10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone You Can Trust” cont.

8. Not All Christians are Mean, Stupid or Sappy…

I watched a fantastic movie last night, “The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society”, but one of its characters made me flinch with a familiar irritation.

She was a Christian who read her Bible all the time. She was also mean, judgemental, self-righteous, prim, petty and vindictive – basically the antithesis of how Jesus acted. You just don’t often see a sane, appealing Christian character who can speak in whole sentences on mainstream media produced this century.

Often people who follow Jesus are depicted as villains or fools, on screen and in contemporary books.

I just finished writing a novel, “Someone You Can Trust,” that depicts real people who say they’re following Jesus, and almost all of them are really following Jesus. They’re likable, authentic and say amusing things. They show how a relationship with God is fleshed out in real situations.

I’m not saying there aren’t some ignorant and hateful people who say they’re Christians. I just know from experience that there are many mature and loving people in our churches. That’s important for everyone to know. That’s why I wrote this book.

10 Reasons I Wrote “Someone You Can Trust”:

7. We Have to Live with Alzeimer’s

Alzheimer’s Disease is a public health problem of staggering proportions, and a personal tragedy for a good chunk of our population. (Around six million people have it in the United States.)

Even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic, increasing poverty, unemployment, and a childcare crisis – the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is a loud call to band together and live more communally. Dementia can wreck a family. It’s that hard to deal with.

There is a character in my manuscript, “Someone You Can Trust” who has Alzheimer’s, and the story shows how a loving community can make life livable for the victims of the disease and for their caregivers.

One of three protagonists in the book is the main caregiver for her beloved Grandmother, who is found to have Alzheimer’s early in the story.

The character’s journey is not only about a descent from a devout and useful life; it’s a story about life going on and being full of graceful, sweet moments even in the midst of the disease. Those are what we can learn to create for each other.

That’s why I wrote this book.

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”:

2. 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.