Greetings, Blazer's Edge Readers! Far be it from me to interrupt your busy life of watching the playoff standings like a hawk and contemplating how miserable the New York Knicks are, but I have a small announcement to make. My very first book, Garden to Desert, is now available to purchase.
The book isn't about basketball. It's a walk through the biblical Book of Genesis, following its stories with a fresh set of eyes. As most of you know, I'm a pastor-type person in my "other" job, which makes scripture one of the great passions of my life. But I'd distinguish "scripture" from "typical church" and "proselytizing". Blazer's Edge has been quite instrumental in teaching me the difference. It'd be fair to say that the discussions we engage in here have set the pattern for the book.
When I first started writing about the Trail Blazers in a broad, public venue the "Jailblazers" era was in full swing. During that period public discourse was reduced to two camps: those who sneered and criticized the team every time the subject got brought up and those who rabidly defended the team, insisting that nothing was wrong and people who didn't support the team weren't "real fans". We'd lost something important: the sense of community and discovery around a subject that was meant to unite us...or at least be interesting to talk about.
For a decade now we've tried to bring nuance to the subject of Trail Blazers basketball. This community is the result. Obviously the team's situation has changed in the intervening years but the quality of discussion didn't have to change with it. We could still be in the dark ages, jabbing each other with barbs about the team's flaws or claiming that pointing them out is anathema. The passion and insight we've poured into the subject--not just mine, but yours as we've gathered around these posts and discussed them--have changed the way we talk about the Blazers. As a result, we've rediscovered the realization we never should have lost. Whether you're a fan of the team or not, whether you think they're doing great or lousy, the whole purpose of the endeavor is to bring us together and give us something challenging to think about and bond over.
A year or so ago I was reading another in an interminable litany of conversations about religion when I realized that most modern public religious discussion mirrors the discussion of the Blazers back in the day. If you look hard you can find isolated pockets of goodness, but the rest mostly boils down to, "Religion is the cause of horrible evil and division in the world," versus, "You're a heathen and if you don't believe like I do, you're going to hell!" It's the Jailblazers critics versus the fanatical defenders all over again, complete with the same cheapening of the subject and severe disincentive to talk about it.
Even those isolated pockets of goodness (a few enjoyable reads about faith have permeated the public consciousness over the noise) tend to fall into a couple of categories. Some want to say, "Here's how to use this clearly-stated scriptural principle to improve your life and find success." Others seem to put forth, "Everything is sweetness and light and here's a story about a girl and her fuzzy bunny that will make the meaning of scripture clear and help you feel good." Each approach has a place, but they both end up being about us more than about anything bigger...as if the whole universe were bent for the express purpose of making you successful or feel good. What is success, anyway? Are we sure we know? Should we all feel good, always? What if we're secretly kind of screwed up and our definitions of success and good feelings aren't actually the barometer of the universe? What about the bigger picture or a connection to anything bigger than ourselves? What in the name of John the Baptist's camel-haired undies are we doing narrowing down scripture to a single meaning that fits everyone regardless of their status? Scripture is supposed to open up the amazing (and sometimes frightening) possibilities of the relationships we've been given, allowing everyone to stick a hand in, play, and learn. Trading that in favor of being "right" and feeling superior to others is a bad deal.
Whether you believe in scripture or not--whether you're a person of faith or an atheist or someone content to not figure that out yet--perhaps you can see that this is important. Whether the topic is religion, basketball, or something else, the first approach isolates us, pitting us us against each other and the universe. The second approach invites us to explore, participate, discover more about the world and each other, growing as individuals and together.
It killed me when public discussion about the Blazers followed the first trend: when you couldn't hear anything interesting about the subject for all the people shouting about themselves and their prerogatives, judging the ever-living snot out of each other. It kills me even more when public discussion of faith takes that route. So I'm writing a little, following the stories of a biblical book...stories that aren't sweet and trite, that can't be reduced to a set of principles that bend to our will. The narrative describes imperfect people in messy situations who struggle through life without ever figuring out what they're doing. Somehow, improbably, something bigger rings through...something not only good, but redemptive.
When I read, "Finally, after all the worry and agony, Abraham's son Isaac was born in Sarah's old age," I hear, "And after the disastrous end of the once-promising Brandon Roy-Greg Oden era came Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Allen Crabbe". And it was good.
If you identify as atheist or agnostic, this book doesn't seek to change your mind or even really call you wrong. It might bring some insight into why these words make sense to some people and how there's a possibility that goodness can come from it. I think that's fair to talk about. If you're a person of faith this book might shake open some possibilities for you or at least give permission to explore that faith in a different way than we're usually encouraged to. If you're really securely in one camp or another, convinced that you (and only you) have the right interpretation of scripture, this book might yell at you a little bit...I hope for good cause.
Most of all, I hope this book proves an interesting read on a subject that's fairly fascinating. "Don't discuss religion or politics in public" isn't a lofty ideal as much as a reflection of how screwed up we are and how impoverished our ability to converse has become. Maybe, in a small way, books like this will create a safe way for us to come together around these things and learn from each other once again.
Garden to Desert is available through Kindle right now (which can be read on any mobile device). The print copy will be available for purchase in a couple days. I'll include links to both in my signature from now on. If you have the option, please order the electronic version. The price is much lower and the royalties are much higher.
Thanks for your consideration. And, by the way, Terry Stotts is Coach of the Month!