I had a chance to connect with The Rev. Tish Harrison Warren about her new book releasing in December: Liturgy of the Ordinary. (Pre-order it here.) It looks great and pre-orders are making it the #1 selling book in Anglican Spirituality at Amazon. InterVarsityPress is publishing the book with a Foreword by Andy Crouch. But what also intrigued me is that she is a presenter at The Anglican Family Symposium in Truro, Virginia in September. (Go here for the links to this important gathering) I am excited to support this important gathering.
The blurb from Amazon shows the book to be very interesting. I wanted her to talk about it. I got in touch with her to arrange an interview about her role as writer, mother, minister, and thought-leader about Christian formation, the family, and the church.
LeaderWorks: What prompted you to be a writer in the first place?
Tish: It sort of happened accidently. I loved theological writing in seminary, so I hoped to write more someday, but I never intentionally set out to become a writer. I was in campus ministry (and actually was taking poetry classes at the time because I love words) and met Marcia, who was an editor for the blog The Well, InterVarsity’s blog for women in the academy and professions. She asked me to write something for them and when I did, she kept asking and saying, “You are really good at this. Write more! Write More!”
LW: But something else happened that made writing all the more important. That is when I first heard of you.
Tish: Yes. At that time, my campus group was kicked off campus at Vanderbilt for requiring our student leaders to affirm our statement of faith. It became clear that we needed someone writing about the conflict on campus and telling our story fairly. So writing and editing our staff blog became a larger part of my job.
After that year, I just kept writing. A piece I wrote for The Well called Courage in the Ordinary, describing my struggle with everydayness, went viral; after that, a Catholic publisher contacted me about writing a book. From there, it just grew and grew. I owe a big debt of gratitude to Andy Crouch for finding my writing early on, sharing it around, and encouraging me to keep at it.
I’ve always loved writing, but this writing career kind of came to me unexpectedly and I thank God for that.
LW: You are a blogger at a few sites. Why did you write a book?
Tish: I am a “big idea” person who wants to see God work in big ways, so I struggle with the daily-ness of life, the everyday texture of a life in Christ. So I want to talk about big things like eschatology and Trinitarian theology, but I also want to hear about what you ate for breakfast and how we can save gas money. I love to dwell in spaces that try to make big questions touch real lives. A few years ago, I was writing and reading a lot about the “ordinary” and daily spiritual practices, and a lot of what I was reading kept saying, “Ordinary life matters…ordinary life matters.” I started asking, “How?”. How does ordinary life matter? I read James KA Smith and his ideas about “formative practices” and “cultural liturgies.” From him, I had a lens through which to see daily life: formation. Ordinary life matters because it is the place of our formation.
We aren’t primarily shaped and formed by a set of abstract beliefs but by how we live our days, hours, and minutes. So I wrote a book to take the reader with me through one average day and talk together about our formation and what it looks like on a small scale.
LW: Sounds like the basis of a great television series called, say, 24? 🙂 Seriously, what would you want your reader to take away from the book?
Tish: Ha! Yeah, my book is a lot like 24 but with more adrenaline. 🙂
But to answer your question, I’d want the reader to think how the small moments in our day form us and to begin to glimpse God’s work and Christ himself in the beauty, frustrations, struggles, and limits of our daily lives. My hope isn’t that everyone will sing the doxology every time they brush their teeth (although that may not be a bad idea), but that after reading the book, people may have new ways to see these small habits of daily life like teeth brushing or waiting in line or going to work as places of spiritual vitality, places where God is giving them gifts and shaping them. I’d want them to see how these parts of our life are places that profess and embody our worship. I would love readers to begin to look at a day as a sort of liturgy—with all the worship, longing, mystery, and formation that that word implies.
LW: On a wider topic, Tish, I know you care about what is going on in the modern family. You are a new mom, you live in a young community (Austin, TX) and you’ve helped many through your writing think about current issues and culture. What do you have to say about the American Family?
Tish: This is a tough question because the answer is, of course, very complex and variegated. We really are created to be loved and cared for inside of a family, But we have to be careful not to believe the myth that we every had a ‘Golden Age of the American family’. Sin has always been part of our culture and so also a part of our families.
LW: Not to inject politics in this, but you would not wear a red ball cap that read, “Make the Family Great Again”. Right? (That was a joke, Tish.)
Tish: Right! No red ball caps for me. Christians with a conservative bent have to be careful not to idealize “the way things were”. And progressives have to be careful not to all together throw out the value of family and of mothers and fathers in favor of radical individualism and/or hope in the state. Instead, all we need to ask what it would look like for the Kingdom to really come in and through our families.
LW: Let’s talk specifics about this. Let’s talk about marriage.
Tish: Yes, marriage. I think part of the struggle for younger generations now is that we don’t know what marriage is for. Statistically, divorce rates are dropping among some demographics, which is great. But the reality is that marriage rates are also dropping; it can seem like a relic that we know we want to keep around, but aren’t sure why. Marriage has come to be seen as the legal enshrinement of feelings of love between two people—but why do we need that? I don’t need the State of Texas to give me a sheet of paper to say that I love someone and what about when I know longer love that person? What then? What is a marriage really for?
But Christian marriage is something entirely different. It’s a covenant with God for the sake of the church and, if God wills, for the sake of children. It’s part of God’s love enduring “generation to generation.” We as a church so often forget that what we are doing in marriage is radical and radically alternative to other ideas about marriage.
But both inside and outside of the church, sin and idols of the culture affect our families and weaken them. Take consumerism as an example; it seeps into our families in a myriad of ways—maybe it’s the dad who is a workaholic because he thinks mainly what matters is a nice house or certain lifestyle, maybe it’s the mom who reads “Eat, Pray, Love” and decides that divorce is somehow a path to authentic self-discovery and spiritual growth. Look at nearly any idol of our culture and you’ll find that we bring it into our homes and it wrecks things.
LW: The family has been described as the ‘little church’; the ecclesiola. Does this make a difference?
Tish: Yes, our families are a microcosm of the church and part of the mission of the church. The church is our primary family. As Christians, we believe the waters of baptism are thicker than blood, so to speak. But these nuclear families God has given us take part in church life. We take our kids to church on Sunday and pass the peace and then we sit with them on a Thursday and teach them to pass the peace through the way they speak to people when they are mad or hurt. We show our kids a new kind of community formed by Jesus when they take the Eucharist and then we sit with them around our dinner tables on a Wednesday night and have to ask, “What difference does that communion meal make in this meal?” How does meeting Christ change how I listen to my kids in our daily life or how I repent or how I react to the people in my family when I’m afraid or mad or tired?
The Symposium in September is an attempt to get at these ideas in the church and help families in the church raise their children in the faith of the church. I’m excited to be there.
LW: You are part of an Anglican church plant in Austin. How is that going? Are you seeing many families look for the kind of church you are working with?
Tish: I love Resurrection South Austin so much that it is almost irrational. Our head priest, Shawn McCain, is forming such an amazing leadership culture there and working on a priest team with my husband, Jonathan, and Fr. Perry has been a total blessing. This year’s theme of the church is Family and we are really looking at how the church is a family—that our nuclear families are important but that singles, widows, kids are all part of each other in our church family. To me, Resurrection South Austin really feels like a family, and we have a lot of young families there but also a lot of older folks and singles, who all care for each other. I went out a few weekends ago with some women and around the table sat women who worked and women who were stay-at-home moms, women who had gray hair with women who just graduated from college, black women and white women. I sat in awe of all these women and was so grateful that I share this family with them.
LW: Tish Harrison, thanks for the time. We are looking forward to the release of your book.