Saturday, December 10, 2022

Detoxing from Church – 10th Anniversary Edition


Detoxing from Church turns 10 this year. Well, in book form, anyway. The original series of blog posts documenting my recovery journey from bad church experiences began just under 20 years ago. The unofficial series touched a nerve with many people, and led to later compiling everything into book form for easier access (versus combing through years of old blog posts).

For this 10th Anniversary Edition, Ive edited and revised the original material. Every writer knows the routine: you continue to stretch, grow, and educate yourself on creative writing, editing, book cover and interior design ... its almost impossible to revisit older material without revising it to some degree.

Ive also included a new collection of Assorted Parables to the 10th Anniversary Edition. Short, creative stories – 20 of em – grouped thematically, including a Detoxing Redux look at how Wendy & I continue to navigate being in the system but not of the system, 20 years on.

Links to paperback, hardcover, and all manner of ebooks can be found on the Detoxing from Church book page.

Yes, I see that hand. Youre wondering about Post-Charismatic and the Genesis Café, am I right? Yes, revised and updated 10th anniversary editions of both books are coming in 2023.

But for now, enjoy the new edition of Detoxing from Church & Assorted Parables

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Corner Lot

Welcome to Robby McAlpine’s corner lot in the sprawling multi-megatropolis of Greater Blogdom.

Robby, a.k.a. “robbymac,” has been blogging since 2003. Curated here is a sampling of his blog’s most-popular posts—or most infamous, depending on your point of view—as well as a few of Robby’s favorites.

Robby’s writing style often includes “creative non-fiction”—fictional characters and scenarios which shine a new light and perspective on biblical, theological, and church-related topics.

For those who keep track of such things, Robby’s most-viewed “creative non-fiction” post is #metoo–WWJD?
Links to Robbys books can be found in the website navigation bar, or the sidebar at right.

Thanks for stopping by! We hope you enjoy your visit.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Fade to Black

Is there a patron saint for writers? I took another sip of beer as I pondered my answer.

The Drunken Fiddler’s outdoor patio was roughly half full. I’d managed to commandeer a table in the back corner, next to the pub’s turn-of-the-century brick façade. The setting sun’s rays were warm, adding a golden cast to the scene. A breeze rustled the nearest trees, creating a dappled kaleidoscope of light and shadow across the patio.  A perfect summer’s evening.

Catholic mystic Francis de Sales (1567–1622) is traditionally recognized as the patron saint of writers and journalists. But for aspiring authors of my generation, crafting our first literary creations on manual carriage-and-ink-ribbon typewriters, the cartoon character Snoopy—perched atop his doghouse in defiance of gravity—seemed the more obvious choice.

A shadow loomed over my table.

I glanced up to see the mischievous face of the Younger, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Barista from the Genesis Café. The Elder peeked from behind them, waving a friendly greeting.

“The patio—always my favorite.” The Elders enthusiasm was evident as he shouldered past his companions to seat himself beside me. He folded his hands on the table, beaming a delighted smile at the world in general.

The Younger assisted the Barista into her chair and plunked himself down opposite me. “I can’t wait for autumn. Parking’s easier to find after the tourists leave.” He heaved a rueful sigh. “But once you’ve found the best pub in town …”

“Aye, there’s a wee lad who knows wot’s wot.” The Barkeep sidled over to our table, slinging a bar cloth over his shoulder. “What bevvies can I bring the lot of ye?”

Elder (puzzled, as if the answer was obvious): “Guinness.”

Younger (loftily): “La Fin du Monde Tripel.”

Barista (shuddering at the Younger’s choice): “Ward’s Hard Apple Cider, please.”

Me (hoisting my near-empty glass): “More of the same: Crannóg’s Backhand of God Stout.”

Barkeep: (mutters an incomprehensible phrase under his breath and retreats into the pub).

“Is it true what I’ve heard?” The Elder turned to the Barista. “You’ve quit your job at the Genesis Café?”

She grinned brightly. “Today was my last shift. In two weeks, we’re relocating to the Center of the Universe. I’ve been accepted into the BFA program at TMU.”

“Bachelor of Fine Arts at Toronto Metropolitan University,” the Younger stage whispered, translating for the Elder’s benefit. “The school formerly known as Ryerson.”

The Barista continued as if she hadn’t heard. “I’ve been picking away at photography classes at our local college, but my partner and I decided it’s taking too long. So, we’re diving in, head first. He’s an IT guy. Finding work won’t be hard while I’m in school.”

“An excellent strategy; I’m sure you’ll do well.” The Elder’s words sounded like a benediction. “Still, I’m sorry to see you leave. The Genesis won’t be the same without you.”

“Aw, thanks.” Her expression turned serious for a moment before her infectious grin won out. “It’s been a great place to work, but that season’s done. You can’t live in the past, or so everyone tells me. It’s time for the next chapter.”

The Barkeep reappeared, distributing our drinks with a dramatic flourish. He tucked the serving tray under his arm and sketched an awkward salute at the Younger and Elder. “This round’s on the house, gents. Just a way for me and the missus to say thanks for your patronage. Yours, too, young lady,” he hastened to add, nodding at the Barista. He waved a hand in the Elder’s direction, cutting him off. “Naw, don’t say nothing. It’s the least we could do for two men o’ the cloth, especially since ye’re no packing weapons anymore.”

With that, he spun on his heel and disappeared inside the Drunken Fiddler.

“And what about you, Robby?” The Younger rounded on me before the door closed. Neither he nor the Elder seemed inclined to comment on the Barkeep’s cryptic weapons reference. “What’s this I hear about your new adventures?”

“It’s like our creative colleague says.” I nodded at the Barista, who returned my look with a playful shrug. “It’s a new season; a writer’s transitional interlude between one genre and the next.”

“That’s a fancy way of saying you’re moving on.” The Younger’s piercing gaze caught and held mine. “After seventeen years, you’re pulling the plug.”

“A time to write, and a time to write something completely different.” I winced as the words escaped my mouth—a lame riff on Ecclesiastes and Monty Python. I hesitated, unsure how to adequately put my thoughts into words.

The Elder came to my rescue; I should’ve known he would. “There are times and seasons, my friends. Remember Jesus’ words in the third chapter of John? ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ I believe this is one of those times.”

The Younger leaned back in his chair, uncharacteristically subdued. He locked eyes with me, and I’m certain he looked a little misty. “Thanks for giving us a voice,” he said at last. He took a deep breath, gesturing to his companions. “Thanks for giving each of us a voice.”

It took me a moment to collect myself. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor. I’ll miss you guys.”

The Barista stirred, wiping away a tear, and managed a watery grin. “Give my regards to Deven.”

I stood and reached for my notebook. “I will. And—there’s no good segue for this—I think it’s time to be on my way.” I gestured with my notebook. “I’ve got a first draft in desperate need of a stylistic edit, a writer’s conference next weekend …”

The Elder held his Guinness aloft, a nostalgic twinkle in his eye. “To the King and His Kingdom.”

The rest of us clinked glasses with him, accompanied by a ragged echo of his words. “The King and His Kingdom.”

We drained our drinks in prolonged swallows. The Younger gestured at me with his empty glass, his facetious humor resurfacing. “You sure you want to drive after pounding that back?”

I laughed and gingerly placed my empty glass on the table. “I thought I’d take one last walk along the waterfront. I’ll be fine.” I looked around the circle of faces. “And you?”

There was a moment’s hesitation as they exchanged glances. As if by unspoken consent, the Elder answered on their behalf. “We thought we’d go inside for one last round of curry fries, for old time’s sake.” He tipped his hat. “Drive friendly.”

I nodded, returning his gesture. The Younger shook my hand, clapping me on the shoulder with his other hand—harder than he realized, I think. The Barista gave me a quick hug.

A final wave, and I set off down the sidewalk, not trusting myself to stay any longer. All good things … I’d gone perhaps half a block when my steps gradually slowed, and I came to a standstill in the early dusk.

I glanced over my shoulder in time to see the Younger—silhouetted in the Fiddler’s entrance—as he gallantly held the door open. The Barista and Elder made a show of accepting his chivalrous gesture as they stepped over the threshold. I could only imagine the clever one-liners they traded back and forth.

The door swung shut, abruptly cutting the light off.

To the King and His Kingdom. The Elder’s words echoed in my mind as I rounded the corner.

A moonless night descended, cloaking the deserted promenade in darkness. A chill breeze blew in over the lake, driving a murky fog before it. My ADHD brain was quick to populate the ghostly scene with veiled peril and skulking adversaries.

Right … and a foggy, moonless night is a harbinger of what, exactly? I scolded myself. This ain’t science fiction. Streetlights snapped on, but provided scant illumination. I quickened my pace.

Two figures emerged from an alley just ahead. A young man, probably in his late twenties, shadowed by a younger female companion. His clothing was dark and sturdy; she wore threadbare jeans and an oversized hoodie.

I slowed to a halt in the deserted street. “Can I help you?”

They approached with caution, footsteps silent on the cobblestone sidewalk. Their faces reflected an unsettling urgency, mingled with exhaustion. Or perhaps fear.

“I’m Amos Morgan.” The young man’s voice was raspy. His eyes darted back and forth, scanning the street as if he feared we were under surveillance. “This is Aubrey. Aubrey Carter.”

Aubrey stepped into the streetlight’s hazy circle, her dark eyes haunted. She brushed a strand of hair from her face with a fire-scarred hand. “We’ve got a story to tell ...”

[fade to black]

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Windblown

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:13–14).”

*   *   *

The desert sun, blistering and merciless, beats down on the Traveler. He pauses, shielding his eyes with one hand as he scans the horizon. The dry, searing wind raises another dust cloud. Somewhere—untold miles ahead—his destination lies waiting.

He takes a frugal sip of tepid water from his canteen, soothing his parched throat. He must conserve his supply—hasty gulps could be his undoing in the wilderness.

He reaches inside his tunic for the ancient map. The tanned leather is as supple as silk after years of use, handed down from his father and his father’s father. The intricate chirography has faded over time, and he squints at the faint patterns, coaxing the reluctant hues to divulge his route.

An unexpected voice interrupts his concentration. Startled, the Traveler clutches the map to his chest and pivots to face the newcomer.

“Need some company?” The newcomer’s smile is broad, his desert-roughened voice hoarse but clear. He glances at the map in the Traveler’s grip, intrigued. “Where’d you get that?”

The Traveler recovers from his surprise and smiles at his newfound companion. “Company’s always welcome. Are you bound for the Oasis, too?”

The other nods enthusiastically, and the Traveler remembers the crumpled map in his fist. He relaxes his grip and holds it out for the other to see. “I’ve had this map for years. It’s a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation.”

“You’re using the same map as your grandparents?” The easy smile fades from his companion’s face, replaced by good- natured skepticism. No disrespect, but isn’t that just a little . . .  old-fashioned?”

The Traveler laughs as he smooths the weathered fabric. “To be honest, the markings are pretty faded. It’s not always easy to interpret. But it’s worth the effort—the map’s a reliable guide.”

His companion takes a deep breath, searching for the right words. He’s concerned but doesn’t wish to offend. “No, what I mean is—there’s many ways to find the Oasis. Hanging on to outdated maps can be a little … restrictive. It’s a new day; maybe it’s time for new maps.”

The Traveler smiles; his dry lips feel stretched. “This map’s never let anyone in my family down. Maybe I don’t understand every detail, but it’ll guide me to the Oasis.”

“To each his own.” The newcomer shrugs. His eyes light up as he catches sight of something over the Traveler’s shoulder. “Excuse me—I think my ride’s arrived.”

He steps around the Traveler as an enormous tumbleweed bears down on them. The Traveler tightens his grip on the map and scrambles out of the tumbleweed’s path. His companion inexplicably throws himself into its thorny embrace and is carried off.

“New maps for a new generation …” His cheery voice fades as the tumbleweed rolls on its way.

The Traveler watches him disappear, perplexed. He glances at his map, studying the timeworn patterns and comparing them to the hazy mountains in the distance.

Satisfied, he resumes his trek across the desert.

Not long after, he spies a cluster of cacti, spiny arms held stiffly aloft. A single flower adorns the tallest cactus, and the Traveler spots a young woman sitting cross-legged in its shade, shielding herself from the scorching sun and arid wind.

“Another pilgrim, bound for the Oasis.” She salutes him with an upraised canteen before downing a hearty swig. She grins as she screws the lid back into place. “Which route are you taking, friend?”

The Traveler pauses in the shadow of the tallest cactus, mirroring her action with his own canteen. His moistened lips don’t feel as cracked as he returns her smile. “The same route I’ve been on since childhood.” He shows her the map.

The young woman runs a gentle finger over its soft surface. Her eyes widen. “I used to have one just like this,” she enthuses, handing the map back to the Traveler. “But I traded it in. They say if you don’t change maps every so often, you risk becoming narrow-minded. I make a point of trading for a different map every three years or so.”

The Traveler looks perplexed. He glances from the woman’s sincere face to the map in his hands. “A different map every three years? How do you know whether or not they’ll lead you to the Oasis?”

She gets to her feet, smiling easily as another swarm of tumbleweeds approaches. “It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.” She leaps into the nearest tumbleweed, giving the Traveler a friendly wave as she is carried off.

Alarmed, he consults the map and races after her, waving his arms. “Don’t go that way—you’re heading straight for Dry Gulch! There’s nothing there but rattlesnakes and scorpions!”

“That’s just your interpretation.” Her voice fades as the tumbleweeds reel on.

The Traveler slows to a halt. He consults the map again and his heart sinks. A sere wind tousles his hair as he stares after the tumbleweeds. They plunge over the edge of a precipice and disappear from sight.

The Traveler stands motionless, arms hanging loose at his sides. He glances over his shoulder at the cactus, as if hoping the spiny succulent could explain or offer comfort.

He takes another sip from his canteen and turns to face the distant mountains. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve, squinting at the map. Satisfied, he tucks it into his tunic and resumes his dogged trek.

“No turning back,” he says to the cactus as he passes. “No turning back.”

Saturday, May 25, 2019

One Last Dance Party


Sally and I were born only a few months apart. If we had attended the same high school, we’d have been in the same group photos at graduation. I don’t know her complete biography — she shared tidbits here and there, but there were a lot of gaps where it wouldn’t have been polite to pry — but suffice it to say our lives post-graduation went in very different directions.

I met Sally (not her real name) through a local non-profit service agency. I had the weekly privilege of leading a small team of volunteers to help clean her modest dwelling. Years of substance abuse had robbed Sally of much of her mobility, and she appreciated our help with the things she could no longer do herself.

Despite her fragile condition, Sally always greeted us with a mischievous grin and her signature reply whenever I’d ask how she was doing, “I’m still walking, and I’m still talking!”

Just a few weeks ago, as we cleaned her kitchen, Sally turned on some classic 1960s rock — über-loud — and cajoled the high school volunteers into joining her in a shuffling dance party in the middle of her living room.

I’ll never forget Sally’s expression as the volunteers held hands with her and joined her impromptu circle of celebration. “Who you are – is a gift,” she admonished each of them, wagging a stern finger. “Don’t let nobody steal that away from you.”

As she hugged her dance-mates farewell, Sally beamed like a home-coming queen on prom night.

The following week, I noticed that she seemed weaker, and her mind kept wandering. Concerned, I asked, “Are you feeling okay, Sally?”

She laughed much like her usual self, flashing her mischievous grin. “I'm still walking, Robby, and I’m still talking!”

She didn’t instigate another dance party, but struggled off her couch to hug the volunteers as they left, thanking them for their help. As each student embraced her, a neon-bright smile lit Sally’s face.

We never saw her again. Her body was discovered later that week by a neighbor … on Mother’s Day. The paramedics said she’d been dead for several days. Her fragile, worn-out body just couldn’t go on any longer.

Sally died alone. The child-like joy on her face when the students danced with her, less than two weeks before, seems especially poignant now.

I recall an old Randy Stonehill lyric:

The sound of our motor would frighten the starlings, and they’d rise from the fields to fly,

And I couldn’t help feeling sad and inspired by their desperate ballet in the sky.

Say a prayer for the starlings …

I didn’t know Sally very long, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget her. I’m glad – incredibly grateful – she was able to enjoy one last dance party.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Life Verse

“Let’s go around the circle, and everyone can share their Life Verse …”

My teenage ears perk up and my blood pressure spikes. Life verse? I’d never given it any thought. I wasn’t even aware that believers were supposed to choose — or were they given? — a Life Verse. I knew the Bible was full of verses that inspired, challenged, confronted, and comforted people. But no one told me I needed to pick a Life Verse.

So, feeling a little like I’d somehow missed an important spiritual memo, I waited with bated breath as others shared their Life Verses. (All the while feverishly hoping that one would pop into mind before it was my turn.)

An inspiring collection of Life Verses were shared around our circle. I found myself repeatedly thinking: “Dang – I wish I could use that one. Or maybe this one. Is it kosher if more than one person picks the same life verse?” Some examples:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5–6).”

“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).” 

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).”

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”

My turn loomed ever closer, and I was getting a little desperate. All that came to mind was a verse from John’s gospel that – compared to my friends choices – seemed tame, a trifle anemic, and generally less “spiritually awesome.”

Suddenly, all eyes were on me and I heard myself blurting out: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).”

The rest of the group nodded in solemn solidarity and moved on to the next person. I heaved a sigh of relief and relaxed; I’d successfully passed the Life Verse Test.

In the years since, I’ve often returned to John 15:5 and marveled at what an appropriate choice it was. (Although I’d also suggest that it’s not a brilliant idea to isolate a single Bible verse as your life-guiding mantra.)

Jesus is the Vine — the Source – and we, as branches, are the recipients. We’re completely dependent on Him. We can (and should) be wise about how we do life and ministry — planning, evaluating, learning, risk-taking — but everything needs to be firmly connected to, and flowing from, the Source.

Jesus wants us to be fruitful. We get to partner with Him. I love the wording in the Nueva Versión Internacional: we will “give” much fruit. It’s not about us becoming spiritual giants; it’s about giving fruit to bless others. And it’s a memorable Spanish phrase: dara mucho fruto.

The latter half of John 15:5 sounds like a warning — “apart from me you can do nothing” — but I’ve always found it strangely encouraging, perhaps because the positive outcome of doing the opposite seems pretty clear-cut.

In hindsight, my hasty choice of a “life verse” – even if picked under Christian peer pressure – may have been inspired by the serendipitous Spirit. You never know; it sounds like something He’d do.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Graveyard Shift

The etymology of the term “graveyard shift” is less entertaining than I’d hoped. I’d heard the apocryphal tales about people sitting in graveyards overnight, listening for bells rung by frantic people who’d been buried prematurely. “Saved by the bell,” “graveyard shift”—it’s an entertaining tale, but not based in fact.

That’s a shame, really. I was all set to blog a merry metaphor about wandering the cemeteries of greater blogdom, looking and listening for signs of life.

That’s a convoluted way of simply noting that blogs come and go. There are always new people joining the ‘blogosphere,’ while others have said their piece, made their peace, and moved on. Sometimes, their blog disappears entirely, usually coinciding with the expiration of their custom domain renewal. Their common epitaph is “404: Page Not Found.”

Others remain online indefinitely, untended for months and even years. It’s akin to one of those “frozen in time” moments you see in a movie — an online record of what their last blog-worthy thoughts and then ... perpetual silence.

The reasons behind these missing and dormant blogs are as varied as the bloggers who created them. There’s no simple “one size fits all” explanation, except to note: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1).”

For example: Len Hjalmarson, a thoughtful and prolific blogger, recently removed all content from his Next Reformation website, with the exception of a single farewell post. Later that week, his website domain expired and even that final post is gone. Len was instrumental to my decision to create this blog; his departure hits a little harder. An end to an era.

Someday, I would love to gather with my blogging kin around a campfire—a real one, with roasted meat and hearty ale—and share our present-day stories. I’m sure there’s a lot we could learn from each other.

I’d even be willing to spend a night on the graveyard shift, just in case.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Sowing & Reaping & Karma

“Karma’s gonna getcha.” Long before it became popular to joke about karma, the apostle Paul introduced us to the idea of “reaping what we sow.”

“Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:7-9 NLT).”

It’s worth pointing out, right from the outset, that theres a subtle but crucial difference between “karma” and “reaping what you sow.”

In popular usage (as opposed to how studied Buddhists would understand it), “karma” sounds like an impersonal, outside force seeking to balance a scale of justice somewhere. Some people shake their heads and mutter something to the effect of: “Karma’s gonna getcha,” as if karma is a vengeful entity looking to slap people down if they don’t play nice. (But it’s okay if they get slapped down, because they deserved it.)

Ironically, those who invoke “karma’s gonna getcha” often take gleeful delight in seeing others get slapped down. Let’s hope karma doesn’t boomerang on them for getting a kick out of the suffering of others.

Reaping What You Sow (RWYS) isn’t the same thing. God’s not a vengeful entity on the lookout for reasons to slap people down and say, “See? You deserved that.” And if Christians gloat when someone gets “what they deserved,” karma may not apply, but conviction and repentance might.

RWYS is far more sobering than karma. The sin nature that people sow to is … their own. It’s not an outside force, exerting its nefarious will on the unsuspecting. Read Galatians again: “Those who sow to please their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death ...” RWYS isn’t retributive justice from outside or above — it’s more akin to the law of cause-and-effect.

For example, if you’re consistently dishonest in your dealings with others, don’t be shocked when no one trusts you. If you treat people like garbage, don’t be surprised to wake up one day and find that you have no friends.

The other option is noticeably different: If we “sow to the Spirit,” we reap a harvest of good from the Spirit. In other words, contrary to the negative results of sowing to our sin nature, we can choose instead to sow — or “live to please the Spirit” — and reap a harvest of life from the Spirit.

There’s a subtle, profound, and earth-shattering difference between the two:

  • Live to please yourself, and youll reap decay and death (because our sin nature corrupts everything).
  • Live to please the Spirit, and youll reap life (because God is holy and incorruptible).

Therefore, Paul concludes, don’t get tired of doing the right thing (living to please the Spirit). There will be a harvest of everlasting life if we don’t give up (and retreat to the old ways of pleasing ourselves).

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT).”

Friday, July 27, 2018

Prodigals & Pharisees

 

I thought it was a great idea for a song lyric: “Prodigals and Pharisees, equal at the foot of the cross”. Last week, I even suggested to a friend, who is a gifted songwriter, that he should compose it.

He gave me the same kind of benignly polite look that I suspect would be on my face, if our places were reversed and hed suggested I write a book based on one of his flashes of insight.

Still, the idea stuck with me. Not being much of a songwriter, it was probably inevitable that it would turn into a blog post instead.

The idea was sparked by one of Jesus’ pithy stories, found in Luke 18:9–14: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

The characters were chosen quite deliberately by Jesus. The Pharisees were the super-religious heroes (at least, in their own eyes), and tax collectors clung by their fingernails to the lowest rung on the societal ladder of the day.

The point of Jesus’ parable is exquisitely clear: only those who recognize their spiritual poverty receive God’s mercy. And let’s not lose sight of where Jesus aimed the parable: at those “who were confident of their own self-righteousness and looked down on everyone else.”

The great irony is that both characters were in equal need of God’s grace and mercy. They stood in the same temple, prayed to the same God, yet only one went home “justified.” The other wrapped himself in a cloak of his own making and wandered off without even realizing his desperate situation.

It’s the same today: you don’t need a membership card or initiation rite to be a Pharisee. It’s an attitude, not an organization. And there are multitudes of ‘prodigals’ who have wandered in some way from their faith, and yet later find themselves wanting to reconnect with God (like the tax collector in the parable).

At the foot of the Cross, pharisees and prodigals are on equal footing, with equal need for forgiveness and mercy. Whenever a church meets, it’s really just another gathering of “Sinners Anonymous.” Some may be further along in their understanding and practice of “living by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16–25), but none of us earned it, never did and still don’t deserve it, and daren’t* take it for granted.

*Real word – Google it.

“The Christian does not believe God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Post-Charismatic: A Publishing Journey

From an author’s perspective, the saga of Post-Charismatic is a whirlwind tour of the convoluted world of publishing and the roller-coaster ups-and-downs associated with it.

In this blog’s early days, there was a lot of discussion about a growing exodus of disillusioned people from Pentecostal and charismatic churches. Many had once viewed these churches as a valuable source of spiritual vitality — but no longer.

I decided, encouraged/egged-on by several blogging friends, to write
a few blog posts to unpack the why’s behind a growing number of people who self-identify as post-charismatic. Id do a bit of background reading and then blog a mini-series (five or six posts).

Id barely begun my research when I realized
a few blog posts wouldn’t do the topic justice. Instead, what was tentatively billed as the Post-Charismatic Project would be published as a subsection of my blog — an extremely large subsection, as twenty months of research and writing took shape. I jokingly referred to it as “the mother of all research papers.”

Even before its release, several people suggested I look into getting the content published in book form. I did my best to shop the proposal around but received zero response. (Note: possibly because my query letters sucked.)

So I went ahead with my initial plan and designed a website-within-a-blog.

In hindsight, I have no idea what inspired this banner art.
 
The website went public in early 2006 and word spread quickly around the blogosphere. Brent Toderash from Subversive Influence (who also provided invaluable critiques of the early drafts) created an online forum where readers could interact on the issues raised by the Project. To say the forum was inundated with lively conversation would be a classic understatement. Thousands of comments over multiple threads — with a surprising minimum of trolls.

The publishing angle took an unexpected turn later that year. An email arrived from jolly olde England, offering to publish the Post-Charismatic Project in book form. At first, I thought the email was the digital equivalent of a prank phone call. Just in case, I contacted the publishing house in question and inquired whether or not a certain name was associated with the company.


“You mean our senior acquisitions editor?” the polite British woman asked over the phone. “Id take an email from him very seriously, if I were you.”
And then it hit me. I’ve been discovered. Theyre going to publish the Post-Charismatic Project!

A whirlwind of contract signing and untangling governmental red tape between a Canadian writer and a British publishing house ensued. I quickly found myself knee-deep in the process of editors scouring through my manuscript, suggesting additions, deletions, areas where the material could be tightened up, and so on. It was a fun learning curve.

Eventually, I was treated to the odd sensation which accompanies the first glimpse of the proposed cover art. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of either design, to be honest (especially all the question marks), but that’s part of the publication swirl. You don’t have control over what the publisher decides. And they’re the experts, so you need to trust their instincts.

In the end, they chose the second cover design, which was the better of the two in my limited opinion. Except to note that, as a guitarist, the idea of wearing a suit while playing makes my skin crawl (don’t tell B.B. King).
 
Post-Charismatic? was officially released in the UK on the first day of April, 2008. (April Fool’s Day = publication day ... It’s okay, go ahead and laugh. I did.)

And then another unexpected twist ...

Post-Charismatic? was available in bookstores all over the UK, garnering press attention and positive reviews. Emails and hand-written letters from readers across the Pond started showing up in my digital and analog mailboxes, including one from a university professor who used the book in one of his classes. 

But for reasons unknown, the release on this side of the Atlantic was delayed for over a year. My inbox was flooded with requests from American and Canadian readers who wanted copies, but there was nothing I could do. Their only option was to order a copy through Amazon UK.

As I later learned, an American publishing house had bought out the British company, and their rules for publication were different. Things became clearer when I phoned the American company directly.

Do you have a radio or television presence, Robby? You don’t? Well, are you a known commodity on the conference speaking circuit? I see ... Do you lead a mega-church? No? Long pause. I guess we’re done here.”

The British publisher seems to believe in my writing.

No pause. “They don’t know what they’re doing. We downsized them.

In short, the American company’s sales department determined I didn’t qualify to be published. Since legally-binding documents had been signed, they were contractually obligated to the first print run. But that was as far as they would (grudgingly) go.

Zero promotion. Non-existent publicity. No buzz. Another year passed before Post-Charismatic? became available on Amazon USA.

For a writer, this was understandably frustrating and not a little deflating. The three-year print run came and went, and the muffled thud you may have heard was the apparent end of my writing career.

But after the print run ended, I continued to receive private inquiries about the book’s availability. Self-described fan-boy Luke Geraty, who would later invite me to join the writing team at Think Thelogy, planted the idea of an ebook version. And I realized I had another option: the wild frontier of self-publishing.

It took almost half a year of wrangling with the American company to obtain an official “author rights reversal” (despite this being clearly delineated in my contract). They also waived their right of first refusal for my next book, because their sales department considered me perpetually unpublishable.

The important piece is this: with an author rights reversal, I regained creative and legal control over my work.

Post-Charismatic 2.0 is a proper second edition: updated, edited (yet again, ruthlessly), complete with the new framing story of a fictional Charismatics Anonymous meeting to introduce and conclude the book.
The learning curve to create both print and ebook formats was steep, but having artistic control of my work was well worth it.

I had no idea how this publishing journey would unfold when I began researching for “a few blog posts” back in 2004. But it’s been a challenging, satisfying, and ultimately empowering education.