Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Journal: Kill Devil Hills, NC June 2008 PART 2

I missed an important paragraph as I was typing in June 3. So here is part of it again--with the missing paragraph. Then I'm adding a little more.

June 3 (I'm starting part way into the day's entry. See previous post for more.)

As the sea bears the sun, and births this new day, two words emerge. "Mortality" and "vantity." And somehow this morning, I must admit their relation to one-another, and to me.

A friend learned last week that he has three months, or fewer, to live. How does one swallow such news? Suddenly every day's plan, every trip and every conversation with his wife take on new weight--importance.

My family has known dark days. Days of disease or broken body. Now that we have moved beyond those reminders of our mortality, we are grateful to be living comfortably back in the "real world" where we easily ignore mortality--at least until a friend calls speaking of a new measuring stick, marked with three months, and divided into 90 notches called days.

Why did I and so many others rise early and take our places to watch the sunrise this morning? And why did the nascent beauty of today's first light reflect off of mostly graying heads? In some internal place we are learning that be it ninety or nine thousand notches that remain, there will be a last. And I want to be OK with that. Yet I know that I am not. I know this because yesterday--I shaved!

And this is where the siblings "Mortality" and "Vanity" enter the story. People used to guess me to be younger than my age. Lately they have not. Thirteen years ago (and more notches than I'd like to consider) I grew a beard. It was dark to match my scalp of thick, dark hair. And even though some gray has replaced the dark on the top of my head, most of my beard has turned white. Each whisker looked like a notch. So I lathered them up, shaved them off and washed them down the drain.

The guy looking at me in the mirror asked me, "What are you running from?"

Scripture says that beauty fades--like a flower we wither. "Here today and gone tomorrow." Just like my beard. Umm, just like my clean-shaven face. Today it is sprouthing truth. Vanity!

And here at the beach, if my beard isn't enough, my fifty year old body tells the world a lie. I alone know the twenty-five-years-ago-truth. And my soul pleads for my body to be young, and vital looking again.

Beauty of course serves its purpose. Darwin says it wins us mating rights and preserves the species. And this world where we live avoids the loss--the death of youth--at all costs. Is that what I'm running from?

Shaving away, and washing down
the white reminder.
Like the tide, ever rushing, life continues,
even as the frothy foam is reclaimed
by the sea.

Well, that was certainly open and honest. I'll meander further into these journal notes again in a day or so. Thanks for the kind and encouraging notes your sent me after the first entry. If my self-revelation encourages you that much, I'll take this a bit further. If this bores you, perhaps you'd like to reread the first seven chapters of The Runaway Pastor.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Journal: Kill Devil Hills, NC June 2008

I've toyed with letting you into my private life a bit further. I struggled last summer with some exhaustion. While I was not,at this point, depressed. I was still healing from a previous experience with burnout. But indeed, the brooding I'll share over the next days or weeks, will let you in on a bit of what it looked like from inside of my head when I was tired and wondering about ministry, and my place in it.

Below are some unedited excerpts from my private journal while on vacation last summer. I'm letting you into a private place here. Please be kind.

June 2
So here I am, washed-up on another shore, pushed here by a need to be away--a need to rest. I've sat at surf's edge for much of the first day. Feeling profound thoughts, and wishing I could pen them.

The encroaching tide, and the fleeing foam breathe-in-and-out in a primal whisper--they say something to me. And deep within, I comprehend. Though my "first-day-away ears" hear only white noise; rhythmic static. And once again I come here with a restless spirit and a quivering soul. My body is picking-up their symptoms. Anxiety is grinding my teeth, dizzying my conversations and crowding-out my peace.

What is the capacity of the seas? This, yet another escape, lands me by the surf, seeking relief, cleansing, peace--Truth. A mystic of sorts once asked me, "What are you running from?" As the sun sets behind me, and the sky shimmers before, I feel it is time to find an answer--one that I can live with.

June 3
At 5:40 this morning I woke. Light peered through the edges of the window where the curtain comes to an end. Quickly I step into shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, walk into the morning and toward the beach. Cresting the dune, I see the top half of the sun. (Have to fight feelings of failure for a moment--I missed the first peek of the sun over the ocean.) Then I realize the foolishness of my driven-ness--even on vacation!

As the sea bears the sun, and births this new day, two words emerge. "Mortality" and "vantity." And somehow this morning, I must admit their relation to one-another, and to me.

My family has known dark days. Days of disease or broken body. Now that we have moved beyond those reminders of our mortality, we are grateful to be living comfortably back in the "real world" where we easily ignore mortality--at least until a friend calls speaking of a new measuring stick, marked with three months, and divided into 90 notches called days.

Why did I and so many others rise early and take our places to watch the sunrise this morning? And why did the nascent beauty of today's first light reflect off of mostly graying heads? In some internal place we are learning that be it ninety or nine thousand notches that remain, there will be a last. And I want to be OK with that. Yet I know that I am not. I know this because yesterday--I shaved!

I'll put more of this entry up in a day or so. Be easy on me in your comments. It's not easy putting private journal stuff on the internet:)!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Ticket to Ride

One of the major themes of the novel, The Runaway Pastor, is commitment. Promises are broken, yet reconsidered. Vows are reassessed, wrestled with. A train whistle haunted my writing of the book.

I've ridden trains, mainly brief commuter trips, or European city to city hops. And all trains everywhere have one thing in common: Once you board and the train begins to move, you have no power to change directions on a whim, no matter how much you might feel the need for such a turn.

While in the former USSR, our children were very young. My wife and I spent a great deal of time planning what we would do, should the rapidly opening and closing doors of the subway cars somehow separate us from one another. The nightmare scenario-- which thankfully never took place--was the possibility of our children exiting at a station, and the train moving forward with us still aboard. Imagine the panic of a parent, longing for the train to return to the station, yet knowing there is no stopping until the next.

During my years as a pastor, I've had the privilege of helping a hundred or so couples promise their lives to one another. Are there ever moments in married life when one partner or the other believes they might wish to go back, and reconsider their vows? Of course. It is at those moments, that vows are like a train ticket. No couple wishes to pledge themselves to love, cherish, have and hold one-another for the "next little while." Brides and grooms hold a passionate belief that each is committed to forever. You buy the ticket planning to arrive at the other end of the line together. It costs you your sacred promise. And you board the train when you make those vows.

My October 1979 promises have landed me 29 years down the track, riding with the same love. We've gone through storms that rocked the carriage. We've struggled at stops here and there. But we bought one ticket, and boarded one train. I'm so grateful for the promise that has carried us to this place. Without our vows, we each might have criss-crossed our lives in short bursts one way, and then the other.

Where are you going? What have you pledged your life to? Why not land in the place you committed to go in the first place? To where have you purchased a ticket?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Runaway Pastor: The Final Chapter

Today and tomorrow, if I get time, I plan to put the finishing touches on the last chapter of Runaway. I'm only a few minutes away. This is an exciting time. I like the ending that has developed. Although I wrote an ending more than a year ago, this one is more true to the manuscript and direction of the book.

Thanks to all who asked for chapters 8-the end! Hopefully the wait won't be much longer. Just about every day now, one or two people give me feedback on the first seven chapters, and you are very encouraging. Just FYI, those who helped me with the entire manuscript have reported fast-paced reading, and some stayed up through much of the night to finish the book. And the edited ending is much better.

Well, I plan to go home for a while today and watch this historic inauguration. Should be something to see. I'm still remembering last winter's Iowa Caucuses. On that night it seemed our new president claimed the heart of much of America. All of us, no matter political leanings, are on the verge of a new day with new reasons to pray for our president and all governmental leadership.

I pray for grace and peace and wisdom from the Mighty One for you, my president, Barack Obama.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1)

Have you ever shouted at a cloudy sky? Have you ever looked into a perfect spring day and wondered why you couldn't connect with life around you? Have you practiced seeking enough, to know when you come up empty?

Most of us can relate to the heart cry of David.
...earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you

And the place of his longing? Where are we, when our reaching and striving for the divine to show up and identity itself seems only to be empty striving?

in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

I suppose there are those in our world so mesmerized by noise and glitz, they are unable to recognize the deeper longing within themselves to connect to something, or someOne higher than themselves. There are some who have never been choked by the dusty lack of the holy in their lives. But surely, they are few...

Today's scripture readings emphasize the former distance. Samuel doesn't recognize the voice of God, and must be instructed to welcome the invisible nighttime utterance. David cries out for God--finally satisfied by a sanctuary's portrayal of glory. But then we read of John the Baptist, pointing at Jesus and saying I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. (John 1:34)

Surely God's purpose in showing up and living with us was nothing less than to crush the barrier that bars humankind from direct interface with deity. In the intro to First John, the writer tells us that his very eardrums have vibrated at the sound of The Voice, his very eyes have seen in the flesh that which was from the beginning, and the nerve endings in his hands have touched God. And Jesus told us the same would happen for us when we care for the hurts of our world. (Mt. 25:31ff)

Do we seek to inspire with stuff? Are we so bent on enjoying performance in our worship that we ignore God's Voice? Indeed, ignore God? Is the best indoor jungle gym truly the way to lead our children to a sense of awe in God's presence? I can hear it: "AWESOME!"

I wonder, now that God has come and lived among us, if our record crowds, our pop Christian culture bubble, and our larger sanctuaries will finally slake our thirst for the Holy?

a dry and weary land...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Runaway Pastor: Newest version of Chapters 1-7

Here is the latest edition of the first seven chapters of The Runaway Pastor.

It has been a fun journey to date. Thanks for all of the nice things you are saying. I still welcome comments. I'm doing quite a bit of shifting around with the Parable of the Gym. You may not see much more of that until publication.

Of course, no new Runaway publication would be complete without a reminder that I am sitting in my cabin with my wife of 29 years, and completely happy in my marriage. And, I love the people of the church I pastor. I am not Trent Atkins, he is fiction. But, he is indeed representative of so many people, not pastors alone, who struggle with the current business model adopted by so much of Christendom in the west.

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Parable of the Gym: Parts 1-4

Several of you have requested that I link all four parts of The Parable of the Gym together. You can click on the title and read them. By the way, there is more to this parable than I have published. And I am preparing to do an edit of these, so your remarks via comment or email are welcomed.

I really hesitated to post this. The parable is a stinging rebuke of the church from Trent, the main character in my novel. He is hurting deeply, and as people who hurt often do, he writes in a stream of conscientiousness that leaves no room for editing. So perhaps it is unfair. However, the parable was written after many conversations with hurting pastors and faithful church people. And, I wrote in the midst of my own dark days of burnout.

I publish the parable here not as a declaration against any church or denomination. I love mine. Rather, it is a starting place for discussion, and I believe holds many painful truths about how the church presents herself to a world that needs her message. Even if spiritually seeking people are wrong about how they perceive their treatment at the hands of the church, to them their perception is--well--their perception.

Wherever Jesus ministered, he was most often loved and admired by those outside of his religious circles. And those inside of it? Not so much. Does today's church find itself being the person and presence of Jesus to the world? Or are we playing the role of those to whom Jesus issued his most stern of warnings?

Grace and peace to you as you seek to be the person and presence of Jesus.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Runaway Pastor: Remembering why...

This morning I was reminiscing about why I wrote this book, and why this blog was started. I discovered an early entry from about three and a half months ago. I'm linking it here. I don't want, nor do I want you to forget the pain behind the novel. Please pray for those caring pastors who find themselves running after a CEO train--on a journey for which they never bought a ticket. Here is the link: SECRETS.

Remember the runaways. Current statistics are saying that between 1,000 and 1,500 pastors are leaving ministry each month. As a follower on this blog, I consider you someone who cares for these hurting men and women. (Signing up is not nearly as tough as you are thinking.)

And from the looks of things, you are spreading by word of mouth the news about The Runaway Pastor. Thanks for giving your reading friends the link to this blog, and reading the first seven chapters and the four published sections of the Parable of the Gym. Hopefully someday soon, you'll be able to pick up the complete novel at your local bookstore.

Grace and peace to you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Runaway Pastor: Publishing Hopes Growing!!

Well, this is the first substantive news I can share regarding the possibility of publishing The Runaway Pastor. Today, my day off, and late other nights after my duties are on stand-by, I am in the process of editing the book chapter by chapter.

The reason for this is that Mark Gilroy, who until recently was a publisher with Thomas Nelson, has returned to book packaging and literary management. He feels like Runaway "hits the mark on some huge issues for ministers and in the church in general." He is now representing The Runaway Pastor as a two-book proposal!

Mark hasn't formally presented the book yet but there are already two publishers who have requested the manuscript based on casual conversation. So we are doing this round of editing (something about my commas :-0) before presenting the manuscript - but it's encouraging to know there is already significant interest.

I also like the fact that one result of Mark's agent work in the past, was his last fiction client, Nicole Seitz. She is now working on her fourth book of a seven-book contract - and her latest release, Trouble the Water, was listed by Yahoo as a top 50 book of the year in '08.

Obviously, Mr. Gilroy's talents provide me no assurances of this going further. But this entire process has been good. And I'm enjoying an avocation for a change. Maybe Trent needed one!

So, I'm tapping away at my keyboard while sitting next to my warming fire. (Might as well because even my 4WD couldn't make it safely down my driveway today.)

Peace to you, and thanks for looking in now and then.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Part IV: Parable of the Gym

I have made a drastic update to the first paragraph in part four of The Parable of the Gym. Thank you for the comment and collaboration, Rich! The change has to do with the motivation for beginning new church work. The first edition was a bit more cynical than Rich and I have experienced in our own realities.

So give it another read, and see what you think of the changes as well as the overall feel. Click below to tie-in.


I will be posting some updates about hopes for publishing soon.

If you haven't read parts 1-3 of the Parable of the Gym, poke around the site and check them out. They are one piece in the novel.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Runaway Pastor: Just for fun--Who is reading?

Just for fun! In the spirit of the NFL Play-Offs and the BCS bowl games, I thought it might be fun, (or at least interesting) to post the current standings on various states visiting this website over the past month. (OK, this is goofy!)

Most visitors are reading the front page, and then chapters 1-7 and The Parable of the Gym entries.

First, for the national standings:
1st place: The United States of America
2nd place: Ukraine
3rd place: Israel

Next, for the state standings:
1st: Indiana
2nd: California
3rd: New York
4th: Michigan
5th: Tennessee
6th: Texas
7th: Utah
8th: Arkansas
9th: Kansas
10th: Georgia

So in the spirit of competition, let's talk it up, and I'll keep you posting on how your state is doing. (There are ten other states close to making the top ten.)

And, since Ukraine is doing such a stellar job (with Zena our most courageous and prolific commentator) and the Eastern Christmas is upon us, С РОЖДЕСТВОМ!!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Runaway Pastor--An Intro

Following is a brief introduction to The Runaway Pastor, a new novel I'm seeking to publish.

The first seven chapters are available by clicking the hot button at the top right hand side of this page. I need feedback, so let me know what you think. And if you look in here now and then, why not add yourself as a follower. I'm gathering a list of those interested in the book.

Pastor Trent is The Runaway Pastor from the beginning. His job is hollow and empty—a CEO nightmare. He and his wife Natalie play the role of the perfect couple, yet their long drift away from friendship and intimacy leave them cold toward one another. So he plots his escape, and disappears. His plan is so thorough, neither his congregation at Baylor’s Bend, nor his wife has any idea where he has gone.

In his new life, various circumstances provide opportunities for Trent to emerge as a peacemaker, and a man of mercy and grace. Living life outside of “the ministry,” Trent finds the exercise of his ministry gifts to be exhilarating and natural. But trouble waits.

Trent’s betrayal drives Natalie to hire an investigator, and makes her vulnerable to the advances of a church staff member. Kim, a beautiful and single friend of Trent’s new boss, is a spiritual seeker. She and Trent spend long evenings on the beach wondering about the sacred, sharing their tragic stories, and soon they fall for one another.

Jump into the pain behind one pastor who took "career success" a bit too seriously. Is there any hope?

Remember! This story is NOT autobiographical. It is, however the fruit of many conversations with other pastors, and a three year period of burnout I experienced. For any old friends out there, Natalie is not my wife. My wife and I are very happy 29 years and 2 months into our marriage.

Read on!

Friday, January 2, 2009


Silence. Greeting the day with nothing. Ears strain, grasping for some sound out of the morning. No birdsong. Nothing. Only a shishing pulse in my head, counting down toward some next thing.

Be still... But junkie wants to reach for remote, for "On" button, for agitation. Junkie needs sound. Junkie wants entertained. Gulum-like insanity.

Breathe. Take in the silence. Listen beyond it for some better Word.

...and know that... Is there something to find in this nothing? Seeking, stretching, straining for stimulation. But no. All is quiet. Nothing in the emptiness.

Breathe. Be still.

Is there purpose in this new-day vacuum, where no expectations await me? ...i am not god.

The morning wood kicks into flame, ticking the stove and lighting its side of the room. From dark to light. From silence to crackling. From cool, to warming-heat.

O Life-giving mystery, teach me to pray beyond the static of the world. Tame my spirit so it longs for something beyond the inane teasings of this age. Hold me still long enough, that I tire of wiggling.