Saturday, May 31, 2008
The debut of my new book, Witness to the Truth, at the 2008 Book Expo America, the largest book trade show in the U.S., this weekend produced the types of curious responses I expected and that I anticipate will occur over the next weeks and months.
My book is subtitled Lessons learned by a veteran journalist through four decades of watching the church. I used raw, revealing anecdotes to paint the church as an authentically human institution but one that God still can use for His ongoing purposes, despite the sometimes disturbing antics and behaviors of church leaders.
During the editing and proofing process, I laughed repeatedly at an email from Deborah Davies, one of our editors at Hannibal Books, who suggested I rename the book Forest Gump Goes to Church. She keyed off the fact that through four decades I managed to find myself strategically poised to witness cataclysmic religious developments such as John Paul's first steps in the Western Hemisphere, the Episcopal Church's historic vote to ordain women, and my unique skybox view at the 1979 Southern Baptist Convention, a meeting which forever altered the history for the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Over the years I've been fortunate to meet almost all the big-name religious leaders of our time.
During the debut here in Los Angeles to bookstore buyers and librarians from across the U.S. as well around the world, my wife Kay tugged at my arm to get me to venture over and meet a librarian from the Houston area, where I spent the majority of my life and career. After introducing myself, I held out the book to the woman, who seemed to remember my years at the Houston Chronicle and literally jerked the book from my hands. Simultaneously she asked whether it had an index of names cited. Before I could answer her question, she found and started perusing the index. She spotted the name of a pastor we apparently both know and turned immediately to one of the references.
"Oh, my goodness, you saw him as very egotistical," she blurted wide-eyed. After a long silence, she said smiling, "Well, I guess we all have our opinions."
I offered to autograph the book for her. "Address it to my mother," she said. "I'm going to read it tonight and send it to her immediately."
What struck me as so humorous was that the pastor she fingered actually is a very minor character in the book; the denomination to which he belonged is not a major focus. The book is chocked full of details about numerous religious leaders and denominations.
Far beyond a mere chronicling of events, Witness to the Truth identifies 26 core "truths" that apply to a variety of religious groups regardless of their stripe. My parallels are designed to help readers better understand their own local church bodies and their roles in them.
Visit www.hannibalbooks.com right now and read the first chapter of my book as well as that index that captivated my new librarian-friend.