Author Tags: Publishing, Religion, Sex

As an editor for Okanagan-based Wood Lake Books, Michael Schwartzentruber, born in 1960, produced a company history entitled Wood Lake Books: The Story of a Publishing Ministry (Wood Lake Books, 1993) after writing From Crisis to New Creation (Wood Lake Books, 1986). He was also the compiler/editor of The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories, and Wisdom for a Faith of Transformation. As Associate Publisher for Wood Lake Publishing, he co-authored The Spirituality of Sex (2009). He has edited several books on sexual health and childhood sexual health education. He lives in Okanagan Centre, British Columbia, with his wife, Margaret.

Wood Lake Books evolved after Ralph Milton, an unemployed writer in Calgary, produced a manuscript called The Gift of Story. Shortly thereafter his wife Bev Milton accepted a new position as the United Church minister in Winfield, B.C. The couple had met in Trail, B.C. when he was working as a disc jockey at the radio station and she was employed as a schoolteacher. Having moved to the Okanagan, Ralph Milton was pleased to have his manuscript accepted by G.R. Welch Publishing in Burlington, Ontario. When publication was delayed, he was told he need to supply $3,000 to the company to enable publication. Balking at vanity publishing, and having already received verbal assurance from Frank Brisin of the United Church that the United Church would place an advance order of 3,000 copies, Ralph Milton struck a deal with his second cousin, Jack McCarthy, editor of the local Winfield newspaper: in return for contributing a humour column without payment, Milton could have access to the newspaper's typesetting equipment in the evenings. The Gift of Story was self-published in 1980 by Milton's newly formed Wood Lake Communications. Operating from the Miltons' home, the firm was named for a small lake minutes from his home. Several months later, Milton met United Church Observer columnist Jim Taylor at a Pentecost event held in the Okanagan. Taylor had collected his 'Words to Live By' columns, hoping to publish a book, but had also grown frustrated with delays at Welch Publishing. The two men co-published Jim Taylor's book, An Everday God, on March 31, 1981, with Taylor having convinced Milton to change the imprint's name to Wood Lake Press (in keeping with the venerable name of Ryerson Press, created by the Methodist Church in 1829). Lois Huey Heck volunteered to supply illustrations for the third Wood Lake title, This United Church of Ours, also written by Milton. The success of these three early titles impressed Lois Wilson, then Moderator of the United Church, who provided the manuscript for Like A Mighty River, a memoir of her faith experience. Milton and Taylor briefly added a third partner, Glenn Witmer, former executive director of the Canadian Book Publishers Association, but he soon accepted a more lucrative offer from elsewhere. To protect themselves against liability, Milton and Taylor incorporated their joint enterprise as Wood Lake Books, including their wives as shareholders. The word Books was substituted for the word Press to ensure the company was not mistaken for a printer. Jim Taylor provided a logo on his new Macintosh computer. It includes a triangular tree, representing the Trinity, and a circular lake, symbolizing unity. Their next four books were less successful: Ernest Howse's autobiography Roses in December, Christine Frye's Through the Darkness, Diane Forrest's The Adventurers and Ralph Milton's Through Rose-Coloured Bifocals. After the firm's owners sought a business partnership with the United Church of Canada and were rebuffed, Wood Lake Books was saved by a timely grant of $30,000 from the federal Department of Communications. Bonnie Schlosser was hired as a bookkeeper in 1983. Stephen Hayes' Living Faith was the next successful book in the mid-1980s. Wood Lake began co-publication and distribution partnerships with Novalis, their Roman Catholic equivalent, in 1985. Most initial print runs were between 2,000 and 3,000 copies. The long-term success of Wood Lake Books arose after the publication of 165,000 copies of Songs for a Gospel People in 1987. Realizing that United and Anglican churches were often using pirated photocopied versions of hymns such as 'Amazing Grace' and 'Morning Has Broken', Milton and UBC theology professor Gerald Hobbs had identified the need for an updated hymn book over beer and pizza in 1985. Milton was assisted in compiling the 130 songs by Darryl Nixon, organist from St. Andrew's Wesley Church in Vancouver. Approximately one-quarter of the hymns included were original submissions. Originally Milton had planned to publish a supplement to the standard 1971 United Church Hymnbook in B.C. Wood Lake has no official connection to any church and employees are not required to have religious affiliations. It caters to what Milton has described as 'the liberal Christian constituency.' Long-time employee Bonnie Schlosser has been retained in a chief executive capacity; Milton and Taylor have increasingly concentrated on their own writing projects. [See Ralph Milton entry]

[BCBW 2009] "Publishing" "Religion" "Sex"

The Spirituality of Sex

The Spirituality of Sex by Michael Schwartzentruber, Lois Huey-Heck, Mary Millerd, and Charlotte Jackson (Wood Lake $35)

Is spiritual sex an oxymoron? Not according to the four authors of The Spirituality of Sex. Charlotte Jackson, Lois Huey-Heck, Mary Millerd, and Michael Schwartzentruber make a convincing and energetic case for the many ways our spirituality is deeply embedded in sex and sexuality.

The tenth in a series of coffee table books including The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening and The Spirituality of Wine, this volume is an unabashed celebration of the communion of Eros and Spirit, a reclaiming of the essential goodness of sex.

Like most coffee table volumes, this is a book to dip into, perhaps to stumble upon a poem by Rumi, a quote from D.H. Lawrence, or the curious fact that Kellogg’s Cornflakes were invented to discourage youthful masturbation, “on the theory that bland foods dampen the sexual appetites.”

Augmented by lavish and sometimes graphic illustrations, and embellished with poems and quotes from sources as diverse as Anais Nin, Matthew Fox, Carl Jung and Alice Walker, to name a few, the text is a series of short takes in which the authors take turns musing on everything from Tantric sex to mystical religious traditions, to the mysteries of male and female sexuality, to the experience of falling in love, achieving intimacy, and preparing for that special romantic evening with your lover.

It’s almost everything you always wanted to know about spiritual sex in bite-sized pieces of 1000 words or less.

Don’t expect to find illumination on the dark side of sex here. There’s nothing kinky, nothing salacious; the authors don’t touch on sexual abuse, sexual perversion, on love’s self-destructive compulsions. It’s all about celebrating the “human and humane” dimensions of love and Eros, the benefits of long-term commitment and the healing powers of touch and sensuality.

You’ll find depictions of wholesome, healthy, loving sex—an antidote to the commodification of sex that permeates the current cultural milieu.

The quartet of authors come across as sincere and well-intentioned, earnest even, with a propensity for stating the obvious. We are told sex is better with love, that “great lovemaking has a lot to do with how we feel about ourselves,” that the emphasis on external beauty keeps us from connecting with our inner beauty, that sex for procreation connects us to the wheel of life and death, and that when girls are told their sexuality is dirty it affects their relationships.

Truisms, all. Statements like these could be starting points for discussion rather than the content of the discussion, and addressed with a little more irony and humour.

To their credit though, the authors do manage to conjure some compelling glimpses into mystical sexuality in the Sufi, Taoist, and Judaic traditions, the mysteries of Tantric Sex, the ancient roots of goddess worship, and the Roman cult of the phallus.
As well, they aren’t afraid to come down hard on the anti-sexual bias in Christianity, describing how Saint Augustine’s loathing of his own sexuality has cast such a long shadow over the church, or highlight the frank eroticism of the Bible’s Song of Songs.

While the text is not exactly deep, the gems scattered across these pages offer a tantalizing look into the spiritual dimensions of what is perhaps life’s most mysterious and profound experience. 978-1-896836-90-9
-- reviewed by Sheila Munro

[BCBW 2009]