“On This Side of Heaven”
by Pamela Jackson
Ivy House Publishing Group, Raleigh, NC. ISBN-10: 1-57197-466-0

This novel by award-winning author Pamela Jackson allows a peek behind the curtain at the goings-on of preachers, staff members and prominent congregation members at a small Southern Christian church. For those who refuse to believe that men of God are men first, with all the imperfection that implies, the story may scandalize. For those (like myself) who are unfamiliar with the structure and operation of non-Catholic and non-mainline Protestant churches, the story may inform while confirming that people are fallible no matter the religious affiliation.

For just about anyone interested in ambition and greed and selflessness and conflicting goals, even in the service of God, the story provides a compelling look into the life of the Reverend Bob Buck, frustrated in his career ambitions and shuffled off to close a dying church at the outer edge of Southern suburbia.

Brother Buck, a few short years shy of retirement, decides that the Good Lord is calling him to grow that church, not shutter it. Sadly, he cannot distinguish between his own bruised pride and an honest calling.

His efforts to revive the little church are initially successful. But his mixed motives, questionable liturgical reforms, shaky business practices and spotty past catch up with him and those around him. (Yes, even churches need solid accounting. God may provide, but He hasn’t repealed economics.)

While this story is set in the Protestant South, there is more than enough similarity to provocative progressive church practices in other spots and different denominations to pull non-Evangelicals along. I can readily agree that Pamela Jackson deserved to receive the 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association.

This is not a book for someone who’s looking for flash-bang action or international intrigue or exotic locales or edge-of-the-seat suspense.

But if you’re looking for an insightful story about all-too-imperfect people trying to do right, missing all too often but finding at least the strength to ask for God’s help to try again — well, you have found one.

[cehwiedel also writes at cehwiedel.com]

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