|with Christina Wong at Mondo Cafe|
The day after my first book signing for The Bishop and the Seeker, we went to Sunday service at Trinity Methodist, the church responsible for the service-in-the park in the book's closing scene. After a Native American-themed service, we shook hands with the short and stout pastor who was dressed for the day in colorful native garb and shell necklaces, barefoot. (A congregant later told me they lovingly call this new pastor Friar Tuck.) I had written him ahead about the book's inclusion of his church and of my desire to meet the young Asian woman whose gift of song had created my transformational experience. I hadn't heard back, and he didn't show interest in following up. But he did introduce me to the singer, Christina Wong.
She was thrilled to tears to hear our story, saying that only the day before she had asked God for evidence that she was making a difference in the world.
The next day, I made appointments to have coffee that week with both
Christina and with Nann, the Black Religious Scientist who had signed my contact list.
The Age of Grace
When I met Nann, she was having coffee with her friend, a retired woman
who heads the local Abraham group for Christians, Muslims, and Jews and
who recommends books to the Chico Womens Club. The friend was more
interested in the book than was Nann. Like a good Religious Scientist,
Nann said, "I'm not interested in 'wrestling' with anyone. I just stand
in my truth and let the Law of Attraction draw compatible people to me."
Nann was raised in the Black Christian church, and relations with her parents are strained because she is no longer comfortable saying she accepts Jesus as her lord and savior. Currently she is studying a form of healing touch that addresses prenatal trauma. She showed no interest in my book until I told her that the view of salvation Bishop Thomas conveyed to me echoes the radical freedom and responsibility I find in Religious Science. She seemed almost angry at the implausibility of that--especially when I told her that Bishop T says the ten commandments no longer apply: Jesus fulfilled the law such that we are now in the age of grace under which saved persons make choices purely from their love of God. "I have studied many forms of Christianity, and I've never heard that," she said. "I want to read that book."
My prayer is that sharing the book may open the possibility of a fresh start for Nann and her family.
Connecting via Facebook
On Friday I noticed a comment on my blog post about the book signing from another local Methodist, Gary Estep. Apparently Christina had Facebooked about my book without mentioning its name. Someone replied, prodding for the name, and when Christina provided it, Gary saw it on Facebook and looked it up, finding my blog. He said he is the head of the Methodist social action ministry, and his wife, Julie, has ties with New Age. So I invited him to the coffee date with Christina. My childhood Catholic friend wanted to come, too.
Our coffee Friday in at the quaint Mondo Coffee House was one of the richest and most passionate three-hour conversations I've ever had. I realized in retrospect we had a heart, a head, and an action type person--plus heady me! The heart was Christina, the Chinese woman whose song closes my book. Her Christian father escaped the cultural revolution in China by walking hundreds of miles and swimming a shark-infested bay to Hong Kong, where he found a bowl of hot noodles awaiting him on a deserted beach. Other members of Christina's family are traditional Buddhists dismayed at her reluctance to perform traditional ancestor worship--although she has since been able to place that in a cultural context that makes it work for her. She was bubbly and outgoing making jokes about how "two Wongs don't make a white," and telling us of her love of singing and the moment-to-moment satisfactions of her work as a social worker with dysfunctional families.
Gary has retired as a middle school teacher and now devotes himeslf to
organizing people to feed the hungry and visit the imprisoned. He never
wanted to do prison work, but when his wife Julie volunteered, he
insisted on accompanying her. He got hooked when he found a 6-foot, 200
lb prisoner hugging him and tearfully saying it was the first time he
ever felt someone cared if he made it. "My direct experience of God is in the people I serve," he said when I asked how he balances faith and works.
Gary and Julie both empathized with my being a "recovering libertarian" who idealizes a society in which every family, church, and neighborhood takes care of its own, but
who realizes we don't have the infrastructure or discipline in place to
do that with no government help. Julie, who was raised a Mormon, says
Mormons DO have the discipline in place to take care of their own. She
said she admires Highview's vision of a "Total Man Ministry." Julie also
told me that Mormons are frequently writers; they believe God gives
fresh revelation to each individual, and it is each person's job to
share what they are shown.
|With Julie and Gary Esteps at Mondo Cafe|
Treatment of gays is another concern Gary and Julie share. She was
impressed by my noting that Bishop Thomas sees the Bible condemning
homosexual acts but does not believe it is the job of government to
enforce laws against them--judgment being God's job.
Like me, Julie is very much a lover of ideas. She has Masters degrees in
both Literature and Social Psychology, as well as a PhD in Rhetoric and
Communications Technology. When you add to that her "intensive" studies
with Ramtha, the channeled entity featured in "The Secret" (e.g., melting snow with their minds on outdoor retreats), and her current activity as a Methodist, you get an ideal one-person focus group for licking up
every little thought crumb in my book. Indeed, in the course of our
conversation, she brought up the salvation theology of C.S. Lewis, the
moral development stages of Kohlberg, and the views on self-esteem of
Nathaniel Branden. Of course, for each of those I was able to say, "I've
got a chapter on that." She hadn't heard of Ken Wilber, but I'll bet you
she'll be a dog on a bone when she reads about his Integral Theory in my
book. (And just wait till she reads about the Integral Mormon.)
Also, she was ideally positioned to give me tips on uses of social
media for promoting the book.
Frozen Latte and Mystical Experiences
Gary and Christina each bought copies of the book, taking cell phone photos of me signing it. Then Christina had to go, just as we were joined by my childhood friend from Catholic school. About this time the server brought us free samples of Mondo's house drink: a frozen chai latte with a shot of espresso in little white coffee cups--surprising and delicious.
My Catholic friend had read the first few chapters of the book. And because of current Catholic issues with clergy, I expected her to be struck by the authentic way Bishop Thomas interacted with me. But instead she keyed in on two things: the way Andy and I worked together to decide how to handle our initial crisis at Highview, and my description of my mystical experiences. She animatedly told us her own story of being strangely overcome by weeping each time she visited the cathedral at Chartres. I guess there will be no predicting who will be to touched by any given portion of "The Bishop and the Seeker."
The richness of these conversations was worth the trip in itself. I am reminded of the advice by Rick Warren in "Purpose Driven Life" (or was it Eckhart Tolle in "New Heaven, New Earth"?) who said, don't align with a purpose about achieving some specific goal, rather with one that will continually place you in relationships with people that bring possibilities for growth. In that regard, I've started out with a home run.
*Names are changed except where I was given express permission to use them