On a Thursday afternoon in September 2016, Peter Greer scribed notes on his whiteboard as Jill Heisey and I kicked around ideas about a new book project. We came into that meeting with very little clarity about what the project would become. We left that meeting with just a bit more clarity, but a shared commitment to pursuing the project together.
In just two weeks, Rooting for Rivalswill be available in hardback and audiobook at all your favorite booksellers. Nearly two years after the genesis meeting, a whiteboard becomes a book. Just for fun, I’ve included the most common questions I get about the book below.
What’s the story behind the name?
The original working title for the book was Open Hands. We also kicked around the title Kingdom First. In the end, we liked Rooting for Rivals because it is both sticky and communicates the heart of the book. It was on a trip to Australia, however, where we learned that “rooting” holds quite lewd undertones Down Under. While blushing during a meeting with an Australian director of a Baptist camping ministry, I asked if we should consider changing the title. Without hesitation, he responded, “Absolutely not. Most Australians understand the American use of the word. And, you’ll likely sell more copies in Australia if you keep it as-is.”
What role do your agents play?
Andrew Wolgemuth was our agent for both Mission Driftand Rooting for Rivals. Andrew (also my brother-in-law!) is an agent with Wolgemuth & Associates (“W&A”). Akin to sports agents with athletes, literary agents help authors pitch their ideas and serve as guides to the confusing world of book publishing. We’ve said this elsewhere, but Andrew and the W&A team—Robert, Erik, and Austin—are the very best in the business. I’m obviously biased, but these guys are capable, faithful advisors and friends.
Who is the publisher?
Like with Mission Drift, Andy McGuire at Bethany House (an imprint of Baker Publishing Group) believed in this project and believed in us from the very beginning. The first time around, we pitched Mission Drift to a slew of publishers. Because of that experience, though, this time we went straight to, and only to, Andy. What stands out about Andy and the Bethany/Baker team is their genuine enthusiasm for these ideas.
What was Jill Heisey’s role?
Better question: What wasn’t her role? Jill and I both joined HOPE’s staff in 2006. During the last 12 years, she has worked in a whole host of full-time and part-time roles. But, in every assignment, she demonstrated her gifts as a writer, editor, and thinker. Jill sharpened our thinking and refined our writing. That she agreed to work with the two of us makes Peter and I forever in her debt. It’s not an exaggeration say this book wouldn’t exist if not for Jill. I’ll also note the roles of Brianna Lapp and Tom Lin. Brianna joined HOPE’s staff midway through this project and has played an important project management role over the last year. Tom embodies the principles in the book and wrote an exceptional foreword.
What’s it like to co-author?
Writing with Peter Greer is like sparring with a grizzly bear while riding a bull.
In seriousness, writing with Peter makes both of us better. He invites critique and offers it. He puts forward bold goals and invites helpful constraints. Our team used a shared Google Doc to draft, suggest edits, and collaborate. It became a bit unruly when the draft surpassed 30,000 words. But, otherwise, we found it to be a big improvement over emailing Word documents back-and-forth like we did last time. Some people ask if Peter is involved in the nuts-and-bolts or just the big ideas of the book. And, I can honestly say it’s both. Despite leading a full life and a growing organization, he is actively involved from start-to-finish.
Who financially profits from the book?
The Kingdom! Unless your last name is Rowling or Sparks, writing is not lucrative work. But, Peter and I have committed all the royalties from this project to HOPE and other like-minded churches and ministries. So when you buy a copy or a case (thanks, Mom!), you can trust it’s lining God’s pockets, not our own.
Why the seven deadly sins? …and the 2×2?
On the whiteboard in Peter’s office, we scribbled out a bunch of chapter ideas about how open-handed faith-based nonprofit leaders operated in contrast to close-fisted leaders: Covet vs. Celebrate, Hero vs. Humility, Enemies vs. Allies, etc. As these ideas germinated, we discovered our somewhat arbitrary list tightly mapped to a more time-tested list: the seven deadly sins. An early iteration of this concept, circa March 2017, shows a snapshot of the progression of the chapter outline.
The version of the 2×2 we included in the book emerged from the brilliance of Madi Burke. Madi, then a college student interning with us in Lancaster, suggested we consider Augustine’s categorization of sin as deficient love, excessive love, or misdirected love. These categories proved enormously helpful in organizing a 2×2 that was at that point still very much a work-in-progress (an earlier draft also included here, just for fun). Those two organizing frameworks helped to make sense of the book’s main ideas.
Are you doing anything fun to launch this book?
Yes! A group of 180 friends, family, and co-workers signed up to help us launch the book (THANK YOU!). With the tutelage and hosting of our colleague, Blake Mankin, we are producing a six-episode Rooting for Rivals podcast series. We interviewed a few of our heroes and can’t wait for you to hear directly from them. We also have a series of videos forthcoming where we’re not promoting the book but practicing it—actually rooting for our rivals. Be on the lookout.
What do your kids think about Rooting for Rivals?
My kids—ages 7, 3, and 1—are absolutely pumped about it. Apart from our oldest, all they know about the book is that the only pictures are tiny author headshots. Still, when I first saw the final product, they expressed their enthusiasm in their own unique ways:
Many other friends—some of you are reading this very post—volunteered to help launch Rooting for Rivals. Thank you, thank you.
Naomi sat contentedly on my lap, fingers from one hand in her mouth, fingers from the other gripping her new toy. We quietly watched her two sisters and three cousins—all between the ages of twenty months and five and half years—chase, dance, and laugh back and forth as parents and grandparents tried to corral them in the direction of the bathrooms.
The group was louder and more rambunctious than is appropriate for a courthouse (juvenile or otherwise), but, hey, some celebrating was in order. The Honorable Judge Woods had—mere minutes before—heeded the recommendations of Denver Human Services and Naomi’s Guardian Ad Litem. He’d declared Naomi to be the newest member of our family.
I was thrilled and exhausted and doing my best to relish the deep joy and humbling honor of officially becoming Naomi’s forever dad. Naomi was thrilled because the judge had given her a rubber ducky, exhausted because the courthouse events delayed her morning nap, and simply relishing the boisterous joy of her cousins and siblings. And so we sat quietly enjoying a Friday morning unlike any other we’ve experienced.
As the bathroom round-up continued, a young woman crested the top of the stairway across the hall. She glanced around, and then moseyed over to Naomi and my bench. Spinning and sitting, she sighed lightly.
“What are you here for?” She looked at us sideways, just her left eye visible.
I couldn’t help but smile. “We just finalized our adoption.” Nodding towards Naomi. “This is my new daughter.”
Her sideways stare broke; her gaze snapped forward. A quick nod was all the acknowledgement she gave. Well, huh.
I didn’t offer a return question, but she broke the silence. “Do you know who I am?”
I might have smirked. Did she think I had a mental roster of all that morning’s hearings? The 10.00am event in Courtroom F was the only one I’d paid any attention to.
The sideways stare returned. Ignoring my reply, she went on: “I’m here to learn my program.” My expression made it clear that I wasn’t following. She continued, “I gave birth on Monday.” Strong emotion played on the half of her face that I could see. “They took her. I just want to see her. She’s with a foster family now. They’re going to tell me my rehab program…tell me what I need to do to get her back.”
This time my eyes broke away. The emotion opposite the joy Naomi, my family, and I felt sat next to me, embodied in this woman. I was stunned. Subdued. “I…I’m…I’m sorry.”
She shared a bit more—the state’s concerns, her fears. I responded haltingly, poorly, saying not a single one of the kind phrases that have occurred to me in the weeks since. I failed to ask her name; to let her know that I’d pray for her and her daughter; to ask how I might be able to help.
Naomi’s new siblings and cousins were fleeing the restrooms. Their respective parents and grandparents followed, now corralling kids towards the elevators. I stood, shifted Naomi to my hip, and stumbled through some parting words: I hoped she could complete her rehab program; I needed to go. And then I did.
I recently read Kathryn Joyce’s Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, a book about Christians and adoption and troubling issues that Joyce believes underlie much of the Evangelical “orphan care movement.” The book has garnered critical attention as Jedd Medefind, the President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, wrote a “frank analysis” and rebuttal while Jonathan Merritt ably reviewed the work for Books & Culture. Like both Medefind and Merritt, I found plenty to dislike in Joyce’s book (perspectives and presentations that are unfair and ungracious) as well as much to be challenged by (stories and observations that made me uncomfortable and pushed my thinking). All told, the book was a difficult but worthwhile read for me, and—despite its weaknesses—it forced a couple of important ideas into my mind.
Chiefly, adoption is critical and important and desperately needed in situations around the world…but it’s not the only tool in the proverbial tool kit. I knew this before I read Joyce and I’ve celebrated that Christians are involved in all manner of ministry, development, and social work, but Child Catchers was a helpful reminder. At its best, adoption provides a “forever family” to a child who lacks one, but a lot of things have gone wrong—a birth family has experienced tragedy; a community has proven unable to support birth parents; etc.—for that point to be reached.
Sometimeswell intentionedhelping hurts. Sometimes we don’t think through the long-term impacts of our actions; sometimes the unintended consequences of our attempted good works are harmful. What is true of charity is true of adoption as well: at times it’s best for the child and the birth parents and at other times it’s not. One size does not fit all. There are situations where foundational causes can be addressed, while there are also other times where painful situations must be dealt with as best we can.
These key ideas popped up again and again through Child Catchers, and I’ll remember the most critical of them in this short-hand: Don’t forget the first mother. Don’t forget the birth families.
And so I pray for the lady who sat next to Naomi and me at the courthouse. I hope she completed her rehab program; I hope she has encouragement and support as she works to make a safe and loving home.
As jarring as it was to encounter her sad and difficult situation alongside our great joy, I’m grateful for the perspective that it provided. Naomi’s birth certificate displays Chrissy and me as her mother and father. Indeed we are, through and through and forever. But somewhere out there are a woman and a man who will always be her birth mom and her birth dad.
We don’t know much of their story. We don’t know where they are now or what their lives look like.
I hope that they have more than a stranger on a courthouse bench to share their travails with. I hope there are believers in their lives, listening, encouraging, assisting. Loving them as we’re loving their daughter.
Regardless, they’re in our prayers. Lord, have mercy. And may the church as well.
For the 100th blog post on Smorgasblurb, we are celebrating by trying something new: A guest writer. Andrew Wolgemuth is equal parts family and friend. He also knows more about the business of writing than just about anyone I know. After substantial prodding, he obliged my requests to begin writing publicly. Enjoy.
The arena was full; 13,000 energized people in attendance. The booming music faded, the fog machines slowed their output, and now silence reigned as our attention focused on a single individual on the stage. Bryan Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, delivered a powerful and challenging message. Much of what he said that day has rumbled in my mind in the months since, but one phrase remains particularly disturbing. He stated that, “We have a system of justice [in the U.S.] that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack and examine in that sentence, but in essence: with resources one can gain advocacy; with skilled advocacy one can gain the desired outcome (justice or otherwise).
As stark and jarring as Stevenson’s claim might be, I quickly recalled many supporting examples. The celebrity who receives a mere hand-slap despite the heinous and public nature of his actions. The individual who did time for a wrongful conviction isn’t leaving prison to return to a C-level position in an S&P 500 company.
Stevenson’s disturbing statement came to mind last month as I read John Grisham’s The Litigators, an enjoyable, lawyer-laden novel in which several disadvantaged groups face challenging odds. Most prominently, a widely-prescribed medication apparently comes with deadly side effects. The families of the deceased – often in dire straights – can hardly win a courtroom stare-down with the deep-pocketed pharmaceutical company producing the drug. Fortunately for them, assistance comes from the abundance of lawyers who rush to their defense while the possibility of an (approximately) ginormous settlement looms. When the case develops further and that settlement looks a bit doubtful, however, many of the talented litigators find other more promising cases to pursue.
In his tried-and-true, page-turning style, Grisham illustrated Stevenson’s startling statement: Justice is often more difficult to find when the victim lacks resources. Advocates for the disadvantaged are hard to come by.
As the calendar flipped from November to December, this lesson cast a new light on the joy and beauty of Christmas. For in the Incarnation, we gained the ultimate advocate. Despite my tremendous lack of resources, despite my unquestioned guilt, a peasant woman gave birth to a son and he was called Immanuel. ”God with us.” From the most unlikely of places, for the most undeserving of people, just the advocate that I needed. And the right advocate makes all the difference.