WINNER OF TWO NATIONAL FICTION AWARDS FROM THE ASSOCIATED CHURCH PRESS, 2013-2014
Young Daavi and his beloved sister Shoshana live next door to the village carpenter Yeshu. Entranced by tales the carpenter spins as he works, the boy becomes Yeshu's helper, learning of a starpath upon which enlightened people can journey. This lesson is deepened by Yeshu's wilderness-walking cousin, Yohanan, who shows Daavi how nature's humblest creatures can be guides to the Spirit moving within us.
One day Shoshana goes missing, leaving Daavi devastated and his family in denial. Yohanan is murdered by the King, and Daavi hooks his star to Yeshu's as the youngest member of a mission to heal the wounds of a conquered people by teaching love and justice. He searches every face he encounters for Shoshana's.
Adventures along the road bond Daavi to members of the wandering band, notably Maria Magdalena and the Thunder Brothers, James and John. They treat him as their equal, and he blossoms in their light. But all hope seems dashed with Yeshu's execution. Daavi struggles mightily to recover his footing and to discover whether his old friend lives on. If so, where is he?
With Maria's help, Daavi discovers his own mission and finds Yeshu's Word shining through his own life as he serves others in need. The search for self is culminating but the search for home has just begun.
Rooted in Quaker values, YESHU is written for readers of all ages and spiritual backgrounds. For a taste of the novel, go to "Selected Stories" to read six, published short stories, plus two related pieces.
Taught by the foremost storyteller ever, Daavi invites you to make his tale your own.
Why this Book?
Years ago I walked the aisles of bookstores and libraries around metropolitan Washington, D.C., searching for a novel for my then teenage children that would relate them the New Testament story without turning them off. The book I was looking for would electrify the imaginations of Ana Maria and Joshua and open them up to the thrilling possibilities of a spiritual journey as relevant to today's world as it was two millennia ago. It would take them on an adventure that would teach profound lessons about how to live their lives - ethically, energized by love, and in service to the disadvantage peoples of our world. In spite of my efforts, I was unable to find such a book. One day, in a bookstore corridor it finally struck me: that book was not waiting on a shelf somewhere for me to come upon it. To find it, I would need to write it.
My inspiration led me - after many years of research, meditation, and writing - to finish Yeshu: A Novel for the Open-Hearted. It's a book that I believe will be welcomed by seekers young and old who will encounter an engaging cast of characters gathered round a warm, lively, and accessible Yeshu.
I am convinced that readers searching for answers to life's questions - in these times when violence and anger so easily penetrate the world in which our youth are coming of age - will welcome a stimulating reexamination and reframing of the hopeful messages embedded in our Judeo-Christian stories and traditions. Simultaneously, at the heart of the novel is a recurring theme that speaks to the epic environmental challenge that our earth community now faces. Largely through Yeshu’s wilderness-walking, second cousin – Yohanan – the book explores the means to transform our society by reconnecting it with the natural world that has been such a powerful stage and inspiration for so many spiritual awakenings of the past. It is my hope that this melding of spirit with nature will speak directly to modern readers, engaging them in a life-giving dialogue with their own hearts.
Memorial Church, Stanford University,
with mosaic of the Sermon on the Mount
I believe I have written a book that rather than merely preaching to the choir will help the choir find its true singing voice. The very human Yeshu in my novel has learned to listen as well as to speak. Within close reach of all, this is a man who defies conventional wisdom, emerging from the villages and fields to lead a spiritual movement so vibrant, energetic, and liberating that it threatens both the Roman occupiers and the local church hierarchy...and then goes on to thrive for more than two millennia.
In my book, Yeshu touches common folks, especially the young and the disadvantaged, changing them forever. But above all, his story demonstrates how the youthful protagonist Daavi, and his sister Shoshana, are shaped by Yeshu's words and actions. Yeshu the inspiring, storytelling, salt-of-the-earth carpenter who believed that children have even greater spiritual potential than adults.
As a published author for four decades and a performing storyteller for even longer, as well as an international development professional for 45 years and a single father for 20, I feel that I may be in a unique position to communicate a fresh, engrossing Yeshu narrative not only to youth, but to readers of all ages. Six published short stories crafted from my book have already been well-received by such readers. In 2011, one of those pieces was given a national award by the Associated Church Press, within the category of “Seasonal Story.“
As for my first two children, they are now adults, but they have had a hand in my recrafting of the book over the years. Now they share it with their soon-to-be teenaged sister Lily, who is one of YESHU's biggest fans.
Pablo Gargallo's The Prophet (John the Baptist; 1933)
Charles David ("Chuck") Kleymeyer is a freelance writer, and an applied sociologist with a lifetime of experience serving organizations and communities of low-income Indians, Blacks, and Mestizos throughout the Americas. His professional publications include five books and more than 30 articles, and he has published short stories and poetry in the Southern Indiana Review, Native Americas, Grassroots Development, Friends Journal, Quaker Life, Voices in the Glen, Modern Haiku, and the Boundary Waters Journal. Following a Fulbright Fellowship in an indigenous artisan town in highland Ecuador, he published a trilingual collection of documentary short stories - in Spanish, Quechua, and English. His work has also appeared in Portuguese, German, and French. Over the past decade, he has published six short stories from the current novel in manuscript (see Publication Resume). In 2010 he was a nominee for the Indiana Authors Award, given to Hoosier writers, regardless of residence. In 2011 his short story, "Away in a Manger: A Quaker Midrash" - an adaptation of a chapter from YESHU - was given an Award of Merit for a Seasonal Article, by the Associated Church Press.
Chuck received a B.A. degree from Stanford University, completing a major within the Creative Writing Program, where he studied under Wallace Stegner. He then served in the Peace Corps in highland Peru, and subsequently earned an M.S. in Sociology and a Ph.D. in Development Studies, both from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He then launched a career in international grassroots support and assistance that is still ongoing. For nearly 50 years Chuck has been a performing storyteller at folk festivals, living-room gatherings, campfires, churches and religious retreats, and Indian reservations. This avocation has further shaped his narrative voice, while his cross-cultural, international development work has molded his philosophical and ethical outlook. The life lessons and oral history techniques taught to him by Indians and Blacks throughout the Americas have informed his vision of the teaching style and humanistic practices of the historical Jesus and other New Testament figures. These lessons of love, pacifist action, compassionate service, forgiveness, and care for the environment have been amplified by his long-time spiritual commitment to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
Chuck is the father of two adult children and a soon-to-be teenager - all of whom have served as ongoing fiction editors for his novel and other projects. Over the years, they have dutifully appreciated his storytelling, word games, and knock-knock jokes, especially at the family’s cabin in the Minnesota Boundary Waters, and larger-than-life treehouse in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Chuck also visits classrooms and libraries where he presents a self-scripted performance - in first person and authentic costume - of Abraham Lincoln telling stories of his childhood in Indiana and how it impacted him as a man and a president.
Chuck Kleymeyer has told stories on radio and television (available digitally) and has given lectures (subsequently published) at Harvard and Princeton Universities, the World Bank, the Smithsonian Institution, the Ford Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund. Actively engaged in promoting YESHU, he is on Facebook and Twitter and will soon be blogging on this website.
Larger-than-life woodcarving, by Wisconsin craftsmen, 1937; Behind the altar of Bethel United Church of Christ, Evansville, Indiana
Michelangelo Buonarroti's La Pieta (1499)
Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night (1889)
For millennia, artists and writers have been interpreting their personal visions of spirituality through artistic and narrative expression. In this way they stimulate, provoke, and challenge us to open our eyes and minds to new possibilities, as well as to ponder the many ways in which spiritual messages can be presented, framed, and reframed through art.
And so have I been influenced by Michelangelo, van Gogh, Hesse, Beethoven, Gargallo, Heschel, and others. And I've been moved by the natural wonders of the Boundary Waters, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Yosemite, and the Giant Sequoias.
Each of these manifestations of art and nature, amplified and deepened by meditation, has inspired me to imagine YESHU: a novel for the open-hearted.