My new book, Authentic Faith: Feeding the Soul in Politically Divided Times, is live now, in paperback. I’m going to tell a story, but feel free to go check it out first and then come back!
I have a birthday story. On the morning I turned 23, I woke up in a homeless shelter. I wasn’t really homeless, in a long-term sense. But my best friend Trey and I had decided to spend some time traveling the country, seeing what God was doing in different places, and looking for a place where we might get involved in a local church. We were young Jesus followers trying to live the priorities of Jesus’ Kingdom, so we were looking for our spiritual community before we looked for jobs. We were also college grads on a big road trip. But we had very high-minded purposes.
We drove from Claremont, California, where we’d attended college, up the West Coast, spending time in northern California, Portland, and Seattle Washington, then drove down through Idaho, Utah, and stopped for a while in Colorado before going through the Midwest and down to Kentucky before traveling as far south as Georgia. It was a wonderful time of seeking God and a crazy adventure and Trey and I nearly did away with each other on more than one occasion. It deserves its own book, though I may have waited too long, since not all the details are clear any more and I am certain I have replaced many facts with nostalgia by now.
But on October 9, at 6AM in Salt Lake City, Trey and I were awakened along with 20-odd other guys and told we had to get dressed and get out in 10 minutes. We weren’t wearing clothes. They required everyone to sleep naked so that no one would have any ability to smuggle weapons up to their beds and….it was a precautionary measure. You took a shower, then left all your things in a locker and went to your bed. Now it was time to reclaim our things and make our way out to the sidewalk.
Why? We had a network of contacts throughout the country, churches we knew were doing justice work, connections, friends and friends of friends. We had done fine on the West Coast, maybe because that was closer to where we had gone to college and our contacts were only one to two degrees of separation.
“Mike, do you mean to tell me you called strangers and asked to stay?”
Yes, that’s what I’m telling you. But not cold calls. People we knew or people who knew people we knew. You know, a network.
Except in Salt Lake City. Somehow, after already being on the road for about a month, we decided that God would just provide a place to stay in Salt Lake City. It’s a long drive from Washington to Colorado, where our next certain contact was, and we were tired. We got in a little before sundown and started calling churches. To our surprise, no one was really excited to have two early-twenties guys come crash at their church or stay with the pastor. Huh.*
It was getting dark and late and the calls were starting to sound more desperate. i need to add that I had been fighting something and didn’t feel well enough to camp out (which turned out to be walking pneumonia that I’d been carrying since I returned from a summer mission in South Africa. I did tell you this is its own book.) Finally, as I was talking to a pastor and trying to explain our situation: “We’re two guys seeking where God is leading us, visiting churches, and we need a place to stay,” the man asked, “Why don’t you just stay in a homeless shelter?”
I was taken aback. A little shocked. But we just graduated from a high-ranking college… We’re not really homeless, we’re trying to….
So we did.
I woke up to my first morning of twenty-three with a roomful of guys who were figuring out how they might get food or get hired for day labor. One man helpfully explained to us where the soup kitchens were that served breakfast. Trey and I got dressed, went to his car, the might Datsun 210, we drove to the Mormon Temple where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform at sunrise, because everyone told us we needed to see it while we were in Salt Lake, and as the sun rose, we drove away and didn’t look back.
That was the only time in our four months on the road that we didn’t have a place we were welcomed to stay. It was also one of the most memorable parts of our trip.
On the morning of October 9th of this year, I was still working to complete this book. I’d been sitting at my little table by the window since 5:30 AM of the 8th, with a few breaks including Annalise’s birthday dinner, but mostly trying to keep working until I had it done and could push “submit” and go to bed.
That ended up being 3:45AM. Somehow, it brought to mind my 23rd birthday. On my 23rd birthday, I called Kim, who sang “Happy Birthday” to me from Washington. On my 52nd birthday, I got up with Kim a couple hours later to help her get ready to leave for school (I make a mean travel mug of coffee and a killer peanut butter toast), checked to see if my book was live–surprisingly, two hours later it was still “In Review”–and went back to bed. In my bed, not a shelter.
I hadn’t really thought carefully about that adventure for a long time. But all our experiences form us, don’t they?
If you’re a regular here, you will have some idea what this book is about. In fact, you’ve seen some of it. Some of my posts made the book, including the “Week of Grace.” I had hoped to make this book available some time ago–to be honest, it should have come out in 2018, but I was busy returning from Nicaragua and going through reverse culture shock–but I’m hoping it is timely now.
I included thirty-seven reflections on our current crisis and how we might approach this crisis–and those with whom we disagree–with grace and love, while standing and speaking up for what we believe.
The first reflection is “Grace Frees Us to Try.” The second is “I Don’t Want to Hate.” Then “Love Your Enemies” and “We’ve All Lost Friends.”
I didn’t try to find an agent or publisher for this, because I felt like it needs to be out right now and even if I got it accepted that process would take too long. I started in paperback this time, so you can have the physical book in your hands in a day or two. I hope to have the Kindle version available by the beginning of next week.
Here’s the thing: I believe a lot of people need this encouragement. I hope and pray that is what I’ve written and how what I’ve written will impact people. I am the World’s Worst Marketer (TM) because I’ve got this silly idea that if I write good stuff, people will just read it. So if you do read the book and it helps you, I’d love for you to let others know.
I’m tempted to explain the book now, but here’s the other thing: I wrote the title so that everyone would know what it’s about and no one would accuse me of false advertising. It has this horrible double colon in the listing because I insisted on making Authentic Faith: Feeding the Soul in Politically Divided Times the title so that Encouragement for Jesus Followers, Justice Seekers, Resisters, Immigrant Supporters, and Peacemakers could all be the sub-title. It looks much better on the cover my dear friend author Jason Link designed for me–Thank you, Jason!
Last thing: you, reading this blog, have been my most faithful readers and encouragers. I’m profoundly grateful for you, even when we disagree. That’s a point in the book, too: we must be able to disagree and still go forward in love. Thank you for helping me get this far.
Let me know what you think!
*Someone wants to ask, “But Mike, would you have taken in someone who just showed up asking for a place to sleep?” Um, yes, we have. A few times. But that’s another story. I’m sure our decision to do that has been impacted by my experience in SLC.