Thursday, March 08, 2012

Meet Michael White-Author, Entrepreneur, Minister, Chaplain

Interview by ~Mary as it appears in this month's edition of The Wordsmith Journal.

Last month, we were introduced to Michael White, author of A Time For Everything, a book detailing the incredible story of Kevin Zimmerman. Although the process was difficult, he admits that “The finished product bears true witness and evidence that God was indeed involved every step of the way.” As we continue our interview with White, it is evident that his ambition is motivated by an energy common among leaders. His influence is far reaching, impacting a broader audience than just his readers. Although founder and editor of Parson Place Press, Chaplain for the Alabama Army National Guard, and preacher of the gospel for nearly 34 years, his effectiveness does not reside in those titles alone. He is driven with the predictability that with God, all things are possible.

MN-As founder and managing editor of Parson Place Press, what does your company have to offer authors that other publishers lack?

MW-As the sole proprietor of Parson Place Press, I offer first-time authors, in particular, the opportunity to have their work considered for publication, although I will certainly consider previously published authors’ work, too. I established Parson Place Press back in April 2006 for a couple of reasons. First, I was tired of receiving rejection slips of my own, and second, after I browsed a number of other Christian publishers’ Web sites, I learned that they had effectively shut the door in the face of first-time authors by limiting the proposals they would consider to those who were either current clients or recommended by a current client or represented by an agent! That for me was kind of “the last straw,” so to speak. Therefore, I wanted to restore the freedom and hope of unknown and/or first-time authors to at least have their work considered before they were turned away from their dream of being published. However, I’ve spent so much time publishing other authors’ works that I haven’t spent very much time writing my own books!

MN-I noticed that you have created a website for Perry Thomas. Is this service something you offer your authors or a separate business all together?

MW-HTML programming is a self-taught skill I learned back in 1995. I have created several sites both for myself and for others over the years. I’m not exactly an expert, but I am somewhere in the mid- to upper-intermediate level, I think. Since Perry Thomas didn’t have a Web site, I offered to create a somewhat simple one for him, as a personal favor, you might say.

Referring back to your previous question, the personal touch (like this) is another benefit authors can expect from Parson Place Press. However, if more authors request my help with this in the future, I may begin to charge a nominal fee to offset my time expenditure. Though I don’t have a separate business for this, it is something I might consider starting.

MN-As a homeschooling Mom looking over the website, it appears as if a lot of the books that have been published by PPP would be ideal for homeschoolers since they are based on the biographies of Christians, or accurately depict history. Would you consider the books published by PPP to be family oriented and possibly advise using them for schooling or family devotional purposes?

MW-Some of Parson Place Press’ published titles most definitely lend themselves very easily to the academic setting, including homeschooling. In fact, Louisa, the very first book I published (initially in hard cover, and then in paperback a year later) has an accompanying teacher’s guide called The Resource Book for Louisa: A Guide for Teachers. I even have a special order page for educators. It has been recommended by Bethany LeBedz, a homeschooling Mom, who also blogged about it on her blog. She helped me make a couple of other homeschool periodical and review contacts. Before that, I had purchased an ad spot in The 2011 Home School Magazine Business Directory.

I’m currently urging Perry Thomas to write a teacher’s guide for his recent publication, From Slave to Governor: the Unlikely Life of Lott Cary. Furthermore, Louisa and The Resource Book for Louisa are currently under consideration by the Board of Education for the State of Alabama and by the Director of Education for Catholic Schools in Hawaii as a potential curriculum for middle school students. Say a prayer that these will be approved, because that will open the door for others to do the same!

MN-Tell me about your military career and how it led to your service as an Army chaplain.

MW-I publicly answered God’s call upon my life to preach the Gospel just two days before I turned 17 years old. I enlisted in the Army as a Chaplain’s Assistant in 1981 at 20 years old, and then I got married as soon as I finished all my initial entry training. Basically, since I needed two more years to complete my undergraduate degree at the time, and I didn’t want to wait to get married, I joined the Army to support my new wife (who is also an “Army brat,” by the way). While serving as a Chaplain’s Assistant, I got to observe firsthand what chaplains do. After some thought and prayer, I sensed God leading me into a career in the Army as a chaplain. I have spent the next 27 years since then either preparing for service or actively serving in both the active duty component and in the Alabama Army National Guard (and even six months in the Army Reserve) as a chaplain. It has been a lifelong journey, but I will be officially retired from the Alabama Army National Guard with just under 31 years of service as of 28 February 2012.

MN-Many believe that unless you are on the front lines, military life isn’t all that stressful. True or false in your experience?

MW-Naturally, stress can come from a variety of sources. While combat stress and post-traumatic stress may be more intense than other sources, it does not negate the effects of stress in other areas. I have both counseled Soldiers and personally experienced stress from a wide variety of causes ranging from meeting physical training requirements to meeting other regulatory standards and trying to keep your superiors satisfied with your job performance. It’s also somewhat stressful just knowing that you’re at the beck and call of your country every time a new hot spot opens up in the world. In all my years of military service, I have somehow missed being deployed to a combat zone, but I have experienced other stresses of training for combat and, once I became a chaplain, of counseling Soldiers who had participated in combat.

I would say that military life is stressful in general, and that stress just increases exponentially in preparation for, participating in, and recovery from combat service, whether you actually have to engage the enemy personally or not. It’s very hard on families of troops, too, because of long separations and missed holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. Military service as a career requires a special dedication and commitment by both the service member and his or her family to see it through to the end.

MN-You have been a minister for over thirty years now. How have social situations and family issues changed over the course of three decades?

MW-It seems to me that families have gradually grown less cohesive over the past three decades, with everyone pretty much doing his or her own thing. Parental discipline of children is much different now than 30 years ago, too. I’m still a firm believer in carefully controlled and measured corporal punishment as outlined in the Scriptures (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13-14; and 29:15), both at home and in school, but parents are afraid to do that nowadays lest someone report them and have their children taken away from them. As a result, children are far less well-behaved and self-disciplined now than in previous generations. Even God chastens those He loves (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Social situations have changed even more noticeably. Crude, obscene and profane language and gestures that used to be reserved for “R” and “X” rated movies have crept further and further into the protected realm of “family-friendly” viewing, both at the theater and on television. It’s sometimes a challenge nowadays to watch even a newscast without being subjected to at least one of these assaults on sensibility. In fact, even the annual Super Bowl has to deal with this threat every year during its infamous half-time show. While most Americans, and that certainly includes a large chunk of the 75% of Americans who claim to be Christian, have grown so accustomed to hearing/seeing these things that they don’t even notice or flinch, the few of us who are still insulted and offended by it must continue to suffer through it. Moreover, the sensitive issues discussed in commercials for everything from certain pharmaceuticals to personal hygiene products makes watching them in mixed company quite uncomfortable. Therefore, I’ve quit watching anything on secular TV except the news and an occasional home improvement show, which my wife enjoys and invites me to watch with her. Even then, you’re likely to hear certain profane words that are now considered socially acceptable on TV. I watch mostly Christian TV programming now, or else I just turn off the TV altogether. This is only scratching the surface of both social and family cultural changes in my lifetime, of course, but these are the first things that come to my mind in response to your question.

MN-I have noticed just over the last twenty years that a major problem the church faces is in teaching morality to the youth. Society dictates morality is a personal choice and because it imposes tolerance, unless you break the law of the land, morality is an option instead of a mandatory code of ethics. What can parents and church leaders do to instill a strong sense of morality in the next generation when they are bombarded with the message that it does not matter and is not relevant in the real world?

MW-The people of God have faced this onslaught against their religious and moral underpinnings since the earliest biblical times, because our enemy remains the same. Satan is our enemy because he is God’s enemy. We shouldn’t be so surprised at this. The only antidote to the social pressure to relax personal moral standards is the Word of God. While social norms strain away from the standard of conduct God has outlined in the Scriptures, godly Christian people, both in the home and in the church, will continue pointing to and using the Bible as the moral standard for living, not only for the children they train up (Proverbs 22:6), but for their own lives, too. If we ever leave off the continual reading and obeying of God’s Word, more than just our religious and moral convictions will fall by the wayside. The reason both our Christian homes and our churches are falling apart or drifting away from God’s standard these days is because we as a Christian culture have abandoned the Word of God as our fundamental standard for living.

MN-Not only are you the founder of a successful publisher, minister, and former servant to our country, you are also an author. Tell our readers about your books.

MW-I have longed to be a published author almost my entire life. I remember reading books as a young elementary-age student and being so drawn into the fictional and biographical stories I read that I wanted to participate in writing stories of my own. I have yet to publish a fictional work of my own, though I am presently working on a collection of my poetry for release later this year.

As I grew older and became a minister, I have felt drawn more towards non-fiction writing. I have thus far published one non-fiction book titled Digital Evangelism: You Can Do It, Too! (self-published first in 2004, then revised and expanded and republished in a second edition by Parson Place Press in April 2011); one biography of a living retired Army medic titled A Time for Everything: the Kevin Zimmerman Story (published first in 2008 by Parson Place Press and then updated for a second edition and republished by Parson Place Press in January 2012); and my latest non-fiction book, Seven Keys to Effective Prayer, which I will be releasing in March 2012. I am very excited over each of my published books, and I have high hopes to write and publish even more books in the future, in addition to continuing to offer other authors the same joy of being published by Parson Place Press.

Besides these books, I have also authored a number of articles and devotional thoughts through the years, which I’ve collected and published on my personal web site. Also, one happy spin-off from one of my books is a monthly column I now write for Christian Computing Magazine, in which I address a variety of ways to do digital evangelism. The column is titled, aptly enough, Digital Evangelism.

MN-I laughed when someone once told me that being a writer was a job for lazy people. Their perception of a writer’s life was that you sit at the computer drinking coffee and eating junk food while words flow effortless on screen, and the manuscript is always picked up by the first publisher. Tell the truth. What is the life of a writer really like?

MW-I’m sure the experience is both different and alike for every writer. By that I mean that it is different for every writer because each writer has his or her own style and approach to the writing process. It is alike for every writer in that every writer must wrestle at some time or other with writer’s block, the distracting demands of life (such as paying bills, raising children, acceding to the wishes of family and friends, and so forth), and rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting until the words sound “right.” After you feel you finally have the writing right, the next step may prove to be the hardest of all: finding a willing publisher. Unless or until a writer lands a contract with a publisher which has global clout with the reading public, to include the media (and that usually requires several years and plenty of marketing savvy to build), and unless or until that renowned publisher happens to succeed at getting the cooperation of the media in promoting this newly published work, so that it funnels in tons of cash in sales, writing is likely to be a fairly low-key, low-paid proposition/profession, assuming the writer can even land a decent job (usually in journalism) which pays enough that he or she can actually rely upon it as an income-producing profession.

Writing sounds glamorous, but that is true only, and I do mean only, if the writer lands that one-in-a-million success story, like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I use her as an example of surprising financial and media success only, however, and by no means do I condone either her stories or her lifestyle. Truly, the life of a writer is most often anything but glamorous and hugely profitable. It may permit you to pay your bills, but it likely won’t enable you to live lavishly. It’s very hard work, and those who think it’s a lazy person’s profession should simply try their hand at making a living at it for just six months or a year. That should disabuse them of such a ludicrous notion!

MN-We have now entered the season of Lent-the time period leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. Do you have any personal Lent traditions you follow annually?

MW-In years past, when I was the full-time pastor of a United Methodist congregation, I usually conducted an Ash Wednesday Service and encouraged my people to join me in both solemn reflection upon the passion and sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in the practice of fasting. If they were unable or unwilling to fast, I encouraged them to give up something important to them for the duration of Lent. I would then conclude the Season of Lent with a Good Friday Tenebrae Service, which included commenting on the seven last sayings of Jesus on the cross, singing a correlated hymn for each saying, and nailing with small spikes our personal (anonymous) confessions to a full-sized wooden cross. I removed the confessions immediately after the service, prayed over them collectively, and shredded them into the trash. Then on Resurrection Sunday, I conducted a Sunrise Service and a regular worship service which included flowering of the cross (the same cross that bore our sins just two days earlier).

Since I retired from the United Methodist Church in December 2011, with the intent of establishing a new non-denominational ministry at God’s behest, I am presently waiting for the Lord to reveal to me the location here in Mobile, Alabama, for this new ministry. As I respond to your questions, today is Ash Wednesday 2012, though I have done a little revising on the next couple of days following. Nevertheless, I started Ash Wednesday with prayer and Scripture reading, as I do nearly every day, and I spent the remainder of the day in fasting and carrying on my normal routine, as Jesus charged us to do when we fast in Matthew 6:16-18. I will probably choose at least day one per week during Lent to fast as a personal sacrifice in acknowledgement of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for me. That is pretty much my personal tradition.

MN-Complete this sentence. Without God......

MW-Without God nothing would exist, because God is the Source of all things. It goes without saying then that I would have no hope, joy, or peace, since I would not exist either.