Tag Archives: Christian Fiction

Email sent to my followers

The following is the text of an email sent today to a couple thousand friends and followers.


It’s time to catch my breath. Since the release of Queer Clergy in February, I’ve been on the road … Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and California. I have been the guest of book clubs, adult forums, LGBT reconciling groups, the Pacific School of Religion, and I’ve been a guest preacher (always a treat for an old lawyer). I’ve made the rounds of Lutheran, Methodist, and UCC church conventions and a book fair.

To be sure, there have been disappointments, starting with the three month delay in the book release that caused the book to miss Christmas sales. I had to cancel a speaking engagement in Chicago because of Minnesota weather. As my plane approached San Francisco, we turned back to LA because of malfunctioning de-icing equipment on the wings! Thanks to my Bay Area host, Pam Byers, who did yeoman’s duty by whisking me from the airport to a scheduled speaking engagement when the replacement plane finally landed.

Through it all, we’ve managed to sell a few books, and Pilgrim Press tells me that the book is in its second printing (probably due to a small first print run). But, the biggest treat is the chance to visit old friends and make new ones. The conversations are always the best.

Thank you for supporting my ministry of writing and speaking. Thanks for purchasing one of my books–or maybe two or three! Please share your feedback–directly by email to me or by posting a review on Amazon.

Remember, I love to talk! Please consider an invitation to speak to your group–book club, adult forum, or even to your whole congregation during worship. Contact me by phone or email, and we’ll arrange something that will work for you.

Why did Paul persecute the early church?

When I wrote my historical novel about Paul the apostle (A Wretched Man),  I wrestled with some thorny historical questions, including this one.  Last month, I was asked to read and review Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist I once again encountered the question, and I found Ehrman’s answer to be less than convincing.

First, some background.  Paul twice mentioned his role as persecutor but without any details.  As with much of his writing, Paul assumed his listeners already knew the story so he didn’t elaborate.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Cor 15:9 (NRSV)

In the most autobiographical of his writings, Paul speaks to the Galatians,

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. Gal 1:13 (NRSV)

In neither instance, does Paul offer a clue as to what he did, exactly, or why he did it.

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625Of course, the Acts of the Apostles goes into much greater detail: Jerusalem persecution, stoning of Stephen, sent to Damascus by the High Priest to arrest the followers of Jesus, etc.

The common assumption is that Paul persecuted the early followers of Jesus because they claimed he was the long-expected messiah.  Does that really make sense? Why would such a claim have been offensive to Paul or the Hebrew populace? While that may have been the reason why the Romans and their puppets, the High Priest and his crowd, feared Jesus and caused his execution, that hardly explains why Paul and the populace would have persecuted his followers after his death.

Ehrman initially agrees,

There was nothing blasphemous about calling a Jewish teacher the messiah. That happened on and off throughout the history of Judaism, and it still happens in our day. In itself, the claim that someone is the messiah is not blasphemous or, necessarily, problematic (though it may strike outsiders—and usually does—as a bit crazed).

This statement strikes me as eminently reasonable and debunks the traditional assumption that the early church was persecuted because they claimed Jesus had been the messiah. There has to be more to it.

Ehrman’s response is that the claim that Jesus was the crucified messiah is what greatly offended Paul and the others, because no strain of traditional Jewish messianic expectations suggested a crucified messiah.  While that may well be true, I fail to see the offense.  Here is where I part with Ehrman.  If anything, such a claim would only make its proponents sound even crazier but hardly blasphemous to the point of widespread persecution and arrest.

Back to Stephen.

What did Stephen do or say that caused his arrest and execution?  Why did they “stir up the people against him”?  Because he spoke “blasphemous words against God and Moses,” “against this holy place and the law,” and because he said that Jesus would “destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed down.”

No where was there any complaint that he claimed Jesus was the messiah, crucified or not.  The charges against him were that he denied the basic tenets of Hebrew religion … adherence to the law of Moses and temple sacrifice.  In Stephen’s long speech to the Sanhedrin, he concluded,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears … You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

There could be no greater offense than to question circumcision and failure to keep the law.  Stephen challenged the basic Hebrew self-understanding and thus their standing before God.  To a devout Pharisee, zealous for the law, as Paul claimed to be, this was the crux of the matter.  This would also tie in closely with Paul’s Damascus road experience, in which his life took a 180 degree turn away from zealotry for the law to his law-free gospel message.  Furthermore, it also ties in with the ongoing conflict between Paul and the “mother church” back in Jerusalem over the requirements of circumcision and dietary niceties.

That’s my answer, Professor Ehrman’s opinion notwithstanding, and that was also the answer I proposed in the Wretched Man novel.

The Muse is Found

Regular readers of this blog may wonder where I’ve been.  Posts have been nearly non-existent recently.  Some have asked, “Have you lost your muse?”

Au contraire!  I have been churning out page after page, but not for this blog.  Since the first of the year, I have penned a pair of short stories, over sixty pages of a sequel to A Wretched Man, and made a good start on a non-fiction piece that grows out of this blog.  More later.

The Woodsman CoverFor those of you who have succumbed to the eBook phenomenon, I’m moving that way myself as an author.  Again, more later.  For now, I have published a short story entitled The Woodsman as an eBook (all formats).  From now until the end of the month, readers of this blog may download the eBook free of charge by using a coupon.  Beginning in April, eBook downloads of The Woodsman will carry a slight charge.

Go here, and enter this coupon number: AD29N.  Of course, you may choose to pay for it as a gesture of support.  I have an ulterior motive in making the eBook free for a short time—I would like feedback.  After you download and read, please offer your comments below,  on the book page, and at Amazon; don’t forget to click on tags at the bottom of the Amazon page.

This short story is unlike this blog—no religious politics–but I hope there’s a bit of creation spirituality.  There’s more than a bit of me and my dad in there based on many days spent amongst the oaks and maples of the Burtrum Hills in central Minnesota.

A Wretched Man novel survey results

On January 31, we sent a survey to gauge reader response to A Wretched Man novel.  Of course, the survey was limited to those on the email list.  Unfortunately, we do not have email addresses for the anonymous folks who have purchased the book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, bookstores, etc.  By necessity, the survey was limited to a select audience whose email addresses were known.   Please join the list by clicking the button at the bottom.

The response was overwhelming.  Thanks to all of you who participated.

Here are the results: 

  • The overall reader rating of the novel was 4.3 on a scale of 1 to 5.
  • Favorite part was split very evenly, but the humanization of the characters was at the top of the list and geography and setting was at the bottom.
  • Did readers like the scene depicting the Damascus road experience?  81% yes, 19% no.
  • Did readers like the ending?  96% yes, 4% no.
  • Did readers think the book would work well for a group discussion? 97% yes, 3% no.

Some survey participants added comments, but due to sheer volume, they cannot be reprinted here.  We have set up a page on the website that includes all of them, uncensored and unedited.  Click here to read them.

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I’ve started a new blog

Spirit of a Liberal will continue; however, I have started a new blog that pertains solely to my novel, writing and publishing issues, and other literary matters.  Last week, I moved a lot of my prior posts about the novel and reviews of other books from Spirit of a Liberal to the new blog.  Apologies to those who received a “tweet” every time I moved a post.

The new blog is entitled The Author’s Blog … from the author of A Wretched Man novel, and may be seen here.  Please continue to follow Spirit of a Liberal and add The Author’s Blog to the blogs you follow.

They’re here! A Wretched Man novel now available.

current copy compressed The shipments of my novel have arrived at the distributor’s warehouse (for transshipment to retailers including Amazon), at the website fulfillment center, and my personal copies at my house.  Those of you who have preordered through various media should expect to receive your books very soon.  Those who have been waiting until the books are actually available, that moment has arrived.

It’s exciting and scary.  They’re actually for sale.  Click here to go to the ecommerce website.  Locally in Northfield, they’ll be at Monkey See, Monkey Read bookstore, and I will be signing, selling, and reading this Saturday at Bethel Lutheran starting at noon.

Thanks for the support and encouragement.

With a Psalm (and a Song) in His Heart: Biblical Tales

The appeal of Scripture springs eternal, something Broadway and Hollywood have exploited for decades. Now there’s David M. Sanborn — an actor from a family of past and present Christian relief workers — who has brought his one-man musical, “King David,” to the Promise Theater, infusing the Books of Samuel with the aesthetics of both.

The idea of this family-friendly show — the book and songs are a collaboration between the good-looking, hard-working Mr. Sanborn and his mother, Ellen, who also directed it — involves Mr. Sanborn’s impersonating Hollywood actors (like Jimmy Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery) as he inhabits the figures in the life of David (including Saul, Goliath, the prophet Nathan and others).

Many of the renditions are spot-on, while others are less so. Some of the caricaturesque voices are the actor’s own creations. Helping to suggest antiquity are Elizabeth Richards’s simple but effective set and costumes.

But this is a musical, so there are songs, here set to prerecorded music and overflowing with lush arrangements, to say nothing of Mr. Sanborn’s impassioned vocals onstage. The actor, who has been touring with this production for 12 years, draws from a seemingly limitless well of feeling and makes the story wet, really wet, with emotion, especially in the musical numbers. You’ve never heard David suffer like this over the loss of his child by Bathsheba nor his anguished pleas for divine forgiveness. Except maybe in Las Vegas.

Inspirational pop can tend toward overwrought uplift, and so do the songs in “King David.” But families with a taste for this sort of thing will love it. Those seeking additional transcendence after the performance can look forward to “Judah Ben-Hur,” also starring Mr. Sanborn, which he has said he hopes to bring to Broadway in 2010.

“King David” continues through June 27 at the Promise Theater, 316 East 91st Street, Manhattan; (212) 352-3101, theatermania.com.

By Andy Webster in the New York Times