On Being Listed in “40 Books Every Student Should Read”
A profound voice in my life the past 15 years has been The Journals of Alexander Schmemann. With few words that cut heart and mind, Schmemmann (who served as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York) sums up matters of his everyday life freshly and differently and, I feel, profoundly theologically. Like, in an age of constant self-branding and marketing, what he journaled in 1975 about a new book he was getting ready to publish:
“I don’t know at all, not at all, whether it is good or bad, necessary or not necessary. I know one thing: it is what I feel and think. It is a simple and liberating thought: if what I feel and think is not needed or already well known, or weak, or superficial–then all that writing will fall into nonexistence and that is the end of it. But I can and must write only what is my own…”
I thought of Schemmann when I recently found out that two of my books are listed on InterVarsity’s “40 Books Every Student Should Read” List. When Spencer Perkins and I wrote one of those books (More Than Equals) we were writing what was our own. It could not have been more “It is what we feel and think.” And we were simply surprised and happy that someone would publish it. How hard in the years since to maintain that sense of surprise, and simple delight, and not surrender to the need and expectation and drive for “more.”
I’m happy that each book I’ve published has been a unique gift to me, and by the feedback, to its readers. But may I continue to write with the “one liberating thing” in mind: to write only what is my own.
P.S. Of course, I did just promote my two books. I confess, the impact of mentor John Perkins (who loves selling his books) is strong on me. “Chris, the books aren’t about you!” John would say. “They’are about the ideas, man, the ideas!”