Updated 9 May 2012
The link above more or less supersedes everything below.
This is a sort of history of my involvement in the writing profession.
My editor at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, the late William Robert Miller, helped me to publish The Grass Roots Church (1966). It went through several printings in hard cover and as an Abingdon Press paperback. A critical discussion can be found here.
The complete text of The Grass Roots Church has been returned to me and is presently being revised and incorporated in the new text Bonhoeffer’s Ghost, a work in progress. It is also available as a Kindle Book.
The real problem with all of these pre-1968 books is that they had little theological foundation. I recognized this when I moved with my family to Stockbridge almost directly from the tear-gas fields of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, where the phalanx of Mayor Daley’s police appearing above an eastern ridge after I had delivered a brief homily to assembled innocents, remains a dreamlike memory of that political season.
I found Terry Southern’s description of this event here and reprint a salient paragraph below:
Tonight’s scene at the park was certainly the strangest yet. About one hundred priests were there, having earlier announced that they would conduct an all-night religious service. A large cross (about ten feet high) had been erected, and several fires burned nearby. The pattern of events was identical to what had transpired on the previous evenings. Only the presence of the cross, after the smoke and tear gas came rolling in, slowly engulfing it, lent the spectacle an unreal and cinematic quality. As we fled from the park, I witnessed a curious incident, near the lake. A young boy on a bicycle, of apparently no connection whatever with the demonstration, was peddling along the outer path, past six or eight police who were stationed there. They grabbed the bicycle and pushed it and the boy into a lagoon, laughing uproariously the while. By chance a photographer was standing not fifty feet away, and he got a picture of it, published the following day (Wednesday, the 29th) in The Chicago Daily News.
Once I got to Stockbridge, it remained to actually challenge the Protestant establishment around the issue of race and reparations, which I and others did via a campaign in 1969 called Jonathan’s Wake.
This was sufficiently abrasive to pretty much end prospects of a career within the Protestant church fold, even though I was offered both a PhD at Princeton and an editorial post on Theology Today within weeks of my move to Stockbridge. I turned it down mainly because we had just moved and I could not really consider an immediate re-uprooting.
The same folk who were wanting to more or less sponsor me into a position of some gravitas in 1968 came forth and encouraged me to apply to become Editor of The Christian Century in the early 70s when I was putting life and limb together as a writer on The Berkshire Eagle.
At this I jumped — but with profound ambivalence and consummate naivete. The ambivalence came because my then-wife had no interest in moving back to Chicago, the magazine’s home. I pursued the post with no sense that my family would move if I got it.
Also, I failed to perceive that people I had wounded by my published criticism and my ecclesiastical activism in Detroit would not be silent in opposition to my becoming the Century editor.
I remember calling Martin Marty, a Century fixture, and asking him why I should apply and he basically indicated that the magazine needed substantial improvement and that I was the man.
I had written a long, widely-distributed and reprinted piece on the community organizer Saul Alinsky (Saul Alinsky and His Critics, Christianity and Crisis) This incurred the undying emnity of the then-editor Harold Fey, because the article had shown that, whatever else Alinsky might be, he was hardly what Fey claimed he was.
When I launched Jonathan’s Wake at the National Council of Churches’ assembly at Cobo Hall, Detroit, in December 1969, one of our actions was to propose that the President of the NCC be an African American minister-theologian named Leon Watts — who eventually ended up teaching at Yale Divinity School.
The person we were opposing for this was a prominent exponent of voluntarism named Cynthia Wedel. She was also a prominent member of the Christian Century’s board.
Jonathan’s Wake, widely covered in the press at the time, is not mentioned on the website of the National Council of Churches. Nor is it findable on the Web. Yet.
Nor was anything to do with the 1960s struggle around reparations even included in a recent Union Theological Seminary colloquium on that important subject. Collective amnesia regarding the institutional American Protestant church’s performance during this period is rife.
What would I have done as the Century editor, other than rescue a career? I would have begun to apply the theological understanding growing within to combat simplistic religion, fundamentalist-evangelical thinking and medicine-show techno-pop evangelical church development. I would have openly fought the submersion of the mainline and its reduction to theological impotence and shameless fragmentation.
I would not have followed the ordinary path of the Century which was essentially to circle the wagons and propound a social liberalism without serious confrontation with the growing dominance of fundamentalism, the very source of the depradations of both the Reagan and Bush eras.
The whole thing wasted me. The interview process and the endgame left me without a smile for a full year. And that for me was unheard of.
It was a slow crucifixion that I had understood, at some subliminal stratum, would be the result of Jonathan’s Wake.
Proposing that the denominations cede their endowments (to be used for fighting poverty and racism) in order to pave the way for their unification was deemed immature. It would in fact have worked. But so too would Jesus’s exhortations to follow the Beatitudinal way. But for the reality of priesthoods and state power.
Music became my means of elevation from depression. I plunged deeper and deeper into the synoptic narrative itself. Via songs.
I turned the Gospel of Mark into song and the Rev. Pam Moffat acted as my Aaron by eventually involving thousands of kids from all over in singing this gospel. I concluded that values were what was missing from the debate about church renewal.T
Jesus represented a bedrock iconoclasm that led to the espousal of three subsidiary values: democracy as universal human rights, helpfulness as reciprocal, non-paternalistic enablement, and tolerance, understanding that there are too many truths to allow for human judgment to be more than proximate.
Early in the 70s, in the wake of Nixon’s encouragement of homilies in the Executive Mansion, I wrote Sermons Not Preached in the White House. I was surprised that the book was treated seriously by The New Republic, a magazine I had once worked at as a teenager during 1954, when Joe McCarthy was unravelling toward censure under my watchful eye in the then-accessable Senate press gallery. It was basically a recital of reasonable political positions that were anathema to the rising conservative clans whose conservatism would prove to have feet of clay, being the engine which eventually brought us the War on Terror as lex talionis.
I also co-wrote with my first wife Lois The Shattered Ring: Science Fiction and The Quest for Meaning. I had little interest in its subject. The book did lead to week spent with Samuel R. Delany, one of the great practitioners of SF, at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
At Ghost Ranch I started to sing.
By the close of the 1970s the theological development that I sought in moving to Stockbridge had matured and it remained for a nail to be hammered into its center.
That nail proved to be Jonestown. My book Jesus and Jim Jones is really the most significant of all my “earlier” published works. Short and pungent, it essentially spells out the dangers of messianism and the impossibility of messianism as the basis for a theology that is resonant with what Jesus proclaimed.
Given the plethora of material published on Jonestown, my thesis is but one of many attempts to understand what happened. I believe it is the most salient and worthy of continued attention.
In the early 1980s I my marriage disintegrated (amicably but definitively) and I set out on a major wander which eventually led me to some periods of extended writing with no intent to publish anything. I created a novel called Markman which was eventually turned into a film script that has never been seriously submitted. It is based on the Gospel of Mark and takes place in the Las Vegas area. I also wrote a closely reasoned theological essay which had various titles over time and has now been released in a somewhat aphoristic form as Beyond Creed: From Religion to Spirituality.
The one time I submitted this manuscript a quarter century ago, I received a plaintive put-down from an editor in church precincts who more or less said I should prepare to be burned at the stake. Even my friend Will Campbell pretty much agreed that it was heresy.
Once I got online and cyberspace became my essential home and window for viewing reality, I gave up writing books. Until I encountered a sort of intellectual renaissance. For whatever reason, perhaps it was my wife Kathy (I have had two marriages, each of 20 years, as I write) giving me a copy of Bloom’s Genius, I began to re-read Shakespeare, and then to delve into Nietzsche, even going off to Sils-Maria a while back just to get some sense of what this lonely soul was seeing.
The encounter with Nietzsche led to a spontaneous writing that I published early this year as Abba’s Way and empowered the publication of Beyond Creed, after all these years.
Since paper is going out of fashion and its cost is driving newspapers to bankruptcy, I have become convinced that the future of the printed word is Kindle-ward. Kindle is simply one among several devices for storing and reading books, newspapers, blogs and magazines. With that in mind I have created Kindle books of much that I have written and even moved into reproducing public domain works in editions designed for consumption by Kindle owners. Here again is my Kindle catalog.