Advance Praise for “Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear”

Courageous_Faith_4_largeYesterday I received word from Pilgrim Press that my second book, Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fearis leaving the printer and ready to ship. Courageous Faith is a book for our times, and a primer on how Christians can faithfully work for justice in a new era.

Like Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity, I believe the book will deepen the conversation about what it means to be a thoughtful and engaged Christian in the 21st century. Courageous Faith goes one step deeper, though, helping Christians to cultivate their own sense of moral courage in order to stand against injustice. Of course, those are just my thoughts. Here’s what others are saying:

Pilgrim Press writes:

For Christians, resistance is written right into our baptismal vows. Following Christ means resisting oppression and evil wherever we might find it. Doing that work requires us to first rise up, face our fears, and cultivate courage that can sustain us for the journey. Weaving together wisdom from sources as diverse as Reformed theology, recovery communities, social justice visionaries, and Twentieth Century history, Heath creates a way forward for those who wish to live lives of faithful, sustained, courageous resistance.

The Rev. Dr. Anna Carter Florence, Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching, Columbia Theological Seminary writes:

CarterFlorence_Anna_webEmily Heath is that rare combination of wisdom, honesty, warmth, integrity, character and courage — in short, everything that she shares here with us, in this bold and brave book.  In a language of faith that is nothing short of breathtaking, and in words that resound with encouragement and tenderness, she shows us how even our most stubborn fears can become a path of discovery, one that leads to the way of courageous faith and resistance.  This is a book I want to give to every one of my students,  my friends, and my own children.  When you need a reason to keep going, and the inspiration to do it, Emily Heath is the person you want walking alongside you.

The Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, author of Making Paper Cranes: Towards an Asian American Feminist Theology, writes:

cropped-MKK-Headshot-9Emily Heath’s Courageous Faith is exactly that — courageous. A compelling work that weaves incredibly powerful stories from their life, Heath reminds us in a provocative way that resurrection is the core of resistance. “Resurrection is God’s response to a world where injustice reigns so supreme that it would rather kill love and grace incarnate than welcome it. Resurrection is the final word to a culture of death, a refusal to allow goodness and mercy to be buried.” I love this so much, and the rest of the book is a reminder that the work of the resurrection is ongoing, and we, in all our humanity, are welcomed into that work, too. Heath’s book is also deeply faithful, and as I write this during the 500th year of the Reformation, I’m grateful for all the threads between recovery and reform-ery, and the call to do this work simultaneously, within ourselves and outside ourselves, too, in the world. Thank God that we have each other in this work of resistance, and that we have Heath’s work to spur us on to love and good deeds. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Director of the ACLU in Ohio, writes:

BG-NCMarriageEquality_350-270There exists an embarrassingly small stack of books that explore both the inward and outward demands of earnest, rugged Christian faith. Most writers always weight one over the other, but not so here. In “Courageous Faith,” integrity’s altar call is equally personal and public, wherein author Emily Heath makes a powerful case for a moral courage bold and expansive enough to change and heal our bruised lives even as we must act bravely to change and heal our broken world.

Order your copy today from Amazon  or from UCC resources and dive into a journey of cultivating the faithful courage this world needs.

Plagiarism, Privilege, and the State of Christian Publishing

For the past several weeks I’ve been reading about the Rev. Bill Shillady and his book, Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Clinton. During the campaign Shillady sent Secretary Clinton daily devotions to strengthen her faith and keep her focused on the work at hand. When I heard the book was coming out, I made a mental note to buy it.

Then I started to hear about allegations of plagiarism, and about how Shillady had used the work of others without properly citing it. I was saddened to hear that, especially given how easy it is for an author to say “this idea is not mine…it comes from this person”. Giving credit where credit is due should be standard practice, especially among preachers and writers. After a few days, though, I didn’t pay too much attention to the story.

Fast forward to earlier today when I received an email. It turns out that I was one of the writers whose work was plagiarized by Shillady for his book. I am apparently one of many. In particular, a section of one of my pieces written for the United Church of Christ’s Still Speaking Daily Devotionals was used in the book. The original piece came from the fall of 2015, and talked about my work as a trauma chaplain.

At first the email didn’t rattle me that much. I was shuffling through a typical pastor’s daily to-do list at the time. As the day wore on, though, I began to think about my experiences as a Christian writer, and about what it took to get my own book published. In fact, in the fall of 2015, around the time I wrote that devotional that Shillady used, I didn’t think I had much of a future as a writer. I was finally writing my first book but it was the end of a long, exhausting road.

My journey to publication began in 2013. Several pieces I had written for the Huffington Post had gained my writing a large enough following that I was signed with a literary agent in New York City. I put together a book proposal, and she shopped it around to a wide variety of large publishing houses, including those with religious imprints. We especially targeted imprints with more moderate to progressive takes on religion.

The feedback I received back on my writing was good, but there were issues. I am an openly gay Christian pastor in a same-sex marriage. I am also gender non-conforming. I write openly about both of these things in my work, because they are a part of my larger testimony. God has given me incredible grace, and I believe that God has created me to live with integrity and purpose, just as I am.

For Christian publishing houses, even fairly progressive ones, this was too far. One publishing house thought I would be too controversial. Another said they already had one book by a woman pastor, and one by a gay person, so a book by me would be pushing the envelope too much. I’ll spare you the rest of the stories. Suffice to say, I didn’t get a contract. My agent did her best, but I ended up withdrawing from the book-shopping process, and going back to blogging and occasional articles.

A little over a year later, something happened. I wrote a blog that gained a great deal of attention in my denomination. I spoke to Pilgrim Press about turning the idea behind that blog into a book, and they signed me to a contract. My first book, Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity, was published in the spring of 2016. A new book, tentatively titled Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear, is coming out this fall.

The first book has sold well, and I’m extremely grateful to Pilgrim Press. They are a publishing house that produces amazing work despite a small budget and an even smaller staff. They never censored me, didn’t blink when my author photo featured a bow tie, had no issues with me dedicating the book to my wife, and gladly allowed me to use gender-neutral pronouns throughout my work (in what might be a first for a theological book). Above all, Pilgrim is one of the few Christian publishing houses that would sign an openly gay, openly gender non-conforming author.

That’s what makes Shillady’s actions so difficult for me to stomach. As a straight, white, gender-confirming man, he had access to publishers that people like me do not. Certainly he had a bigger pulpit; he was, after all, the self-professed devotional writer to a major presidential candidate, and so I know some of his access came from that fact. Even still, Shillady was able to access publication avenues that many of us cannot.

In the end it comes down to this. I wrote my testimony down, and talked about how God’s grace had worked in my life, and formed my belief. I want to share that testimony to others, to the glory of God. But, I don’t want others to take my testimony and claim that it is their own. Had Shillady asked me if he could quote me, I would have said “yes” in a heartbeat. But he didn’t. And so, we are here.

According to Amazon, Strong for a Moment Like This is currently the number one new release in devotionals. At this moment it’s in the top 2000 books out of millions that are sold on Amazon. This is despite the fact that the book was recalled earlier today and is no longer for sale.

Had Shillady written his own words, I would applaud him. Instead, I’m left with this fact: a man walked into a Christian publisher with my own words – words deemed too controversial for publication – and got those same words published. He took my testimony, and the testimonies of an unknown number of others, and he cashed in on them. I don’t care about the money, but I sure can’t ignore the irony. When privilege is combined with mediocrity and dishonesty, it’s hard not to feel frustrated when it gets rewarded.

I would wager that the woman who received those plagiarized devotionals from Shillady every morning might agree with me on that.

 

Donald Trump and the Gratitude Gap

The realization came to me while watching the “Mothers of the Movement” speaking at the Democratic National Convention. These mothers of children who had died too young and too violently, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and more, had come to Philadelphia to speak. Sandra Bland’s mom was leading them off with words of faith and grace.

And that’s when I thought about Donald Trump’s speech at his own convention last week, and about the overarching message of fear, intolerance, and negativity that has come to define his campaign. I thought about his calls to “make America great again” and the implied message there that this country is not great, and about how he said that only he alone could fix it.

What a contrast to these women on the stage, mothers who have suffered the deepest of losses, who were expressing gratitude to God and hope for their country.

That’s when I realized what has made me most wary of Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency.  Never have I heard him express any gratitude for anyone other than himself, and his immediate family. None for God’s grace, none for this country, and none for other people.

Donald Trump is a man who has just about everything he could ever want. Born into wealth, the breaks have always gone his way. Even when he has failed tremendously, he has walked away none-the-worse for it. He has had every privilege, and every advantage of a well-born American.

And yet, he believes only he is responsible for his greatness.

That should not have been surprising to me. This is a man who, despite his professed Christian faith, when asked about whether he ever seeks God’s forgiveness for his sins stated, “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Donald Trump’s faith is his own, and only he and God know its depth, but as a Christian that is stunning to me. My own understanding of Christian faith is rooted in the fact that we are God’s beloved children, and yet time and again we mess up. The good news is that God acts through Christ to forgive us, turn our hearts back around, and set us back on the right path.

This is called grace.

picmonkey_imageI also believe that the only proper response to grace is gratitude. The only way we can possibly begin to say thank you to God is by living lives that reflect that gratitude. And so, we seek to love others and to make this world better for all not because we are great, but because God is great.

But if you have never acknowledged that it is God’s greatness, and not your own, that is amazing, then of course you will not be grateful. If you believe every good thing in your life has come to you because you are special and talented, and that grace has played no part in it, then how could you be?

You’ve never been repentant. You’ve never known what it is to be aware of your own failings. You’ve never understood that only God alone can fix it.

That’s when we fall into the most damaging of spiritual conditions: staggering narcissism, unquestioned entitlement, and belief in our own ability to do it alone.

Those are spiritually dangerous places for all of us, but they are even more destructive when they exist in those who would be leaders. The ungrateful leader is not aware of their ability to be wrong. They lack the wisdom that grace brings, and the sense of purpose that is tied to gratitude. They approach their work not with the humility that it demands, but with a cocky self-satisfaction that has the power to destroy those they lead.

There is a saying that those of us who are in recovery from addiction often repeat: a grateful heart will never drink. That means that a person who wants to stay sober must be aware of the grace they have received, live with real gratitude, and always give thanks to God for what has been done for them.

For one who seeks a position of leadership, that saying might read something like this: A grateful heart will never take for granted those whom I serve.

This country needs leaders who know that they have received God’s good grace. We need the launch codes to be in the hands of someone who is humble and wise. We need budgets that are written by just and merciful people. We need leaders who can speak with kindness and strength in the same voice.

We need leaders who live lives of gratitude.

I cannot tell you how to vote come November. That is your choice. But I can say that where there is gratitude there is neither intolerance nor mockery, fear nor exclusion, rage nor violence, grandiosity nor idolatry. Gratitude leaves no room for those things.

Note: All opinions on this blog reflect only my own thoughts as a private citizen, and not those of the institutions which I serve. 

Inaugural Prayers for President Obama

41601_122882081076404_5998482_nThe Huffington Post’s Religion section reached out to contributors today and challenged us to write 100 word inaugural prayers for President Obama’s Inauguration next week. A wide variety of clergy and faith leaders from a number of traditions responded. Check them out here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/inauguration-benedictions_b_2480758.html?fb_action_ids=10100211014482128&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%2210100211014482128%22%3A406161702802612%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210100211014482128%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D#slide=1987389

Here’s my prayer. I confess that it’s actually 101 words with the “Amen”:

God who is our true glory, we ask your blessing upon your servant Barack. We ask you to consecrate him to as a leader who values courage over safety, justice over fear, liberty over tyranny, wisdom over popularity, peace over wrath, and action over inertia. But as much as we ask this blessing for him, we ask it even more so for ourselves. May each American be inaugurated today into a new era of citizenship, one where anger and division are displaced by hope, and one where the American dream is big enough to inspire all the children of God. Amen.

When Wearing Purple Isn’t Enough – New post on HuffPost Religion for Spirit Day

Check out my new post on Huffington Post Religion about what being bullied has taught me as a clergyperson:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/when-wearing-purple-isnt-enough-telling-the-truth-about-bullying_b_1987128.html?fb_action_ids=10100160786150108&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%7B%2210100160786150108%22%3A440237262678258%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210100160786150108%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D