About a decade ago, I had the wonderful fortune of teaching a nonfiction essay writing class to some amazing college sophomores (this class wasn’t for credit and all of these students had elected to do this workshop series in the hopes of working on their own writing). The group of students was really special and among them was Erin Lane whose writing I instantly loved and whose personality I just adored. She was both reverent and irreverent, bursting with both gravitas and irony. She was funny and had so much heart and pluck and mirth. And her writing was exquisite– smart, insightful and tender and she was as funny on paper as she was in person (this, I promise you, is a damn hard thing to pull off).
A few years later, Erin had graduated but was living in town and I was staring down the publication of Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina. I knew that writers were primarily responsible for their own book publicity, and the scale of that effort was daunting. In a flash, I thought, “I should handle a Marketing Assistant” and “I should hire Erin Lane.” She had a job but, lucky me, she was game for just this type of gig. Erin was a wonderful– I mean really, really naturally talented- marketing manager and that was awesome but even better than her being a marketing maven, she became an incredible friend. We talked about faith, family, style, whether or not we wanted to become parents, good books, our dogs (our dogs, incidentally, became besties). And it was in conversations with Erin about Hijas Americanas and the women and girls I was meeting on my book tour that the basic foundation for Circle de Luz was created. Ultimately, Erin helped shepherd Circle de Luz into being by meeting with lawyers and CPAs with me, hosting focus groups with me, creating the website, and, in a move that is so illuminating of her character and way of being in the world, providing the seed money to help Circle get its non-profit license. Not long after Circle launched, Erin moved cross-country. She’s back in North Carolina (although not right by me, sadly), has a passion-driven career, and a fascinating new book that just launched. Because I think this book is so important and Erin so brilliant, I asked her some questions so you could get to know this fabulous lady, too. And I am also giving away a copy of her book. Read on to get to know Erin, her book, and to enter the book giveaway contest!
Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith was a passion and purpose project. Can you talk about how the book came into being and what it offers readers?
The book came into being because of two very smart young Muslim women, author Zahra Suratwala and journalist Maria Ebrahimji, who developed the I Speak For Myself series. The idea was to have a platform that includes both well-known and emerging voices speaking about the lived details of their faith – not abstract theologies or soap-box issues. I remember a three-way phone conversation I had very early on with these two about working together on an anthology from American Christian women. They had already completed two anthologies from Muslim American women and men’s experiences and were hoping to eventually do one each for Jewish American women and men. Knowing that the Christian publishing scene was already crowded, I said, “What if we had contributors speak on what isn’t being talked about in our churches and faith communities?” There was so much energy over the idea that we were talking over one another the whole time, and I hung up with the “good buzz,” you know, the kind where you know this project is going to give back every ounce of energy it requires from you – if not more. My co-editor, Enuma Okoro, came on soon after, and we began forming a group of 40 writers under 40 from all different faith backgrounds, political leanings, and theological orientations.
The book offers readers the ability to both find themselves and stretch themselves as they listen to the bewildering diversity of forty voices. I also want them to feel like they aren’t crazy or alone for feeling contradictions or tensions in their faith life. This is the stuff life is made of and it is not something to wish away but to dive deep down into over coffee or wine. Maybe even a cupcake. Or two.
Often times as writers, we are writing not just to share but for our own further consideration, our own contemplation. What compelled you to write Married Without Children and what did you come away with when you were done?
I attended a marriage class at my new church right around the time the essay was due. The leaders were great about acknowledging the virtue of both single people and married people in our faith community but when it came to couples without kids the conversation turned sour. The pastor said that the invention of birth control allowed couples to treat children as hobbies instead of gifts. I had to swallow my shock. Birth control not only helped alleviate my severe menstrual cramps far before I ever started having sex but it also gives my husband and I the ability to make ourselves available to other people’s families in ways we wouldn’t be able to if we already had a brood of our own. Writing the essay moved me to see our decision as not just one of preference but one of calling. Some people, after learning about the essay, told me they don’t care whether or not my husband and I have children, and I think to myself, you should care! We’re all bound up together. For us, it is a deeply communal decision to practice the gift of hospitality with other people’s children rather than our own.
You have created a really intentional mission-filled life that fuses several of your passions into your unique purpose. Could you talk about what your gift to the world is and how you are living it right now?
I see my gift to the world as being a spiritual mid-wife who helps women in particular birth their voices, ideas, and desires into the world. When I was working as a book publicist for other authors, I always told them that their book was their baby and, of course, it was going to feel vulnerable bringing their baby out of the womb and into the world. (Yes, I told male authors this, too.) My job was to help them breathe, to recommend strategies, and to give them the confidence to share the good news with others without being an overly-smarmy parent. Talking Taboo has allowed me to do this with 39 other contributors. Enuma and I write our contributors encouraging emails each month and follow up with them to support their efforts to set up community events around the country. My work at the Center for Courage and Renewal – I’m currently a retreat facilitator-in-training – also entails creating space for clergy and people of faith to hear and trust the voice of God within them more clearly. To continue the midwifery metaphor here, facilitating one of these retreats is like saying, “Stop reading all those books from the “experts” and learn to follow your mothering instinct on this one!”
We talk about self-awareness and self-acceptance on my blog a lot. Given that, what do you most appreciate about yourself?
My small boobs. Okay, seriously, I appreciate my thin skin. As a writer and blogger at www.holyhellions.com, I constantly feel like I need to toughen up, learn to take criticism, care less what other people think. Maybe that will be my lesson some day but right now, as hard as it is, I love that I am affected. That I cry when someone leaves me a mean comment. That I get my feelings hurt when a friend doesn’t follow my blog. That I feel envy over the prolific words of other writers and am left more determined to be true to my own voice. Although I wake up some days with what author Brene Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover,” I wouldn’t trade the feeling of feelings.
What is a community issue that you care about and why does it matter to you? How do you involve yourself in affecting change in that area?
Poverty is the issue that presses deep on my conscience. In Scripture, I see Jesus over and over again calling attention to the poor and heaping blessing upon blessing on them and those they touch. I want to go where Jesus goes, so I try to put my body next to poor bodies regularly. Sometimes this means just walking in downtown Durham with my head phones off and my wallet full. Or I’ll go to a community protest of an anti-panhandling law or a prayer vigil for victims of gun violence. Sometimes this means my husband and I go spend the night at the Episcopal Church in town where homeless families in transition are sleeping. I don’t know that I’m being effective, I suppose, only that I am trying to be faithful.
If you had five minutes of the world’s attention, what would your message to the world be?
My message would be abundance. You are enough. There is enough. God is enough. When we live into the scarcity assumption, that I must be more, have more, do more to be loved, happy, accepted, fill in the blank_________, we end up producing the fear we are trying so desperately to quell. One of my favorite writers on this topic is Parker J. Palmer. In Let Your Life Speak he writes, ““Be not afraid” does not mean we cannot have fear…Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have.”
There are many things about you that made my heart sing as we got to know each other. Things that made me say, “She’s my people!” And while some of those things were really earnest and tender, let’s be honest, one of those things was your love of cupcakes. You love cupcakes like I do. So, give it to me straight. If your next cupcake was going to be your last cupcake, what would it have to be?
Easy. A lavender cupcake from Cupcake Royale in Seattle. The cake is tender as a sponge. The icing is soft in its crunch. And it has a muffin top. ‘Nuff said.
Where can people pick up their own copies of Talking Taboo?
Talking Taboo is available through Amazon, White Cloud Press, or your local bookstore. If it’s not at your local bookstore, ask them to stock it! You can also email me about getting a signed copy for $20 [firstname.lastname@example.org] or check out our events calendar to find a signing near you.
Erin S. Lane, MTS, is co-editor of the anthology Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (White Cloud Press, Oct 2013). Her latest work with author Parker J. Palmer and the non-profit Center for Courage & Renewal combines marketing consultation with program development for clergy and congregational leaders. She is also an active board member of the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South and is writing her next book with InterVarsity Press about the hard work of belonging to communities of faith. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about the intersection of her faith and feminism atwww.holyhellions.com.
Want to win a copy of Talking Taboo? It’s your turn to answer a crucial question. Describe your fantasy cupcake flavor and what memory it invokes for you.
And if cupcakes don’t do it for you, here are two other questions that you can pick from:
– If you wrote an essay on a taboo or unspeakable issue in your faith life, what would it be about in ten words or less?