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.
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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.