Open Secrets is Richard Lischer's story of his early career as a Lutheran minister. Fresh out of divinity school and full of enthusiasm, Lischer found himself assigned to a small conservative church in an economically depressed town in southern Illinois. This was far from what this overly enthusiastic and optimistic young man expected. The town was bleak, poor, and clearly not a step on his path to a brilliant career.
It's an awkward marriage at best, a young man with a Ph.D. in theology, full of ideas and ambitions, determined to improve his parish and bring them into the twenty-first century, and a community that is "as tightly sealed as a jar of home-canned pickles." In their own way, they welcome him and his family, even though they think he's "got bigger fish to fry." Thus begins Richard Lischer's first year as a pastor: bringing communion to the sick (but forgetting to bring the wafers); marrying two unlikely couples--a pregnant teenager and her boyfriend, and two people who can't stop fighting.
Often he doesn't understand his congregation, and sometimes they don't understand him; for instance, why does his wife hire a baby-sitter and instead of leaving, put on her bathing suit, grab a stack of novels, and hide from the kids? Or why can't Pastor Lischer see how important it is for a woman with little money to buy an elaborate coffin to bury her husband in?
There are also the moments of grace, when pastor and parishioner unite for a common goal: when he asks for prayers for his infant son, and can feel everyone in the congregation ministering to him; when old hurts are put aside to help a desperate young woman finish college and raise her baby; or when he helps save a woman from dying of a drug overdose.
In Open Secrets Lischer tells not only his own story but also the story of New Cana and all of its inhabitants--lovable, deeply flawed, imperfect people that stick together. With his sharp eye and keen wit, Lischer perfectly captures the comedy of small town life with all of its feuds, rumors, scandals, and friendships. In the end he learns to appreciate not only the life New Cana has to offer, but also the people who have accepted him, at last, as part of themselves.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: Open Secrets|
|Release Date: 07-16-2002|
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|Publisher: Crown Publishing Group|
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I had a parish in a small town in southern Illinois, not far from the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, where the Missouri shows brown and the Mississippi foams yellow, and the two make a big river the color of cream soda. The farms in my parish rested on the American Bottom at the southernmost tip of the great Illinois prairie. The land was flattened by a prehistoric ocean several millennia ago, then smoothed by a glacier, and finally turned black as onyx by the rivers.
The Chippewas called it Mechesebe, the Great River, and it is great. But before you romanticize it, you have to see and smell its twenty-three miles of huge interceptor sewers that, along with a network of smaller pump stations, retrieve the raw waste pumped into the river. Twenty-nine locks on the Upper Mississippi convert the mighty waterway that once offered freedom to Jim and Huck into a carefully regulated series of steps for barges bearing the names of great oil and chemical companies. Near St. Louis, monstrous levees attempt to channel the river's capricious power away from the city and its suburbs. You have to squint like an Impressionist or frame the scene with your hands in order to block out the ugliness of the river. Gazing on the Mechesebe these days makes you want to feel sorry for the river, the way you do a circus elephant or a caged gorilla.
I myself grew up only a few miles from the Missouri, just west of where it joins the Mississippi, but I never saw the river as anything but an odd and somewhat ominous extension of the suburban sprawl to which my parents and I, like millions of other city dwellers, had migrated in the early 1950s. The backwaters of the Missouri were explored by b...