"This feels like self-focused drivel" was what Sybil MacBeth thought more than once of the book she was trying to give birth to — her first. What she needed were sound words to keep her at it. Kind words. MacBeth got them. What kind? "It's supposed to [feel like self-focused drivel]. ... Just turn around and snarl at it. You have editors to tell you when it's bad, but never trust your own sense of things. Trust me, this is good crap .... 'p.'"
Lower-case "p" stood for Phyllis —Memphian Phyllis Tickle — and by the time MacBeth was asking for writerly advice, Tickle had already spent decades in publishing, including as founding religion editor for Publishers Weekly and author of several books on faith in contemporary America — important books that have shaped our understanding of religious trends and developments. Her Divine Hours series has also guided Americans in a centuries-old practice of scheduled, daily prayer.
Which brings us back to MacBeth's book, published in 2007 and still generating interest, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God. And that book brings us to a new book, Phyllis Tickle — Evangelist of the Future (Paraclete Press; edited by Tony Jones), essays by those close to Tickle and among the essays, one by MacBeth, which includes the exchange quoted above.
As Tickle said of MacBeth's book in a phone interview, "It's amazing what Sybil has tapped into. At a recent conference in California, her workshops had hundreds of people on the waiting list to attend. At our signing at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, she'll be doing a great deal of the talking."
That's fine by Tickle, herself a woman rarely at a loss for words. But of Phyllis Tickle — Evangelist of the Future, she focused less on what the book said about her and more about the ideas it contains. "The ideas are there," she said. "Thank God, they're there."
Phyllis Tickle with Sybil MacBeth discussing and signing "Phyllis Tickle — Evangelist of the Future" at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, Tuesday, January 21st, 6-7 p.m.