Book Update: The MS is off to the Publisher!

I just sent the manuscript off to the editors at Baker Books. Phew. Let's try that again: Phew!!! I've never spent so much time with adverbial phrases and killing off the passive tense. The passive tense is (see, there it is!) needy, pushy, attention-grabbing, promising the happy life of easy, comfortable writing (It is and he is and she is and they really is) but delivering the most unsatisfying sentence-constructions known to the sons of Chaucer. And daughters too.

Check out what my friend Kate Van Dyke said about my chapter after she gave it the ole editorial slash-n-burn.

The chapter needs work. Mostly the boring task of refining and sharpening the language. You have really good things to say and I applaud your getting this far!

I hope this is helpful. I am always nervous about telling writers what I really think about their writing, but I am trusting you to listen/read knowing I support you 100% and want this to be the best you can do. And of course, you'll chuck what you don't agree with!

Kill passive voice!!!

Did you notice her tactic? She gives me the bad news first. Then she butters me up with loads of affirmation and approval lest my self-esteem wilt. Then she lowers the boom. It's a pretty good tactic to practice with the rest of our artist friends.

But kill the passive voice I did--savagely.

I honestly didn't think editing a book would be hard. IT'S WORSE THAN HERDING CATS. How do you retain each person's distinct voice while editing their content? Mind you, these are sharp cats--Eugene Peterson, Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch. Jeremy Begbie--the sly-cat Englishman. John Witvliet--the Dutch peacemaker. Josh Banner--rockstar. And the wittiest, edgiest cat of them all: Barbara Nicolosi. I love her blog. And I love the folks I've been fortunate to work with.

But they have busy lives.

And they can't be bothered with too many adverbial phrase issues.

But I can.

I have grown in my respect for editors the world 'round. Editors deserve lavish paeans. They deserve servants who will bring them platters of cookies and milk--and vats of margaritas--and a nine-hundred-course Italian meal. If all of us could hire a personal editor--to edit not only our papers but also our speech, closets, and mannerisms--the world would be infinitely better off. Humans are a wasteful lot.

Not in the way God is a "wasteful" Triune lot, meaning euphemistically, in His case, superabundantly gracious, profligate, and gift-giving. Humans usually need to improve in this department. We humans are wasteful in the wrong ways. We waste time. We waste money, often unknowingly. We waste our life in too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right.

So God created editors for all of our benefit, at least in the realm of books, magazines, journals, festschrifts, plays--but not blogs.

Anyhoo, God gave me the opportunity to edit this book so He could sanctify me. And I shouldn't turn down an invitation to sanctification.

But I'm also thrilled. These folks are all topnotch people. Eight people. Eight chapters in all. 51,130 finely crafted words, with enough instances of the passive voice to keep it exciting. Every one of these writers makes Christianity look good, not merely because of what they write but for who they are as persons. They're smart. They're humble. They're funny. (Eugene is a joke machine.) And they have an obvious love for God. I'm honestly moved when I think about the enormous privilege God has given me to work with them. It won't come again any time soon. I don't think.

The editors tell me my book will see the light of day around March of 2010. Ooph. I'll be old by then. And in school, God knows where.

Today I turned in the last part of my Cambridge application. Today I turned in the book manuscript. I'm pooped. I need a drink. Phaedra and I will be giving up spirits, caffeine, and anything with sugar for our Lenten observations, so we better live it up between now and Shrove Tuesday.

I don't have a certain title yet. I've suggested for the time being, Evangelicals and the Arts: A Vision for the Church. It could change. The fine folks at Baker might like instead: Eight Thoughts by Eight Really, Really Wonderful People: Art, Church, the Usual.

I tossed around the possibility of calling it Blue Like a Shack: But Better (and oh yeah--it's about the church and ART!).

Who knows. We'll know in the summer.

Tomorrow I need to get my taxes in order, take my Honda to get inspected, then to Jiffy Lube to get an oil change, call my insurance company, sprinkle fertilizer on the back lawn, and make time to work on our Will. I can't put off the practical parts of our life any longer.

For now I leave you with a paragraph plucked from the mid-section of my Introduction. It describes basically what I'm trying to get at and what I'm praying will result from this book, along with all the other books that have been written and will be penned in this vein of the church's work with the arts.

"But my point—my confession—is this. As a pastor of an arts ministry, I defaulted to an experientialist and shrunken traditionalistic approach because I lacked a larger vision. Evangelical Protestantism handed me neither a big picture (a theology) nor a sense of how art and the church ought to hold together (a tradition). What I was left with were strategies and programs, and pretty good ones.

But they failed to pull me and my artist friends and our congregation and our brethren throughout the city and world into something bigger than ourselves. Dorothy Sayers, novelist and friend of Lewis and Tolkien, writing in the 1950s, put it sharply: “The Church as a body has never made up her mind about the Arts, and it is hardly too much to say that she has never tried.” If her judgment verges on exaggeration, her lament is nevertheless shared by many of my contemporaries.

Many of us, in fact, feel the lack of a comprehensive, systematic, integrating and grounding vision."

And on it goes.

PS: the awesome posters that appear at the beginning and end of this blog come courtesy of a company that's run by my friend Laura Dunn's husband et al. The posters can all be found safely at


Haley said…
I would SO buy this book but only if you call it 'blue like a shack.' Ahahahaha! Thanks, that literally made me laugh out loud. In all seriousness, it sounds amazing no matter what you end up calling it.
How 'bout a retro title like The Prayer of Jabez in the Purpose-Driven Arts Ministry??

Way to go, David. For what it's worth, I'm proud of you. And I'll be waiting eagerly for March 2010!
wordlily said…
Congrats on the book, and on being done with it! Editing is hard.

(My husband — who I believe you know from his blog — sent me the link to your post.)

Passive voice, though, isn't defined by "to be" verbs, though — passive voice is when the action is happening to the sentence's subject, rather than the subject doing the action.

I think editing, while hard, can be fun!
Thanks for the encouragement y'all. Titles of books do make me laugh. But's posters make me laugh harder. Oh my.

Lily (is that your name?), thanks for the heads-up on the proper use of "passive tense." That's helpful. And great blog you've got there. Very nice.
i never managed to get to Austin to meet you, but have been interested in what you were doing and thinking down there since i ran across your blog some time ago. i lived in Paris for about 12 years, and in 2001 started an arts group there, eventually opening a gallery space/concert venue. somehow i thought you were already in Britain. would love to talk a bit.

jim 601-720-0250
matt boulter said…
You probably know that is owned and run by Christians (mainly Presbyterians) here in Austin.

Congrats on the MS. I know you've been working hard.
March 2010?!?'s going to be hard to wait for but well worth it. I don't know that Ms. Nicolosi would approve of the first title suggestion, though, seeing as she was excited to find a church that was actually Evangelical Free (ha ha! I can't remember when I have laughed so hard).

Getting rid of "be verbs" is always the most onerous task, but definitely makes for better writing.

Can't wait to get it in my hands.
Jim, nice to meet you. The life of an artist in Paris sounds dreamy. I'm sure it's somewhat less dreamy when you're not the billionaire who gets engaged to Salma Hayek and instead have to slog your way through a week of maybes and possibles and faith. But I'd love to hear your story. I'll give you a shout through gmail-land.

Matt, yes I did know Laura's husband and brother were Christians. It's an impressive outfit they have going there. I say, big fat kudos to them.

Heather, I'm not sure how the Nicolosi-as-Catholic landing in a book-writte-for-evangelicals will turn out. I'm hoping my editors will be wise in the ways of marketing politics.

Yes, her comment about First Evangelical FREE was hilarious. A free evangelical? Getting to be evangelical for free? It was a good one.

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