Justin Wiggins interview...
A couple of weeks back, Justin Wiggins, author of Surprised by Agape, came to visit. Over pizza at the Whistle Stop Cafe, we invited him to do a guest post on Drovers Gap Blog. The interview that follows is the result. Enjoy.
HM: Surprised by Agape has been well received. Do you have another book in the works?
JW: First, I should like to say that I have been very thankful for everyone’s support of Surprised by Agape. I am thankful for all of the post on social media, the book reviews, and having people tell me what the book has meant to them personally, including yourself. I have gladly promoted friends’ books, podcast, music, and business. I am very thankful for the community that I have. As for working on another book, I have had an idea to write a book about favorite books, anywhere from Jane Eye’s Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, George MacDonald’s Diary of An Old Soul, to C.S.Lewis’s Perelandra, and others. I would focus on particular themes, and maybe find a unifying theme in them all. Perhaps the correlation between daily life and artistic storytelling? It has been coming along, and has been quite challenging, but also quite fun. My publisher, Mr. Grant Hudson of Clarendon House Publications in Sheffield, England, has expressed interest in it.
HM: Oxford and Black Mountain seem like very different places, yet you seem at home in both. Do they share a common attraction for you, or does each offer you a unique experience?
JW: Oxford, England and Black Mountain, North Carolina are certainly different, because, they are very different places culturally, historically, and geographically, but I feel right at home in the shire of Montreat and Black Mountain, and though I was in Oxford for only ten days March of last year, I felt right at home, which sounds comical, but nonetheless, it is a true statement. The trip to Oxford changed my life. Getting to see many places associated with my favorite writer was, well, quite epic.
HM: In your book, you describe the literary and musical influences on your spiritual growth. Has your taste in reading and music changed over the years? What recent discoveries have you made in books and music that excite you now?
JW: As for different musical influences, I have recently been listening to quite a lot of U2, but I always go back to the same musicians that have influenced me, like Switchfoot, Josh Garrels, Jon Foreman, Enya, Howard Shore’s composition of The Lord of the Rings, Simon and Garfunkel, Johnny Cash, and classic rock like Boston, Bon Jovi, The Eagles, The Cars, Lynyrd Skynyrd and others. I am always open to listening to new music, and I do enjoy discovering new musicians. As for new books I have recently read, I have really enjoyed Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well: Finding The Good Life Through Great Books, Dr. Don Kings’ edited Out of My Bone The Collected Letters of Joy Davidman, Sarah Arthur’s A Light So Lovely The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, more poetry, Patti Callahan’s Becoming Mrs. Lewis, which is about C.S. Lewis’s wife Joy Davidman, Douglas Gresham’s biography of his stepfather called Jack’s Life, and your own book Dark On The Mountain I am still making my way through, which I am enjoying it immensely. And of course, I am always reading something by George MacDonald and C.S.Lewis.
HM: Do you follow a daily spiritual discipline of prayer and devotion? Could you describe it for us?
JW: Each day, for a time of contemplative prayer, I like to use J. Philip Newell’s wonderful book Celtic Benediction Morning and Night Prayer, which has been incredibly spiritually nourishing. It has an Old Testament and New Testament reading for the day, and really rich and poignant Celtic prayers that are always important reminders. I also write every day, and say sporadic prayers of panic, confession, adoration, joy, praise, and delight.
HM: What has drawn you to participate in a liturgical worship community? Is it primarily the people you have met there, or do you find something especially powerful and healing in the liturgy itself?
JW: I simply love the community aspect of a liturgical and sacramental service, and feel as if I am partaking in something mystical, like the early church did in the first century, which cannot be described in human logic.
HM:In Surprised by Agape. you wrote about the capacity of fiction to communicate spiritual truths. Have you been writing any fiction yourself?
JW: I have tried my hand at writing some poetry and fiction, which has certainly challenged me as a writer. I had one idea for a work of fiction that is about a letter correspondence between a musician and a writer. It has been coming along, surely, but slowly.
HM: How is your engagement with the natural world informing your spiritual life? We live in a culture that isolates us from our origins in nature. Is ecological awareness necessary for a Christian?
JW: Whether I am in North Carolina, or some other state, the natural world is incredibly important, because it reflects the goodness, love, and glory of The Creator, and is simply essential to life. I know our human tribe has sometimes not done a good job of preserving the natural world, but I am glad that there are people out there who do understand the importance of doing so, and, by their actions, do whatever it is they can in regard to preserving it. I certainly do believe ecological is important for any Christian, because though this world is fallen and broken, it still reflects the goodness, love, and glory of The Creator, whose goodness and love trumps the darkness, brokenness, and evil. I believe that people of all worldviews have a duty to really understand the importance of ecological awareness, and to do something about it, whatever that means in the context of their vocation and experience.
HM: A lot of young seekers now seem alienated from institutional religion. Do you think one can live a viable life of faith apart from an organized fellowship of believers?
JW: First, I would like to say that I completely understand why many people don’t want to have anything to do with organized religion. There has been so much brainwashing and fundamentalism around, which turns many people away. I have met many incredible people who have had quite a bad experience with a particular denomination or theology. That is not everyone’s experience of course, and also, any worldview can be used in an unhealthy way. I was thankful myself to be raised and taught the virtues of faith, hope, and love by my family, but the culture around Eastern, North Carolina where I grew up, is rampant with the cultural religious fundamentalism. I personally had many questions, father abandonment struggles, and a great spiritual yearning to know if there really was a good and loving Creator. Through all of that, and discovering the power of music, literature, and art, I embraced faith, years ago. It was the best decisions that I ever made, and through that, I learned not to throw rocks at people I strongly disagreed with. It is important to love people, even if they think your views on things are strange, unorthodox according to their own view of ‘orthodoxy’ or whatever.
As for the importance of a community of believers, speaking myself personally, I could not be without a community of believers. Yet, I am one of those Christians that does believe there can be people of different spiritual worldviews that can live a life of faith apart from an organized fellowship of believers. I have seen it myself, and know people that do. It is an interesting thought you know? It brings to my mind the reality of The Creator revealing Himself to different cultures, and people His own way. C.S.Lewis, and George MacDonald’s theology, which is rich, have taught me quite a lot about this, and reminded me to not have an us/vs them mentality, or who is in and who is out of the kingdom. That stuff is a bunch of racket, and not good for one’s sanity and spiritual health. The Agape Love of Christ sets one free, and brings great joy.
HM: What comes next in your journey – writing, study, teaching, travel? England or Appalachia? Where is your life taking you from here? Do you expect more surprises?
JW: I am of course just taking it one day at a time, but for now I am not planning on moving to England to go to Oxford Brookes University because of an unforeseen, but very joyful thing which has recently happened in my own life. It could possibly mean moving to Texas eventually, and I am up for that adventure.
HM: Where would you like to go on your next road trip? Who would you like to have along for conversation?
JW: As for traveling to somewhere, next time, I will be flying on March the 12th to Texas, which I greatly look forward too. That should be fun, because I have never been to Texas, and have heard very good things about it, and I am really looking forward to seeing a bonny lass named Melissa.
You can buy Justin Wiggins' book, Surprised by Agape, here.