From historical analysis to humor, a growing number of Seattle Pacific University graduates are wielding the pen in diverse and influential ways. You might see the writings of SPU alumni at the newsstand, in the local bookstore or on an international best-sellers' list.
Poets, journalists, academics, theologians and novelists, they share a common calling: to write, and to write well. Whether they sell in the thousands or the millions of copies, each of the following five Seattle Pacific alumni authors has a unique voice and a compelling message.
Jeffrey Overstreet '94
Jeff Overstreet's passion is excellence in the arts. By day a writer and editor of public relations materials for the City of Seattle, after hours he writes fantasy fiction, and essays and arts reviews for magazines. The Crossing, the newsletter for Christian artists that he edits, has subscribers around the world.
"I want to challenge Christian artists not to compromise their art to please anyone but God," says Overstreet. "God's visionaries have always done things that even the faithful found unsettling."
Overstreet was himself "unsettled" beneath the tutelage of SPU faculty. "Rose Reynoldson, Luke Reinsma, and above all Linda Wagner, have nourished my spirit and helped me refine my craft."
From "Peeling Potatoes to Perfection: An Exhortation to Excellence," Anglican Arts; Christianity and the Arts; The Crossing; and The New Christian Herald:
"Presenting our best for God's glory is not a new priority; it has been our charge since Adam and Eve taught Cain and Abel. If God demands the best, why now do believers so rarely create an album, a painting, a play or a novel so excellent, people around the world are astonished? (Don't get me wrong. Our goal is not to astonish people, but if we truly seek excellence for God's glory, people often will be astonished. God's work, when done right, is first class.) Surely we preach the gospel for God's glory. We sing gospel songs, paint Bible story scenes, and decorate church sanctuaries for God's glory. These are all fine arts that serve a purpose.
"But what happened to writing a song of adoration for one's true love, and writing it as best it can be written, for God's glory? What about photographing canyons, catastrophes, crime scenes, and cute babies, all for God's glory? Must an artist of faith make apology for such 'non-religious' pursuits?
". . .A Christian painter's only worthwhile work seems to be painting scenes about the faith; painting in faith is becoming a lost art."
Marilyn Ricker Meberg '61
Marilyn Meberg likes to view life through the lens of humor. The admittedly hyperactive comedienne and marriage and family counselor is a pastor's kid who advises others to take a fun approach to everything, not as a denial of life's pain but as a demonstration of Christ's redemptive work.
"It's a choice," says the best-selling author of upbeat Christian devotionals who eight years ago lost her husband, Kenneth Meberg '60, to cancer. "I choose optimism. It feels better."
She's delivered that message in four books, two of them co-authored with popular ladies of laughter Patsy Clairmont, Barbara Johnson and Luci Swindoll. The foursome also takes their witty wisdom on the road to 30 arenas a year as part of the national "Women of Faith Joyful Journey" tour.
From I'd Rather Be Laughing (Word Publishing, 1998):
"During my growing up years, almost every evening was spent with the sound of my mother's well-modulated voice reading aloud to my father. Together they read nearly all the classics of literature. The memory of her sitting at the end of the couch next to the lamp while Dad languidly stretched out with his head in her lap fills me with soft peace. Dad's favorite author was Charles Dickens. I'm sure it was the writer's high-spirited humor and genius for caricature that so charmed my father.
"A character in David Copperfield named Mrs. Gummidge for some reason tickled my father enormously. She was a cheerless, dreary person who was constantly saying, 'I'm a poor, lone creature, and everything goes contrary with me.' Dad taught me to repeat that line when I was four years old. We could be anywhere, and out of the blue Dad would say, 'Now, Marilyn, what is it Mrs. Gummidge says?' In the flat voice Dad had coached me to use for this quote, I would assume a grim face and sorrowfully intone, 'I'm a poor, lone creature, and everything goes contrary with me.'
"Dad usually asked me to say the line when we were around people, and the laughing response from them was immensely satisfying to the budding ham within me."
Joseph Huffman '82
"History grows on you," says Joseph Huffman. He ought to know. Huffman's SPU career was followed by graduate study in history at Western Michigan University's Medieval Institute, UCLA and the universities of Regensburg and Cologne. His resulting degrees -- two M.A.'s and a Ph.D. -- have enabled him to teach his favorite subject at Westmont College and now Messiah College, where he is associate professor of European history.
"The Middle Ages are a foil for my thinking," says Huffman, who's currently researching his third book on medieval life and thought. "I am particularly fascinated by the modern stereotypes of the Middle Ages and how they reveal more about ourselves than about the actual medieval world. History is like a mirror. Look into it long enough and you will see yourself."
From Family, Commerce, and Religion in Medieval London and Cologne: Anglo-German Emigrants, c. 1000 c. 1300 (Cambridge University Press, 1998):
"For the majority of English-speaking historians of medieval Europe, whose education and research have been centered on Anglo-French concerns, medieval Germany evokes images of life more akin to early-modern Germany after the Thirty Years War: an economically backward region of Europe devastated by warfare, constantly harassed by famine and disease, where the middle class lagged far behind their Anglo-French counterparts, and where political polycentrism and the lack of a strong centralized government assured this curious collage of principalities a status of underdevelopment and cultural sterility. In this vision, Cologne is more conceptually 'east' . . . than the geography of Europe even allows, and thus not part of western Europe properly understood.
"Happily, this was not the Germany of the Central Middle Ages. . . .Germany not only constantly received the cultural and economic impulses from the western European and Mediterranean regions, but also came to serve a mediating role between these regions and the north and east of Europe. . . .it is time that Germany is grafted more soundly onto the historiography of the medieval West."
Margaret Smith '80
Margaret Smith knew as a student at SPU that she wanted to co-author a book of poetry with English professor Rose Reynoldson. The desire was mutual and the book published by Inchbird Press in 1982 was titled The Rose and the Pearl.
"Writing was the career I wanted to pursue," says Smith. "Rose saw to that."
A teacher of poetry and journal-keeping at writers' conferences, Smith is working on a screenplay of her published love story in sonnet form, A Holy Struggle: Unspoken Thoughts of Hopkins, based on the life of Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. She is also celebrating the recent release of her third solo book, Made With Love, that encourages others to glorify God by exercising creativity.
From Made With Love (Tyndale House Publishers, 1998):
"Creativity can be found in whatever God the Creator has made: bright blue salamanders, unfurling jack-in-the-pulpit blooms, improbable pelicans. We can hear an echo of this busy, holy creativity in those people who follow God's inventive example. Among them are craftspeople who love to make functional objects of beauty.
"Throughout my life, I've found creative people who were patient enough to demonstrate to me their particular crafts. As I look back, I find that they were also giving me insights into God's character. . . .My grandfather demonstrated the humility of Jesus. A Native American weaver showed me how God cares for families through generations.
". . .God is the Great Handcrafter, the one who tells the dawn to 'grasp the earth by its edges' and dyes the land 'like a garment.' God the Craftsman in his studio lets us sit beside him like minor apprentices, watching, asking questions, until finally we are ready to work on our own imaginative handcrafts, inspiring others in turn."
Eugene Peterson '54
While grinding hamburger in his father's butcher shop in Kalispell, Montana, teenager Eugene Peterson listened intently to the earthy talk of lumberjacks and ranch hands. A generation later, that plain speaking and lively conversation would come back to him when, as minister, scholar, theology professor and author of 28 books, he dared pen a new paraphrase of the Bible.
The Message that resulted is an international bestseller, full of bold nuances of character and rich expression. To date, more than 5.5 million copies of the New Testament paraphrase and allied products have been sold.
"Its success came as a great surprise to me," says Peterson. "But many people had never read the Bible before, or quit reading it years ago. The Message drew them in."
From The Message (Navpress, 1993):
"You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.
"Why are you so polite with me, always saying 'Yes, sir,' and 'That's right, sir,' but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.
"If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss."
Editor's Note: We hope to print a follow-up feature sometime soon with more excerpts from alumni writings. If you're an alumni author, or if you know of one, we'd like to hear from you. Send the writer's name and a list of publications to Editor, Response, Seattle Pacific University, 3307 Third Avenue West, Seattle, Washington 98119.