Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Writing Page 1 of 4

Missing Your Blog

I received a terse but kind text on Tuesday of this week:

“Missing your blog.”

KW

I miss it, too.

So it may seem a curiosity that I have neglected it for so long.

It’s not for lack of material. Like most I have takes on Pressing Matters of Great Importance, like Tiger King (DID Carol kill her husband and feed him to her cats?). I have ideas on how preachers should preach when the congregation is at home in their pajamas. And I have thoughts on deeper things that are not culturally urgent such as living without fear or taking vows of celibacy. I have pieces in the queue that are funny, or try to be, and some that challenge (perhaps unwisely) conventional wisdom. Not all of this should be published, but I’d like to get some of these, at least, out there to be seen. So, yes, I, too, am missing the blog.

Apart from the current challenge of pastoring a church that cannot meet, my blog writing has been curtailed for a number of reasons. First, the little time I do have each day to give to writing has continued to be drained by The Book. I completed the first complete draft of Something Worth Living For in December. January was spent re-working the text for the publisher. Then time was spent with an editor going over it once again. All the while, I’ve directed time toward gaining endorsements and other such marketing efforts. I mistakingly thought that once I was done I was done. Just this morning, fifteen minutes of my writing time was spent corresponding with Christian Focus Publications as we continue to tweak the sub-title.

But now, most of that is behind me. And yet, that has left me flopping on the deck like a fish out of water. Someone I greatly respect asked me, “So what is your next book going to be?” Wait, should there be a next book? And so I sit, pondering, sketching, thinking, and not writing. Which of my five or six ideas have potential, both of sustaining my interest and capturing the interest of a publisher? (The latter being an especially relevant question since I only have a small number of blog subscribers, not quite 500 followers on Twitter, and only a handful who find me interesting on Instagram, the metrics that make most publishers sit up and take notice.) Will anything so capture me that I’m willing to shut off other pursuits to focus on that one alone for the year or two it would take to do the writing?

And then there is my desire to improve my writing. As I write, I was supposed to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attending the now postponed Festival of Faith and Writing. There I was to have participated in a workshop focused on writing a personal essay, a genre of great interest to me, with Meghan O’Gieblyn, an award-winning practitioner of the craft. The essay I was to have submitted for that workshop I have continued to write even though there is now no where to submit it.

https://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine

And that is part of the problem as well. I am a ponderous reviser. I envy writers who seem to form a finished product in their brain which then flows from their fingers through the keyboard and out to the waiting eyes of their insatiable readers. In contrast, I am working on the tenth or eleventh revision of my unneeded essay. I now thoroughly hate it and need to lay it aside until I can like it again. It’s getting closer, but the hours I have spent, while good in sharpening my thought, and possibly (though this close to it I can’t see it) improving my writing, those were hours I could have given to the blog.

And finally it’s hard to take up the blog and build any sense of expectation in my readers when I know that I will fail you again. This blog will for the near future, at least, be a fill-in-the-gap space, which seems a paltry payment to readers who have, like my recent correspondent, encouraged me so much. You are not unappreciated. A paragraph in the acknowledgments of Something Worth Living For (look for it around November!) says, “For years faithful readers of my blog have urged me to write more.” This blog has been the genesis of much, including a book! I hope to, at least in the next few months, repay you with more frequent infrequent visits. For I miss it, too.

Of Cephalopods and Publishers and Very Special Long-Awaited Announcements

Ann Lamott in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, likens knowing when a book is done to putting an octopus to bed (pages 93, 94). Now that I have had to attempt such a thing, I find her analogy to be apt.

She points out that after you “get a bunch of the octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers” you are likely to find that “two more arms are flailing around.” I finished my first “final” draft on December 30. All the arms appeared to be tucked away. Two weeks later when I checked in there were arms sticking out all over. So, I spent the next weeks rewriting confusing sentences and then rewriting them again, removing allusions that only made sense to me, and, in some cases, re-framing whole sections.

Just when I was beginning to think all was snugly blanketed, an arm broke free. Then another. Punctuation marks were all in the wrong places. And where did this Harry Potter reference come from, anyway?

Ms. Lamott finishes the picture as only she can:

“Then, even though all the sucking disks on that one tentacle are puckering open and closed, and the slit-shaped pupils of the octopus are looking derisively at you, as if it might suck you to death just because it’s bored, and even though you know that your manuscript is not perfect and you’d hoped for so much more . . . it’s the very best you can do for now.”

That pretty well describes where I am. Though I hoped for more, this is the best I can manage for now. I can only hope that no one notices the arms that never did get fully secured under the covers.

Because, you see, others soon will be able to notice.

On Tuesday, January 14, I read, in an email, one of the most beautiful sentences ever written in the English language.

“We recently reviewed your manuscript Something Worth Living For: Conversations on Life and Theology in the Westminster Shorter Catechism at our editorial meeting, and I am pleased to inform you that we enjoyed it and would like to take it forward to publication.”

Apparently there are people, people I assume to be sane and honorable, who want to put their money into my project so that it might reach a wider audience. Christian Focus Publications is a publisher based in Scotland who, unless Scotland within the next year or so slides into the North Sea (the Eeyore in my soul assures me that this is an entirely realistic possibility), are currently planning a December, 2020, release.

I’ve tried to be real cool about this. I come home and say, “Hi, Barb, I’m home. I stopped on the way and picked up those oranges you wanted. Oh, also, my book is going to be published.”

In truth, however, I’ve had to restrain myself so that I did not run up and down the street knocking on doors announcing to startled homeowners, “You don’t know me, but my book is going to be published!” I tend to be unable to shut up about it to anyone unlucky enough to cross my shadow over the past few weeks.

I am humbled to know, as a friend familiar with publishing reminded me last week, that few who are as little known as I am who set out on this path are given the opportunity to cross this threshold. I have been blessed to be granted the opportunity to write. And now I am blessed in being published.

I am still in a state of shock.

Celebrate with me!

Those Sanctified

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

The early Christians whose lives are reflected in the pages of the New Testament were a worthy bunch in many ways. Their passion and sacrifice are a model for us as they faced adversity and yet persevered. But the Bible also makes clear that they were people, imperfect and flawed like us. They argued and stretched the truth. They sometimes showed favoritism too freely and tolerated error too quickly. Much of their behavior we would not describe as saintly, and yet God was please to call them (and us) saints. Though broken and sinful, they were united with Christ and set apart by God. As those so set apart, they were “sanctified.” In a settled and definitive way God pronounced them “holy.”

Table of Contents, Book One

The problem is that they, and we who are God’s holy ones, don’t act like it. The work of God which is sanctification is a process by which Christians are enabled by God to more and more act as who they are, as God’s holy people. And as Jesus is the model of holiness, sanctification is God through his Holy Spirit making his people more like Jesus. This work, this process, can be painful, and it can be slow, but it is always good.

There are sinful ways of living and reacting and behaving that come easily to us. Though we are Christians, though we are in union with Christ and so justified, adopted, and set apart as saints, these well-practiced behaviors persist. We are pulled by the world to speak falsely, to neglect compassion, or to celebrate pride. We have an instinctual recourse to erupt with rage, to seek revenge, or to hoard money. We have traumatic histories or inexplicable inner urges that tempt us to sexual expressions that fall outside the biblical norm. To die to these impulses and to embrace a new way of life is incredibly hard and will never be complete before we die. And yet God is working in our lives to shape us and to conform us to the image of Christ. When we see change, we are seeing the evidence of the work of God.

The path on which God leads us as he conforms us to Christ’s character looks different for all of us. Some Christians may by personality or background or fortuitous cultural influence be closer to a Christ-like demeanor than those who have suffered a lifetime of abuse and trauma. The goal of sanctification in each is the same—to be like Jesus—but reaching that goal will follow different paths over different durations of time, and each person will come to different plateaus. For all of us sanctification will be a roller coaster ride with strides forward and strides backwards. But in it all we can never ever forget that ultimately it is not we who sanctify ourselves, but God who works in us to make us like Jesus. He began a good work in us, Paul says in Philippians, and he will see that it is completed. It is his work to change us and he is doing so.

The “mechanics” of sanctification will occupy our consideration soon in these studies. At this point be heartened knowing that God is the one who is changing you. Don’t despair if the progress seems slow and don’t quit because it is hard. A verse of the Christmas hymn “It Came upon a Midnight Clear” uses the language of John Milton to acknowledge that the walk of the Christian is never easy.

“And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow….”

The steps of sanctification are often wandering, painful, and slow. But they are guided by a wise and good God, our heavenly Father, who is willing even now to call you, as he did those early, irascible Christians, holy.

Living for God’s Glory

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

“Hey! Hello in there. Hey! What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?”

So shouts Miracle Max at the mostly dead (but slightly alive) Westley in Rob Reiner’s classic movie, The Princess Bride. Though this is a wonderfully fun and playful movie, the question about what one finds worth living for is a terribly serious one. It is pondered by philosophers and lovers, by visionaries and artists, and, at some level, by everyone. What makes life worthwhile? Or, as the Catechism puts it, what is the chief end, the ultimate purpose, of life? What do we have that’s worth living for?

We all have an answer, conscious or not, of some sort. The college student may live to graduate, perhaps to find a spouse or pursue a lifelong career ambition. The homeless family may live only to find the next meal. The salesman may live for the next deal and the addict the next hit. Some live to find the approval their fathers never gave them. Others live to achieve a renown so far deprived them. Some live to get as much pleasure as they can before they die, others as much power. Few articulate what drives them. They just “know” at some level that the happiness they seek resides somewhere beyond their reach, and they pursue it. This thing pursued is our end, our purpose, and our goal.

In a sense, this end is in fact our god.

In the early days of my parenting what mattered to me, I am ashamed to say, was my reputation as a pastor. I parented my children concerned not by what was best for them or even what was Scripturally sound but by what served best my reputation as a ‘good pastor.’ My chief end, one might say, was to bring glory to my name and enjoy my reputation forever. This was never expressed and was never conscious. Yet this was the goal which drove me. It was the inadequate and unworthy god whom I served.

That thing for which we live is our god, and if we cherish the wrong god, an inadequate and false one, then serving that god will enslave us and lead us to disappointment. Only when we serve and cherish the true and living God will we find the joy and purpose for which we were created. Our chief and ultimate purpose, the only one that will not disappoint, is to live for the glory of God, and, in the end, to find our ultimate and complete enjoyment in him.

To develop the implications of this is the aim of the remaining questions and answers of the Catechism.

One shaped by a pursuit of God’s glory will bend every part of his life to that end. Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed at the bottom of many of his great musical manuscripts the initials “SDG,” a Latin symbol meaning, “to the glory of God alone.” That should be inscribed on every burger we grill and every email we send.

Living for God’s glory is the posture out of which people will find their greatest happiness. It is also the posture against which the deepest part of us tends to rebel. We prefer to think of ourselves as the masters of our own universe, which leads us to reject the claim of God over us, even if that claim comes as kindness.

It is the beauty of the biblical story outlined for us in the Catechism that God does not leave such rebels to their own chosen misery. He shows mercy to us in our rebellion, a mercy culminating in our being made “perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.”

It is the knowledge of this mercy alone that can soften our cold, hard, rebellious hearts and replace them with hearts eager to see the glory of God alone as the one thing worth living for.

Something Worth Living For: An Introduction

[Note: the following is from the introduction to my as of yet unpublished book, Something Worth Living For. Feel free to spread this link far and wide, as you see fit. If you want to use the content in some other form, ask me. Thanks!]

In writing this book, I’m assuming that you are curious. Maybe you are in a church that has some relationship with the Westminster Shorter Catechism and you want to know more about what your church believes. Perhaps you have seen the Catechism mentioned somewhere and wonder what it is about. I write to satisfy those curiosities, of course.

This page, as it currently exists.

But there are deeper curiosities. It’s possible that you are curious about the beliefs of Christianity itself. The Catechism, as it is a summary of basic historic Christian doctrine is a good place to begin. My hope is that this book will stimulate you to dig even more deeply into what you discover here.

Some of you may have been shaken by life, or by simply growing up, to question a Christian faith you once held. Perhaps your understanding of Christianity has been challenged by Christians behaving badly or by Christianity being handled poorly in the public sphere. You, perhaps, are reading because you are trying to recapture the faith you once held. I welcome you. I’ve been where you are.

Mostly I hope you are curious about God. If this book can help readers know God better, then the effort of writing and reading will have been worth it.

Structurally, this book is a collection of “conversations” centered on the 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I picture us sitting on a porch or at a coffee shop discussing the issues the Catechism raises in the order it raises them. Though intending to be theologically accurate this is not intended to be academic. The goal of my comments is to encourage your thoughtful and devotional engagement with the Christian faith as it is expressed in the Catechism. I want you to not just know what the Catechism says about God. I want to encourage you to reflect on its meaning and implications.

To this end, it is important to let the logic of the Catechism lead us. It’s important to begin at the beginning and to move thoughtfully to the end. There is no rush. It is okay to read one section per day, or less frequently, if that is most comfortable for you. Each is short enough to be read quickly, but substantive enough to encourage reflection. There is no rush.

The pastors and scholars who created this Catechism were motivated by a deep passion for God and for his people. They, like those who before them translated the Bible into English, took great risks so that they might remove “. . . the barrier between learned and unlearned by making Christianity fully intelligible in the common languages.” (Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things, pages 19, 20) This book does not reach the level of what they accomplished, and the only risk I run is that readers won’t like it. And yet I, too, want to make “Christianity fully intelligible in [today’s] common languages.” I want to bring the riches of this catechism before you in a way that both satisfies and further whets your curiosity. I will judge this successful if, when finished, readers love God just a bit more and are moved more deeply to glorify and enjoy him.

The Fool’s Wisdom

In my recent post announcing the “birth” of Something Worth Living For I gave readers the opportunity to suggest sample entries they would like to see.

The results have been many and diverse. Since I do hope to publish this someday (that is, I will want people to buy it!) I plan to limit the samples I’ll make public to two or three. Nevertheless, I am gratified to see such interest.

In considering this I am reminded how insecure I am. It’s one thing to put forward one’s creation, one’s art, to a publisher where it is seen by nameless people. But to post it here subjects it to the scrutiny of friends. I’m reminded of the comments of Patrick O’Brian in his novel The Far Side of the World when his naval surgeon Stephen Maturin is asked to read and make suggestions on a love letter a friend was composing.

“He had shown his letter to Maturin partly as a mark of confidence and esteem, being sincerely attached to him, and partly so that Maturin might praise it, possibly adding a few well-turned phrases; for like most normally constituted writers Martin had no use for any candid opinion that was not wholly favourable.”

In this regard, at least, I am a normally constituted writer.

Throughout this project there has been a voice in my head saying, “You are a fool for thinking anyone will care about this.” You may come to agree with that voice. But I’ve also realized that I’m okay with being the fool. Having just finished reading Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing I am again reminded that often it is the fool who sees things most clearly. I’m willing to be the fool with the hope that my fool’s clarity might be of help to someone, somewhere.

Watch this space, then, over the next several Saturdays. First, I will post a portion of the introduction so that you might sense the goal of the whole. Then, having randomly selected three sample entries from the suggested twenty-one (literally, I drew numbers out of a bowl), I will post one each week. I’d love to hear what you think. Though, as a normally constituted writer, I may have “no use for any candid opinion that [is] not wholly favourable,” I have found that all input, wanted or not, has value.

Something That Did Not Exist Before

Something Worth Living For is done.

Part One of Two

For the past several months, the most contented hours for me have the been the first hour or two of most every morning. Fueled by two cups of coffee, and encouraged by an ever patient and supportive wife and church, I have been at this desk with pen in hand or computer on lap and have revised and edited and re-revised and re-edited my book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

And it is done. Not necessarily well done or, in everyone’s opinion done well, but it is done.

My writing space and companions.

There have been happier moments over these months, certainly, from the mundane – laughter with friends and guests around our kitchen table – to the profound – my daughter receiving her doctorate. But these regular and repeated hours of writing have been times when everything else ceases to exist. It’s been work, but happy work. I have been moved to set aside these hours by an internal passion to put on paper what is in my heart. I read recently a line from a poet who noted the obvious fact that to create means to bring into existence something that did not exist before. I have been possessed by this crazy obsession to bring into existence something that did not exist before.

And now it does.

Audaciously positioned next to N. T. Wright and Mary Oliver.

Its 51,000 words and 200+ pages represent a couple years of my life. And during that time I’ve had time to redefine what success in this looks like. There is an audience who would find this introduction to historic Christianity helpful and even a bit entertaining. I believe that. But to the gatekeepers to that audience, that is, to publishers, I lack the credentials to write a book of theology and I lack the platform, that host of fans lined up and ready to purchase whatever might spill from my keyboard. Publishers depend on an author’s platform to make the financial risk of publishing viable. So I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that without a substantial platform or the energy or personal charisma to build one, there is a high likelihood that this will never find a publisher. And so success for me in this is that what once did not exist now exists and I am for the most part happy with it. That is enough.

Write, rewrite, and rewrite again.

One poet once remarked that a poem is never finished, just abandoned. This work, though finished in one way, is not in another. It is, we might say, medium done, not well done. I have put it on a shelf. In a month or two I’ll bring it back out and read it with fresh eyes making such adjustments as seem necessary. In the meantime I will continue to shop it to publishers (I’m 0-4 so far) and perhaps agents hoping to find someone willing to take a risk with it. Where it goes from here, if anywhere, is yet to be seen.

Many who read this blog, this silent, empty, nearly non-existent blog, have encouraged me in this. You have said you value my writing and my voice. But you have been rewarded for such encouragement by my on-line silence. That has not been fair to you, and I lament that fact. But I have found I cannot write a book AND at the same time maintain an active on-line. Your patience and your encouragement have been invaluable. I may post more frequently now, but I make no promises. I’ve done that before, only to break them when it becomes untenable.

I hope you share with me some of the joy at the book reaching this level of “doneness” as you have been hidden encouragers of it. That you have found my writing profitable and have said so has been an invaluable reminder to me to keep at it.

One thing I do want to do, overlapping the book and the blog, is this: I would like to post a few sample sections of the book to give readers a taste. But what sections? I leave that for you to choose.

There are 107 questions and answers in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. If you are unfamiliar you can find them online here among other places. Something Worth Living For gives brief (ordinarily 500-600 word) explanations (more meditative and reflective than technical) for each of those questions, either individually or grouped.

Here is what I want you to do: In the comments section tell me three of those Q/As for which you would like to read what I have written. If you want to simply write three random numbers between 1 and 107, that’ll work! The least I can do to make up for my months of silence is to post a few samples of what I’ve been up to.

I should add that this “game” is open to all readers. Not all of you are Christians and not all of you are Presbyterians like me. But I’ve not written this for an audience like me. I’ve written it for the curious, and all of you fit into that category. My goal has been to present historic Christianity in a form that captures the interest and engages the heart and mind of the curious.

So it is up to you where we go from here.

What I Did on Summer Vacation

When I was a sophomore in high school, I tried out for the cross country team. My best friend was a star runner and I thought I could give it a try. What could be so hard about running a couple of miles?

It wasn’t pretty. I became the team manager instead.

Since then my running career—currently on hold due to plantar fasciitis—has had as many stops and starts as my career as a Celebrated and Famous Blogger. And as successful. Every January or so I push forward with great energy. By March the distance between posts lengthens, and they all but disappear come June.

What happened this summer? Have I replaced writing with surfing or crocheting? No. It only seems that way. I’m actually writing more but just not for the moment for the blog.

My writing priorities are four:

1) Sermons – My day job has me delivering a “4000 word essay” weekly. This will always be my priority.

2) Books – I have two books in various stages, which I’ve detailed here and here.

3) Craft – I feel a need to work on my writing as a craft. Some have suggested I write fiction (which is not happening). Others have challenged me to write something funny (harder than it sounds). Most of these projects will never be shared publicly but they allow me to work at the craft of writing which is important.

4) This blog – For this I generate two or three ideas/week, most of which live in a pile where they ordinarily go to die. A friend once encouraged me to just “let ‘er rip” or some such counsel for blog posts. I’ve never been able to do that. Even this one, as I type, is in need of revision and proofing. (I hear that Toni Morrison was famous for “re-writing.” That’s it. Toni Morrison and I, you see, share a lot in common.)

For several months I’ve been focusing my non-sermon writing hours on the Something Worthy Living For book. I’ve completed the first draft and now am in the process of revision. I’ve dangled the proposal before three publishers and though one expressed some initial interest, all three have chosen not to pick it up. A widely admired author and professor (who must at this point go unnamed) told me that I have written a “beautiful book” which buoyed me wonderfully. He then sent a dozen pointed corrections and suggestions which at first unnerved me until I realized that he had read it closely (a great honor) and had taken pains to help me make it better. He is writing to his publisher to encourage them to consider taking an interest in it. There is hope yet.

In the meantime, life goes on. We’ve done what others do in the summer. We went camping with the family and had a short trip to St. Louis. I’ve read mystery novels and thrillers by David Baldacci and Elmore Leonard, science fiction by Ted Chiang and Blake Crouch, non-fiction by David Brooks, a child’s book by the wonderful Kate DiCamillo, and the most enjoyable book I’ve read in some time, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. And I’ve changed my writing schedule which may allow more blog posts to see the light of day.

I never quite became the runner I set out to be that day I tried out for the cross country team. But I’ve not stopped running. Nor writing.

Books (Not) in Print, Theology Edition

“Two streams converged in a wood,
And I was swept away,
and that has made all the difference.”

(with apologies to Robert Frost)

This is not a story of a wood or of literal streams. But it is the story of a convergence that captured my heart and ( once again) launched me into writing a book. While working with the content of the first book, a friend put me in touch with David Mills, a former executive editor of the journal First Things. A part of the wise counsel he kindly gave to this unknown pastor from Florida was this challenge:

“I’d also urge you to set yourself to write a regular column of some sort with too low a word limit for what you want to do. A weekly article for your bulletin or web site would do. Try to exposit each clause of the Nicene Creed in 250 words or predestination and the historical debates over it in three 300 word articles. Anything that forces you to cut and cut.”

To reduce forces a writer to come to grips with what he wants to say and to make sure he says it in the clearest possible way. E. B. White’s “omit unnecessary words” captures this.

This challenge from David Mills is the first stream.


The second stream has been a part of my life for some time. I pastor within a tradition whose theological standards are three related documents from the first third of the 17th century. Among the three is a little gem called the “Westminster Shorter Catechism.” Its 107 questions and answers, containing just over four thousand words, are a comprehensive and devotional survey of historic and reformed theology and practice.

The first question and answer is well known (“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”) having made recent guest appearances in writers as different as John Piper and Rick Warren. But the supporting cast, while as insightful and rich, remains largely unknown.

And that is a loss.

The only resource that has been available to help people come to know, appreciate, and understand the Catechism has been a work that was written in the early seventies. It has served the church well but is dated. I have long urged others, some well known and others not, to write a new and fresh introduction and exposition of the Catechism. But none has been crazy enough to try.


These two streams, the Mills challenge and the need for a fresh introduction to the Catechism collided and led to my commitment to write short (five or six hundred words) entries on each of the seventy topics touched upon by the Catechism. My envisioned readers are the many thoughtful and curious people who want to understand historic reformed Christianity but who find the standard introductions too weighty and daunting. The work’s title, Something Worth Living For, captures its goal, that readers might find a rootedness here.

The work, about two-thirds complete has generated some good initial encouragement.

“Pastor Greenwald’s Something Worth Living For is a fine exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. His work is theologically accurate, and he never forgets that he is addressing real people.”

Theologian John Frame

“Finally a book of theology and the Reformed faith that won’t bore the reader to death.”

Pastor and teacher Steve Brown

“This is a project that requires writing chops, theological acumen and a pastor’s heart. Randy’s got them all.”

Former Warsaw Bureau Chief for Bloomberg News Nate Espino

Very kind, these words. But kind words don’t sell books. And though I care deeply about this work and want to make it accessible, that will take a great deal of work, a good dose of luck (see my conversation about Q/A 11 in the forthcoming book), and perhaps the engagement and help of a lot of friends.

The two streams converged to produce the book. Here’s hoping for a third, that of a publisher eager to invest in such a work.

Books (Not) in Print, Memoir Edition

As a writer who aspires to be published, I’ve discovered quite a few excellent books written for such people. Turns out there are a lot of us. And the advice the experts give us, consistently, is to establish a regular, disciplined routine of writing.

Writing, it turns out, is as glamorous as a trip to the gym.

The fact that writers devote themselves to something they sometimes look for excuses to avoid is an insight into the drive that some have to create, or the passion they have to tell a story.

And I have a story to tell.

Beginning around January of 2016 I began, weekly, to find my way to the back porch of our house and sit in the mid morning sunshine to write. These Friday mornings became sacred to me.

The story that came pouring out is one of God making a pastor of the young man who swore he would never be a pastor. It is the story of a very patient and wonderful small church who welcomed this young man and showed him how to be a pastor. That is the bright side of a story that took a dark turn.

I wrote because I needed to explore how I allowed the good vision with which I began ministry, a vision nurtured by wise and godly mentors, to be hijacked by bad theology and worse practice. I am not proud of this part of the story, but it needs to be told because I am not the only one susceptible to such forces.

Because the story does not end there is the heart of why I want this story told. It came about that I prayed to understand grace and two days later my world fell apart. God broke me hard against the wall of my own foolishness and out of the pieces gave me a picture of his love and glory I could have seen no other way. This is a story of God’s spectacular grace, and it needs to be told. The title I’ve given to this story is A Reformed Pastor. And yes, the title has multiple connotations.

As any writer will tell you, of course, writing the first draft of anything, while tough, may be the easy part. The challenge ahead is to pare 110,000 words down to a manageable 70,000 or so and to sell it.

Along the way, I have received some encouragement. One agent, in rejecting it, of course, said, “your writing is good, solid, and the idea is good.” The problem is that I’m not sufficiently well known, but I take “good, solid” as an endorsement at least to keep at it.

Wesley Hill was kind enough to take a peek at this and to say,

“Randy [has] written a sort of ‘anti-success’ memoir that I think could be a real boon to so many pastors. It’s about the realities of pastoral failure and mistakes and frustrations that don’t magically go away with some formula followed, conference attended, etc. Not only is this theme a vital one, in our age of multiplying success strategies and resultant guilt, but Randy’s also a good writer with a knack for storytelling.”

A “good writer with a knack for storytelling” is a line that has kept me going for many months since, and has led to another, perhaps more marketable, project.

More on that next time.

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