask for?
Where can I get it?

Again, this was an awesome time! Tune in for more reviews (and perhaps interviews) later!