Holy Scrolls | Books | Weekly style
In 2016, Steven Rogers, an accountant who lives in Richmond, was ending a 20-year career at Dominion Energy. He looked forward to putting more work into his writing, including novels and short stories.
He and his wife decided to take a trip to Israel. On the plane there, Rogers, who likes to read about religion, began imagining the plot of a new novel.
He had several friends who were alcoholics and had shattered lives and families. The idea came up that he could use his upcoming Israeli bus tour as a vehicle for a story about failure, revelation and redemption.
It was the debut of “Into the Room,” published last year by Elk Lake Publishing, a Massachusetts-based company that prints Christian-themed works.
The novel centers on Ben Cahill, a Richmond commercial real estate developer who has had a serious drinking problem since he was a teenager. He came home drunk one night and started pushing his daughter and his wife around. His son grabbed a baseball bat to protect them.
Cahill is arrested, ends up in court, undergoes rehab while a relative arranges the bus tour to Israel. Luckily, the trip is made up mostly of Christians who don’t hesitate to talk about coming to Jesus. “There’s nothing worse than Holy Rollers on a roller,” Cahill says.
“Pastor Marcus,” the tour guide takes the entourage aboard a bus at an Israeli airport and gets to work. “It’s time to dig into the New Testament,” he says. “Let’s talk about Cornelius, who brought the apostle Peter. At the time, Pierre was in Joppa.
And so on. The tour lasts around 10 days and is filled with tons of Bible quotes and anecdotes. An array of evangelical passengers, such as middle-aged Gerri and twenty-something emergency nurse Addy, chat in rather geeky dialogue.
From the start, Cahill tolerated them and continued to dream of vodka on the rocks.
Now readers know where the story is going. It’s only a matter of time before the stubborn Cahill will have spiritual moments and go “into the room” where God will take control of his life.
Supported by his new friends, he finally asks for forgiveness and finds Jesus and redemption, calls his ex-wife, etc.
As a former altar boy, I’m as religious as the next person but I must admit that quite early in my reading, I wanted to wrap it up. I was bored with the corny chatter, the constant biblical travelogue, and the rare mentions of Jews.
But somehow, Cahill (and Rogers) hooked me. I wanted to put the book down, but I kept coming back to it. The bus drivers seem simple-minded, but the author makes you love them and make you want to know more about them.
Cahill is the most realistic character of all because he is so flawed. His explanation of his cravings for alcohol all the time is interesting and profoundly revealing. He wants vodka or beer (or both) starting in the morning, then until lunch, late afternoon, dinner and after.
He seriously mourns what it has done to his family and friends. In this, Rogers succeeds in explaining what addiction means. Cahill wants to quit but just can’t.
I didn’t quite understand this at first, but Cahill’s travel roommate is a man named Joseph who constantly writes memos about Our Man and the redemptive progress he made that day. . He sends them to “Pierre”.
I had no idea who they were. At first I thought they might be Mossad agents. It wasn’t until I spoke with the author that I learned that the former is a God-sent apparition and the latter is St. Peter.
As irritating as all the passages in the Bible can be, Rogers shows an impressive understanding of the material. “I love to read and I’ve looked through the Bible three or four times. But that didn’t occur to me. I had to look for them,” he says.
Rogers is not particularly evangelical, he says. He attended the College of the Holy Cross, a school in Worcester, Mass that is run by the Jesuits, a Catholic order: “I guess I went through a gradual conversion,” he adds.