At the beginning of the month, I accepted a position as a hospice chaplain. This seems to be a good fit for me, since I have the education and 15 years of experience in pastoral ministry. It does not have all the stressors of pastoring a church, and for someone who burned out on church work, it fits well.
If you know me personally, or you read my blog, then you know that I struggle with very severe depression and anxiety. This has caused some to wonder if I am going to be ok constantly dealing with death.
It is true that my work week is always surrounding death. I visit people who are not expected to live longer than 6 months. I also have the responsibility of visiting everyone for whom death is imminent. I attend as many as 3 funerals per week. I make phone calls to grieving families, and I am getting ready to begin a grief support group. It is true that I am surrounded by death.
People mean well when they ask me if this job is going to be ok. I know a lot of people worry about my depression and how I am doing as I deal with it. However, what I am finding is that being around sad things does not magnify depression. Granted, I need to keep it all in check. Being around sad things can make me feel sad, but that is different from depression.
There is a temptation to think that the best way to deal with depression is to avoid any sad or difficult aspect of life. This might be necessary in a crisis situation, but it is not a good way to approach depression. It is impossible to live life and not have to deal with anything sad or difficult. Thus, the only way to avoid such things is to withdraw from life, and that kind of thinking leads to addiction.
To truly overcome depression, I have to learn to deal with the things in life that are sad or difficult. In this regard, my new job has been a tremendous help to me. Every day, I have to face the fact that death and grief are real parts of life. There are healthy ways to grieve and there are unhealthy ways to grieve, but we will all grieve at some time or another.
This morning, my pastor spoke about a story in the gospel of John, chapter 6. The disciples had set out across the sea of Galilea. Halfway across, they encounter a severe storm. Then, in the midst of such fear and trial, they see what they believe is a ghost. It is not a ghost, however, it is Jesus, walking on the water. He tells them, “Do not be afraid, I am here.” However, the most literal translation from the original language is “Do not be afraid, the I am is here.”
Jesus refers to himself as ‘I am’ in other parts of scripture. The ‘I Am’ is not a reference to self, but to God. When Jesus called himself the I AM, he was using the name that God introduced himself to Moses with.
There is something else interesting about John’s telling of this story. He leaves out the part where Jesus calms the storm. It seems that the point John wants to make is this: To know Jesus and to know who He is antithetical to fear. I have no need to fear because Jesus is the great I am and He is with me.
Thinking back about how a person might struggle with depression but face everyday difficulties, it is important to note that Jesus need not calm every storm in my life. It is enough to know Him and to know that He is near. There is no need to hide, no need to withdraw. There is endless glory in facing the day with Jesus.
Below are some answers to the most common questions that I am asked about Street Preacher. Frankly THE most common question deals with the ending, so I have to leave that out for fear of spoilers. If you have a question, you want answered, either ask on Facebook or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where did you get the idea for the main character and this story?
I read a lot of stories by Flannery O’Conner. It is safe to say that those stories inspired the creation of this character. The hat, in particular, is an obvious homage. I created the character several years earlier and then decided to see what his story might be. There is actually a lot of backstory to John, and Walter for that matter. I once wrote an interview between a college student seeking to learn about homeless people and John. The college student eventually became the character of Jennifer.
John says he once lived in Cincinnati, but never says what town the story takes place in. Where is it?
I always imagined the story to be in my hometown of Springfield, MO. People familiar with the city will note the similarities but I mixed up a few details along the way. I merged two neighborhoods of Springfield, (downtown and “C-street”) to form a fictitious city.
Why doesn’t John have a last name?
I gave John a fairly generic first name (no offense to any readers named, “John.”) and no last name because homeless people are fairly vague to the rest of society. We form opinions about them and make assumptions about them without ever really knowing them. From the homeless people that I have met, I can say that they are as different as any other part of society.
Do you work with homeless people? Is that how you knew about them?
No, I do not. For that reason, people should not base an understanding of homeless people on details in Street Preacher. The lives of the men in the book are purely fictional. I have met many homeless people. The church I served in Hawaii frequently visited homeless camps, and I got to know them that way.
Of the two people that work at the homeless shelter, why is Jennifer so eager to help and Marty is somewhat aloof?
Jennifer is a young woman that is ready to take on every problem and make the world a better place. Marty is the director of a homeless shelter. Marty has seen more failures than he can count. He also constantly fights the battles of budgets and volunteers and is often on the losing end since he is advocating for something that most people do not care about. If Marty appears aloof or skeptical, it is because he has been doing this for a while. Jennifer has not yet had the chance to become jaded.
If you have noticed these differences between Marty and Jennifer, then you may notice that many of the characters represent a particular view of faith, thus all having something different to say about John.
What do you want people to get from reading this book?
I hope people enjoy a good story and maybe think about what it means to really believe in something.
I really like this book. What can I do to help you as an author?
Tell your friends about it and post reviews on Amazon and other places. There are millions of books out there and the only way people will find out about this one is if you tell people about it.
Are you going to write anymore books?
I have just finished the rough draft of a non-fiction book tentatively called, “Baggage Claim: my journey through ministry, depression, and finding peace.” Watch my Facebook page and website for any news or help the project along at www.gofundme.com/baggageclaim
I am also working on another novel. I do not want to give many details but it involves a cop and a serial killer and deals with the themes of vengeance and grace. Stay tuned!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower