As a publisher, I am naturally enthusiastic about the books that bear my company’s imprint. When I finished editing The Green Coat by Rosemary McDunn, I immediately contacted Oprah. Well, I didn’t actually contact her, exactly, but I sent off an obligatory email that, no doubt, joined the ranks of thousands of other emails imploring her to “read this book.” This was a few years ago and I was convinced that The Green Coat was exactly what Oprah would want to bring to her audience and that it was a book that deserved the attention.
At the time I was a lite-viewer of her show, which meant it depended entirely on her guest and my own schedule. On the occasions that I made the attempt to catch her show, I was usually multi-tasking because of the time of day. Dinner was being made, emails were being answered, last rounds of daily laundry were being thrown into the dryer. You get the idea. I say this in my defense lest someone think I was actually on the couch unabashedly watching the pop icon. Because I wasn’t.
I will admit that when I did see her I felt convinced that she, too, would love The Green Coat. After all, it really is a beautiful book about so many of the traits and characteristics that Oprah seemed to hold in esteem: perseverance, diligence, kindness, struggle that brought out the best in people and so on. Not only that, it was written by someone whom Oprah admires most ardently: a teacher! But, alas, I never heard from Harpo Studios. Convinced that the first email was simply overlooked by her staff, I sent a second. Still nothing.
Then, one day I caught parts of one of her shows that did not sit well with me. Maybe I was just getting older. Maybe I was just getting wiser. I’m guessing here but I imagine it was some heavenly combination of both. Anyhow, the audience was absolutely gushing about a book recommendation that sounded highly new-age to me. That made me stop in my tracks. The idea of Mrs. McDunn’s book joining the ranks of anything considered new-age wasn’t something for which I was hoping. I felt less enthusiastic about Oprah having me or Rosemary on the show for The Green Coat.” I will admit I was still positive I would be hearing from Oprah. It was only a matter of time.
By my estimation, Oprah staffers had already purchased the book and were writing questions that Oprah would ask Mrs. McDunn, or maybe even me! Time went by and still no phone call and yet my expectation that I would receive that communication remained. I pretty much had my outfit for the show selected when I happened to catch a “teaser” from an upcoming episode that completely tipped the scales. Some woman who had become a “man” now was pregnant. Well, of course “he” was able to get pregnant because “he” had the original “she” parts that God gave “him.” Come on! Who was buying this?
Anyhow, for me there was a real question as to whether this wonderful book by a Catholic author had a place on the Oprah show. I felt I had a real dilemma: what was I going to say to her staffers when they contacted me about “The Green Coat“?
I posed this question to a couple of people with whom I worked. I’m guessing they knew me well enough to answer even if in their heart of hearts they really didn’t anticipate the call as much as I did. But God bless them, they humored me.
And here was their response: “Yes, you would still have to go on Oprah if she calls.”
Wow, I was floored. They didn’t miss a beat in their answer. “Really?! How can you say that?”
To which they patiently explained that the size of Oprah’s viewing audience created a possibility for a positive outcome that far outweighed the negatives that I had begun to worry about. They had read Mrs. McDunn’s book and knew that the message was one that needed to be given to kids everywhere. I felt myself torn between the possibility of reaching a national audience and the need to consider how being a Catholic should affect such an opportunity. As a Catholic was it better to promote the book to millions of viewers or pass and let God get the word out? Or (assuming I ever got the call) was God opening the door? I felt like I was in a really “gray” moral area.
“Hmm…” I said out loud. “I will have to take that under advisement.”
We’ll just forget about the rolling eyes at this point and focus on the real issue at hand. How do we make our decisions when there seems to be a whole lot of gray area? What about just a little gray area? Or what about those numerous times when one person’s gray area is another’s black and white? How is it that two Catholics can see or hear the same problem and give two very different answers, each certain he or she is “right?”
I live in Michigan and we are currently, and quickly, succumbing to disastrous economic times. The auto industry, to date, has no bail out extended. Our state was already suffering from some of the highest unemployment in the nation and facing a bleak future when the bailout was denied. Michigan has hundreds of office buildings that have been abandoned and are for sale. Regardless of who is responsible or how we got here, what are the “right” answers right now? Is it right for us to allow many to suffer through economic hardships, losing homes and unable to feed their families to teach the lesson of economic responsibility, or is it right to stave off such terrible consequences at the risk of losing a “teachable” moment? What about the costs of rescuing them and the good of those who will bear those costs? I want to believe that the Catholic answers are the right answers but then I wonder how is it that we don’t all arrive at the same one.
I also want to say that a Catholic must be prayerful and spend time building a relationship with God, but then I think of the recent election. How were so many Catholics able to ignore Church teachings and vote for Obama? It is probably safe to say that many of these brothers- and sisters-in-Christ considered themselves right-minded in casting their votes. Indeed, they may consider me wrong in following Church teachings and not adopting their lines of reasoning. How are we to say who is “right?”
Every situation we are in offers us an opportunity for prayer and discernment. As Catholics, the formation of conscience is a critical piece of who we are and how we operate in our day-to-day lives. The Truth is there, in Jesus Christ. If we each seek Him diligently and with an earnest interest in serving Him, we will see the Truth. He will provide us with the answers we try to find if we try to find them in Him.
I can only find the answer to my Oprah question when I put my personal agenda aside and seek to serve Christ. We can only answer the bailout question when we put aside our personal interests to desire some sort of retribution to others who we have judged to live too high on the hog. Our personal interests in being right can never be part of the equation when we pray for guidance. My personal interest in seeing The Green Coat become a best-seller cannot guide my response to appearing on Oprah’s show (yep, still waiting for that invite). As a Catholic, both the answer, and the search for it, must always be based upon how best to serve God.