Author Interview

Tuesday Talks-Interview with John Grebe

Today we Have John Grebe with us. John holds a Masters of Divinity from Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Order of Corpus Christi; a community that aims to live out the values of Mercersburg Theology in everyday life and supporting one another in a life of common prayer and contemplation He’s also been a personal friend for many years.

Welcome John, tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.

I would describe myself as a Christian mystic that values growing closer to God while helping others grow closer to God in the process. I am a member at Wentz’s United Church of Christ, where I am an elder and one of the adult Sunday School teachers. My personal interests include, reading, writing, nature photography, turtles and enjoying large amounts of Chinese teas, especially darker oolongs and puerh. I grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania (around an hour outside of Philadelphia), as the oldest of three brothers.

From a young age my parents stressed the importance of education, which helped to build my lifelong learning mindset.

What’s your favorite genre to read and write. Who’s your favorite author?

My reading is divided between Christian books, history and classic fantasy/folk tales. When it comes to Christian books I tend to focus on books with an emphasis on spiritual formation. I do not have a favorite author to say as I read widely to take in a diverse range of viewpoints. Still, I’d say George MacDonald stands out to me at the moment for two main reasons. First, he was the inspiration and literally mentor to both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction and religious works, which I enjoy. Second, my book was inspired by George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons series, where he wrote sermons even though he lacked the opportunity to preach them from the pulpit. I approached my book from the mindset of writing a sermon series on prayer.   

What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?

I cannot remember a time in my life that I did not love books. Growing up there were books in the house as my parents valued my having access to books as a child. The first time that I started writing (that was not required for school) was in middle school. Since then, it was a bit of an on and off process, which included numerous attempts at blogging, and a few short stories.

Tell us about this book.

Pray As You Can, Exploring the Diverse Nature of Christian Prayer, grew out of an adult Sunday School class that I taught at my church. Basically, I was getting frustrated at the bad job that way too many churches handle prayer. Mainly only teach about the importance of prayer and why one should have an active prayer life but not actually spend the time to teach people how to pray. I believe that the biggest barrier that most Christians have when it comes to prayer, is rooted in unrealistic expectations. The most common unrealistic expectation about prayer is thinking there is a right way to pray. When there are many different ways to pray and different people will naturally connect with different forms of prayer. Thus, one should simply ‘pray as you can’ and not be concerned about the different types of prayer that do not connect them with God in a meaningful manner.

What did you learn about yourself through writing it?

The main thing that I learned about myself when writing my book was the importance of finding the right genre of writing that fits who you are as a person. Previously, I had large visions initially for an epic allegorical novel and then a collection of short stories. Looking back the main reason why these failed was because I was trying to produce something that was not natural to who I was as a person, as compared to Pray As You Can, which flowed more naturally out of who I am as a person and my passions. 

Do you use an outline when you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?

It really depends as I normally use outlines in two main situations. First when I feel a rush of ideas that I want to record for when I have the time to expand them into sentences. Second when I feel stuck. I started the book with a list of topics that I wanted to consider including in the book. Some of the ideas easily flowed into chapters and others were a complete bust. Most of them were somewhere in the middle where I wrote the various sections over a period of a week or so.

Is there a special place you like to write?

No, I do not have a set special place to write. The closest thing to a special place to write that I have would be the cloud, as I value flexibility and real time backup. The ability to work on my writing wherever I am is very empowering to me. I used a mix of Standard Notes (a secure cross platform notetaking app) and Word Documents in Dropbox so I can always access my latest draft regardless of where I am. I also always a small homemade loose-leaf pocket-sized notebook with me. The reason behind it is that I wanted to cheap notebook to prevent any hesitation in writing down any ideas that I commonly encounter with more expensive notebooks. As I find that good ideas and insights require time and reflection so one needs to be ready to capture them when they come up. I am not kidding as I literally wrote sections of my book in my pocket notebook when I was in waiting rooms. 

What was something that surprised youin the way this book unfolded?

 Not really, nonfiction books tend to be very straightforward without that many surprises. I had a simple goal of writing material for my adult Sunday School class on prayer. I ended up with a manuscript that was easy to edit into a book fit for publication for a general audience.

What advice would you give a new author?               

Get in the habit of carrying a good pen and a cheap pocket (or purse) sized notebook with you at all times. The good pen is so you have a comfortable and reliable tool to write with. The cheap notebook is so you don’t hesitate to write down any ideas you get. I feel that the more expensive of a notebook one has the more selective one is in writing down things in it which is counterproductive when it comes to writing. Good ideas and insights require time and reflections so one needs to be ready to capture them when they come up during the day. 

What project are you working on now?

I am in the early stages of planning my next adult Sunday school class. If it goes well there is a good chance that I will also be adapting it to book format for a wider audience.

Where can we find your books?

My book can be found on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle format.

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