Updated: Dec 30, 2019
As the 2016 primary campaigns heated up, it became increasingly apparent to many citizens that Donald Trump was woefully unprepared and, worse, woefully unfit to fill the role of president should he be elected. At the same time Trump was boasting that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York consequence-free, a North Carolina pastor was blogging about such injustices, the need for systemic social reforms, and hypocrisy in the evangelical community. He repeatedly sounded the warning about Trump on Facebook and Twitter; I was grateful to find his blog relatively early in the 2016 contest.
Stuff That Needs to be Said became a balm in my life; I took refuge in the writings of a Christian man who spared no words in calling Trump out for his very disturbing behaviors. He also challenged evangelicals to examine their hearts; to ponder how they could support and defend this man. I discovered that John Pavlovitz had been blogging since roughly 2012 – first at churches he served and then, as he became more outspoken and courageous, on his own.
For many years, I’d carried values in my heart that I lived out situationally, voting to reflect them, but not making noise about them socially or politically. Now, ringing out in an ear-splitting volume through John’s blogs, issues such as the disenfranchisement of LGBTQ individuals in mainstream churches; economic, political, and social injustices experienced by African Americans and other minorities; and inequality experienced by women across the spectrum were front and center in my deepening awareness and greater political involvement. I was perpetually fueled by 24/7 news and by these poignant blogs.
As I read Stuff That Needs to be Said more frequently, I noticed its author was a man who liked patterns. I’d grown to appreciate them and to anticipate how they’d be presented in the next blog. I’d spot these patterns in the long lists of reasons John believed in a social justice topic; the long list of attributes in church-going folks who denied the incongruencies on full display in their faith and their politics; the descriptors of the very impulsive, unprepared, and ill-served president regarding his latest verbal attack or assault on our government and its agencies; sentences where nouns or verbs appeared in long lists separated by ands rather than commas; and sentences painting dire pictures with so many words that I’d run out of mental oxygen while reading them. All of these characteristics were becoming familiar to me as features of John Pavlovitz’s writing style. Their end result was a dedicated and growing base of readers across the globe from all religions and no religion frustrated with the hypocrisy of the times and longing for social justice for “the least of these.” I was and am quite a fan – at last count, one of the 271,359 who like John’s Facebook announcement regarding the recently released Low, A New Advent Devotional, and a new Twitter follower – one of his 193.6 thousand!
There was more I found interesting in John’s blog, though: the occasional misspelled words, incorrect homophones, misplaced commas, parentheses that seemed to halt flow instead of dashes that would encourage it, and emotion-packed sentences filled with so many ands – though this and insertion seemed a part of Pavlovitz’s overall style...and it was growing on me. The other things, though...the errors? They gnawed at me when I read his posts. As effective as this man was in creating a blog, and as eloquent as he was in delivering a message with pen or keyboard, the errors I spotted always left me with a longing to polish his posts.
I had recently retired out of medical necessity and felt as though I still had so much to offer SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE in work I had long ago mastered...but WHO?
It dawned on me that editing for John Pavlovitz could become my new ministry. This was a pretty lofty goal – yes, but I was countering recent negative messaging with as much lofty dreaming as I could muster. I’d never been told that I was insufficient in my work until six months prior...following four concussions that were only eight years apart. While I understood that I wouldn’t thrive in my former work setting, I still had a lot of creativity, skill, and know-how to contribute to good causes. I’d always been a solid writer and a relentless reviewer of the written work of others, so I thought I’d reach for the stars. My new mission? Contact John Pavlovitz via his website and make him an offer most folks devoid of an abundance of pride would accept in seconds.
Without revealing my health story, I kept the first email short and sweet. Your work really resonates with me and I’m a decent wordsmith; if you ever need any help in this area, I’d be glad to lend a hand, gratis...loosely summarized. I thought the final word would surely serve as motivation for a rapid response. This man HAD to write rapidly; he was offering a new blog once – twice, sometimes three times – each week! The combination of that factor AND the idea of NO COST would certainly conjure up a fairly quick response. (Clearly, I’m unaccustomed to contacting public figures, celebrity pastors, and the like.)
My second email was a rough repeat of the first; just enough tweaking so that Mr. Pavlovitz would know I was not cutting and pasting (as though he’d remember my email in his overflowing inbox!). Surely, #2 would get a response. After all, I was leaving my comment in the right place – the Stuff That Needs to be Said “Contact Us” box. But, to my disappointment, weeks passed once more and I hadn’t heard from John.
I’ve been told that at times I can be like a dog with a bone; if I’ve got an idea that I believe in, I don’t let it go. I’m pretty darn persistent given the right circumstances. And I’m not quite sure why, but I continued to feel an urgency about this work. I definitely had to rethink my contact strategy, though.
The search for a private email address ensued and I was surprised at finding one relatively quickly. My new and redirected email contained a bit more of my story: I retired unexpectedly due to health issues – repeated concussions – but I knew I still had important work to do. I would HAPPILY edit free of charge because I had no active ministry at the moment and really wanted to give back by writing if at all possible...again, loosely translated. I was ready to bare this vulnerable, damaged side of myself if it meant making inroads in editing for John Pavlovitz.
I will never forget the next piece of this story, although I do not recall the exact timeline. It was either an hour or two later or the very next day that I heard from John; HE WAS APOLOGIZING!...WHAT??? He apologized that it had taken so long for him to respond and explained that his “staff”, which I had imagined to be three young folks, was nonexistent. The entire operation was a partnership with his wife, Jennifer. A vibrant ministry involving blogging, authoring books, seminars, guest speaking, and an online store...the entire enterprise was run by two. Nevermind being a husband and father! I was dizzy just thinking about the scope of John’s work and the demands for his time.
I read further. The email revealed that John Pavlovitz would love for me to help him. WHAT?! He explained that he’d worked with editors for his blog in the past, but that he didn’t currently have one. I’m a complete stranger to this man and he’s ready to give me a chance at editing for him?! I was beyond pleased, but also simply astounded. I recognized grace when I was its benefactor and THIS was grace. Or did my persistence weaken the will of a man vulnerable due to exhaustion? Either way, I was all in!
We agreed via email that I’d start sending suggestions and he’d use what he liked. You can’t ask for more than that, I reasoned. I began reviewing his past blogs, polishing them as necessary, then sending them on. Determined to stay true to John’s voice, and most often to the length of his sentences, there were often only a few items that sounded the alarm for revision. I was diligent and beyond excited, but I kept this volunteering secret for quite a while.
It dawned on me twenty or so blogs in that perhaps I needed to meet John to lend more credibility to my work. A quick exchange of emails to determine a convenient Sunday ensued; I was all set. It also dawned on me on the very special Meeting John Pavlovitz Sunday that I felt a little bit like my college freshman self leaving campus after an America concert to meet “the band.” Along with a journalism major for our college newspaper and a few other friends, I felt justified in making the trip. I also felt a little sneaky; my mother and my closest friends would not have been pleased.
Now, I was a 64-year-old woman taking off early on a Sunday morning to meet someone I deeply admire deliver a sermon I couldn’t wait to hear. Destination? roughly three hours away at the Unitarian Universalist PEACE Fellowship in the Raleigh area. I told no one the entire story; yes, I felt justified and I felt a little sneaky. In my life these days, the “rock stars” are no longer from the music or movie world; they’re activists and political figures. I was headed to Raleigh to meet a rock star of the Christian left and I was floating on air in transit.
I’d left Richmond far earlier than necessary, but wanted to get to the church early enough to greet John ahead of time if possible. When I pulled into the parking lot, I discovered I’d beat everyone. No matter; the first gentleman there welcomed me in a friendly fashion. I explained that I was a follower of John’s from Richmond and that I’d come to meet him. I wasn’t ready to share that I was helping John with the blog; I thought that was too presumptuous.
It’s funny...I imagined that when the time came to meet John, I would feel out of place and awkward and embarrassed and almost sorry I made the trip. He arrived and quickly received word that he had a special guest. After John completed some preliminary work to set up for the children’s message, I caught his eye. He came to greet the woman sitting to my left briefly and then introduced me as his “friend from Richmond helping with my blog” to her as he did later to a small group of folks. John and I spoke briefly – happily, enthusiastically – about a shared interest; imagined awkwardness, embarrassment, and regret about making the trip never materialized. John Pavlovitz was humble, kind, friendly, and funny – not at all like the dismissive roady crew for America back in my college days!
After the service, we were able to speak long enough for me to convince this man I was legitimate and eager to help him advance his blog in any way possible. Since my work had not yet been posted, I had some convincing to do. Before I left, John suggested going the Google Docs route. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Of course...a much smoother option for John to be able to compare his original work with my suggested edits.
Since that time, many polished blogs have been posted to Google Docs. I’ve returned to Raleigh to hear John preach three times – once alone and twice with fellow fans – and I will return routinely. I go to hear his inspired messages and to thank him for giving me this personal boost following a time in my life when I desperately needed to feel repurposed.
Now, thanks to John’s grace and generosity, I have a connection to Stuff That Needs to be Said. During the summer months, he offered me the opportunity to provide additional editing for his Advent devotional, Low, and I gladly participated. John also recently inquired about my hourly rates and tucked that information away for his future use.
In this time of Trump, there’s plenty of fodder to address via blogging on a daily basis. There’s so much Pavlovitz emotion and urgency in wanting to get blogs out quickly that there will also be an opportunity for me to polish some of these posts when the time is right.
When most people read Stuff That Needs to be Said, my guess is that their eyes miss the “hiccups” that stop me in my tracks. Does John Pavlovitz need my help to be even more wildly popular with the Christian left and other resisters? No...NO! But, like a dog with a bone, I’ve held tightly to this lofty goal; I believe I’ll become an asset when the time is right. I’m with you on the messaging, John, and my pen is at your disposal. Thank you doesn’t adequately express my gratitude for this opportunity, but, John, I think you know how deeply grateful I am.