Out of the Faith Closet

When I started blogging, a little more than a year ago, I did so as an exploration of social media as a tool to reach my readers, to “build my brand” as a writer.  I was curious about (and a little intimidated by) the opportunities and challenges of blogging.  I had never logged onto Facebook or Twitter, and all my Friends were people I’d met and talked to in person. I’d also always thought writing a regular column (aka blog) would be fun. So I signed up for Meghan Ward’s social-media class at the S.F. Writers’ Grotto.  If I could reach a few more readers, all the better.

A year later, I visit Facebook – not as often as Meghan suggested, but often enough.  I post weekly to this blog, and I even tweet (though, again, not as often as successful brand-building might warrant).  But here’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed:  of all the posts I’ve put up—and this week, I reach number 51—I’ve left out what some might see as a key element of my “brand.”

In Meghan’s class, one of our assignments was to make a list of fifty possible blog topics.  We also listed possible topics for one another.  Of the list I made, religious subjects appeared a few times.  Of the list my classmates made, they dominated, Why a Virgin Birth? and What Are You Praying For Now? being two of the topics suggested.

Both questions make me shudder, for the same reason that in more than a year of blogging, I’ve scarcely mentioned the words prayer, God, faith, spiritual, or religious.  True, my bio states that I’m at work on a nonfiction “exploration of spirituality and sex” and my memoir covers, as its subtitle makes clear, a skeptic’s journey into prayer.

One of the topics on my own list is What I Would Never Write About, and when I consider writing on it, I’ve never thought of faith.  After all, I have written about faith, in the afore-mentioned memoir.  When I think of topics I’d never write about, I imagine those that would hurt people I love: a confidence a friend told me, a revelation that is not mine to reveal, etc.  Deborah the Closet Monster posted, a few weeks back, on how she considers some topics off-bounds for her blog.  For posting, she clarified—not for writing.  This distinction is an important one, the same as we discussed last week in my writers’ group when E, writing an essay about her husband’s failing health, admitted not wanting to go into details that would pain him if & when the piece gets published.  “Write it anyway,” we advise—easier said than done, when you’re breaking a taboo (or a confidence), but as any writer knows, necessary.

But those aren’t the taboos I’m talking about now.  When we blog, we create a persona.  We—or at least I—want to keep certain things from public view.  I post a honeymoon picture on my FB Profile, where Friends (of the know-in-person variety) can see it, but not on my Fan Page.  Where we went on honeymoon has nothing to do with my brand as a writer, after all.  But why would I hide that I miss going to church on Sundays since Sunday became the only day to sleep past eight?  That I miss communion with a deep longing and deep hunger that has surprised me?  That I read the psalm appointed to Morning Prayer every day?  I wrote a whole book on prayer, so why the evasion?  My faith is a part of my personal life, yes—just like the photos from our honeymoon—and it’s also part of my brand.

At some level, I’m not comfortable being seen as a “spiritual writer.”  I’ve had people write to me who, having read my memoir, want Part II.  One man went so far as to say, in so many words, Well of course your next book will be spiritual.  How can it not be?

Yes, I might have responded, all my writing is spiritual—but I’m not sure he and I would have defined the adjective in the same way.  One of the reasons I chose the publisher I chose for my memoir had to do with the fact that the other interested party wanted me to say more about “my love affair with Jesus”—the kind of language that had made me a skeptic in the first place.  Don’t call me a religious writer.  I’m just a writer who has written about prayer.

And yet, maybe what I’m hearing right now—from myself or from (yes) God—is that it’s time to stop drawing such distinctions.  What am I afraid of?  Why not blog about something I wrote—and published—a book about?

What side of yourself have you revealed in your writing and then found yourself feeling protective about?  When readers put labels on us we don’t want, do they define us?  Is a “brand” something that can change?

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11 Responses to Out of the Faith Closet

  1. good questions to think about.

  2. Callie Feyen says:

    Labels and brands make me nervous. These are difficult questions for me to answer, but what I can say is that as a reader of this particular blog, I arrive here because I like the anecdotes you give about writing. I don’t think, “Well geez! Where’s Jesus?” And in fact, I think he’s there in the posts when I read them. A lot of “Christian” blogs make me feel as if I’ve just chugged a very sugary drink.
    I like that prompt, “What won’t you write about?” because the more I say I won’t write about it, the more it churns around in my head. Maybe it won’t end up on my blog, but if it begins tugging at me, I think it is time to find some paper and play around with it.
    All this is to say we readers like what you have to offer, and, if the time comes, we will enjoy reading your thoughts on spirituality. And actually, I LOVE this “brand:” “I’m just a writer who has written about prayer.” That’s perfect!

  3. Meghan Ward says:

    I agree with Callie that “I’m just a writer who has written about prayer” is a great way to think of your brand. Congratulations on coming out of the faith closet, by the way! I don’t think you should hide something that’s so integral to who you are and what you write about. And it’s what will separate you from a lot of other writers out there blogging. The more niche your brand, the better, IMHO. As for something I’ve written about and then felt protective of afterward, I blogged about sexual abuse one week and then felt uncomfortable for having written about an experience I had 20 years ago (which I didn’t, and still don’t, consider abuse–more of an icky situation). It was crossing a line for me to reveal something that personal. I don’t regret it, but it made me rethink what I want to put out there for public review.

    • Thanks, Meghan, so good to hear from you. I’ve always been a “revealing” writer, but the immediacy of a blog — you write it, you post it, it’s out there! — does merit a 2nd thought, for some things. Not that I have any regrets at coming out of the (faith) closet, mind you!

  4. First, a fleeting thing–it surprised and delighted me to see myself referenced here!

    Second, I loved this post. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have seen your thought processes revealed, and to have seen this other side of you as a writer. I’m glad, too, to have had my attention called to your book . . . which I’ve just bought for Kindle.

    There’s a lot for me to think about, so for now I really should leave it at “thank you for this food for thought.”

  5. Deborah, I hope I didn’t breach blog etiquette by not checking with you first. Just kept thinking about your post and the circle/grid illustration you posted. I’m honored that you bought my book, and an eBook too! Just today talking with writer friends about the whole eBook world. I look forward to a continued conversation with you, and thank you too!

  6. Anita says:

    Interesting questions. As a new visitor here, I’m only guessing, but wouldn’t you say that although you don’t use select words associated with faith your writing still conveys at least some aspects of your faith? Seems that it would be hard not to.

    I too just found out about your book and devoured the first chapter (from your site). I’ll have to work on getting a hold of a copy. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately as I’m reading Philip Yancey’s book Prayer. Have you read it?

    • Great to hear from you, Anita. And you made my day with your note about WATER’s first chapter. Shouldn’t be too hard to find a copy, I trust. Haven’t read Philip Yancey but now I’ll check him out. And you’re spot on with the comment that faith is conveyed through words that aren’t necessary “faith” words. Thank you for that reminder, and for writing.

  7. Johanna says:

    Just getting to my gmails after a busy summer with grandkids and my garden, so this comment is very late, but your remarks remind me of something my old parish priest used to say, that we, today, must find a new language to express our faith in our environment, a language that expresses the authenticity of our own faith experience in words this current generation can relate to. As someone who has taught catechetics for many years I really see the value and need for this, and I think that you are called to help make this happen simply through honest sharing. It takes courage, no doubt, but a life without courage is an empty shell. I have attempted in my memoir, ‘Graffiti On My Soul` (see Amazon) to communicate what a life of faith means lived in the trenches of today, and how God walks among us in the winters of our lives… Carry on. The world needs your voice.

  8. “A life without courage is an empty shell.” Thank you for that, Johanna. And for making me feel less alone in having my online presence a bit slow to respond this summer too!

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