Favorite Writing Spot: Opening Bell Coffee Shop
Favorite Coffee Shop: Opening Bell Coffee Shop! (I love this place, obviously)
Favorite Music to Write to: Rage Against the Machine
AHD: Your new book “Empathy for the Devil” will be coming out on November 7. Can you tell us a bit about this project? What inspired you to write this piece?
JR: Empathy for the Devil is an experiment in empathy. We seem to be losing the ability to understand people with whom we disagree. I decided to take seven of the worst villains in the Bible and try to put myself (and the reader) in their sandals, so to speak. To do that, I wrote a fictional recounting of the villains’ big moments where they’re the protagonist of the story (so each story becomes a tragedy). The story is then followed by a non-fiction chapter exploring the biblical context and building a bridge to practical application.
AHD: What do you hope readers will take with them after reading your latest book?
JR: If we can understand them, their motivations, their actions, then two things happen: first, we may be able to see ourselves in the villains. We can turn from their path before we walk as far as they did. Secondly, I hope practicing empathy on the likes of Cain, Jezebel and Judas will invite us to pause the next time we are angry at someone who sees the world differently from us. Maybe we can work a little harder to understand them before we rush to disagreement and judgment.
AHD: When and how did you develop a passion for writing? How has that passion evolved over the years?
JR: I started blogging in college (Xanga!) as an outlet for my random thoughts. It certainly helped me to develop my voice. Now I enjoy framing my thoughts in words, building bridges between seemingly unconnected things. For me that’s mostly meant pop culture and Jesus. I love finding a new perspective on an old idea or the hidden gems of insight in a book, TV show or film. Pop culture is popular because it’s speaking to very human conditions. These are the same experiences, beliefs, and perspectives Scripture addresses, and finding those cross-cultural bridges is tremendous fun.
AHD: You are also a pastor at Catalyst church. How has pastoral care informed your work as a writer?
JR: Pastoring keeps me grounded. I am an academic at heart, and my tendency, left unchecked, is to climb the ivory tower and live there. In pastoring, I remember constantly that my art should make a real difference in the world. I never want my writing to be interesting simply for its own sake. I want to contribute to the common good (which is a big reason I love Art House so much).
AHD: How important is community to your writing process?
JR: I’m a collaborator at heart. For me, community provides both accountability and critique, which I need to thrive as an artist. I am constantly striving to improve, and reading articles and books on craft only take me so far. I need to share my work with others, to discuss with them how it’s working and when it’s not. And the old adage is true – you learn best when you teach. The opportunity to workshop with and mentor other writers is invaluable to me in my own writing process.
AHD: You’ve mentioned that you relied on the guidance of writers who went before you as you tried to navigate the writing world. What is one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer?
JR: Write. Write every day. Don’t make excuses. The only way you get better at writing is to write, write, write. Ignore all the excuses from those voices in your head, put your butt in a chair, and write those words.
AHD: Often people are eager to support the arts, but artists and creatives as individuals often get overlooked. Why do you think it is important to support the artist?
JR: Creative work is a draining experience – we put so much thought, emotion and spiritual energy into creating something to give to the world. Very few artists have the constitution to create in a vacuum. By supporting artists, we contribute to their flourishing, and thereby play a part in sharing their good with the world.
AHD: What can we expect to see from you in the future and how can we read your book?
JR: I’m already hard at work on another book about the monsters the Church creates. I also do a weekly e-newsletter where I give pop culture picks, a devotional and a collection of all the podcast episodes, posts, and articles I wrote that week. It’s some of my favorite writing I do each week. You can subscribe at stuffyoullprobablylike.com. As for Empathy for the Devil, it’s available for pre-order at Amazon or InterVarsity Press’ website. And you can come to the book launch (sponsored by Art House Dallas) on October 28 (at Opening Bell Coffee, duh!). That’s the first place you can actually get your hands on it.