Posts Tagged ‘book’

I was first exposed to Bishop Carlton Pearson on NBC’s Dateline “To Hell and Back”in the Fall of 2007, and did a little internet reading on his story. I saw him again as a panelist in March of this year on ABC’s Night Line Face Off “Does Satan Exist?”. A lot of what he had to say resonated with me and peaked my curiosity to learn more. I recently got his book The Gospel of Inclusion and finished reading it last night.

I enjoyed the book, but it left me unsatisfied. I have a lot of sympathy with what Carlton went through. Like him, my conclusions and de-converting did not begin with an epiphany but was rather the result of a process of wrestling with questions and answers and more questions. True to his disclaimer the book does represent the collective of his post-evangelical sermons and is heavy on Biblical references. I think I was hoping for a little more biographical narrative and less sermonizing, even though I appreciate the difference in tone and aim in the message. I think the book was written primarily as a message to evangelicals, starting where they are and taking them through his theological transition and reasoning making the case for the Gospel of Inclusion.

It’s funny to me that some of the things that many people consider “liberal” seem oddly conservative to me still. Perhaps that’s a measure of how far I’ve come or evidence that I don’t use a yard stick anymore.

I admittedly speed read through the first two-thirds of the book, because he was “preaching to the choir” where I’m concerned. I need no de-converting from evangelicalism. I appreciate the last portion of the book most, where he talked more about life on the otherside of his “coming out” of evangelicalism. I relate to that more. I’m still looking for a book that wrestles more with reading the Bible again for the first time or rethinking faith and practice on the other side of evangelicalism.

I really like Carlton Pearson as a person and have not seen or read anything that would lead me to doubt his motives. If he was out to make money, he surely wouldn’t have thrown away a profitable and high-profile ministry. I think this book is a good bridge for people who are questioning and wrestling with their evangelical background. This book and message won’t lead you away from Christian faith altogether. There’s no brain washing going on here. Just one man’s candid and very personal journal of his faith journey.

I just finished reading Frank Schaeffer‘s memoirs Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I knew of Frank and his father Francis Schaeffer but arrived on the evangelical scene after the rise of the religious right was in full swing. I could not put this book down for a week. It details the childhood and adolescence of Frank in the Schaeffer home of L’Abri in Switzerland where he grew up and the rise of his family in the evangelical community. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, at times laugh out loud funny, and heart breaking.

I enjoyed the book most for being a personal story of someone else on a similar journey as my own, for the same reasons I enjoy de-conversion.com. It is incredibly helpful and psychologically healthy to know that I am not alone in my questions and struggles with faith, doubt, and reason. While all of us end up on different ends of the theological spectrum between devotion and atheism, we share a common journey, common experiences, and a common voice.

I appreciate most from Frank’s book his acknowledgement that this is his life’s story as he sees it now. He recognizes that all our perspectives are skewed knowingly or unknowingly and always written or told from the vantage point of the moment. He says asking the question “who are you?” is insufficient. The necessary question to follow that is “when?” He realizes that as individuals we are in a state of flux throughout our lives and likely to be very different from even ourselves at various times in our lives.

Near the end of the book Frank discloses that he is plugging away at faith, in part, through his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church mostly because he says, “the Orthodox idea of a slow journey to God, wherein no one is altogether instantly ‘saved’ or ‘lost’ and nothing is completely resolved in this life (and perhaps not in the next), mirrors the reality of how life works, at least as I’ve experienced it.” That makes a lot of sense to me, and while I vascilate daily between belief and unbelief, mystery and reason, life is, if nothing else, a journey on which I am trying to grow and learn and become all that I can while I can. This book is a welcome stepping stone along the way.

I’m working through the nuts and bolts process of research and planning for the book I’m writing. There will be many rewrites of everything, but here is the working draft of what the book is about and a brief overview. Comments appreciated. Free critics are the best.

 

A young Irish refugee begins her new life in the bayous of the Louisiana Territory.

A young girl flees the green shores of Ireland with her family for the murky bayous of the Louisiana. Sarah McWilliams tries hard to adapt to life in the Spanish territory, but she’s soon married off to an Irish immigrant approved by her father and moved north to start a family far from her own. Soon after adjusting to their new life together, Sarah’s husband is tragically killed leaving her a very young widow with three small children. Gabriel is fresh from Tennessee to make a name for himself, but soon befriends his fare red-headed neighbor and wins her heart and hand in marriage. Within a few years the sugar boom is calling and the vagabond packs up home and family once more to start over yet again in the foreign French-speaking bayous of south Louisiana. Together Gabriel and Sarah endure hardship and setback to carve out a life in the backwater wilderness for their family leaving a legacy of love and endurance known as the Wildwood Plantation.

     

Another Wildwood Plantation, in similar style to the Beasley home

 

 

 

 

Another Wildwood Plantation, in similar style to the Beasley home

There are a few things I’ve always wanted to do before I die, as they say. I learned how to fly and received my private pilot’s license a few years ago. Check. Learn to play the guitar comfortably, half-check. Open my own little coffee shop, no check yet. Sigh.

I’ve always wanted to write a book, as well as music someday. While I love to write and manage to sound coherent most of the time, I’m generally not the creative artsy type. I admire the free spirit and abandonment to risk that artists take. They expose their most intimate selves to the world and rise or fall on their merits. That’s admirable to me, but I’ve never considered myself the fiction writer type. The dialogue confuses me. I’m far too analytical and philosophical at times to write fiction, I think, but who wants to read an autobiography of a former preacher turned… well, something else? 

As it turns out, the book I’m going to write is fiction after all, well, fiction based on fact. That seems a safe enough bridge to cross for the first time. I’ve picked up my grandmothers love of family history/geneology and have been tinkering away at it for the last six years or so in her place. It fascinates me. I want to know who I am and where my family came from. Along the way I’ve discovered some amazing stories of love, loss, hardship, and even murder. There are at least three or four stories that beg to be told. I’m starting with the story that’s fascinated me the most.

An Irish immigrant finds love and heartache in the Bayous of Louisiana, or something like that. It’s a story from the oldest known ancestor of my grandmother’s paternal line, the Burns. I’ve always had a love of all things Irish. It turns out for good reason. There are at least two lines of my family that trace their roots back to Ireland.

The young Irish immigrant is Sarah McWilliams born in 1780 in County Cork, Ireland. She came to Louisiana at some time before 1800 with her family and married a young Irish-Scot, John Burns in Opelousas shortly thereafter. After settling in the pioneer region of Morehouse Parish and giving birth to their third child, John died, cause unknown. Within a couple years this young widow met a young North Carolina boy named Gabriel Beasley fresh off the trail from Tennessee and married him. They bought a plantation and expanded their family for 10 years in North LA, while the Louisiana Territory became part of the U.S. and sugar became king over tobacco and cotton. Around 1820 they moved near Napoleonville in Lafourche Parish and slowly carved a sugar plantation out of the wilderness of the Attakapas Canal, which later became Wildwood Plantation where they enjoyed a long life together. Sarah died at home of pneumonia at age 80 in 1860 and Gabriel died later that same year, just in time to miss the destruction of the Civil War.

There are so many questions that I have about the blanks in the story. Thinking about those questions for years now has fueled my imagination about why, what, and when. Their story is romantic, adventurous, and heartbreaking all the same. Sarah’s life in Ireland and coming to America is a great story. The first love of her life died way too young leaving her a widow in a strange land with three children. A young North Carolina boy fell in love with a young widow and took her children as his own. They worked hard and built a wonderful life for themselves and their children for generations, only to die oddly enough months apart.

I’ve been doing a lot research into life back then, people, places, history, social/economic conditions, etc. It’s been really fascinating and sort of like trying to solve a mystery with whatever clues you can find. You have to take a certain license of liberty to fill in the blanks of their life and make choices about what you think happened and why they made the choices they did. I’m trying to make careful decisions about what most likely happened and also what would make the best story. This will be a work of fiction after all, but I hope to honor their story as best I can, before its lost and never told again.

Sarah’s lifespan parallels the history of the birth of the sugar plantation, the state of Louisiana, and the arrival of the Acadians. There are several other things that make the story really interesting to me. They tie together the history and culture of north Louisiana and south Louisiana which are worlds apart. Half my family is from south La and half from the north. I’ve spent half my life in each and know them well, but there is a lot of the Acadian French-speaking world of the bayous that I only know through story. Gabriel and Sarah were like other Anglos that came to the bayous chasing the sugar boom, feeling out of place and working to adjust to a different kind of life. 

This is going to take awhile, but I think I’ll enjoy it. I don’t have any high aspirations of selling the book or of many people reading it, but I will feel especially accomplished when I finish it. I think my grandmother would love it. She was so passionate about her family history and took such pride in where she came from and who she was. 

I’m working near the southern site of the story and plan to spend some time there doing some research and getting a feel for the story. I hope to make a trek north to the earlier homeplace and do the same in a few weeks. I won’t make it to Ireland though, so books will have to do. I’ll be blogging from time to time about my progress, the challenges, and nuts and bolts of putting a book together. I hope it challenges you to step out on a limb and check off one of your boxes too.

I just started reading a new book. I couldn’t get into The Lord of the Rings as easily as I did The Hobbit. My second attempt to read Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places failed too. It’s not an easy read like his other books have been. I honestly tried though. I just wasn’t buying it nor enjoying it.

I picked up Searching for God knows what by Donald Miller at the library today. I just can’t put it down. I really enjoyed Blue Like Jazz. His conversational writing style is enjoyable and hysterical. I’ll blog more about the book a little later, but I thought I’d share the first couple quotes that jumped out at me:

“I realized the gospel of Jesus, I mean the essence of God’s message to mankind, wasn’t a bunch of hoops we needed to jump through to get saved, and it wasn’t a series of ideas we had to agree with either; rather, it was an invitation, an invitation to know God.

“If you happened to be a person who thought they knew everything about God, Jesus would have been completely annoying.”

Karen Armstrong on Fundamentalism (video)

This is a segment of Robert Wright’s interview of Karen Armstrong where she addresses how we might bridge the gap between fundamentalists and secularists. The entire interview is almost 80 minutes long but is broken into segments by topic for smaller consumption, including science and religion, mystical experiences, religion in a global age, myth, self-transcendence, and what is God. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Armstrong is the author of The Spiral Staircase, The History of God, The Great Transformation, and a number of other books.

From The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong:

I remembered a Jesuit telling us once during a retreat that faith was not really an intellectual assent but an act of will. Christians could accept their essentially incredible tradition only by making a deliberate choice to believe. You could not prove or disprove these doctrines, but you could consciously decide to take them on trust. They might even turn out to be true. But somewhere along the line, I had given up. I could no longer summon up the emotional or spiritual energy to make that choice. I felt tired out, drained, and slightly repelled by it all. I was finished with God; and God – if he existed at all – had long ago finished with me.

For years faith for me was an “intellectual assent” held loosely together by the “infallibility” of scripture and a willful ignorance of an alternative. Once I stopped suppressing my questions and exposed myself to the world of possibilities, faith would have to be a choice made against the grain of reason or abandoned altogether. I’m standing now somewhere near the crossroads trying to find a middle ground between self-induced delusion and apostasy. Karen Armstrong has become a new found friend on this road to find the middle way.

We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” William Wordsworth

I’ve been reading The Man Called Cash, the authorized biography of Johnny Cash by Steve Turner, and have been enjoying it immensely. I read that he was criticized for spending so much time with prisoners. He responded that he thought there were three different kinds of Christians: “there’s preaching Christians, church-playing Christians, and there’s practicing Christians. I’m trying very hard to be a practicing Christian.” May we all keep trying.