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When the Heart Is Laid Bare (2).png

Character Development Lab

"I can't remember when a book has been so moving. The writing is like a slow, sinuous, sensual dance.  There's an ebb and flow that tickles your mind and awakens your heart."

Forgettable Woman

Coach Calder Johnson's wife has, according to the hospital social worker, expired. Expired. Like a credit card. Not like a human being. Calder hasn't had a true friend, other than his wife, in twenty-four years. So if he's going to heal, he'll have to learn to let someone inside. Unfortunately, Calder's catalog of potential friends swells with unlikely candidates. There's Jacoby Reynolds, the blunt Anglican priest who watched his wife die, and Lynn McIntire, the beautiful but strangely efficient single mother next door. Then there's Justin Robinson, an embittered teen Calder wants to recruit for his high school football team. Enter also Connie Myers, the new Calvert High principal, an attractive yet hard-edged woman who's determined to shake up the status quo. Only when Coach Johnson's heart is finally laid bare will he learn that you can find friendship - and love - in the most unexpected places.

"Skylar Hamilton Burris pulls off the seeming impossible: finding wholesome, witty humor while looking for answers to life's suffering....
The with suffering -- death, unrequited love, betrayal -- in a real way, but somehow not in a depressing manner..."

I tell people I’m a theologian by trade partly because, technically speaking, I am, but also because I want to see which reaction suffuses their features: curiosity, confusion, amusement, or—and this, really, is quite my favorite—trepidation. I don’t know what’s so frightening about theologians, but you’d think I’d have said I was a grand inquisitor and the inventor of the Judas cradle. That, for the benefit of the uninitiated, is a triangular-shaped seat in which the victim sits while being leisurely impaled. But I digress.


After I tell people I am a theologian, they first let their faces speak their feelings, and then they always ask, "So what do you do? I mean, what do you actually do, as a theologian?"


What I do is think. Not about just anything, of course, but about God. Then I write down my thoughts. Sometimes I even speak them aloud at conferences held in universities and churches, and, surprisingly enough, there are people who pay to read and hear these thoughts. Not a great many, admittedly, but enough that I can manage to afford the rent on my efficiency apartment, supply myself with groceries, and periodically repair my used sedan.

Tonight, as I drive on a surprisingly uncrowded street in Maryland's Calvert City, I am thinking of the great East/West controversy over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or merely from the Father. I am thinking of it, that is, until I see the large delivery truck, and then instead I think—that truck is going the wrong way on a one-way street. That truck is headed straight for me.


I swerve.


I swerve, and I live, but the truck strikes the car in front of me.


When I first met my late wife Angela, six months before she dragged me to the altar (I admit my protests were rather weak), I was thirty-two years old and working as an associate rector of an Anglican church in a quiet Maryland parish. She was twenty-eight, and she was helping the church youth to crush soda cans before throwing them into the recycling bin. Her foot was raised over a bright orange can when I asked, "Do you really think it’s advisable to do that in flip flops?" She took one look at me, smiled, and defiantly slammed her rubber-clad foot down on top of the can. It crushed in on itself, the thin metal tearing violently apart in places and gathering into an ugly clump.


That’s what happens, more or less, to the car I now see in my rearview mirror. My own two-door sedan has turned ninety degrees and has come to a complete stop with the front half on the sidewalk and the back half in the right hand lane. My hood has collided with a street light, and there are people running down the sidewalk from both directions, where there were no people before. Cars are stopped in the street, before a mosaic of shattered glass, and the truck driver is opening his door and leaping down. I wonder if he’s high or drunk or angry or just stupid. I wonder what the Spirit will do to his conscience over the next year–whether it will whisper to it in a still small voice or batter it violently with wings until it screams. Then I get out of my car. I’m running to where the truck has pushed the other car, and I’m telling the truck driver to call 911. I’m telling the crowd to stand back, and, soon enough, I’m lying down on my stomach next to the vehicle, which is upside down on its hood.


Rollovers occur in less than three percent of crashes, I will later learn, but they account for a third of all occupant deaths. I do not know this at the moment, however. I only know that it’s November, and the asphalt is frigid. I notice how cold it is for only a moment, because then I see the woman trapped inside, blood on her forehead, blood on her cheeks, confused and blinking.

When I look at her hand, bent and broken against the steering wheel, I see the wedding ring. "Ethan," she whispers, and I think Ethan must be her husband, but then she says, "he’s only seven," and I know she is not only a wife but a mother.


"The paramedics are coming," I tell her. "I’ll wait here with you. However long it takes. I’ll wait here with you." And then I do not say I am a theologian. Instead, I say, "I’m a priest. Do you want me to pray with you?"


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