How is it Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Erskine Caldwell, James Dickey, Pat Conroy and the legacy of so many other great Southern authors have endured long after they left us? And, today Southern authors like Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Kathryn Stockett, Jeswyn Ward, Charles Frazier, Greg Iles, Charles Martin, Rick Bragg, and even John Grisham are still securing their legacy for future generations.
Let’s not forget the endless stream of fresh literary voices beckoning us with new Southern-laced literary works that supply the timeless and borderless demand for memorable flawed heroes, victims, and villains depicted in colorful Southern settings dealing with 21st-Century challenges and changes.
What constitutes a great Southern story?
First of all, truth be told, I don’t know how to write the next best-selling Southern Novel. Of course, if I did happen to know how, I’d be too busy writing it and more than likely have my eyes cast on writing at least three. Three best-selling Southern novels would leave the kind of legacy that any writer would only dream about. But at least I know one when I see one. That’s because really great best-selling Southern novels are discovered, not written. In fact, none of the aforementioned authors began writing the next great Southern novel. They merely wrote what resided within them to write.
The indelible mark of Southern Author
Being reared in the South leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul where inspiration and motivation sprouts from fertile memories, the good and the bad, to write compelling stories. Aspiring writers with souls stained and strained growing up in the South cannot write anything else worthwhile. Southern stories are written experientially. An author might learn the mechanics of creative writing, but no classroom can replicate growing up and experiencing life in the South. There’s no better fodder for storytelling than lending an ear to the tall-tales of folks spinning yarns in the South. Such tales may be heard eating dinner, attending church, getting a haircut at a local barbershop, or at a beauty parlor for the women-folk, but let’s not neglect sitting on a neighbor’s porch.
The Southern Author Is Too Polite to Name Names
I have learned one thing in my sixty-eight years, fiction is just the truth and reality wearing a mask and being stretched a might to be more palatable, and often more plausible. You see, more than not, the truth just ain’t as believable as the tall-tales that follow.
Now there are certain trademarks of any Southern story, they revolve around food, family, friendships, faith, and football. Right off, if any story fails to mention the sipping, swallowing, or gulping of sweet tea, consider it suspect right away. Also, in the South, a coke may not mean a Coca-Cola, and whiskey didn’t originate here, but it was perfected here. In fact, the tales of Cooter Brown’s perpetual drunkenness is a Southern-rooted legend.
Grits, gravy, and greens are menu staples, morning, noon and night. Anything else worth eating is also usually fried. Peaches, pecans, and peanuts are the foundation of many epic desserts too.
In the South, Change Arrives Reluctantly
It may be the 21st-Century, however, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” are not derisive retorts but words of respect to our elders. Boys and grown men instinctively grab the door for a woman or young lady. Now, that’s not saying Southern gals don’t have spunk. Lord, just rile a Southern girl and you’ll learn right quick they invented sass. They also know, you know, you likely deserved it.
The 21st-Century Southern woman exited the confines of the kitchen and no longer remains in the shadows cast by men. She forges her own identity in society and dares men to catch up to her.
Some Traditions Linger
Of course, when someone approaches on a backroad, there will be a casual exchange of raised fingers atop their respective steering wheels. It’s an evolution of the tradition that declares in the South no one stays a stranger for long. Handshakes and howdies transform strangers into friends whether visiting or just passing through. What has changed is the inclusion of women in those customary exchanges.
But Some Traditions Remain Steadfast in the South
Last but not least, it’s downright hard to distinguish faith from football conversations. They both can offer the same fervor. In the South, the Lord’s Day is Sunday and everyone agrees that God graces every church, small or large, but Saturday, God sports our team colors, sits on our side of the field and favors our victories.
Now there’s a heap more we could wrangle back and forth about on this subject, but I reckon you’ve got the gist. We may not always be able to plainly define it, but we sure know when we have read a great Southern novel. When we come to the last page and close the book we feel sad because it ended.
T. M. Brown
Coming May 5, 2020, Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest, book three in the Shiloh Mystery Series. Watch for more news about book three in the coming weeks. But I can tell you, Theo just can’t seem to avoid being in the middle of the threats to the peace and tranquility of lil’ ol’ Shiloh. Some family trees get shaken and familiar characters face life and death decisions in the next story.
September kicks off a busy Fall season of author events. My wife and I will be touring not only various venues in the Greater Atlanta area but also returning for a two-day author event with The Book Loft in Fernandina Beach and then back to my friends at The Bookshelf in Thomasville in the coming weeks. In the midst of it all, Hometown Novel Nights allows me to enjoy introducing and talking with new local authors before a growing curious audience in Hogansville and Newnan, Georgia. I also will be teaming up with my author-friend, Roger Johns in November for a discussion about “Our Enduring Fascination with Mystery & Suspense” at the new Story on the Square Bookstore in McDonough, Georgia.
My newest bookstore addition is right in my hometown of Newnan, Georgia with Southern Fried Books. and I’ll be signing books there September 20th during the Newnan Fall Art Walk. They have the largest inventory of my books too… Well, they are my exclusive hometown bookstore too. You can order signed copies from them to mailed to you as well.
Here’s my updated and latest schedule of Fall Author Events which gets fast and furious from here until Christmas.
Right after a potential reader sets their eyes on your book cover, the next critical test to pique the interest of the reader is page one of the story. Does it beg the reader to read more?
For this reason, I begin and end writing and editing with the first page. Like in real life, “first impressions matter” in establishing relationships. We don’t often get many second chances. Neither do our books should the first impression fail to pique a curious reader’s interest.
As an independent author, my books do not have the advertising and promotional blitz advantage afforded by the top publishers hawking their stable of best-selling authors. T. M. Brown does not have the name recognition of best-selling authors, such as Grisham, Patterson, Baldacci, Karon, Blackstock, etc. Like the myriad of other new books published this year, the majority lacking the deep pockets and name recognition, success boils down to passing the sensory appeal test.
What is the sensory appeal test? Does the book cover stand out when on display amongst the notable NYC published best sellers, or does it shrink almost unnoticed, overshadowed by more noticeable book covers?
Maybe its the competitive nature within me, but I desire my books to compete among the notables, the best-sellers. I prefer my books to be on the eye level front shelves in the bookstore; not relegated to shelves set aside in the back of the store. Why is that important? Okay, T. M. Brown is not a household name in the literary world, but when my book covers are displayed beside notable names that readers seek, Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories and Testament, An Unexpected Return are exposed to more potential readers. BUT, now the sensory appeal test begins.
When either of my book covers catches the eye of a perusing reader and they pause to slide the book off the shelf for a closer look, the reader’s keen senses in the next few seconds decide the fate of my book. Without the notoriety of the more familiar author Dan Brown, it is the front cover which then earns an extended feel of the book.
My publisher utilizes heavier stock paper to print its books, and it is noticeable to the feel. The reader then flips to the back cover and peruses the carefully edited snippets about the book. If the book cover has passed the initial sensory appeal test the reader invests another critical moment and thumbs through the pages before eyeing the first page. Those first 200 or so words reign supreme over the next few seconds as the reader weighs the quality of the content of this interesting new author’s novel. Should by chance the reader flip the page or closes the book but runs their hand over the cover once again, chances are a decision is underway. In that brief moment, the weight of the first page matters.
Now It’s Your Turn
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? How much time do you give to selecting out a good novel to read? Are you narrowly focused on tried and tested bestsellers? Are you a reader who more often than not feels dissatisfied by the novels being hyped and peddled by the big New York City publishing houses. Sadly, there is more and more pressure for the assembly production of novels by notable authors. They are easy to recognize because the author name takes up the top half of the front cover. They are promoting the author’s reputation, not the story inside.
So how do my books stack up? Do the first pages cause you to consider reading more?
In the third upcoming installment of my inspirational Southern mystery series, little ol’ Shiloh will be hosting their annual Spring festival, but I have struggled in providing the right name for the festival.
I decided to put aside naming it the Shiloh Cotton or Peanut Festival – they usually are Fall events anyway after the harvest. Camilla, GA hosts their Gnat Days Festival; Thomasville, GA has their Rose Festival; Azaleas are celebrated in Valdosta, GA; Fire Ants are welcomed in Ashburn, Ga. So after researching all the Spring festivals in South Georgia, it’s come down to naming Shiloh’s annual Spring festival either the Lightning Bug or Firefly Festival. However, even Theo and Liddy are in disagreement about what to call them luminous nighttime critters…
According to a linguistic study conducted at NC State (see the map below), most of Georgia as well as throughout the peanut & cotton Deep South, its a coin flip which term is most prevalent, but, as Theo argues, most of the South refer to them critters as lightning bugs.
Help me to name Shiloh’s Spring Festival.
Are you a lightning bug lover or a firefly person?
Green areas – predominantly firefly; Blue areas – predominantly lightning bug; Pink areas – interchangeable with names.
Your feedback will help Shiloh name its Spring Festival!
If you haven’t read either Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories or Testament, An Unexpected Return, head over to the bookstore page and take advantage of the free shipping offer on the paperback editions.
(Click the hot link above to see the full interview at the ACFW webpage)
By Tiffany Amber Stockton – July 2, 2018
T. M. “Mike” Brown has recently released his second novel, Testament, the sequel to the award-winning, Sanctuary.
Welcome, Mike. What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Life offers unexpected twists and turns, but God designed this roller coaster ride we refer to as life. At every twist and turn lies a choice to be made – some clear-cut and others not so much, but each decision usually rests between what is right and what may seem best. Whether what is right and what appears as best are compatible or in conflict, we should always trust what is right and allow God to use our circumstances for His glory, even if the choice embarks us onto an uncharted and uncertain path. It’s amazing how our faith strengthens when our future appears bleak, and shadows lurk at every turn we can see.
Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey?
Never allow your judgment to be clouded by fancy promises and lots of smiles and friendly handshakes. Do your due diligence. The publishing journey entails what appears to be unwelcome pitstops and painful advice. There are no shortcuts to success. Embrace the pitstops and opinions provided, and invest in and trust your editor. Proofread before you submit to your publisher and again after they hand you the advance reader copy of your book. Take the extra time to proof carefully. It’s kinda like inspecting your child before his or her first prom dance.
How do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture and affect your storytelling?
As a former preacher and teacher, my faith and spiritual walk played a sizable part in deciding my stories. I decided to write to the broad audience and use Southern small-town life as my setting so it would naturally interject some of my faith values and spiritual dilemma decision-making without preaching a good story. Those who have a firm church foundation will get a slightly different take on my stories than a non-churched reader. I have found this to be very accurate in book club discussions by the nature of the questions and responses shared. I am a firm believer that we should eagerly cross the bridge to meet people where they are at in life without casting judgment, and hopefully bonding on familiar ground. In the end, I pray those seeking God no matter their background will hear a message that helps them in their search.
On a quick note: The most memorable portions of the biblical narrative are not verbatim verses we struggle to memorize but the stories and parables we learn early in life that speak about God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.
What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
That is a tough one. Seems something new is around every corner. The celebrity aspect makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. However, a better answer would be the cumulative moments that have created memories of how my wife and family have been with me throughout the journey. Connie, my wife of the past 45 years, travels to every event and invests her talents to help make each event special for everyone we meet. For this reason, I believe the most significant moment of my writing/publishing lies yet around the next corner.
What have you learned from writing a sequel?
The sequel is always more comfortable to write than the first! There was so much I learned writing Sanctuary. First of all, I did not have a sequel in view when writing it. It wasn’t until some of my Beta readers urged me to write a sequel and my publisher then asked if I would consider it too. Thankfully, my editor and writing coach smiled and remained on board for the year it took to complete the sequel. A far cry from the nearly 2-1/2 years for the first.
What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?
I write what I know best. I love Southern time-lost towns. They offer the most intriguing settings and indeed the most entertaining character opportunities. Besides my father and his parents had country roots in Georgia, and through the writing of my stories I reconnected and recognized why my father raised us as he did through my siblings and me were raised in suburban settings and far from the countryside he used to talk about. I miss my father and grandfather but found in writing my stories many long-forgotten memories, and tall-tales about our family surfaced and became a part of my stories.
You have a significant amount of Biblical, theological, and literary history featured in the background story for Sanctuary. How did this passion for history come about?
One cannot look to the future without knowing where you have traveled from. I learned at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy, you plot your ship’s course beginning from where you’ve traveled to where you want to go. My love for history is quite the same. If you neglect the past, you’ll most likely make the same mistakes and continue to wander off course. In seminary, I majored in Church History which has helped me to teach biblical studies from the position of knowing the context of the biblical passages to understand and apply the content to life today. In Testament, I added more history to my little town of Shiloh because I believe, what has played out in the past ultimately shapes what and why the future reveals. It is writing the context to explain the content of the present story…
What led you to choose the genre in which you write?
My grandkids will read my stories more readily than my biblical writing and sermons, or any of my expository papers about my beliefs. So, as I said above, my wife reminded me the value of stories and parables which planted the seed for what turned out to become the Shiloh mystery stories.
Of course, someday I may sit down and rewrite to publish some of my biblical studies as I had planned, but for now, I’m enjoying entering lil’ ol’ Shiloh with all its colorful and quirky characters whispering in my head nearly every day. Besides, I can work through Dr. Arnie Wright, Shiloh’s Baptist preacher boy, to communicate valuable messages I’d like to share.
How do you feel the setting a small town differs from a more suburban or urban setting? What do small towns offer that the suburbs might not?
That’s easy. Faith, family, food, and yes, even football have a life of its own in a small southern town. Church-life is more social and connected by bonds of multi-generational families. Country cooking is the grease that spins tall-tales faster and spreads gossip further. Maybe it’s the sweet tea, peach cobbler, fried chicken, smoked ribs, grits, and handmade biscuits. Of course, cooking in the kitchen is an art, a way of life in the country that suburbanites or citified folks just don’t rightly understand. In the small-towns, life just moves at its own pace, and it’s the seasons, the sun rising and setting, and the weather that dictates what any particular day holds. In small-towns, knowing other people’s business ain’t being nosey, it’s just neighborly. As a result, there are less locked doors and more handshakes shared in small towns.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Sharing time with my family, mainly my five grandkids. They’re growing up faster with each new day. When not with the grandchildren, Connie and I enjoy our expanding author network and find opportunities to help other aspiring writers when we can.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Baldacci’s, The Fix right now, but Terry Kay’s, The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene is next up. Of course, my reading takes second place to my writing so I don’t read as much as I would like.
Finish this statement: In the future, I will…
Hopefully look down from heaven and smile as my granddaughter shares the book her “Poppy” wrote with her granddaughter. She’ll laugh as she points to where she makes her cameo appearances in my stories along with her brothers and cousins, and of course, “Grammy” too.
Any parting words?
Enjoy the journey on which you are engaged. Laugh at yourself and with others. Success is a journey, not a destination, and comes sans any shortcuts. Allow God the final word on all decisions you get to make in life.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic. Today, she has honed those skills to become an award-winning author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industries, helping others become their best from the inside out. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and son, and a Shiba Inu-mix named Nova. She has sold over 20 books so far, three of which have won annual reader’s choice awards. She is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. www.amberstockton.com.
Testament, An Unexpected Return (ISBN 9781641110846)
Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories (ISBN 9781641110730)
Go to the bookstore tab to order your copy of either or both novels. Available in Kindle or Paperback. You can also email me to discover the nearest indie bookstore to you to get your copies as well.
My wife, Connie, cleaned our garage today. We discovered two boxes of First Edition copies of Sanctuary – 30 books! They are no longer in print since the revised, updated 2nd edition released in January 2018. So what should I do? How about a limited quantity, Sanctuary Special Offer?
What’s the difference?
1st Edition, February 2017
2nd Edition, January 2018
First edition does not include the new epilog and the reviews on the back cover. Also, the first edition was printed by Ingram/Lightning Source as a Print-on-Demand book, which I never liked. That’s why all my new books are quality printed by my new publisher. Otherwise, there is virtually no noticeable difference, and it’ll be a cost-effective means to prepare you for the new sequel, Testament, An Unexpected Return (March 2018).
If you’d like to save $8.00 plus the postage so you can read Sanctuary: On a first. come, first serve basis, you can get this limited quantity of signed copies, postage paid, for only $10.00.
Before I reveal a very special limited time offer:
NOTE: There’s something special brewing regarding my Shiloh series stories. Stay tuned for more announcements about the expanding distribution news in the month of June! Palmetto Publishing Group is growing in its reach to connect readers, booksellers, and authors.
In the meantime, please visit your local bookstore; if they do not have either of my books on their shelves yet, they can easily order a copy. More and more independent bookstores are being added weekly to the list who have or will be hosting one of my author events and will stock my books.
In the meantime, FOR A LIMITED TIME, get your copy of SANCTUARY, A LEGACY OF MEMORIES for only $2.99 (KINDLE on Amazon) or through my webpage’s bookstore for the Book Club Price of only $15.25, a savings of $1.70 from even its new $16.95 retail price. And, this limited-time, exclusive offer includes free postage! Save time and money… All orders placed on my bookstore webpage are handled via safe and secure PayPal services.
HURRY! This offer expires as of FATHER’S DAY, June 17th!
For the retail price of $15.95, you can order a signed copy of TESTAMENT, An UnexpectedReturn and it will arrive signed, postage prepaid.
BEST DEAL! Order both Sanctuary & Testament for only $32.00, includes postage under this limited-time, exclusive offer for orders placed through my bookstore page.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: I hope you will also sign up to receive future updates and Southern Ponderings from yours truly. To comply with the changing privacy concerns, I would like to confirm that at no time will I ever misuse or abuse your personal information. Your email subscription is strictly for receiving periodic updates from this website or my coachbrown.org webpage. If at any time you wish to unsubscribe, I will not be offended. I am like you and only wish to receive in my email materials that interest, entertain, or inform me. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
Have a fun and safe summer! I also hope to meet and greet you personally at one of my upcoming author events in the coming weeks and months! In the meantime, I hope you’ll take advantage of this limited offer to get Sanctuary. I am wagering like other before you, once you read Sanctuary, you’ll be hooked and will want to continue reading about Theo and Liddy’s adventures in lil’ ol’ Shiloh.
If you are on Facebook, please visit my author page there as well. Like and follow my page to receive daily updates and more information about my author related activities. I am also on Instagram too. Stay up to date and connected to the latest news about T. M. Brown and his books.
What is behind the title of my Southern novel, Sanctuary, A Legacy of Memories? An insight into the concept of Sanctuary that plays out inside my story. T. M. Brown
HOW HAVE WE MISUSED AND MISUNDERSTOOD SANCTUARY?
Did You Know? Historically, churches have been places where fugitives could seek temporary protection from the law. In Anglo-Saxon England, churches and churchyards provided 40 days of immunity; neither sheriffs nor the army would dare enter to seize an outlaw. However, over time the right of sanctuary eroded as monarchs no longer feared Church authority, beginning with Henry VIII in 1486.
In the 1980s US churches provided sanctuary to Central American political refugees, and the US government mostly chose not to interfere. Today, we have established wildlife sanctuaries where refuge for the protected species is provided within its boundaries, and farm-animal sanctuaries rescue livestock from abuse and starvation.
But the term sanctuary grips the headlines today as local governments and institutions defy federal laws and claim legal rights of sanctuary?
Let’s consider the origination of the term and its meaning.
The Middle English term of sanctuarie derived from the Anglo-French and Late Latin word, sanctuarium, which likewise grew from the old Latin sanctus, means a “holy or sacred” place.
The first known use of the term sanctuary was in the 14th century during the beginning of the Renaissance. A period in history when the Roman Catholic Church held dominion over the affairs of government, science, the arts, and academia. Early Church scholars began to translate ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts into Latin, Sanctus replaced the Hebrew terms, qodesh or miqdash, meaning set-apartness. Also, depending on context, the Hebrew word debyir also was translated as Sanctus, though it relayed the idea of a set apart room inside a temple, inferring a holy of holies. A prescribed, protected room where oracles or priests communicated with God. For example, Solomon’s building project in 1 Kings 6 (v.5,16,etc.).
Here are some passages where “sanctuary” or its synonyms have replaced the original Hebrew:
You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance— the place, LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established. Exodus 15:17
Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:30
Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the LORD. Come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. 2 Chronicles 30:8
They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. Psalm 74:7 (a post-exile psalm)
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. Ezekiel 37:26
What or who made anything a sanctuary, a holy or sacred place where God dwelt to inspire the hearts, minds, and souls of men?
In the Bible, the Greek term hagios carried the meaning of something holy or sacred. The term Saints is actually derived from “o hagios,” inferring to holy ones, and the Holy Spirit comes from the notion of the ultimate holy one. However, the term naos in Greek infers a set apart or most holy room or area in a temple or shrine – similar to what we now call the sanctuary or the worship area inside a church building.
Even Jesus admonished the misuse of anything holy or sacred. Matt 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
What made a person, place or thing holy, sacred, or set-apart? Or, Biblically consecrated?
Since there is but one who is the standard of holiness, the author and perfecter of all persons or things deemed sacred or holy, let us ask a simple question: Who then establishes a sanctuary? Man or God?
How did the concept of sanctuary morph into a legally prescribed safe place, an asylum, or place of refuge?
Granted in the Bible, cities of refuge were established, reference the settling of the Israelites in the Promised recorded in Numbers and Joshua. But, the Hebrew term miklat specifically meant “places that take in” – an asylum or refuge, not a sanctuary. The Hebrew word khasa also inferred taking flight to seek protection, or figuratively, confide in, hope in, or trust in, but still not the same as entering a sanctuary.
Even in the Greek word katapheugo used in New Testament also speaks of fleeing for safety.
So how did the Latin term Sanctus, later sanctuarium or sanctuaries become associated with the connotation of safety and protection from the law?
Let’s begin by considering the notion of the biblical concept of cities of refuge. What purpose did they serve? Did entry into the city of refuge remove the consequences of their sins or guilt?
Cities of refuge were intended to offer protection from hasty acts of blood revenge by angry relatives. However, guilt or innocence still needed to be established by an assembly of elders in the designated refuge city. If determined guilty of murder, death came after a proper course of justice not some act of vengeance. (Ref. Numbers 35; Joshua 20)
However, by the rise of the early Roman Catholic Church, the idea of finding refuge in a church sanctuary existed, and legal authorities could not pursue a fugitive into a church, as I shared in the opening. So, where did this non-biblical idea of sanctuary come to be?
The ancient Greeks and Romans established their version of what a sanctuary or sacred place entailed from which later romanticized medieval laws developed. In Greek and Roman society, temples celebrating their gods could harbor runaway slaves and criminals to a certain extent. These early asylums developed under the belief that their god(s) were inviolable and their temples or holy sites shared this consecrated or untouchable aspect. But, these sacred places were not hideaways where fugitives could go to thumb their nose at the authorities. Petitioners seeking sanctuary still had to atone and pay penance for their crimes.
It is widely accepted, the earliest Christians recognized that pagan temples offered sanctuary or a haven for criminals, and they certainly did not want to be outdone by their pagan rivals. Thus, Christian churches extended criminals protection as well, hoping that asylum seekers might be converted or offered a chance to repent. In the eyes of the early Church, Holy God should provide a more reliable refuge for the sinner than any pagan god and his or her temple.
As Christianity spread across Europe, the Church’s model for sanctuary protections traveled with it. Their codified and standardized version of offering sanctuary became the process best known today.
For asylum seekers to gain sanctuary, they had to enter a church and wait for an appointed officer of the crown (known as a coroner) to arrive. Once the coroner arrived, the seekers had to confess to their crime, whether they committed it or not, and they were then under the protection of the Church. But, slowly, sanctuary laws were rolled back. The number of eligible crimes eligible for sanctuary protection shrank. By 1624, standard sanctuary laws were abolished, making fugitives no safer in a church than they were in the streets.
Who defined the concept of sanctuary? God or the Church?
A. W. Tozer wrote, “The whole world has been booby-trapped by the devil, and the deadliest trap of all is the religious one. Error never looks so innocent as when it is found in the sanctuary. The farther we push into the sanctuary, the greater becomes the danger of self-deception. The deeply religious man is far more vulnerable than the easygoing fellow who takes his religion lightly. This latter may be deceived, but he is not likely to be self-deceived. Under the pressure of deep spiritual concern, and before his heart has been wholly conquered by the Spirit of God, a man may be driven to try every dodge to save face and preserve a semblance of his old independence. This is always dangerous and if persisted in may prove calamitous.”
+ + +
So what do I think about the notion of sanctuary? Here are but two offerings from my 15 years of devotional introspection about what sanctuary means…
Value Works Over Words
Guard your step when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they are ignorant and do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few. For dreams result from much work and a fool’s voice from many words. Ecclesiastes 5:1-3 (HCSB)
Over many years I observed people from both the back of the sanctuary as well as eyeing them from the pulpit.
In spite of what most people who regularly attend church want to believe, many arrive each week carrying deeper, personal motivations rather than a desire to merely worship the Lord through joyous melodies and words. They sit dispersed among the regulars who, week in and week out, faithfully return each week to the same pew out of habit, a ritual of ownership etched in stone over the years.
Among those who attend regularly, there are those solely motivated because of the social value of attending church. They eagerly seek an exchange of the latest news and gossip before and after they dutifully bide their time through the worship hour.
Then there are some inspired to attend ladened by fears and regret. They seek a soothing message to hopefully mollify some nagging guilt within them that they can’t seem to escape.
Of course, also sprinkled throughout the sanctuary pews are the inevitable attention seekers. The ones who could find their way to the altar blindfolded, and their voices as recognizable as their faces.
There is little doubt; church provides an interesting hodgepodge of people on any given Sunday. I often wonder what God thinks as he looks down upon our stained-glass sanctuaries while he dwells in the only true sanctuary?
Of course, those person(s) in the church who seek attention, hoisting their hands over their heads and voicing their enthusiasm whenever the preacher or worship leader cues the congregation, begs the question. Is God hard of hearing or only responsive to the most animated? Or, are those waving and shouting out only demonstrating how spiritual they want everyone else to believe they are?
Certainly, there are plenty of sincere, God-fearing people filling the pews too, but they’re surrounded by plenty of self-serving, self-focused folks each week. I reckon, in the end, God responds not because of our actions or attitudes on display but the condition of our heart.
For as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us: We all should be careful with our words when praising the God of creation. It is better to say nothing than offer empty, insincere promises and vows.
Sincerity and integrity identify a person’s genuine relationship with God, not animated enthusiasm and verbosity. In fact, God responds the loudest within a sincere, silent heart, found more often in the stillness of our daily quiet times with God.
Humility Builds a Sanctuary
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are protected. A rich man’s wealth is his fortified city; in his imagination, it is like a high wall. Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility. Proverbs 18:10-12
Whether at school, at work, the community, or in the church, there are people we meet every day who are in the wall building business. You might even be in that business. Our insecurities demand that we build walls to keep others out. But, why build barriers and walls that keep people out of our lives?
An insecure person constructs walls that isolate themselves from others so others may never know the truth about them. Erecting walls keeps others at a safe distance, so they really can never focus on the weaknesses of the person cowering behind the walls.
However, in reality, these walls are just an illusion meant only to keep the person on the inside from seeing clearly and that insecure person misses out on the benefits of developing genuine relationships. They would rather sever themselves from genuine friendships and the joy of loving one another as God had intended. Their pride justifies their insecurity because they exist solely in a relationship with their “self.” What a sad and lonely existence our pride can cause us to enter into when our fears are allowed to rule over us.
The humble have a high tower they can run into, and the walls of this tower are of God’s doing. This secure place is a refuge, a sanctuary, from the tough times in this life, but God never intends to keep you there. It is where a humble heart can find rest and restoration before confidently re-engaging life and its many awkward but rewarding relationships. It also is big enough for all to enter whenever there’s a need for God’s peace and mercy. This high tower also helps you to see more clearly your place and purpose in life. It helps you focus on what is most important, which is never yourself. It is a place where love resides, and all fear disappears. The only price for entry into this refuge is our self! We must come humbled to receive the security that God offers.
How about you? Are you like the one who builds walls to hide behind out of insecurity and pride of “self,” or do you know the way into God’s high tower refuge where security comes from humility? Which leads to genuine life?
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In my estimation: Sanctuary is found whenever and wherever God dwells and offers unadulterated peace and hope. Otherwise, a claim of sanctuary is merely man’s notion to soothe mankind’s guilt-ridden conscience.