Tag Archives: Christian

Why’d I write this book anyway?

Fall from Grace will be released in a little under a month (September 1, 2017), and I just know my fans (all ten of them, ahem) are eager for insights into why I wrote the novel, what kind of story it is, and…other stuff. 🙂 So, here’s a handy Q and A for those who might be interested in picking it up. And it is available for preorder now! Yay! Hop on over to Amazon pronto and get a copy before they run out – here. They do run out at Amazon, right? Right? So you need to be sure to get your order in now!!

What inspired you to write Fall from Grace?

Fall_From_Grace_COVERAs with most novelists, my inspiration came from a “what if” question. I was intrigued by the scandal involving Josh Duggar (of the Nineteen Kids and Counting TV show), and I wondered what if he made his way back to his wife, family, and faith—what would that journey look like?

 

What kind of story is Fall from Grace?

It’s a love story: the love between Ruth and Eli—can it survive? And it’s about Christ-like love—how does one truly live a Christian life, what sacrifices does that entail?

 

For Ruth and Eli, what are those sacrifices?

It becomes obvious fairly early that they both must sacrifice their earlier beliefs about what God expects of them and what they should be doing with their lives. Eli must also confront the sacrifice of possibly letting Ruth go after discovering how deeply he still loves her.

 

How did your religion impact the characters and plot?

I was raised Catholic but now belong to an Episcopalian church (“Catholic light” – all the ritual and one-third less guilt, the old joke goes!). I have worked with evangelical Christians on education issues. And I have a Baptist sister-in-law, as well as Jewish and atheist and agnostic relatives. I have a great deal of respect for all of these people and their beliefs, even when they don’t mesh with mine. My faith journey was a small one compared to Eli and Ruth’s, but I know how one can wrestle with whether to stay in one’s “native” denomination or change, how you can feel a tug back toward your first experience with religion. But Fall from Grace is not about theology or canon law or church edicts. I’m no theologian, and I deliberately kept out of the book characters quoting a lot of Scripture. I wanted the story to focus more on the broader struggle of these two people finding the meaning of love in the personal and spiritual sense, not the “angels on the head of a pin” type of arguments.

 

How did your respect for evangelicals color the story?

As I mentioned, I’ve worked with people whose faith is more Bible-literal, who probably fall more into the fundamentalist category of Christian faith. And they were beautiful people. It always bothered me that they and their faith would often be made fun of or caricatured in popular culture, or that public figures would denounce their views as if they were members of the Westboro Baptist Church. So I wanted to draw a sympathetic portrait of them.

 

At one point in the story, you wrote that Ruth and Eli were looking for a church that was “reasonably comfortable that didn’t offend…” What did you mean?

In the novel, both the very conservative Baine family and the very liberal Protestant minister Rev. Pete Markham use their churches as proxies for political advocacy. Even if they are not preaching it constantly from a pulpit, their implicit message is “You’re not a good Christian unless you believe in ___________.” For the Baines, that blank might be filled with things like “traditional marriage, literal interpretations of Scripture, etc.” For Pete, the blank would be filled with things like “taxing the wealthy, gay marriage, etc.” So they both use a holier-than-thou approach that Ruth and Eli grow tired of. They want a church that helps them explore their relationship with God, with the world, and especially with each other.

 

Have you or anyone close to you experienced a transformation like Eli and Ruth do?

Not in the dramatic way they go through it. I think many people experience transformation throughout life, to one degree or another, and it can be a slow process, not immediately evident during the process itself.

 

Both Eli and Ruth stray from church during certain points in the story. How does one practice religion in times of doubt and hopelessness?

I think the answer is a word in the question: practice. You just keep practicing, putting one foot in front of the other. And you hope that “bidden or unbidden, God is present.”

 

Both Eli and Ruth end up having deeper relationships with their counselors, Frederick and Lisa, and their counselors seem to reciprocate their feelings. How did these relationships affect the counselors, and their roles in Eli’s and Ruth’s lives?

Both Frederick, Ruth’s counselor, and Lisa, Eli’s counselor, end up having feelings for their respective clients. And both counselors, in important ways, help Eli and Ruth. To me, they represented a Christ-like love—nonjudgmental, all-encompassing, pure, and requiring some sacrifice. Lisa, in particular, was a favorite character to write. She was sassy, no-nonsense, and deeply spiritual. You never knew her political beliefs for sure (even if you guessed she was on the same page with Pete). She loved…without hating. In other words, she loved unconditionally, even if she disagreed with those she loved. She didn’t hate them. It would be wonderful to have many Lisas in one’s life.

 

Eli struggles to get over the fact that he’s lumped together with all the “bad guys” in rehab and at counseling, which delayed his progress. Since he was repentant, why’d he fight rehab so much?

I actually found myself sympathizing with Eli when writing his resistance! He wasn’t a pedophile or a sexual predator, yet he was made to join in therapy sessions with men like this, as if his transgression were on the same level as theirs. And if his family hadn’t been celebrities, he might have gotten away with a far more low-key approach to counseling and a faster return to his life, for good or ill. He had to come to realize, though, that his atonement wasn’t relative to others’ sins. It only concerned his own.

 

What do you want readers to learn from Eli’s and Ruth’s story?

Hope. That there’s always hope for change, for something better. That love transforms lives. That God is love.

Fall from Grace is now available for pre-order here and at other e-tailers. 

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Book Review: A LETTER TO MY CONGREGATION

A LETTER TO MY CONGREGATION by Ken Wilson

“For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind….”

Ken Wilson’s sweet, tight epistle to his evangelical church about his conversion from gay marriage opponent to supporter is not just about acceptance of homosexuality or gay marriage. It’s much more. It’s an expose of how a deeply religious, scripturally bound shepherd of souls confronts a controversial moral issue. For that reason, of the many people I wish would read this book, a surprising group came to mind: those already on board with gay marriage. It seems an odd audience to recommend it to. After all, these are people in agreement with Pastor Ken Wilson at the end of his journey of faith.

But the reason they should read it is because his analysis, his prayerful, thoughtful, grace-full listening to his conscience, analyzing scripture and trying to figure out what is the right thing to do puts the lie to a lot of stereotypes of his ilk. He’s not a bigot and never was one, the convenient canard hurled at gay marriage opponents. He’s not a cretin, nor a thoughtless, careless man. He struggles, as we all do, with thorny topics, and his struggle takes place within the context of someone dead serious about religion, serious about following what he believes is God’s will, serious about listening to the “still, small voice” of God.  So, please, all of you who were quick to throw the “bigot” charge at gay marriage opponents, who were swift to lump the Ken Wilsons of the world into the same category as that of the hateful Westboro Baptist Church, pick up this book. It’s at least worth a heavy skim, and it will reveal to you the thinking of a man focused on his faith when dealing with controversial topics where competing pressures push at one’s heart and soul.

And, of course, the main audience Wilson writes for are all those who, like him, have begun to experience a “fleeting unease,” as he puts it, with the anti-gay marriage stance of their churches. For them, this book will bring solace and enlightenment.

Wilson isn’t just any Christian. He’s an evangelical pastor. His colleagues and spiritual friends are people who take the Bible very seriously, who know it well, who seek to lead Godly lives even in ungodly times. They walk to the beat of a different drummer, out of step with most of contemporary society, viewing with sadness the decay of some moral values throughout society. He’s not an I’m-okay-you’re-okay moral relativist, willing to view the Bible as a Rohrschach image in which one can see…whatever one wants. And when he began to walk away from his evangelical compatriots on this issue, he felt the distance acutely, wondering if serving the greater good — his congregation — would require him to be silent on the topic.

But Wilson began having doubts about his church’s views on homosexuals as he saw all churches changing views on marriage after divorce, becoming less exclusive, more inclusive. After all, Biblical teaching meant, to him, that divorcees couldn’t remarry. And, early in his career, he turned a cold shoulder to those who sought remarriage, much to his later regret. But his eyes and heart began to open to a message of inclusiveness on this aspect of marriage as he began to view Biblical teaching on marriage as more nuanced, or less dogmatic, than he previously had thought.

As he reexamined those ideas, he was also confronted with more gays and lesbians seeking church membership. Yes, Virginia, there are gays who want to join evangelical churches — as one told Wilson, they are seeking “more Jesus” than a mainline Protestant church might offer, despite those churches’ more inclusive attitude toward them. And as Wilson confronted these godly people, he couldn’t fully embrace the “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy of his fellow pastors and colleagues. To him, it seemed a “less than” arrangement that implied inequality. It wasn’t welcoming enough.

He goes through the scripture passages used against homosexuality and sets them in context, even using the writings of colleagues who are not on the same page with him on this issue to make his broader point — that the Bible is, for the most part, not expansive on the issue of homosexuality, and when it does speak, most notably through the epistles of Paul, context plays a key role in understanding what the writer was really addressing. His heavily footnoted epistle lists the clearly prohibited activities detailed in the Bible and talks about “disputable matters” (which he believes is where gay marriage and homosexuality fall). He covers previous controversies in the early church of Paul between meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters, and how that battle helps shed light on how Paul would want us to view any current similar church-rending issues.

Occasionally, when reading a book, I get so excited about it I can hardly wait to share it with people. That’s the way I felt about A Letter to My Congregation. I turned down the corners of so many pages, hoping to find a particularly stirring passage to quote in this review, that I discovered I’d practically marked every single page.

So, I’ll end this review with a quote from an old hymn that Wilson uses at one point:

 

But we make His love too narrow

By false limits of our own;

And we magnify His strictness

With a zeal He will not own.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measure of the mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.

    — Frederick William Faber (1814-1863)

Thanks to son Joseph, who recommended this book to me. I read it on the eve of his own wedding to his partner, Jack.

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