James Randall O’Brien is an author, pastor, speaker, former professor and provost of Baylor University, and president emeritus of Carson-Newman University. A native of the storytelling South, he grew up in McComb, Mississippi, playing baseball, fishing, and swapping yarns. O’Brien is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mississippi College; he is also a decorated Vietnam War veteran, husband to his college sweetheart, and father of three adult children and five grandchildren. He and his wife, Kay, live in Ames, Iowa.
What were you hoping to achieve with your new book, Would Moses Throw a Chair?
I was hoping to achieve international acclaim, wealth requiring a Swiss Bank Account Number, and the fulfillment of saving the world. Should fame and fortune elude me, however, I am willing to settle for the joy of telling my stories to fine folk, who love a good story told by the fire.
How did you come to write a book centered on short stories? How did you choose which stories to include, especially those that aren’t necessarily your own?
Jesus told stories. I figure he was smarter than I. So, maybe I should do things his way. In seminary we learned Hebrew and Greek. I still love those biblical languages. But my guess is Jesus knew them better than I. Yet, in teaching others how to live, he never seemed to say, “In the original Greek . . . .” Rather, he told stories. I thought I might try that. The stories chosen for inclusion may lead us to reflect on how to live, and how not to. That is my hope.
Can you talk a little about the structure of your book? How and why did you choose to separate the sections/themes as you did?
We are all connected by our common needs, desires, failings, loves, disappointments, struggles, and hope, aren’t we? Contemplating our shared human pilgrimage, experiences involving love, hard times, hypocrisy, forgiveness, gratitude, surprise, death, and redemption come to mind. So why not journey and process these paths together, right? And what better way to do that than with stories?