In the Presence of Wounded Healers

A “wounded healer” leverages their own experiences of pain and tragedy to help others heal from theirs. Originally coined by psychologist Carl Jung, the term was further popularized by theologian Henri Nouwen in his 1972 book of the same name.

Working on a book project for most of 2017-18 put me in the presence of wounded healers active in the field of restorative justice. These seasoned wounded healers – whether crime victims or, unexpectedly, perpetrators – showed me ways of healing with which I was unfamiliar. Like a bluebonnet that grows and produces its blooms from a crack in the pavement, healing can spring forth from unanticipated sources.

While doing the initial research for the project that produced There is a Balm in Huntsville, I interviewed a crime-victim survivor named Ellen Halbert. This wounded healer told me, “Every time I share my story, I heal a little bit more.” I immediately sensed that her words would guide my subsequent research and writing.

Ellen Halbert and T. Carlos

Revenge, at its most basic level, is a strategy for human survival. When a tragic event or hurtful person has caused us pain, the option to strike back lurks. Revenge says, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” Revenge-themed movies like “Carrie” and “Rambo” strike chords that are deeply anchored in the human psyche. But, quite often, there is a heavy price to pay for choosing revenge – such an act can transform a crime victim into a perpetrator, and vengeance can beget more violence.

The biblical counsel “‘Vengeance is mine,’ says the Lord,” urges adherents to choose options other than revenge. Religious systems do some of their best work when they mitigate the primal urge for vengeance in situations of wrongdoing, and encourage the victimized to seek alternatives.

Our legal or retributive justice system – laws, cops, courts, jails and prisons – is a necessary part of our social contract, and the first option in situations of serious wrongdoing.

The legal system, however, does not primarily concern itself with healing. “Repairing the harm done by crime – beyond what happens in the courtroom” is a good working definition of restorative justice. The practices of restorative justice, many have discovered, offer the best options for healing in the aftermath of wrongdoing.

Typically, restorative practices utilize face-to-face encounters between adversaries in safe settings in the presence of support personnel. It’s not a “mediation” – some type of compromise understanding about the wrongdoing – but an opportunity for the perpetrator, after hearing out the victimized person, to be accountable for what they’ve done. Oftentimes, when a wronged person sees that the one who caused their pain has taken responsibility for what they’ve done, healing emerges. Restorative practices do not necessarily involve forgiveness and reconciliation, but can if desired by the participant who was originally victimized.

In 1986, Ellen Halbert was brutally attacked by a drifter who left her for dead. She was fortunate to have survived the ordeal physically. Years later, she experienced emotional healing – she wasn’t able to meet with her imprisoned attacker because he was unrepentant – by sharing her story publicly at crime victims’ rights events. “It was all I had,” she told me. “When I told my story, a sense of power and control [about her crime victimization] came over me like never before.”

She was consequently the first crime victim appointed (by Governor Ann Richards) to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice and she helped introduce restorative justice programs to the massive Texas criminal justice system. Later, she worked for former Travis County DA Ronnie Earle as the office’s Victim Services liaison, directing victim-offender dialogues prior to sentencing, one of the early efforts in the nation of a public prosecutor’s office using restorative principles.

Ellen and Gov. Ann Richards – 1991

Ellen Halbert is now retired, but her work and the telling of her story have brought healing to thousands.

Many wounded healers, like Ellen Halbert, are advocates for restorative justice principles which help repair the harm produced by wrongdoing. Additionally, these practices have the power to pacify the ingrained human tendency toward revenge.


T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).

American Nations – Book Review

Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Penguin, 2011) was late to get on my radar. The 300-plus page historical synthesis has suffered no loss of vitality almost a decade after publication – like any good work of history, it helps readers better understand the current day. If you still scratch your head trying to figure out how the same electorate elevated both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, in consecutive cycles, no less – I recommend that you add American Nations to your reading list.

Having grown up in the Chicago area, with family ties in rural Minnesota, I was intrigued to discover to which “nation” my family heritage best aligned. With a quick glance at the book’s cover map, I eliminated “Deep South” and “Greater Appalachia.”  Standing out to me was “The Midlands,” a swath of land in the Upper-Midwest stretching from Pennsylvania to Nebraska. I was surprised to discover, as I began to read Woodard’s descriptions, that “Yankeedom” best fit my family heritage. “From the outset, [Yankeedom] was a culture that put great emphasis on education . . . and the pursuit of the ‘greater good’ of the community . . . Yankees have the greatest faith in the potential of the government to improve people’s lives, tending to see it as an extension of the citizenry, and a vital bulwark against the schemes of grasping aristocrats, corporations, or outside powers” (p. 5, paperback). A few other descriptors used by Woodard to describe “Yankees” touch on values I hold dear: “egalitarian,” vocation as “divine calling,” and opposition to “inherited privilege” and “conspicuous displays of wealth.” Yup, I’m Yankee to the core.

With support from The Midlands, Yankeedom was the main combatant against the Deep South and its cousin nation “Tidewater” (coastal Carolinas) in the Civil War. The fundamental disagreements that fueled that war have remnants that yet hold sway in American society. Woodard explains these on pages 55-56, by his careful contrast of liberty with freedom. Liberty, as understood by nineteenth-century Deep South culture, was a privilege – not a right – that few were granted. Virginian John Randolph (1773-1833) summed it up best: “I’m an aristocrat. I love liberty. I hate equality.”

Freedom, on the other hand, was understood by Yankeedom as a birthright of all peoples – no exceptions. Differences may have existed in status and wealth, but all were “born free” and equal before the law.

These differing understandings led to a bloody war in 1861. Today, the current strains of these understandings brace the battles about voting rights and restrictions, labor laws and worker rights, support of public school systems, taxation of the wealthy, and the expansion of health care. Consider the near fifty-year-old issue of ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment: not one state of the Deep South nation bloc (excluding Texas) has voted for its approval.

Texas is a thoroughly hybrid state, as Woodard writes, with its southeastern and cotton-growing region part of the Deep South nation, its northern half part of the Appalachian nation, and its southwestern expanse paralleling the Mexican border part of “El Norte.”

I’ve lived most of my adult life in El Norte, arriving (and staying) because of my facility in the Spanish language. Woodard describes El Norte, which includes parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Southern California, as historically independent, adaptable, and work-centered. Woodard predicts that the bloc that wins the allegiance of El Norte will move forward in political gains in the first part of the twenty-first century. Perhaps a Yankee-El Norte ticket in 2020 – Joe Biden and Michelle Lujan Grisham (governor of New Mexico) or Catherine Cortez Masto (US Senator from Nevada) – has a chance to defeat the incumbent “New Amsterdam”-Greater Appalachia ticket, with Deep South allegiance – Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

I’ll close with a Woodard observation (page 318) that pits, like 160 years ago, Yankeedom versus Deep South. Unlike many other countries that have religion or ethnicity holding them together as a commonality, the United States is held together by its central government and its institutions: Congress, federal courts, military branches, national agencies. Woodard warns that this one nation won’t survive if the separation of church and state is weakened or abolished, if political ideologues overwhelm the Justice Department or the Supreme Court, or if open debate is squelched by hyperpartisan divides that erode congressional rules designed to uphold ideas to public scrutiny.

Our “oneness” as a nation is tenuous. Compromise, a disparaged word in this hyperpartisan age, is shown by American Nations to be a unifying force. Our differences will remain. Our nation’s future will be determined by our willingness to either fight about them or live with them.


T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).

Link to my entire book review list

Light Scattering Darkness

Published in the Austin American-Statesman on June 13, 2020

Darkness and light. Their daily and seasonal dance mirrors our own movements in and about the two realms.

This past December in our South Austin neighborhood, some of our neighbors wrapped holiday lights around tree trunks and others draped overhangs with icicle lights. My wife placed electric candlelights in our five front windows that face the street. Even though fewer neighbors placed lights than in previous years, light shone forth and vanquished the night darkness nonetheless.

I needed those December lights to shine. A number of folks in our society – some leaning left and others right of the political divide – agree that we are living in dark and difficult days. The coronavirus pandemic by itself causes many of us to shudder and fear. But these pre-pandemic problems haven’t disappeared: hyper-partisan divides, stagnant social and economic inequalities, an erosion of humane values, and climatic changes. All of these issues combine to produce a general sense of gloom felt by many, myself included, for the future.

My focus on the future took on a personal enhancement because my wife, Denise, and I became new grandparents in the hot summer of 2019. As I rocked my months-old granddaughter in my arms toward the end of last year, I was struck by how often and easily she smiled back at me. I wondered as I smiled back at her: Doesn’t she know about all the problems going on in the world today? Doesn’t she know about the potentially perilous state of the future? How is it that she can smile while the world despairs?

Of course, she doesn’t know about the world’s problems, nor does she have to know. One of her important tasks at this point in her little life is to smile at her grandfather, thereby reminding him that God is still at work sending divine light into the world – the type of light that vanquishes the darkness every single time.

Christians observe Advent during the short days (in the northern hemisphere) of light in December, waiting in celebration for the promised light of Christ to arrive and vanquish the darkness in the world. Appropriately, my granddaughter’s smile of light graced the sermons that I gave at different churches in December. Congregants smiled back at me as I explained my theological interpretation of her smile, based in the words of the Christian Testament: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is not able to overcome it” (John 1:5).

Maybe times have always been this difficult. Five or ten years from now, hindsight will reveal whether these current days are truly as difficult as they seem to some of us.

Yet we know that fellow humans in past times suffered and endured much worse than what we are living through today. How did they hold onto hope in the midst of difficulty? As do we, they saw the sun rise in the morning and scatter the darkness. The daily cycle of darkness and light infuses the human soul with life and hope because it affirms the possibility of change within the larger frame of stability. Such is our hope: life goes on, large-scale chaos doesn’t rule, each day holds the potential of a new start.

And now the spring sun coaxes the blooming of wildflowers as the days lengthen. The seasonal darkness of winter has faded away and the flowers gracing my yard – bluebonnets, poppies, lilies and roses – reflect in a transformed state the invigorating light that called them forth.

Soon I will hold my granddaughter again and we will both smile for a camera in front of the flowers. Captured will be a perfect picture of light, flourishing beauty, and vulnerable grace. Our hope for the future is yet alive as the light continues to shine.


T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).

Link to my book review list

Link to published articles

The Completion of a Great Idea

Note: It’s been a year since Balm came out. For those who haven’t read this account just prior to the book’s release, I alternatively call this the book’s “Fourth Epilogue.” Enjoy.

Inside a fellowship hall of a church in Austin, Texas, twenty-five people sit upon folding chairs arranged in a horseshoe pattern around a wooden podium. One at a time, they introduce themselves to the rest of the group. The open-circle gathering consists of educators, a licensed counselor, lawyers, prison ministry advocates, pastors, a cop, and criminal justice employees. The release of a new book, There is a Balm in Huntsville, has brought them together. All of them either had a part in its story or a hand in the book’s production.

The book tells the tale of a tragic drunk-driving wreck and its adverse consequences for the families of two teenagers who perished in the wreck and for the perpetrator who pleaded guilty at his trial and received a prison sentence of forty years. But there’s much more to the story than destruction and pain. Through two prison programs—one institutionally created, and the other a prison ministry—hope and healing emerged for the perpetrator and for some of those affected by the wreck, from the places of the story’s deepest darkness.

It was my idea as the author of the book to gather the group and to host this private event. But it wasn’t my idea originally to write or produce the book. That idea was hatched, eighteen years ago, by the perpetrator of the drunk-driving wreck and one of his crime victims when they met face to face in the chapel of the Walls Unit prison in Huntsville, Texas.

Yes, a face-to-face meeting between an offender and his crime victim—in the prison.

Andrew Papke, the perpetrator, and Martha Early (now Moffett), the mother of Bethany Early who died in the wreck, met face to face in a program instituted by the Texas criminal justice system called “Victim-Offender Dialogue.” During their meeting, supervised by a Texas criminal justice system employee of its Victim Services Division, the two adversaries came up with their book idea. To understand how I came to write the book—eighteen years later—you’ll have to read through the story and continue to the book’s Epilogue section.

Among the twenty-five persons at the gathering in the Austin church are Andrew Papke and Martha Moffett—face to face again after their last encounter in a prison fifteen years ago.

After the introductions, I stand at the podium and thank Andrew and Martha for their idea to write a book of God’s ability to reach down into a horrible situation and produce some good from it. My primary hope for the book, I tell them and the group, is for its readers to know about the healing possibilities of restorative justice.

Andrew Papke addresses the group. He speaks of his regret, still fresh more than two decades later, for what he did. But he also acknowledges, moments later, the healing power that came to him through the process of the Victim-Offender Dialogue program and his participation in a prison ministry called Bridges To Life. He calls out the people in the horseshoe circle who work or worked in those programs and helped bring about his healing: David Doerfler, Raven Kazen, and John Sage. He also acknowledges Lisa Looger, a formidable criminal justice system employee, who passed away in 2004. Andrew shares with the group that he decided to give me the go-ahead to work on this book project toward the end of 2016 because, if Lisa Looger was still around, she’d have told Andrew to go forward with it.

After Andrew finishes his remarks, I return to the podium only for a moment to tell the group that the floor is theirs—open-mic style.

David Doerfler, who developed the Victim-Offender Dialogue program for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, addresses the group. Doerfler is now retired, but the fire in his soul that guided him to create the face-to-face dialogue program, the first of its kind in the nation, still burns.

“This dialogue program didn’t come from me. It came from victims who struggled to stay alive, who, somehow, were able to keep going in the midst of their pain.”

“Healing,” he says, “is about holding opposites together—about facing the pain. Sometimes solutions are found within the problem.” He looks at Andrew and invokes the memories of the two teenagers who lost their lives from his horrible mistake the summer 1996.

“I believe, Andy, that they are urging you on to continue to tell your story.”

Raven Kazen, a woman with a vibrant spirit and a generously commanding tone, addresses the group after Doerfler. Even though she retired from directing the Victim Services Division in 2008, she, like Doerfler, still has a burning heart for crime victims and offenders who, like Papke, choose to take responsibility for their actions.

“The first time I met Andrew, I knew that he was sincere in his sorrow for what he had caused, and for his heartfelt desire to do something to make things right.” Kazen gives the group a bit of a history lesson and thanks crime victim extraordinaire and early-on Texas Board of Criminal Justice representative, Ellen Halbert, for all she did to help build up the Victim Services Division of Texas’s criminal justice system.

Kazen concludes her remarks by looking at Martha Moffett and thanks her for being a participant in the Victim-Offender Dialogue program. There’s nothing more Christ-like, Kazen says, than to forgive. “Martha, thank you for your extreme grace.”

John Sage, who founded the prison ministry Bridges To Life in response to the brutal murder of his sister, looks out at the group from the podium and tells them that none of them ever though they’d be part of what’s brought them all together this night. He explains that Bridges To Life brings offenders and surrogate crime victims together in the search of healing for crime victims, and of accountability for prisoners.

Sage looks at Raven Kazen and smiles: “She was the force that helped establish our prison ministry program.” He then looks at David Doerfler and calls him “the teacher” who taught Sage about “the inner spirit of what we were tying to do.” Doerfler’s guidance, Sage says, helped Bridges To Life attain its crystal-clear vision and mission.

Paul Diaz, a licensed family therapist and pastor, addresses the group from behind the podium and explains that he and Andy were good friends in high school. He turns to Andrew and says, “We were going down parallel paths of destruction in high school. One year after your wreck, I woke up after a rough night. My car was halfway in the grass, halfway in the street—I don’t even remember how I got home.

“That morning, I do remember having the distinct thought that the only difference in the beds that we’re sleeping in . . .” His voice trails off. He looks at his friend and says, “In you, I saw myself. I saw that I was fragile, and not bulletproof.”

Andrew’s experience, Diaz says, was more than a cautionary tale. It compelled him, after that rough night, to look for paths other than the one of destruction he had been favoring.

He continues to say that the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel, is one of his heroes. “Heschel says that ‘words create worlds.’”

Before the fires burned at Auschwitz, Paul Diaz says, there were hateful words that helped create the death camps. Heschel teaches us, he says, that we can, by the grace of God, use our words to create better places. “We’re not done creating. I love that you, Andy and Tim, are helping to create, with this book, a much better place—something different, a place of grace—with your words.”

He looks at both Andrew and Martha as he concludes his remarks.

“My life, in a large part, was impacted by your story twenty-two years ago when it happened. It hasn’t been for naught. I’m one, but there many more people who will be touched by your intersecting story.”

The two old high school friends embrace. Those in the group smile and clap.

A few months earlier, Andrew told me that Paul Diaz was the only friend from high school who kept in touch with him after his entry into prison.

The last speaker to take advantage of the open-mic is a woman named Kim Thonhoff. She and her young son were the two lone eye-witnesses to the wreck on South Brodie Lane that summer night in 1996. She tells the group that she’s been nervous for weeks about the gathering, and that she asked her regular Bible study partners for support and prayer in preparation of this event.

She tells the group of a dream that she had two days prior to this event. The number of nightmares she’s had the past twenty-plus years after the wreck have always centered upon moms—like Martha—having to deal with the devastating pain of losing a child.

This most recent dream, she offers, is perhaps an answer to the prayers of her friends.

She explains that she’s at the same wreck event once again. As she walks out of her van to approach the wreck scene, she’s surrounded by harmless glass falling all around her in slow motion, with the light of a full moon glistening in the glass. The glass then becomes incredibly bright—it takes on a radiance she can’t describe. It’s as if a blanket is coming down and there’s no sadness, nothing shattered, no one dead. The other-worldly bright blanket of healing, she says, covers everything.

She pauses in her retelling, smiles and wipes away a tear.

She then says that she woke up with the most profound peace and energy, and most importantly, she felt good about coming here tonight. She says that she wants the rest of us to have this same indescribable peace and undeniable hope that she’s experienced.

The room is silent. The silence isn’t an uncomfortable one, but a concluding one. We’ve been together for more than two hours.

After a few more silent moments, I approach the podium one last time. I invite all to stand and join together in the Serenity Prayer.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.


T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).

Link to my book review list

Mom’s Dresser and Writing

The phone rang interrupting the morning quiet in our family’s suburban Chicago home. It was my mom on the line: Would my brother and I drive over the van to retrieve an old dresser that she had seen at a garage sale? Sure, I said. She was at work; my brother Mark and I were hanging out at the house not due at our own jobs for another few hours. We got in our family’s ’76 Chevy Beauville and made the ten minute jaunt to the part of town where some old gem piece of furniture had caught my mom’s eye. When Mark and I saw the dresser, we busted out laughing. We didn’t see any beauty – the dresser was old, darkened, ugly, shoddy, and neglected. The top of the dresser was a pock-marked and gouged mess. My mom had paid all of $5 for it. Ha! We didn’t know what was funnier: the dilapidated dresser itself or that she had paid only $5. We laughed the whole way home as the Beauville trudged back through town with its disputed treasure.

Mark and I were on summer break from college when we heeded our mom’s request. Soon enough, however, we were back at school and away from home. Unbeknownst to us, our mom was slowly and patiently working on that dresser. The fall becoming winter is a great time in the Upper Midwest to work away on a time-consuming project in the garage or basement. Mom painstakingly stripped off the old varnish (the dresser boasted ample intricate wood cuttings and carvings which I had not noticed), sanded and stripped some more, had our dad cover (and then router) the top with durable Formica, and applied multiple coats of polyurethane to all of the outer wood.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, I happened upon a new dresser in the basement. It was beautiful. A mariner theme with wood carvings of rope, rudders, and a sailboat stood out from this carefully constructed piece of furniture. When I saw my mom a bit later, I asked her where she got the new dresser. Now it was her turn to laugh at me. It was the old $5 gem, newly reconstructed by my mom. I was stunned.

Years later when my wife and I moved to Houston, my mom was kind enough to let us borrow the mariner dresser for our household with three growing children. We had the dresser for six years or so while we were in Houston. The dresser is now back in the Chicago area at my sister’s house and in the room of my nephew Miles.


There’s something about how my mom worked on that dresser that relates to the process of writing a book. It took me the better part of three years to research, write, and publish my first book, Just a Little Bit More. My second book, There is a Balm in Huntsville, had a two-year incubation period. While writing a book is more involved than rehabbing a piece of furniture, the same principles apply.

Occasionally I look back with a touch of astonishment on the work and effort required of me to produce two books. Braggadocio aside – the combination of perseverance and passion can produce improbable results. As I remember my mom’s dresser, I can see where I got some of that perseverance . . . from her. In addition to rehabbing furniture, my mom specialized in two other creative tasks requiring patience and steadfastness: sewing and quilting. She made numerous blankets, bedcovers, quilts, and clothing items that have blessed the lives of her six children and their spouses, her sixteen grandchildren, and many others – via Lutheran World Relief’s quilting program – throughout the world.

It’s cliché to exalt the philosophy of one step at a time and one day at a time. Another way to express the wisdom inherent to those clichés: sometimes slow is fast. In an instant gratification society, putting work into a long term project (like a refinished dresser or a book) might seem wasteful and inefficient. Isn’t there a shortcut or an easier way? Not always – sometimes slow is fast, and the resultant quality reveals, for those who look carefully, an enduring legacy of commitment and passion.

My mom, Mary Ann Anderson, with grandchildren Miles (atop the dresser) and Alex (my daughter)


Note: I originally wrote this story in 2014, after the publication of my first book. I’ve updated it at this time, now four years after my mom’s passing in 2016. My mom is still incredibly missed by her large family and many friends, but her legacy of good work, service and love lives on.

T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).

Reading & Writing

During my adult years, I’ve been a reader. I had a lot of assigned reading while in seminary – most (but certainly not all) of which I completed. Upon finishing graduate school, I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of reading what I wanted. This freedom lasted for some twenty years. While I do read fiction, I’m an incorrigible non-fiction devotee. Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and Daniel Yergin’s The Prize are but a few of the captivating books I delved into over those twenty years. Reading a book is akin to having a conversation with another human being: a deep, meaningful, and thought-out exchange that as the reader I am able to conduct on my time. (Yes, I’m that person who carries a book around most everywhere.)

Reading – banks of the Frio River in SW Texas, 2011

In the summer of 2011, the twenty-year run of potpourri non-fiction reading came to an end. A crazy idea which I had never entertained started to take hold: write a book. Not just any book, but a book that responded to the fallout associated with the economic swoon that started with the housing market crash of 2007-08. As the details emerged, once again our society was dealing with the aftereffects of the inordinate love of money and misplaced trust in an economic system still prone to collapses. The so-called experts had been telling us that we had entered a new era of stability. They were wrong. Hadn’t we seen this before in the run-up to the Great Depression?

I started reading – by my own assignation – all I could that covered the topics of how the economy crashed once again: banking, history, economics, commentary. I talked with colleagues and friends about my idea. Most were enthusiastic and responded with further suggestions. The idea of what I wanted to write began to form . . . something along the lines of societal excess, inequality, and over-consumption. As I researched, I kept looking for the book that I wanted to write – to see if someone else had already written it. In those first number of months of heavy reading, I didn’t find it. I started writing. My reading and research continued as I wrote. All the while, I still spied for the book I was writing. I came across some that were close to it, covering similar territory. I never found it, however.

Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good was published in May 2014. In it, I stated my case: American society, increasingly stratified economically, was losing touch with an egalitarian-fused common good. Now in 2020, it’s even more so the case. I’ll be eternally grateful to Greg Pierce, publisher and owner of ACTA-Chicago, for picking up my self-published book for national distribution.

During 2017, I took a “self-imposed sabbatical” from church work. I had served dual-language congregations in Texas for more than twenty-five years and wanted to write another book. The end result of a fifteen-month sabbatical was There is a Balm in Huntsville. I’m grateful to my spouse, Denise Anderson, for supporting our household while I researched and wrote for all of 2017 and a few months into 2018. I’m also grateful to principal character in the book who shared his heart and soul with me over a two-year period – his transformation (and many others’) made possible by crime victim survivors who shared their stories and criminal justice professionals who dedicated their skillsets to the goal of rehabilitation.

Balm‘s been out for a year now. I’ve heard from many readers, who have become participants in a meaningful conversation about second chances, retribution and rehabilitation, forgiveness, and making amends. I trust these conversations will continue for some time. I’m grateful.

I’ve started to think about my next book, based on some thoughts and convictions I’ve shared before in this very blog space – a “Jesus book.” You wouldn’t expect anything less from a preacher, would you? Like my two previous books, this one will advance the conversation in our society about this crucial topic: How do people in a society who are divided ideologically find common ground (or can they?)

Keep reading, friends.


T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).

Welcome

Welcome to my new website. I’ve been writing for public consumption since 2013 and this website has links to most of my work since that time: blog posts in support of both of my books, faith-related and op-ed newspaper articles, and other pieces that I’ve had published.

You’ll also find my book review list linked here – soon to be living, breathing and expanding on this website.

I like to tell important stories. That’s not to say that other writers don’t tell compelling stories. I’m an incorrigible non-fiction reader and most all of my writing flows out of the research and work I do as a socially-minded minister. Like many of you, I live with the impression that we only have so much time in this place: Why not spend it doing the best you can do to share love, call out and stand up to bullshit, and try to leave this place in a better spot before your turn to exit approaches?


T. Carlos “Tim” Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of a dozen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin, Texas. I’m also the author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (Walnut Street Books, 2019).