About the Author
Philip Gulley is a Quaker minister, writer, husband, and father. He is the bestselling author of Front Porch Tales, the acclaimed Harmony series, and is coauthor of If Grace Is True and If God Is Love. Gulley lives with his wife and two sons in Indiana, and is a frequent speaker at churches, colleges, and retreat centers across the country.
Read an Excerpt
Just Shy of Harmony
Just Shy of Harmony
Sam Gardner sat on the porch the Monday after Easter. It was early in the morning. The Grant kids were walking past on their way to school.
"Are Levi and Addison ready?" Billy Grant yelled from the sidewalk.
"They'll be right out," Sam answered.
The window by the porch swing was propped open. Sam could hear his wife, Barbara, giving their boys last-minute instructions.
"Levi, don't forget your lunch money. Addison, if you have to go pee-pee, tell the teacher. Please don't go in your pants. Just raise your hand and ask to use the bathroom. Can you do that, honey?"
The boys walked out the front door with their mother following behind, adjusting their shirt collars and smoothing their hair. "Behave yourselves. Obey your teachers."
Barbara settled herself on the porch swing next to Sam. She let out a heavy sigh.
"Addison's kindergarten teacher called yesterday. Do you know he's wet his pants twice in the past week?"
"He is an unusually moist child," Sam agreed.
A pickup truck rattled past their house. Ellis and Miriam Hodge driving Amanda to school. Ellis bumped the truck horn.
"There go the Hodges," Sam observed.
"I really like them," Barbara said.
"I wish we had ten more just like them."
They swung back and forth in a companionable silence.
"I was looking at thecalendar," Barbara said. "I had forgotten this Sunday is Goal-Setting Sunday."
Sam groaned. "Oh, that's right. I'd forgotten too. I don't think I'll go."
"You have to go. You're the pastor."
"Maybe I'll get lucky and die before then."
But the Lord didn't see fit to spare him. Instead, Goal-Setting Sunday gnawed at Sam the entire week.
That Thursday he read the "Twenty-five Years Ago This Week" column in the Harmony Herald. There was a mention of Dale Hinshaw's long-ago mission trip. Twenty-five years ago, one of their goals had been the development of "Lawn Mower Evangelism." Compelled by the Almighty, Dale had ridden across the state on his John Deere lawn tractor. Whenever he passed someone in their yard, Dale would give them a Bible tract and witness to them.
"We just have to throw the seed out there," Dale had told the Herald. "There's no telling what the Lord can do with it." Then he was quoted as saying, "Near as I can figure, I averaged eight miles to the gallon."
This Sunday promised to be another glorious chapter in the goal-setting history of Harmony Friends Meeting.
The first Goal-Setting Sunday was held in 1970, the year Pastor Taylor came to Harmony fresh from seminary, chock-full of grand ideas. Sam was nine years old and has a vague recollection of Pastor Taylor standing at the chalkboard in the meetinghouse basement, encouraging them to splendid heights.
In 1970, their goals were, one, to spread the gospel to every tribe and person in the world, two, to end world hunger, and, three, to carpet the Sunday school rooms.
They'd carpeted the Sunday school rooms first, donated a box of canned goods to a food pantry, and then lost their enthusiasm to do anything more.
Goal-Setting Sunday had gone downhill from there, each year a stark testimony to the growing apathy of the church.
At the last Goal-Setting Sunday, Dale Hinshaw had proposed painting Jesus Saves on the meetinghouse roof as a witness to people in airplanes. "They're up there in the wild blue yonder, bucking up and down in the turbulence. The pilot's telling them to fasten their seat belts. They'll look out the window and see our roof, and it'll fix their minds on the eternal. If they're not open to the Lord then, they never will be."
That was when Sam had proposed doing away with Goal-Setting Sunday. "Why do we even bother? We set these goals and make a big deal out of it for a month or so, then we forget all about it. When we do remember it, we feel bad that we didn't do anything. Why don't we just skip Goal-Setting Sunday this year?"
That had gone over like a pregnant pole-vaulter.
Dale had quoted from the book of Revelation about lukewarm churches and how God would spew them out of his mouth. "Do you want the Lord to spit us out, Sam? Is that what you want? 'Cause I tell you right now, that's what He'll do. You're leading us down a slippery slope. First, we'll stop doing the Goal-Setting Sunday, then the next thing you know there'll be fornication right here in the church. You watch and see."
Any deviation from tradition had Dale Hinshaw prophesying an outbreak of fornication in the church pews. It took Sam several years to learn he was better off keeping quiet and not suggesting anything new.
"Just go along with it," his wife had told him. "It's only one Sunday a year. Let them do whatever they're going to do. It's easier that way."
So when Dale suggested at the elders meeting that it was time for Goal-Setting Sunday, Sam didn't argue.
They scheduled it for the first Sunday after Easter, which is when they've always held it, lest fornication break out in the church.
Dale came to the meetinghouse on Goal-Setting Sunday clutching a briefcase. An ominous sign. After worship, everyone clumped downstairs. Miriam Hodge, the last bastion of sanity in the congregation and, providentially, the head elder, stood at the blackboard, chalk in hand. She asked Sam to pray, so he used the opportunity to talk about the importance of tasteful ministry.
"Dear God," Sam prayed, "may whatever we do bring honor to your name. Let our ministry be proper and reverent, befitting your magnificence."
He'd no...Just Shy of Harmony. Copyright © by Philip Gulley. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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What People are Saying About This
“Filled with humor and grace, this is a delightful homespun tale.”
“Philip Gulley is a beautiful writer. His ‘Just Shy of Harmony’ is just shy of perfect.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Pleasant, easy read.
This book, second in a series, covers a year in the life of a congregation in Harmony, Indiana. (It says it's in Indiana on the book cover; I don't remember seeing the state mentioned anywhere in the book.) In this installment of the Harmony saga, Sam Gardner is becoming discouraged in his second year of ministry there. His congregation is entrenched in its ways, and those ways aren't always very mission-oriented. His frustration takes a toll on his faith as he grapples with various issues facing the people of his congregation.I'm not sure what to say about this book. On the one hand, it's an easy, lightweight read. On the other, it gave me some things to think about. Harmony, Indiana is populated with rather exaggerated versions of the folks we often encounter in churches -- the kind, the self-righteous, the selfish, the generous, the zealous, the well-meaning, the power-hungry, the afflicted, the faithful, etc. I recognized many of them from my own life (though, thankfully, we haven't had to deal with many of the really unpleasant ones lately; and the ones we've dealt with recently have been on the periphery of our church ministry, or had only mild cases of the negative traits.)As I said, the characters -- a few of them really odd birds -- are a bit exaggerated. And the time-span of the narrative makes for some gaps. But the story is told with humor (sometimes zany) and and honesty -- even the difficult people have their good points (hard as they are to see sometimes) and the good people have their bad points. Gulley does a good job of capturing some of the nuances of small-town life, both good and bad. And there are a few surprises along the way to shake up attitudes a bit. But the book is not "preachy," in my opinion.This book is certainly not great literature, but I enjoyed it. I may take another trip to Harmony in the near future. I might especially recommend it for those who have been stung by experiences with church people who didn't always behave in what would be considered a "Christian" manner -- and I suspect that's most of us (at one time or another) who have been active in church.
Sam Gardner, pastor of the Harmony Friends Meeting, continues his second year of ministry in Philip Gulley's Just Shy of Harmony, the second book in his Harmony series. As Sam reacclimates to his hometown, he continues trying to support the quirky and loving people through their joys and challenges. In the midst of these challenges, ranging from the humorous -- the elder who decides to evangelize the world by producing chicken eggs with Biblical verses inside -- to the tragic -- a young mother in a life-and-death struggle with leukemia -- Sam faces his own personal challenge, the loss of his faith. This adds a layer of melancholy to the life-affirming tales that Gulley spins in this charming book. In fact, Gulley's careful balancing of life's basic emotions, the good and the challenging, undergirds the resonance of his stories. He sees the humor in the self-absorption of some of his characters, who never quite understand why others don't see the world as they do, but he also sees their humanity. Consider Bob Miles, the newspaper editor, who appears a few times in this novel. In one chapter, he is excited to realize that he's writing his 1,000 column ("The Bobservation Post") for the newspaper, and hopes to find someone to share that happiness with; soon thereafter, however, he is depressed by the fact that he seems to have written the same column 1,000 times. As usual, Gulley, himself a pastor, has a keen understanding of small-town church people. He offers glimpses of their stubbornness to change, sometimes funny and sometimes poignant, but he also shows the essential love for others that they demonstrate in other ways. These are the people in many churches (I know -- like Gulley, I am a pastor too). In his humorous and touching, never condescending, way, Gulley shows us the best of ourselves. He shows a good man struggling to regain his faith, and the loving and impractical support he receives from others who don't understand quite what he's talking about. He shows people coping with illness and family problems with courage and decency. He shows a church where the members sometimes miss the big picture, but just as often surpass anyone's expectations in how they reach out to others.
Don't pass it up!
This book was just as good as the first one. I love this series. I ordered the 3rd installment and can't wait to get it. These are worth the read.
If representing the authors parish i fear he may have trouble with his flock if they recognize themselves mom
Great story. Very tender and real. Loved it.
I like all the Harmony books. As a church secretary, I can relate to a lot of what is written and enjoy the humor.