December 05, 2011

My 1st Author Interview!

Yes, fellow Eclectics, the moment you've all been waiting for has arrived!  I am thrilled to be able to bring you this interview with author Alisa Harris, whose book Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics received such a glowing review from me in recent weeks that I felt I simply had to call her and request an interview!  She very graciously accepted, and has even provided copies of her book for a GIVEAWAY, about which I am also quite excited.  Now, without further ado, why don't we let Ms. Harris speak for herself.

Welcome, Alisa!  Thank you so much for joining us.  Regular readers of this blog have already received a brief introductio to you and to the book, but could you summarize the concept of the book and tell us a bit more about yourself?

As a bellicose young culture warrior, I saw Republican politics as the expression of my faith.  My understanding of Christianity was limited to my belief in the gospel of limited government, and my spiritual battles were waged against feminists and environmentalist nut-jobs.  When I met people who didn't fit into my caricatures and began to wrestle with the moral complexities of the world, I began the process of separating my faith from Republican politics.

What were the primary factors that drove you to write this book?  Did you feel you had a message that needed to be conveyed?

I wanted to speak to young Christians who were beginning to doubt that culture war politics held the answers to public problems—Christians who were beginning to wonder if the answers to their doubts and questions were as simple as James Dobson and Ann Coulter would have them believe. I also wanted to speak to the parents of those young people and give them a window into their own children’s minds. It was always difficult to communicate with my parents on politics when my views started to shift, and I wanted this book to explain myself to them.  

As I read the book, I felt that there was a certain tone of repentance or regret for attitudes you once held or ways in which you expressed them.  Would you say that is an accurate impression?

I do regret the attitudes I once held, especially the fear and suspicion I had towards people who believed differently. Of course, fear and suspicion exists on both sides of the political spectrum, and today I try to guard against that suspicion and strive instead to understand and respect the people I disagree with. That said, I do look with some affection toward my fervent, idealistic younger self. I would love to keep that passion and optimism.

What was the journey toward getting published like for you?  Did you find it difficult to get the process started?

I was contacted by an agent who read my writing and wondered if I was interested in writing a book. I wasn’t ready then but I contacted him later and he guided me through the book proposal process. I found that the process moved much more quickly than I expected! I had written only the book proposal when I got the contract to write the book, so I had to finish the book and then make revisions while working full time and getting married, too. It was a busy year.

You have said that you are certainly still a Christian, but no longer identify yourself as an Evangelical.  Yet Raised Right was published by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, most of whose releases are pretty traditionally Evangelical.  Have you and the publisher found yourselves at odds at times, or unable to see eye-to-eye?

Of course, publishers and authors always go into the process with different ideas of what the final product will be, and that was definitely true of this book. It was challenging, at times, to reconcile those visions and to come to an agreement when they conflicted. The main issue for me was writing for an audience that I am no longer a part of, and I think my editor helped me see what those readers would expect and how I could be most persuasive. But it was sometimes difficult using evangelical language and tropes the way I did, and there were moments where I had to stop and ask, 'Is this really me?' or 'Can I speak this language honestly'?

This book contains a series of vignettes illustrating the process of your changing views.  However, can you point to one moment or incident in your life when you first began to question things you had always believed?

If I had to point to one moment, I think it would be in my early teens when I wrestled with the idea of pacifism and the morality of war. I simply could not reconcile war with the biblical injunctions, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Turn the other cheek.” I felt we had to stop evil people from killing the innocent in their pursuit of power, but I could not reconcile this ugly reality with what Jesus taught. This was the first time that I grappled with an issue where the moral answer was not at all clear to me, and I began to wonder if my political leaders had the right answers. It was the first time I encountered an issue where I couldn’t neatly squish Christianity’s otherworldly values into our earthly political system.

You make it clear towards the end of the book that you do still occasionally participate in political events.  What is your view of the current Occupy Wall Street movement, or do you really have an opinion on the matter?

I actually attended an Occupy Wall Street march recently and I do support the movement. It’s easy for professional pundits to criticize their messaging or their methods, but I think their message is clear: we now live in an oligarchy where a few wealthy people hold all the power and resources, and this is wrong. Our democracy is ailing, and I’m glad that people are finally angry about it.

It is obvious that you were not a fan of “Separation of Church and State” when you were younger.  Where do you stand on that issue now?  The approaching holidays always bring complications on this score, especially regarding public Christmas displays and Christmas carols sung in public schools.  Do your opinions about these matters differ widely from what they were when you were an Evangelical?

Let’s just say that yelling at people for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not likely to make them want to join our faith. The Founders believed that in a lively democracy, each religion could compete equally on its own merits without help from the state. I think we need to reclaim that idea. A nativity display and a Ten Commandments monument are simply symbols—symbols that lose all their original religious significance when we use them as proxies in our culture wars. I wish both sides would stop attaching so much mystical power to these symbols and begin a lively, respectful conversation about religion instead—one with words and arguments and actions that represent religion lived out in its best form. 

Lastly, is there anything that you would change about the book now if you were just beginning to write it today?  What one message would you like to leave with your readers?

I wish I had clarified where I stand on certain issues now, like gay marriage for instance. I left some of those issues opaque because I didn’t want to turn the book into a political platform, but I think I could have been more blunt while still keeping the focus on broader issues of faith.

I would like to leave my readers with the message that it’s not our responsibility to turn America into a Christian nation but to be Christians ourselves—live lives of compassion and love toward the people near us. Sometimes this will mean going out in the public square and speaking on behalf of those people when they experience injustice or their human dignity is violated, but it also means meeting their physical needs and sharing their burdens. Our ultimate mission is not to legislate behavior but to lay down our lives for others.  

That is a beautiful statement of the intentions of the Founder of our faith.  Thank you, and thank you so much for visiting us here on the blog.



Before I go, it is time to announce the names of the lucky readers who will each receive a FREE copy of Raised Right, courtesy of Ms. Harris and her publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah.

~Cassandra @ Adventist Homemaker~
~Miss B @ B's Book Blog~
~Amanda @ Dead White Guys~

If you will each email me a postal address, the books will soon be wending their way to your door.  Congratulations to you all!

4 comments:

  1. Yay! Thanks for the giveaway! :D I have read your review and just read the author interview. Sounds awesome and interesting! I can't wait to read the book myself. Thanks again! I'll email you soon. :)

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  2. Yay!!! I am so excited that I won a copy of this book! Now I don't have to wait for my library to carry it. ;)

    "I would like to leave my readers with the message that it’s not our responsibility to turn America into a Christian nation but to be Christians ourselves—live lives of compassion and love toward the people near us.... Our ultimate mission is not to legislate behavior but to lay down our lives for others."

    Love, love, love this quote. I also believe that it's not our responsibility to legislate behavior. I wish I could better explain that to the people I discuss these issues with. They tend to think I'm extremely liberal because I don't believe in legislating morality, but instead teaching it through our lives. Good interview!

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  3. Thanks for posting this - it is always wonderful to hear the opinions of others!

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  4. Thanks for sharing this - it is always good and healthy to consider the views of others, to listen to their stories of how they have arrived at those conclusions, and to examine our own hearts.

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