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This Year, I Wrote Words That Lived Without Me

We all know that warm fuzzy feeling of getting a bunch of likes on a social media post or having people tell us they enjoyed something we wrote. It says, "I like YOU" or "I value YOUR opinion" as much as it compliments the words themselves.

But there is a different feeling of accomplishment watching a written piece take on a life of its own, shared and enjoyed by people who do not know the author personally, or who do not even know the identity of the author--when the author can be certain that nobody is sharing it with their friends or complimenting it just "to be nice."

This year, I wrote two major works that are not about me, which connected with people who do not know me (or that I wrote them).

Obviously, one is The Grove of Thorismud. I've been astonished at the number of beta readers in my local writers' association who have continued to contact me asking if they can read it, too, and encouraging friends and colleagues to read it so they can discuss. Most of these people have never met me in person and do not even follow me on social media, though I do expect to meet most of them at our upcoming conference or another CCWA event. Most of these readers are older and more experienced writers than me, so I feel confident that they are not simply trying to court me personally for some kind of favor but are genuinely interested in the work I've produced. This is a big deal to me!

The other major written success I had this year was a single sentence I ghostwrote for my employer.

I work for a non-creedal church, which is so far beyond non-denominational that most churchgoers see God in terms of a lovely metaphor (where atheists celebrate Yuletide with Jews and Buddhists and everyone sings to Baby Jesus on Christmas and we host a radical leftist Passover Seder and for a month we all worshiped in a mosque and where the poetry of Mary Oliver is as revered as various scriptures from many world religions).

So obviously it's hard to explain and I don't always do so elegantly. Suffice it to say it's "dogmatically slutty" and based on what we DO together (spiritual practices of many kinds; treating each other with respect) and not on what we BELIEVE literally. We call this "covenantal." It means we are not going to proselytize to you because we all have our own beliefs and don't care what yours are as long as you want to play nice.

OK, so because our church is all about diversity of perspective and because it's not an easy-answers kind of place with an agreed-upon script, it is very hard even for church leaders to communicate with each other, let alone make a clear statement to the outside world that makes any sense. In my mysterious "office assistant" position, I do a great deal of editing and ghostwriting for everyone from the senior minister to the congregant looking for a dog-sitter this weekend.

And this fall, one sentence I put together took on a life of its own within the church that surprised me.

Our congregation made the decision to move from a historically wealthy, educated, and frankly white supremacist community to one that is racially, economically, and culturally diverse. They made this decision with elephantine slowness, caution, forethought, and overplanning, as is usual for this lovely group led by academics and intellectuals. And joking aside, it has paid off. We've been in our new location for six months, which is a rehabbed school on nearly 10 acres of land which had been a ruined wasteland for many years before we bought it. We've now filled it up with about 1/3 more people, and local service and justice leaders have been lining up at the door to propose partnerships, many of which we've been able to accept. We stuck a rainbow flag in the yard outside, and suddenly we had a spike in same-sex weddings with no further advertising. Our minister and social justice leaders have been in touch with the local Black Lives Matter organization and have planned to put a BLM banner outside next.

So during the tumult of moving to our new location and reeling from all the social and political ugliness that has been ramping up over the past year, I heard a lot of beautiful and powerful words being spoken at our church--by the minister, by our larger association, by our lay leaders--and I strung some of those words together into a lengthy sentence that I pasted into one of our Orders of Service for a Sunday that was about welcoming strangers.

I ran it by the minister, and she liked the words so much, she adopted them as part of our weekly service script. Newcomers in the congregation like them so much that a number of people signed up as members and brought in friends. And twice three times now, I've seen snapshots of those words printed in the Order of Service that people have taken on their phones and shared on Instagram and Facebook, not knowing that I wrote them--which have drawn in even more new congregants. I believe that these words have power because they are both true and bold. They do justice to the church that can't explain itself, and at the same time they challenge the church in a strong way to live up to its ideals.

This sentence is not my most poetic or elegant work, but it struck the right chord at the right time to the right audience--and it is such a thrill!

The sentence is:

"We affirm that black lives matter; that every person's gender identity and sexual orientation is perfect the way it is; and that people of all abilities, nationalities, and religious affiliations are inherently worthy."

In the New Year, I want to do more of this--writing words that go out into the world and get shared and move people--not because I wrote them but because the words themselves mean something to someone else.


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