Highway overpass and sky
#50: Jen Hatmaker 2018
A Heart for People, May 2, 2022
In Rewrite Radio Episode #50, Jen Hatmaker and Jennifer Holberg discuss the truths that humor conveys, the need for good friends, and the problems facing evangelicals.
- Jen Hatmaker Of Mess and Moxie
- Jen Hatmaker For the Love
- Jen Hatmaker Seven
- Jen Hatmaker Interrupted
- David Sedaris
- Kelly Corrigan
Jennifer Holberg: Today on Rewrite Radio, we listen back to a conversation I had with Jen Hatmaker at the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing. We talk about the truths that humor conveys, the need for good friends, and the problems facing evangelicals. We also consider the narratives available to women, especially women in the church, as well as the costs—and necessity—of being willing to change one’s mind.
I’m Jennifer Holberg, and along with Jane Zwart, I co-direct the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing.
Jen Hatmaker is a Christian author, speaker, podcaster, who has written NY Times bestsellers For the Love, Of Mess and Moxie, and Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire. She hosts the For the Love Podcast which has won a bunch of awards, and continues to speak all over the country. She also created the Jen Hatmaker Book Club, where she nerds out every month with thousands of women who believe good books are everything and stories still matter. She was a delight to interview.
And now, from the 2018 Festival of Faith & Writing, Jen Hatmaker.
Jennifer Holberg: So I just want to start off, you are rarely asked about your own writing and your writing as a craft and as a calling, so I wondered if you could talk a little bit about your journey to becoming a writer, how you see this as part of your larger calling, yeah.
Jen Hatmaker: Absolutely. I grew up loving words. I grew up loving books. That was always really, really important to me, but I was a teacher. So I taught. I taught fourth grade right out of the gate, right out of college. And then I just had like a million babies, [laughter] and I had them all in a row because nobody told me not to. [laughter] And so when they were 1, 3, and 5, which is just an absurd time to be alive. [laughter] When they were 1, 3, and 5, I was doing ministry just the way anybody does it, like in your own church, right?
And my husband was a student pastor and a college pastor and then an adult pastor and so I was doing women’s ministry and just whatever. And I realized that I wanted to write. I think I started writing because I had something to say. It wasn’t because I ever imagined in my wildest dreams I could be a career writer. That actually never occurred to me.
So I wrote a book that nobody asked me to write. And I wrote it so green. I mean you would have been so sad as an English professor. [laughter] So not well researched and I did everything out of order. I didn’t know how publishing worked. I had no idea.
And so I finished this whole book and I was like, “Well I wonder what I would ever do with this?” And so I had a dear friend say, “Why don’t we take it to a writers conference?” Which I didn’t know what that was, and didn’t realize what—you had to write a book proposal—how many of you have written a book proposal? It was no joke. [laughter] It is literally no joke. And so we went to—I don’t know if you know what this is—but we went to the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference.
Jen: [00:04:42] And I brought my little book, and my little proposal—I was 29. And I pitched it. I practiced pitching it to the mirror for a solid month, and lo and behold it garnered some interest. And so I had several offers to publish that book, and that’s how writing started for me. And so they kind of sort of come back and say, “We like, we would like to give you like a five book contract.” And I remember thinking, “Did somebody tell you that I could do that? Like is there any reason you think I can pull that off? I don’t know anything else. I’ve already said everything I know.” [laughter] And so that was in 2004. And, and lucky me, it turned into a life. And so now I’ve written, I don’t know, 11 or 12.
Jen: Thank you for knowing that, I honestly—
Jen: Whatever. And I love it. It’s my life’s joy. When you ran down a list of things that I do—and I do a lot of things, and I love them all to varying degrees. But if you forced me, if I had to pick one thing to the exclusion of everything else that I do, I would choose writing. It’s my very, very favorite thing. I love it except when I hate it—you know what I mean. [laughter]
Jennifer: So I did read a whole long list of things.
Jen: You did.
Jennifer: So, how is it that you, what are your sort of disciplines?
Jen: Meaning like—
Jennifer: Yeah, how do you get it done?
Jen: How do I write a—how do you get it down.
Jennifer: Yeah, when you’ve got five children, and you’ve got a ministry, and you’ve got podcasting and all that.
Jen: Yeah. Oh my gosh.
Jennifer: So, you’re still, and you’re very prolific in 14 years.
Jennifer: Right, so talk to us a little bit about—how could we learn a little discipline from you?
Jen: Well, it’s probably some combination of deeply, deeply profound procrastination. [laughter] Panic. Wasting a lot of time. [laughter] Melodrama. [laughter]
Jennifer: These are your cycles of—
Jen: —just sheer terror. [laughter] Somehow that gets me over the finish line for every book deadline I’ve ever had. But if I had to be a little bit more specific, although every word of that is true, I’m a morning writer. I’ve always wanted to be one of these interesting moody nighttime writers, you know, who just get in their head and it’s 2:00 in the morning. But I wake up in the morning kind of crystal clear. And I dream; I dream writing. Do you dream about words? I dream paragraphs; I dream ideas. I keep note cards by my bed. And so I wake up with the remnants of ideas—and half of it’s garbage of course. But I like to put my foot on the gas right out of the gate. Which means I come with my ideas; I open it up; I’m going to spend at least twenty-five minutes on social media, a minimum right? [laughter]
Writing is so hard. It’s such a hard time. Like, I think I would have been a great writer back in the day when I just had a typewriter. [laughter] That was the—those were the days. [laughter] I have too many distractions.
But basically, if I don’t have it written by one or two o’clock in the afternoon its—that’s it. That is the end of the road. And it’s a good thing, because I do have five kids—it’s so many, they all live with us. [laughter] And so they start coming home, and they are not interested in my career. At all. So that’s about the end of the day for me. I’m a morning writer. When do you write?
Jennifer: Yeah. I’m the sadly–the nighttime person.
Jen: You’re night? I always wanted to be that.
Jennifer: Yeah. No, you don’t.
Jen: —I feel like that would fuel a lot of material for me, just to talk about it. But instead I’m like, all I have at night, the only brain capacity left is for Netflix. That’s literally all I have. [laughter]
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah but, I have no children. So that might be part of it, yeah. I want to think a little bit—I mean, what I think is interesting about your writing too is, you have such, you’ve cultivated such a wonderful, funny, conversational voice. And as someone who teaches writing myself, that’s very, very hard to pull off. Funny is hard because, any—funny is right on that edge of like, not funny.
Jen: You’re right. [laughter] That’s amazing.
Jennifer: Dorky, right?
Jennifer: Schticky, yeah. Schticky, whatever. And so I—and I think it’s the, it’s the reason I’m always sad when comedies don’t win the Oscar. Right? Because no one is actually recognizing just how hard it is to do that. We can all be angsty–but can you talk a little bit about, well maybe, [laughter] but can you talk a little bit about kind of cultivating that humorous voice, or why joy is so central to your writing?
Jen: I love that you said that.
Jennifer: And celebration.
Jen: I’ve always been drawn to humor. I come from funny people—my mom is here with me. And I know–this my mom right here.
Jennifer: Applause for mom. [applause]
Jen: [00:09:47] We had a funny house. And so humor was like a second language for me. And I’ve always been—even so far to say, I would call a student of it. We grew up very much in the SNL culture, and I learned some of my writing styles from satire writers and from humorists. And so it is hard. And let me tell you, when you say it’s on the edge of being not funny, please do not read anything in my first five books. Please do not read one sentence.
Jennifer: Too late.
Jen: I swear I just want burn the world down and somehow eliminate it from all those—that was when I was trying too hard with humor, just like forcing it into submission. And it was, it was not natural, it was just not developed. I was younger and I didn’t have a lot of practice. I wasn’t a career writer and so I think I have found my voice the longer that I’ve written.
And so there is some truth to just what everybody says, which is you become a better writer by writing more. And I wish that wasn’t true. I wish we could just start out brilliant, but I pretty much hate all my early writing and I’m sorry that it still exists on shelves. But the more I wrote, the more I found it. And the more I read. And so to me there’s something humor can do for a reader that almost nothing else can, and I don’t fall into the camp that finds it unimportant. I don’t think humor is dumb. It is actually hard to write; it’s very hard to be funny in a way that isn’t contrived.
And so I find humor can find its way into the cracks a little bit better than almost anything else. So I write a lot of serious things too; I write on a lot of serious topics. And somehow—I don’t know how, nobody gave me permission to do this, and I think it’s against the rules, but I weave humor in with all of it. I mean even the really, really heavy stuff. Even the really, really hard spaces. And it lays a little bit of pavement, I think, for traction. I think when a reader is drawn in by good humor writing, by comedy, if you can make them laugh, you can make them think. And so I’ll never leave that behind, even though I’ll tell you early on in my career—really honestly not even so long ago—I felt like humor was just on the edge of being a liability for me.
In my field, what is generally acknowledged is intelligence and academia and sobriety. And having this deep sense of meaning and purpose. And I believe in all of that. And so I just could not tamp down the funny, like I wanted to, but it just comes out. [laughter] And I thought, “I hope people can find a way to take me seriously despite this.” And now I have come to—
I mean I’m 43, it’s kind of in the middle of life, but I’m not at the beginning of my career anymore and so now I think, “No, it’s just part of it.” And I love it and I’m not sorry. And I don’t—I don’t want to eliminate that, and I never want to leave that behind. And so that’s just what you are going to get with me. I love reading humor. You know a lot of times as a writer I think, what do I like to read? You know, who moves me? What kind of teachers can capture my imagination, and my attention, frankly? And humor is one of the things that does.
Jennifer: We were talking about this in kind of our conversations leading up to this, you know, in so many of your books you make recommendations, or you’re saying, you know, “I was really shaped by this book now and this book now,” and at the end of the chapter, here’s more books on your web site. Can you talk a little bit about some of these specifically books that you really feel have been important to you?
Jen: We were on the phone earlier this week talking about this interview a little bit and Jennifer, she said, “I’m going to ask you this question and I’m going to tell you it in advance because, when I tend to ask a writer this question in front of a lot of people, it’s deer in the headlights.” And I told her literally when she said that to me on the phone, I said, “I literally cannot think of a single book.” I think I’ve never read a book in my life [laughter] when you ask me that question. Interestingly, I was shaped early on most by humorists. So I know, that’s not the right answer.
Jennifer: That’s totally—
Jen: Listen, I thought long and hard about giving you better answers than this.
Jennifer: No, give me the real answer.
Jen: I’m like, I’m on a Christian campus for crying out loud. I need to pull out like Spurgeon, [laughter] but—
Jennifer: We’re reformed; every square inch.
Jennifer: That’s so true. John Calvin bobblehead—
Jennifer: There you go.
Jen:—is in the bookstore. [laughter]
[00:14:51] But it was humor writers that made me think I might have a shot at this. It was in their reflection that I thought, “That’s my personality, like, that is the way I like to communicate.” That is what I loved to read, and so, and they were outside of Christian writing. David Sedaris had a huge impact on me as a writer and still does, and I’ve read all of his books a dozen times a piece and he’s just so gifted, he’s so gifted at humor and observational comedy.
And I like some of the more modern female humorists and writers like Tina Fey and like Amy Poehler, that sort of improv group of women who I find incredibly gifted at writing and at humor. I know this is strange, because it’s not in my generation, but I’ve always been deeply impacted by Erma Bombeck.
Jennifer: Yes. I was just going to ask you about her.
Jen: When people compare me to her sometimes it’s so flattering. I just cannot think of anything that is more flattering. And that sort of whimsical, that whimsical touch that is not just goofy, but it’s got some heart to it and it’s often an on-ramp to something more meaningful. Those sorts of writers have mattered a lot to me.
I’m also really moved a lot by memoirists–that’s another genre that I love. I just find it, because I don’t write fiction. I wish I did. I love—how many of you write fiction? Oh my gosh I’m so jealous. I wish I could write fiction. Fiction is my favorite thing to read. But that’s not my skill set, so I’m drawn in to a lot of memoirists who can take their own personal story and make it beautiful. I think one of my favorite memoirists right now, kind of in our time, is Kelly Corrigan. I don’t know if you’ve read her, but she is just a masterful, masterful writer with words and with meaning and so.
Ironically, most of my writing heroes are not within necessarily this sort of evangelical faith space. Now, those are some of my teachers, but they’re not my writing heroes. And so somehow I’ve tried to meld the two.
Jennifer: Well and I think one thing that is interesting and that you’ve been saying already is, it sounds to me like we need some new stories, right? Your own sense that being joyful is not equivalent to being serious or not being smart or even all the ways that we say people are “just a mom,” right? The “just a” or all of those ways that being angsty is somehow more of being a real writer than someone who’s joyful. And you know, one of the reasons I relate to your work is as far back as my dissertation, I started looking for women who were trying to balance being creative with being in relationships, and not necessarily just rejecting things, or whatever, but actually finding ways to—you know that that phrase of Eugene Peterson—have that long journey, you know, the faithfulness in the same direction. And that seems to be a lot of what you’re chronicling. So I wonder if you can think about ways in which people can move out of feeling ashamed of being joyful or whatever, or what kind of new stories do you think, do you think we need?
Jen: That is a great question. I can tell you when I got this wrong. I can pinpoint pretty clearly in my early career, both as a writer and as a speaker. I didn’t ever set out to be a speaker by the way, you guys, just that was something people assume you can do when you write. So I just got tricked into that. [laughter]
But when I either read old work that I’ve written, or I listen, God forbid, to old talks I’ve given, I can tell immediately who I was emulating. It’s so terrible, it’s so shame-based. I can just tell, like this was a heavy influence on me at the time, or this was how I thought I was supposed to sound. This is what I thought Christian women wrote about. Or I thought I had to be really, really clever and adept at all topics, and so I tackled a lot of things I had no knowledge of, no passion for. And so thus a lot of my early work is just void of any sense of authenticity or voice or, honestly, power. It’s just—they’re just words on the page.
And so, I think as you talk about news stories and leaning in, I hope this doesn’t sound trite to say it, but I think the very best thing a writer has to offer her readers or his readers is to as best you can, be the truest version of yourself. It really comes across. Even if—I promise you 12 books later, I still feel fraudulent and I have imposter syndrome all the time.
[00:20:04] Let me tell you, why do you think my mom is here with me? I was so nervous to come to this because I knew I would be surrounded by writers who write differently than me, who are taken more seriously than me, who have a different tone than I have, who take a different path than me, and so I’m just telling you that doesn’t necessarily go away. I was like, “Mom, please cancel your plans.” I asked her Monday, like, “Please come with me, mom.” [laughter] Because there is this sense that you have to tell the same stories that other people are telling. Or you have to tell it in the same way. You have to say it with the same words in the same tone to the same people, and I just don’t find that true at all.
In fact, it tends to be the really unique people who are absolutely operating out of their core identity that reach me the most. The ones that I could tell, well, that is definitely your story. That is definitely your voice. That is definitely your opinion. And so those are the ones that I tend—I’m drawn to them, because I feel like they’re telling me the truth and I don’t feel like they’re pandering to me or trying to impress me or just trying to succeed by emulating some template that seems to be working for somebody else.
And so I think that’s what I would tell you too, is as writers, whatever you bring to the page that is so uniquely and wonderfully yours, I honestly think that’s your best offering.
Jennifer: And I think that one of the things you really model is, A) owning it, so I love that you have recipes.
Jen: I like food.
Jennifer: Yeah. But I have to tell you I was, I was at a writers conference once and I was following two men in to see a speaker and they said, “Well I’m not sure if I can respect someone with a cookbook.” And I was sort of like, “Really? I hope you get dinner tonight.” [laughter] But just the dismissal of anything in the domestic space—
Jen: That’s right, that’s right.
Jennifer: —anything that wasn’t sort of seen as, you know, [oh frah frah frah], whatever the technical term is for that.
Jen: Yeah I like that. [laughter] I understood that.
Jennifer: Yeah, thank you.
Jennifer: But also I was noticing in—one of the sentences that stuck out to me in Mess and Moxie, you said, “This one is for church girls, party girls, good girls, and wild girls.” I am all for.
Jennifer: And I love that because that resists sort of one narrative.
Jen: It does.
Jennifer: You can be all of those things. And what’s the story that’s big enough for that? Because it seems to me that churches really ask us to shrink down.
Jennifer: Right? Our testimony is either I was, you know, the terrible criminal and now I save puppies. [laughter] Or—
Jen: That’s a good one.
Jennifer: Or I was the super Christian. Right? And there’s really nothing that sort of allows me to be a church girl, a party girl, a good girl, a bad girl.
Jen: That’s right.
Jennifer: Right? And can you talk a little bit about how you think about that and how, how maybe we can break up some of those paradigms?
Jen: The church has not historically been good with nuance. [laughter] Is that an understatement? Is that fair?
Jennifer: Can we high five?
Jen: Can we high five? [laughs] I would even go as far to say specifically with women, but also with men, because I am colleagues and friends with so many men who do not fit the stereotypical church prototype either. And so I don’t think it’s simply gendered but certainly anything that colors outside the lines of a once upon a time agreed-upon standard. It can be—that can be challenging, it really can.
And I think it’s interesting to be writers and storytellers and leaders and teachers because we have the capacity to move the needle forward on that. We really do. By the people that we invite in, by the other voices that we amplify, by the colleagues that we partner with and collaborate with, by the teachers and writers we cite, right? And that we use as a resource and that we are willing to say, “No, I can learn from that. I can learn from that.”
Because I think the dominating narrative right now is that it’s all bad or all good, right. So if we disagree in one thing, then number one, you’re out, and number two, I can learn nothing from you. I mean, it’s a terrible way to live our lives. Frankly, it’s impossible. If that is our standard we will never learn another damn thing in our lives. Can we say “damn?” [laughter]
Jennifer: We can.
Jen: Oh, okay. It slipped out! [laughter]
Jennifer: When I first came to Calvin I was—I’m not a Calvin grad and I heard some language and I was like, “Woah, Christian college.” And one of my older colleagues told me, “Earthy piety.” There you go.
Jen: [00:24:58] Oh I like this. I like this so much. In fact when we came into this chapel, I was like, is this where mandatory chapel is? And Jennifer was like, we don’t have mandatory chapel at Calvin. And I was like, listen, I went to a Baptist college. You better believe we had mandatory chapel. Like, I was on chapel probation for three semesters. [laughter] So. It was hard to go. [laughter] I forgot about the question.
Jennifer: Yeah, no.
Jen: Yes. So I think—one way that I have found, because I bother a lot of people, ok? I just do. I don’t fit the tidy narrative in a lot of spaces, and it messes people up. And so I have found that in my own little personal mutiny, my own little private resistance, one of the very best ways to combat this idea that you just have to kind of be one thing or you can only run around with one type of people, that your group has to be homogenous, is that I’m just going to go ahead and be who I am, in all the facets that I am, which is sometimes talking about Black Lives Matter and sometimes it’s talking about fettuccini, right?
And I’m going to be a nuanced person who is faithful, and I’m just going to let it stand. That’s it. I don’t need to—it’s not my job to convince anybody, or to prove myself in any way at all. But I will just be a faithful Jen Hatmaker in all the ways that I’ve been created and let it speak.
Jennifer: Yeah. Amen. [applause] So that brings me to sort of what I wanted to talk about next, which was, you know, when I look at the book like Interrupted, which I know you’ve said is one of your favorites, right? I mean this book, if you haven’t read it—you want to say a little bit about what it’s about?
Jen: Just in short, this would be—if I had to put a marker in all my books of when it was sort of before and after, this is the marker. So this was when I think God really, in a sincere way, arrested my heart and my husband’s heart for his work, for his church, for his world, for his people. In short, we kind of left fancy, shiny, cool mega church and went to like hippie, weirdo, granola church. Does that make sense?
Jennifer: So one of the things that sort of also resonates with me about you despite our lack of other lifestyle similarities is, you know, you say, and I think it’s in For the Love, I’m going to get this right this time: “I was exactly the church youth group girl you think I was.”
Jen: Bless it. [laughter]
Jennifer: And that, that to me is like, yep, I get that. Yup, Amy Grant. Welcome to the 80s and 90s.
Jennifer: But it’s interesting, because this book really chronicles part of that journey away from that kind of very stereotypical way that a lot of us who are around in this generation—that journey we’ve started to take where the things that were received wisdom in our youth started, over these last couple of decades, to not be.
And so I think you are a really important person in sort of helping us, sort of showing us what your journey was like. So I love in here—I’m going to just read this one little paragraph. You said, “I managed to attend church three times a week as a fetus, fulfill the pastor’s kid role, observe every form and function of church, get swallowed whole by Christian subculture, graduate from a Baptist College, wed a pastor, serve in full-time ministry for 12 years, become a Christian speaker and author, and misunderstand the whole point.” I just think, yeah. And then you go on towards the end of the book to say,
“This is the worldview I grew up with. My toxic evangelistic strategy was one, prove; two, defend; and three, put someone to the question. If she couldn’t follow the logical steps one through eight as outlined in my helpful Christian tract, then her heart was hardened. I could only hope Jesus didn’t come back before she came to her senses. I spent most of my time figuring out how to be separate, but what with my arrogance and judgment, I’m not sure that was a tall order. I feared culture and the people in it, certainly that my proximity to them would pave the road to perdition. Sadly, I took what my spiritual teachers said as hard facts, parroting their interpretations to the detriment of anyone who dared disagree. I didn’t become a critical thinker until my late 20s. My understanding of discipleship was linear. There was an obvious path to maturity, through progressive steps, not a journey of discovery that involves several factors at once. Ultimately, my faith was about me and my stuff, and the greater good of my community was simply not my problem.”
[00:30:02] And this book I think is quite radical I mean, I study Dante and you know, Francis, and this book is sort of, “Hello, Marxism,” sort of. [laughter] And yet, right? [laughter] I mean, this is all about social justice and giving away your shoes and having a barefoot church and—So talk a little bit about that, and then I’ve got the next question.
Jennifer: Because I have a sort of a two-part question.
Jen: It’s sort of cringy to hear you describe it in front of all these people and—but that’s true. That was sort of, part my church upbringing, part the sort of going worldview at the time, part my personality. And I have a lot of regret when I think about those years in my life, a lot of regret for how many people I left in my wake of certainty and dogma and it pains me to think of it.
So, you know, I think there was just God’s grace to me as I got older and a lot of my worldview was shattered. Sometimes that just happens with exposure. I mean, let me tell you, I knew it at 22. Okay. I miss those days. [laughter] Right? When I just knew everything. I had a very short and serious answer for it all—it could not be challenged. So getting older and having that shaken to its core has been such a grace to me.
But I don’t see the world the same way anymore. I don’t see a lot of things the same way anymore. I think a lot of my theology has been challenged, a lot of my ideas about God, about people, about salvation, about eternity. A lot of things have been challenged in my life, and I think that’s good. That doesn’t scare me, and I’m not the type anymore to fear discussion, to fear new ideas. Those have stretched me and improved my faith greatly.
But I do think that if the version of faith that we’re holding is primarily centered on defending what it is we have, I think we’re getting it wrong. [applause] I don’t think that—do you know what I mean? [applause] I don’t think that Jesus needs us to defend him, I think he needs us to represent him. And those two things are fundamentally different. And so rather than fearing the world like I used to–I used to be so afraid of the world—just that, frankly, because I was afraid of God. I was very, very afraid of God. I found him punitive and arbitrary and terrifying and disappointed. That was my understanding of who he was.
And so it made me fear the world and the people in it just to hasten, you know, my own demise. But now I think God has grafted a love in my heart for people, for the people that he loves and for this world and ultimately for me, which has changed my faith. But Interrupted is the story of that transformation—it was very, very painful. A lot of spiritual upheaval that cost us a lot too. But I wouldn’t go back for—I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t trade a single day of it.
Jennifer: Right. And the things you advocate in that book and the next one, Seven, which is really thinking about what are possessions, how our possessions control us, how our time commitments control us, and how might we might, you know, get control of those and think about having them under the lordship of Christ, for a better term. It’s a very challenging book, and it’s very critical in many ways of capitalism, and you still got to stay with Lifeway after it, though. Isn’t that interesting?
Jen: We went there! [laughter]
Jennifer: I did.
Jen: Yeah you did. [laughter]
Jennifer: Well it’s interesting, right? What gets us in trouble in the Christian world these days. Right? So it’s economic critique of capitalism [meh] we’ll still sell your book. Other stuff, not so much. Yeah?
Jennifer: You want to?
Jen: Sure. [laughter]
Jennifer: We’re among friends.
Jen: Lifeway actually published that book.
Jennifer: I noticed that. It made me laugh. [Jennifer laughs]
Jen: So there are some things within evangelicalism that are very sacred and cannot be touched. They cannot be questioned. They cannot be evaluated. They are an instant banishment from the tribe. Apparently that’s not one of them. Evidently politics isn’t either. So I guess morality is up for grabs as well. [laughter]
[00:35:01] So it’s been very disillusioning to see how many themes remain on the table without critique in the last year from leaders who absolutely assured me growing up that one bobble could mean the end of it all. So I feel very betrayed by a lot of our evangelical leaders who are stamping evil with a stamp of approval in exchange for power and position. It’s very, very disillusioning. [applause] I am digressing.
Jennifer: No, you’re right on question. No.
Jen: But obviously you know if you have followed me at all. A year and a half ago, almost, you know, my husband Brandon and I, and this was after years and years of study and inquiry and prayer and gosh, you know, ten thousand conversations. You know, we came out in a very public way, as it turned out, and sort of in full welcome and esteem and affirmation of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. And so that is the deal breaker, if you would like to know. That is the one that will get your books pulled in 24 hours. And so, again, that is a cost that for me is worth it.
And listen, I’m just an ally, you know. [applause] Just an ally. I think regularly—after the backlash that we received from that and how vicious and how mean-spirited and how painful it was—I think often, like, we’re just, we’re just allies, like how do our gay friends feel, right? It’s their life. They don’t get to walk away from this conversation because they get tired of it.
And so I feel like I see with clearer eyes, at least, what sort of the marriage of evangelicalism and commerce looks like, you know. I see where those rules lie, where the boundary markers are, who’s got the power and why, what money drives. And so if it’s done anything good for me, which is, it has in many, many ways. One of it’s that I hold a lot of this loosely now, a lot of my career. I really sincerely do. I kind of hold it with open hands. And if the next one is the one that topples it, topples it all, well then okay. Surely I’m good at something else, you know. I must have other skills. [laughter]
And so I no longer feel like I’m white-knuckling success like I maybe once did, because I had managed that. I was a little bit of an evangelical darling, you know? You get to be that when you’re kind of funny and kind of serious. And so to be on the outside of a tribe that I once was deeply esteemed in was very painful. And it was really hard. And I would say we suffered and were still working on healing from that.
Jennifer: And you sort of chronicled that in this very touching post you had up on Good Friday, “My Saddest Good Friday in Memory: When Treasured Things are Dead.” And you really call out, I think, in some pretty important ways what you called the “Christian machine,” and also what it’s like to be tyrannized as a brand. Right? The tyranny of the brand.
And so you say here, “I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poisoned the simple beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome. The burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes, and it is still struggling to function no matter how darling and funny I ever appear. The internet makes that charade easy.”
And I think that that’s really interesting as we, again, back to this kind of the capitalism, the marketing, and also the thing you sort of touched on a minute ago about sort of being brave, right? And how so much of writing is about being brave and authentic–and you want to talk a little bit more about that?
Jen: [00:39:50] Yeah. You know what I don’t want to–I don’t want to set myself up as some sort of courageous hero here, because frankly, in my estimation it’s just doing the right thing. And so, if that’s what costs us, then that, that is what cost us. But it came to this point for me where I knew where my convictions landed, and after that moment every minute of silence was nothing but self-protection. I was afraid. And I was right to be afraid. I was right. And I knew, because I had not, I wasn’t born yesterday. I knew what was coming my way and I was afraid. But at some point, my silence cost me my integrity and that cost was higher. And it was costing my neighbor and that cost was higher.
And so I had to decide, what do you cherish? You know, what do you cherish? Is your faith and are your convictions real, or are you just building a brand? Right? Because I could have really, really continued my brand. I could. It was on the uptick. And I could have managed some sort of vague middle-way-language for a little bit longer, at least, and not put a stake in the dirt. But I couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore, and I couldn’t stand by while my neighbors were suffering. I mean suffering. Not because they were going to lose a book contract, but because it was their life, their souls, their inclusion in the church, their wellbeing, their children.
That burden was too great to bear. So I wrote this on Good Friday, not this last one, but the one before. And I’m so glad to tell you that in the time since, God has done such a healing work, in our family, in our lives, in our church. I will also tell you that with—And by the way, I know that we’re kind of all over the map on this one specific issue in this room, but I appreciate you listening kindly about it. This just happened to be a big piece of my story. Although, there are a lot of conversations that will get you in hot water, too, where they are challenging or polarizing, or your, your, your uncle, you know, Larry doesn’t agree with you and it’s going to be hard around the table. So I think this translates to a lot of ideas, but for me this is the one.
But for us, sort of, with that public acknowledgment, even just the inclusion of so many new friends from the gay community in our lives has made it so expansive and so much better. And I wouldn’t trade it. And so in some places, I guess you could say that my career or my space was diminished. That’s not the way I perceive it. That’s not the way I feel it anymore. I feel like our life is enriched and it is strong and we’re telling the truth and there is no—you cannot put a price tag on telling the truth. I mean, golly, at least I can sleep at night. And so I am so much better than when I wrote those words, but they’re still hard to hear.
Jen: They’re still hard to hear in that season will always be very dark for me, very dark, and full of grief, and full of sorrow, and full of some losses we’ll never get back. But a year and a half on the other side of it, I will tell you that we’re writers and readers here, but that’s just, that’s just a career path. If we’re believers, that’s what’s eternal. And so it is the strength of our convictions and it is to the degree that we are a good and a genuine neighbor—I think that really matters, that really lasts. That is really and truly our legacy, not just whatever commercial success we managed to amass.
Jennifer: Yeah. And acknowledging that part of your story, though, really does help us go back to that earlier thing about you giving us, again, a more complicated, right? It isn’t this just easy path to glory or whatever.
We can shift gears now. You know, you do a lot of work with, a lot of your early stuff, was written specifically for women. Talk to me a little bit about women’s ministry. So when I talk to people about, in my church, you know, there’s some people who want to go, some people don’t. Some people think [dismissive sound]. Right? It’s, it’s all crafting or whatever. You know, there are terrible stereotypes. [laughter]
Jennifer: [00:44:55] Right? So and so I think that there’s not often as much solidarity among women in church. Sometimes people feel like, “Oh well, I’m not a mom so I can’t go,” or “That’s not for me,” or, you know? And it feels like there’s much more divisiveness among us than maybe there should be. Are there ways it, as someone who’s worked a lot in that or speak at a lot of women’s conferences, what’s your vision for the next decade for women in the church do you think?
Jen: I like that. It’s hard to paint this one with the same brush.
Jen: There’s a lot of different slivers to this pie chart on what women’s ministry looks like. I would say, in my estimation, and I spend the great majority of my time serving women, I would say I’m at that 90 percent mark probably on women, although I love having a coed room, I do, and I love when I get to speak at conferences like this or leadership conferences too, I think it’s so good to have men and women in the room together, but. My assessment of women’s ministry is that it is as strong as it has ever been.
Now, it could be, and I will readily admit that I have surrounded myself with similar thinkers who honor women’s gifts and respect their authority and invite them into the church leadership and into the pulpits. And so, I’ll admit that I have a very egalitarian life, which means I’m surrounded by men who respect me and who honor what it is I do and invite, and they share the microphone.
However, even that aside, I see women serving one another in a really robust, smart way. I think that the sort of stereotypical days of like Christmas teas or like whatever. [laughter] I think those are, I think that’s yesteryear. I’m not saying they don’t happen anymore, but women are so smart and they take their faith so incredibly seriously—you only have to look at the church to know that; women are keeping the churches all afloat. You know what I mean? I mean God forbid the church loses its women.
And so I think that what I see are women coming to the table asking good and hard and nuanced questions that maybe haven’t been allowed previously, or that men don’t ask or don’t allow. Something about the heart of a woman makes us often able to handle the soft tissue a little bit better than just the bones of the thing. And so I feel really, really hopeful.
I mean, I will tell you that in my world as a Christian leader, as a speaker, as a teacher, as a writer, this sort of dialogue and response and discussions that I get to participate in on the regular are fascinating and deep and good and strong and true and smart. And so I think we can probably abandon this sort of—I honestly think the stereotype of women’s ministry being for dumb dumbs. I think it’s kind of a straw man.
Jen: Not that it doesn’t exist somewhere. I’m sure it does. But I think we’re a part of crafting the next iteration of what it means to be women in leadership, what it means to be women in literature, what it means to be women in the pulpit, and it’s very, very exciting to me. Like I have so many friends and colleagues to look to. There’s no shortage of really strong voices coming from women right now.
And so I really, I want to really appreciate the men, too, who are willing to listen and learn from their female counterparts and invite and pull up their seat to the table. I see that, I see that, and I thank you for that. And I think you’re setting a really good example for my daughters and your daughters, and the next wave coming up, because I don’t think they’re going to stand for sexism. I don’t think they’re going to have misogyny. You know what I mean? They’re just—I know my kids are not having it. [laughter] So you might as well go ahead and invite us to the table because the next generation is going to kick the door down. [applause]
Jennifer: Right. Yeah, yeah. You had Easter under a bridge. Tell us about that. Tell us about what’s happening right now in your church. Tell us why you’re hanging out under bridges and things like that. You literally did. They think I’m making it up but you did.
Jen: [00:49:52] So Interrupted, the book you referenced, ultimately ends with my husband and I starting a church, so that was 10 years ago. And we started church in Austin called Austin New Church. It is very precious and whatever—I know for sure that a lot of you are in here and church is such a source of pain to you or loss or struggle or just an unwelcome space, but I understand that I brought a lot of church baggage to that, to that table.
But so we just kind of started the church that we wanted, you know, we just started the church that we dreamed of. And it’s small. I’ve only ever been in big church. I didn’t know what else there was. And it’s small and it’s simple. And it’s very, very precious. This Easter was our tenth anniversary and it’s still just as dear to me. It’s just as dear. And the people are ever more precious and the work that we do together is so special.
And so way back when we started, we started on Easter, and we decided not to have a service. We decided to serve our community and we’ve done it every Easter since. And of course not just on Easter, but on Easter instead of having church in our sanctuary, we gather under a overpass, a highway overpass right in the heart of downtown, and we have this sort of Easter extravaganza, and it’s with our church and it’s with the homeless community. And so we set up tables and tablecloths and we have families or groups of friends that host each table and so our sort of friends out of the homeless community come and sit down and we play cards and we play games and we serve them food and our band plays. We take communion together. It is absolute chaos. I mean it is a messy, hot mess. But we also, we give every single person a brand new pair of shoes and a backpack full of supplies, and we have a mobile pet group that comes in and serves all their pets. It is just beautiful. I mean it’s just dirty, beautiful mess.
And it just felt like, golly, that’s our high holy day, right? Like that’s the day that we say split history in two, that’s the day that saved the world. And it just never felt right to just spend five hundred dollars on Easter clothes and shoes so everybody can tell my kids how pretty they look in the church lobby. We’re—eggs? Like I just didn’t get it. Like what? I don’t get it. [laughter] It doesn’t match. It doesn’t match.
And so that’s how we have celebrated Easter every single year. And it is one of my favorite days of the year and we’re very deeply committed to our homeless population in Austin anyway. So yeah we were under a bridge and we were just dirty and it was loud and it was a mess and we loved it.
Jennifer: Yeah. Sweet. Well and again it’s a new way to do church, right? So all of these ways we think it should, it shoulda, it shoulda. Well turns out it could be all kinds of different ways, right? And I loved also how you talk about it as a “cross-denominational church.”
Jen: We don’t know what we are. I just made that up. That’s made up, okay? You can borrow that if you want it. But we got our lift off the ground with the partnership of several denominations, which just felt unusual, that they would have a little skin in the game where they weren’t going to get the credit. And so now we’re affiliated with the UMC, who has been, they’ve been such a good home for us and such a nice wide tent. And so many women in leadership for so very long–for decades and decades and decades. And they’ve just faithfully served for so long. So yeah, that’s our little ANC church.
Jennifer: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting, I mean, my minister loves to end every service by saying, “We live in a world where resurrection happens.” What does that mean, though? What if we actually believe that? How would that change the way we act? How would that change the way we think about—I mean if it actually really happened, wow, and if there’s an awful lot we were talking before about if we really understood how much God loved us, what would that, how would that change?
Jen: That’s a beautiful way to, that’s a beautiful benediction for your church. I learned a lot of this. One of my best friends is Sarah Bessey and she kind of comes out of Word of Faith, and so she regularly practices the language of resurrection. That’s kind of how she grew up and she always tells me, she’s like, “My parents told me my whole life, ‘You are the head and not the tail.’” And she will go off on her sort of charismatic rant. I’m like, “I’ve never even heard these words before, like, should I be saying these?”
But she talks a lot about resurrection and that has deeply challenged my notion of what that means. And I think resurrection is possible every day, and I think it’s possible for every person. And right now I feel, I refuse to give in to cynicism and despair. I still believe resurrection is possible in our systems. I do. I think it’s possible in systems that have been spoiled and tainted and ruined by racism and homophobia and misogyny. I think nothing’s too far gone. Nothing.
[00:55:12] And I look at the work of resurrection in our life and so often it’s just nothing but a bunch of ordinary people putting their hand to the work for love of God, for love of people, just in honor of their faith, in honor of their gospel to say, this thing, this piece of death does not match the good news that I believe in. Therefore I will work to bridge the gap. And I don’t know if it’s any harder than that, really. Now it’s complicated, but I think that is what it is. Is that when we see death raining in our cities, in our neighborhoods, in our own bodies, and in our families and our lives, that it is, it’s our joy and it’s our hope. It’s actually our hope to believe in resurrection for that space, that new life is always possible, that literally nothing is too dead for resurrection, right? That if God can pull Jesus, a three-day-old dead body out of a grave, then really not even death has the last word, on anything.
So I’m one of those annoying optimists that believes the best; I got this from my dad, I cannot help it. I believe the best in people. I believe that hope is possible. I think there’s goodness to be had. And I think even the most timid people can dig deep and find courage for that work and that God will sustain it. And so I do believe in resurrection. I do.
I’ve seen it too many times at this point. In my life, if I am unwilling to acknowledge how often I have seen God bring fresh new life to a dead heart, to a dead marriage, to a dead family, to a dead system or a space, then I would just be willfully obtuse. And so I’ve watched God reign so many times, that I can’t help but be hopeful. And so it is frustrating, I know; my cynical friends are always like, “Stop believing the best in people, people are the worst.” I’m like, “No they could be good.” So I love that, and I love that benediction we say something similar to our church.
Jennifer: My final question. I think one reason that so many people like your writing is that you write so winsomely about your friends, right? I think everyone, as I was telling people I got to interview, everyone would say, “I would love to be her friend.” Right? I see heads nodding in the audience, right?
And I think so often people are yearning for good female, especially women,and you’re in for really—and men too though—you’re in for really good friendships. And I think when you have one, you’re so grateful for it. But I wonder if you want to say just one maybe we have I think two minutes just, just a little bit in celebration of female friendship and the ways in which you’ve, you’ve done such a beautiful job chronicling it and celebrating it and lifting up your friends and all of their joys and foibles and everything, yeah.
Jen: Yeah. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my friends are my life, and I cannot even get a clear picture of my life without them. I’ve learned this from my mom and my dad. My mom and my dad had deep soul friends my whole life. Their friends, friends who’s—their kids were probably like cousins because that’s how much we spent time together. And I didn’t know there was another way. I didn’t know that we were supposed to hold ourselves back from fully investing in our relationships. I didn’t know that we were supposed to be like weird and not vulnerable. I didn’t know that we were supposed to withhold time and attention and energy from other people because my parents never did.
So I grew up in this very robust friend environment where they did life together. I mean in every possible way. And so I just followed suit because that was my parents were my teachers. So my friends are—I have the same friends I’ve had forever. Let me tell you how unimpressed they are with Jen Hatmaker: zero. Zero impressed, okay? [laughter] They’ve been longtime friends. They’re old friends. We have seen each other through everything.
And so I think I understand that friendship is a scary topic for a lot of people, especially when you’ve been burned. I get that too. That’s happened to me too. It’s not all roses here. But I find that it is exactly the opposite. That it is the vulnerability, it is the hands open, it is the sharing of life that actually deepens those relationships and makes them so precious—more precious and more valuable than anything.
And so I love to celebrate my friends because they’re so good to me; it feels like an embarrassment of riches. It really does. And we are bad. We’re so bad, we’re so naughty, we’re so crazy, [Jennifer laughs] we’re so wild—and I wouldn’t change a thing.
[01:00:11] And so I mean if I had to pick, if you made me pick between this pretty fun, awesome career I have and my community of women and friends, I would pick them. And I guess I’d move in with them? I don’t know. [laughter] Whatever. Would they pay my bills? I’m not sure how that works. The metaphor is breaking down.
Jennifer: You’ll have to test that out. [laughter]
Jen: But anyway, they’re so dear. So I just want to encourage you, if you’re lonely, that the risk is worth it—of being, even just with one person. Such such a joy in my life.
Jennifer: Well, tomorrow Jen will be giving a plenary talk in the afternoon. After that will be her book signing, so she won’t be doing a book signing today. But I’m really mindful of the words of the poet William Blake who says “exuberance is beauty.” And we’re just so thankful for you as a beautiful soul and for the time you spend with us this afternoon. Thanks for being our friend.
Heidi Groenboom: Rewrite Radio is a production of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, located on the campus of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI. You can find more information about the Center, our initiatives, and our signature event, the Festival of Faith & Writing, online at CCFW.calvin.edu and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @CCFWgr. You can also subscribe to Rewrite Radio on iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Thanks so much for listening, and stay tuned for more from our archives.