My Last “Next to the Last Word”

Back in the '80s I served for several years as the token male editor for Today's Christian Woman magazine. The editor, Dale Hanson Bourke, asked me to write a column offering a man's point of view. Because Dale as editor had the last word, we called my column, "The Next to the Last Word." I claimed that title, even after I left TCW, and I've used it in this newsletter now for 10 years.

At the coming convention in Colorado Springs, I'll take a few minutes at the business meeting to lay out for you 10 things I'd like to say before I leave EPA. In this space, however, I'll treat just one of those 10.

The Inner Editor

I've noticed that our workshops at the coming convention have placed a minor emphasis on the inner life of the editor. That's new and that's good. In fact, perhaps, sometime we should place a major emphasis on this aspect of our role. Often outsiders look at editing and think it's a matter of working with words on a page. Anyone who has spent any time in the job knows that the relational side of editing—i.e., working with people—and the personal development of the editor are equally important.

I attended my first EPA convention in January 1959, in Chicago. (We used to hold these in the winter, but, sensibly, we changed to spring). I had been on my first job out of school only three weeks when my editor at Moody magazine told me, "Get your coat. We're going downtown to a convention."

That morning I walked into a large room in the LaSalle Hotel, and there were my heroes—men like Bill Peterson and Russ Hitt from Eternity magazine and Joe Bayly, editor of His magazine. They were the Terry Whites and Doug Troutens and Chuck Johnsons of our day, and I wanted to be like them. What struck me, however, was that they were truly humble men. Rather than treat me as a kid right out of school (which I was), they accepted me as a peer and as part of the family. I also noticed that they displayed that same humility and vulnerability in their writing, and I assumed that it rubbed off on their publications.

The Courage to Be Weak

Today in our success-driven society being number one is important. As a result I fear we have difficulty in appropriating the doctrine of submission and all that Paul writes in 2 Corinthians about God using the weak things of the world. In his little book, "A Spirituality of the Road," David Bosch reminds us, "Weakness is an authentic characteristic of the apostolic ministry . . . . The church is not made up of spiritual giants; only broken men [and women] can lead others to the cross." Ministry depends on our vulnerability—in our relationship with each other and in our writing.

I don't know about you, but I'm more quickly moved by writing in which the writer is able to pull back the mask and reveal a little of the real self underneath. Philip Yancey does this well. So did Henri Nouwen. Complete honesty lends authenticity to our lives and to our writing. Yet we are more comfortable looking good.

EPA editors, I believe, need what Bosch calls, "The courage to be weak."

To communicate honestly, we need to recognize the depth of sin in us and not present ourselves as those who have it all together. Ministry grows out of our vulnerability, recognizing our weaknesses, letting them hang out, and letting God use them. The root of the word "vulnerable" is "wounded," which we all are. I like Henri Nouwen's phrase "wounded healer." That's a great definition of a Christian editor. We are those imperfect, fallen, broken people who are trying to bring God's healing to other imperfect, fallen and broken people, and He has told us that it is these lowly and weak things that he will use.

What this all comes down to is that the measure of your spiritual life is the measure of the spiritual life of your publication. Anne Lamott tells about an eight-year-old boy who was informed that, without a transfusion, his younger sister would die. His parents told him that if his blood was compatible with his sister's blood, he could donate and save her life. So they tested his blood and found it was the same type, but he asked if he could think about it overnight. "The next day, LaMott writes "he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put into the girl's IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, 'How soon until I start to die?'" The boy's willingness to die to self is what vulnerability is all about. His question is a good one for all of us in EPA to ask.

Ron Wilson served as the executive director for EPA from 1992 to 2002. He presented this speech at the 2002 convention in Colorado Springs.