Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thank God He's Not My Pastor

Swain Hammond, the protagonist in Peggy Payne’s novel, Revelation, is a self centered jerk who could never have been able to get through the process of being ordained in the Presbyterian Church without lying several times along the way. He readily admits having felt no call to ministry; he sees it as a job, and unfortunately, the only job for which he has any training.

Sadly, he has found the perfect congregation for his intellectual approach to talking about God. Most of the members we meet are just as afraid of actually encountering God as Swain is. So what’s the problem? Swain is starting to hear the voice of God. Worse than that, he starts believing, even if only momentarily, that God actually works miracles, that maybe prayers to heal a boy who has been blinded in an accident might work. In Payne’s world, that is cause to consider getting rid of the pastor! Seriously?

Now I’ve been ordained for almost thirty years, and I have known God’s frozen chosen—I’m an Episcopalian after all—and I’ve never seen a congregation that would react to their pastor praying for healing as a sign the pastor must be crazy. Then again, most pastors would likely be humbled by hearing God’s voice. Not Swain; he just becomes even more insufferable. So maybe these people deserve each other.

The emotionally abused wife, on the other hand, needed to walk long ago. Swain is simultaneously so distant from her and so co-dependent that you want to stage an intervention. And watch out if she gets pregnant; the man hates children!

All of which is to say that, if this had been written as a farce, I could have loved it. I know all these people. They are toxic church killers. Put them all together in one place and the buildings would likely burn down, especially in Chapel Hill, home of liberal mystics who could survive anything short of speaking in tongues as long as one uses the correct silverware. Painted a bit broadly, this could be a wonderful commentary on all that is wrong with a certain kind of parish that actually does exist. As drama, though, I found both Swain and his members unreal. And, frankly, after the first one hundred pages, I just found him tiresome. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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