Marcia Ford Answers The Faithful Fifteen
FaithfulReader.com: Could you give a brief summary of your latest book?
Marcia Ford: In THE SACRED ART OF FORGIVENESS, I offer an approach to forgiveness and reconciliation that clears up many misconceptions about those two concepts and how they relate to each other. It’s a highly personal, reflective book rather than a how-to, though each chapter includes a suggestion for putting into practice the specific attribute of forgiveness and reconciliation that the chapter covers.
FR: What role does faith have in the book? What inspired you to write it?
MF: Faith is central to the book, since the grace to forgive is a gift of God. Our ability to truly forgive is closely tied to the forgiveness we have received from God; people who have experienced the overwhelming grace of God’s forgiveness would be hard-pressed to withhold forgiveness from others. Or at least, they should be.
I should also mention TRADITIONS OF THE ANCIENTS, which released just a few days before THE SACRED ART OF FORGIVENESS. In TRADITIONS, I show 21st century Christians how they can jump-start their spiritual lives by reviving some long-lost or lesser-known practices that were common in the church through the fourth century.
Without centuries of ecclesiastical customs to influence them and force them into a rigid way of thinking about church, early Christians found creative ways to worship God and express their faith. It got wild and woolly at times, but there’s much we can learn from their rituals and practices.
FR: What do you feel your calling is as a writer?
MF: To help people recognize the presence of God in their lives. People need to know that God is already a part of their lives before they can even begin to believe God loves them. We’re so guilty of making people think they have to go through all kinds of spiritual gymnastics to come into God’s presence, and yet that denies the doctrine of omnipresence. I hope that whatever I write draws attention to God’s very real presence in our lives, even if I don’t state that in so many words.
FR: Who are your favorite authors and mentors? How have they influenced your work?
MF: C. S. Lewis will likely always be my favorite writer and thinker. Whenever I’m tempted to write a shallow but trendy novel that would probably make me a truckload of money --- and believe me, that temptation gets pretty strong when I see the drivel on many bestseller lists --- I think of Lewis, and that’s enough to put me back on the right track. His genius lay in his ability to write with an enviable combination of depth, humor and clarity. Well, that and the fact that he was theologically brilliant. Brilliance does help.
A writing mentor? I wish. I’ve mentored other writers, but I’ve never been mentored. I do have to give credit to the staff at The Asbury Park Press in the 1970s for teaching me everything I know about journalism. But when it comes to my non-journalistic writing, the only help I’ve received came from editors who offered a valuable suggestion here and there.
FR: Do you have any favorite stories of encounters with readers?
MF: Yes! I once did a signing for MEMOIR OF A MISFIT at a bookstore in Sitka, Alaska --- on a cold and rainy day in February. About an hour before closing time, a man entered the store in a wheelchair and said he regretted missing my presentation (which never happened, since no one showed up for it). So I proceeded to give him a condensed version of what I had planned to say. His eyes welled up as I finished, and he told me that since I had given him a gift --- my story --- it was native custom that he give me a gift in return. He was not Native American, but the native community had “adopted” him after he was paralyzed in a motorcycle crash 30 years earlier. As we talked, he removed a leather cord he was wearing around his neck and handed it to me. On the cord was a granite stone that he would press to his lips as a reminder to keep his words pure and godly. He had worn it ever since the accident, and he was giving it to me! That’s when my eyes welled up. And then he gave me a native name, Nagoon, which is a plant that repels bears. He said that I had provided a safe environment for people to tell their own misfit stories just as the plant provided a safe place for a picnic in the woods. Yes, I do indeed have favorite stories! That’s just one of them.
FR: Tell us about your personal faith journey.
MF: Oh my. I had to write an entire book to cover that. It’s been a wild ride at times, but I can’t remember a time when God did not figure prominently in my life --- sometimes by his perceived absence, but mostly by his presence. I came to experience God’s love in a personal and life-transforming way in 1972, but really, my history with God goes back to my earliest memories of church, Sunday school and vacation Bible school at the Methodist church in our neighborhood when I was five years old. He’s kept after me ever since.
FR: Who are your spiritual mentors?
MF: That’s easy: Fay Key and Steve Bullington, directors of Green Bough House of Prayer in Scott, Georgia. Fay has served as my spiritual director at times, and both have modeled Christ for me as no one else has. I see them only once every year or so, but the fact that our contact is so infrequent underscores the tremendous impact people can have simply by being. Their influence lasts long after I’ve made the six-hour drive from their silent retreat center to my home. I have no doubt that their influence will last a lifetime, even if I never see them again.
FR: What is your current church community involvement?
MF: I’m a member of an evangelical Episcopal church; I love the liturgy. Church can drive me crazy, though, and though it’s not PC to admit that, there are a lot of Christians out there who know exactly what I mean. I’ve always found my spiritual heartbeat in small groups --- some that are a part of the church, some not. I mentor a small, year-long theology class that includes a great deal of reflection and sharing, and I knit prayer shawls with a group of Episcopal women. But some of my most profound spiritual experiences have occurred in my work with hospice; if I had to choose only one group to continue working with, that would be it. It’s not church-affiliated, but nothing is more spiritually profound than helping dying people live out their last days. And nothing will shake up your theology of death and the afterlife the way hospice work does.
FR: What are your Scripture reading habits? Prayer habits?
MF: I love to read the Bible in different translations and paraphrases. Back when I was a new Christian in 1972, I memorized a lot of passages and verses in New American Standard, but I’ve discovered Scripture remains fresh for me when I switch translations every year or so. I especially like reading the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) on Jewish websites or in written form from Jewish publishers.
For the past few years, my prayer life has centered on the daily offices, primarily using Phyllis Tickle’s THE DIVINE HOURS and occasionally turning to Robert Benson’s VENITE or THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. I still pray spontaneously, but the offices keep me grounded --- when I follow them, that is, which is not as “daily” as I’d like to believe.
FR: If you had one message for Christians today, what would it be?
MF: One message for all Christians? That’s a challenge. It’s not as if we’re all alike and we all need to hear the same message (I’d tell some Christians to knock it off, for instance, and others to lighten up, and still others to get real --- but I digress). Since none of us will ever exhaust our understanding of God’s grace, though, my one message would be to encourage all of us to explore what the Bible has to say about the incomparable grace of God and then to extend that grace to others, both within the faith and outside it.
FR: Tell us about your family. Spouse? Kids?
MF: I’m married to John Ford, the kindest man on the planet. That’s a documented fact, by the way --- in MEMOIR OF A MISFIT. We have two daughters; Elizabeth, 22, who manages a very cool coffeehouse, and Sarah, 18, who’s finishing up high school and also works at the coffeehouse. We have a cat named Sonny --- half of a matched set, but Cher met her demise a few years ago --- whose meower has been broken since birth; you can’t ever take him seriously when he tries to get your attention, because he squawks like a chicken with laryngitis.
FR: Do you and your family have any special traditions?
MF: When the girls were younger and both at home, we’d watch A Christmas Story every August and every Christmas Eve. That movie started another tradition --- we’ve gotten Chinese take-out for Christmas Eve dinner ever since 1984, a year after the movie released. On Christmas Eve in 1983, I spent all day making my traditional roast duckling a l’orange holiday dinner, but with a newborn to tend to and everything else going on that day, I was too exhausted to enjoy any of it. Then I remembered the turkey dinner fiasco in the movie, realized Chinese restaurants would never close for Christmas Eve, and started a new tradition the following year.
FR: What are some of your favorite hobbies and activities?
MF: For the longest time, the only thing I did for relaxation was read --- until I realized that 90 percent of my reading was work-related. That’s when I took up crocheting again after 25 years and segued into knitting. I always have three or more knitting projects going. I keep one in the car for waiting times at doctors’ offices and such, one in my office that I pick up when I’m waiting on a slow download or a restart, and one in the living room --- I can’t watch TV or a movie without multitasking. I do some knitting for myself and my family, but we need so little that I mainly do charity knitting --- chemo caps, prayer shawls, and specific projects for organizations like Afghans for Afghans, Cloths for Crisis, and Warm Up, America!
FR: What are your media habits? Television? Movies? Music? Etc?
MF: I used to be addicted to the news, but in recent years I’ve traded in CNN for the fabulous fake news shows on Comedy Central. My one must-watch show was the late great "The West Wing"; there’s no substitute for that, but I do enjoy "Monk," "House," "24," "The Closer" and the original "CSI." And The Weather Channel. I can be such a nerd sometimes.
I tend to wait for movies to come out on DVD. An exception last year was Serenity, which I saw in theaters twice; I’ll watch anything Joss Whedon produces or even recommends (such as indie films, which I really do like, and lesser-known movies like Run Lola Run and Donnie Darko. And every couple of years, I get the urge to see Doctor Zhivago again.
Music…hmm. I think I overdid it in the ’60s. I don’t listen to music all that much. When I do, it’s Taize or monastic chants, mellow artists like Dido, nostalgic stuff like Buffalo Springfield, plus groups whose names I’ll never remember --- indie bands that my daughters like. Other than NPR, I’ve pretty much given up on radio --- same songs, over and over and over again.
FR: What excites you about life?
MF: Its amazing possibilities --- but, by that, I don’t necessarily mean what most people might think. Yes, there are the possibilities for doing great and wonderful and adventurous things, but I also think of possibilities on a less grandiose scale. We have far more choices than we are aware of; we really can live a quiet and contemplative life if we want to, or we can live an over-the-top life of radical risk, or we can do both. Even people who live in poverty --- in this country, anyway --- often have more options than they realize. But we tend to be so nearsighted that we only see the limited possibilities in our immediate environment. Attaining the life we want can be a complicated process, and we may have to settle for less, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for a life (or job) we abhor. Let’s face it; usually we’re the ones responsible for piling up all those complications in the first place. We stay in a job we hate because we’ve created a lifestyle dependent on that job. When you strip away the nonessentials, you can see life’s possibilities much more clearly.
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- FINDING HOPE: CULTIVATING GOD’S GIFT OF A HOPEFUL SPIRIT (SkyLight Paths, November 1, 2006)
- THE SACRED ART OF FORGIVENESS: FORGIVING OURSELVES AND OTHERS THROUGH GOD’S GRACE (SkyLight Paths, 2006)
- TRADITIONS OF THE ANCIENTS: VINTAGE FAITH PRACTICES FOR THE 21st CENTURY (Broadman & Holman, 2006)
- GOD BETWEEN THE COVERS: FINDING FAITH THROUGH READING (Crossroad, 2005)
- CHECKLIST FOR LIFE FOR TEACHERS (Thomas Nelson, 2005) - with special thanks to Rae Gravley, a teacher whose name was inadvertently left off the credits page
- CHECKLIST FOR LIFE FOR LEADERS, with Angie Kiesling (Thomas Nelson, 2004)
- 101 MOST POWERFUL PROMISES OF THE BIBLE (Warner Faith, 2003)
- MEMOIR OF A MISFIT: FINDING MY PLACE IN THE FAMILY OF GOD (Jossey-Bass, 2003)
- MEDITATIONS FOR MISFITS: FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE FAMILY OF GOD (Jossey-Bass, 2003)
- RESTLESS PILGRIM: THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF BOB DYLAN, with Scott Marshall (Relevant, 2002)
- CHECKLIST FOR LIFE FOR GRADUATES (Thomas Nelson, 2003)
- CHECKLIST FOR LIFE FOR TEENS (Thomas Nelson, 2002)
- THE POCKET DEVOTIONAL (Honor Books, 2002)
- THE POCKET DEVOTIONAL FOR TEENS (Honor Books, 2002)
- IF I REALLY WANTED TO BE A JOYFUL CHRISTIAN, I WOULD… (RiverOak, 2002)
- IF I REALLY WANTED TO MAKE MY HOUSE A HOME, I WOULD… (RiverOak, 2002)
- SHOUT TO THE LORD (Albury, 2001)
- CHARISMA REPORTS: THE BROWNSVILLE REVIVAL (Creation House, 1997)
- Plus 12 books as a ghostwriter and/or contributor
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