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Beware Friends Bearing Manuscripts

That’s something every editor should have laminated and stuck on the wall. There is nothing to make me cringe like a friend or relative telling me that they have a manuscript they’ve been working on for a long time. Inevitably this leads to the question, “Would you be interested in looking at it?”

Depending on how good a friend, or if the relative is in the part of the family you’re speaking to, you really can’t say, “No, I suspect your manuscript stinks, and I really don’t want to have to make that opinion official.” On the other hand, once you have the manuscript in your possession, your only defense is your power of procrastination.

You see, when you have to pay the bills, you can’t accept the manuscript for publication just because the author is a friend. You can’t lie and say, “This is a wonderful manuscript, but I can’t publish it right now,” because the author will doubtless continue to hound you after receiving such encouraging news.

All this is my round about way of telling you that while I always look at manuscripts brought by family and friends, I do so with serious reservations. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I can’t afford to publish something I can’t sell.

So when I found out that Nick May, who was my son James’s best friend (without prejudice to several other best friends) was writing a book, I received the news with mixed emotions. “Sure,” I said, “I’ll be happy to look at it.” And really, truly, I was happy to do so. I just wasn’t happy at the possibility that I would have to say, “This just won’t do for us” much less “you need some more writing practice!”

But when I read the sample chapters he sent, I knew I was saved. His writing was excellent, his subject controversial. It was possible I would even lose some friends by choosing to publish his book, and such a book is always of interest. After all, if someone isn’t angry about a book, it’s probably not accomplishing anything.

So just what is Megabelt, and why did I choose to make it our first fiction title for Energion Publications? (Press release.)

Well, you can follow the links for details on the book itself. I can simply tell you this: I laughed hysterically at points while reading it. At the same time it held up a mirror to my life and ministry and made me think. A book that can make you laugh and think seriously at the same time has something important going for it. Laughing and thinking are excluded from church far too often.

Just try changing the order of service in the bulletin of many churches and listen to the complaints. People didn’t know what to do. They were confused! They couldn’t handle having another prayer before the scripture reading, or two songs at the beginning, or perhaps being asked to stand at a moment when they had been sitting. The problem for them is that church is a habit. It’s not that going to church is a habit. It’s that the elements of church itself are habitual. Heaven forbid they should be asked to participate!

But even more, we have many ministries that are also habits. Now some of these habits are good things. Visiting the sick or shut-ins. But what happens if the pastor asks some other members to visit someone who is sick or shut-in? Oh the misery! Oh the insult! They have been treated as lesser beings because they received a visit from the wrong person.

Youth ministry is another area of habit. There are certain things that you do, and if you don’t do them, you’re not really “reaching” the youth. If you try something new it will doubtless be dangerous, or you’ll find members of the church who remember a time long, long ago when someone tried that and it didn’t work.

My friend and pastor Geoffrey Lentz likes the following quote:

“Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble.” – Jaroslav Pelikan

While, as the description says, Megabelt doesn’t have an agenda, nor is it a story with a moral, it takes aim at our traditionalism by highlighting it in action. Like me, I suspect that you will find that the mirror shows you in a less than flattering light at some points. The question, of course, is what one does after one looks in the mirror.

23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; 24for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does. — James 1:23-25 (WEB)

So what about publishing a book without a moral? I told Nick that if he had written a story with a single moral, I would have been less likely to buy the manuscript. Since bedtime story days, when we had an endless supply of children’s stories with a moral, I have despised the story written with one single purpose in mind, that inevitably leads to that one moral.

You may say that Jesus told such stories, but if so, I would suggest you read Jesus more closely. My wife borrowed a devotional from me today, The Work of Being a Disciple. I grew up with the notion that a parable had one meaning and you should ignore everything else in favor of that. I found later that parables have a multistage punch–the longer you go on thinking about them, the more they do to you.

I’m not calling Megabelt a parable, nor am I nominating Nick for the role of Jesus–I doubt he would thank me! But I am suggesting that sometimes we will hear in story what we would miss otherwise. In other words, while no moral is pushed in your face in this book, you may nonetheless get many morals from it–if you’re willing to think while you laugh, and after you laugh as well.

I can’t ask much more of a manuscript, even when borne by a friend!

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