Stephen Register '11 M.Div. and Jesse Zink '12 M.Div.: From student writers to published authors
In the spring of 2011, Stephen Register '11 M. Div. and Jesse Zink '12 M.Div. had only an academic course in common. Now they share more than a line on their transcripts: both turned writing projects that they started in Lauren Winner's Institute of Sacred Music workshop "Spiritual Autobiography" into published books.
"The class," Register said, "was essential for bringing my voice to a place where I finally felt comfortable writing." Before the seminar, Register said that as a writer he was "like a young filly, who just hadn't found [her] legs."
Zink echoed that description, calling the workshop "one of the most memorable courses I took at Yale."
"There were a dozen of us in that course," Zink recalled. "We were a community that read each other's work very closely and very charitably."
Both had plenty of praise for their classmates and for their instructor. Zink called Winner "a forceful personality and a wonderful mentor who cares about writing and wants to support young writers."
The support they felt as students continued as authors when both returned to New Haven in April for a lunchtime reading and book signing that emptied the shelves of the Student Book Supply.
"It was surreal," Register said, "Coming back and having folks turn up meant the world, but it wasn't much of a surprise: the same friends and teachers that had been faithful to me during school were right there for me as a writer."
Stephen Register had been struggling to write his autobiography for about eight years, but what he wrote for Winner's workshop became the first chapter of Meantime: The Aesthetics of Soldiering.
Register said the ISM workshop allowed him to find the discipline and support he needed to finish his book, which he describes as an exploration of three degrees of alterity, or otherness, in his own life experiences as a soldier in the National Guard: first in Baghdad, then in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina, and finally on border patrol in Arizona.
Writing, Register said, allowed him to "recover memories and lay them down on the page." Those memories, though, were often painful and confusing, especially when it came to understanding his own participation in military conflict: "When I was in Iraq, I was reading the Bible. I was reading Jesus saying to love your enemies, to forgive them and not to persecute them, but I was too intimidated to voice those questions."
When he returned from Iraq, Register completed his undergraduate studies at Belmont University. By the time he came to YDS, he was finally ready to ask the questions that had been forming since his military service.
"I was subject to the experience of being a soldier before I ever had the refined tools to think about it," he said. But his classes at YDS gave him those tools, in particular, conversation partners for his questions: peers, professors, as well as Bonheoffer, King, Augustine, and Yoder.
Meantime, then, is an attempt to answer so many of the questions that Register had about his own service. "Writing the book," he said, "often brought me to tears, and often left me elated. It was the hardest, but most important, thing I've ever done."
Already at work on short stories and a novel, Register is also developing a publishing startup in Nashville and blogging at ReFryed Press.
Jesse Zink used much of his time in Winner's workshop to draft Grace at the Garbage Dump: Making Sense of Mission in the Twenty-First Century, a reflection on his time as a missionary with the Episcopal Church's Young Adult Service Corps.
Zink lived for two years in Itipini, a shantytown community built on a garbage dump in South Africa. Teaching high school students there, he also got to know their families and the wider community. Zink says that the idea for his book came when he realized that "all my energy and enthusiasm wasn't going to be enough."
"My book is about what it means to be a young person in this generation who sees the problems in the world like the AIDS epidemic or poverty or huge educational disparities and thinks: I want to help, I want to be involved in making the world a better place. That's the starting point, and the rest of it is figuring out how."
Using vignettes from his time in Itipini, Zink's Grace at the Garbage Dump "tries to tell the stories of those whose stories don't get told very often: what's it like to have AIDS and struggle to get the antiretroviral drugs that will save your life or to be in high school but living in a shack with your mother."
Not surprisingly, Zink's next project is an even more expansive look at Christianity around the world. "When you realize that there are more Christians south of the Equator than north of the Equator, you have to ask yourself: what will unity look like in a church like that?"
Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity, the tentative title of Zink's next project, is a grassroots-level look at what is going on globally in the Anglican Church. Using his travels in Ecuador, China, Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan, Zink hopes to provide reflections on the global church from his own perspective as a priest in the Episcopal Church.