10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone You Can Trust”

5. I Love This Place – Sometimes

I have a love-hate relationship with my neighborhood, which is also the setting for my new novel. We moved here to be near downtown, be near our church, and be present in an urban neighborhood that was struggling. We figured that at the very least, we could help by paying city taxes and keeping up a pretty old house.

The neighborhood is multi-racial and has housing stock ranging from crumbling little apartments to premier mansions. I love its huge trees, surrounding woods, elegant architecture and the outstanding kindness of many of its residents. I hate the poverty, the garbage on the streets, the emptiness in the eyes of young people hanging out on corners.

The novel I just finished, “Someone You Can Trust” is set in this neighborhood, with characters attending a church there that is grappling with the brokenness of the community. It’s good to know that God shows up and does wonderful things even in tough places. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone You Can Trust”

4. Diverse Churches Needed

In the novel I just finished, “Someone You Can Trust”, black people and white people go to church together, pray together and study the Bible together. This should not be a big deal, given that the Bible presents a vision of God’s kingdom welcoming every single people group, but the U.S.A. has an abysmal record regarding racial equity, and our churches are mostly segregated.

The black church has been a place of refuge and safety for generations of African Americans, so it’s understandable if they want their churches to stay segregated. There are many reasons why white churches are segregated – they may reflect the reality of all-white surroundings, they may not know how to go about being welcoming to people of color even if they want to, or they may contain outright racists. Or all of the above.

Despite these wrenching realities, the bigger reality is that God’s Spirit of love is always working to break down barriers of race, class, age, belief and education. This novel shows a church allowing that to happen. We need to be able to replicate churches that are safe for people of color, which are also attended by white people. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone You Can Trust”

3. Church, We Have a Problem

The novel I recently finished, “Someone You Can Trust”, takes place in a church a lot like mine, in a neighborhood a lot like mine. Because the setting will be familiar to some readers, I want to make one thing really clear – the abusive pastor in this novel is radically different from any pastor I have ever had in any church I’ve ever been to. I have only ever known pastors who are kind, decent, respectful and morally above reproach.

So if anyone reads an excerpt and recognizes my setting, please don’t think I’m talking about any of its pastors!

The fictional pastor in the book, is a compilation character who emerged from several alarming stories I heard from friends. Unfortunately these kinds of stories keep emerging in national media, and holding abusive leaders accountable doesn’t seem to be a strong suit for our churches. If we can’t discipline our leaders in a biblical way, we have a problem on our hands – that’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone You Can Trust”

God Heals People, Really

A psychologist in my writer’s group read some passages in my latest manuscript and said, “This is the first book I’ve ever read that has a passage incorporating prayer for inner healing.” There aren’t too many novels that incorporate healing prayer of any kind, at least not that I’ve found. Leif Enger’s  “Peace Like a River” is one luminous exception, and years ago I read a novel by Agnes Sanford, a well-known leader of the Anglican charismatic movement in the mid 20th century, but it was a pretty bad fiction (her non-fiction books are wonderful).

So here goes me giving it a shot in “Someone You Can Trust”.

Through prayers, I have seen God straighten out a bent spine, reverse a spina bifida diagnosis, melt away a brain tumor, and salvage someone’s fading sight. I have experienced prayer for mental and emotional issues that substantially reduced my symptoms of depression and anxiety, and gave me courage to realign myself in messed up relationships. I’m convinced that God wants to heal us. Many people assume that illness is caused by God, or that God is indifferent to it. My experiences have turned such theology upside down. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone You Can Trust”

“Someone You Can Trust” is a novel manuscript I’m submitting to agents and entering in contests. I’m excited about it for a number of reasons. What reasons? Thank you for asking – I love it when people show interest. Here’s my first reason:

1. We Need to Fix What’s Broken:

Venemous Inside Dovish Outside

It’s funny how something can be simmering in you and you don’t know it until you start writing. I didn’t know how angry I was about the sexually abusive behavior of some prominent Christian leaders until I began writing, “Someone You can Trust.”

I think I was even more disappointed in the institutional leaders surrounding these people – those with more conscience who knew something was wrong and didn’t have the courage to do anything about it.

“Someone You Can Trust” is by no means a wrenching, heartbreaking novel – most of its characters are endearing, witty and love God. However, it is a novel that pulls no punches about how much damage a broken pastor can do to a church, and the responsibility of other leaders to deal with it head-on. That’s why I wrote this book.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Cathy Scheid

If behavioral data for all people across all ages could ever be gathered – I think it would show that the most good was done by eldest daughters from large Catholic families.

If they were all honored at once, few would like the attention, wondering why the fuss. A leader of this reluctant parade, doubtless on a Mardi Gras float wearing green, gold and purple beads, would be my sister-in-law, Cathy Scheid. She would be having lots of fun, and throwing all her beads out to the crowd.

Cathy has a large heart and a cheerful, adventurous spirit. When I first met her I wondered if she was the real deal. Could anyone truly be that happy, that enthusiastic, that expressive? As it turns out, yes. I’ve known her twenty eight years and she has been a delight throughout.

In her contagious spirit of celebration and generosity, she’s taken siblings, parents, neices and nephews on countless trips, many to New Orleans for Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras. The city’s persistent joyfulness in all circumstances is a metaphor for her personality. When I hear good jazz or drink from a Cafe du Monde cup, I think of Cathy. I also think of Cathy when I see a picture of a moose, because of our fabulous Alaska trip. And I think of her when I see sea turtles….you get the idea.

I cannot count how many times she has hosted our family for visits and holidays in Chicago. She lives simply, but bought a three level condo so her siblings and their families could visit at any time. She also shares her ‘little piece of paradise,” a wonderful place in Florida, when family needs to get away.

Her care has extended beyond family to the thousands of middle school students she has taught over the years, hundreds of fellow teachers she has supported, and everyone she has led on educational tours throughout the country and overseas.

Our lives are larger and richer and more full of beauty because of Cathy. She can never be repaid.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Tom Long

When I first met Tom Long he was directing a new play for a big youth gathering. As a group of actors read it through, clustered in a circle in the stone chancel of a Cincinnati church, my delight with the script grew. It was fast-moving, funny, threaded with truth about God.

But when Tom got us on our feet to block it, that was a whole other level of impressive. We were jumping between levels, falling into each other’s arms, pretending to be Junior Birdmen – the parable of the sower and the seeds turned into a rollicking comedy uncovering all the awkwardness of adolescence and the goodness of God at the same time. I was dazzled.

That was thousands of performances and thirty-six years and ago. The fact that performers stick around so long is evidence of Tom’s leadership strength. He says he leads by divine default – only looking back to see God’s hand in his life, but the fact is that he has managed a thriving arts ministry, debt free and mostly free of backstage drama, for forty years.

Since 1980, Tom has been director, playwright and chief storyteller of Friends of the Groom, a Christian theater company travelling year-round to hundreds of churches, conferences and conventions all over the country and sometimes overseas. Last year he was in Asia for several weeks, using social drama to help girls who escaped human trafficking to tell their stories.

One collection of Tom’s short scenes is called, “From the Ridiculous to the Divine”, and that pretty much sums up Friends of the Groom. You can count on a compelling storyline, several gut laughs, and a twist that melts your heart in almost every scene Tom has written. His goal is to enflesh the love of God through excellent theater, and the American church is richer for it.

Tom is married to Karen, possibly the kindest person in the world, and has two gorgeous grown daughters, Emily and Rebecca. He inspires me because he is a loving husband and father, because he does beautiful, quirky, true writing, because he is a superb director and performer with impressive range, and because he is endlessly amusing (you can count on running commentary complete with goofy voices in any long airport tunnel and at every sound check).

About the only thing Tom is not good at is marketing himself, which makes him one of the great unsung talents of the Christian community. Some of his audiences have been enormous, but many are small church groups. Everywhere he goes, he gives his best.

With or without spotlights, Tom has blessed people with inspiring performances and excellent training, and has equipped the church with dozens of matchless plays and musicals. Check them out at http://www.friendsofthegroom.org.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Rosie Eagle

In all my life, I’ve met maybe ten or twelve people who cheer me up simply by being present – Rosie Eagle is one of them. Rosie is the Activities Director at Bayley, a well-run retirement commuity on Cincinnati’s west side. Rosie is one of its best gifts to residents and their families.

I pass her office on the way to my mother’s room. Even when Rosie is frantically busy, her office crammed with Christmas ornaments or Easter decorations or whatever she is using for the next event – she always stops, smiles and says something upbeat.

She doesn’t just organize terrific parties – Rosie is the life of each party – singing, dancing, hugging people, dragging all the able bodied into conga lines when bands visit. She’s just fun.

I recall walking into Bayley’s foyer once, and hearing a rich, velvety voice singing at full volume. I followed it down the hall and around the corner to the chapel, wondering who the visiting singer was. It was Rosie – in a former life she was trained in opera!

Not only is she fun, but wonderfully empathetic. One of the first times I met her she took my hand and said, “Your family has been through so much.” Her sincerity melted me to tears.

Since the pandemic, Rosie has strategized every way possible to keep families in contact without risking residents’ safety. She commandeered tablets and trained her staff to facilitate zoom calls so residents could see family members, she coordinated outside family visits, she held a drive-by parade where families in decorated cars wound through all the independent living streets and around the nursing home, waving to the residents who sat outside in spaced-apart chairs.

Recently I got a packet in the mail – a fake passport , a post-card from mom, and pictures of her posed in front of exotic destinations. I can’t imagine all the coordination that activity took, but it did make me smile to see my mother in her ubiquitous gray cardigan, sporting a Hawaain lei under a palm tree on a beach!

I knew that my mother would receive good care at Bayley, but I did not know there would be so many delightful activities to enrich her days and lighten her loneliness. Many people work to make this so, but Bayley would simply not be the same without Rosie’s warmth, vitality and spectacular heart.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Putty Putman

I found one – I finally found a scientific charismatic Christian – a bona fide STEM guy who not only believes in Jesus but is convinced He is still working through us to rescue and heal people, and has a systematic way of teaching how to be open to God’s power.

A person with all the healthy skepticism and sharp critical thinking of a PhD in quantum physics, who is also surrendered to God, prays for healing with visible results and has arranged his findings in a clear, practical manual.

This is gold because the two worlds of faith and intellectual credibility are often seen as  far apart. In Putty Putman, they live in one person. Putty left a career in physics to teach people how to cooperate with the Spirit of God. This is not a common career path. He now lives with his wife and young children in Urbana Illinois, where he is a pastor at the Vineyard of Central Illinois and runs the School of Kingdom Ministry.

SoKM, as it is fondly called by its students, is the clearest and most practical instruction I have ever found in how to live like Jesus.

I don’t know Putty personally, but I have watched his cheerful face and listened to his lucid teaching and cool stories for over thirty hours – his videos provide most of the content for SoKM, which is happening at churches all over the country. After watching the videos, you practice whatever he taught – how to listen to God, how to pray for someone to be healed physically, how to speak encouraging words you believe may be from God – not your usual Sunday School curriculum.

Putty’s life took a sharp turn when his unsupernatural evangelical faith was challenged by not only witnessing, but being a channel for God’s power on a mission trip to China. He was put on the spot to pray for someone, and saw them healed in spite of the fact that he did not believe anything was going to happen. (Read here for more detail.)

What is inspiring about Putty is that when he observed realities that debunked his religious position, he had the courage to change his world view.

Then he went on to explore, document and explain the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that makes sense to his generation. He designed an experiential training that grounds people in God’s love and teaches them to live it out in a way that results in physical and emotional healing. He has manualized how to live out the Kingdom of God that Jesus described in the gospels.

I am so grateful to this guy! A few years ago, I prayed that if anyone was intelligently teaching how to move in the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament letters, that I would find them. The very next day, three different people told me about a church in Cincinnati that was offering the School of Kingdom Ministry. My journey following Jesus took a great leap forward.

Here’s Putty with one of his books, “Live Like Jesus”. One more inspiring thing about him – he doesn’t take himself too seriously!

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Mitch Teemley

Mitch Teemley brings talent, goodness and integrity to the movie business. Our character comes through our creative work, and Mitch’s shimmers with faith and love. mitch-headshot

I knew the first time I spoke with him, years ago when he was hired to head up worship and arts at our church, that we were going to be blessed and changed by his decision to move with his family to Cincinnati from L.A.

We have been. Music, film, drama and visual art flourished under his leadership at College Hill Presbyterian church. When the recession hit our church and we had to cut staff, he stayed on as a member, which takes a largeness of heart! He went on to grow his production company, Moriah Media, making wonderful short films for church services and events.

 

Then, still in Cincinnati, he made the faith-based feature, Healing River, a gutsy story of forgiveness and redemption set in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine district. It is now available on Amazon. Mitch and his wife Trudy promoted the film at  independent film festivals, where it won several awards.

His next feature, Notzilla, a Godzilla spoof, premiered in Cincinnati in January and is awaiting release.

All along his creative journey, in writing, composing, performing, teaching, and directing, Mitch has helped other people. This is clear when you read his terrific blog, “The Power of Story”; he often uses his large platform to promote other bloggers.

I know Mitch best as the leader of our College Hill Writers group. I have always admired how respectfully he gives feedback, never condescending no matter how flawed a piece of writing may be. One of my favorite memories is of a day when a lady visited the group and read a piece that only named objects. Most of us had no idea how to react, but Mitch, without missing a beat, said encouragingly, “Well, it sounds like what you have now is basically a list. If you want to turn it into a story, you’ll need to give it a beginning, a middle and an end.”

On the other hand, he gave others in the group much more challenging feedback, pushing them to up the stakes, make every sentence count, show not tell. He has great feedback for every skill level, kindly delivered.

I owe Mitch a large debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for his affirmation and guidance I may not have had the guts to write my first novel. My guess is there are many people who have known him who can make similar statements about how Mitch has challenged, encouraged and inspired them.