Honesty Becomes Him
By Matthew Paul Turner
October 5, 2007
A few weeks ago, author Cameron Conant stood on a small Nashville stage and read aloud from the first chapter of his new book The Year I Got Everything I Wanted (NavPress). I was sitting close to the stage but in a spot that allowed me to watch the reaction of the crowd. The prose that Cameron shared was a combination of thoughts and stories about fumbled relationships, jobs that didn’t fit him, a midnight train ride across Europe and the odd mercy of God. And though his words conveyed a good bit of pain, confusion and doubt, the 100 or so people who gathered in that small Belmont University coffeehouse laughed out loud.
That’s a good thing. Cameron’s self-deprecation is meant to be funny, but it’s also eye opening, refreshing and blatantly honest.
Cameron and I met in 2005 at a Christian retailing show in Denver. While holding glasses of red wine, we lamented to each other about the thrills—good and bad ones—of being authors in the Christian publishing world. We talked about his first book With or Without You (RELEVANT Books). We talked about honesty and how it doesn’t “sell” at Christian bookstores.
Two years later, while sitting at Fido, one of Nashville’s trendier spots, Cameron and I are talking again. This time it’s about his new book, King Solomon and how honesty is becoming a little more en vogue, even in Christian bookstores.
Matthew Paul Turner: Cameron, the title of your new book is The Year I Got Everything I Wanted, which I'm assuming is somewhat overstated, but humor me. In what ways is that statement true?
Cameron Conant: I wanted to call the book The Year of Unfulfilled Longing, and then one day I realized what a bad title that was; The Year I Got Everything I Wanted sounded so much better. And I really did get everything I wanted—sort of. I didn’t get that house in the South of France, but I didn’t really want that anyway.
My wants were pretty modest—a little money in my pocket, a beautiful girlfriend and a little success in the publishing world. These things not only didn’t last, but they didn’t make me as happy as I thought they would. The Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr talks about “centric”—or “centered”—and “ec-centric”—or “out of center”—people. When we are living outside of love, which is that connection with the divine (Jesus calls this “the vine”), we become ec-centric people, and we grasp at relationships or money or alcohol or accomplishments. We grasp for any number of things that aren’t bad in and of themselves but become bad when we make them the sum total of life. And we all have this misaligned steering that pulls us toward the ec-centric.
Matthew Paul Turner: Your writing is honest, which sounds cliché in today’s Christian publishing world, you know. Everybody says they're honest. But this book really is as honest as Christian publishing will let you be. How difficult is it for you to bare your soul for a reader?
Cameron Conant: Normally, I don’t mind being as honest as I am. Sometimes I’m even proud of it. I think, “Wow, Cameron, you’re brave.” And then I think I’m just self-consumed, as if anyone cares that I drank too much or (in a separate event) got on the highway and drove 105 miles per hour to prove how upset I was—immature stuff. I just turned 30, and I look back on some of the things I’ve done to escape my pain and shake my head. Some of the things I’ve done are so stupid, and I wonder if I lack discernment by sharing this stuff with readers. In fact, I have these moments where I wake up in a cold sweat thinking, “Did I really write that on my blog?” or “Did I really share that story in the book? What’s wrong with me?”
I think this sort of vulnerability can be good if it helps people deal with things in their lives, and I do think we learn about God by learning about ourselves. It can also be a very ego-filled drug, and I hate the idea of ever thinking of myself as anything but a bumbling servant. I guess, in the end, I hope that my stories of stubbing my toe and trying to live a more centric life will encourage people to admit their own failings and make peace with them and live in love. On a personal level, I pray that through my writing I will become more like myself but think of myself less often. What I mean is this: So many things I worry about in life don’t matter. Who cares if my book doesn’t get any marketing? Who cares if no one comes to my book signing? These things don’t matter. People matter. I want people to come first in my life. I want to reach people who are hurting and feel like they are finished, which is how I once felt.
Matthew Paul Turner: The book has a unique connection to the biblical writings of King Solomon. Tell me what you've learned from the richest, wisest and perhaps most over-sexed person who has ever lived?Cameron Conant: Maybe Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. Scholars aren’t entirely sure. For our purposes, let’s say he did so we don’t have to keep referring to “the writer of Ecclesiastes.” Clearly, this person had great wealth, and if it was King Solomon, he had the reputation of being the wisest person in the ancient world. And yet, here we have a self-indulgent journal entry from a guy who made a study of happiness. And he really went for it—money, women, wine, great building projects, etc. But Solomon gets to the end of his life and basically says, “It was fun for a while, but it left me empty and none of it really matters. In fact, nothing really matters except this: Respect God, and do what He says, for eventually everything will be brought into the light, whether it’s good or evil.”
That sounds very much like what Richard Rohr is saying about centric and ec-centric people. Solomon acknowledges that he lived a very ec-centric life. In fact, Eugene Peterson says that Ecclesiastes doesn’t even say that much about God. Rather, it says something about our total incapacity to find meaning apart from God. Ecclesiastes taught me this.
Matthew Paul Turner: So far, your first two books have been very much about relationships—the good and the bad. What have you learned from your personal journey about the importance of relationship, whether romantic or otherwise?
Cameron Conant: I think the more we know ourselves—I mean really know ourselves on a deep, profound level—the healthier we will be in a relationship, be that a romantic relationship or a friendship. I also think the best relationships are built on profound respect and trust with each party giving the other huge doses of creative freedom to explore their passions and be the people God created them to be.
So many people stop doing what they love when they get married or get in a romantic relationship. They cease to be interesting because they’ve jettisoned all of their dreams or rather concentrated them all on their significant other. That’s a recipe for disaster. People will always let us down. Heck, we let ourselves down. People won’t complete us. If you’re not happy as a single person, you are not going to be happy with someone else. Long-term, you’re going to be disappointed.
Matthew Paul Turner: Last summer you spent a couple of months in Europe. In fact, the narrative of the new book begins with you on a train in Europe. How did that vacation, pilgrimage, whatever you want to call it, change the ending of this book? If you had been in America, would it have been a different ending?
Cameron Conant:Well, there’s a lot I could say about Europe and how I’d like to go back. I would say the major factor Europe played was in giving me time and space to think about “the year I got everything I wanted” before coming back and writing The Year I Got Everything I Wanted. I’m hoping my next book will be a travel memoir about my trip through Europe, a trip where I almost died. I’m trying to trick someone into giving me a publishing deal before I forget all the details. Fortunately, I kept very detailed journals.
Matthew Paul Turner: It's been a year since you got everything you wanted. If you were to write a book about this past year, what would it be called?
Cameron Conant: I think it would be called Burying My Dead. Maybe that’s a title of a book already out there. I think I buried my dead this year—dead relationships and other dead things that I needed to stop dragging around with me everywhere. My ex-wife got remarried this year, and I was almost happy for her. I think I’ve made my peace with a lot of things. It was a very difficult year, financially and otherwise, but it’s taught me so much.
Matthew Paul Turner: OK, last question. If you could truly have everything you would ever want, would you know what to ask for? And if so, what would that be?
Cameron Conant: iPhone comes to mind, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m actually not much of a tech guy. I want to fulfill the unique mission that has been laid out for Cameron Conant. This is difficult for all of us because so often we want to fulfill the unique mission that has been laid out for Bono, Mother Teresa, Rob Bell or Shane Claiborne. It takes so much more courage for us to want to be completely ourselves, not someone else.
To find out more about Cameron Conant, visit his blog at cameronconant.blogspot.com.
Matthew Paul Turner blogs at jesusneedsnewpr.blogspot.com/.