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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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The Gospel of Mark: A Translation

 

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I spent the winter and spring translating the Gospel of Mark from New Testament Greek to English.  Here are a few sample lines from the first six verses of Chapter 3.

  1. He went up again into the synagogue, where there was a man with a shriveled hand.
  2. They watched him closely in the synagogue, to see whether he would heal him, so that they might denounce him.
  3. He says to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand in the middle.”
  4. He says to them, “Is it legal to do good or to do bad on the Sabbath? To save a soul or to kill it?” They kept silent.
  5. He looked around with anger, having been saddened by their hard hearts. He says to the man, “Stick out the hand,” and he stuck it out. His hand had been restored again.
  6. The Pharisees and Herodians left immediately. They conspired about how they might destroy him.

 

If you’re interested, CLICK RIGHT HERE to download the whole document.

 

The Album Challenge

Recently I’ve posted on social media about the ten music albums that have been meaningful in my life. Music doesn’t mean as much to me as movies or books, but I’d say my life has a good soundtrack. During the challenge, I couldn’t explain why. I was only allowed to post the album cover. So here is the list along with some explanation.

10. 1984–Van Halen

Jason Greene and I listened to this album all summer long. We must have been twelve or thirteen years old at the time, but we wore that cassette tape out. We mostly hung out in his bedroom, read  magazines, and listened to this album. In all of musicdom, there is no more recognizable or energetic sound than the opening keyboards to “Jump” and anyone who would say otherwise is just silly.

9. Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison–Johnny Cash

Plain and simple–Johnny Cash sings about pain in an unvarnished, human way that communicates to me.

8. Eliminator–ZZ Top

Its not ZZ Top’s best music, but this album connected me at a young age to what I would later recognize as Texas Rock-n-Roll.

7. Thriller–Michael Jackson

The video–the 14 minute short film directed by John Landis–is still one of the cultural touchstones of my life. it was perfect. I don’t know if we’re allowed to still like Michael Jackson or not because of the claims against him, but at the time we didn’t know any of that. All we knew was that the cool zombies wear red and black jackets and Vincent Price had the creepiest voice ever.

6. Come Away With Me–Norah Jones

Mrs. Greenbean and I discovered Norah together. She was our first foray into grown up music. We even saw her once in concert at Key Arena. She does a very good Axl Rose impression.

5. Sigh No More–Mumford and Sons

There is a line–and this album is on this list because of this line–in the song “The Cave” that says, “I’ll know my name as it’s called again.” When I left Port Orchard, I never knew if I would pastor again. But I definitely felt as though I had lost my own identity. For twenty years I had just been “Pastor”–that is what everyone called me, just “Pastor” or even more dehumanizing, “Preacher.” One of the things I was determined to do was discover who I was as a human, a Christ-follower, a husband, father, a man, a writer, and neighbor. In those in-between years, this was my mantra–“I’ll know my name as it’s called again”, and I am thankful for it.

4. A Very Veggie Christmas–VeggieTales

Our kids loved VeggieTales, and this Christmas album comes out every year during the holidays and we listen to it over and over again. If you’ve never heard it, give it a listen. It’s the best.

3. Apassionato–Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma was the soundtrack of my DMin years, especially while writing my project back in the days before iPods or iPhones. I just put the CD’s into my laptop and would listen away for hours. This album came out after I was finished with school, but it encapsulated so much of those years. It’s like he wrote it just for me as an ovation for the work I’d done. The first song on the album is even called, “Going to School.”

2. Out of Time–R.E.M.

There are two reason for this album. First, COLLEGE! I borrowed the cassette tape from a coworker during college and about a year later she asked, “Do you have my tape?” and I reluctantly returned it to her. I had listened to it so much that the letters were all rubbed off the case. The second reason is the song, “Texarkana” which is, I’m pretty sure, about The Blessed Leibowitz.

1. The Joshua Tree–U2

This needs no explanation, especially if you know me. The weird thing, in my opinion, their top five songs aren’t even on this album, but the album as a whole is just perfect, and it has the best collection of B sides ever.

 

Honorable Mentions: Take Me To Your Leader-Newsboys, Appetite for Destruction-Guns-Roses, Duran Duran-Seven And The Ragged Tiger, The White Album-The Beatles, Messiah-Handle Dir. Benjamin Zander, Sinatra At The Sands-Frank Sinatra, Hey Eugene-Pink Martini, Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth-Rich Mullins, and Led Zeppelin IV-Led Zeppelin.

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Harry Potter — A Blog Post At Least A Decade Too Late

A friend of mine suggested I title this post, “Last one in.”

When the Harry Potter books came out, I was busy. Very busy. We had just moved to the Northwest and I was working nonstop, then I started my doctoral work. Everything I read in those days was either theology or churchy books. For the record, I still enjoy theology books, but I will never read another church how-to book for as long as I live.

But back to Harry Potter. I watched the movies as they came out, and enjoyed them with my family. Mrs. Greenbean and the sprouts all read the books and often mocked and cajoled me for not reading them. When I did get time to read for pleasure, I thrust myself into other series and works. When my family or friends brought up Harry Potter, I always said something like, “Well, I’ve seen the movies, so I know how the story ends, so reading it would be a waste.”

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Well, I finally read them. Mostly just to appease my family, but I am glad I did. I enjoyed the books much more than the films, which is always the case. Having read them, I have some observations. Of course I do.


1. The theme of the books has to be something like “Adults and people of responsibility who don’t do what they should.” Seriously, no adult or person in a position of trust does their job. No one. It starts with Harry’s aunt and uncle. I don’t care what your prejudices are, those people are awful and fail to fulfill the responsibility of humanity. But how about every single government official in the magical ministry? Then there is Dumbledore. I know he is a hero/sage/mentor figure, but he is lousy at protecting people. And how about those teachers. Snape should be fired, but so too should just about every other teacher. No one is protecting the children. Hagrid is the best example. Never forget he sent the kids into the extremely dangerous Forbidden Forest time and time again, unsupervised, because he had something that needed doing. He cares not one wit about the fact the giant spiders will likely try to eat the children. A possible second theme might be-, “One generation’s failures threaten the next.”

2. I would never let my child attend Hogwarts.  Ever. It is dangerous and they really don’t learn anything. When do they take grammar classes? Science? Mathematics? Plus, this quidditch game is ridiculously dangerous. It makes concussions from football look like a game of tag.

BONUS OBSERVATION ABOUT HOGWARTS: The movies put too many students at the school. The way I read it, Hogwarts was a very small private school, where everyone would have know everybody, and the classes would not have been very large at all. Notice how there really aren’t that many teachers there. You don’t need that many teachers when there aren’t that many children. I’m thinking there are probably fewer than 175 students for the seven grades, which means there are an average of 25 students per year, and only about 40-45 students per house. It’s a pretty small school. So in the movie, when there are about 50 kids out there learning how to ride a broom, there probably should only be about 12.

3. Rowling is great at telling a story. This is a wonderful world she has created, and I am thankful to have experienced it. I don’t find it as intriguing as Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Narnia. Neither did it almost swallow my mind as did Stephen King’s Dark Tower world, but it is fun and enjoyable. I would put it above Asimov’s Foundation Series (but only because the last four books were much worse than the original trilogy). Rowling’s at her best with dialogue. She does a great job of creating realistic, meaningful speech between characters that move the plot along. She is also a true master of POV–Point of View. She demonstrates such discipline with the POV that the entire story, almost all of it, is told though Harry’s eyes. That is something to celebrate. The only real negative I have in her writing is the blatant adverb abuse. That woman will put “ly” on the end of anything quicker than Hermione can remind us you can’t apparate into Hogwarts.

Question: How bad does she abuse adverbs?

Answer: The Deathly Hallows.

4. The movies are fun, but they are the one rare case where I think the movies muddle the story rather than smooth it out. Most movies gloss over things to simplify, but I think these films actually take some things that are simple and makes them complex. For example, in the novels, the relationship between Harry and Voldemort is very clear and easily grasped. By contrast, in the movies, it is a muddled mess that is never quite explained. I think the reason for this comes from the movies missing the point. The books are quite clear, this is basically a coming of age story about Harry Potter the boy. The movies want this to be a morality tale of Good versus Evil in which Harry Potter is the key player, but the main point is good winning in the end. In the books, the focus is always Harry. In the movies, the focus is the struggle. At least, that is the way I read it.

5. Robes. We need to talk about robes. Forget the movies for a moment, because in the films the robes function more like school uniforms than a separate attire for an entire culture. I want to know, and Rowling never tells us, what is worn underneath a robe? Is anything? What kind of shoes did they wear? We know there are dress robes, and there is a traveling cloak, but are there coats? Insulation? I’d like some specs on this. I guarantee if this were a Tom Clancy novel there would be seventeen chapters dedicated to exactly how these robes worked, fabric type, factory of origin, and possible other uses.

6. Male/Female relationship are strained in this series. I don’t know if that is a motif, or if it flows from the author’s heart. The Weasleys are the only family portrayed on the page that seems to work as a married husband and wife. I assume all the teachers are single, I don’t think we’re ever told, and most of the wizards and witches we meet are likewise. The Malfoys are an exception, but it is an exception that moves the point, for the Malfoys are most decidedly not happy. There are two weddings in the novels–and one of those is tragic at every front while the other has a very definite negative flow to it, as no one likes Fleur. Snape was in love, obviously, but that was unrequited romance, and the adolescent never outgrew it. Of course we see Harry and Ginny pair up as did Ron and Hermione, but none of it feels like romance. It is far more about the pressures of being in a war. Or, does Rowling view love and romance as something only for teenagers? Things ring true even if you surmise that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a fling, which, is altogether possible and still proves the point that these witches and wizards just don’t do family very well.

7. Why does it seem like they care so much about who wins this house cup thing? I mean, for reals? Its not just the students, either. The teachers are all caught up in it. I don’t understand it at all. Is there a cash incentive for winning? Do your grades bump up? I can’t really buy that students would care that much.

8. Two words: Luna Lovegood. If I attended Hogwarts (and lived to tell the tale) I would have you know that Luna would have probably been my bestie. I’d had a subscription to her dad’s paper, and we would talk long and hard about all the different conspiracy theories. In fact, I would really like it if we could have a spinoff book about the grown up Luna and her adventures with the nargles. I recommend she look for them on the dark side of the moon, which is where they are hiding the secret base, anyway.

9. As a villain, Voldemort is a little too one dimensional. This is certainly true of his Death Eaters. Most baddies think they are good, which is one of the things that makes them so bad. They also usually have some sympathetic human characteristic–they love their mother, they are loyal to friends, create beautiful art, gives lavish gifts, or something. Voldemort has none–he is just 100% bad. He kills for sport, has no true affections, and is most assuredly insane, as are his closest allies. Given that level of insanity and evil, it is hard to believe he would have ever gathered any serious following.

10. Last observation. I don’t like the part of this world where magic is just something you’re born with or not. This was the part of the Star Wars universe I didn’t like, too. It gets worse, even among those who can do magic, there is a hierarchy based solely upon how powerful the magic is in you. No matter how much Neville studies, works, learns, or achieves he will never be as powerful a wizard as Harry Potter, who is quite the slacker at his studies, because Harry just has power in him. This worldview is elitist, and I have always rejected it. I don’t like any world where some people are just born better than others.