February 11, 2008
Another one of those changes I’ve encountered since my Rip Van Winkle style spiritual awakening is the emergence of fiction as a genre for Christian books. Seems like someone has figured out that the mountain of how-to volumes over at the Christian bookstore can be livened up some if you put your message in the context of an engaging story line. Check it out. There’s a whole section called Fiction.
My mentor of seventeen years didn’t like fiction. He told me so. He became famous for his “book a week” rhythm. It was no empty claim; he read a book every week for his entire career. I still remember how painful it was for him when his eyes went. He bought a contraption that would project the pages on the wall enlarging the print. He listened to books on CD. He had an insatiable appetite for books. Right up until his transition to Heaven at age ninety-one.
But he had no time for fiction. “Waste of time,” he called it. I guess I can confess now what I kept to myself in those long conversations I miss so much today. I like fiction. There, I said it.
A long time ago, another friend challenged me to take on James Michener. Sure his books are hopelessly voluminous; but sure enough, I got caught up in the big landscapes, the sweep of history, the scope of the centuries and the characters who shaped nations and fought wars and built cities and civilizations and when I put down one, read cover to cover, I picked up another. I devoured so much Michener back then I managed to figure out his formula. That’s when I moved on.
But in the journey, a whole world opened up.
So when a successful businessman handed me a book of fiction a couple weeks ago and said, “Ken, you’ve got to read this,” I did. It’s the story of the pastor of a mega-church who, after twenty years, had to admit to himself that the CEO role he played so well publicly was about to crush him.
One of the first real hints of burn-out happened in front of the home theater. He watched a movie with his youth pastor; Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Pastor Chase Falson opened up as the movie credits rolled. “What a great movie,” he said. “I loved Truman’s search for meaning in a contrived and shallow world. He longed for something more.”
Chip, the youth guy, shrugged and said, “I thought it was dumb.” He thought about it for a moment. “Yeah, I like Carrey a whole lot more in Dumb and Dumber.”
Falson knew it. The generation gap. A yawning chasm. Dumb and Dumber.
It wasn’t long after that, The Truman Show became his story. The final trigger – the young daughter of a single mom dies in a random bicycling accident. After the memorial, in a private room, Maggie, the little girl’s mother, cries out in agony. “How could God do this?” Her reddened, weary eyes reflect the horrific tragedy. She locks her painful gaze on the man who just officiated the memorial of her child. And Chase runs out of answers.
He melts down on a Sunday morning, thousands in attendance. Video cameras rolling. He confesses that he’s empty. The old easy answers don’t work anymore. He’s not sure that this mega operation, burning up millions of dollars a year, comes anywhere close to living up to its mission. He’s finally told the truth. But it’s going to cost him.
The Elders put him on a leave of absence. They think a rest will bring him back. That’s chapter one.
And that’s where Chase Falson’s unexpected journey begins.
The airplane lands him in Rome. His Uncle Kenny, an American refugee who left it all behind to become a Franciscan Monk, meets him at the gate. Father Kenny.
An in a pilgrim’s tale, the weary senior pastor embarks on a new quest – Chasing Francis.1
* * * * * *
It’s Monday morning, and as a seasoned leader, you can point to those moments in time when everything changed. They were turning points. Or tipping points. Like Chase Falson, you emerged to a whole new world of experience.
In one of God’s mysterious twists, just this morning, just after writing the text above, I listened to the pastor of a large church share some tragic, unsettling news. A little eighteen month boy, Isaac, the son of new young missionaries en-route to their first tour of service in Cambodia. The accident occurred in the Denver area. Isaac’s mom is recovering from a serious corrective surgery. Two other adults traveling in the car were killed.
Unlike the character in my book, this pastor relayed the hard facts with passion and grace, pain and hope, sorrow and grace. People were moved to care. Tears flowed in that sacred place. No easy answers here. He invited us to enter into the grief; and there find living water.
Falson’s fictional journey led him to a new and deeper understanding of God’s work in the world… in history, in a far away land, and in an open, honest search for the living God. The spiritual crisis led to spiritual renewal.
As it has for me.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2008
1 Chasing Francis, Ian Moran Cron (2006, Navpress)