On touching nerves and hearts
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 03, 2007 at 09:49:14 PM EST
In spite of the accusation that my traveling has caused one of the St. Louis area churches to close, this past Saturday was the first for me of a series of overnight trips. In the coming months, I will travel to an array of cities - responding to requests from a broad constituency wanting to hear more about Steeplejacking (not just the book, but the phenomenon).

I will keep an open diary on this site of my experiences on these trips, and if the rest of them are at all comparable to this one, there will be plenty to write about.

Although my experiences were many and rich, I will write only about three here: I want to introduce you to Helen; I want to briefly describe our lecture/presentation; and I want to share with you some lyrics.

Helen is an elegant, elderly woman who comports herself with grace, with confidence, and with certitude. Because my original flight was cancelled, I did not arrive at the Decatur Book Festival (one of about 250 authors selected for this year's event) until well after the time printed on my itinerary. I was therefore unavoidably and considerably late for my first scheduled book-signing.

I didn't think anyone would still be there. I almost thought about not walking the two blocks to the basement of the Presbyterian church where the signing would be held, but went anyway. And there sat Helen. I spied her from across the large room, sitting there with two copies of Steeplejacking in her lap. She quietly walked over to my table. When I thanked her for her patience and remarked on how surprised I was that she would have waited this long for me to arrive, she told me she had been waiting for this moment for 50 years.

Helen began to tell me about how for 50 years she has been struggling against the kind of behaviors and tactics and people we describe in our book. She looked, if only briefly, weary of the effort. I don't know how many Helen's are out there, but if the book does nothing more than afford me the opportunity to meet some of them, it will have been worth the effort.

Helen would become a boon companion throughout the weekend. She would pick me up at my Hotel Sunday morning and take me to church with her, introducing me to everyone, showing them the book, and telling them with pride that I wrote that and what it was about - encouraging them to purchase and read it. She, and all of the good folk at Central UCC in Atlanta, welcomed this stranger into their midst. The worship experience was moving, and beautifully performed.

Helen and a few of her companions would see me again later in the day. My co-author Sheldon Culver and I were schedule to speak at the Auditorium at the Holiday Inn in Decatur later in the day. To be invited to this event was an honor for us - to be chosen as a speaker was even much more so.

Unlike other authors, we don't have a publicist, a booking agent, a marketing director. Our publisher is a small, dedicated firm out of New York run ably by a husband and wife team who do amazing work. We didn't expect too much of a response to our presentation. We were in the small pool of speakers scheduled for the latest possible hour, at a location a block away from the hub of activity throughout the weekend, down a long hallway and in a remote corner of the Hotel. It took good effort, and about a dozen questions of various hotel employees for us to find it.

The auditorium sat around 150, and we told ourselves if 15 - 20 people showed up we would be happy. Some of the lectures we attended throughout the weekend had about that many.  Others had more, but not many.

When we walked in about 10 minutes before the engagement, the room was about half full. That came as a surprise to us. Our `captain' (a volunteer there to guide us through the event) told us that people began arriving for our presentation at 3:00. By the time we started, the room was full. We would find out later that people were being turned away at the door because the room couldn't contain them. Two young men who had come from Iowa and Kentucky were intitially turned away, but when they told them how far they had come they somehow squeezed them in.

When we finished, the line to buy the book and have us sign it was long. The stories we heard in the brief moments we had with people touched our hearts deeply: a Baptist woman kicked out of her church because she was lesbian; a parishioner whose Episcopal priest was a gay man who had been persecuted throughout his ministry until he found the church he was now serving; an elderly woman whose church was under attack; an Episcopal couple whose pastor was being brought up on charges of apostasy.

We weren't sure what to expect in Decatur, GA. What we found was a rapt audience wanting to know more; wanting to understand why their churches were experiencing such turmoil; or wanting to know what fuels the Radical Right and authorizes them to perpetrate these attacks; and wanting to know what they can do about it. Clearly, we have touched a nerve. This is the right thing at the right time.

One more reflection: I spent Sunday evening in Eddie's Attic, a venue I highly recommend to those traveling through Decatur. It is an intimate setting wherein singer/songwriter's of extraordinary talent and dedication to their craft perform almost in your lap. Sunday, the opening act was Tommy Womack. The lyrics to one of his songs were profound, and could serve as the Anthem for talk2action:

The highway's coming: you better watch out.
When the highway gets here, the people are coming: you better watch out.
When the people get here, trouble's coming: you better watch out.
When trouble gets here, Jesus is coming: you better watch out.
When Jesus gets here, the rapture is coming: you better watch out.
When the rapture gets here, another highway is coming: you better watch out.

Great story, John.  

I think this post shows that people are hungry for good information and analysis, and as you say, discussion of what to do.

People are indeed weary of the bullying tactics some of which are new, and some of which have, as Helen points out, been going on for a long time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Sep 04, 2007 at 12:07:40 AM EST

...I am discovering more and more folks who think similarly to us. There are progressive, tolerant rreligious fols out there; they just need to be better organized and given a little hope.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Sep 04, 2007 at 08:46:57 AM EST

I just missed you last weekend--Jane & I moved from Missouri to Decatur last Friday night. It would have been good to hear you & Sheldon speak. Never fear--like you discovered in Decatur and will no doubt discover in other cities, there are crowds of people out here who are tired of the lies and the manipulation from those who are trying to sell hate and fear. But the IRD and their kind are spiritually crippled--they have no positive message to feed the soul of those who follow Christ. Keep up the good work.


by bruce2 on Wed Sep 05, 2007 at 03:28:00 PM EST

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