It has been some time since my last post, which underscores how truly draining a serialized novel on one's blog can be. My recovery time has thus delayed my review of one of the highlights of my Christmas reading. I set a goal of reading fifty books in 2018, and this unforgettable story was one of them.
Glynn Young and I share several things. We both love a great story, we yearn for literary heroes who never give up the fight, and we've both had four novels apiece published through Dunrobin Publishing thanks to the incomparable Mark Sutherland. Glynn's recent installment in the Dancing Priest series of novels was disclosed in the latter stages of 2018, and Dancing Prophet continues the saga of Michael Kent, Olympic cycling champion, ordained priest in the Church of England, and reigning King of England.
Young's first three novels track Michael's endeavors from university studies to the early days of an unexpected ascendancy to Buckingham Palace. All these stories, while gripping in their own right, prepare the reader for the most sober, darkest challenge facing the Christian monarch devoted to God and country in that order.
Through information brought to light through friends of his adopted son, Michael discovers a sexual abuse scandal that has poisoned the very deepest roots of the Church of England. The lion's share of the story is devoted to the battle against the sordidness and vile sin covered up in the C of E for far too long. The description is apt and fitting. Although many think of clergy sexual abuse as a "Catholic" problem, it is truly a multi-denominational problem, as recent disclosures in the Southern Baptist Convention have made clear. Young is writing for and ahead of his time.
The scandal is exposed, not contained, and Michael, with the dedicated support of his wife Sarah and his entire family, weathers some anguishing storms throughout the harrowing days of investigation. But the maturity gained in the previous three novels comes to bear on Michael's decisions in this one, all of which display that Dancing Prophet is a story about godly leadership.
First, leadership doesn't pick the situations from which it arises. Leaders must always be prepared to react in difficult times, toward difficult people, and despite their own difficulties. But Michael never responds with a complaint. From the moment he discovers that sexual abuse is roaring through the Church of England, he is willing to be an instrument of justice no matter how painful the journey might be. He also faces a thorny side issue as the City of London officials cannot agree on a budget and he is tapped to navigate that crisis when media fury swirls around any predicament. To slow down and even get a decent night's rest seems beyond his ken. Yet he plunges doggedly on.
Secondly, leadership never stands alone. One must trust in those who lead with you. At no point does Michael make decisions in isolation. No man is an island, and King Michael knows how proper leadership community is Donne (pun intended). For advice, he leans on Josh Gittings (his chief of staff), Jay Lanham (his communications director), Jonathan Crowe (his main speechwriter), and Trevor Barry (legal analyst for church/monarchial law). Michael reflects a key component of human activity: We need one another. Building a kingdom--whether of state or of God--takes the work of more than one person.
Also, true leadership demands transparency. Michael doesn't divulge every sordid detail of the sexual abuse scandal at every step of the way. But neither does he shirk from letting people know the depth of the crisis they face at personal and institutional levels. Whenever more discoveries are made and new details arise, Michael knows the foolishness of trying to defuse a bomb that has already gone off. And this leads to another corollary about godly leadership: In the pursuit of transparency, one often must confront toxic leadership that makes the poison of sin greater in depth and breadth. For Michael, that means taking on men in positions of power, some of whom would like nothing more than to tar Michael himself with the stain the church bears. And sadly for Michael, this also means confronting those he considers friends.
In the midst of it all, godly leadership can demonstrate a principle of godly community, namely that a leader can help people belong to the process even if they do not yet believe in the hope the leader professes. The kind and manly gentleness exhibited by Michael has considerable drawing power in a growing professional and personal relationship with Trevor Barry. In his legal analyst, Michael has a trusted ally, but he also reaches out to Trevor in spite of the latter's agnosticism. Patient with Trevor's approach to faith or lack thereof, Michael demonstrates that as leaders influence others, sometimes belonging must precede believing.
And finally, godly leadership can involve radical solutions to devastating situations. In response to the breaches of trust from the clergy abuse, Michael believes that a leveling of leadership is the way to go. Selecting new leaders takes Michael's beckoning hand to Africa for a new archbishop and a belief that accountability must be disseminated leads him to the conclusion that presbyterian government by elders--thus jettisoning the spiritual direction of bishops in the episcopal system--will foster the healing and institutional sanctification the king desires to see in the Church of England. Although this maneuver might seem overly radical--and I say that as an Anglican who believes in the spiritual oversight of bishops--Young is well within the bounds of Anglican historical allowances. Richard Hooker, the great apologist of Anglican governance, allowed at points within his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity there might arise times when the presbyterian system might be occasionally beneficial.
Through the story, we see King Michael--via anticipation, action, and reflection--grow even more in his capacity and ability as a godly leader. Told within the confines of a gripping tale, the plot enhances the king's character (and that of others) with Young's personal command of and deft movement throughout the rich, colorful setting of the heartbeat of Great Britain. The anguish of the story is that God's sheep will sometimes be terrorized by evil shepherds. But in such times as those, God also has a way of raising up prophets to lead them from darkness to light, and the truth that God will never let go of his sheep is the delightful hope at the heart of Young's novel.