Robert Alexander has been a student, a minister, a personality theorist, a counselor, a hospital chaplain and an educator. These days, he's the master of the metaphor.
The Cherokee man and graduate of Buena Vista University published his first book this month, "Taking Break-Time for Me," a collection of essays that he says are designed to "make you look at things differently."
Alexander's essays range from a few paragraphs to a few pages, spinning imaginary characters, like the short-bodied farmer who is described by his neighbors as "He's just a little fellow, but his forehead touches the sky." Or the fly fisherman Carl who finds a message in the turbulence of his favorite bass stream.
His stories inexorably turn to God, sometimes in relating real-life situations to a Biblical quote, sometimes in a spirited conversation with Jesus. But somehow they don't come off as preachy, more the story you might here over a checkerboard than in a sermon - easy-going, entertaining, and always with that turn of a well-placed metaphor. After a few pages, the fun becomes trying to imagine where that twist will come in.
His tales come with often-intriguing titles: "God Knows I've Tried," "People Collecting" and "Saturday Fretting."
It's been quite a trip for Alexander to arrive at a late-life career as an author.
He was one of five boys born to an Irish immigrant with an eighth-grade education. His father later went back to school, finishing high school, college and seminary to be ordained around 1916. His mother was a schoolteacher who never stopped learning, or inspiring a love of education in the children.
Alexander went on from Buena Vista to attend Trinity University and McCormick Seminary, and earned a post-graduate degree in Personality Theory from the Christian Theological Seminary. After a stint as a parish minister, he became a hospital chaplain in Indiana for a number of years before coming back to the area as chaplain-educator at the Mental Health Institute in Cherokee.
Alexander hopes his book helps people to accept their own shortcomings and make the most of their gifts. "It is a healthy faith that enables you and me to rise above our successes and our failures... we have faith that we are worthy of ourselves despite the events of the day," he said.
His role as hospital chaplain was the learning ground for writing, he said, and where he learned the value of speaking clearly and concisely, as well as recognizing that a gentle metaphor can be useful to guide a person in caught up in a difficult moment toward help.
This book is light and the stories short and to-the-point, but it manages to make its point while entertaining, and you might find yourself going back a second time.
Expect to see more of Chaplain Alexander's paradoxical and witty thoughts make the transition from a lifetime of pastoral care to a new career in writing.
The following is a sample essay from the new book, titled "Under the Shadow."
Under the Shadow
By Robert Alexander
Do you remember the times when you played in the shadow of tomorrow, the dreams you had, the call of the distant hills, the excited cries of the neighbor kids: "Come out and play!"
It was fun then, playing in someone's shadow. Someone like Mom. There'd be cookies, or a glass of Kool-Aid, or a cake bowl to lick. Or playing in Dad's shadow-raking leaves, planting the garden, weeding, painting the fence, and afterwards maybe a root beer or ice cream.
It seems as if we spend our lives living in someone's shadow - a friend, a teacher, a sweetheart of our teen years, the loved one of our life.
Our shadows grow. They stretch out in the afternoon sun, and then we see kids and young people playing and working in our shadows. We smile and remember how good it was to play and working in our shadows. We smile and remember how good it was to play and work in someone's shadow.
There's always someone who comes along in your life or mine, knocks on the door of our lives-wanting to play, or work, or live for a while in the shadow of our lives.
When the minister reads that Scripture: "Under the shadow of His wings God will keep you," (Ps. 36:7) then you begin to think that God counts on me and other folks to cast long shadows so that someone can play in them, live in them, and rest in them for a time while their sun is still in the morning.
"Taking Break-Time for Me" is published in soft cover by Dorrance Publishing ($10 cover price). Call 800-788-7654 for availability and ordering information.