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Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery Paperback – June 11, 2002

4.9 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“[Lischer’s] portraits are masterfully drawn. Not only does he write beautifully, but he also tells the unvarnished truth about both tragedy and redemption in a Christian community.” --Publishers Weekly

“This is a beautiful book--beautifully conceived, beautifully executed, and rare in the beauty of its pastoral and theological sensibilities.” --Richard John Newhaus, First Things

From the Inside Flap

In the tradition of Garrison Keillor, "Open Secrets captures the friendships, rivalries, and rumors of small-town life by chronicling the lives of the citizens of a small Midwestern community through the eyes of a young minister.
Fresh out of divinity school and bursting with enthusiasm, Richard Lischer found himself assigned to a small conservative church in an economically depressed town in southern Illinois. It's an awkward marriage at best--a young man with a Ph.D. in theology, full of ideas and ambitions, determined to improve his parish and bring it into the twenty-first century, and a community that is "as tightly sealed as a jar of home-canned pickles." In "Open Secrets, Lischer tells not only his own story but also the story of New Cana and its inhabitants. With charm, openness, and humor, Lischer brings to life the clash of cultures and personalities that marks his pastoral tenure, including his own doubts, as well as those of his parishioners, that a twenty-eight-year-old suburban-raised liberal can deal with the troubled marriages, alcoholism, teen sex, inadequate farm subsidies, and other concerns of the conservative, tightly knit community. But the inhabitants of New Cana--lovable, deeply flawed, imperfect people who stick together--open their arms to him in their own way, and the result is a colorful, poignant comedy of small-town life and all it has to offer.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (June 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767907442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767907446
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Kearney VINE VOICE on November 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
With one glance of the cover, a reader could easily misjudge OPEN SECRETS. The cover shows a painting of a quaint Midwestern town complete with churches and the homes of good folk. We can imagine that it will be a story of a minister and congregation and contain all kinds of heartwarming tales, and the author, Richard Lischer could easily have taken the reader on such a journey. Instead he does something different and in the end far more meaningful. He shares not only his experiences, but looks at the experiences in a critical manner that engages the reader.

OPEN SECRETS is the story of Richard Lischer's first three years of ministry. The time period is the late 60's/early 70's. Like many of his generation, he is filled with new ideas and is ready for a great assignment so he can change the world. Just as teachers quickly learn that if they are to be successful they have to be learners as well, people in ministry have to learn a similar lesson that the priest/minister may be the leader but training and education do not always mean expertise. Lischer learns this lesson when he is assigned to a small parish in New Cana, Illinois. The parish is neither ready nor reluctant to his ideas. The congregation simply "is" and in some ways this is infuriating for the young minister. He has to adapt to their ways while still being true to his calling. He does some bold things in the parish which are at times exactly what the congregation needs and at other times is more an example of his being headstrong. We see that the assignment was challenging for him, but we do not see it in a nostalgic way or in a way that belittles the congregation he served.
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Format: Paperback
Richard Lischer had a plan -- graduate from seminary, have a few significant pastorates, teach at a seminary, end up as president and 'big wheel' of the denomination. As the lyric says, life is what happens when you are making other plans. In the book 'Open Secrets', Lischer recounts many of the awakenings he experienced as pastor of a small-town, isolated community church, far from the seminary where he'd studied, and far from the city and 'powers' he'd dreamt of.
Lischer begins this autobiographical tale with a brief overview of his life prior to his arrival at New Cana -- only child, good but standard education, 'typical' rebellions in school and seminary -- a fairly conventional upbringing, with only a few points of deviation from the norm. He did have visions of something better, however, and was shocked at his appointment to the church in New Cana, a town so remote that it was difficult to find on a map, and even once he was there, it was still difficult to find.
There was a symbol of foreboding from the first day, in that the cross atop the church was broken. This was a broken community, and had been for generations, in many ways. It was stable, secure in its structure and in its dysfunction, and Lischer's arrival was greeted with what was probably the traditional lack of fanfare. There was one 'ruling family' of the congregation, and insiders were clearly differentiated from the outsiders. Lischer and family were definitely outsiders.
The conflicts in the town were fairly typical of the human condition -- there were family troubles ranging from abuse and neglect to simple emotional wear-and-tear.
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Format: Paperback
This book may be one of a kind. It's a memoir of a young parish minister accepting his first call to a Lutheran church in rural Illinois, and although there's a reference to the classic "Diary of a Country Priest" at the outset, any comparison with Bernanos' dying, saint-like character ends there on page one. Lischer, schooled in what seems to have been the excessively conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, finds his 1960s liberal sensibilities set on a collision course with the deeply rooted religious and cultural traditions of his farming congregants. If there's anything classic about this, it's his role as a fish out of water.

This may sound like grounds for some modestly Lutheran hilarity along the lines of Garrison Keillor, but Lischer has other things in mind. In chapter after chapter, he reveals how he discovers the bonds of community that have held his church families together for generations, and in his three years there, while he never really finds himself at home with them, they help him learn a great deal about what the parish ministry really means - a kind of mutual support that he had not been prepared for in his years at the seminary.

Lischer has a wonderful gift as a writer. He takes his time to find the right words, the right metaphor to bring his subject to life, and like a well-crafted sermon, they illuminate the everyday world, if only briefly, with an other-worldly light. When he and his family leave at the end of his tenure, there is a sadness of parting - and nostalgia for a time gone by - that accompanies the reader long after the last page has been turned.
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