Gregory Funderburk is a pastoral care minister, a lawyer, and a writer. He’s the author of The Mourning Wave, a novel about the Galveston storm of 1900 that was included on Kirkus Review’s “Best of 2020: Our Favorite lndie Books” list and named one of its Best lndie Debut Novels of 2020. A compilation of Greg’s essays titled Let It Be Said We’ve Borne It Well was published in 2021 by Smyth & Helwys in the midst of the pandemic. He lives in Houston with his wife, Kelly. They have two sons, Hank and Charlie.
What were you hoping to accomplish when you sat down to write Hurdles: An Authentic Pursuit of God in a Post-Pandemic World? Written and published only a year after Let It Be Said We’ve Borne It Well, would you consider Hurdles be a continuation of your earlier book?
Both books emerged from an endeavour that began with the pandemic. In April of 2020, I started to write an essay per week for the congregation which I serve as a minister to buoy our spirits. The collection of essays generated for that purpose that became Let It Be Said, reflects the hard work we all did through the pandemic to remain hopeful and encouraged during a particularly difficult time. Hurdles is a continuation in the sense that these essays too came into being writing for the church, but its theme is that, even as the pandemic wanes, in a very real sense, we’re always going to be facing challenges— it’s simply the nature of our lives. Both books are dosed heavily not only with Gospel ideas, but Stoic philosophy, to help us frame our lives in a positive way despite the trials we always find ourselves in the midst of.
Whether it is based off a timeframe of the pandemic or something else entirely, how would you describe the differences of mindset when sitting down to start Let It Be Said versus Hurdles?
Because Let It Be Said began when the pandemic had just started, I was hoping and trusting that some thoughtful words each week might make a difference in how readers approached the challenges they were facing. But to tell the truth, I wasn’t completely sure it would have that effect. However, by the time I’d written a dozen or so, based on the feedback, I concluded there was some real power in simply reminding people of the value of adopting a hopeful rather than a pessimistic or even ambivalent approach to what we were all going through. By the time, I started writing what would coalesce into Hurdles, there was a higher level of confidence that this sort of hope and encouragement really can be difference-making. Hurdles reflects a renewed conviction of that.
How can we recognize or have confidence in the “authenticity” of pursuing a relationship with God?
Maybe a good question to ask ourselves every so often is this: am I generally coming to God as the person I want to be, or am I coming to God as the person I actually am. It’s good, vital even, to have aspirations of becoming better, truer—a more elevated soul—but trying to curate our image as we pursue God seems kind of pointless. The other thing I think we might do to cultivate an authentic pursuit of God is try to get away from some of the religious jargon we use in the context of our faith, but no where else in our lives. I think maybe that subtly but corrosively sets up a kind of split in our personality more than we might appreciate.
In your introduction you describe the organization of Hurdles to be split into three major sections: Technique, Training and Tenacity. As you describe them, the sections seem to be a sort of perspective guide for the reader. What motivated you to choose these markers and how do you hope they influence the reader’s experience?
They could be thought of as a regimen of sorts. The introduction itself I hope drives home the idea that we can think of life as a sprint or a marathon or some other sort of race (or race metaphor), but really the event we’re all in is the hurdles. That is, these obstacles we all face are not incidental to the race, but rather, they are the race. Once that concept is internalized—that we’re always going to have hurdles ahead of us—these three things—Technique, Training, Tenacity—are the things we need to traverse the course. First, we require some sort of idea about how to approach the hurdles we are up against, and the Technique section provides some reframing devices and suggestions on this. The Training section provides some notional concepts about habits we could develop to more reliably overcome the challenges we face. And finally, we just need tenacity—a fierce, ‘stick-to-it-ive-ness’ to keep going and going.
Hurdles is a treasure trove of anecdotes and relatable essays, but I was especially moved by the chapter, “The Twisties & the Yips.” How can we, as a people of faith and non-Olympic athletes, enter more fully into a post-pandemic world while taking the lessons we’ve learned in the pandemic with us, such as recognizing and encouraging our neighbor’s unacknowledged courage and fears?
I think this struck me in a very resonant way not too long ago when I was a little league baseball coach watching kids come up to bat in front of their friends, their classmates, their parents, their whole community really. For some of them, many of them probably, certainly at first, it must be terrifying, and I don’t think we give each other enough credit for such things as being brave in what we might think of as fairly common situations; that is, facing our fears down in the context of everyday life. It takes more than just a general empathy I think to spot what might seem in one sense ordinary but is really extraordinary. That is to say, I think we have a moral duty to look for such acts and highlight them when we see them occur. It’s a vision thing in other words.
On a more personal note, what nurtures your imagination? Would you share any advice on how others, or any of us, can reignite our imagination in a hopeful post-pandemic world?
While almost anything which takes me out of my normal day—a visit to a museum, travel, a movie, or a play—tends to change my perspective and spur my imagination, I also have this sort of whimsical, unprovable, but happy and hopeful theory about the ordinary, the routine. What if just maybe, there are metaphors all around us; that is, what if God is speaking, revealing the divine to us in all sorts of ways that we just don’t hear or can’t quite see because we’re just set up on the wrong frequency. We’re just a click or two off. It really doesn’t seem like a stretch to me to imagine that one day we’ll see our lives like one of those movies where near the end, in a sort of montage, several previous scenes are rolled back and shown again and we’ll then pick up on little but important things that somehow got by us. In retrospect, we won’t believe we missed them. Maybe approaching each day sensitive to the idea that God is actually broadcasting to us all the time is something that could reignite our imagination.