GREEN BAY — When Deacon Steve Meyer first received the written description from the publisher for his book, “God Plays a Purple Banjo and 41 Other Stories of Inspiration, Hope and Humor,” it caused him to pause. Twenty-Third Publications made reference to the content as “highly personalized stories.”
“I thought, ‘Dang, that’s vulnerable,’” said Deacon Meyer, who serves at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Green Bay. “It is very personal, but I didn’t want it to be about me. I wanted it to be about the human story, the human condition. I wanted it to be about all of us. I don’t think that my life is so remarkable that my stories are not everyone’s stories. They may manifest differently, but hopefully the stories are relatable to everybody.”
If the feedback he’s received about the book, which was released in April, is any indication, mission accomplished in resonating with readers. The broad audience has been a surprise, he said.
“Anecdotally, what I’m hearing is it’s ecumenical,” he said. “People of all denominations are liking this thing and people of all ages. One person told me that she gave it to her 92-year-old atheist father. She gave it to him for one last ditch effort to maybe get him engaged in some kind of faith and he won’t stop talking about it. It really spoke to him.
“I’ve also heard from people who gave it to their teenagers and college students who have sort of stepped away from church,” added Deacon Meyer. “That’s probably the most rewarding thing for me, the fact that the book is speaking so widely.”
Names were changed for the stories and, in some instances, gender and age were also changed, but all characters in the book are real, said Deacon Meyer, co-founder of Street Lights Outreach and the nonprofit organization Whatsoever You Do, Inc.
“They have to be authentic, people you would meet,” he said.
The 42 stories in the book are organized into six sections: Preparation, Celebration, Consideration, Examination, Jubilation and Contemplation. In the introduction, Deacon Meyer encourages the reader to skip around the book.
“That’s one of the things the publisher had mentioned to me on the front end, that people like to read in fits and starts,” he explained. “That worked nicely.”
Deacon Meyer (who uses S. James Meyer as an author) has written numerous articles, but didn’t think that he had the patience to write a longform book. “Jesus Wears Socks with Sandals,” a follow-up to “God Plays a Purple Banjo” is scheduled for release in January of 2021.
He also wrote a 2019 Advent guide titled “Our Journey Toward Joy, Daily Reflections, Practices and Prayers.” Twenty-Third Publications reported that the booklet sold out.
Another booklet by Deacon Meyer, “How to Talk Catholic, A Communication Guide for Ministering in the Real World,” will be released in January 2020.
“I always wanted to write, because I love doing so,” he said. “I’ve come to the realization that it’s not that I want to write, I have to write. There is a vocational component to it. It’s a gift I can share.”
That gift is far reaching. The “God Plays a Purple Banjo” Facebook page has a follower from Germany. Deacon Meyer received a message from a group in Seattle that is using it for a book study.
“I also heard from a woman who is 82. She takes the book with her for eucharistic adoration,” he explained. “How much more Catholic can that be?”
Which story in “God Plays a Purple Banjo” is Deacon Meyer’s favorite?
“It depends on my mood,” he said. “I often ask readers that question. There is no pattern to the response. They find that different stories are speaking to them in different ways at different times.
“Hopefully it opens people to awareness that this very close intimate relationship with a very real God is not something they have to aspire to,” he added. “It’s something they can experience. It’s right here, right now.”