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First Ten Pages of My New Novel

Below you will find the front matter and the first ten pages of my new novel, absolutely free. Enjoy!

 

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A DREAM WITHIN

A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel

 Jamie D. Greening

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks, is not enough, but alas, it will have to suffice.

I begin my gratitude with you—dear reader. There are so many other things you could be reading today, but you chose my novel and for that I am thankful. You will never know how much I appreciate that act of trust.

I also deeply appreciate Athanatos Publishing, specifically Anthony Horvath. His belief in Butch Gregory, from the very first short story in 2009 all the way to this volume, has been an encouragement that feeds my soul. I also owe a debt to the other writers in the Athanatos ‘stable’—specifically Joseph Courtemanche, Joe Shaw, Robert Cely, and Derek Elkins. After you buy two or three more copies of this book to give as gifts, you should immediately go buy their books. The same can be said of my little writer’s group: Patrick Shaub, Iris Macek, and Amber Jones continually remind me to shorten my overcomplicated, comma infused, compound, run-on, and pretentious sentences; avoid the echo of word echoes, as well as to not swing for the fences on fourth and goal by mixing my metaphors. My writing would be exponentially better if I listened to them more often.

Many people have read through this work at various stages, and I deeply appreciate their labor. My writing and grammar are always in need of improvement. This is particularly true of plane old homophones. I am convinced this was a section of grammar in grade school covered by my teacher when I had my tonsillectomy. If you find one or more in this book, it is no one’s fault by mine. These eagle-eyed people include Joe Courtemanche, Pastor Barbara Agnew, Sheila Cochran, and Elisha Pile. Another thanks to Pastor, writer, and theologian smart guy John Duncan for his assistance with tricky Greek transliteration.

A Dream Withinis the most pastoral book I have ever written, and as it pertains to that I wish to express my deep appreciation for Joe Chambers and David Caddell, both of whom share in the very difficult work of shepherding my soul even if they don’t know it. Related to this, the three churches I have been blessed to pastor—Walnut Springs Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Port Orchard, and now Fellowship Baptist Church, have helped me more than I have ever helped them. I owe these three congregations so much, and I am thankful the awful things that happened to poor Butch at Sydney Community have never been my own experiences. Although, there was that one time . . .

I am a crazy, insecure, neurotic writer, yet somehow my wife and daughters love me anyway. I can’t even imagine life without them. Thanks, FamSquad. I love you.

Jamie Greening

Texas Hill Country

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or characterizations correlate to actual people living or dead. Nevertheless, this story is filled with truth. Let the reader understand.

 

 

For my father, Jack Greening.

The field is plowed, the corn laid by,

and the peas are picked.

Rest in peace.


 While I weep—while I weep!

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

Onefrom the pitiless wave?

Is allthat we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

                      From “A Dream Within a Dream”

Edgar Allan Poe

 

PART ONE

The crucible is for silver

The furnace is for gold, and

The Lord tests the heart.

 Proverbs 17:3

I

            Pastor Butch Gregory felt as dark and blue as the necktie he kept tugging.

The tie wasn’t tight. Tightness squeezed his throat from the inside out. It had been a long time since he’d felt this uncomfortable. It was warm, temperatures in the upper seventies. The sky was clear and blue. The sun felt good on his black suit.

The weather was not the reason for his discomfort.

Something wasn’t right.

Of course, things weren’t right. He was standing at the graveside service for a sixteen-year-old boy. A boy who had everything going for him. It was not just any boy, either. He was the boyfriend of his daughter’s best friend. The boy had been in his house.He had eaten at his table. He had watched countless movies in his living room. He had driven his daughter around town.

He was a boy who was almost a man.

And now he was dead.

What part did Butch expect to be alright, anyway?

He grunted as he tugged. The necktie loosened; the tightening increased.

Funerals are always tough, but he wasn’t the officiant at this graveside. Here, he was a mourner.

Butch’s wife, Lucy, stood with one arm around their daughter, Sarah.

What pain Sarah must be going through. Why hadn’t he spoken with her about it?

Sarah was between Butch and Lucy. Paul, their son and youngest child, stood on Butch’s other side. It was their normal family seating order at public events: parent, child, parent, child. Sarah always between her mom and dad, and Paul to the right of his old man. It was how they sat at movies, concerts, football games, airplanes, and now funerals.

The chapel service had been scriptural and uplifting, and his colleague from First United Methodist Church had done a good job dealing with the difficulties and trauma involved. Butch knew she would. Here, at the graveside the minister was reading a sobering and reflective text from Ecclesiastes. He listened, looking for hope. He’d always found hope in the Scriptures. Not necessarily the hope he wanted, but always hope. He listened with his aching heart, hoping to hear something positive. Anything to help.

He worked hard to not conjure the passage from memory, but instead to listen with fresh ears as each word was released into the air.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose.

 

The familiar text from Ecclesiastes should’ve comforted him. He could remember times when it had. It was the exact same set of verses he’d read at his own grandmother’s funeral. That was in the past. Today, though, the Bible agitated him. It mocked him. He felt as if he was always losing. When was it his time to win? His turn to get? When was his family allowed to dance? Why was their laughter always tempered with the weeping? And pain? Was the Gregory family ever allowed to heal?

God felt a million miles away.

He tugged at his necktie.

Sniffles and sobs filled his ears. Butch felt like the entire high school student body was at the funeral. He knew some, most he didn’t. He’d baptized a few of them. His heart ached for them and the world they lived in. This was not the time in the lives of these children when they should be weeping. They should be laughing, dancing, studying, exploring, dating, learning, and living. They should be asking big questions about their place in the universe, thinking about love and God and eternity and politics and philosophy, and what college to go to. It wasn’t fair. The young man would never experience these again, and Sarah would have to face life’s bitterness far too soon.

His heart hurt for the boy in the coffin. A coffin which would soon have pall bearer boutonnieres placed upon it. Then dirt. And then not a small number of tears.

Butch looked at the sky through his sunglasses and imagined how he might be more comfortable if Roberto had died in a car crash. Or kidney failure. Or a sudden aneurysm. None of those would have eased the grief, but any one of those horrible things would have at least made some sense. People die. It was part of life. Accidents happen. Illness steals away years. Medicine fails everyone, eventually. Even kids. It was the human condition.

But Roberto didn’t die in a car crash. He didn’t have kidney failure. His brain was fine—there was no aneurysm. The limitations of medicine or science had nothing to do with why Roberto would not be in class Monday morning.

Roberto had opened the veins on his wrists with a razor blade. He bled to death on the floor of his bedroom. His mom found him when he didn’t come down for dinner.

What a horrible experience it must have been for her.

Butch tugged at the necktie.

The more he stared upward into the sky, the more bothered he became. He’d been bothered since it had happened, but he’d blocked the whole unpleasantness from his thoughts. The ability to compartmentalize came in handy for pastoral ministry, and he’d successfully used this skill to shelter himself from thinking about Roberto. Instead, he thought about work, the landscaping of his backyard, and the book he was reading. He diagnosed himself with classic denial.

He’d not even taken the time to sit with Sarah and talk to her about her friend’s death. How could he have neglected her spiritual needs? Was it a mental block? Defense mechanism? Professional distance? Why had he ignored her? Had she been anyone else’s daughter, he’d have made an appointment to specifically speak to her as she went through this. Yet under his own roof was a teenage girl with enormous pain, and he hadn’t even talked to her. That this girl was his daughter made his heart even sicker. His shoulders slumped. His left knee buckled. Failing his family had always been his fear, and now he saw he’d done the exact thing he’d never wanted to do.

Butch drew his left hand from his pocket; he draped his arm around Sarah’s shoulder.

He moved to pull her close to him, but Sarah stepped to the side, pulling away. Without ever looking up at him, she clutched her mother’s arm instead. Only two feet separated him from her, but it was an emotional Grand Canyon.

Butch’s arm fell empty to his side He looked at her; she never looked at him. He felt as though he gazed at a stranger.

He clutched at his necktie, but this time he didn’t tug at it. He tightened it.

After the minister had declared the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and the funeral director gave brief instructions, Sarah and Lucy stepped up to the casket. Sarah took a necklace from around her neck and placed it atop the silver casket. Lucy held her daughter tight. Butch stood helpless beside Paul. He didn’t know they’d planned that. When had they talked about it? He tried to remember if they’d talked about it, but he couldn’t focus.

The car ride home was quiet. Butch held Lucy’s hand, but neither spoke. Sarah and Paul doubled down on their parents’ silence.

The weather outside was warm for a spring day, but the atmosphere inside Butch Gregory’s home was cold.

 

II

 

Tommy Bothers brought the meeting to order.“As you know, this is a special board meeting called to discuss the sorry state of our church.”

“Come on, Tommy!” Dr. Gerald Land said. “You’ve not made a fair characterization at all of what our situation is. Your pejorative term is not appreciated.”

“Appreciated or not,” another voice chimed, “Tommy’s words are spot on. Things ain’t good.”

Tommy enjoyed this moment. He’d anticipated it, or something like it, for years, for as long as he could remember. It was his destiny. Tommy carried a mood about the whole arrangement. Last year he was elected board chairperson. His father and mother had politicked hard for him to earn the position, and their work paid off. He had endured the troublesome Butch Gregory long enough. Tommy knew how church should work. He knew what Sydney Community Church needed. He knew the solutions to their problems, and the solution started with removing the old preacher and finding a new one.

A younger one.

A smarter one.

A professional one.

A sensible one.

A compliant one.

But he had to be careful. There were difficult waters yet to navigate. Tommy knew he needed to be cautious. It couldn’t look as if he was working solely to get Butch fired. He had to make a logical case for a change in direction. It must look as if he was doing the hard things and saying the hard things for the church’s sake. Most people in the church loved Butch more than words could express, and the old guy had allies on the board. But the preacher’s power had waned

 

[to keep reading, you can purchase the novel for Kindle ($3.99) or paperback ($14.95) by clicking here]

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In Which I Argue With A Book

Argue is the right word. I argued with this book–or, to be more specific, the author of this book.

The author in question is Yuval Noah Harari and the book is 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I picked it up at a bookstore during Christmastime. It is one of those books I buy from time to time to keep my wits sharp. I knew the worldview would be different from mine, and that is what I was looking for. The book has 323 pages of actual text, plus a large appendix of notes and an index. Although the material is weighty, it is an easy read written in a dialogue style. He has previously written two other bestsellers titled Sapiens and Homo Deus which I have not read. Unknown

At times it was enjoyable, funny, profound. At other times it was infuriating, depressing, and nonsensical.

What I Really Liked

There are two things I really liked about the book. The first is the opening 150 pages. If I narrowed it down even further, it would be the first 84 pages in which the author analyzes the technological challenges the future holds for human beings. I found this section riveting and spellbinding. Harari opened up ideas and thoughts, particularly about the role of AI in the human experience, I had never previously pondered, and for this I am thankful. In my opinion, the entire book is worth the buy and the read for just this part of the book.

The second thing I really liked about this book is that he devoted an entire chapter to science fiction. That’s right, Harari believes science fiction has a vital role to play in understanding and appropriating our human future. As an author who has a science fiction book he wants to release (Deep Cove Anthology) later this year and whose current WIP is a science fiction novel, this is good news. Now, I do think the author puts too much pressure on science fiction to perform a social good. Literature can only go so far, man. He does have a very interesting take on the movie Inside Out that any Pixar fan should take a look at.

What I Liked

I liked the way this book evoked in me a desire to think and argue with the author. I read it with a pencil nearby, and constantly wrote on the pages. Sometimes I agreed and wrote that, other times I wrote impromptu refutations. I must have sharpened my pencil twenty times. This is why I bought the book, but it far exceeded my expectations. Harari is an intellectual provocateur who takes things to an extreme situation in order to force us to ponder the logics of it. For people like me, this is fun.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like being called a fool. In several places in the book the author portrays anyone who believes in God–whether it is the God of the Bible, Allah, or Thor–as a fool. Harari portrays himself as a strict realist who only looks at the facts, but he deludes himself by shuffling the deck of facts in favor of himself and his worldview. This did not become fully apparent until the last chapter of the book, and it was then that I realized what as going on.

What Surprised Me

There were two surprises. One, Harari holds an odd position in that he is what I would call an Atheist Calvinist. He absolutely does not believe in free-will or choices. For him, everything is determined. His is not just biological determinism that tell us genes determine heart disease and lifespan. It goes much further. He perceives all our choices are made for us by culture, biases, religion, politics, and advertising. You didn’t have a taco for lunch today because you wanted it and you chose to. You and the taco for lunch today because your brain is preconditioned by pressures and stimuli you can’t possibly act against, so therefore, it was predetermined you would eat the taco.

The second surprise was the ending, and I have already alluded to it. Throughout the whole book Harari trashes any kind of spirituality or religious experiences, then in one of the boldest bait and switch moments he finishes by trying to convince the humble reader the key to it all is meditation and getting into contact with your mind as opposed to your brain.

I was very disappointed, and suddenly his anti-God stance made more sense. He is an evangelist for a new kind of faith–a faith not in God, not in self, and not in humanity. Harari peddles a faith in awareness and experience. This is why many of his thoughts are fatalistic.

Final Evaluation

Read this book if you want to be challenged, argue with the author, and think about things from a different perspective. Do not read this book if you are easily offended by other worldviews.

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A Book Review: Santa Claus Goes To Haiti

Not exactly Santa Claus, but close enough.

Joseph Courtemanche has recently released a beautiful book that combines so many themes that are near and dear to me. It is titled Nicholas of Haiti and is available at Amazon in paperback and kindle. There is also an audiobook featuring the author’s own voice.


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What I Love About Nicholas of Haiti

There are three specific things I love about this book.

  1. A major plot theme is human trafficking. My first novel, The Little Girl Waits, is set against the problem of child sex-trafficking, and as such it shares a kinship with Nicholas of Haiti. Slavery still exists in the world, and this book wants you to do something about it.
  2. I enjoyed the action scenes. This is not a spy novel or a thriller per se, but it definitely has one or two Ethan Hunt moments. Those are some of my favorite moments.
  3. The setting of Haiti intrigued me. I have never been there, but the book is so immediate that I FEEL like I have walked through Cite Soleil or talked to the orphans at Titanyen. Specifically, I liked the behind-the-velvet-curtain feel of the missionary work in Haiti.

There is lots more good stuff. Courtemanche obviously enjoys the simile comparison, and some are real howlers. I noted the one found on page 70, “Nick dove down into the narrow space between the door and the bank, the violent flow of water battering him against the wreckage like an angry bully interrupted while mugging an old woman.” I am not sure what an interrupted angry bully is like, but man, that is some kind of sentence. In the context of the whole scene, it is extraordinary. I also liked the discussion questions at the end of the book, which could be useful in a book club. I liked the building of secondary characters and even tertiary characters. There is one particularly delightful scene that, at first read, doesn’t further the story, but that is a wrong impression. The scene involves an elegant French restaurant in the middle of a shanty town. Those characters, and that scene, give the story depth and life beyond the rat-a-tat of action and adventure which makes a book about amazing and unreal things feel actual.

What You Will Love About Nicholas of Haiti

I think you will love at least two aspects of this book.

  1. You will love the transformational nature of the main character. Nicholas Bacon changes dramatically from start to finish.
  2. You will love the little girl, Violene. She will stay with you after you’ve forgotten about Nicholas.

Who Will Not Love Nicholas of Haiti

Some people will not love this book, and the is okay. Everything is not for everyone. I don’t think you will like this book if :

  1. You don’t like supernatural stories. Nicholas of Haiti has supernatural elements and things which are ‘impossible’ in the strict sense of the word. If that kind of action bothers you, then, perhaps, you should read something else.
  2. If you like Amish love stories, don’t even think about reading this book.
  3. People who get annoyed when church people or Christian people don’t behave in the ‘stereotypical way’ might not appreciate certain parts of this book.
  4. People who have an anti-catholic bias might not like this book, either.

Those things aside, I recommend Nicholas of Haiti–if for no other reason it offers a different kind of Santa Claus.

 

 

 

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Blood Letters: A Book Review

9781541644236On the plane ride home from vacation I read the biography Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi. The book is a quick read, has lots of notes, and is compelling in the extreme. It is incredible.

The book is a biography of Lin Zhao, a woman who spent most of her adult life in prison under the evil dictatorship of Mao Zedong in China. She was born in China to what I think of as a middle-class family with intellectual leanings. Lin Zhao became enamored with Mao and communism in high school. In college, she studied writing and journalism for the express purpose of facilitating “The Revolution.” Her initial enthusiasm for communism was likely a reaction against the Nationalists abuses and the general confusion following the invasion of China by Japan and the general unsettledness in the world following World War II.

It wasn’t long before she realized that communism was (is) merely a disguise for a new kind of dictator, and her disillusionment lead to the writing of anti-Maoist poetry. Early in her rebellion against the communist regime, she returned to the Christian heritage she had been raised in and which had been nurtured by Methodist missionaries. She participated in the publication of opposition pamphlets, and for that, was imprisoned. She was in prison for eight years where she was tortured until she was executed in 1968.

She continued to write throughout her imprisonment. Deprived of ink and pen, or sometimes out of conviction, she wrote letters, treatises, and even plays in her own blood on toilet paper, which the authorities kept as a apart of her file. Part of that file was released in 1981, which is why we know of her story. It is a story which ranks with those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nelson Mandela as compelling accounts of voices that refused to be silenced.

The book is not always easy to read. Part of this is because of the difficult subject matter of torture and prison, another part is due to my unfamiliarity with Chinese culture and nomenclature. But a big part was the the author’s style. He has an odd time-slip tendency in his writing of moving between years and events without bridges or explanation. Once I got use to this quirk, the reading was easier.

I can’t tell if Lin Zhao was martyred because she was a Christian or if she was martyred because she was a political dissident. Perhaps in Maoist China there was no difference, as the cult of Mao was all that mattered. In that sense, she might be closely akin to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was no doubt assassinated because of his brave political activity against the unjust and totalitarian Jim Crow regime in the American south, but it was no doubt his Christian faith that lead him to be so brave and daring in his prophetic zeal. That is the way I view Lin Zhao–the more she resisted, the more it became clear her strength came from her inner convictions of faith.

I highly recommend the book.