Most of my friends, the longtime ones, would tell you that my plans as a young woman don’t look like my life today. I didn’t want to go to college, instead I wanted to be married fairly young. I wanted to teach at a public high school until I got pregnant. I wanted to have twelve–yes I know twelve!
But reality has unrolled differently. Last summer Soulation went out to speak at the YMCA Camp of the Rockies for a Leadership Training conference. I met a young woman named Lindsay Cochrum a magazine journalism major at the University of Missouri.
A few weeks back, Lindsay re-connected with me asking for an interview as part of her assignment for a Women in the Media class. In reading her transcript of her interview, I thought how differently my real life looks against what I imagined it would be. It’s not what I would have designed for myself. But, when I asked Lindsay why she wanted an interview she said, “Because when I first heard you speak last summer with Dale on misconceptions about men and women, I remember how your infant son, Finn, was strapped to you. You had some really interesting things to say about equality of men and women in the church.” Lindsay’s questions reminded me why I don’t mind the “detours”, why I worship a God who is good, but not too safe.
Lindsay and I connected while I was enjoying some R&R after a business trip in Naples, Florida. Finn slept on a beach chair under the umbrella and Dale was flipping through a fantastic new book (The Spirit of Food: 35 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God) when I picked up phone.
What follows are the highlights from our conversation like how I got into writing, the process of getting a book published, what it’s like to write, to be rejected and to work as a woman in Christian ministry.
Jonalyn Fincher, speaker, writer and apologist
November 1, 2010
11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
L: Hi, Jonalyn, it’s Lindsay.
J: Hi there, Lindsay. Just a second. Alright, how are you doing?
L: Good! How are you?
J: I’m good. I’ve got a bit of a cold, so, and my battery’s not 100 percent, I’m sorry I’m not tip-top.
L: That’s okay. I appreciate you taking time to talk to me.
J: Oh, absolutely. I’m really excited about your project. It sounds so cool.
L: Yeah, it’s been a great class, so I’m excited to hear what you have to say.
J: Aw, that’s so fun. Let’s dive in whenever you’re ready.
L: Okay, if you could, just to start us off, tell me how you got started writing?
J: I wasn’t like an English writing major or anything like that, but my husband was approached to do some speaking with an international apologetics team called Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. And somebody in the organization thought he should also write a book. And so he signed on with an organization, an agency actually, and a booking agent, and he said to them, “I’d be happy to write and have you represent me, but my wife has been working on a book for a little while, so if you’re going to sign me, you’re going to sign her.”
So for about a year before that I had been working on some ideas about the woman’s soul, and I was writing this “book,” And we’ll put book in quotes because I didn’t think it would ever be published. It was just because I felt God was saying, “Work out these thoughts.” Dale was a big fan, so I worked on a lot of it on my own not expecting it to be published, but when Dale got signed with an agency, he believed in me so much that he wanted me to join him. So I actually published my book before he did because I had been working on it ahead of time.
My book was a response to a need that I saw, how women need to see that they are made in God’s image, differently from men, and beyond their bodies. And I think that need forced me to write. I did journaling and stuff like that before, but never something as big as a book. And looking back I think it’s pretty crazy that I even tried to do that. But I think I saw that I think I wanted to try and answer the question for myself, and I also I wanted to share with anyone else who would be interested. That was the beginning of Ruby Slippers.
L: Awesome. What was your major in college?
J: I was a double major in history and English literature, so I loved reading the great writers, but I hadn’t done much writing besides papers and stuff.
L: So what was the experience of being published like? Can you just walk me through the process of how that worked?
J: There’s so much that goes on. What in particular interests you in terms of what that process is like?
L: I guess just like maybe the editing process and did you have to make a lot of revision to your writing, or how did that work?
J: Oh, okay. Well because I had a literary agent to start out with, I gave her my first book proposal because I had never written a book proposal before. I was just throwing in everything I thought other people should read. She looked at it and she said, “Jonalyn, you’ve got about ten books here.” And that made me realize, “Okay, just because this is the only book I think I’m ever going to write doesn’t mean I need to put everything I’ve ever thought into it.” I think that’s the way I originally approached it. And she and I worked over a year getting ready for the book to be shopped around to publishers.
I spent a year refining and writing and three sample chapters as well as outlining the entire book, chapter by chapter. My agent also wanted me to do a little comparative analysis. And then almost write up a little marketing plan. Things have changed and gotten even worse in recent times because the money’s so tight and publishers expect you to do a lot of the marketing. They don’t actually help you that much unless you’re a really big name. So for a first-time author you’re doing a lot of your own marketing.
So that was what was involved in terms of getting the book proposal together, which took a year, and then shopping around, which took another year before we figured out where we wanted to go with it. A lot of publishers wanted this book, so that was nice. And then I started to write. And I think it took about a year and a half before the book was done.
My editor at Zondervan was fantastic. Not only was she female, but she was also behind the work I was doing to the point where she just said, “Jonalyn, you just write what you need to, and then we’ll edit it down.” Even though I had a word limit, I just kept writing and writing and writing, and I had so many books in this one book. And by the time I gave it to her, she realized, “Okay, you have a book that was supposed to be 60,000 words. It’s about 120,000 words. Let’s cut it down.” And she let me do a lot of that cutting, which was really trusting of her, I think. It showed that women, when they work together over the same goal, can really dovetail their strengths so nicely. I felt so much of her help as a real partner.
She actually went on to edit some other books we did and has become a good friend. That process was about another year and a half, so start to finish, it took about three and a half years. And it was published. It as so thrilling to see something you write come to your door in a bound, real book, and to find it in bookstores was really neat, too. The sales haven’t been quite as exciting as I’d hoped for, but I learned quite a lot through that process.
L: And this was the Ruby Slippers book, correct?
J: Yes, that’s correct.
L: So do you think your process would have been different had your editor been a man, or would it even had worked had your editor been male?
J: I think it would have worked. One publisher was interested in it and I had an interview with an editor who was male and he totally got the message. I think the book was better because it was a female, but I don’t think men and women are so different that a man couldn’t have edited my book well.
Editors are not as involved with the content in my experience as I expected. In other words, they’re not saying, “This idea doesn’t seem right,” as often as I was hoping for. I love that kind of sharpening. Or “This idea is so interesting. It totally changed me.” I didn’t get that kind of feedback. I got that feedback after the book was out from readers, but not from my editor. They’re more concerned as a publishing house with things you are writing that are going to end up making their publishing house look bad or getting backlash. They’re not concerned as long as your idea seemed mostly orthodox or if you’re idea is new or interesting, mainly because I don’t think they have the time to do that.
L: Ok, if you could just tell me about what your experience has been writing about the female’s role in the church or has that been controversial?
J: Ah, yes it has. I’ve been writing a book for about five years now called Walking in Her Shoes, which is about women and friendships and how women tend to have tight, tight girlfriends and also really horrible girlfriends who become enemies, or “frenemies” — a friend that becomes an enemy.
I shopped that proposal around about a year ago, and a publishing house picked it up. They loved it, they were sending me a proposal with the amount they would offer me, and they came across my blog.
They found some things in my blog that made them suspicious that I believe in women and men being equal partners in the
church and the home. And that made them so worried that they said they couldn’t publish me. So they dropped me. The dropped the proposal even though the book I was writing was about friendship, not about women’s roles in the home and the church. (that book has since been made into a free blog letmebeme.org)
That’s the second time that’s happened. My husband and I were both asked to do some work with a pretty well known publisher on a huge book project. It would have been a great break for us, but when they found out we had written together on our non-profit site an article called “Unmuted: The Welcome Colors of a Woman’s Voice,” (our most popular online article) that talks about some of the inconsistencies of women being allowed to teach children but not allowed to teach men, again they pulled us from the project.
So it’s pretty controversial, I think, being a woman who can lead with her gifting and her education. The Christian culture doesn’t really know what to do with us. Anything we have we are welcome to share on Sunday night or Wednesday night, but we’re not really permitted to speak on Sunday mornings during that powerful pulpit time.
So I would say writing about women has been controversial, and I would say at least half of my readers don’t agree with me. But I found, on my blog at least, that my readers are grateful for the way I approach the subject, really trying to have charity for the different sides. I don’t want to attack people for things they don’t even hold, or for like a straw man, which is like a — are you familiar with that term?
J: A straw man is a philosophical term describing a logical error, when you end up creating an idea of somebody’s view that isn’t true of them, and then you attack it. Creating a straw man that is easy to knock down, might make you feel good, but it’s not actually a true representation of the idea. So a good example would be, “Oh, you believe that men and women are partners, so you’re saying that women shouldn’t raise their children. You are a femi-nazi. You’re a bra burner.” These are straw men of my position. They’re attacking ideas that I don’t believe.
Both sides do this; I could create a straw men of complementarians (people who believe that gender decides whether you should lead or not) and say, “They’re all about keeping women down.” But complementarians I know who believe, for instance, that women should not preach on Sunday morning, are not trying to keep women down. I know them personally; they’re my friends. And even though we disagree, I’m really concerned, am I writing to not create a caricature, or a political cartoon out of their views. I want to evaluate clearly for what they stand for and then compare that to Scripture and my own experience.
L: So why do you think you have continual readers who disagree with you, but still come back and ready anyway?
J: I think one thing my husband and I are really concerned about is the humanity of each person. And so when I get people who disagree forcefully on my blog and leave comments that are almost scathing, I try to validate the emotions they feel, their frustration, their annoyance.
Even if they’ve misunderstood me, I try to say, “I can see how you think or feel this.” I want to learn from them, to fully walk in their shoes. Then I might say, “But let me restate what I am saying and what I’m not saying.” So I think they feel heard, and I think that a friendship, and even a respectful dialogue, can exist if you feel heard and understood. I can state to somebody what they believe back to them, and they feel like I get what they’re saying, and then I can say, “I still disagree, and here’s why,” which is very different from saying, “That’s stupid,” and not being able to explain what they believe. And it’s interesting — it’s not just women who are doing this on my blog. There are men who disagree with me, too. And they have emotions running high and intense with them, too. We’re very weak in Christian culture and American culture at being able to talk in a sustained respectful manner with someone who disagrees with us. It’ so much easier to tell people what we think the Buddhists believe rather than actually talk with a Buddhist. And the same holds true in what we think are the “right” gender roles.
L: Cool. So in our class we’ve talked a lot about secular feminism, kind of what you talked about with bra burning and femi-nazis or whatever. How do you see that affecting the church? Women’s roles in the church. Are they complementary, or are they completely separate issues?
J: You mean how has the 1960s and 70s feminism movement affected church culture?
L: Yeah, I guess so, if you think it has at all?
J: Oh, yeah, I definitely think it has. I think it was in the 80s when Susan Feludi, she described a backlash, which is a fear response that if women are exactly the same as men, what’s going to happen to the church and the home and the family unit?! So you see this response of fear coming from conservative circles and almost a hunkering down and a belief that the only thing a married women could do and remain fully in God’s will is be a wife and a mother. I believe responding to a pendulum out to the left by swinging way out to the right is still a reactionary response. I’ve been pretty discouraged by the way people in conservative churches uphold motherhood as the only and the best thing a married woman could ever do. I think this is a direct response to this secular feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s because they’re afraid that if women get a taste of having a career that they’re not going to want to have children. But careers, while great, are not all that great either. I mean many days I’d love to just stop speaking and writing and stop traveling so I could cook, knit and even clean more.
But, we know from scripture that women can be very valued by God and not have children, for instance leaders like Deborah. We don’t know very much about Deborah’s mothering skills in terms of the children she had or didn’t have, but we do know that she judged Israel well.
I think that any time we’re so enamored by a cultural movement, whether it be feminism or anti-feminism, that we don’t have time for the examples from the Old and New Testaments of men and women, then we have been duped. Out theology has to take into account both the Old and New Testament. There were female prophetesses. There were women who proposed to their men: Ruth and Boaz. There were women who judged like Deborah. There were women who instructed men: Priscilla and Aquila in Acts. Your theology has to include those examples. It also has to include that God is excited about women working with their hands: Psalm 31. And women raising children with their husbands in the fear of the Lord: all over the law in Deuteronomy. I think people know Christian culture and individual Bible verses better than they know their God. They don’t know how to think Biblically. They only know how to think Bible-verse-ly.
L: That’s cool that you mentioned Backlash. We actually read part of that book for our class.
J: Yeah, that’s a really great example. What’s the title of your class again?
L: Women in the Media.
J: Alright, and is that in a secular or Christian college.
L: Secular. University of Missouri.
J: Oh, that’s fantastic. Then you’re probably experiencing more of the secular perspective.
L: Yes, it’s been a very interesting class. I haven’t had a lot of exposure to the feminism movements until now, but just seeing how it plays out in journalism. We’ve kind of talked about a lot of different things. We’ve talked about women’s jobs in journalism and if they’re able to advance and that side of it, but we also talked about how to cover issues like rape and how women are covered in journalism.
J: Sexism is alive and well everywhere, in the church and the world. (for more about this check out Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done) I’m glad you’re learning about the different perspectives on covering a story. You know, I think the number one thing holding women back is we do not know how to incorporate women and their children into the marketplace. It’s not the getting married that harms women’s careers; it’s the children part.
L: Can you elaborate a little on that?
J: We don’t see women in the state, like in the Senate or as governors or judges, we don’t see women in any of these capacities, very public and important economically and politically, with their children. You see that if women are going to have a career they put their children with a caretaker or they don’t include them in their lives because children are known to be a distraction and to keep people from doing the “real” business of life. So for a woman to have children, she either has to exit the important avenues of the marketplace, the political, economic or even entertainment industries, or she has to hire someone else to raise her children. And those are both viable options, but it’s unfortunate to me that there isn’t a third option, and that is bringing your child with you to work.
Why don’t we allow someone to be on TV holding their baby? “Oh, the baby will cry, and they’ll get in the way.” Why do we think in our Western world that the person who makes decisions shouldn’t incorporate this really important time period of life? We don’t see this in Africa (did you see that movie Babies?) or other developing countries. In Pakistan, the prime minister Benazir Bhutto,
before she was killed by a terrorist attack in 2007, had children and nannies that accompanied her in her work. Everyone thought this was such an anomaly, such a strange person, but I think she was trying to model a different way to have a family and incorporate her career.
People say, “Oh, that’s so unrealistic. People don’t have the money to do that.” Good point, not all people can. But more people could baby wear and blend their children into their work. For instance, the work I do, speaking in front of audiences and writing, are vocations in which I can incorporate my son Finn, at least for the first year, without too much problem because my husband and I work together.
This decision has nothing to do with my paycheck, we aren’t docked speaking fees because of this decision. What if more women who were invited to speak at different universities, or conferences or churches wore their babies on their backs and allowed people to see in front of a church service a baby on someone’s back? They would see that just because I’m speaking in a big, formal church service doesn’t mean my baby has to be excluded.
I think the church services in most modern-day churches teach us something undesirable when we always provide childcare to keep kids away from the adult activities. And I understand that sometimes we need a break. Absolutely. But I think our culture believes that our children can’t handle the things our adults are doing. Maybe we need to change what our services are about if the children have to be pushed into another room to learn on their own. People talk a lot about learning styles these days: not everyone learns well from somebody lecturing from the front. There are so many different ways to learn things, and I think the way we’ve marginalized children affects a lot of adults as well.
If a child is falling asleep during a sermon, chances are a lot of adults are, too. And I think Jesus was on to this when he said we can’t enter the kingdom of heaven until we become like a child in our humility. There’s a lot of cross-pollination that could occur between children and adults, if we made room for it.
A good girlfriend of mine who worked in politics talked about how women who wanted to succeed had to cut off part of their humanity — their awareness, their intuition, their quickness to show emotion — because they were trying to mimic men in the marketplace. The problem is you don’t want to copy men who are fallen to try to become more human as a female. That’s a losing position. If you try to be like a man anyway, you’re going to fail. You’re never going to do it well no matter what because of your body and your soul.
There’s just a deep disrespect of differences between the sexes, the fact that a women’s body is designed to birth and care for a child for a significant part of her life, especially if she has more than one kid. We don’t allow that to interrupt our “important” work in the academy, economics, politics or even the media industry. Every single woman who wants a career will face this. A man won’t. A man doesn’t have to juggle children or career. It’s always the woman’s question.
Why is that? The secular world obviously hasn’t answered that well. I think that’s something Jesus specifically needs to come in and help us with. In most families, once you get married, most men think that the gaol is to be supporting their wife and making enough money for her to stay home with her children. I think we’ve shot too low. I think our ideal goal should be that children are raised by both mother and father.
And people say that’s unrealistic, but we ought to shoot for it, even if we never attain it. We should try to pursue and support policies, role models, art, companies that work towards this.
L: So do you feel that you and Dale have designed your home to work around this principle then?
J: Yeah, that’s been our goal. I don’t think we’ve been attaining it. I don’t think we’re there yet. There aren’t a lot of guidebooks unfortunately, so we’re making a lot of mistakes. But we try to co-parent with our time. That doesn’t mean Dale’s just on-duty from eight in the morning until noon and then I take Finn noon to five so that we get work done. It’s like every task we do is incorporating the fact that our son lives with us and is part of us.
We keep reminding each other that our son is not a distraction. He’s part of the learning and the growth. He’s part of the writing, the speaking. One of our deepest fears of even having children for us was that children of itinerant speakers are often very unhappy because they were a distraction from the work that their parents were doing. They never knew one parent (usually their father) because they were always on the road speaking. But we want to change that in our family, to say I’m going to be speaking with my baby. It’s a bit risky, but welcome to life following a risky God.
L: Well I enjoyed getting to see Finn when you talked at LT, so that was a cool experience.
J: Thank you.
L: I don’t want to keep you too long, so I just have one more question for you. What kind of advice do you have for female writers, and maybe even Christian female writers, about how to maneuver the writing world and getting published?
J: I would say don’t limit yourself into thinking you have to get all your career and work done before you get married and have kids. I know many mothers who are writing while they mother and are doing a great job at both. There are agents out there who are freelance who can look at your work and help you grow as a writer.
Don’t underestimate the importance of humility in your work either, humility to take correction, humility to change things up, humility to talk about other ways to do things. For single women or unmarried women who are trying to make a career out of writing, don’t compromise what it means to be a woman. Find out what that means. What does it mean to be a female and to do this well? And if you’re one of those people who says, “Oh, I never think about my gender”, you need to ask yourself why you never think about it because God’s created us binary.
There’s no such thing as a generic human. We come in male or female. And that delighted God enough to create the first couple, so we need to spend time thinking why he did that. I would direct them if they’re confused by their femininity to Ruby Slippers to begin asking themselves some hard questions.
L: Thank you so much for speaking with me. I really appreciate it.
Analysis (taken from Lindsay’s final paper)
Jonalyn was a really interesting person to talk to about feminism in general.She isn’t a traditional journalist, so I didn’t feel like asking her about her career would give me as much information as asking her about the issues she writes about, although she was able to give me good information about both.
A lot of what Jonalyn talked about career-wise was managing a job and children. Her main argument is that women should be able to have a job and involve their children by having them be visible in the workplace. This was apparent to me as I saw her speak this summer while she held her child, and she argued that most women in important public careers could practice this.
I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that idea. My hang-up is that no one is suggesting that men hold their children while they do their jobs. I wished I had asked her a few more follow-up questions there. I believe that Jonalyn does not suggest this because she doesn’t necessarily believe that men and woman are the same; she just believes that their roles are equally important. She says that women will fail if they try to act like men, and maybe this works in the reverse. Women were built to nurture their children and should therefore be allowed to do so on the job. Men were not necessarily built to nurture children in the same way as women, so we don’t necessarily have to hold them to those same standards. The main point Jonalyn expressed is that husbands and wives should partner together to work and raise their children dually. She says that we have shot too low in thinking that a man should have to provide all the support for a family and that children should be raised by both their mothers and fathers. I agree with this.
Jonalyn is also different from your stereotypical Christian because she does believe in equal roles for women and men in the church. She’s isn’t a far-left swinging feminist who believes that men and women are exactly the same, but she’s also not a far-right swinging feminist. I really liked that she brought up Backlash as an example of what the church seems to have done, which is say that radical leftist feminism is terrible, and that the only good things women can do is be wives in mothers. This seems to be a common belief in the church, and I appreciate Jonalyn’s willingness to challenge that with her opinion and with scriptural proof. It was really interesting to hear about her experiences of being dropped by publishers for this opinion, especially since the book she wanted to write was unrelated to gender roles in the church.
I also appreciate Jonalyn’s advice for female writers to figure out what it means to be a female writer. I think I definitely agree
with her ideas that men and women aren’t the same, though it would be nice to be more equal. Women are going to cover a story or write about something differently than a man would, and we should embrace it and use it to our advantage. Our intuition, or empathy or other female traits should be used to enhance the story. The problem is getting other people to see these uniquely feminine traits as a lens and not as a weakness compared to the standards of men’s writing.
I caught up with Lindsay for a few questions from me. When it’s time to relax and have fun Lindsay loves buying stationery and writing letters. Her favorite movies are Little Women (the one with Winona Ryder) and She’s the Man (with Amanda Bynes). Thank you to Lindsay for allowing me to publish her work.
November also brought another interview, this one complete with this comical cartoon in Biola’s (my alma mater for grad school) Connections Magazine. It will keep me humble. My favorite part? the ruby slippers of course!
Dear reader – this post was set for publication the November 17th, the day of my father’s accident. In an effort to remain present with him and my mom I couldn’t finish editing until now. Please forgive my delay in monthly posting. Stay tuned in a few weeks for a piece on family and crisis.