Tag Archives: the jesus i never knew

Take 5 with author Philip Yancey

22 Feb

Philip Yancey is a lot of things—a “writer’s writer” who has received awards, accolades, and praise for his books.  He is also the editor-at-large for Christianity Today.  His vulnerable and personal writings have touched the lives of over 15 million people.  To be sure, Philip Yancey is gargantuan in the writing world.

But that’s not why I asked Philip Yancey to do a Take 5.  I asked him to do a Take 5 because I am one of the 15 million whose lives have been touched.  Yes, I remember the moment I first laid my eyes on a Philip Yancey book.

It was 1997 and I was a troubled 17 year-old girl struggling with depression, anxiety, cutting, and of course, issues of faith.  The Jesus I Never Knew stared at me from our living room coffee table.  Literally, stared at me!  Intrigued by the cover (who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?), I picked up the book and began reading.

The Jesus I never knew became the Jesus I started to know in a whole new way.  So I read more of Yancey’s books—Soul Survivor, What’s So Amazing About Grace?Disappointment With God,  and many more including another favorite, Reaching For the Invisible God.

Yancey managed to reach into the heart of a very confused teenage girl.  His honest reflections on faith helped a young woman cling to her own faith in the midst of heartache.  And the fact he answered my e-mail and agreed to do this Take 5 made my dream of interviewing Philip Yancey a reality.   Thank you, Philip—for everything!

On Backseat Writer, we write a lot about music and books.  So what music are you currently listening to and/or what books are you currently reading?

My music answer is always the same: old fogy that I am, I only listen to classical music.  I did a three-year project of digitizing all my albums and (yes) reel-to-reel tapes, so I can order up “Symphonies” or “String Quartets” or any individual composer and then music plays all day in the background.  I’m afraid that when I hear about the GRAMMY Awards I haven’t heard of two-thirds of contemporary musicians.  Oh well, somebody’s got to support the classics.

My next book is a kind of memoir, so I’ve been reading almost nothing but memoirs for the last year or so.  I must have read at least 100, simply to study the form and see how it’s done.  Some are juicy, some are boring.  I’m gradually preparing to make the transition from an essay writer to one who works with narrative and dialog–that’s my hope anyway.

On average, how long does it talk for you to write a book?  How much research goes into a Philip Yancey book?

It would take about a year if I did nothing else.  I travel quite a bit, and do other projects on the side, so it ends up taking 1.5 or two years.  I figure the ratio breaks down like this: 40% preparation (including research, interviewing, outlining, all those writing-avoidance tactics); 20% composing (all the paranoia and psychosis occur here); 40% cleaning up what I wrote (I began my career as an editor, so I truly value this editing process.) While doing my book on Prayer, for example, I spent about six months in libraries before writing a word.

With all your success, how do you keep stay humble?

I play golf.  Seriously, though, nothing that happens on the outside helps when you face that blank page or blank computer screen.  Writing is the most humbling act I know.  Nothing that has happened with prior books offers any guarantee that my current or next book will work, will connect with anyone, will show that I’ve lost whatever spark I may have had.  Writing is a lonely, demanding craft, and the longer I do it the worse I feel, in a way, because I recognize more mistakes as I make them.  My job is to produce the best book I can; the publisher and readers determine what happens to that book, and that world seems very far apart from how I spend my time.

Young writers often make foolish mistakes. What is a mistake I should avoid?

Writing should come with a label, “Do not practice this alone.”  Starting out with an ideal of self-expression is suicidal.  Writing is communication, connection.  And when you begin, it’s best to find a supportive community, or writers’ group, who can point out what you’re doing wrong (feedback you need) while encouraging you to keep going (feedback you need more).  Otherwise, you’ll likely give up.

How does your writing affect your relationship with God? (The reason I ask is this—I feel so close to God when I’m writing or taking pictures, the act itself turns into worship.)

God doesn’t seem to give me great words or great thoughts.  Rather, prayer helps remove the distractions that interfere with mental focus–the most crucial ingredient in writing.  “Cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you,” the Bible says.  That takes on stark reality in the composing process.  I have anxieties bubbling up–over deadlines, creativity, finances, a million other things–and they can prove paralyzing.  I bundle them up and present them to God.  Then I trust God with the result.  I hear later from people who have touched by my words, but in the process I simply commit them to God as an act of faith.  God knows better how to use my words than I do, and I trust God with that part of the process.

For more information on Philip Yancey, visit him online at PhilipYancey.com.  Also, I recommend you buy every book he’s ever written, but that’s merely my opinion.

Amy’s Favorite Things (Take that, Oprah!)

13 Dec

By Amy Sondova Every year, Oprah Winfrey features a few of her favorite things on her daytime talk show (“Oprah’s Favorite Things“) and then adorns the audience with each and every one of her favorite things.  Well, I’m not Oprah, and therefore, cannot give all Backseat Writer’s readers samples of everything that I adore.  But I can tell you where to get ‘em.   Without further adieu, I bring you “Amy’s Favorite Things,” which I hope will help you as you finish shopping foryour favorite people this holiday season (and beyond.   These are timeless suggestions).

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

Altered Art Charm from TickleMePinkBoutique on Etsy.com

*Etsy.com—Have you visited this site?  It’s a entire craft show right on your computer screen with everything from Scrabble tile pendants to handcrafted shoes!  There are a plethora of cool things for guys and gals alike.  Don’t believe me, guys?  Check out some of the screen printed messenger bags and t-shirts.  There’s something for everyone, and unique is the bottom line.

*Music—Every year almost everyone on my Christmas list can expect to get a CD or two.  This year there are a few artists who are hot on my list—debut artist Josh Wilson and music veteran Bebo Norman.  Besides being two of the nicest and most open guys I’ve ever interviewed, they’re also great singer/songwriters who released albums this year.  Bebo Norman’s self-titled release, Josh Wilson’s Trying to Fit the Ocean in a Cup, and Jon Foreman’s Limbs and Branches are must-haves!  But perhaps you’re looking for something a little rockier, then look no further than Seabird’s ‘Til We See the Shore or This Beautiful Republic’s sophomore album, Perceptions.   If you want to support indie artists, then get lost in the vocals of Tara Leigh Cobble’s Playing Favorites or Justin McRoberts’ latest project, Deconstruction.  And here are a few more recommendations: Narrow Stairs – Death Cab For Cutie; What If We – Brandon Heath; The Nashville EP and the Bee Sides – Relient K;  Opposite Way – Leeland;  With Arrows, With Poise – The Myriad;  anything by Caedmon’s Call, Fernando Ortega, Phil Keaggy.

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

Limbs and Branches - Jon Foreman

*Sock Monkeys & socks—Is it just me or are you always running out of socks, too?  Whether getting lost in the wash, stolen by a shih tzu who shall remain nameless (Maddy!), or developing ginormous holes, pairs of socks seem to lose their mate after a month or two.  Therefore, I wear a lot of mismatched socks–argyle, plaid, and all patterns funky are worn together and I become a candidate for “What Not to Wear”.  Besides becoming a fashion mishap, there are are only things to do with those single socks.  You could make sock

monkeys, of course! You don’t even have to limit yourself to monkeys, there are patterns for all kinds of creatures online (sock monster, sock owl).  Then you can sell your creations at etsy.com.  Or you could just buy a conventional sock monkey at sockmonkey.com.

*Digital Cameras—The first time I got my hands on a digital camera, I took pictures of everything in sight, and I haven’t stopped.  My first pictures weren’t that great; then again, my camera wasn’t that great.  Yet I treasure the images of my grandmother’s last Christmas with our family.  Buy yourself a camera to capture the moments that truly matter, and then buy one for someone else.  Check around for the best prices and give yourself a gift that goes far beyond an electronic device.  I highly recommend Canon cameras, but if you want to go a little cheaper, Olympus makes great cameras as well.

*Anything handcrafted by you—Maybe you’re not into making sock monkeys, but there are tons of other projects in which to immerse yourself.  Try your hand at crocheting or knitting (you can even use a knitting loom like the Knifty Knitter) and make everyone scarves, hats, and SOCKS!  (See what a valuable gift socks can be?)  You could paint a thoughtful picture or make a collage.  If you’re not crafty, melt chocolate wafers and dip some pretzels; chocolate-covered pretzels make great gifts!  If all else fails, just make your dad an ashtray like you did in kindergarten—he’ll still think it’s cute (hopefully!)

Psych - Season 2

Psych - Season 2

*Amazon.com—Free shipping on orders over $25 and books, music, and DVD’s galore.  Every year Amazon is adding to its inventory.  I check back every day to see what’s on sale so I can nab Psych Seasons 1 & 2, Bones Seasons 1-3, books like The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey, the chick-lit novels of my fave fictionista, Christa Banister and those aforementioned CD’s at discounted prices.

*Ebay.com—Whatever you can’t find on Amazon.com, you can find on Ebay.  There are literally millions of treasures on this site from low, low prices on video games to truly bizarre items like vintage hand towels.  But whatever you’re looking for, you can probably find it on Ebay.  You can also find a bunch of stuff you weren’t looking for, too.

*Michael’s, A.C. Moore, Joann’s—Craft stores are slashing their prices, and signing up for their e-mail newsletters allows customers to get even more coupons (especially if you don’t get them in your local newspaper).  Remember that camera I told you to buy?  You can get beautiful frames for those pics on sale at any of these stores for 40-50% off during the holiday season.  Plus, custom framing is 60% off (I say buy a frame and do-it-yourself!)  Not only that, but you can find deals on Christmas décor, craft kits for the kids, and nice gifts like candle holders and scented candles for your co-workers.  Even if you aren’t crafty, craft stores are a great place to shop for gifts.

Even though Black Friday has come and gone, you can still save money and give great presents to your loved ones…and those people you don’t really like that you still have to buy for.  We know Christmas isn’t all about the presents, but if you’re like me, you sure do like to get them (hey, I’m being honest here).  Plus, great presents show cleverness and creativity that has little to do with price and everything to do with thoughtfulness.  Our mere trinkets can never compare to the gift of God’s Son wrapped in humanity, so as we give to one another let us remember the greatest gift that mankind was ever given.

Click here to see all my my favorite things!

Philip Yancey’s Healing Pen

29 Apr

My favorite writer in all the world is Philip Yancey…and if you check my MySpace, he’s one of the two people I most want to meet. But really, he’s the person I most want to meet. Why? Because Yancey’s writing has profoundly affected my life, my thoughts, and my writing. The Jesus I Never Knew is still one of my favorite books (it could possibly be my favorite, but I don’t want all my other favorite books to feel left out!) Before his determined analysis of Jesus in character, culture, and humanity, I never could fathom Jesus as “real”. True, I believed the Bible, but I never felt deeply one way or the other.

Through his other books Disappointment with God, Reaching for the Invisible God, Church: Why Bother?, and others, I found someone who shared my doubts. Yancey put things in a way that related to me, that allowed my mind to consider new possibilities. So it was with great pleasure I read Christianity Today’s online article about Philip Yancey, who is editor-at-large and a regular columnist for the magazine. The article, written by long-time friend Tim Stafford, talks about Yancey’s history, passion, and his “healing pen”. It made me want to spend the rest of the day reading all the Philip Yancey books I own!

Check out “The Healing Pen” a biographical piece on Philip Yancey and how he uses words to heal himself and others (like me).

%d bloggers like this: