Doxology: Brian Holers’s Debut Novel

Doxology, the debut novel from author Brian Holers, is available in both paperback and digital format now! Fathers, sons and brothers reconnect over tragedy in this blue-collar Southern tale of love, loss and the healing power of community and family. Doxology examines an impossibly difficult...

Brian Holers

Religion in life

Driving through a small Ohio town recently, I saw a sign in front of a church: Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil; pointless. As hokey as they may be, sentiments like these are invariably poignant to me; I grew up in a land of churches, and a land of signs. To this day I can’t pass one of these without thinking about the words for a good, long time. That’s what religion is for me—a long series of thoughts and feelings. The words on that Ohio sign particularly touched me, imparted me with the best feeling of all.  The certainty of how much better life is when we know there’s something greater. When it’s more than just us.

The concept of a god, of a higher power, is a common first step in world views that may otherwise be wildly divergent. Conversely, some believe looking to God as a guiding force in human events is a cop out. Hocus pocus. Fairy tales, at best. A craven unwillingness to take responsibility for ourselves, at worst. For me, God just is. There’s no other explanation for the sweetness I have experienced. Nothing else would make sense. I could not possibly have come from the place I did with a different view of things.

As a child in the 70s and 80s in small-town Louisiana, my experience was anything but multi-cultural. Christianity was pervasive. Every person I knew either was, used to be or intended to become a better Christian. Some aspired to get away, but more common than the desire to move on from this quaint little backwater, was a desire to know the Gospel, to continually make things right with God. Child and adult alike routinely spouted bible verses and moral witticisms as colorful and metaphoric as the sagest poets.

The existence of God in this world was simply a given. Everyone I knew belonged to a church, and attended regularly.  Kids in school formed alliances based not on denomination (most were Baptist) but on the particular church they attended. Churches sponsored teams for my father’s softball league (alcohol was strictly banned from these events, though fistfights were not uncommon after particularly close contests). I was in college before I met someone who claimed not to believe in God, and all I could think was poor girl, she’ll never have peace in her heart; small town life may have been suffocating, but it wasn’t confusing. There was only one way to do things.  While public life had an element of moral stricture, my friends and neighbors were not an uptight people. While St. Paul exhorted Christians to be in the world but not of it, he didn’t address the fine distinction between of the world for good reasons, and of the world for poor. Fellow Louisianians enjoyed all God’s gifts—fishing, hunting, waterskiing. Simple things.  For we learned in church, God is everywhere.

All public gatherings began with an invocation. If the speaker or leader chose to share a joke, its credentials as appropriate for mixed company were stated—now I’ve cleared this joke with my wife and two preachers.  No doubt one would have been enough, but as I also learned in church, where two or more are gathered together, there is God.  When the conflagration neared its end, anyone at any time could be called upon to close—brother Ricky, would you lead us in a word of prayer?—whereupon the simplest, homeliest, most tongue-tied man or woman, who perhaps couldn’t construct a sentence in a different circumstance, bowed his or her head and spoke with eloquence, as comfortably as one would talk to a grandma. And never doubted God was listening.

Faith for me has always been a feeling. Theology was never my thing. Granted, times were simpler then, when everyone watched the same three channels on TV. In that world, the concept that some benevolent force imparts values and guides human behavior was universal. For some of us, that hasn’t changed.

And what accompanies such a concept… is a feeling of hope. If God be with us, who can be against us?  A pervasive sense that life is precious, beautiful, and an ironic certainty that very little is in our control.  But anytime there’s a problem, any one of us can speak directly to God, and know God is listening. And, at times, even get a response.  Certainly, things can go bad. But they can also be improved, much as a sinner can be saved. Salvation can happen in an instant. We all live in this world, and are comfortably of it in the beautiful ways. In the good ways. Whatever the problem, there is an answer. Nothing can defeat us. Even death has no sting. Life is good. And when it’s over, it’s better.

As much is out of our control, much can’t be predicted. Eventually I did begin to question things, and as a young person, went away. But I never stopped believing God has a plan. I loved, and to this day still cherish—that sense of awe so implicit in life in a Christian world in a small Southern town thirty years ago, when things were simpler.

But God knew I needed more. I had other roles to fill. God sent me a Jewish wife, and then a son, to smarten me up a bit. To learn more about life by way of this beautiful religion, the mother of Christianity.  Still, I approach it all with the mentality of a small-town Christian. Always looking for the magic, for the miracles, the instantaneous changes of heart.  Yes, I need to study. Hebrew is hard. Lucky for me, my life is still filled with miracles. All I have to do is look. God is there, in the love. God is there, in the touch. In the soft, purposeful glow of my love’s embrace.  In the light so cleanly reflected from my ten year old’s shining eyes.  We are given this life, and we live it as we choose. The cost to us is so very little. As far as I can see, it’s all profit.

As a Christian, I must believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As a fledgling Jew, I must believe the savior is yet to come. My job is to use the gifts I’ve been given, to do the work I’m here for.  I’ll leave that argument to the theologians. I’ll just be here like I always have, looking for God in all things, expecting a miracle, counting my blessings.

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14 Responses to Religion in life

  1. Sandra Holers says:

    I loved this Brian. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Diane says:

    Gosh, Brian… you sound like you might know something! :)

  3. Kay says:

    Beautiful Brian! I have always loved listening to you tell about all those rich thoughts running through your head!

  4. Connie says:

    Has your mother ever told you she likes you best? I’ll bet she does. Just don’t tell your brother and sister. :)

  5. Azure Boone says:

    This was… just amazing. So simple, so beautiful. You’ve made me see something about my life that I never really did before, that I needed to see. How intricately tied to God we are in our bones and flesh. He just IS. Before theology, He was and IS and always will just BE. The air in our spirit, life force in our blood. God courted me from birth and I never knew, never saw it. Till one day he swept me off my feet and showed me that He’d made His grand move on me. And He succeeded. Clever, He is. Very clever. And my heart and spirit overflows with the incomprehensible goodness of Him.

  6. Dad Larry says:

    I remember I had decent grades in writing class while in college but I couldn’t hold a candle to you. In all of Washington you are our favorite son. The other son and daughter just don’t happen to live in the state of Washington.

  7. Jamey says:

    Nice. As you point out – small town Southern living has, as one of both its virtues, and its vices, a pure simplicity. My problem always lay in that I did not fit in with that simplicity, and as such – being an outsider in such a simple place can be a very trying experience.

  8. Brian Holers says:

    I heard that. My family was from Ohio, a long way from Louisiana. In a way that gave me perspective.

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