the confessions and absolutions of a contrite editor

You’ve asked me what editors do. And some day, I’ll tell you.

Today, though, I’ll tell you what editors don’t do. They don’t make mistakes.

Except for when they do.

And then when they do, they make ’em big.

Like, Texas hair big.

The surface of a full moon big.

Really, really big.

To prove this point and to rid my over-active conscience of at least a twinge of guilt, I’m about to admit to the world two of my biggest doozies.

That is to say, I will be the cousin who spills red wine on the white tablecloth at Thanksgiving  so that those who dump their glasses next don’t feel so bad.

You’re welcome.



Number 1

I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’m just going to say it.

I used a photo of a pastor who–so people tell me–looked remarkably like President Obama on the cover of the November 2012 Lutheran Witness.

You know which November I’m talking about. The one where people vote.

For a president.

Nov LW cover

To my credit, I’ve been quite clear about the fact that math is not nor has it ever been my forte. That is to say, I never put two and two together.

I saw a smiling pastor who loved his vocation. The world saw the POTUS modeling a clerical collar.

I wanted to know how parishioners could support pastors in their important work of caring for souls.

The world wanted to know why, even though the Church does not tell its members how to vote, it looked like it was trying to.


All I wanted was a happy pastor.

Just one.


Number 2, which should really be number 1

I lost my concentration. My focus lagged. My mind wandered, if only for a moment, and in so doing, I forever lost my Grammar Guru title.

To my credit, I was utterly mortified.

I considered crawling under my desk and rocking back and forth in the darkness until someone found me.

I . . .

People, I missed the letter L. And not just any L. A very important L. An L that finds its place in the word . . .

My stomach actually hurts. 


Big breath. 

I missed catching the absence of the letter L in the word public.

In an article about marriage.

You see why this was not ideal timing.

Pastor Harrison wrote a perfectly lovely article for the May Lutheran Witness, addressing the issues of marriage and the Church and how the world continues to devalue both. It also happened to include the following sentence: “As traditional Christians are driven out of the public square, the door is also closed for the Gospel.”

Except that when it went in the magazine, none of us noticed that it wasn’t “public square.” It was, well, something else.

Ooooooh boy.

I didn’t notice it in the first round of copyediting. Or the second. Or the third. Or even when the printer sent proofs back. (This is also why you cannot depend on spel lcheck, which hates you and wants you to fail.) I didn’t notice it when I got the magazine in the mail, nor did I notice it when we posted the magazine online.

I noticed it when a kind reader emailed and said essentially, “Umm, I think you might have a little problem.”

Yes. Little. Like the size of the surface of a full moon or Texas hair.

It didn’t matter that no one else noticed or emailed or called in.

I knew.


And I hold myself fully responsible.


So, having confessed my sin and re-read this post for any missing Ls a good 23 times . . . what do editors do? We don’t make mistakes.

But when we do, we live with them . . . forever . . . in print . . . so that we never, ever make them again.

Until we do.

13 thoughts on “the confessions and absolutions of a contrite editor

  1. I once volunteered myself and two of my kids to help get the church newsletter out. We helped to address-label hundreds of newsletters. My then-9-year-old daughter caught the typo as she finally got to reading the church news on the way home.The exact word you missed, three separate proofreaders had also missed. She didn’t speak, just pointed, and said “This shouldn’t be there!”

    We called the church office, who called the person en route to the post office, and the newsletters were retrieved to have corrective labels placed over the offending bits. We fixed it during a congregational voters’ meeting that night and all was well except for me, the traumatized mom whose 9 year old daughter caught the mistake.

    She and I have hardly spoken about it since. She is a college sophomore,majoring in Classics and English. Do you need an assistant? You might work together well.

  2. I once omitted a chapter in a book. A whole chapter. The one where the author summed up the argument being made in the preceding ten chapters and then made a wonderful defense for his position on the topic. Yep, that chapter. Then there was . . . No. Maybe this isn’t the time to tiptoe through those tulips.

  3. Goodness! I just realized the two typos in my last message which I didn’t bother to check before hitting send.

  4. Well, this was timely. After I read your post, my dear wife pointed out an unusual medical condition on our prayer list. And “amorism.” (Is that when you’re not in love anymore>!?) I believe it was supposed to by aneurysm. Ah well, the Lord knows.

  5. Any good (or bad?) Lutheran will understand that even a good Lutheran editor cannot get it right 100% of the time. As for #2, I think it’s actually kinda funny. As for the first mistake, I think we Lutherans would all be better off if we smiled a little more anyway.

    But seriously, what is so bad about ellipses??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    (I use them all the time. My least favorite subject was grammar. I have an aversion to following rules. And any good (or bad?) Lutheran knows…deep down…we all do…no matter how hard we try.)

  6. I didn’t notice a resemblance to President Obama at first, but when I had the November 2012 issue lying there on my desk, someone I know was standing on the other side of my desk and saw the cover upside down, then let out an exasperated sigh. I don’t think she even knew it was the Lutheran Witness–it just looked to her like President Obama in a clerical collar, maybe a reference to the President as “pastor to the pastors” in the wake of the Newtown tragedy (she didn’t see the cover until after that event had taken place). As soon as the magazine was turned right side up, all was well. But you don’t have to be a “crypto-racist” to be struck by physiognomic similarities.

    I would never have noticed that “problem,” but where typographical errors are concerned, it’s amazing what can pass right under my nose unnoticed through so many proofreading sessions, then hit me like a brick wall as soon as it appears in print.

  7. I once had in the Christmas Eve bulletin, “Hark, the herald Angels sin.” I’m not an editor, but In the stead and by the command of Christ I forgive you.

  8. Go big or go home!

    : )

    Re. the Obama photo…frankly,. only the crypto-racists among us would have been concerned about that.

    About that other thing….the less said the better.

  9. Like Rev. Ries, I’ve never seen the U.S. president on the cover of the Lutheran Witness, but I can’t wait to see your smiling face there with Big Texas Hair. 🙂

  10. FTR I’ve seen the cover of the November 2012 LW dozens and dozens of times (maybe a few hundred since it is still sitting out in the open in my study) in the past year and two months and never once did it occur to me that the pastor on the cover looked like Obama. Now that you’ve mentioned it I sorta see the resemblance, but not so much that I’d see any problem. Like you, I just see a happy pastor.

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