Title: And You Invited Me In
Publisher: Atria Books/Beyond Words
Cover Blurb: When Alex Marshall left his stifling small town behind, he felt freedom for the first time in his life. Rejected by his conservative Christian hometown for his homosexuality, Alex becomes a successful lawyer, active in the gay community and committed to his partner, Scott. But tragedy strikes in the form of AIDS, as it rips away Alex's dignity and crushes his body. He is near the end of his life.
Annie Whitley, Alex's sister, is faced with a difficult choice when a call from Alex comes out of the blue. Should she travel to care for her estranged brother -- who represents the lifestyle she's been taught to hate and fear -- or stay away, deny him, and follow what the town demands? Choosing Alex, she begins to see how her decision impacts the entire community.
And You Invited Me In addresses the moral dilemma that many face: how can people accept or even tolerate a way of life so different from anything they have been taught to believe is acceptable? This interwoven tale speaks of love, compassion, and true belief, as a family reconciles and a town comes to understand the truth of its faith, and is resonant with the hymn of equality.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. -- Matthew 25:35
1) How did this story come to you?
The story needs a bit of history. In the late 70’s I was a radically fundamental Christian. I was so extreme that I would not eat dinner at a friend’s house when a gay person was there and, at one time I believed that AIDS was a judgment on the gay community.
In the early 90’s my husband and I were in a very large conservative church in the South who took a hard stand against homosexuality/AIDS. Our landlord was also a member of the church, and active in the Singles group (that had 500 members). He had AIDS and was doing the expected ex-gay thing. About a month before he died it hit me that no one from the church had befriended him (and no one knew about the AIDS issue). He had to seek old friends for friendship because it just wasn't there. He hadn't told his family he had AIDS then he suddenly got very sick. He went to the hospital and I called the church. There were dozens of ministers on staff at this church, and only one of them came to see him ONE time.
I could not wrap my mind around this. Why would a church put so many expectations on a person, and then not show up in the most vital hour of need? My father was a minister when I was a young kid and I can remember going to many a house of the sick and dying. After our landlord’s death, I spent months trying to understand why this church that boasts of following the Bible to the last crossed “t” couldn't find a person to walk with the family through this whole terrible ordeal. (Other related incidents: #1-after that my husband met a man who had been a pastor with many children. He came out of the closet, eventually lost his family and was dying of AIDS. No one was there to make him a bowl of soup. #2-I heard that Grady Hospital in Atlanta did not permit ministers in the AIDS ward unless they were asked because so many ministers could come and tell them they deserved hell and their illness was a judgment. #3-my husband and I wanted to take a man with AIDS to a certain church he was open to going to. The pastor told me “no, you can’t bring that plague in here” and within the year the man died cursing Jesus.)
I didn’t start the book until a year after our landlord’s death. I wanted to make the church aware of this huge failing. Instead of an article I decided that a story could tell the information better. I wrote a short story, and my husband said “make it a book.” While the book is fiction, there are things that are facts such as when Samuel gets the call at the airport. That happened with my mom and me (in the days before cell phones) when I needed to get her an urgent message. I happened to catch her in Chicago when her plane was on the ground.
2) Tell us about the journey to getting this book published
It has been a journey. I had the encouragement of people like Philip Yancey and Tony Campolo who I presented the idea to back in the mid-90’s. However, Christian publishers didn’t want to take a risk. I actually did a POD (publish on demand) with PublishAmerica around 2004, then someone read it and sold it to the Simon & Schuster company Beyond Words, which deals more in New Age books. They hired a foundational editor to help me streamline, then the copy editor was a very liberal person. God permitted this event where opposite people challenged my words to better myself and be able to speak to the “any man” as well as conservatives.
One thing about publishing is that just because it is a big company doesn’t mean it will get the same treatment as Joel Osteen’s book. I learned to keep my voice meaning, I didn’t have people to put the politically correct word in my mouth! As well I learned a lesson in Dallas. I got a reporter who takes great pride in making people look foolish. He tried to get me into a political corner by giving me 24 hours to answer a no-win question, and I refused to answer him directly. He called me a “hot mess.” Every step is a learning experience…good or bad.
3) Tell me three things about yourself that would surprise your readers.
First, I have had many challenges with grace. It seems as I’ve written about an issue, then the Lord challenges me with a huge obstacle to see how I fare. I don’t always handle it well! Second, this last 12 months has been the greatest time of spiritual growth for me. A family situation arose where I had to completely trust God to get one of my children through a horrid situation.
A situation where a wrong move on my part would have alienated her or worse, and God was faithful. Third, I had gastric bypass surgery in 2004. I lost weight, gained some back but would for sure recommend it to anyone.
4) What are you working on now and what's next for you?
I am working on a follow-up book that addresses areas where the church fails to meet the needs of the congregation--specifically in the area of grace. While that is the general over-all theme, the focus will also be on the conservative Christian + gay community issues. I believe that I am a qualified voice to explain their needs and how as conservatives we can operate in grace and never compromise our values.
As Christians we must operate without an agenda with people. Here is something that has bugged me for years--"Oh we'd love to get to know you, why don't you come over and we'll show you a great business opportunity"--that's a crystal clear example of an agenda. So what happens when we say: "wow we'd like to be your friend, but before you need to..." Jesus never had an agenda, but loved unconditionally. From what I read, the only time Jesus got upset and spoke harshly was with those religious people who thought of themselves better than others. Therefore, I hope that my next book will help show the need for us to be servants and not masters.5) Parting comments?
There is a political correctness among us conservatives. Basically it is low-key bullying where if I don’t do the expected conservative thing, then my conservative buddies will almost shun me for doing something radical (such as going to court with the gay father to help him get custody). In Jesus’ time a Jewish man had nothing to do with women and Jesus was there being their ally. When Matthew Sheppard will killed in 1998 NO conservative ever spoke out against the horror Matthew experience. Why? Because Matthew was gay, and maybe the secret internal belief from most conservatives as that he was in the wrong place and deserved it. Because no conservative Christian used their voice, then Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church) became the conservative voice. We speak of “being radical for Jesus”—it isn’t in waving our Bibles and telling people they are going to hell. It would be fixing dinner for that pastor who was dying of AIDS and being his friend. One more story: I had a group of close friends and one of them came out. This man had been close to six men his entire life. The pastor of the group of men said “I can’t be friends with Tommy because his sin is too great.” Later Tommy told his ex-wife that only one person ever stayed his friend out of the group. We must be that friend! Grace is the true theme of the book. Grace to others no matter what the circumstance—not just the matter of AIDS and homosexuality. Even though these two issues are major conservative concerns, there are others, and many times we have forgotten how we came to know Jesus. Simply put: He did it all for us and there were no rules except that He loved first without condition. We have no excuse to extend grace, and when we do we are truly becoming radical for Jesus.6) Where can fans find you on the Internet?
I blog, twitter and have a website. My tweets are a range of things but I can be found: Cheryl Moss Tyler. Website: http://www.andyouinvitedmein.com/. This will link you with the blog and even the little movie I made about the book: www.YouTube.com/cherylmosstyler. You can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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