the Empathy List #95: Wink Wink
2024 is gunna be a good year.
Hello friend, Liz here.
I’ve felt privileged lately to be gaining traction with this newsletter of mine, and so I want to introduce myself to any of you who have migrated recently.
Aaaaand I have an announcement to share that’ll be news even to my tried and true readers. If you love spoilers (like I do!), scroll to the middle of the page ASAP.
Here’s the TDLR about me, Liz Charlotte Grant
…for those standing in line at the grocery check-out or scrolling in the bathroom to hide from the kids for a few seconds of peace. ;-)
Where I am in the world: the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, USA
How I make a living: freelance writing, speaking at churches and MOPs groups, teaching at retreats for writers, paid subscriptions to this newsletter… but mainly via my patron/artist husband, Jeremy, who works full-time as a designer/illustrator
How much I actually made writing in the last year: $784 (not counting expenses, and no, I’m not kidding)1
What I do for fun: BBC mystery audio books (Father Brown, Agatha Christie, Anthony Horowitz, Death in Paradise, etc., etc.); vegetable gardening, chicken keeping, and cooking fancy food from the various CSAs to which I subscribe; reading/listening to middle grade fiction with my two elementary schoolers (Lemoncello’s Library! The Secret Keepers! The Naughtiest Girl! The Mysterious Benedict Society! Harry Potter! I could go on...). Also slow walks, hosting friends for dinner, watching my girl’s basketball games, perusing art galleries with my husband, singing in the car…
How my husband and I met: At a bible study where, upon saying goodbye, I heard God speak to me that he was my husband (I know!!! I’ll tell you that story sometime soon.)
Any kids? Two, ages 8 and 10, a third- and fourth-grader who are as wild as they come.
Political Lean: Left, a die-hard never-in-your-wildest-dreams NEVER Trumper
Religious Lean: Episcopalian, which is to say, progressive evangelical, I think?
Now, I’ll open the floor to questions from imaginary readers.
Are you even a Christian if you vote left and attend an episcopalian church?
Um, yes… though my conservative relatives might disagree with me. Bahaha ;-)
Why are you so obsessed with critiquing evangelicalism?
Because they’re my people. I am one. I grew up in evangelicalism, indoctrinated from age 0 onward, and I only recently left the fold. I hit all the evangelical milestones but walked away limping. I have been in recovery, which tends to make you short-sighted, so I talk about evangelicalism a lot still, cause I am still thinking out loud about what went wrong for me.
Also I’m a memoirist. So I am trying to offer an alternative story for those I still know within evangelicalism and to console those who are long gone.
I do write about other things and in this upcoming year, I plan to lean into the “curiosity” portion of this newsletter (rather than writing in an endless loop about evangelicalism…. which bores me).
Why do you waste your time writing if you make no money?
I went to school for writing, which deluded me into thinking that most writers write for money. So then, my personal failure to make a livable wage meant I was doing something wrong. I thought, if only I worked harder, then I’d find the secret treasure map somewhere in the bowels of the NYT archives. Maybe?
I was wrong about that. So few writers make their living writing. We are paid pittance, if anything at all. That’s why I’m telling you what I make, so that our sweet readers who love us can see how dire are the finances of the artists they love.
Note: If you don’t support me on substack, THAT IS OKAY! I STILL LIKE YOU! But I would like to encourage you to pay for a subscription to at least ONE of your favorite substack newsletters ASAP. This, ultimately, helps all of us writers, as it shifts the norm from offering content for free to paying for content. I know inflation sucks (Lord, help our economy!), but this is the reality of the Internet age. Do you want to read good things? That costs money. And yes, I think that publishers and silicon valley should be sharing more profits with content producers and that it’s entirely unequitable how things work. *Steps off soap box*
Okay, back to the normal programming.
I actually want to celebrate, though, because $784 is a high salary for me when it comes to writing.
I did ultimately lose money this year due to investing in equipment (a mac desktop computer, a microphone, etc.) and attending three conferences. However, my writing salary is going to go up again in 2023, so I’m experiencing an upswing.
Also… I don’t know if it’s evident to you, but I am the most tenacious person you’ve ever met. Really. I have been told this since my college days when a professor, after receiving a seventh draft of an essay for review, told me so and then stopped making comments on my papers. (haha!)
So I’ve been stubbornly writing whatever I wanted to write in this corner over here for more than a decade, and that’s always felt like a challenge I wanted to accept.2
But at this stage, having gained a small readership and some name recognition (WHICH IS WEIRD since I’ve been mostly isolated through my decade of tapping), I feel exceptionally lucky. It is a true privilege to be autonomous in my projects (though I wouldn’t MIND a financial incentive…).
On that note about privilege:
It’s rare that us writers are not beholden to an editor or a paycheck. I’m only able to do it because I have a live-in patron (see footnote 1). BIPOC writers are MUCH less likely to be afforded this privilege. So if you are going to go pay for a substack subscription in the near future, I request that you would give your money to a minority writer before subscribing to me or the other white ladies you follow. We need your support, too, certainly, but the industry heavily favors white folk, and that needs to change (yesterday).
Back to your imaginary questions, though, and my NEWWWWSSS…
So, you’re a writer, got it. Have you published anywhere I’ve heard of?
I’ve published sciency essays with Christianity Today and arty essays at the Christian Century. I’ve also published in secular lit magazines like Hippocampus magazine and Brevity and in the Huffington Post’s personals column. I was also a nominee for best indie newsletter on the internet by the 2022 Webby Awards. My whole resume is here. (I’m still looking for that NYT byline though. Fingers crossed.)
Do you have any books?
Well, not yet. But actually… over the holidays, I GOT A BOOK CONTRACT. I signed a contract with Eerdmans (pronounced urrrrd - mans) to publish a book in 2024.
MY FIRST BOOK! IS COMING! IN 2024!
To be clear, this is not the first book I’ve written, just the first I’ve sold to be published by a traditional publisher. I’ll give you the whole rundown of my publication history (read: failures) closer to the publication of the book, but for the meantime, I can tell you that it’s been A LONG F-ING ROAD TO GET HERE.
What’s the book about?
TLDR: First encounters with God & reenchanting Genesis when inerrancy has failed you
One major question I’m answering is, what comes after inerrancy? That is, when we progressive Christians decide that inerrancy isn’t the whole story when it comes to God and faith and yes, even the Bible, then what comes after?
I never meant to write about inerrancy because I’ve always considered it to be an exceedingly boring topic… ;-) To me, the cloudiness of God always felt more compelling than hammering down the exact measurements of faith.
But somehow, reluctantly, I found myself revisiting those first strange encounters between divinity and humanity in the book of Genesis, wrestling through HOW to read these particular passages through my current lens of belief.
Genesis, I found, offers so many suprising, transgressive and evocative moments and I felt drawn to study them up close. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, the Tower of Babel, the patriarchs and Hagar and Sarai and Sodom and Abraham’s appalling trip up the mountaintop with Isaac. And then there’s Jacob wrestling with God on the ground, which seemed to become a natural metaphor for the interpretative method itself. (That’s where the book concludes, by the way. I find the story of Joseph soooooo boring, personally.)
But I’m not an exegete or a theologian, I’m an essayist. So my instincts do not match a theologian’s. My commentary sources were the desert fathers and mothers, the Christian fathers like Irenaeus and Augustine, the rabbis teachings in the Talmud and the midrashic legends of the Haggada and Zohar.
In the process of exploring the most evocative moments of the story through the most evocative commentators, I started to make associations, to develop metaphors that offered new light to the overly-familiar stories. Like those monks who once drew curlicues and painted gold leaf on the letters of the Book of Kells, I wanted to compliment the text, to bring into relief its beauty.
So I added in journalism to the interpretative work. I recounted the discovery of whale song, explained chaos theory and black holes, unearthed the Chauvet cave drawings and fossils in Chad, followed archaeologists into the Iraqi deserts and spent time with the manuscript hunters who discovered the fragments of our Bible in the sand.
By now, around 120 pages into the writing, my work is a strange sort of eisegesis3 that I’ve never read before. But I think I've always hungered for a work like this, for a way to engage the Scriptures that doesn't feel trite or boring or cliched, but makes me scratch my head and think hard. I hope it does that for you, too.
And then I roped my husband into making it a multimedia project in which he creates collage editorial illustrations for each chapter. (I KNOW!) And then I recruited a composer friend, in hopes that a performance piece might emerge from the text/image collaboration.
And then John Blase took it on as an agent with the Bindery and Lisa Cockrel fell in love at Eerdmans and well, here we are, a book slated to hit the streets in 2024 (exact release date TBD4).
As excited and thunderstruck as I am to get to write such an artful and meaningful book for you… I feel sheepish telling you about it.
Because hearing about books is never as good as reading the finished work, and it’s especially hard to get excited for something happening Y E A R S from now.
But I’m telling you all about it now, within a few weeks of signing the paperwork, because you all have been with me as I’ve reached and strained for a faith that’s broader, for a faith with space enough for a wider range of people and ideas, for a faith that nurtures tenderness and curiosity and emotional health as essential discipleship matters and not side issues.
Actually, this aim I’ve had within this newsletter—to grow a more empathetic and curious faith—I believe that it’s working.
You are the proof that readers want a wider angle.
You are the reason that American evangelicalism is fracturing and shifting.
You are the instigators who have demanded a return to Christianity according to Jesus’s liberating teachings.
This has forced Christian publishers seek out BIPOC voices, nuture female theologians and provide alternative Christian perspectives. Because I’m not the only weirdo with a brand new book contract right now. (We are legggiooonnnn…. bahaha)
Really, I’m hopeful that this book will be a balm to those of us who feel outside the tribe and disconnected from the story of faith as we once knew it.
When I consider how many of my peers have stopped going to church, have lost any interest in God, have determined that religious structures—from the books we read to the institutions and people we support—are all a lie, ESPECIALLY THE ANCIENT BOOK CALLED THE BIBLE, that’s when I remember why I’m spending so many hours in front of a screen.
I so badly want to meet you were you are.
Our faith journeys are distinctive; yet I see how common the experience of alienation is to us young, progressive evangelicals. We are lonely. And we need to be reconnected to the strangeness and depth of our Christian tradition. Thank goodness, it’s not only THIS, this white american evangelical mess that we’ve inherited from our Boomer parents. There’s more for us; Jesus offers us more.
I offer my readers mercy and beauty, and this book is my attempt to get that down on paper and I’m using the medium of Scripture to do it. (Who knows if I’ll succeed? But I’ll work my ass off in the trying.)
Of course, I’m not stopping my gentle rebellion with a single book either.
More than our strictures and leather-bound theology books, I pray that the church would be defined by the mystery of Christ among us. His presence is the centerpiece.
Thanks for joining me on the journey, my friends.
Thanks for reading.
Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
In case you’re looking for a way to support my book now… the best way is to FORWARD ONE OF MY EMAILS TO A FRIEND. ;-) (Preorders won’t happen for a looong time.)
ALSO, a programming note: I have been trying out a new format for the newsletter over the past month, which I’ve decided to shift in order to give myself a bit more breathing room (since I’m still writing my book)!
The plan right now is to send an empathy list essay 1-2 times per month and a curious reads mini-essay + list of curious reads 2-3 times per month. And we’ll just see how that goes… *Shrug*
If you have feedback or comments, feel free to reply to this email and let me know! :)
I am not telling you about my teeny writing salary for pity, but for the sake of transparency. Writers—especially those of us in the Christian market—HATE to talk about money.
While it’s true that I cannot live off of what I make from writing, I am still privileged to be able to do it fulltime, not needing to take an alternative job just for the cash. For me, that’s the case because I grew up in a wealthy east coast family, which right away afforded me privileges, such as a debt-free college experience. (No student loan debt is the most substantial and longlasting gift my parents have ever given me). And then I married a guy who already owned a home, himself was debt-free, and then already had a career in-progress despite graduating amid the recession of the 2000s. Owning a home—even if it was a shitty home!—allowed us both to pursue artistic careers, and his career being more lucrative allowed me to stay home with our children when they were itty.
Now, his job continues to support my writing habit!! So I want to acknowledge how grateful I am that I sit in the miniscule minority of humans across time and history who have been able to do their art FULLTIME. And I do it because of my live-in patron who is committed to my writing. Damn, I am lucky. *weepy heart eyes*
At one point, I felt like the entire writing community was triple dog daring me that I’d fail, and so opening my laptop felt like throwing the bird at them all… That worked for me for a bit. The anger led me to keep writing despite LOTS of rejection.
However, not all my writing days are so self-assured. I am prone to anxiety/depression, too, so it’s not been a smooth ride. It helps A LOT to be married to an artist who is, himself, certain that my work is worthy and meaningful and that he wants me to make it, regardless what anyone else thinks of it. Sometime I’ll interview him here because he’s a remarkable artist himself and is 100% the reason I’m still writing.
Eisegesis is a highly controversial Biblical interpretative technique within evangelical circles, in part because it draws more on the style of midrash known as more common to Jewish Biblical study than to Christian study. We fundamentalist Christians like to have a singular, flat truth, thank you very much, don’t add anything extra. Read it plain, sola scripture. Then again, who gets to choose what is extra and extraneous?
For a great example of a scholar who performs eisegesis with great care and attention to the text, I refer you to Avivah Gottleib-Zornberg (who is my new scholar-hero, by the way): https://onbeing.org/programs/avivah-zornberg-the-genesis-of-desire/
Zornberg describes eisegesis, in her book The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis, as more rhetorical than methodical: “My mode of inquiry was closer to the ‘rhetorical’ than to the ‘methodical,’ in terms of Gerald Bruns’s distinction—the ‘rhetorical’ having ‘no greater ambition than to discover what can be said, in any given case.’ The rhetorical mode, …Bruns sees as characteristic of most literary criticism… It explores problems, relationships, patterns, without arriving at single-minded or schematic theories. The rhetorician is a ‘public meditator.’” In other words, her aim is not to arrive at one clear, singular answer to explain Genesis in her book but to muddy the waters for the purpose of disrupting incorrect readings.
She says, “I am looking to loosen the fixities, the ossifications of preconceived readings. The aim of interpretation is, I suggest, not merely to domesticate, to familarize an ancient book: it is also, and perhaps more importantly, to ‘make strangeness in certain respects stranger…’ [in the words of George Steiner.]”
By the way, when I realized my book would come out DURING AN ELECTION YEAR, I nearly backed out. Cause nobody wants to compete with that Trump nonsense! NOPE. My husband talked me off the ledge… BUT STILL.