Side-Hugs, the Story of My Book, and My Plan to Change the World
Tonight I got to meet and chat with Jon Acuff, writer of the hilarious Stuff Christians Like blog. Jon might be the funniest person I know-- just read some of his tweets. He also has a new book out titled Quitter, which he's conspicuously holding in the picture below. (And seeing how Jon is the King of Side-Hugs, any other pose for our photo would have been disappointing.)
Jon has significantly impacted not only me, but the upcoming Church and New Media book. Here's how:
Jon began blogging as an ordinary, white-collar worker, posting on the side in his spare time. He loved to write and felt as if writing was a real calling, but he also knew he needed to work a "normal" job to support his family. Reconciling those two longings was increasingly difficult.
Instead of quitting his job and becoming an author, something he longed to do, he turned his sights to the blogosphere. He started the Stuff Christians Like blog in 2008 and quickly gained a huge following. Using satire and humor, Jon sought to "clear away the clutter of Christianity in order to see the beauty of Christ."
Eventually, Jon's blog led to a book with the same name: Stuff Christians Like. Back in February 2010, I wrote the first review of the book. I found it not only inspiring—there was depth beyond the satire—but also fuel for my own ambitions as a writer.
I had been blogging for about three years when the book came out, and though I had hoped to write a book someday, I never thought it would actually happen. I was a marginal writer at best, but besides that I thought that someone working a forty-hour-a-week, white-collar job could never write a book. Only real authors wrote books and only people who wrote for a living were real authors.
Around this time, I was approached by an editor friend from Our Sunday Visitor, the country’s largest Catholic publisher. He proposed a book exploring the relationship between the Church and modern communication technology—things like blogs, Facebook, and Youtube. Inspired by Jon's own example, I took a huge leap of faith and sent in a book proposal.
Just weeks later, I got word that my proposal had been accepted. The Church and New Media was born. And I began to piece together my book.
Fast-forwarding a couple months, I had a shocking revelation. I realized as I was praying about the book that I was not supposed to make any money off it. Now that may sound terribly odd to some, and annoyingly humble to others. The first group would be right, but the second group would be wrong. This realization shouldn't be seen as a sign of great humility. On my own, I would not choose to shun the royalties--give me the gold!--but while praying I had this clear sense that the royalties were not owed to me. Something within me felt compelled to give away what wasn't mine to keep.
But I then had to figure out how to give the money away. And here's where Jon entered the picture again. I remembered that he launched a project on his blog a few months earlier. Hoping to use his platform for good, Jon requested donations from blog followers to help build a kindergarten in Vietnam. Shockingly, the group--of which I was excitedly part!--raised enough money to build an entire kindergarten--$30,000 worth of donations.
The money was collected in just 18 hours. And for good measure, readers added another $30,000 over the next few weeks.
One blog, twenty-five days, two kindergartens--and hundreds of little lives changed halfway across the globe. A single man blogging from a cubicle was able to change a corner of the world solely through his keyboard.
So with that as my inspiration, I wondered whether I could do something similar with The Church and New Media. I prayed for a long while. I tossed around some ideas with friends. And I finally settled on the perfect idea: 100% of the royalties from The Church and New Media would go toward building a school computer lab in the Archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya.
Here's why: a major danger of our New Media Age is a deepening of the so-called ‘digital divide.' Those without online skills will be increasingly separated from the rest of the world in the coming years, both socially and economically. The royalties for this book--along with additional donations--will help curb this trend, at least in one small corner of society. Besides providing computers, the royalties will also cover computer literacy training for the kids. The Church and New Media will then be a ticket to the ‘digital continent' for many Kenyan children.
So thanks to Jon's example, I'm living out dreams I never thought would be possible. Even while working a nine-to-five office job, I've now written a book. Even as a novice writer, I've turned my words into gifts for children on the other side of the world. God has taken a completely ordinary situation and weaved it into an extraordinary story.
I can't wait to see the next chapter He spins.