God’s Will A Book Review

A Book Review of

God’s Will

By Matthew John Echan

As I read this book my mind went back to not teenage years, for the book is set near Piedmont, Missouri, on the St. Francis River, where there are memories of canoeing, skinny dipping, swimming, and passing many a summer day; and the memory of having to rescue someone out of the river in the spring, when the water was high and gushing; my first parish in college was near Piedmont, surrounded by oak and cottonwood trees; and yet there is the dark side, about which this book takes us into.

It is set in a Baptist Children’s Home-Mount Zion, where youth who could not be “controlled” was sent for reformation.

One young man describes their tactics when he tells us:

    “No, I don’t think they need drugs. They rule by fear, and they use force and inhumane punishments to brainwash us. You either become one of them, or you suffer the consequences.”

Along with preaching about hell, about the consequences of the sins of sex, drinking, and drugs and their sex is of only one kind–straight and absolutely no oral.

Sam, 14, from Orange County California, is bought to Mt. Zion for two reasons he was stealing, smoking pot, and the greatest sin of all—masturbation–this in 1995.

Sam struggled for nine months, being “saved a number of times,” and finally being kicked out for being caught masturbating a tenth time, and the Director called him a “fag” as he was leaving.

    As he rode to the airport Sam reflected:

“I was angry at Mount Zion for thinking they could get away with branding shame on my face, and cursing my name. Angry at myself for letting them. And angry at God for not shutting the place down. The only real takeaway I could see was I never gonna trust Christians again, and the rage I felt inside to prove I wasn’t a waste of a  bunk felt like an answer to all my prayers. The cure to my weakness. Any other lesson was lost on me.”

It is a gut-wrenching novel about the perils of faith bereft of love.

As I read the novel there was a mixture of emotions, many good, and many very, very bad.

For I was always seen as “a misfit”, in a segregationist community, where I supported everyone; always suspected of being “a fag”, of being “different.”

When beginning the journey to ordination I played the game and played it damned well and was ordained.  But I was always a “misfit” and as depression overcame me, and I finally expressed doubt about my sexuality, and the church’s position I was sent to a similar treatment center, well-known for making adults “straight.” People wonder why I am always suspicious of therapists–this is why.

I played the game and returned to ministry,  and then a young 18-year-old church member shared with me of being gay, and I quoted the church’s position and offered to get him counseling, and he left my office and shot himself. From that moment on I could never keep my mouth shut. I was immediately removed from ministry.

I wound up on the streets of L.A. as a whore, and one among all the “misfits.” The greatest gift I could have received.

    I worked my way back out, but being the misfit I am could not stay in traditional society, and I knew that I was called to work with the misfits,  and so came to San Francisco. The gift given to me by God was an ability to work with the “misfits”, to meet them where they are.

    Through the years there have been so many young men and women who have been in religious and secular programs finding themselves rejected and thrown away. They were “misfits”. So lost, beaten over the head for not fitting in, believing as they are “told” to believe, but could not adjust. I have met them, and received them for their giftedness, and reminded them of that giftedness.

“Social misfits” are defined as people who do not conform to traditional, societal, and cultural views of what is normal or acceptable” (Webster Dictionary). Dr. Seuss defines misfits in another way: “Why fit in when you are born to stand out.” And in this society, it is dangerous not to “play the game.”

I have learned a long time ago that I can “pass” and find ways of promoting, and relating to everyone; but ultimately I have to walk alone, for I am a misfit. I will always speak my truth.

I am at home with the “skaters”, the homeless youth the “druggies”, the “pimps”, “the murderers”, and “thieves”  because there is no fakeness, and God smiles on each one of them offering his love.

And it is with those who are the most condemned, I find my gift of ministry. For I preach a Gospel of the limitless love of God, a God who loves us no matter what we do, a God who will walk with us, and bring us. home. Nothing scares me, and I condemn no one.

I am always asked for examples of “success”, my examples of success are young men and women who have found an understanding that God walks with them and loves them no matter what. And whether they feel it or not I will love them, with all of my heart, soul, and strength.

I have baptized hundreds, and when I celebrate the Eucharist I cry when I see those who hate the institutional church receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

There were two Scriptures that Sam held onto throughout his experience:

“Such was his purpose and good pleasure, to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us of the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.” Eph. 1:6

None of the trials which have come upon you is more than a human being can stand. You can trust that God will not let you be put to the test beyond your strength, but with any trial will also provide a way out by enabling you to put up with it.. “I Corinthians 19:13. Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!


Fr. River Damien Sims, sfw, D.Min., D.S.T.

P.O. Box 646256

San Francisco, CA 94164



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