Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Seven Questions with Writer Michael Gunter





Seven Questions
with
Writer

Michael Gunter

author of

An Untamed Life:
an Introduction
to the Difficult and Dangerous
Way of Christ




Today's Author Spotlight features Michael Gunter.



Michael is an independent writer. He is a graduate of Charleston Southern University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He published his first book on the Christian life, A Life Not Wasted, with Gazelle Press in 2005. He is a songwriter, electric guitarist, and author of six novels.
We first spoke with Michael in 2012 for his novel Blackwell. And then again in 2013 for his novel Defying Gravity. We're thrilled to have him back once more to discuss his new book, a work of nonfiction, The Untamed.

1. Tell us about your new book The Untamed, what it's about, and how it came into fruition.

The Untamed is first and foremost about Jesus Christ and the kind of life He expects of those who follow Him, but it isn't a rehash of old Sunday School lessons and tips about Christian Living. You could say it's the side of Jesus seldom mentioned in Christian conversations. It's the Jesus who makes people nervous and says things people don't like to hear. There's a quote by Dorothy Sayers that inspired the title: "The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore--on the contrary, they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him 'meek and mild' and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies." In a word, Jesus was (and is) Untamed and I believe He wants us to follow Him into an Untamed kind of life and produce in us the character to match. That's the kind of Jesus I want to know and follow...even though He frightens me. 

It was not my intention to publish this book at first. I wrote it in an attempt to find the answer to a question that began to haunt me in 2016: What if there's more to the Christian life than we think? When I returned to the familiar words of Christ and His apostles with that question in mind, I found myself shaken to my core and rethinking the way I viewed God, Jesus and my own life. In July of 2018, I resigned from my career as an associate pastor for spiritual reasons I could not fully explain. I took a job at a grocery store and dedicated myself to reading God's Word and any book recommended to me by the people I trusted with my situation. Writing did bring clarity, but it also confirmed my suspicions that my earlier view of Christ was incomplete and lopsided. After more than 30 years as a Christian, a more complete and accurate image of Christ had emerged. When I shared the first draft of The Untamed with a few friends - just to let them know what I was going through - I was surprised by their encouragement to publish it. To be honest, I'm still a little nervous about this; not about whether people will like it, but about what comes next as I actually try to follow my Untamed Lord in this Untamed life. I'm in it now. There's no going back. 

2. Regarding that taming and paring, what do you think was the reason (or reasons) behind doing so? Why has the Lion of Judah been relegated to house-cat status?

That happened a long time ago, so I can only speculate on the initial motivation. Based on my own experience and observation, I think it comes down to what we want out of God. We want a Savior, but not so much a Lord. We want a God who will get us out of trouble, but not One who intends to change us. We want a God who comes when we call Him--a God who will comfort and entertain us--but is content to stay out in the yard most of the day. We like the idea of Christ as Servant much more than Christ as Master and King. We could get into how the church wants to present Christ in an appealing, non-threatening way in order to attract people to Him, but it's still a reflection of the kind of God we want and what we want Him to do for us. If you get right down to it, we want a God we can manage and will work for us. We don't want a God who might ask us to sell all our possessions or do something dangerous. 

3. Interesting. Kind of like when you resigned from your post at the church after ten years. What was everyone’s reaction to that? What did they say when you went to work at the grocery store? What was YOUR reaction to that?

My resignation occurred during a tumultuous time in the life of that church. Five staff members left in four month's time. I don't know how many church members left, but the number was significant. Reactions to my resignation varied. Those who knew me best understood what I was going through spiritually. I am still close with some of them. Most just thought I was part of the exodus. All in all, it felt a lot like a break-up. There was confusion, hurt feelings, even some anger. I am sure some felt like I had abandoned them. Working at the grocery store created some awkward encounters. Hardly a day passed that I did not see someone from the church. They would approach me, ask how I was doing (like I'd been given some bad news), and then neither of us would know what to say. I imagine many of them thought I'd lost my mind or maybe my faith. I put on my best face, but I too felt like something was wrong with me. I'd wandered into the wilderness. I was lost. I was letting my family down. I never doubted my decision, but I still felt like I was off course. It's been a tough year, but it enabled me to go...or maybe it forced me into the place I needed to be to write The Untamed

4. How did the writing process begin? Was there a premise you wanted to explore? Or a question you hoped to answer? In writing fiction, there is often a scene or a character with which to start. How did you start The Untamed?

The untamed as a concept was in my mind long before I knew what to call it. Growing up in Alaska and Nevada, I've always had an affinity for bigness, grandeur and majesty. I've always been attracted to things that exist outside the normal routines of everyday life...beyond the managed systems of the civilized world. I have been sensitive to that for as long as I can remember. The word untamed first appeared in my writing about a decade ago when a character in one of my novels used it to describe what he felt as he gazed out at the vastness of the high desert plains of central Wyoming. The moment I saw it written, I knew it was the word I had been searching for to refer to that feeling and sense of longing I had always known. Once I had the word, it didn't take long for me to start using it in my thoughts about God. I should point out that untamed is not the same as wild. The untamed God cannot be manipulated or controlled. He lives and moves and acts according to His own will. However, He is not unruly or reckless. Even Christ, in all of His untamed glory, was careful to declare His submission to the will of His Father. 

You could say the writing process for The Untamed began in my childhood. Those first sensations of it were planted when I looked in wonder at that Alaskan wilderness. With maturity of faith and the development of my writing, the concept emerged in novel form. Then my resignation from my church position last year acted as the catalyst to bring it fully into view. The premise of The Untamed is this Untamed God who manifested Himself in the Untamed Person of Christ in order to call His people to follow Him into an Untamed Life. That's what I wanted to explore. 

5. What, if any, were your literary influences prior to and while writing The Untamed? What type of research did you find yourself engaged in?

I read a lot of non-fiction in the last year; mostly books on Christian spirituality. The books that are most relevant to The Untamed are The School of Christ by T. Austin-Sparks and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A' Kempis. Add to that list Dorothy Sayers's Letter to a Diminished Church and selected passages from C. S. Lewis. I also read a lot of the Bible. Other than that, I didn't do any research beyond pulling from my own experience in the church and reflecting on the words of Christ. 

6. Through everything that's happened in the past year, the changes, the reading, the reflection, the soul searching, the writing... what have you learned?

I've learned that God does not exist for me, but I exist for Him. I know that should be obvious to every follower of Christ, but I really get it now. I am no longer a Christian for what I get out of it - salvation, peace, joy, fellowship, the promise of heaven. I belong to God and serve at His good pleasure. That shift in perspective changes everything. It means I no longer expect God to reveal Himself a certain way or act the way I want Him to. It means I stop complaining when I don't get my way. It means I accept discomfort and inconvenience as par for the course. I'm still working on the proper attitude towards suffering. It means an increase in my risk tolerance. It means I relinquish ownership of time, money, relationships, plans for the future. Now, I am not saying I have all this down yet. Old habits die hard. But a year into it, I see change. I'm involved in a few things now that I would’ve declined a year ago simply because they would have made me uncomfortable or infringed upon my schedule. You could say I'm walking a very different path. This brings up another lesson: If you're going to write something like this, you’d better be ready to back it up. I've been challenged more than once to prove that I really believe what I wrote.

7. What do you hope to accomplish with this book and who is the target audience?
  
It is my hope and prayer that The Untamed provokes some deep soul-searching. I want to challenge the Christian pop-culture and encourage a more accurate view of God, Jesus and the Christian Life. I want my readers to take seriously all of Jesus' words - His difficult words as well as His comforting words. And then I want them to actually adjust their lives to the call of Christ to follow Him no matter where He leads them. You'll notice that I've subtitled the book "An Introduction to....." This book is certainly not the final word on the subject. I'm only a year into the untamed myself. I expect there will be a lot more written about it. 

My target audience for this book is the person who has been a Christian for awhile and senses something isn't quite right. Maybe they haven't been "#blessed" and wonder if something might be wrong with them. Maybe they've seen through the Christian cliches and easy church answers and are starting to feel like an outsider in their own church. Maybe they've taken notice of those passages of Scripture that warn about trials and suffering and wonder why American Christianity is so easy and safe. Or maybe they've experienced real hardship and wonder why God hasn't done something about it. I wonder about how a new believer might read The Untamed. Hopefully some will read it and let me know. Perhaps that will result in another book. We'll see. 

When is the book available and where can people find it?

The Untamed is available now on Amazon and our website www.untamedgroup.com.

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your newest work!

Be sure to pick up your copy of The Untamed today.

To read Michael's two previous interviews, click HERE for Blackwell and HERE for Defying Gravity.


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