Sarah Arthur Answers The Faithful Fifteen
Sarah Arthur, author of WALKING WITH FRODO, WALKING WITH BILBO, and the newly released guide to relationships, DATING MR. DARCY, shares memories of growing up as a "preacher's kid" and her own experiences working in her church's Youth Ministry. She also discusses her literary influences and the importance of the Scriptures and Christian writing as "sticky-note" reminders of our greater purpose.
FaithfulReader.com: What kind of testimony to your faith are you demonstrating in this book?
Sarah Arthur: It's a how-to book of nonfiction intended to help young women assess the health of all their relationships (family, friends, dating), including their relationship with God. So it's not so much a testimony as it is a tool that considers faith an important part of the relationship equation. I look at dating and romance through the lens of Jane Austen's timeless romantic comedy PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which isn't generally considered a work of "Christian" literature, or literature dealing with faith in any way. But the more I studied Jane Austen's life --- she was the daughter of a clergyman --- and particularly her written prayers, the more I realized the unique elements of her novels that point not only to moral decision-making, but to getting yourself out of the way and treating others with the self-sacrificing love of Jesus.
FR: When did you come to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Where are you today in your walk? Is your faith an important part of what you do?
SA: I was raised within the circle of a loving Christian family and always had an awareness of God's presence and grace. My family's faith became my own through a series of experiences, including watching the Jesus video as a preteen and hearing a powerful sermon on the Holy Spirit as a high school senior. My education at Wheaton College, IL played a huge role in grounding me biblically and theologically; then serving for seven years in full-time youth ministry gave me the hands-on practical application of everything I'd learned. To me, everyday life and work is the field trip that seals what we learn in the "classroom" of our quiet time with God. But sometimes I feel like I'm still in spiritual kindergarten! I have so much room to grow.
FR: Tell us about your church experiences, how you grew up (or maybe didn't grow up) in the church, where you attend now, your involvement in your local assembly, etc.
SA: As I said, I grew up in a loving Christian family that was very much church-centered. While I was in first and second grade, my father went to seminary to become a Presbyterian minister, so after that I was the "preacher's kid" --- very much at the center of life in whatever church we served. I never resented this, though I found it frustrating at times because it's hard for a pastor's family to really get to know people and vice versa. But my father and mother never lived dual lives --- acting one way at home and another way in the pulpit --- they lived their faith passionately in every aspect of life, so I never had any reason to doubt or rebel. After college I jumped right into full-time youth ministry in the local United Methodist Church of my hometown of Petoskey, Michigan, and soon my husband joined me on staff. Now he's sensed the call to ordained ministry and will be entering Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina this fall --- a huge move for us! We'll continue to serve in the mainline church because that's where God seems to be sending us.
FR: Tell us about your current church family/fellowship. How does it influence your work?
SA: We're actually in transition away from our home church and moving across the country, so it will be interesting to see how our new fellowship --- whatever that is --- influences my vocation as a writer. Since I was on the full-time staff of our church for so many years, I actually had to take a big break away from active church involvement (other than helping with the worship team) and focus on writing almost entirely. I had to learn how to say "no." But even though I've had to distance myself, the church family has been very supportive and prayed me through every project.
FR: Who are your spiritual mentors? Your professional mentors?
SA: My parents and grandparents have been powerful spiritual mentors for me, as is my husband. He has been gifted with amazing wisdom and level-headedness when it comes to spiritual issues, and I trust his advice almost unerringly, especially when I know he's had time to pray and think about it. As far as my professional mentors are concerned, I'm in a wonderful writing group with three other women who are all Christians, one of whom is also published. I've learned so much from them and from my other writing buddies in northern Michigan (I'll miss them!). But I'd also include my various editors at Tyndale: they have been amazing, walking me through every step of the process as I cut my teeth on this writing life. I'm very blessed in that regard.
FR: Discuss your calling/mission --- as a writer, and as a Christian.
SA: Where to begin? I've always wanted to be a writer since I could first read. I believe God plants dreams and talents like that in us and expects us to do something about it. In fact, my call to be a writer is so wrapped up in my Christian faith that I can hardly separate the two. Before I quit youth ministry and began writing, I felt like something was terribly wrong --- like I was actually sinning against the Lord because I wasn't doing what I was created to do. It's a strange feeling. I mean, how can church ministry NOT be the Lord's work? But it wasn't for me. God had something else he wanted me to do, and everything felt out of joint until I did it.
FR: What are your Scripture reading habits?
SA: Lousy at the moment. We've been running like gerbils on a wheel --- on the road for ten days now (and more to go) after a crazy couple of months --- so my structured schedule is totally out the window. But my ideal morning is to do my Pilates stretches, make breakfast, and then finish my coffee upstairs in my little reading nook where I can read the daily scriptures and devotions from A GUIDE TO PRAYER FOR MINISTERS AND OTHER SERVANTS (Upper Room). I can't just read scripture, I have to be interacting with it in some way, so inevitably I have a journal in front of me in which I'm scribbling my thoughts and reflections on the text. Wow, that sounds peaceful and relaxing --- I miss it! From a writing standpoint, however, I'm constantly in the Word as I prepare and write my manuscripts. As I said before, my writing vocation is so wrapped up in my faith that the two are almost inseparable.
FR: What books have most influenced your work?
SA: So far all my nonfiction (published) works have been about the works of other authors (J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, C. S. Lewis), and inevitably their themes and writing styles influence whatever project I'm working on. But from the time I was a child I was most influenced by C. S. Lewis (author of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE), both on an imaginative level and a theological level. No other author has shaped me in quite the same way --- though I won't pretend my style comes anywhere near his!
FR: Do you read secular fiction at all? If so, who are your favorite authors, and why?
SA: The word "secular" is a tricky one, because I believe there are a lot of Christians out there who aren't publishing with Christian companies because they honestly want to reach non-Christians through their works. Leif Enger (PEACE LIKE A RIVER) comes to mind. In any case, I read lots of secular literature because so much of it --- whether consciously or unconsciously --- has to do with faith or with the dark hole that is the absence of faith. I'm fascinated by writers like Barbara Kingsolver (THE POISONWOOD BIBLE) and Anne Tyler (SAINT MAYBE is my favorite --- in fact, I hesitate to call her a "secular" author at all). I also read a lot of junior literature to keep up with what kids are reading these days, especially fantasy.
FR: What are your other media habits --- television, movies, music, etc.?
SA: Almost zilch. Seriously, we don't have a TV in our house, and we only occasionally watch movies unless they're related to stuff I'm writing. So we have lots of Jane Austen movies around the house and every installment of The Lord of the Rings, but few others. We do love music and just got an MP3 player, though more often than not our house is absolutely quiet. We are readers. There are books stacked everywhere. That's our biggest media habit besides being online.
FR: Do you and your family have any special faith-based traditions?
SA: From a daily and weekly standpoint, my husband and I pray together every morning and always read a psalm before dinner. I grew up with my father leading us in a special worship service every year to remember our baptisms, so my husband and I do that now with our godchildren. We also do an Easter egg hunt with them that tells the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. In fact, a lot of our family traditions have some faith-element in them.
FR: Tell us about your prayer life and habits.
SA: Yikes, I can't say I'm any more disciplined at this than I am with my Bible reading, but I will say that working alone at home means I'm constantly aware of God's companionship and often conversing with him as I go about my day. My most structured times of prayer are when I meet with a long-time friend every Monday, and my husband and I pray together every morning.
FR: Describe what you believe the role of writing in religion is.
SA: Wow, I could write a book about this question. In fact, God himself has written a book about this question! That's how important the written word is to faith: we struggle to survive without it. And besides the scriptures, we need the writings of other Christians to challenge and encourage us, much like the letters between the early churches. They're like giant sticky-note reminders of who we are and who we're called to be. Meanwhile, the world is reading the stunning "sticky-notes" of authors like C. S. Lewis, and lives are being changed. As Christians, we need to strive for that kind of excellence and accessibility in our writing. We need to weigh in on what books people will be reading in a hundred years by writing stuff that is timeless, honest, and excellent.
FR: Tell us about one or more of your favorite encounters with readers.
SA: Probably my favorite encounter was with a girl who showed up at a book-signing for WALKING WITH BILBO (my second book) in my hometown. She and her family were on vacation in our area and just happened to see the poster for my book-signing. She was so excited because she'd received WALKING WITH FRODO for Christmas and it was her favorite book ever. It was really quite amazing to be on the receiving end of all that excitement --- to put myself in her shoes and realize how thrilling it would be to randomly run into my favorite author while on a road trip.
FR: Would you share a story about someone you've brought to Christ or share how your writing has helped someone?
SA: When I was still in youth ministry, a couple of churches got together to take our high school groups to Chicago for some service projects. One of the other kids was a German exchange student named Jojo whom I slightly knew from various events that year: she was living with a Christian family and had been very active in their church, but didn't seem to grasp the personal element of faith. That Sunday we split into several groups to visit different churches around the city, and Jojo happened to be with my group visiting Lawndale Community Church on the south side. She insisted on sitting next to me so I could explain what was going on in the service (a black gospel service full of power and passion), and as the morning progressed I could sense she was really moved by the testimonies and music. At the end, as we stood in a circle for prayer and the pastor gave the invitation to salvation, I felt led to turn to Jojo and say, "I can tell something is happening to you. Do you know what I think it is? I think God loves you so much that he sent you all the way across the ocean to your host family and your host church so you could be on this trip and be here in this moment and commit your life to Jesus. Is that what you want?" She burst into joyful tears and said, "Oh yes, please!" and we had an absolutely wonderful experience leading her to the Lord. Not long after that Jojo went back to Germany to finish high school, and I retired from full-time youth ministry. A year later I published WALKING WITH FRODO, which sold so well that it was translated into German for European markets. Guess who received her own personalized German edition?
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