By Jeff Goins, Editor
WRECKED: Lisa, you and your husband Will wrote a book awhile back called Justice in the Burbs. In it, you basically tell your tale of transformation from consumerist suburbanites to more justice-oriented gardeners living in the mountains of West Virginia, right? You live in Appalachia , where you’re forced to see that your actions have direct consequences on the poor. As a writer and follower of Jesus, how much does setting matter to you?
LISA: Well, we actually moved to an urban environment, in downtown Lexington Kentucky. So, we’re not in the mountains, but Will is very concerned and has done research in Appalachia regarding mountaintop removal mining, which has so far destroyed over 500 mountains in Appalachia. So yes, we left our suburban home, 5,000 square feet (and I still miss it, to be honest), moved to a drafty old house here in Lexington to be confronted face-to-face with issues of poverty. We’ll go for weeks without seeing a need nearby, and then, there somebody is. Today I bought diapers for a young mother. You never know what it’s going to be. Setting is everything, as far as we’re concerned.
Seeking to live incarnational lives, and yet being the typical family able to become consumed with our own activities, it was crucial for us to relocate in order to “have” to live that way. Now, in our book Justice in the Burbs, we encourage suburban dwellers to stay put until God calls them elsewhere, and see how they can be used of God.
One thing I know for sure, wherever you live, it doesn’t do anybody any good to be smarmy about it. I know a lot of hip urban dwellers who look down on suburbanites, and I think, uh, so what? What are you really doing? If you’re living the same consumeristic, self-serving lifestyle, who cares where you hang your clothes? There is plenty of heartache in the suburbs, and that doesn’t necessarilly precludes involvement in inner city ministry or missions elsewhere. As a writer, well, there are some crazy characters down here! Always great fodder for someone who tries to people her stories with offbeat characters.
WRECKED: Continuing with the previous question… In what ways does your character Heather (who goes through some pretty formative experiences that cause her to question the value she places on material items) in Quaker Summer resemble you?
LISA: Well, she went from living a life based on societal position and material goods to one based on following the teachings of Christ, not just intellectually assenting that He is the Son of God. (Hey, the demons do that, right?) She was a lot better off financially than we were. I mean, they were definitely in the top 5%. But her thoughts along the way were mine when I started reading the gospels and saying, “Oh, my gosh! He did not just say that!” That Jesus. Take him seriously and he’s like your crazy Uncle Phil. I mean, really, turn the other cheek, sell all your goods to feed the poor, love your enemies? If we believe Jesus meant what he said and then acted upon it, what would the life of Christian faith look like? Now that would be a peculiar people; let me tell you! I have far to go, believe me, but Jesus, followed by the early Church, set the standard so high, I’ll never stop finding new ways to live into a vibrant and living faith. Being sorry for your sins goes a long way too.
WRECKED: So, you’re writing the novelization of Bella, an independent film that a lot pro-lifers intentionally supported, because the main character spends the majority of the movie gently persuading his friend Nina to not have an abortion. How did that come about? Did you find yourself more easily supporting a work that was pro-life and also had a lot of artistic integrity (which can sometimes be rare in the case of Christian art), or did that not matter to you?
LISA: The message was great. I’m all for unborn babies. It seems today a lot of believers have bifurcated themselves and said, “Well, the unborn are the main thing” and turn their backs on the poor. And many are so concerned with the poor, they look the other way with abortion. Do I really have to choose? Gosh I hope not! Have I become disenchanted with the political process to do anything (especially on the national level) that will save a lot of unborn lives? You betcha! That’s why I loved the movie Bella.
It tells the story of a person of faith who puts it into action and actually does something for a woman in an unplanned pregnancy. He didn’t just walk by her and say, “Hey I voted for the pro-life candidate last year. What else do you expect from me, lady?” This movie truly is pro-life. If all a person does is vote pro-life, may I be so bold as to say they’re only anti-abortion? Pro-life means doing whatever it takes to save lives. At all stages. Regarding the artistic integrity. I’d had other film-to-novel offers in the past. This was the only one that I felt was good enough art for me to attach my name to. When you’re in the creative arts, honestly, you have two things, your product and your name. I try my best to guard my artistic integrity, and my name. I felt “bella” was a project I wasn’t doing only for the money and that I wouldn’t be ashamed of in years to come.
WRECKED: You’re a writing machine! You have several books out right now, including a couple from the “Hollywood Nobodies” series, along with another novel (that Shane Claiborne recently endorsed) called Embrace Me. What are they about?
LISA: The “Hollywood Nobody” series is about a teenager whose mother is an on-location food stylist for the motion picture industry. Scotty is quirky and fun and she’s very, very sarcastic. When NavPress approached me to do a Young Adult series, I knew what I didn’t want to do: another high school students issues-driven series. I wanted to have a blast writing it, give it an authentic teenage voice, and yet have her life be so different it would be interesting to teens. So far so good.
The teens that have contacted me have really enjoyed it. Scotty writes a Hollywood blog, and I get to let my own “car wreck fascination” with the entertainment industry on the loose! I have a crazy love/hate relationship with Hollywood. “Can you believe they did that?” I’ll huff, while all the while wondering what the next big broo-ha-ha will be. (I think I need some real spiritual growth in this area!)
Embrace Me is my fictional way of exploring how the church can homogenize people, making them into freaks of a sort. That’s the metaphor of the story. It’s set around a side show wintering in a small town, a disillusioned mega-church pastor, a dreadlocked, biker-pastor with a small intentional community living in a laundromat, and a glitzy Christian singer. I try to explore what church really is, what we’ve done to the Body of Christ, how transactional and consumeristic our faith can be — and how much God still loves us despite all that, how beautiful the church can be when she starts actually following Jesus, not just intellectually assenting to His life, death and resurrection. The book is primarilly marketed to women, but it’s very much written with all those in church leadership in mind. I had a very specific person pictured as I wrote this: a young pastor – 27 to 30ish – who’s been serving and trying to grow a congregation, and then realizes he’s actually growing a portion of the People of God. Wow, that’s a whole new set of questions, isn’t it?
WRECKED: Many of your books seem to have a strong social justice influence. Is that intentional? What do you hope a reader walks away with after reading one of your stories?
LISA: Lately they’ve had strong social justice themes. What do I want readers to walk away with? First and foremost with a good reading experience. Second, I want them to know they’re not alone. That someone else is asking the same questions they are and that’s okay. Thirdly, I hope they’re encouraged to love God and neighbor more. That’s about it.
WRECKED: As a novelist, how does fiction allow you the liberty to say what you really want to say and express eternal truths in a way that nonfiction might not?
LISA: Mainly, it frees me up to say things I wouldn’t as “me.” I hear so many people talk about “the power of the story” and that’s so true, because when we journey with these characters, we become them in some ways, rejoice with them, sorrow with them, get angry with them, hopefully see ourselves in a non-threatening light. And fiction is even less threatening because you know it didn’t really happen, so it can ease into your soul a little more softly. I remember when my kids were little and we’d be watching something a little scary and they’d turn to me, with their eyebrows knitted, and say, “This didn’t really happen, mama, did it?” And when I said no, they could keep going with it. Fiction helps you to stick with it.
WRECKED: Who is your favorite contemporary author?
LISA: Kurt Vonnegut. (R.I.P. I wish I had written to him when he was alive.)
WRECKED: Who is your favorite classic author?
LISA: W. Somerset Maugham
WRECKED: What are you reading right now?
LISA: The Great Emergence, by Phyllis Tickle. Just finished Tale of Two Cities, by Dickens.
WRECKED: On your blog Author Intrusion, you’re launching a project to build a school in Swaziland called Sam’s School. How does that work? Why are you doing that? How do you see the arts engaging society and culture in a transformative way?
LISA: Ty and I went on a vision trip to Swaziland this past January. I met Sam and Happiness and their children. Sam pastors a couple of churches in Swaziland . With the dubious honor of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate, Swaziland affords her pastors a great deal of widows and orphans to care for. Sam started a school for those who couldn’t afford school fees. His upper grades were meeting in a house that had been condemned and they didn’t know where they were going to meet. In the nearby village of Mangwaneni , a steel structure had been built, just the supports and the roof. So after stewing on it, I decided I’d swallow my pride and ask friends and relatives to help me raise the money for this school, which will serve as a church as well, and a new kitchen shed and cast iron pots from which 150 orphans will be fed each day. And a well too! We’ve raised (with the help of an organization we belong to called Relational Tithe) all but about $2,700.00. The project cost at total of 25K. I just can’t believe it. There’s so much more that could be done in Swaziland. I’m doing this because I met a little girl there named Nothando that I just fell in love with. Bright, sweet, just wonderful. I know I can’t adopt her or single her out in her village, so I thought, well why not? And so many people will be affected for the better.
A lot of those who’ve helped me with this project are faithful readers that I’ve gotten to know over the years. One lady and her husband gave us $1,000! Wow. I see the relationships we make as artists as the key way we can transform our world. Art can really uplift and inspire, which is great, but it can also give us a way to develop a community around what we do and well, that’s when the miracles really begin to happen.
Jeff graduated from Illinois College , a small liberal arts school, with a degree in Spanish and Religion. He lives in Nashville, TN. He works for Adventures in Missions, edits Wrecked, and got married in January 2008.