We Like Our Gates was written by my friend John C. Herman, M.A. and I was honored to edit it for him. What follows is a tale of connections missed and made.
John and I went to Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, though we weren’t acquainted during our tenure there. He played in one of the chapel bands and I worked in the computer lab. John and I shared the philosophy/theology department: my hobby major was Theology and his for-real major was Ministry, though I don’t think we ever had a class together. I graduated in 2003, he in 2004 and I only ever knew him as ‘that chapel band guy who kinda sounds like the dude from Creed’ which, at the time, was not an insult, and is now the bane of John’s existence. Josh and I had spent a post-college year goofing around, then getting married, then moving. Josh had landed a job as the in-house designer for a winery in Woodbridge, CA, which is a small town you’ve never heard of made up entirely of vineyards on the outskirts of another small town you HAVE heard of: Lodi. (cue insulting Creedence Clearwater song) There was no way we were living in Lodi (apologies to its fans) so we picked Elk Grove, a bedroom community of Sacramento. We didn’t know a soul outside of Josh’s sister and brother-in-law. I soon got a job at Borders and was working the registers there one day when a man talking on a cell phone absentmindedly cut the line and walked up to my register. I recognized him immediately as Jim Manker. Rewind back 15+ years to a church in Redding, CA: I’m a tot in the nursery and the pastor is Jim Manker’s father. Then skip forward to PLNU, where John and I are in the same department but don’t know each other. An adjunct professor in that department and general presence on campus? Jim Manker. Like John, Jim and I weren’t acquainted whilst at PLNU, but I knew of him, so when he strolled right up to my register in Elk Grove, yakking away on his Blue Tooth, I was, to understate, bemused. When he finished his phone call I said, “I know you. You’re a Nazarene.” Creepy? Yes, though he seemed only mildly frightened and mostly interested in what this stranger had to say. I told him that his dad has dedicated me as a babe at a church in Redding and that I had also gone to PLNU. Jim invited me and Josh to come to the church where he worked in Elk Grove, and mentioned there were some “Point Loma people” who were also on staff. We didn’t immediately visit the church and it took Jim coming back to Borders and leaving a note for me to finally give it a shot. The first Sunday we went, who should beeline over to us, but ‘that chapel band guy who kinda sounds like the dude from Creed’. His approach was oddly like my creepy declaration to Jim: “I know you,” he said, pointing to us, “Point Loma.” I should mention that John cuts an imposing figure; he’s quite tall and Josh and I were already strangers in a strange land at this mystery mega-church. In that first conversation we three worked out our respective PLNU circles, how we landed in this random NorCal suburb, and how we came to be at the same church. John was pastoring the high school ministry there. Less than a year later, he, his 100-pound Rottweiler, and his roommate Brandon invited us to move into their 4 bedroom house with them. All our newfound friends thought we were bananas for even considering it. You see, Josh and I are rather generic and unthreatening: blonde, clean cut, and (seemingly) ‘normal’ people, and we were newly married. John, like I said, is huge, rather loud, and not what you’d call ‘clean’ or ‘normal’. He was, after all, someone who voluntarily pursued a peanuts-paying job attending to the spirituality of teenagers. One cannot be ‘normal’ in that line of work. Brandon was employed by Apple at the time, and also a bachelor and also had a personality. People seem to look for roommates that have little to no personality based on the belief that there is less chance of disagreement with a bland live-in. For Josh and I, Elk Grove was already bland enough- it is the quintessential suburb- so the idea of adventuring with these two oddball bachelors was attractive. As a foursome, we didn’t really look like we matched. Josh and I shirked the assumption that newlyweds should hole up and gaze into each others’ eyes 24/7 and moved in shortly after Easter. At least one acquaintance called us ‘idiots’ for doing so, but we never regretted it and it’s no understatement to say we had a blast that year. Even though we shared a home and a working refrigerator, we still drove to Sacramento every Thursday and sat around the Streets of London pub drinking beer together. The next spring, we all went our separate ways: we bought a house in Redding, John left his job at the church and bummed around Costa Rica, and Brandon moved to Sacramento with a pal. Our adventure came to a natural close, and its brevity made it all the more special.
A year after that, John emailed me and asked if I would please edit his manuscript. He’d done a great deal of writing in Costa Rica and wanted to self-publish a book about his ministry experiences. He sent me the Word document and I immediately printed it out. (I can’t edit on a screen- I read totally differently when text is on paper.) After I drew a giant gate and a lady named Fran on the cover, I went to work with my red pen, and I know John won’t mind me saying this: it was a lot of work. I lost track of how many times I excised the word ‘that’ and re-punctuated chunks of text. The real challenge, however, was working the text to point of grammatical correctness and readable flow without sacrificing John’s very individual voice. I realize that every voice has at least some uniqueness, but you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that John’s, whether in person or on paper, is particularly memorable. Conversationality and readability may seem symbiotic because there needs to be an ease to each, but readers aren’t consciously expecting a conversation in their book, so it can be jarring to read text that is too loosely structured. It took some time, at least a month, but I truly enjoyed myself and he and I are happy with the outcome. If you’d like to ‘meet’ John, reading ‘We Like Our Gates‘ is the best way to do so.