In the fall of 2006, I suddenly found myself with time on my hands, waiting for the rest of my life to unfold. In 1999, I had retired from the practice of law in order to pursue a private business opportunity involving Caribbean tourism, a dot.com venture that first soared before crashing mercilessly. It was then that I decided to dust off the few chapters of a novel I had begun to write nearly fifteen years earlier, a diversion to occupy my suddenly empty days while awaiting something to fill them, but as I got into the writing, the writing got into me.
In 1978, I first encountered Paul the apostle on my own Damascus road, a twelve-step program with a higher power that promised forgiveness and unconditional love despite the unmanageability of my life … in a word, grace. Paul’s writings helped the church to understand a gracious God, and my own journey of twelve steps led me to Paul.
Later, when I spent a few years, part time, with the Benedictine monks of the graduate School of Theology at a nearby Abbey and University, my interest in Paul was rekindled, and it was then that I first penned a few crude chapters of a fictionalized account of his life.
Next to Jesus of Nazareth, Paul is undoubtedly the most important person in the history of Christianity. Indeed, a plausible school of thought suggests that Pauline, hellenistic speculations invented Christianity, ignoring the message of the man from Nazareth by making the man the message, a christological conundrum that the church has wrestled with throughout its history. The novel plays with this theme.
Important yes, but equally enigmatic. Two centuries ago as the church wrestled with the institution of slavery, Paul was quoted by slaveholders and abolitionists both. Two generations ago, both sides in the debate over women’s ordination and the role of women in the church claimed Paul as ally. Today, as LGBT issues roil our politics and our pews, Paul finds himself in the middle once again.
Why does the novel portray Paul as a conflicted, self-loathing gay man? To make him a real flesh-and-blood human, to suggest a vulnerability that prepared him for Damascus, and perhaps to offer a tentative response to those who would use Paul’s words to bash gays.
Two and half years after I had begun, the novel manuscript was in the hands of a publisher, and I again had time to fill while awaiting the process of publication. The publisher suggested I start a blog, and Spirit of a Liberal, a blog of progressive, religious themes was born. When I live blogged from the floor of the momentous 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA, which approved gays in the pulpit, the blog went viral and maintained a consistently strong following until recently when it has been largely inactive due to my own busyness with book promotion and other writing projects. But, there is a huge reservoir of prior posts that still attract many daily visitors.
In the winter of 2011, I penned a short story entitled The Woodsman, a tender but bittersweet vignette about an old man spending a day in a hardwood forest while reminiscing about his life. As an experiment, I published the short as an eBook, and the process proved to be smooth and easy.
With that initial success, I finally took up a project deferred for forty years–interpreting what my eyes had seen and my ears had heard in the mountainous jungles of Vietnam. I used the genre of short story fiction to remember and retell. Five short stories, ten to fifteen pages each, have now been compiled into Prowl, which is available as an eBook or paperback. The stories are based upon actual events but with literary embellishment that I call “autobiographical fiction”.
My latest book, Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism (Pilgrim Press, November 2013), had its genesis in my experience of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly of 2009 and its aftermath. As I wrote blogposts defending the gay friendly policies enacted by the ELCA, I encountered stories about the early prophets and pioneers, and I realized that their stories hadn’t been told. The stories are sad and joyful, conflicted and celebratory. History is unfolding before our eyes, and this book chronicles the twisting journey toward full LGBT inclusion in the mainline churches of the US (UMC, ELCA, TEC, PC(USA), and UCC).