Monday, September 28, 2009

Q&A: Mosaic Editor and Contributor Jordan Green

The Mosaic NLT Bible from Tyndale released last week. I was lucky enough to get a review copy, and I'll be publishing my review in the next couple of days. In addition, I was given a certificate for a free copy of Mosaic that can be used at any Christian bookstore or redeemed directly from Tyndale. You still have until tomorrow to enter this contest.

Finally, as part of the extensive blog tour for the Bible, today I am hosting a Q&A with Jordan Green, who served as a project editor and also contributed one of the weekly meditations (Pentacost, Week 7). Sorry it's a little long, but Jordan gave such good answers, I just couldn't cut it down.

Jordan is from Portland, Oregon. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Burnside Writers Collective (great site, check it out), an online Christian magazine he co-founded with Donald Miller. Besides editing and writing, Jordan Green has also worked as a courier, a barista at a large coffee purveyor, and as a US Army Counterintelligence Agent, among other things. He currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife, Mindy, a daughter who is due in a month, a dog, and two cats.

Matthew Robbins: What appealed to you most and made you want to get involved in the Mosaic project?

Jordan Green: My favorite subjects in school were always history and English, and this project combined Christian literature and church history so well. The art makes it even better. For modern Evangelicals, it often seems like "art" is Thomas Kinkade, and "history" is C.S. Lewis (nothing against Lewis). The contemporary church doesn't seem to have much interest in creativity anymore. If you compare our modern worship to old hymns, our modern art to the frescoes in Italy, there's just no comparison.

Growing up in the American church, Christian history is sometimes seen as "Paul did his ministry, then 1,500 years passed, then the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock." Outside of Calvin or Martin Luther, we seem to have very little perspective on the brothers and sisters who came before. And I'm not even talking about how our faith in Asia or Africa, or Eastern Europe. We're even less aware of Christianity in those areas.

MR: How do you anticipate people responding to a project with this scope of diversity, including quotes from all ranges of the theological spectrum and time periods? How do you answer critics of this approach?

JG: That's a good question. To be honest, I'm not sure what the criticisms would be. Some might view the project as "emergent" or something, but I don't see that. I mean, it's about Church history and art, and features individual meditations on Scripture reading, which seems like the sort of thing happening in Bible studies all over the world every day.

As for the spectrum of theological thought, I don't think you can view our history without those differences popping up. I mean, they're in Paul's letters! From day one, believers were struggling with how to live out their faith through the lens of their cultures. The Corinthians were different from the Romans, who were different from the Colossians, who were different than the Hebrews. Paul wrote to the churches in these cities, addressing concerns specific to that church body, you know?

I'm certainly not saying all faith is relative, but I think within Christianity, even extending to Eastern Orthodox and Catholic faiths, we're a lot more similar than we think. Even if we don't agree with someone's theological stance on, say, pre- or post-millenialism, they might have a perspective on faith we can learn from.

MR: How did you determine the topic for the meditation you contributed? What do you hope people take away from it?

JG: I did mine on the rules in the Old Testament. I wanted to write one that touched on an area I struggle with. Numbers 20 has this bit about Moses bringing forth water from a rock, and he doesn't follow God's instructions perfectly. Because of that, God tells Moses he won't see the Promised Land.

I read that, and the instructions for building the tabernacle, and all the laws, and I think, "Oh my gosh...I would've been a disaster back then." I would've been breaking rules left and right. I'm a disorganized person, very scattered. I'm perfectly willing to cut corners to make my life easier, and I'm very forgetful.

So that becomes one of the things I'm most thankful to Jesus for: the fact if I forget one of the laws, or don't follow things exactly, or even outright break a commandment, I have God's grace to save me. I don't think I'm alone in that. I want people who struggle with the same things to read that and say, "Yeah! Thank you, Jesus! I would've messed up there, too!" Even if Moses deals with the worldly consequences (not seeing the Promised Land), he still knows God loves him.

MR: Were there any specific meditations you reviewed that really stood out to you? What criteria did you use in evaluating the different meditations?

JG: Beyth Hogue, who was organizing a lot of the project (and wrote a piece herself), would send the meditations to me by number. I didn't want to see the author names, because I knew some of the people contributing. I'd read the piece, then suggest some improvements. Most of it had to do with writing rather than concepts. Most of the time, I just paid attention to flow. If I found myself wading through a clunky opening sentence, or fading out in the third or fourth paragraphs, I'd mention that, and I'd offer some ways to fix it.

Of the 40 or so meditations I read, there were only two or three I really did not like, and thought needed to be completely rewritten.

There were also only two or three I loved immediately, and sent back saying "This one is perfect as-is." There was one I just loved, and I learned later it was written by my good friend Penny Carothers, who is the social justice editor at Burnside. I can't tell you how happy it made me to find that out.

MR: American Christianity seems to be functioning somewhat in isolated bubbles, detached in many ways from historical Christianity and believers across geographical and/or theological boundaries. Mosaic seems to fight against this in some ways. How do you see this project contributing to American Christianity, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

JG: I really hope it contributes in the very ways you mentioned. If we can glean some perspective from our Christian past, or from our brothers and sisters overseas, that would be awesome. Even if it's just remembering how huge and ancient and awesome our faith is. The modern American church is comprised of beautiful tiles making up the mosaic of God's creation, and I love the idea of us taking a step back and getting a better glimpse of that work of art as a whole.

Also, I'd like it if the art in this project helped restore creativity to a place of prominence. For all the great attributes the American church emphasizes, like generosity and deep communion with God, I feel like we fall short on art. All art falls short on one hand -- even the most beautiful cathedral pales in comparison to the Rocky Mountains -- but that doesn't mean our best effort should be an overwrought painting of a lighthouse with a beam of sun coming through the clouds.

MR: Is there anything else about your involvement in Mosaic you’d like to share?

JG: Well, it was a lot of fun to work on, I'm thankful to David Sanford and Tyndale Publishing for letting me in on it. If I can shamelessly plug (though I don't get any royalties from it), I think it would make a great gift, and an excellent addition to any library. I mean, I'm guessing we all have plenty of Bibles to spare, but this is unique. Thanks so much for your time, Matthew.

Thanks to Jordan for taking time to answer some questions about Mosaic and the fine people at Tyndale for helping arrange it.

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