Summit Day 2: Books, Celebrity and a Dash of Polygamy

I almost wrote a book once.

Back in my previous life as a journalist, I was the lead reporter for our newspaper on the sensational raid by Texas Child Protective Services of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints compound south of Eldorado (pronounced with a long “a,” if you’re not from the area). Hundreds of children were removed.

It was the largest such action ever taken in the history of the United States, it was based on a hoax phone call, and it was overturned by the Texas Supreme Court weeks later, but it resulted in convictions and long prison terms for several men who had taken child brides, and ultimately a life sentence for the sect’s leader, Warren Jeffs.

Anyway, I was around for the first year of that process, which was crazy and intense and, for a couple of weeks anyway, the focus of national media attention. Suddenly, two or three of us reporters for the li’l ol’ San Angelo Standard-Times were competing with the likes of CNN, the Salt Lake Tribune, The Associated Press and even The New York Times for stories and interviews (and winning, I might add).

So, I figured, a lot of people seem to be interested in this, and someone should write a book, and why not me?

But it’s hard to write a book. Writing 2,000 words for a Sunday in-depth news story? No problem.

Finding an agent and carving aside time once a week to produce a manuscript of indeterminate length? Problem.

With kids and other responsibilities, including switching jobs and ultimately changing cities, pressing in, I ended up abandoning the project. But I still think there’s a book in me, probably not about that, but about something, though I have no idea what.

All that to say, I have great respect for those who actually have written books, especially ones I’ve heard of, and especially especially ones I and other people I know have heard of. I’m kind of in awe of people who have done that, actually.

And when those people write books that, if not precisely change my life, at least solidify and confirm that the direction it’s taking is the right one? Well, that’s even cooler.

And so it was pretty awesome to meet Rachel Held Evans yesterday.

Celebrity’s a funny thing. People get built up in your mind, but ultimately, they’re just people. And in Evans’ case, genuinely nice, gracious, funny people. Rachel Evans is no Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz, but only because what she’s done with Evolving in Monkey Town is infinitely more important, if less financially rewarding or noticeable to the broader culture at large.

Evans spoke during Day 2 of Summit, and this was the highlight for those of the attendees who, like me and my wife, have been impressed that someone else has wrestled with questions of doubt and faith and actually had the courage and common sense to write a book about it.

Her message, titled “How Much Faith Is Enough?”, was tied closely to her book, but essentially she answered the question by pointing to Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. Not that we need to have the faith to move mountains, but that if we have even just the tiniest bit of faith, God will move the mountains.

“When your God is that big,” she said, “your faith can be that small, and it is enough.”

As a former journalist, Evans prioritizes the process of question-asking, noting how many questions are in the Bible and listing a litany of them, capping them with “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” asked by, as she put it, God himself as he was being crucified.

“We do such a disservice to this book of questions,” she said, “when we try to turn it into an answer book.”

At a coffeehouse dialogue session later in the evening, Evans spoke about her forthcoming book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which she will document her year of trying to follow the Bible’s rules for women as literally as possible. She had some funny stories about how those ancient values clashed with modern sensibilities and customs – and some sobering ones about how poorly we as Christians have handled – and continue to handle, as some reaction to her as-yet mostly unwritten book shows – these kinds of issues.

And, in the process, I learned that along with age, theological background, former occupation and current faith journey, Evans and I share something else in common: We’ve both interviewed polygamous women and come away with a much different view of the practice than we did going in. Because, as I’ve discovered, asking questions means opening yourself to the possibility of changing your mind.

Through it all, she came across as genuine, kind and self-effacing. Which is pretty neat, considering she writes books.

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