Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: David Trotter’s Lost + Found

Lost + Found, Finding Myself by Getting Lost in an Affair by former pastor David Trotter is a self-published memoir about a local pastor from an influential church and his subsequent fall from grace because of an extramarital affair. It’s an easy read but I fear my time would have been better served by finishing the more challenging Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens.

Lostfound I am not somebody who should offer writing advice, so these next words may seem funny to some of my readers. I could tell the book was self-published by the numerous spelling, word choice and punctuation errors. My advice is to hire an editor and clean it up before the next edition. If I can see the errors, they will be glaringly obvious to a reader with better skills.

I found the story of Trotter’s fall superficial. He was verbose and effusive in describing his distance from his wife and his boredom at work, but he left out whole swaths of content related to his decision making process. It was nice (and necessary) to know that David no longer found his wife interesting or that their relationship was unfulfilling, but there was no analysis of his failure. It was interesting to know that he worked hard for many long years to build a church, and that as a result, he was burnt out. What are missing are the connections to his role as a pastor and the apparent loss of connection to his passion for God. How did he come to a point where he could turn his back on the moral teaching of his faith so callously as to assume that God was in his corner during the planned seduction of another man’s wife and his eventual dishonoring of his marital vows? My read shows a sophomoric “God wants me to be happy” attitude from a seasoned and accomplished pastor. It does not reconcile and feels inauthentic, no, if feels dishonest. How was he able to reconcile a life spend in service to God with the moral turpitude which followed his immature, selfish and even willfully hateful separation from his role as a pastor and husband? It feels like he left it out on purpose so that he could have a path back to the pulpit.

Since we are talking about a moral fall here, the tone of the book is way too self-centered. The lessons learned from reading it are so simplistic that it reads like a disingenuous look into the mind of mentally ill man who has forgotten how to think. Try this on…

  • Man not satisfied with life or wife.
  • Man covets another man’s wife.
  • Man plans and then seduces another man’s wife.
  • Man shits on his wife, kids, family, friends, and his life calling.
  • Man’s mistress shits on husband, kids, family and friends
  • Man moves in with mistress.
  • Man proposes to mistress before they are divorced.
  • Affair ends. Man wants to kill himself. Man lonely… suddenly wants old wife back.
  • Man plans seduction of his own wife.
  • Wife forgives man. Man and wife go to India to save orphans.

Call me jaded if you will, but come on, the book shares a plot with a dozen movies from the feel-good romance genre. I just read a movie script with the plodding predictability of a direct to video movie. Yes David Trotter, your fall was horrible, but you were an ass and deserve the hell you created for yourself. Where is the redemption? Is it that you got back what you lost? Your victims may forgive you over time, but your story gives us no insight into your real character, motivation, or spirituality beyond the superficial need to get laid. And that’s my problem with the book. It’s about the loss of impulse control. David Trotter was not getting laid so he found a way to get laid, and now he has found a way to get paid.

I was dreading a part that never came. The part where Pastor David Trotter struggles with the damage he’s done to the church and the people whose lives he injured. Instead, Trotter complains about their response to his situation. Everything is personal. It’s all about David Trotter. Where is the Christian compassion and empathy for those he wronged? There is no deep soul searching, no finding himself in the wisdom of his faith, and no restoration of the people he hurt. No, instead he complains that they misunderstood their role. They were not really friends; they were employees who expected too much from him.

David Trotter salvaged his relationship with his wife because it was the last option open to him. It was either that or move away and start a new life. How is that redeeming? Option 1 – Kill myself. Option 2 – Reconnect with mistress. Option 3 – Go back to my wife? Option 1 and 2 were off the table, but your wife (and old life) seemed like a good safe bet. And that’s it. We go from your wife being undesirable and unworthy of your love to your seduction of her and your triumphant reunification. Oh, throw in a new hair cut, some weight loss and a new outfit too and we have the last two chapters of the book.

I still scratch my head and ask the question, “How does being a pastor relate to anything I just read?” You could insert, doctor, lawyer, accountant, or hell, even bricklayer, in place of the word pastor. Trotter’s job as a pastor is not a factor in the story. It’s a back-story meant to give some small connection to a hipster’s version of Jesus which can be parlayed into future opportunities.

I learned about disdain as part of the human condition. It ran throughout the book, David’s disdain for the husband of his mistress, his disdain for his wife’s feelings and for those of his parents, and his disdain for those who tried to help with the post break-up clean-up. But more importantly, I learned about his disdain for his faith. It left me cold. I asked myself the same question many times throughout the read, “What must those who followed him feel?” I still don’t know.

I also asked myself, “Are we his next customers?” The book feels like a not-so-subtly disguised attempt to establish an infidelity prevention consulting service with Christians as the target customer base. It is as if having been through the process himself makes him qualified to help others who are suffering the same trauma. The marketing is similar to the oft heard phrase, “I used to be a drug user before I found Jesus,” a line that we know as a buzzword for the religious charlatan, and the overly enthusiastic new Christian. It’s also a problem with people who market Christianity to “consumers”. When you think of people as potential customers instead of people in need of love, you seriously devalue the product. It also explains why neighborhood pastors refer to David Trotter as an unethical poacher.

There are expectations of forgiveness sprinkled throughout the book that I found nauseating and naive. We are called to forgive those who hurt us. Even a hardcore atheist like me feels the power of forgiveness. But trust is a different animal. Trust is earned through what one does in life and how one treats others. Once lost, trust may never be restored. It’s a consequence of one’s actions. David Trotter wants forgiveness and trust. He wants forgiveness from the leadership of his old church (if they are real Christians, they already forgave him), but he also wants their trust too. He wants the relationships, the friendships, and the love. He wants all of it. Yet the only action we see is his apology (an important first step sure), and not the hard work of rebuilding trust. Instead, we get a book that explores a gaping wound from the viewpoint of an aggressive self-marketer who points at his wound and says, “Look at my redemption. You can trust me again.” Trust is rebuilt through work, lots and lots of work. It may take years for his victims to even consider trusting him again. I don’t get a sense that he understands this concept from the book. Which is sad as it is something I would expect him to teach as a pastor.

There was the hilarious mixed in with the emopastor-goes-bad story line. When he wrote about starting a life coaching practice while at the same time he was contemplating suicide, I nearly fell out of my chair. It was so funny – yet it turned out that he was serious. When he writes about visualizing his success as “driving down PCH in a convertible black Mercedes Benz with a blond beside him,” I laughed out loud (I’ve had that dream too). But I knew there was no way an authentic pastor would buy into the whole materialism shtick. But then he risked his family’s poor financial health on a luxury car. I laughed at the foolishness. But the biggest guffaw was experienced when he wrote about “the engagement ring”. Just weeks after leaving his wife his not-so-innocent mistress suggests that the purchase of a $6k rock would make the world seem right. I laughed again because I thought that no man (and no pastor) in his right mind would risk his limited financial stake on so foolish an item and so soon after a break-up. But… you know what he did… yep, he bought the damn ring. I laughed, but it felt horrible. I was laughing at a fool.

What about Ben? Those were the words I spoke when I finished the book. Ben was the victim in this story, the innocent husband of David Trotter’s mistress, and a trusted friend. Ben was injured deliberately. It was a calculated betrayal of a friend with the subsequent bonus of repeated public humiliation. Where is the love for Ben? Where is the apology? Where is the… what is the word… redemption? If the book is to have lasting meaning, Ben must be explored and what Trotter did to Ben, and his alpha dog reasons for doing it, must be part of the cathartic redemption process. What did Trotter learn from confronting his treatment of Ben? How did he apologize, and was it possible to repair the damage? I fear it was left out because it was not worked out. Is that honest? Or is it really just all about David Trotter? What did he find out about himself? Was it that trusted friendships are disposable? Your readers want to know.

In the end the book is about the loss of character. A driven pastor loses his carefully composed public image to the inner demon of reckless impulses. The character and moral grounding that should go hand-in-hand with his profession and faith fail him. Of course, I have the special advantage of knowing that pastors are not special people and that they have no moral gift from God. That, like us (and me), we fight a constant battle with our own immaturity, impulses and choices. I don’t cheat on my wife because I follow the age old advice of, “protect your marriage.” If you put yourself in a situation where bad decisions can happen, then you risk losing control and making bad decisions. David Trotter’s character was tested and he failed. It was as if he had no character. It’s a sad story, but I was happy to see he reconciled with his wife.

I don’t know what the future holds for ex-pastor David Trotter. With 1 Timothy 3 as a guide, I would think he is disqualified from future service as a pastor. At least I hope he is disqualified, but I fear he’s in the process of staring another home church. I know from reading his book that he started worship gatherings out of his house. I sure hope he is not in a leadership role.

3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Let’s see how he stacks up:

  • Above reproach – Fail
  • Husband of one wife - Fail
  • Sober-minded – Fail
  • Self-controlled – Fail
  • Respectable – Fail
  • Not quarrelsome – Fail
  • Not a lover of money – Fail
  • Manage his own household – Fail
  • Well thought of by others - Fail

I’ve had David Trotter in my crosshairs for a few years now. As long as he’s not in the pulpit I think it’s time to back off. He needs time to work at getting his trust back. I would like to extend and offer to bury the hatchet in person. I’d be happy to meet for coffee sometime. If you read this rant, how does the Starbucks on Del Amo & Pioneer sound?