How did you start writing?
I was teaching a course at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Columbia, SC on my understanding of Catholic Christology entitled “Scratching the Surface of Christian Transformation.” While Episcopalians or more broadly Anglicans may have repudiated a number of pieces of Catholic doctrine and church structure, they never repudiated the Catholic understanding of who Jesus was. It seemed to me worth the effort to figure out what that understanding was and to teach it to others. In the process, someone suggested that I write out a text that followed the outline of the course. That eventually became the unpublished manuscript entitled, Into the Perfect Likeness. I found that I really enjoyed trying to put into words the very subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of who Jesus was when he was walking around here with us and how much of that he offers us in our own earthly sojourn.
How did the idea for The Quiz come about?
During the development of the course, I had put together a set of very basic questions about Jesus to stimulate our thinking. As some point I had lunch with my pastor, Fletcher Montgomery, at which I asked him if he would be willing to answer the questions and send me his answers. He, without any hesitation, agreed. What I found was a set of answers that delighted me, confounded me and frustrated me all at the same time. I decided to as others: an Episcopal bishop, an Eastern Orthodox Priest, a Presbyterian minister, a Lutheran professor of Christology to name a few. I thought, “This is fascinating! The answers are all over the board.” Not only were the answers quite different but I found that they were an excellent barometer of one’s set of beliefs about Jesus. I finally decided to “cold call” a couple of Catholic professors of Christology in respected Catholic seminaries. It was like someone had choked down the shotgun pattern. I had finally gotten as set of relatively consistent answers. Hmm! Now we were getting somewhere. Not that the answers were “correct” in any global or eternal sense, but they were at least consistent.
What was the most rewarding part of writing the book?
As I said, Jesus and our understanding of the Incarnation are wondrously challenging, not only to understand, but also to put into words. The process of finding metaphors for some of the most difficult concepts is really where I live. On the Meyers Briggs scale, I am a raving flaming “intuitor”—I love thinking about abstract things and trying to capture their essence with some accessible metaphor. Sometimes I sit back and chuckle at the whole creative process and the realization of just what a precious gift it all is—a gift from God, if I may be so bold. I get a real kick out of NOT taking credit for any of the good stuff and, of course, taking full credit for the shoddy stuff.
What was the most challenging?
I think the realization that good writing is hard work. After rewrite after rewrite on my own and then after being confronted with the amazing questions and insights from my editor, Mike, I am starting to see that good writing (not that I have achieved it yet) is like writing music—there is a rhythm and musical phrases—there are crescendos and decrescendos—Allegros and Adagios. One only sees this when one reads the piece to someone else out loud, but they are there lurking behind the paragraphs and sentences and phrases and words. If I could get better at “seeing” with this kind of musical eye, I think I would get better at this.
What do you hope people will take away from The Quiz?
The Quiz is about the most fundamental aspects of Jesus when he was here. Could he leap tall buildings at a single bound or couldn’t he, and does the answer matter? First I would hope that folks would understand that it does matter—that who we think he was informs who we think we are. If we are somehow to find the highest and best that this life has to offer, we are challenged to find out who Jesus was. When he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he could just as well be saying, “The way of life is truth, watch me.” If our understanding of Jesus is vague and fuzzy, then our understanding of the way to life probably is equally vague and fuzzy.
What advice would you offer to those who are thinking about writing?
Just do it! The only way we will ever know if it comes naturally and fulfills one of our deepest yearnings to express ourselves is to pick something and write about it. Some sing, some run, some play tennis and some of us find our deepest satisfaction (in addition, of course, to singing and running and playing tennis) in writing—and ultimately reading something we have written and thinking, as the head of my chemistry department at Sewanee said about my comprehensive exam, “Mr. Fletcher, this is not too bad.”
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
You know, I have just recently put my writing out for review by others. The first comment was that my writing was “very dense.” I took that to mean that I moved from one idea to another without any padding—without any cartilage—the bones of my ideas were grinding on one another. As I responded to Mike’s comments and suggestions, I hope I have learned to place ideas in some better context that gives them more meaning and to expand on them to give them even more meaning. I am still trying to find the right rhythm, pitches and melodic lines.