There it was again, a faint sound like a kitten mewing or a child crying. It was too cold on this blustery spring day for either to be out. Nell turned around, trying to determine the direction of the sound. Walking a few steps along the sidewalk, she decided the whimpering came from in back of the church. She found a small walkway and followed it back. There on a set of steps sat a little girl, hands twisted in her dress, quietly sobbing.
With that paragraph a book is begun, The Beloved Hoax
Here’s how it happens. A story comes knocking at my door, charms its way into my living room, and insists on the use of my keyboard, my fingers, and my mind. I happily set aside all other projects. I neglect my chores, my friends, my family, all to put into form a yarn, a saga, a fiction that is more than fiction. It is a tale no one else can write, based as it is on my experiences, my bent in researching the history of mingling, stumbling, and seeking.
I recall the mood I was in when I started my first book (um, the first one I published). I was pissed off at several people I’d lived among on The Farm, a community of spiritual hippies. It only took me about twelve drafts of the book to realize what I had contributed to my troubles. I had grown up mistreated and I expected to be mistreated in adulthood. Not that I was seriously abused or neglected. My childhood had much good in it. But I had been spanked hard and long by an angry parent as well as criticized and scolded. My self-esteem was in the cellar – until a seventh grade teacher came to the top of the cellar stairs and invited me to venture up. I came maybe halfway up the stairs. I needed to live among folks who had made it further up the stairs, to help me the rest of the way. Inevitably, I lived among folks who needed me to be far enough up to make allowances for them.
The insights from writing Sweet Potato Suppers made it worthwhile. And there were grateful responses from readers. Even folks who did not know The Farm, knew the territory.
Here’s another beginning, an attempt to revise what really happened, an if only I’d known sort of book. I felt I could give young mother’s a head’s up – like telling someone in a kayak where the submerged rocks are. In Gideon’s River I created a family in which the mother figures out how to help her children and the story ends well, while in real life is has taken many years for my children and me to come to terms with their growing up years. Gideon’s River was a healing book offered to other parents.
Then there was the time I read someone’s statement of how a community in the Catskills closed and I realized someone who had lived there needed to tell the story. That book became The Farm That Tried to Feed the World. Included were summaries of the research I had done to address the question why it was so hard to build an enduring community based on sharing and kindness. For example, I had read Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade, a book that made available to non-scientists the amazing discoveries of Mariha Gimbutes at archeological sites in Europe. Gimbutes found that in western Europe, no village remains or burial finds older than about 5,000 years contained walls or weapons. Which is not to say that all violence on earth is no more than a few thousand years old, only that in that part of the world human versus human violence on any scale beyond the occasional difference was unknown. Up until that time people had lived in tribal, which is to say, communal villages. My own big insight from writing the book was that I and my friends had been trying to live in the Garden – the Biblical myth surely refers to the time before weapons – without first coming to terms with how we lost the Garden.
Skipping to the present, the impetus behind The Beloved Hoax was a BBC documentary in which scholars find evidence that Jesus did not die on the cross. I thought about the many years I had tried to believe what my Sunday school teachers told me, how by my teen years it became a heart-wrenching struggle to let go of that story, and how during my adult life I had sometimes hedged my bets just in case the story was true. No one wants to be left out of heaven. This is a book I wrote to help others through Western Civilization’s maze, the tortured history of Christianity. In fact, you could skip my book and go straight to the documentary Did Jesus Die on the Cross? Unless you want to spend some time with a woman named Nell and her cave house family and with Pastor Joel as his anguish ultimately leads him to a little girl and a woman named Daisy.