Monday, November 8, 2010

Life Challenges of a Budding Christian Scholar

I'm studying for the CBEST exam to begin the process of becoming certified in adult education in California, my new found state. While I passed the math and reading texts, I actually failed the writing test; go figure. In any event I am now studying to retaking it and and working through the practice questions. The one that I recently wrote on was the following:

Describe a time in your life when you had difficulty making an important decision. Identify the situation and explain whether you were able to solve the problem. If it was resolved, then how? If not, then why not—what happened?

The following, which I thought would be of some interest here, was my response. Whether such an essay would garner me a passing grade on the CBEST exam remains something to be determined.


One of the most difficult decisions I made was that of shifting my book writing focus from adult literacy studies to that of 20th century biblical theology. At the time I began grappling with this issue I was in my mid-50s, had just completed publishing a major book in the field of adult literacy studies, had written about a dozen articles on various topics within adult literacy education and had worked in the field for about 20 years, mostly as an on-site program manager. Meanwhile, I had a born-again religious experience in the early 70s, had gone through various periods of intense and declining fervency in my faith walk, and had written a variety of informal religious reflections that I was able to place online.

After an initial euphoria in completing the book, I became slowly disillusioned in the limited readership and seemingly limited impact of my work notwithstanding the years of hard equity sweat that went into the work. I felt I had another book within me, and in fact, had written a couple of in-depth articles on adult literacy scientific philosophy that I placed online as I thought they were too lengthy for journal publication and not long enough for possible monograph consideration.

I did begin to work with a publisher on the prospect of a collection of my journal articles supported by a newly written introduction, but the deal went south for reasons that remained unclear to me. Still, I did think that I could produce another book in my field if that was the direction, in fact, that I chose to pursue.

Two factors were at work that helped me to shift my direction: a sense of deep inner questioning about the wisdom in continuing along this pathway in light of the length of time needed to complete another book on adult literacy; the realization that if I were to pursue the prompting inspiring my faith walk to the depths that sometimes moved me I would need to make a radical commitment to it with all my mind as well as my heart, strength, and soul.

As someone who was able to publish in adult literacy studies with no university-based training in the field, I sensed I had the capacity to put together a monograph on biblical theology which I had studied for years through voluminous reading, through extensive theological list-post writing and argumentation, and through the creation of a number of informal biblically-based and theologically informed texts that I have placed online on a theological website, and by participating and sometimes leading a number of adult church education classes.

One thing in particular, did perplex me; namely as an “amateur,” with no official church or seminary standing would I be able to break into the highly competitive field of contemporary Christian publishing with a monograph that was likely to be complex and would likely only draw a limited readership? My book on adult was my second effort in that field in which my first attempt while considered at several publishing houses never made it to the contract level.

While this matter (the challenges of the publishing business) was churning in my mind, I did receive very favorable feedback from a retired theologian of some prominence who thought my biblical theology project was viable. So certainly did I in a book project that was designed to heal the fissures between mainline and evangelical Protestant theology on the role of the Bible in contemporary theological reflection and pietistic practice. In addition, there was an inner drive motivating me in this direction which to deny would be to miss an opportunity that might not come again.

After four years, 400 pages of thick text, two rejections from major Christian publishing houses I am currently at a crossroads with this project. I view the topic as inherently valuable and I think I covered a great deal of ground, though the prose may need some radical reconstruction. Yet at bottom I am uncertain whether this book in any form is publishable other than through self-publishing in which I have no positive sense that I would draw a readership worth the effort of going forth in that direction.

I do not view the project as a waste, far from it and am committed to seeing it in print in some form even though for now because of other pressing commitments it needs to stay on the back burner. In the meanwhile as I search for ways to reconstruct my career in light of a recent downsizing and a move across country to California from New England I will continue to tinker with this text as time allows and try to figure out where such writing fits in within my life both in the near and in the more distant future.

Now I see in a glass darkly; then I shall see face to face.

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