Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Author: Randy Page 1 of 141

Where to Get The Book

My wise friend Lee asked on Twitter the following question:

“Can we order from somewhere other than the monopoly responsible for killing 90% of local bookstores?”

Lee, who was asking about my book Something Worth Living For, is opinionated as well as wise, as that tweet suggests. On this we are in agreement. I have gone on record (you can follow the argument beginning here) that I am engaged in a one person boycott of Amazon. Partly this is to preserve the existence and prosperity of local bookshops. And partly this is due to Amazon’s cavalier policy toward counterfeiting. I have not bought a book from Amazon for a year, other than to use gift cards given to me specifically for that purpose, and will never do so again if I can help it.

And yet as a writer, one whose own book will soon sit upon a virtual Amazon shelf, I’m aware of the power of that monopoly to sell books. Most who buy my book will buy it from Amazon. I direct people to Amazon because that will be the easiest source for most people. But for those willing to take a little bit more effort, I would be pleased if you would buy it elsewhere. (In fact, I think you should buy a copy from every source!) For example, other large, online retailers like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million are currently offering it for pre-order.

They are options. But there are others.

1) Ask for it at your local bookseller. If I’m not mistaken, the book will be available through normal channels of distribution and any local book seller should be able to get it. I love to encourage people to patronize their local bookshops and this is an opportunity to do so. This could have the benefit of drawing attention to the book and encouraging that store to stock it. And this will bring it to the attention of a wider public.

2) When I was researching online book buying options, I loved my experience with Hearts and Minds Bookstore, a Pennsylvania Christian bookseller with a vibrant online presence. If I were to order online, this would be among my first choices. Their catalog is selective and they do not currently carry it (something I will soon work to change). If others were to ask for it, the attention there would be appreciated. I bet they could get it and be persuaded to carry it.

3) If you want to pre-order and still support local bookstores, I encourage you to pre-order it from Bookshop.org. Not only does this online site return a percentage of sales income back to local bookshops, it is the only place online currently offering Something Worth Living For at a discount. This is a great source for books for those who do not have access to a local bookshop.

4) Currently one cannot pre-order from the Christian Focus web site, but when the book is released that will be possible, and CFP will be offering significant discounts on quantity purchases.

I am sure there are others.

So, yes, please, order the book, buy the book, purchase multiple copies of the book, from your local bookshop if you can, but elsewhere if that is what you do. As for Amazon, we cannot kill the Beast, but we can defund it a bit. And yet, I understand that Amazon is an option and for most, the easiest (which is why my wife has not joined me on my boycot).

At the end of the day, a book sold on Amazon is a book sold.

And while you are placing an order for Something Worth Living For, consider checking out A Living Hope: A Study of 1 Peter, written by Lee’s wife Sarah. He’d probably be happy even if you bought it from Amazon.

What’s Next after The Book?

Previous posts have left some asking, “So what is this NEXT BOOK of which you speak?”

I’m glad you asked.

I’ve considered several ideas for books and sketched out a couple. One, though, has actually been written (previously mentioned here). It is a memoir of my stumbling into being a pastor. It is a story with many delights and dark shadows. That I once told my wife that I would never be a pastor is a fun story, and there is delight in telling of the people whom God used to shape my direction. But for the story to be true, I need to explore the shadows. My theology was precariously moored and easily hijacked. My character, tending too easily toward anger and a need to please, was a struggle too easily downplayed.

The subtitle undergoes frequent revision.

So yes – delight and shadows. Both most be told if the story is to be true, and I want this one to be true. Pastoral memoirs, in my experience, too easily detail the right and minimize the wrong. Both must be shown if we are to see the hand of a faithful God through it all.

The resulting self-portrait is not particularly flattering. That is okay, though, for the real story is one of a remarkable work of God’s kindness. He pulled the curtains back, exposing the darkness in the shadows. He showed me a way and led me into a much better place. That is the story I really want to tell.

I’ve titled the book A Reformed Pastor. One can read various connotations into that title and I invite you to do so. I am reformed in more ways than one. To see how God has done this in my life is not a story just for other pastors.

It feels pretentious to write a book about myself. Mary Karr is quoted as saying somewhere that when she was a child, she read books so she would not feel so alone. I’ve written this one so that others would not feel alone.

I began writing this memoir nearly five years ago in a four hundred page burst. After shortening it to a more realistic three hundred pages, I laid it aside to work on what became Something Worth Living For. As that is poised to debut, I’ve returned my attention here.

There are people out there, I suppose, with pristinely organized minds who can get stuff from their head onto paper pretty much ready to be seen by a broader world. That is not me. Revision is my friend. Each revision forces me to think more carefully about what I need to say about my life. Each revision I hate just a little bit less than the one that came before. And so, after seven such revisions – I am not a writer easily satisfied – it stands at a new and hopefully improved 76,000 words.

Soon I’ll declare this book finished and will begin the search for an agent or publisher willing to run with it. If it gets published, that will be a wonder. But my life has been full of such wonders. The publication of Something Worth Living For is but one, and so I am encouraged to try. James Montgomery Boice in 2000, speaking of the sovereignty of God in the light of his cancer diagnosis, asked a question that has resonated with me ever since. “Who knows what God will do?”

Indeed. Who knows? I will work to get the story out there, and who knows what God will do. If the book comes to be, maybe others might no longer feel so much alone.

Five Ways to Help Birth Book #2

As I mentioned in my last post, with most of my work on Something Worth Living For complete, I now find myself a marketeer

And for this, I need your help. Seriously.

Of course, I need your help getting Something Worth Living For into the hands of those it is intended to help. Earlier this year I shared a portion of the book with a young woman in her early twenties who later wrote me, “I’ve wanted to weep reading because the tone is so gentle, loving and pastoral” and “I didn’t think it was possible to have a theologically conservative document that wasn’t blatantly polemic.” I believe there are others like her. If the book sells well by finding its way into the hands of such people, then I will be grateful. You can help see that that happens.

But I have other motives for wanting sales to be good. Good sales mean a larger platform, and a larger platform increases the possibility that there might be another book.

Publishers need authors to help promote books more than they did in the past. Sales outlets have declined and self-publishing has mushroomed. Publishers must now depend more heavily on an author’s ability to sell his book.

This is done through an author’s network — his ‘platform.’ For some Christian authors, a large, visible ministry generates an automatic platform. For others, good looks and charm go a long way toward attracting a following. And of course, controversy always helps. Being a combatant in an online fight is guaranteed to gain one followers.

But being “a parson, sober and rather dull, no doubt,” (my favored descriptor from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country) and therefore lacking the above, I need much help from you, my current readers and friends. What kind of help? Consider the following:

1) Subscribe to this blog

To the right of this post is a widget inviting you to ‘subscribe.’ Doing so is painless and only means that a notice of each blog post will show up in your inbox. This helps me put a number to those who have some interest in what I write, and publishers like numbers.

2) Buy The book

This is obvious, I suppose, but after receiving and reading it, then . . .

3) Post reviews on Amazon.

No matter where you buy the book, reviews on Amazon have a long-lasting impact. Posting a review quickly after the book is released boosts its presence and hence its sales. Again, numbers matter.

4) Promote The book

Use your networks. Tell people about it on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. For ease, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and re-post my posts.

5) Encourage reviews of The book

If you have a favorite blogger or source of book news, encourage them to review the book, or tell me who they are, and I’ll encourage them to do so.


Gideon chased an army with three-hundred men and some pots and torches. My motives are far less ambitious. I simply need to stir up sufficient notice for an agent or publisher to ask, “What else do you have?” To this end your help is greatly needed, and appreciated.

What’s Up with The Book?

Several times recently I’ve been asked, “What’s going on with The Book?”

The question brings a huge smile to my face (behind my mask, of course) and places the asker in danger of having to listen to me talk far beyond where he or she intended.

Yes, The Book, Something Worth Living For: God, the World, Yourself, and the Shorter Catechism, is still in process. The fact that I keep capitalizing The Book shows what a big deal this is for me. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about it here.)

I was pleased in January to have finished something I had set out a couple of years before to do. To then have a publisher (Christian Focus Publications or CFP) agree to invest its own resources into perfecting, printing, and distributing it was, while deeply desired, surreal.

Since then, I’ve worked through the text two or three times. I first significantly reworked the manuscript for initial submission to CFP. Then an editor went through it with me, bringing better order, and a more personal feel, to the whole. Family references became specific. ‘My daughter,’ for example, became ‘Jerusha’ and ‘my wife’ became ‘Barb.’ Then, after the manuscript passed through two CFP proofreaders, Barb and I read through the whole and submitted to CFP 14 pages of suggested corrections and changes. Through it all Christian Focus has been wonderful to work with.

Meanwhile, both I and CFP sought endorsements. I have been moved simply by the fact that people would be willing to read it with an eye toward lending support. Words like ‘thoughtfully applied’ (Mark Johnston / Bethel Presbyterian Church, Wales), ‘centered in Christ and the gospel of saving and transforming grace’ (Mark Dalbey / Covenant Seminary, St. Louis), and ‘pastoral entryway to Christianity’ (Michael Allen / Reformed Seminary, Orlando) touch upon the heart I sought to bring to this. That others sensed that is gratifying. So are words like ‘highly recommended’ (Craig Carter / Tyndale University, Toronto), ‘important work’ (Ray Cortese / Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, Florida), and ‘a welcome tool’ (Michael Haykin / Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville).

Though we are told metaphorically to never judge a book by its cover, we all do. My kids weighed in (heavily!) on CFP’s first proposal. In the end, the publisher has dressed The Book nicely, preparing it to be seen in public

And public it is becoming. Sites like Amazon and other retailers now list the book, albeit with some missing and inaccurate info (soon to be corrected). Some have already pre-ordered it. (Hint, hint . . . .)

Having signed off on the cover (proudly accompanying this post) and the manuscript, I am now mostly a spectator as The Book heads off to the printer to prepare for its November release.

And so I must transition from author to marketeer. I am writing articles for another blog (not this one!) and plotting ways to help the book get noticed. Shortly I’ll loop you readers into how you can help, for your help I will need.

Thanks for your interest and encouragement.

I’m still smiling. Behind my mask.

The Saints in the Land

I was mopping today thinking good thoughts of a dear friend. That’s what she always called me. A dear friend. I was her pastor once and I suppose with a friend like her one is always her pastor. She called me Tuesday because I had failed to respond to a few emails – emails I assumed were newsy and could wait, but perhaps emails the contents of which I somehow instinctively feared. So we talked, Adri and I, and laughed, and she cried as she shared the news of her liver cancer diagnosis, the subject of the unread emails. We talked of death. She said, “I’m not afraid of death; it’s the process that scares me.”

Gus and Adri, April, 2011

I was thinking good thoughts of our lives together – her unwavering support, her immense trust in me, her unflagging zeal for the things of God. I thought of the blonde jokes I delighted in telling her, and the verbal jabs I’d receive back. I thought of her laugh and her smile. I thought of her deep devotion to her family and her insistence that her youngest son was to be called “Nathaniel,” not “Nate,” as he is known to the rest of the world. I thought of how she would arm herself with pictures of her grandchildren to show me and her feisty resistance when I joked that all babies are ugly at the start. She won that one. I lamented how she, of that wonderfully inquisitive and thoughtful mind, often would disparage herself as stupid.

It is sad what it takes to stimulate meditation on the value of a person. I was thinking good thoughts of my dear friend Adri and her devoted husband Gus because I received word Friday that Adri had suddenly taken ill and was in the ER in critical condition. Why, we don’t yet know. But she wanted me to know she was there. She told her sister who took her to the ER, “Get Randy’s phone number. He doesn’t answer his emails.”

That was Friday. By Saturday morning I received word that her sons had agreed to a DNR order and the ventilator was being removed. She had been showing no signs of any ability to breath on her own. She was afraid of the process of dying, not death. God knew that and showed her grace. Her battle is over. The rest of us grieve.

Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life encourages us to create prayer cards for those for whom we pray. On these cards are to go the names of the people, the things we pray for, and any scripture that in some way represents the person or persons or guides our prayers for them. When I prepared the card for Gus and Adri, years ago, I could only think of Psalm 16:3.

“As for the saints in the land,
they are the excellent ones,in whom is all my delight.”

And now, there is one less saint in the land.

In my study hangs a needle work piece that Adri made for me years ago of the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism. It is fitting to end with that. This indeed was Adri’s only comfort in life, and in death.

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own,
but belong-body and soul in life and in death-
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing
and ready from now on to live for him.

Making Better Men (Reprise)

My contention in previous posts (here, here, here, and here) has been that we make better men by calling on men to be better people, not by building illusory models of masculinity imaginatively drawn from Scripture. Since posting, I’ve been gratified to stumble across others saying similar things, albeit with far greater erudition and eloquence. A recent post on the First Things site is entitled “Making Better Men,” and it is worth a read.

Speaking of the male role models in his life, the author, First Things assistant editor Alexi Sargeant says:

The strength of both these fathers, physical and spiritual, was a humble one, in that they had no need to boast or domineer. They had the character to suffer wrongs patiently and trust in God rather than crave the accolades of men. I am grateful that my image of masculinity was formed by these men of faith and integrity. They modeled love and respect in their marriages and their friendships, building up the people God had placed in their lives with care, devotion, and joy. This unpretentious constancy is what men should strive for. When I ask my friends for their formative, positive male role models, the answers (real and fictional) were often men of quiet confidence and steadfast service, like St. Maximilian Kolbe or Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird.

That a lesser, as he calls it ‘a dingier’, sense of manliness is seemingly embodied in the popularity of Donald Trump is sad to me as I think it does reflect something of the confusion men feel as to what it means to be a genuine, or decent, man. Sargeant notes that

The virtuous man, by contrast, demonstrates both self-control and self-respect.

And he calls us to find, and to be, better role models.

To which I say, “Amen.”

More on “Manliness” (Reprise)

It was our date night, and my wife wanted to shop for some shorts. I was willing to set aside my natural aversion to shopping, and shopping for women’s clothes in particular, on a date night no less, in order to accompany her cheerfully and to earn some serious husband points in the process.

After visiting several stores we ended up at a Montgomery Ward department store, which dates this story a bit. As she was holding up a pair of shorts to the light, I said, “Why don’t you just buy this pair?” I suspect my patience was running out. She said something like, “Oh, I wasn’t going to buy anything; I’m just looking.”

I realized then what was meant by those who had said in messages about the differences between men and women that women shop, but men hunt.

That’s been a fun distinction to think about and, to an extent, joke about. When I go to the store, I set a bullseye to this item and a bullseye on that item. I grab them and throw them in the cart and leave. Barb will stop and read the labels and pause and think and consider. We cannot go to the store together. She shops and I hunt.

What I should NOT do, however, is to generalize from my own limited personal experience to say that this is a ‘masculine’ trait, an aspect of what it means to be a man. I should especially not hit the Christian speaker circuit (as if anyone would want me to) drawing that and other distinctions of dubious value which I doubt would stand up under clinical scrutiny. In fact, I suspect that there are other couples where the husband is more likely to shop, and the woman more likely to hunt. Is he therefore less man-like?

The effort to find a so-called ‘biblical’ masculinity is fraught with this danger. We ought never to generalize from our own cultural or personal experience distinctions which we observe as if they apply to all men or women. Nor should we legitimize these distinctions by calling them biblical. Whether I hunt or shop of course is fairly innocuous. But we baptize other instincts as ‘manly’ or ‘masculine’ such as dominance or vengeance or, even so-called ‘locker-room talk’. These may be in fact sinful instincts best overwhelmed by a pursuit of decency.

Film director Scott Derrickson noted recently that things such as racism and misogyny are in our American DNA. It’s worse than that. It’s in our human DNA. That’s not pessimism. That’s good theology, and rings more true than the hunting/shopping distinction. Untaught, unrestrained, unaddressed, and well fed it will grow into a cancer that will consume us. What is needed is a community of ordinary men and women embracing a contrary ethic, an ethic of decency, to lead us not to generalized and perhaps imagined standards of masculinity and femininity, but to be a people reflecting as much as we are able, the standards of the kingdom of God.

Models of Biblical Decency (Reprise)

The BBC drama Foyles War starring the perfectly cast Michael Kitchen as an unflappable British detective during and after WWII is, for me, must watch television. Watch it. Watch every episode. Savor it. And as you do, consider Inspector Foyles’ character. Note his integrity and the hints of compassion and kindness. Note his perseverance and wisdom and attend to his gentle longing to be reconnected with his estranged son. And then, in one of the final episodes, listen carefully as another in his world speaks of Foyle saying, “He is a decent man.”

Christian men aim for more than decency. I get that. We are to be godly and Christ-like. But we could do little worse than to find models of mere decency and learn from them.

To find such models requires searching not because they are rare. Rather, decent men are not bombastic and they do not promote themselves any more than is necessary for their particular calling. Find men who care for their corner of the world and do so faithfully. These will be the decent men. Flawed they will be, for sure, and broken in ways they themselves may not be able to see. But their humility will lead them to face those flaws and seek to work beyond them. Reflect for a while, and you will think of men who bear the attributes that draw us: compassion, mercy, and kindness, with an ear quick to listen and lips that are careful to build up and not tear down. Decent men should be our models.

Popular culture gives us super-heroes whose impulse is to fight and exact vengeance. More people know of John Wick or Jason Bourne than of Christopher Foyle. Others should be known. Many know of Atticus Finch, the courageous and quietly compassionate attorney in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m struck, too, by the decency of Tom Robinson, the harassed and falsely accused black man whom Finch defends, or of Boo Ridley, the reclusive rescuer of children. Decent men, they are, functioning as best they can in a broken world.

In Alan Paton’s wonderful novel Cry, the Beloved Country the Zulu South African Anglican pastor Stephen Kumalo lives with his wife in poor, desolate Ndotsheni. There he cares for his church and all who live in its vicinity. He loves them and they love him. Circumstances lead Stephen to the big city of Johannesburg where tragedy and heartbreak await him. Though he gives in to the impulse to hurt others at times, his repentance is real and deep. Most of the time he sees the right thing to do, and does it though it costs him dearly. His decency is so real that I have a hard time remembering that he in fact never existed. I want him to exist. He is a decent man.

I’m drawn as well, as have been many others, to the fundamental decency of the Reverend John Ames, the congregational pastor in Marilynne Robinson’s novels Gilead, Home, and Lila. The Rev. Mr. Ames, too, is flawed. And yet those who meet him in these novels will remember his tenderness, his kindness, and his integrity. We walk away from time spent with him understanding that he is a decent man whom we wish to know better.

Decent men (and women) are those who, in spite of their imperfections and weaknesses, act in a direction that reveals genuine character and virtue. The men profiled here never existed. And yet they exist quietly all around us and should become our models, models of biblical decency.

The Allure of Biblical Decency (Reprise)

At a political rally a Christian pastor proclaims,

“In a manly time of struggle one cannot get by with effeminate and sweet talk of peace.”

One can imagine his comments receiving a vigorous supportive response. Men, even Christian men, are to be marked by strength and aggression. We are to fight for our rights and never back down. Real men pack heat and and kick ass when called upon.

And I wonder if we’ve read our cultural biases into a Christian script and gotten off track somewhere. Perhaps way off. The Christian pastor spoke these words at a 1937 rally in Frankfort, Germany, in support of Adolph Hitler.

Christianity’s current determination to make sharp distinctions between masculinity and femininity is, while aimed at a good goal, wildly off the mark. Nostalgia leads us to imagine a time when men were men and women were women. We feed off that nostalgia, no matter how inaccurate, and then find in our Bibles verses that seem to anchor those claims in scripture. That’s a bad idea all around.

And yet the motive is a good one. Christian men are wondering how to shape their character and how to be obedient as a man to their Christian discipleship. It is good to give them direction. But the issue is not masculinity but decency. Let’s guide men toward decency.

But isn’t the word ‘decent’ too tepid? Isn’t it too broad? Perhaps. I know there are those who sense some of the same things I do who rightly prefer to speak of ‘godliness.’ I don’t quibble with that. To be godly is to be decent. But the language of decency speaks to a broader public and includes within its boundaries people of virtuous character who make no claim to Christianity. Christian men seeking to be godly men will be decent men, will be good men. That is language I think we can understand and live with.

Such decency will be for us defined by Scripture. It is modeled by Christ. It is outlined in the gospels and the epistles. It includes attributes we ordinarily attribute to masculinity – courage, for example, and integrity – and those we see as more feminine – compassion and gentleness. We should pursue these things not because we want to be men, but because we want to be like Jesus. And in our current context, to aim to be simply decent men will be to run against the tide, politically and culturally. It is an act of rebellion.

When the question is asked, “What kind of people do you associate with the church?” I want the answer to be, “Decent people.” There is a certain appeal to looking at a person, man or woman, and noting their fundamental decency and longing that more of us might evidence such character. My appeal as a pastor speaking to men who want to be men is simply this: let’s be decent men.

I could be drawn to a community, a church, a nation, and a world comprised of decent men. I’m not sure how to seed the world that it might sprout such men, but that would be the world in which I’d like to live.

Note: The quote with which this post begins appears on page 262 in Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a book I hope to review here soon. (Which I did here.)

The Myth of Biblical Masculinity (Reprise)

Standing in the serpentine line guiding us to our luggage after a cruise, my wife and I passed and re-passed a confident and athletic looking man wearing a t-shirt that broadcast his vision of masculinity. It said, “Cool story, Babe…now make me a sandwich.” He was not one to be pushed around, this one. He knew his place as a man and was going to assert it. Or, at least, he wanted others to THINK he knew.

We are told, though, that many men these days aren’t quite sure what their place is. And so books for “dudes” are written to guide them (with endorsements by real men like pro athletes). Charismatic pastors speak directly to men, using strong and colorful language, to shape their thinking of manliness. Defining what is called ‘Biblical Masculinity’ has become the rage and I’d like to make a modest plea that we stop trying to define what isn’t there.

My plea may arise from my not being very masculine. Yes, I can grow a beard, so there is that. And I like to hang out in my garage when I can. So far so good. But I don’t hunt. And if I do go fishing (once every decade, at least, just to keep the skills fresh), and if I were to catch anything (not likely), my wife is the one who would clean it. She likes that kind of thing. I do the grocery shopping in our family and have to be reminded how to start the lawn mower should my wife not be able to take care of the lawn some week. So perhaps my dismay over the search for biblical masculinity arises from my own confusion.

That may be so. But I like to think it arises from the fact that the Bible shows a complete lack of concern for such a thing. I don’t see Jesus or Paul or any of the gospel writers or apostles overtly concerned with teaching men how to be men. Yes, we are given some direction as husbands and fathers, but many fine men are neither.

I would plea that we simply get over trying to be men and replace that with a passion to be decent. How about we champion the admittedly rather bland and gender inclusive goal of biblical decency? We could stand for this, couldn’t we?

I don’t think the book on this has yet been written, but certainly it would include a chapter on kindness. And for sure there would be one on the courage to stand for the weak. Another would encourage integrity and fidelity. And it must include one on owning our wrong and making it right. It would cover all the essentials of what makes for a decent, if not ‘manly’, man. Compassion. Patience. And the meekness with which one will inherit the earth.

I’m open to correction here. Maybe ‘biblical masculinity’ is a genuine biblical thing. But even so, should not the pursuit of ‘biblical decency’ be an even more noble cause? To embrace that is my plea.

I’m sure my sons would have loved to have had a more manly dad. They had to have other guys show them how to fish and to take them hunting. I did go backpacking with the older two once, so maybe that counted for something. But as I recall, none of them ever sat me down and urged me to do more ‘manly’ things.

One, though, did sit me down and ask me to be more gentle. I think he wanted a dad who was a more decent man. And that is a good longing.

Go think about it, men, as you make your sandwich. Make one for your wife as well. It would be the decent thing to do.

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