Several answers were similar and could be summed up with these three responses: "Boring." "Went to Beach." "Stayed at home." When it got to me, my answer was, "Busy. Busy. Busy." We had just helped our middle daughter's family move three hours away in preparation for a new job (ministry) adventure. This coupled with writing, family life, yard work, and that thing called sleep, there was little time to do anything else but be busy...on of all things, a break.
Enter our next guest. I'm sure she knows all about being busy with life's requests, demands, and everyday requirements. So, pull up a chair, have a sit, and let us welcome to the Florida front porch professor and author, Dr. Sandra Glahn!
Hi, Sandra! Give us a quick bio. In fifty words or less, who is Sandra Glahn?
I’m a seminary professor, author, journalist, Hufflepuff, Enneagram 9 who loves to advocate for thinking that transforms, especially as it relates to art, literature, gender, and first-century backgrounds/history.
I have to admit, I had to look up the Enneagram 9 thing. I had never heard of it. Now that I know what it is, I'm an Enneagram 45 (that's all of them added together, because I can identify with at least one of those descriptions in each of the nine categories. Probably not how it really works, but I've learned I don't always operate as designed, either.)
Before you ever got a notion of becoming a writer/author, how old were you, and what were you doing in that time of your life?
When I was in the second grade, my teacher believed I could write. So she gave me a personalized assignment: I had to write her a new story daily. She never made corrections, but rather exclaimed about how brilliant I was. Third grade came as a shock when I had a teacher who corrected me. But by then it was too late—I had the writing bug.
Still I had missed something essential. When I was in sixth grade, my family moved from Keizer, Oregon, to an urban setting two miles outside of Washington, D.C. I loved that I finally had friends to hang out with in the neighborhood. So I set out to gather the kids on my block to present a play I was going to write. And I got enthusiastic response. So I sat down at my parents’ typewriter, whipped the paper in… and stared at the page. In that moment I realized words would not simply form a plot by themselves. A story had to have characters, setting, and action that led somewhere. I had never noticed someone had to create all those elements—and in drama, they had to happen without the background info a story can provide. I went to the library and found a play we could use so I wouldn’t have to produce one overnight. And I started paying attention to “story” and how it worked.
What educational background do you have?
I started high school in Arlington, Virginia. But in April of my junior year, my mountain-climber dad took early retirement from the government so he could return to the Pacific Northwest. I wore my cap and gown in Albany, Oregon. But ASAP I headed back to the DC area to college and my boyfriend. After we married and finished our bachelor’s degrees, we moved to Dallas so my guy could attend grad school. And I got hired by a big financial-services corporation and assigned to a boss who believed I could write—even though I had no formal training. He sent me to get some training on the company dime. And I became publications editor for an in-house magazine and started freelancing on the side.
When the company sold, I opened a writing business and started taking writing classes at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS)—which has an arts and culture program. I had no intention of getting a degree. But if you “enroll and pass” enough times at a grad school, turns out you’ve earned a degree. So I got a master’s in theology with an emphasis in Media Arts and Ministry. And I began teaching writers there on the side, thanks to my portfolio.
Then I started my PhD at the University of Texas at Dallas in the Arts and Humanities—Aesthetic Studies. An Aesthetic Studies degree requires a three-part emphasis—art, philosophy, and history. For history I chose Ephesus from BC 100 to AD 100; for art I chose literature/the novel (by then I was publishing medical suspense); and for philosophy I chose the history of ideas about gender. Today I’m interim chair of the department at DTS where I started taking classes, working to help students integrate the arts/culture and theology.
I’m going to give you a shotgun list of favorites. List your favorite in each category and then tell us in one sentence why it is your favorite.
Favorite Song of All-Time: The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music.” Greatness.
Favorite Non-Fiction Book (other than your own & besides the Bible): Gospel Women is an academic book that looks at the named women in the Gospels. Seeing how badly we, especially in the West, have misunderstood some of them influenced my decision to serve as general editor of Vindicating the Vixens.
Favorite Bible Verse: I love Lamentations 3:22–23 at its most poetic in the English language—rendered in the King James Version (KJV): “It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” Plus the hymn that puts these lines to music.
Favorite Movie: Three Days of the Condor, Robert Redford version; I love mystery + espionage. There’s no actor who can pull off subtlety like Redford.
Favorite Actor or Actress: I’m partial to Harrison Ford. Star Wars is the gold standard.
Favorite TV Show: My current favorite is Madame Secretary. I love learning government and civics via story vs. listening to lectures. And I appreciate that the show has a character who quotes Aquinas like it’s no big deal.
Favorite Novel (other than your own): I adore The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. I once read the Amazon reviews—there were hundreds of them—and many reviewers claimed the book had moved them from atheism to belief in God.
Favorite Author (other than you): Eugene Peterson, best known for translating “The Message,” has, methinks, the best pastoral helps in the world. Like…his book on Jonah, Under the Unpredictable Plant, is witty and wise. His stuff on subversive spirituality…so much great content.
Favorite Sport: I live in Dallas. Duh. Football.
Favorite Team (Can be any sport, any level): I’ve been a Cowboys fan since long before I moved to Texas. So I come by my fandom honestly.
Favorite Subject in School Growing Up: Whatever had the best teacher. Seventh grade, English. Eighth grade, Science. Ninth grade, Yearbook. Seeing a pattern here? Nope? Yeah, it was the teacher, not the subject.
Favorite Subject Now: Give me history—those reclaiming women, especially. Even an academic book like Gender and Jim Crow. History and English are the best preps possible for a writer—the learning of the rules and the introduction to endless stories.
Favorite Teacher in School: My second-grade teacher at Keizer Elementary, Miss Fikan (later Mrs. McLaughlin), believed I could write. I wish I could find her to tell her how she inspired me.
Favorite Time of the Year: I love Thanksgiving with sweaters after the long Texas sweat-fests called July and August. No pretense or obligation to give in that holiday—just show up with great food to eat more great food and enjoy people you love. (We lived in the Fort Worth area for six months. Everybody said it was a dry heat. They lied.)
Favorite Place to Vacation: Grand Teton National Park is the most beautiful place on earth. Dornan’s for breakfast outside looking up at the range; hiking around Jenny Lake; dogsledding in the winter; powder-blue birds; elk drinking water while steam rises around their ankles.
Favorite Drink: Tall soy mocha, no whip.
Favorite Food: I adore dark chocolate. But there is also this carbonara served by a restaurant in Orvieto, Italy, that makes me swoon.
Do you have a favorite line from a movie or book? If so, what is it and explain why it is special to you?
I love the part in The Velveteen Rabbit about becoming real. And the “grace” scene in Les Mis when the old man hands over the candlesticks to the thief. But even more than these, I love the scene in A Wrinkle in Time where Meg realizes that perfect love casts out fear. I remember where I was standing as a sixth grader when I read that, because the truth of it hit me with so much force. It was several years before I realized L’Engle was weaving in a line from Scripture. The Tale of Two Cities had the same effect on me when one man laid down his life for another.
Don't you love it when literature takes Biblical truth and weaves it into the story, bringing it alive? Besides storytelling, what talents do you have?
I love to sing. And I love to teach—but not in the conventional lecture format. Immersive learning. One course I created for DTS is “Medieval Art and Spirituality,” held biennially in Italy. We stay in monasteries, learn to read visual encyclopedias (i.e., cathedrals), and have long, deep conversations with scholars surrounded by local wines and pasta. The whole world is our classroom as we explore Aquinas and Dante and Catherine and mosaics and Roman ruins.
On the even years, I take students to the UK to explore “British Authors, Biblical Themes.” Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Donne, Herbert, Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton… I can hardly wait to teach these courses every year, because I love seeing my students’ eyes light up learning the content in embodied ways. For my Creative Writing course, I deliver a workshop in live time across the world—so now students don’t have to move to Dallas, but we still get that great in-the-moment, face-to-face feedback. I seem to have an inner GPS that helps me find the intersection of what people need to know and how they can best learn it. Also, I am good at discerning the difference between lousy and great chocolate. And I have a talent for finding good coffee shops.
Hmm...I need one of those kind of jobs...
Tell us about what project you are currently working on.
I co-teach a seminary course on sexual ethics that looks at gender issues (e.g., male/female norms and stereotypes, LGBT issues, trans-sexuality), porn, and all sorts of other challenges related to life in the body that ministry leaders need to better understand. I’m working as a general editor on that compilation, with each chapter written by someone whose expertise lies in the subject of the chapter or in Biblical Studies relating to the topic. So I’m more curator than writer—though some writers do need more help with prose than others. The book has the super exciting title, Sexual Ethics.
Tell us about your writing day. How do you go about writing?
I start the day with a cup of coffee, and I try to complete a few pages in a published Bible study—rather than a devotional. I like the straight-up text, not a commentary about the text. In addition to deepening my faith walk, Bible reading affects the syntax and meter of my prose. Often after reading, I head for the gym, where I listen to Audible books while sweating. I listen to a wide range from The Nightingale to Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility to a Great Courses option on the Middle Ages. All of this I consider part of the writing process.
Mid-mornings is my peak butt-in-chair time. And I’m terrible at writing in snatches. I need blocks of uninterrupted time with no technology except my laptop—often offline. Not easy to pull off. I answer endless e-mails; these force me to write but suck the soul out of me. Though sometimes I copy what I’ve written to someone in an e-mail and use it in other prose. After dinner, I get back to the laptop to create.
That’s daily. But weekly, I work hard always to have one day off from doing any work—including writing. The day is generally Saturday evening to Sunday evening. That Sabbath for down time in my life is key to both my sanity and my writing creativity. A friend once observed that the thing that makes lace beautiful is the holes; and like lace, I have to have holes in my life, or my life and what I produce lack beauty.
Has your writing crossed over into other areas? If so, how? If not, will it?
I’m probably my agent’s nightmare, because I don’t stick with one genre (though he never complains). But my writing students love that I can connect them with publishers and editors I’ve worked with producing Bible studies, academic works, trade books, corporate publications, magazines, and websites. From my start with a corporate publication, I branched out to freelance non-fiction. From there I added books. I wrote a couple on infertility and pregnancy loss (When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden [Kregel] and The Infertility Companion [Zondervan]); and one for married couples—Sexual Intimacy in Marriage (Kregel), due out soon in its fourth edition. One of my coauthored novels, Lethal Harvest, garnered a Christy nomination. And my most recent novel was Informed Consent (Cook).
I especially love the non-fiction compilation I mentioned, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible (Kregel Academic). Profits on that benefit the International Justice Mission. The book was released last year in the height of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, even though I’ve been working on it for ten years and had nothing to do with the timing. It was thrilling to see God use the work of sixteen scholars to help readers revisit the stories of a select group of women whose old, old stories we need to see through less prejudiced eyes. And in the middle of all these projects, I’ve written the Coffee Cup Bible Study series, which has eleven titles. The most recent is Earl Grey with Ephesians. I love variety more than I love one genre. Can you tell?
If you had one person you could meet (think ONLY Bible characters here) and could spend as much time as you wanted with that individual, who would it be besides Jesus?
In terms of my writing and academic life, time with the apostle Paul would certainly help solve some mysteries in his writing! But in terms of simply hanging out, I’d go for the woman at the well in Samaria. In the post-Reformation West, we picture her as this young, flirtatious thang. But prior to the Reformation, she had a reputation as a solid widow. She even has a name and a post-script to her story in the Eastern Orthodox tradition: the martyr Photina (Svetlana).
Every Easter preachers remind people that women in Palestine were not a happening thing in courts of law. Yet when we teach John 4 about this woman, suddenly we say she dragged five men into divorce court before shacking up with #6. Since the number-one cause of death for men at the time was war, it’s much more likely this woman had her heart broken multiple times by men killed in action before she had to share a husband as a concubine in order to eat.
Jesus is so subtle about his identity, refusing to answer John the Baptist directly when he sends his people to ask if Jesus is the actual Messiah. The Lord keeps deflecting or telling people not to tell everybody when he heals them—the crowds are big enough to impede him as it is. But to this woman who is holding out hope that when Messiah comes, he will explain everything, Jesus comes right out and says it: Ego eimi. That’s Koine Greek for I AM (John 4:26), the very name of God (Exodus 3:4). With her, Jesus is willing to risk his disciples wondering why he would bother talking to a woman (v. 27). So I’d love to talk to her myself—or rather, listen to her tell her story.
What’s the craziest thing you have ever done?
I backpacked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back when I had not worked out to prepare. I was 27 years old and considered my body indestructible. My dad and father-in-law, both of whom were over 65 years, handled that trek better than I did. Oh, the arrogance! It was so dumb. Months went by before I could go down stairs without pain in my knees.
Why do you live where you live?
I’m a fifth-generation Oregonian living in Dallas, Texas. What is up with that? Do I get beauty withdrawal symptoms? Absolutely. I’ve lived in “Big D” for more than thirty years, and sometimes I still experience culture shock in this gun-totin’, gas guzzlin’, chaw-chewin’ place. When I recycle, sometimes people look at me cross-eyed. And when people insist, “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” I mutter “except mountains and rivers.” But we love our jobs and the people with whom we’ve established decades of friendship here. And our daughter is Texas-born and -bred. So we hoard frequent-flier miles like squirrels with nuts and travel as much as possible.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about you, or anything we didn’t cover?
I love to write. And I’ve found when it comes to biblical content that writing helps me clarify what I believe. Someone once asked Madeleine L’Engle if her faith influences her writing, and she said it’s the other way around—her writing influences her faith. The same is true for me. If my prose lacks clarity, it’s usually because I myself have some fuzziness in my thinking, so I have to go back and figure out what I actually believe.
I love the flexible hours and spaces of writing. If I wake up at 3 am with an idea, I can write. If I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Italy, I can do my work. I can write in my jammies. I can work from a hospital bed. I can do work I love virtually anywhere in the world—once on a boat in the expanse of ocean between the Galapagos Islands, where my father-in-law wanted to take a bucket-list trip. I could write when I stayed home with a young child, and God willing, I’ll still write when I’m old and frail.
I love this quote: "If my prose lacks clarity, it’s usually because I myself have some fuzziness in my thinking, so I have to go back and figure out what I actually believe." I'm in that very boat right now as I contemplate writing a non-fiction work on The Sermon on the Mount.
Sandra, it's been a pleasure! And I'm sure our readers will wish to look up your writing ministry online, so where can they find you?
They can find me here:
Latest Book, Vindicating the Vixens
Thank you, readers, for stopping by today! Feel free to share this interview (and any of the others on this blog site) with family and friends. Who knows, you may "turn them on" to a new author they may have not known existed otherwise. :-)
Until next time,
(And don't miss Kevin's new release, When the Clock Strikes Fourteen (A Blake Meyer Thriller - Book 4! It's out in pre-order now...Release Date is April 25th!)