Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview With Author Jason Boyett

One of my favorite new authors and Christian satire personality is Jason Boyett. I am big fan of his "Pocket Guide..." series for his fresh and comedic take on the Christian culture. If you mix together some Johnathan Stewart and Anderson Cooper you would get Jason Boyett. He is funny and informative without being forced and contrived, a hard task for a Christian these days.

Well enough of the bromace I have with Mr. Boyett, check out my interview I had with with him about his latest book "O Me Of Little Faith." Enjoy.

1. OMOLF is a different style from your previous work, was there a moment or a conversation that inspired you to take your writing in a new direction?

Back in 2007, the pastor at my church was going to be out of town one weekend and asked me to speak in his place. I agreed to it, but had no idea what to talk about. In situations like this, a typical approach for a message is to discuss what God is doing in your life, or what he is teaching you. I ventured down this introspective path...and there was nothing. Because, at that point in my life, God seemed pretty absent from my life. I was in a season of doubt. So, in a burst of either brilliance or desperation, that's what I spoke about -- about my struggles with doubt. I admitted there were days I wasn't sure God even existed. I talked about how I was learning to follow Christ despite those doubts, and about how faith and doubt worked together.

I thought maybe I'd get booed off the stage, but after it was over, I heard from several people how much they appreciated my honesty, because they were in the same place. Only they never felt it was safe to talk about doubt, especially in church. That's when I knew I was onto something, and I began working on a book proposal.

So it wasn't something deliberate like "I need to take my writing in a new direction," but rather the recognition that this was a topic that needed to be discussed, and the best pathway through that discussion was by telling my personal story. And that kind of thing didn't fit too well into my Pocket Guide template.

2. I really enjoyed chapter 9 "Faith with a Kung-Fu Grip" so ...GI.Joe or Transformers?

I never got into Transformers. I was a Star Wars figurine guy more than anything, but beyond that my brother and I were totally in the G.I. Joe camp.

3. You mentioned that you have gone thru different aspects/denominations of Christianity, from seeing and experiencing different church services, what are some things that you think churches are getting better at...what are some things churches need to work on?

Well, it totally depends on the kind of church. There are so many types and styles and denominations that you can find just about anything you like and anything you hate. And if I think a church is getting better at something, there's another guy who sees that as proof that the Church is on a speedboat to Gehenna. So, anyway, disclaimers aside...I think the churches that are making a conscious decision to take an ancient-future approach to worship are on the right track. There's a lot I like about modern worship and kickin' praise bands and cool lighting -- it feels great, in a pep rally sort of way -- but it's flashy and shallow. Churches that are able to take some of the good parts of modern Christianity and blend it with ancient liturgy are, I think, making the right steps not only to engage younger generations in a relevant way but also to draw them deeper.

It's hard for me to identify one single thing that churches need to work on, because every church is flawed just like every person is flawed. But since this is about me and my new book, I'll say that churches need to become safer places for doubters. Whether consciously or not, our culture promotes getting "cleaned up" for church. You want to look good and fit in and make a good impression. Asking hard questions pushes against that tendency, and the result is that doubters like me aren't comfortable being fully honest at church. We tend to disguise our doubt behind proper Christian behavior...or silence. Because it's easier. The Church doesn't do well with hard questions or uncertainty, and that's a shame.
4. In the chapter "The Weight of Absence" you wrote that you play drums, met too, who are some of your influences and some bands your into today?

I'm a self-taught drummer -- coming from a background with piano, guitar, and hammered dulcimer -- and so I pretty much only play by ear. I got the job because the regular drummer moved away and we needed someone to take his place. I'm technically sloppy and real drummers will notice this right away. So I can't say I'm terribly influenced by much other than desperation. But stylistically I find myself falling into something that's a cross between the floor-tom tendencies of U2's Larry Mullen, Jr., and the bombast of Coldplay's Will Champion. This might also have something to do with the fact that I've been a U2 fan since I discovered pop music and that I think Will Champion has the best name ever.

5. It was interesting your take on Liturgical Prayers (which I thought you brought some good insights about) you always pray like that?

When I do pray, yes. I'm a dad with youngish kids, so most of my public prayers are with them at night or meal-time, and I pray at their level. When I'm praying personally, though, I'm almost exclusively praying something from the Book of Common Prayer or just the simple Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner"). I'm afraid that, without the help of these words, I wouldn't pray at all on my own.
6. Some of your authors who influenced you were Manning, Nouwen, Beuchner, Capon and Mullins (which my wife plays on a Yamaha CP-70 that was Mullins) who are some authors today that you respect and dig their work?

I love Scot McKnight's work, and N.T. Wright. I'll read anything Philip Yancey writes, and the same goes for Parker Palmer. And though we're approaching Christianity from different perspectives (I'm in, he's out), I respect and appreciate Bart Ehrman's work as a popularizing New Testament scholar. Though it can be challenging to our faith, I think all Christians need to engage with textual-historical biblical criticism.

7. Why do you think American Christianity/Jesus is different from other nations view on Jesus, or do you see it the same today...and as a historian, as a whole is Christianity that much different from the past?

I'm not sure I'm too qualified to answer such a broad and insightful question. I may be a "historian," but I'm a fake historian, like a guy who dresses up as an old schoolteacher at Williamsburg or something. Anyway, because we're so enamored of individualism here in the U.S. -- the self-made man, the successful entrepreneur, the cowboy -- we tend to approach Jesus in the same way. We look at him as a superhero. We focus on whatever trait best fits our personal need or area of focus. What can he do for me? So we think of Jesus as either a manly man or a friend to sinners or a hippie peacenik or a pasty white guy with blond hair and a well-kept beard. The Jesus we love is the Jesus who meets our needs, who makes us successful, who gives us our best purpose-driven lives now! And in the process, Jesus becomes a one-dimensional cartoon. He gets tamed. I don't know if that makes our Jesus any better or worse than the Jesii of other nations or cultures, but I do know that it makes the American version of him incomplete. And an incomplete Christ is less powerful than he should be -- and so is the Gospel.

8. Do you think if Justin Beiber gets saved it will have the same impact on the church as when Bob Dylan got saved? (jk jk)

I'm still waiting for the impact of Stephen Baldwin's conversion to kick in. And the Jonas Brothers are already on the Jesus team. Why are we even concerned about that Beiber kid?

Thanks Jason for the interview. You are an awesome guy. Keep the commentary coming.


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