On Monday I shared a little bit of my thoughts on Jason Boyett’s new memoir O Me of Little Faith. Before then, I interviewed Jason about the new book. Well, it was all too big for one blog post, so lets just say Jason’s taken over Div Sense for the week. :)
Read on for a conversation with Jason Boyett about memoir writing, doubt, and the mysterious disappearance of @FakeJasonBoyett
Your new book O Me of Little Faith feels so different from any other book you’ve written. For someone already known for funny historical books like the Pocket Guides, how did writing a memoir come about? Or what inspired you to share your story?
Back in 2007, I gave a sermon at my church one weekend when our pastor was away. It was one of those times where I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to talk about, so I just decided to be honest about where I was. I talked about spiritual uncertainty, and openly confessed to having doubts, and began to explore the co-dependent relationship between faith and doubt. The response was really encouraging. I thought I might get booed off the stage, so I was pleasantly surprised when people began to thank me for expressing something they felt, too, but didn’t ever talk about. That’s when I began thinking that there might be a book somewhere in that idea. Lots of us were doubting, but no one was really talking or writing about it — or those that were kept approaching it via propositional apologetics, which didn’t help me at all. So I put together a proposal and eventually it landed at Zondervan. I wrote it in the fall of 2008.
What kind of preparation goes into writing a book based on your life experience instead of research and facts?
Well, it’s a really different kind of writing process. The Pocket Guides are so research-intensive. I spend 3/4 of my time reading and studying and looking stuff up. Then I write about it. With this book, the subject was me, which I’m already an expert on. Once I’d begun thinking about turning the idea into a book, I spent several months collecting my thoughts and thinking of metaphors and stories and generally brainstorming the whole thing. I had every chapter outlined before I actually sat down to write. So when it was time to actually do it, I was able to put together a first draft without having to stop every other line to do research. Which was a thrill considering how my other books come together.
Doubt is a tough thing to talk about… I would guess most of us Christians deal with it at some point, but don’t really discuss it nearly enough. Was it difficult or strange to open up about your faith struggles like this?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult for me. I’m an introvert and emotionally guarded and rarely have deep face-to-face conversations with people. But not on paper. I’ve always been OK with revealing personal stuff via the written word. (There’s probably some deep psychological explanation for this.) So the honesty in O Me of Little Faith wasn’t too entirely difficult. But a few of the stories — like the Brazil/charismatic one — were stories only a few people in the world knew about. Not my family members. Not most of my friends. So the process of opening up about that left me feeling pretty vulnerable. Part of me worried at first about whether or not people would judge me for it, but I decided that I had to be honest. Straight up. If I wasn’t going to be honest in this book, then what was the point of writing it? So you have to just let go and get the stuff down on the page and let the chips fall.
Sometimes, I wonder why we’re so drawn to memoirs and blogs, but I found a quote on a recent blog post by Kristin Tennant that really made sense to me: “People read memoir to feel less alone.” I know that’s true for me as a reader, so I wonder… is it the same for you as a writer? Does seeing people respond to your book help you feel less alone in your faith and doubts?
Kristin is exactly right. Writing a memoir in order to “reach across the loneliness” is exactly what I want to do. I wrote the book because for so long I felt completely isolated in my doubts. It’s incredibly freeing to be honest instead of hiding this stuff down inside and pretending like I’ve got it all figured out. Every time people say, “I totally get it, and I’m there, too” it gives me a little emotional boost. I’m encouraged because I know I’m not alone. And they’re encouraged for the same reason. It’s mutually beneficial, and if that’s the only good my book does, then that’s plenty.
In the book, you mention things that make faith difficult, like science or the notion of hell. But what makes it easier for you to believe and keep the “kung fu grip” faith?
The thing that makes it easiest for me believe is found in the person of Jesus Christ and the revolutionary love and grace that he showed. There’s a reason that Jesus is respected by almost every religious tradition in the world. It’s because the stuff he taught was true. It is better to give than receive. It’s better to love your neighbor…and your enemies. It’s good to welcome the stranger and care for the sick and embrace the untouchable. Even if the whole Christian thing turned out to be a Da Vinci Code-style hoax, I could still live a life following the example of Christ and be perfectly satisfied. I have no doubt it is the best way to live, and I’m gripping that as hard as I can.
What are some of your favorite books and writers right now?
This may not be the expected answer, but I’ve been on a children’s and YA fiction kick for the last few months. I met Kate DiCamillo at the Festival of Faith & Writing a few weeks back and just finished “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” which is a short little parable you can probably read in an hour or two, but it is so so so good. Can’t recommend it enough. My kids and I just finished reading “James and the Giant Peach” together and are about to start “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. Which, to my shame, I’ve never read.
I’m a big fan of the economy and voice and truth-telling of children’s books.
Totally off topic, but I’ve been wondering… whatever happened to @FakeJasonBoyett? I mean, his last tweet said something about tracking jungle cats with a spear, and that sounds kinda dangerous…
I loved the whole @fakejasonboyett twitter experiment — such a great creative challenge — but it was taking too much of my time. I had to let him go for a season, but I suspect I’ll return to him at some point. For now, let’s just pretend he’s in a North Korean work camp or something.
And finally… I have to ask everyone this question of deep importance: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I’m not sure what you’d call it, but the ability to exist outside the space-time continuum so I could blink and land, say, in another city. Instantly. Or blink and end up in California in 1819 or something. I love history and dislike the wasted time spent in airports, so something that would let me time-shift and space-shift would be 1) super-interesting and 2) super-convenient. As Masi Oka has amply demonstrated.