Chasing After Wind: A Pastor’s Life – Book Review
Chasing After Wind: A Pastor’s Life
by Douglas J. Brouwer
Teacher’s Comments: I caught glimpses of my own life in Brouwer’s story; I think readers may as well
A pastor’s autobiography is not the usual fare for this blog, but there was something in the press release’s pitch that spoke to me. Here are some quotes from the release:
Churches aren’t immune to the Great Resignation, and that’s an important conversation to have. A surprising number of pastors have either quit or seriously considered it. My client Douglas Brouwer spent 40 years as a Presbyterian pastor. He shares his moments of disillusionment, doubts and, ultimately, an acceptance of grace with unexpected candor in his deeply introspective new book, Chasing After Wind: A Pastor’s Life …
Like pastors everywhere, Brouwer went into ministry to do lifechanging work for God and ended up spending most of his time managing the parking situation outside the church, fielding parishioner complaints about the color of the sanctuary carpet (or, in Brouwer’s case, the color of his shoes), and endlessly fundraising for mission projects and building maintenance …
“What had happened, I now realize, is that I had lost myself so deeply in a role and a title and a way of life that I was no longer sure whether I had an identity separate from those things,” Brouwer says.
The release arrived at a point when I was assessing my own desire to remain in the school teaching business. At that same time, I was reading a spate of social media posts from PGA club professionals writing about how their love of the game had been destroyed by the everyday strain of dealing with entitled members, surly customers and various management issues only peripherally related to the actual golf. Finally, as a lifelong student (and teacher) of government and economics, I also had done a great deal of reading and thinking about the so-called Great Resignation.
I also was personally interested, as the author, the Rev. Douglas Brouwer was my pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor from 2004 to 2009.
Interest piqued, I reached out to the public relations representative for a review copy. To my surprise, I received an email from Rev. Brouwer asking what might prompt me to want to read and review such a book.
There was all of the above, plus my sense that a spiritual thread runs through much of the game of golf. Those endless jokes about priests and ministers playing golf must have a kernel of truth. Organizations such as In His Grip, FCA Golf and the Fellowship of Christian Golfers are overt manifestations. Pro golfers (perhaps most notably Bernhard Langer and the late Payne Stewart) publicly express their devotion. And for my part, I’ve had more than a few conversations with God on the course, none of which had to do with my play. Being out-of-doors on a beautiful course just seems like a good time for a talk.
Chasing After Wind‘s title comes from Ecclesiastes 1:11, which says “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
Brouwer’s opening lines set the stage: “I was a Presbyterian Pastor for forty years. I loved most of it, barely tolerated some of it, and was grateful to be finished with much of it.”
In the autobiography, Brouwer traces his journey from a youth in the Dutch Reformed tradition in Western Michigan to Princeton Seminary where he trained as a Presbyterian minister. From there, Brouwer progressed through a series of churches, each of which appeared as a step toward an ultimate goal of a position as the head of a premier institution, such as the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian in New York.
Something got lost along the way, though. Or perhaps the goal was always a mirage.
Brouwer writes of having to deal with parking lots, staff conflicts, fundraising and various church initiatives that drew away from the things about the ministry that drew him there in the first place, and of the things he discovered about the ministry that were most fulfilling.
I have felt the same thing, having set out to share my love of history, government and economics and having instead ended up spending much time “generating data” for bureaucrats, preparing for and administering standardized tests, answering endless administrative emails, conducting active shooter lockdown drills and so forth.
It is comforting to know that I am not alone in thinking I have often been stymied from what I thought was my calling.
Brouwer writes of his moments of purpose and clarity as well — those parts of which he says in the opening lines: “I loved most of it …” There were many of those, and I get the sense that toward the end of his active ministry, Brouwer finally found his way back to his beginning.
I have felt those moments of purpose and clarity in my teaching as well. This past spring a graduating senior came to me and said “I didn’t want to leave without telling you that you were the one thing that made my junior year tolerable.” That was one of those moments that made all of the nonsense worthwhile.
Although Chasing After Wind is the autobiography of a Presbyterian minister, I think that many will find that Brouwer’s arc coincides with their own. The ministry and teaching surely are not the only professions in which people set out to do “A” and find themselves preoccupied by “Z.” I have heard similar stories from golf club professionals, nurses and lawyers among others.
I am reasonably certain that Brouwer did not write Chasing After Wind for a large general audience. He perhaps did not think the book was for anyone outside the ministry. I found, though, that his autobiography gave me a chance to think about my own journey. It may do the same for you.