10 Questions With...Lauren Winner

I first came into contact with Lauren Winner in October 2005 in speaking with a pastor regarding her book Girl Meets God. He compared her to Don Miller & said that if you like one, more than likely you would like the other. I have found that to be true, however, I find Ms. Winner much more layered than Mr. Miller. I find her Jewish roots to be fascinating & her perspective not only challenging, but thought-provoking. I was very excited when she agreed to an interview & trust that you will find it as insightful as I do.

1. NSR - What led you to writing?

Lauren Winner - I have always loved to write! In general, I write because I don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. I always tell my writing students: if you sit down to write something and you wind up having written the exact thing you’d planned to write, something has gone wrong, because writing is, in part, a process of discovery – it is a process of discovering that you knew things you didn’t know you knew, and a process of discovering things that, in fact, you did not know. I was also led to writing because I love reading so much. Books are my very favorite thing.

2. NSR - What do you miss most about your Jewish roots which you wish were more prevalent in Christianity?

LW - Oh, you’re catching me at a hard time of year, when I miss everything about Judaism. In general, I think Jewish communities know a lot more than we Christians do (at least North American Christians) about practicing community. And the robust community ethos of Judaism translates into many different arenas – Sabbath-keeping is a communal undertaking; mourning is a communal undertaking; the whole way of being with God is communal … the nation of Israel is not elected as a bunch of individual atomized parts, but as a nation.

3. NSR - You write in Mudhouse Sabbath that “it is about spiritual practices that Jews do better. It is, to be blunter, about Christian practices that would be enriched, that would be thicker and more vibrant, if we took a few lessons from Judaism.” (I whole-heartedly agree). Are there any practices which Christianity does better, or which are uniquely vibrant (aside from Jesus)?

LW - That’s nice, to think of Jesus as a practice!!!

I am reading a wonderful book right now, called Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination by Susan Ashbrook Harvey. It is about how smell became central to religious practice in the church. Since that’s on the brain, I want to say, we do smell and incense better! It may be that we do things sensory well. Or at least that the church has done sensory practice really well.

It’s hard to separate the practices Christians do “better” from Jesus – impossible, really. The central practice we do “better” is the Eucharist, but, of course, that is not, like the practices I describe in Mudhouse, a practice that Jews and Christians share.

4. NSR - How do you connect with God?

LW - Through receiving Holy Communion; through liturgical prayer; through service and fellowship with other Christians. Of course, I don’t always feel like I’m connecting to God when I do those things. Sometimes I resent devoting “my” time to service is irksome, and sometimes all the people with whom I have fellowship seem annoying and lame (as I’m sure I seem to them), and sometimes Communion feels boring. But I trust that I am, in fact, connecting with God, even when I don’t feel like it.

5. NSR - What authors have influenced your writing &/or your spiritual life?

LW - Scads! I was converted to Christianity in large part through reading Christian fiction and Christian memoir; a great diversity of novels, from the Mitford novels to Kristin Lavransdatter to The Last Gentleman have influenced my spiritual life. Also some fiction that isn’t “Christian,” like Jane Smiley’s novella “The Age of Grief.”

6. NSR - Is there any over-arching theme you would like the reader to pick up in Girl Meets God, or are you simply telling your story? Also, what is the most difficult aspect of writing a memoir?

LW - There are several themes, of course; one of them is the fits and starts that attend a faith journey. I want people to read the book and know they don’t have to have all the answers down pat before they walk into church. In fact, the church is the place where you learn how to ask the questions. It is not a place you go once you’ve gotten the answers right.

7. NSR - If you could collaborate with any author or speaker on a project, dead or alive, who would you pick & what would you want to write about?

LW - Fascinating question! I would like to write an epistolary novel with Jane Austen. And then I’d like to write a book about church and state with Thomas Jefferson. Then, maybe, a book about ecological stewardship with the prophet Isaiah. Collaborative writing, actually, is very hard work – much harder, I think, than writing alone. It is sheer hubris to imagine writing with any of the people I’ve named, of course – but it would be nice to sit at their feet and learn for a few years!

8. NSR - What do you see as a crucial topic facing the evangelical church at large today?

LW - Well, I’m an Episcopalian, and a big question for evangelical Episcopalians right now will be how we remain in a church with people with whom we really disagree (of course, some evangelical Episcopalians are deciding to answer that question by leaving the Episcopal church and affiliating with Anglican churches elsewhere in the world). I think, in general, American evangelicals need more practice learning how to disagree well with people. The history of American Protestantism has made it easy for us to simply split off when we have a disagreement—we’re a very fissiparous bunch. On a completely different note, evangelicalism needs to move away from a “cut and paste” hermeneutic and instead read Scripture knowing it is not a textbook, but a story of which we are a part.

9. NSR - You are working on your doctorate in the history of American religion. Why did you choose that field?

LW - I’m actually done with the doctorate (thank God)! I have found American history fascinating since I was a small kid – in fourth grade I attended a summer camp devoted to Virginia history (I was a hopeless nerd even then). In college, I got hooked on Southern history…and you can’t discuss Southern history without discussing the history of religion. I don’t know that doing historical research will fit centrally into my vocational life, but I will always relish reading about and teaching American history. I am fascinating by the question of how these thirteen little colonies, just an obscure outpost of the British Empire, became such a huge power. I’m fascinated by America’s sins – slavery, for one. I’m fascinated by the battles about capitalism in American legislative halls and boardrooms and factories and farms.

10. NSR - What drew you to the Voice project & what excites you about it?

LW - Well, Christ is very persuasive. I think I’d do anything he asked of me. And who could pass up the chance to work with such a great team? Working on the Voice has actually been full of spiritual challenges for me, and has prompted a lot of spiritual growth and wrestling. I’m writing an essay bout that now, actually.

Peruse through Lauren's books on - all are 20% off.
Girl Meets God
Mudhouse Sabbath
Real Sex
The Voice of Matthew

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