Last fall Christianity Today named writer Amy Julia Becker one of “Fifty Women You Should Know.” Becker has authored four books on faith, family and disability, the latest of which made its debut last week: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Prenatal Testing: Insight from a Mom Who Has Been There is available in ebook form for only $2.99. Becker is also a wife and a mother to three. You can find her regularly musing about a host of things at her blog, Thin Places.
I recently sat down with Becker in cyber space to ask her how she views her calling and influence as a writer in relation to the evangelical church, and how her identity as a woman, wife and mother, plays into this sense of purpose and vocation. Today’s interview is the first of two parts:
Christianity Today has named you one of 50 women to know, for your work in (and I quote) “profoundly shaping the evangelical church and North American society.” Would you also use the term “evangelical” to describe yourself, and if so, what do you mean by that term?
I would call myself an evangelical both because it is the line of Christianity through which my faith came alive (at a Young Life Camp) and also because I see one aspect of my role as a Christian as telling other people about the good news of the Gospel. I’m aware, however, that “evangelical” has become a negative term in many circles, for good reasons, and that it often conjures up political and social associations that probably don’t describe who I am. I worry that evangelicals are known more as people who are against certain cultural movements rather than people who are for life with God. Most evangelicals I actually know (rather than read about in the newspaper) could be characterized by their desire to love and serve other people and talk about spiritual questions. I hope that’s true of me too.
How does your identity as a woman, wife and mother impact your writing, do you think? How, if at all, do you integrate all these identities when it comes to articulating your call as a writer?
For a long time, I wasn’t sure how these aspects of my identity worked together, and there are certainly days (like today, with a sick husband and two out of three kids with a fever) when my identity as a wife/mother seems at odds with my calling as a writer. Still, the best writing I do is writing that combines my personal experience with theological and cultural insights. In that sense, I couldn’t do what I do without my kids.
You’ve explored the theme of “gift” and “giftedness” in your writing and the nature of gifts. What, in your writing, do you most want to leave as a gift to the church and to the world? Another way of asking this might be: how would you sum up your calling and the nature of your influence on the church and society at large?
Recently, I’ve been thinking about my writing project as having two strands. There’s the argumentative strand, in which I write critiques of our culture’s posture towards people with intellectual disabilities (see The Social Construction of Selective Abortion, for instance) or our attitudes towards women and sex (see Hookup Culture is Good for Women and Other Feminist Myths). And then there’s the imaginative strand, in which I simply try to tell the story of our family as a way for other people to imagine life as a family with a child with Down syndrome. I think it’s the latter strand that might be the greatest “gift” I can offer because it is simply an attempt to articulate the gift I have been given in my children, including Penny, who has Down syndrome.
You and I were classmates at Princeton Seminary both pursuing a Masters of Divinity. (I’m sorry we never got to know each other!) You went on to become a writer and I, more immediately, to ordained ministry, having more recently come around to writing as a vocation. How, if at all, does writing give you a voice and influence that you, as a woman, might not otherwise have in ordained ministry? Do you think your gift to communicate is more impactful or more readily received when it comes through the act of writing, as opposed to preaching? Why or why not?
I’m sorry we never got to know each other too! Although I never felt the call to ordained ministry, I originally applied to seminary with the thought of pursuing boarding school chaplaincy, as my husband and I both attended boarding schools and he has worked in boarding schools for most of our adult life. But before I actually started at Princeton Seminary, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with liver cancer, and I ended up being her primary caregiver for the six months of her illness. I wrote a book about that experience in which I reflected upon God’s presence in the midst of suffering, grief, and doubt. Ultimately, that book, Penelope Ayers, is a testimony to hope, and the experience of writing it helped to convince me of my calling as a writer.
I still went to seminary because I knew that any writing I did should be grounded in theological and Biblical scholarship, and I am very grateful for the ways my classes at PTS aided my thinking and writing.
Which leads me back to your question of whether writing has a greater impact than preaching, especially as a woman. And the truth is, I’m not sure. On the rare occasions that I have preached, I have known God’s presence and power in communicating truth from Scripture. The feedback from people in the congregation has been very similar to that of people who read my writing. So for me, I think the contrast in my vocation as a writer is more between the pastoral nature of a pastor’s calling than the preaching. My pastoral energy goes mostly towards our kids (even though they get my cranky-self as much as my pastoral self), but writing gives me a way to communicate with lots of flexibility.
This article by Alister Chapman at The Huffington Post gives voice to Becker’s own reasons for continuing to call herself an “evangelical.”
Got a question for Becker? Leave it below.
Tomorrow, the second and final installment of our interview.