A Conversation with Joan Ball, Author of Flirting with Faith
1. What compelled you to write Flirting with Faith?
Flirting with Faith was not my first book idea. I had written a proposal for a book called “From Debate to Dialog: Bridging the Spiritual Communication Gap” that included a rather self-righteous treatise on the ills of self-righteousness. I was completely unaware of the hypocrisy of the organized-religion-has-it-wrong-but-I-have-it-right posture I’d taken in that first proposal until I was told that it it “felt like someone was wagging a finger” at the reader. Once I recovered from the bruising to my ego, I became curious about this apparent blind spot and decided to stop writing for publication until I could better understand the disconnect between my desire to share the story of my faith and my impulse to condescend. After 18-months of soul-searching I began writing again and Flirting with Faith was the result.
2. You plumb some harrowing moments in your life, both pre- and post-conversion. Were any particularly difficult to revisit?
I have said more than once that the years following my conversion to Christianity have been some of the most wonderful and most difficult in my life. Revisiting the challenges we’ve faced since 2003 and the years I spent as a single mother in the 1990s was both difficult and cleansing. I am sure I have more depths to plumb as I continue forward as a writer.
3. Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing this book?
I’m not sure if it is new or just a confirmation that I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. While this might appear to be a virtue, perfectionism can hamper creativity. I wonder how my writing will change as I continue to learn to let go and let God.
4. You go into great detail about specific moments and experiences during your first years as a new Christian. How did you recall these instances? Did you utilize journals or other artifacts to remember the specificities of these memories?
In the months and years following my conversion I filled dozens of journals and notebooks with thoughts, reflections, prayers and questions. I initially thought I would reread all 40+ of them prior to writing the book, but things did not evolve that way. Instead I would recall a situation and find a journal that covered that time period. Some day I would love to take them to a little house by the ocean and read them all cover to cover. I’m guessing there are some more interesting stories in there.
5. Because this is a work of non-fiction, the reader can infer that the other people who populate your story are not constructions, but flesh and blood persons who you know personally, like your husband and your various mentors. Were you afraid that these people would not like how they are portrayed in Flirting with Faith?
I did my best to respect the privacy of the people I write about in this book. Names are changed in some cases and details (expecially regarding my children) are kept to a minimum. I did my best to get things right, including giving early drafts to my family and people who lived through circumstances with me to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. That said, I am sure there will be people who are made uncomfortable by my story and the parts they played in it. I’ll have to cross those bridges when I come to them.
6. In the last few years there seems to have been a resurgence of spiritual memoirs and tales of people seeking religious guidance. What do you think this says about our current social and moral climate?
I think that we are living in a very complicated society at a very complicated time in our history. Rapid changes in the way people live and communicate with one another are resulting in us being both more and less connected than ever before. Post-modernism and the propensity for relativism challenges traditional concepts of faith, morality and virtue in a way that raises a lot of questions and people, rather than keeping quiet, are asking them. I hope that this book becomes part of that conversation.
7. The ending of Flirting with Faith is exceptionally evenhanded. Rather than supply an overly optimistic finale, you close with a complete transcript of Brother Robert’s speech and hopeful reflections on the difficulties and joys of religious living. What message were you hoping to convey with this conclusion?
I’m not sure I had a particular message in mind other than it being an honest assessment of where I am on this faith journey. The story of my experience with God does not create a pristine Hollywood arc: girl meets God and everything ends happily ever after. This is a process, a commitment, and I am still unclear about exactly where all of this is taking me. The best I can do is listen and try to do the next right thing.
8. Your do not shy away from sharing with readers your moments of doubt and confusion about religion and God. What advice would you offer to people who might be experiencing similar struggles? Are there any particular methods you found healing or that alleviated extreme doubt?
The best advice I could give someone who is confused or in doubt is to allow themselves to stay there rather than attempting to take steps to make it go away (such as pretending to believe or hastily abandoning faith to return to comfortable answers). The doubt, confusion and uncertainty are part of the process and there is much to be learned by pressing through them in pursuit of a deeper understanding of God.
9. You’ve made serious lifestyle changes during the course of your life. Not only have you embraced a Christian way of life, but you’ve battled alcoholism, changed career paths multiple times, and even uprooted your family from your home. Do you wish any of these events turned out differently? Do you regret any of the paths you’ve followed on your spiritual journey?
If I regret any of it I would have to regret all of it, since I needed to live every moment of the life I have lived to become the woman I am today.
10. How has your faith grown now that you’ve completed Flirting with Faith? Have your beliefs changed in any way?
My faith grows and changes every day. I recently had some experiences that are pointing me in the direction of my next book. I learned so much and changed so much in the process of living and writing this book, so I am confident even more will be revealed.