Several months back Anthony Weber asked me to consider reviewing his new book. A friend of mine had just recently lost his father to cancer, which had me thinking back to the loss of my own father. With those two things fresh in my mind, it seemed like a divine appointment for a book like this to come across my path. Anthony’s book is a very honest telling of the forceful emotions and spiritual turmoil one experiences leading up to and during the years that follow the loss of a parent. I saw my own story in so much of what Anthony shared. For me, reading this book was a cathartic experience. Those who are interested, can find my review of Learning to Jump Again here: LINK. Shortly after I finished my review, I contacted Anthony and he was gracious enough to help me put together an interview for Bible Geek Gone Wild. Anthony, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with my readers.
Q: Welcome to Bible Geek Gone Wild, Anthony. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
A: I grew up in Atmore, Alabama, but spent most of my formative years near Columbus, Ohio (O-H-I-O!!). My dad taught at Rosedale Bible Institute, a small Mennonite Bible college. I attended Rosedale, then transferred to Cedarville University to finish an English Education major.
While at Rosedale, I met and I married my lovely southern bride, Sheila. In 1997, we moved to Traverse City, Michigan. I am currently teaching part-time at Traverse City Christian School (logic and world views) and Spring Arbor University (as an adjunct at a university center here in town), and pastoring at Church of the Living God. Sheila and I have been blessed with three sons, and we just celebrated our 21st anniversary.
This is my first book, though I have been writing since college (poetry, essays, editorials, etc). I even wrote a novel once just to see if it was as difficult as people say. By the grace of God, the general public has been spared from direct contact with it.
Q: The cover of Learning to Jump Again, shows a boy staring down from a very high table. You can’t help but think he’s contemplating whether or not to jump down. Is this picture representative of how you felt as you moved through the grieving and healing process?
A: Absolutely. The title comes from an incident during a family vacation. While the boys and I were swimming at a hotel pool, Vincent, my youngest, thought it would be fun to jump into the pool and make me catch him. He got bored, of course, and apparently decided it would be even more fun if he scared me half to death by running to the other side of the pool and trying to jump in to the deep end before I could get there. I got there, but barely.
The more I reflected on that evening, the more it seemed to capture how I felt when my dad died. God was the father; I was the kid running around the pool of life, jumping and knowing God would catch me. When my dad died, I felt like I had jumped -or been pushed – into the deep end, and God had not been there for me. I knew in my head that wasn’t true – during some moments of grief, I experienced times of connection with God that were beautiful. But on a more subjective level, that was how I felt.
Q: It’s rare that you encounter a book where the author shares their own journal entries, especially about something as personal as the loss of a parent. What made you decide to share your story with a broader audience?
A: Many times, I wondered if what I thought and felt after dad’s death was normal. Some days, dad’s loss seemed insurmountable; most days, God seemed absent from the world. I wrestled with fear, cynicism, and depression. As a pastor and Christian school teacher, I often wondered just how much I should let others see where I was – which is another way of saying who I was.
God eventually brought the stability and freedom that comes from grounding the “who I was” in Him. I began to post some of the journal entries as Facebook notes, and was overwhelmed by the response. At that point, I reluctantly acknowledged that He had brought me through that valley for the sake of others whose stories mirrored mine.
Q: Having lost my own father, your journal entries resonated with my own experiences. Can you share some of the responses you’ve received from other readers?
A: Though words are inadequate, I’m sorry for your loss, Shaun. I am gratified when readers find that the book resonates…but that also means there is a reason for the resonation, and for that I grieve with them (and you).
There are two responses almost without fail.
First, the experience of reading the journal is cathartic. There is something about knowing we are not alone in our grief that breaks things open. It’s as if the solidarity of grief gives readers permission to fully grieve. I think that’s biblical, by the way. Jesus was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Unfortunately, many Christians try to minimize the impact of grief, as if grieving is unspiritual. I believe that the true beauty of hope can only be fully understood after we allow ourselves to settle into the depths of our grief.
Second, readers find hope. Many have shared that their church and their friends were simply not safe enough for them to open up about their journey. Just knowing that they are not alone, and that there are people and places that will embrace them, brings them a measure of peace – and some measure of courage to reach out again to those around them.
Q: Are there any upcoming books or writing projects you can share with my audience?
A: Too soon, too soon! I would love to write a book about looking at life honestly. Christians often read the Bible in ways that support how they want to the world (or even God) to be, not how the world (or God) actually is. When I preach, I find that I am starting more and more sermons with, “I just want to be honest about life.” If anyone is interested in what this might look like, I am taking this approach as I stumble into the world of blogging (learningtojump.blogspot.com).
In the meantime, I am part of a group in Traverse City (along with my friend Scott Smith, sarcasticxtian.com) that is looking to get a community-wide theology/philosophy group off the ground. For a while, there was a group in town for college students, and we discussed everything: politics, ethics, religion, philosophy, entertainment. I was challenged and invigorated by the civil but direct interchange of ideas between Christians and non-Christians.
We are planning on re-starting this soon. Right now, no one runs a forum like this. How cool would it be if Christians got the ball rolling? Any prayers are appreciated!
Q: What advice would you give to first time / aspiring authors?
A: 1) This is not original, but it’s true: write what you know. If it doesn’t flow out of you, let someone else write it.
2) Writing is easier than publishing. If your manuscript is “unsolicited,” you have your work cut out for you. Be sure you are committed.
3) If you can afford to have someone else do your publicity, do it. I am not able to do that, so I am on what I call my “Shameless Self-Promotion Tour.” I basically have to go to everybody and say, “Hey, you should read my book because it’s really awesome!” That’s awkward. 😉 Once the New Year rolls around, I think I’ll change the name to “Toot My Own Horn 2012.”
Once again, many thanks to Anthony for taking the time to participate in this interview. Those interested in learning more about Anthony can follow him on the web at learningtojumpagain.com, learningtojump.blogspot.com, and facebook.
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