About My work
I’m a writer who is represented by WordServe Literary Agency. My first book is a memoir about struggling with cynicism toward my evangelical upbringing. I’m preparing it for publishers, and hope to have it finished within the next year or so. My author’s website, where I blog about my book topic, is MattMellema.com.
I’m also a contributor to various magazines—especially on topics of faith and the arts. I’ve written for Slate, Humane Pursuits, Christ & Pop Culture, Mere Orthodoxy, Fare Forward, and others.
My artistic journey started in high school English class. In middle school, English only meant splicing commas and diagramming sentences, and I hated it. But in high school, I discovered literature. I fell in love with everything from Anglo-Saxon epics to Romantic poets to modernist novels. The authors, through carefully crafted words, resonated through time and culture. I wanted to do that. The summer before college, I tried (and failed) to write the Great American Novel. More importantly, I decided to major in English.
In college, my writing was scattershot. I cranked out everything from gritty short stories to syrupy poems to a postmodernist dinosaur novel (really). None of it worked. But senior year, I finally found my niche. I took a class on “Creative Nonfiction” with some apprehension. The professor, Patty Kirk, had written several memoirs that were intimidatingly good. Also, I wasn’t used to sharing my feelings in front of people--let alone etching them permanently beforehand. And as the only man in the class, all my feelings were bound to stick out.
But when I wrote my first piece—a reflection on my boyhood love of dinosaurs—things finally clicked. Professor Kirk said that the piece “worked”—an effusive compliment by class standards. There was one sentence in particular which took me an afternoon to craft: a winding description of an ancient sea in the most vivid language I could muster. She underlined it and wrote yes in the margin. After all the failure, I finally found my place.
I have a wife named Danielle and a four month old named Sam, and we love sitting on the couch together and exploring our neighborhood in Old Colorado City. When I’m not with them, my day job is at a law firm. I’m a graduate of Yale Law School, and an attorney at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie, where my specialty is First Amendment and religious liberty issues. My interests include the Denver Broncos, hard cider, and a non-ironic fascination with Bigfoot.
About My Faith
To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, I was raised an evangelical of evangelicals. I was homeschooled before graduating from a Christian college, I come from a family of missionaries, and my dad is the CFO of Focus on the Family. But in college, I fell into a common trap for young people raised evangelical—I became a cynic. Convinced I had grown too sophisticated for evangelicals, I relished mocking my childhood faith.
I planned on turning my cynicism into a book. It would be a grand jeremiad against all things evangelical, with me playing the role of wise seer who cut through facades to the truth. I even started a website devoted to the cause. Each post ranted against a different thing about evangelicalism that bugged me.
The summer before law school, I started going to a Friday night college group at New Life Church because some friends were there. One week, I got there half an hour late to avoid the opening worship music. Contemporary praise songs were white noise, and the band sometimes played for over forty minutes. I slunk into the back corner of the auditorium as the band was wrapping up, lights dimmed except for the green spotlights on stage, air heavy from the smoke machine. My mind wandered to the usual cynicisms. How the worship band were wannabe rock stars, how the lyrics were insipid, and how the chords could be played by anyone with two weeks of guitar lessons. I scanned the eager faces eating this stuff up, wondering how they could be so naïve. They thrust their arms in the air and squeezed their eyes shut—some even paced the aisles and dropped to their knees to confess sin. It was so simple-minded. If only they could see what I saw.
Then something happened. Whether by special grace or common decency, I started to really look at myself: a kid smirking in the corner with arms crossed. Sure I had doubts about evangelicalism, and many of these doubts were valid. But they had metastasized into something ugly. Now I was prideful enough to think that I was better than everyone in the room. I was narrow-minded enough to let some doctrinal quibbles sabotage my ability to worship. I was judgmental enough to think that I could stand above the college group and condemn them. I was great at pointing out all the specks in the evangelicals’ eyes. But I was nursing a log in my own.
So I decided to write a book about something else. My topic is still evangelical views of the world: everything from prayer to politics, from dating to evolution. But now the emphasis is different. For each issue I share my experience, explain my frustration, and pave the way for my repentance. By the end, I hope to move past my cynicism and appreciate my childhood faith, warts and all.
Thoughts on christianity and the art scene:
The Christian arts scene makes one of two mistakes: faith is either too easy, or too hard.
Faith is too easy in things like Christian movies and romance novels. Everything is black and white, lessons are obvious, and morality is clear. Plots usually follow the same beats. First, the protagonists have a PG-rated problem in their lives. A big city lawyer can’t reconnect with her small town family. A comely Amish girl is unlucky in love. The high school football star can’t win the big game. And try as they might, they can’t solve their problem on their own.
Then something happens. A kindly pastor or elderly Sunday school teacher presents the gospel to them. After reading the right verses and saying the right prayer, all of their problems resolve themselves, and everybody learns a lesson about faith.
In evangelical memoirs, however, faith is too hard. There’s a sub-genre of books from people who grew up in a strict evangelical home. After struggling to fit in, they eventually see there’s no use. They abandon their parents’ faith, and adopt an attitude of cultivated cynicism instead.
For these writers, faith, culture, politics, and family all get merged into one giant resentment. They attack this resentment with panache and critical detachment. Only the worst assumptions can be made about the naive faithful. And the only way the authors keep their own faith is consigning it to some subjective realm of hazy ambiguity.
I wish Christian art could find something between these extremes. I want something that struggles with faith in all its nuance and complexity, but that still remains in the faith. Following St. Anselm, I wish more Christian art would be “faith seeking understanding.”