Excerpt From My New Book, “A Modern Christmas Carol”

As an early Christmas present, here’s an extended excerpt—the entire first chapter—from my new book. Enjoy!

Reverend Nathan Thorpe strode through the door of his studio’s makeup room. Above the door was the logo of Hundredfold Ministry, overflowing baskets of yellow wheat. Or perhaps gold coins—the interpretation was left to the observer.

“I’m late—sorry,” he said as he took the middle chair. His wife Janice had held him up. She was going at it again at breakfast. How many times must a man apologize?

“I’ll get you done in time,” said Mary, the makeup artist. She shook out a starched barber cape and draped it over his shoulders. “Any special plans for Christmas Eve?”

Nathan scanned the schedule for the day’s broadcast. “It’ll be quiet for us this year.” With luck, he and Janice would entertain themselves separately that evening.

“Nathan?” It was Sophia Becker, his secretary. He hadn’t noticed her when he walked in. Competent though unassuming, she tended to blend in. “Could we talk about some philanthropic ideas?”

He looked at his watch.

“You told me to meet you this morning,” she said.

He had little interest in this topic, though she was right that he had promised. He granted permission with a wave.

“I checked on some charities like you asked.” She handed him a sheet. “These are the most reputable ones that work in East Africa.”

Nathan glanced at the list. “If we spend money, it must have a return.”

“This would be good to do.”

“We’ve been over this—this is a business. ‘Good’ must mean ‘good for business.’ We already give money and brag about that. There’s just no value in giving a higher fraction.” They gave away eight percent of gross revenue, which wasn’t bad compared to other television ministries. It wasn’t like anyone could see their financials.

“But we’re a ministry,” she said.

“Right—not a soup kitchen. Spending money is an investment, and an investment needs a return—wider satellite footprint, more products in the store, new programming for a broader audience, that sort of thing. We already have Sudan Christian Relief in that part of the world. We showcased them two months ago.”

“They only get twenty percent of what we raise for them, and half of that goes to missionaries.”

“Yes, and we have expenses.” Nathan considered for a moment challenging her to find something to cut, but she had never seen the ministry’s balance sheet or P&L, and even the board saw only a sanitized budget. He wasn’t about to give her something to critique.

She opened her mouth to speak when Malcolm Canon walked in and leaned against the sink in front of Nathan. Malcolm was Nathan’s speech writer. “We should talk about the lineup next week,” Malcolm said.

Nathan had realized since his earliest days on stage that he was in the entertainment business, and crafting a sermon that crackled with energy was demanding work. Malcolm had been a celebrity ghostwriter, and he was very good. With Malcolm behind him, Nathan could consistently discourage the audience at one point, show the church as the solution at another, and finally bring them to their feet before the Ask.

“I want something on tithing,” Nathan said to Malcolm. “Let’s make it an undercurrent for the next couple of weeks.”

“Could be a third rail.”

“I don’t want to hit it hard,” Nathan said. “Show me reluctant.”

“Maybe someone wrote in for advice on how donating should be done.”

“Good—say that I wouldn’t bring it up except that someone asked. A letter on paper would make a good prop. And emphasize that tithing doesn’t mean giving, it means giving ten percent.

As Malcolm made notes, Sophia jumped back in. “I’m just thinking that we might be able to give more.”

Nathan sighed. “You said it yourself: we’re a ministry. If people want to give just humanitarian aid, they can go to CARE or Oxfam.”

Nathan thought for a moment about the Rainy Day Fund, the euphemistically named bin that held what in a corporation would be called “profits”—170 million dollars so far, tax free and hidden from judgmental eyes, and growing at a rate of 14 million dollars per year. Only he and the accountant saw these figures. It was all legal, not that they had to worry about an audit.

Sophia hesitated and said, “ ‘Whatever you have done unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done unto me.’ ”

Nathan turned to face her for the first time that morning. “Don’t wander into a biblical debate with me. ‘I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’ ”

She took half a step back and looked down.

“Look,” he said, “you’re just going to have to trust me with the business decisions.”

“Yes, you’re right,” she said. “Thank you for considering it.”

Nathan turned back to Malcolm, “We haven’t hit homosexuality lately. That always connects with the audience.”

“ ‘Thou shalt not be gay’ is an easy commandment for most people to follow.”

“But here’s the trick—we’ve got a lot of closeted gays in the audience. The donation demographics showed that we were too critical last time. What I want is for straights to feel that this is an easy win where they can feel superior, and for the gays to feel guilt without alienation. We become the solution to that guilt, we harness it. Okay?”

Mary was done and took off the barber cape.

Nathan said, “What have you got to tie this into current events?”

Malcolm tapped his pencil against his pad. “There was a story a few days back about a high school club for gay students. Some parents objected.”

“That’ll work. Put out a press release in response to the gay club. I’d like that in the queue today. After Christmas, the media will eat up fresh stories.”

Sophia said, “Nathan, it’s late. You have someone waiting to see you, and taping starts in less than thirty minutes.”

Continue →

Buy A Modern Christmas Carol

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About Bob Seidensticker