Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chico Signing 2: Fabulous Connections*

with Christina Wong at Mondo Cafe
See also Part 1
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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Launching My Book in Chico: Part 1

After seven years of preparation, we launched our book in my hometown of Chico, California, Saturday with a table at the farmer's market and a signing at an independent bookstore. While we sold only three books, I made some valuable contacts and got a better sense of who will most eagerly welcome "The Bishop and the Seeker." We had interest from a devout but disillusioned Catholic, a Black Religious Scientist, a Methodist interested in building bridges, and a delightful young woman with some Hispanic heritage dealing with strict Catholic parents--as well as from a couple folks interested generally in interfaith relations.


Driving to Chico from the Sacramento airport, I stopped at the Staples in the county seat of Oroville to pick up a snazzy, retractable sign I had ordered ahead--the slight detour taking me through green rolling hills and flat-topped buttes covered in wild flowers.
My sister Tina showed no interest in the book itself, but she purposefully helped get a review in the local paper, make signs for my book table, and insisted I change from my carefully-chosen multi-colored sweater to her more Chico-like earth-tone one shown below. I rehearsed the 40 second introduction the bookstore owner had suggested I prepare:

"After 20 years benefiting from an interfaith, New Thought approach to God, I was attracted to a Black church for the passionate praise. My dialogue with this man (pointing to the photo of Bishop Thomas on the book cover) showed me how to integrate the best of both approaches to God. And along the way I learned how to build relationships with people whose beliefs are different from my own." (In retrospect, this needs work.)

Chico Farmer's Market
The farmer's market bustles with sales of local strawberries, tomatoes, pies, crafts and petition promoters. The market organizer waffled over the last several weeks about whether there would be a space for me, but in the end she gave us a prime location without charging us the usual fee--because we could be there only a short time. You can see me and my blue sign circled in the photo below.

Despite mt eight-foot tall sign, most of the throng passed by Andy and me without a glance. Our first interested party was an older Asian woman with a heavy accent who stood reading from the book for several minutes. This struck me because I had been handing my post card to all the merchants I dealt with in town--except for an older Asian woman from whom I had bought Chinese food; I told myself cultural factors put her outside the target market. The Universe bonked me on the head for that presumption.

The Black Religious Scientist glanced at the book for only a moment before picking up a pen to sign the mailing list. "I can't buy the book now, but I want to be in touch with you," she said. "These are the two forces I am always balancing."

The first-ever sale was also to a woman who seemed to be attracted to the book instantly, pulling out a $20 bill before I said a word. So imagine my surprise--and hers--when she told me she belongs to Chico Trinity Methodist and I told her that church is featured in the closing scene of the book. She became very enthusiastic and said her pastor is interested in bridge building of all sorts.

Two groups of women into Yoga or "Course in Miracles" congratulated me on building bridges. One fellow picked up the book and then dropped it saying, "oh, no, Christian."

The Book Store
After two hours we packed up our card table and retractable sign to head over to Lyon Books on the town plaza a few blocks away. The owner and sales person were cordial and had a table set up for us. A lovely young woman who looked as if she may have both black and Hispanic heritage seemed to be waiting for us with her male friend. I was still unpacking my postcards and sign as she started asking questions about how to deal with her strict Catholic parents. The two of them helped me unpack, and I joked they could be my "roadies." But several things were happening at once, and I hadn't answered all their questons before they were wishing me well on their way out the door.

Quickly on their heels, a 19-year old fellow in baggy pants and earing picked up the book while his two friends stood at the counter. I spoke my prepared intro, and he seemed to loose interest on the phrase, "the more expansive spirituality of my adulthood." Just then I overheard his companion tell the bookstore clerk they wanted to display their book, "How Not to Talk About Jesus." Perhaps they were with the "Jesus Feeds the Hungry" rally gathering in the plaza across the street.

And alas, of the dozen or so customers who came in during the remainder of my two-hour stay, all the others made a bee-line for the children's section or some other errand. So my other two sales were to people I know--my aunt and a long-lost childhood friend I'll call Sherry. We were friends in Catholic grade school and then in high school, but had crossed paths only once since. Now she is living in the mountains above Chico, so I got her email address from a mutual friend and sent ahead a note saying that I was comming. Her response was immediate and enthusiastic. The topic of the book was timely for her, so she'd come down to see me and buy it. Sherry and I chatted for an hour about her love for Catholicism but disillusionment with the church. We made plans to see each other later in the week.

So while it wasn't much of a success in sales, my kickoff gave me a chance to complete my preparations, connect with interesting people, and practice my promotion skills. I'll use the rest of the week here in Chico to build my markteing plan for the year ahead and to mediate on releasing results while inviting Spirit to use me.

FOLLOWUP: I had some great meetings with people during the week. See part 2.