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New gospel gives ‘paws’ to faith stories

The Rev. William B. Miller and Sam Houston

in conjunction with the release of the book, at Trinity, Houston and St. David’s, Austin. On St. Francis Eve, Monday, October 3, Trinity, Houston, will host a book signing by Miller. At 7 p.m. local DJ Donna McKenzie will host a program featuring Trinity’s own jazz band and an original composition about Sam performed by Paul English. Miller will read from the book and a reception will follow. Sam’s brother Jack will put in an appearance.

On Tuesday, October 4, St. Francis’ Day, St. David’s, Austin will host an identical program hosted by Eric Moen, youth missioner at Trinity. 

Many years in the writing, The Gospel According to Sam will be released this October, to coincide with St. Francis’ Day. Inspired by his crusty Airedale, Sam Houston, the Rev. William B. Miller, rector of Trinity, Houston, said he didn’t set out to write about animals. “I simply wanted to write some interesting stories based on real life experiences that wove spiritual truths within, but Sam kept sticking his nose into the narrative, much like he did when I tried to read the newspaper, ” Miller said. Sam passed away peacefully August 27, 2005.

Encouraged by a former literary agent who noticed that Sam and other animals played a prominent role in Miller’s writing, the book had its direction. “As it turns out, Sam was really the best theologian in the house, and has incarnated many spiritual truths, Miller said.  “Our loving Creator seems to reveal eternal truths through the animal world in a special (and often funny!) way,” he added.

Sam has been a constant for Miller through major transitions in his life and the opposite is also true. Miller has been with Sam through puppyhood, midlife crises and n old (dog) age and death. “His eyes, which didn’t see so well anymore, continued to reveal a depth of wisdom and love,” Miller said, describing the fire in which Sam lost his ears and the finesse with which Sam glided between his Austin and Houston homes in a shared custody arrangement with a former girlfriend of Miller’s. 

Miller wanted to write a book through which he could reach his “drinking buddies.” “I want to speak to folks in a fresh, honest way, not bogged down by hesitation to get down and dirty. Dogs make no pretense.  They walk around naked, sniff indiscriminately and flop over to indicate their need for attention.  In other words, they’re real,” Miller said. He hopes the theology in The Gospel According to Sam resonates for people in a very real way.  He wants to reach the devoutly religious and those who are not very spiritual. His book is for those who don’t mind a dose of dog slobber and who observe that a spiritual life can be profoundly humorous and poignant at the same time.

Miller admits to using words that priests are not supposed to use. “I write as a son, ex-boyfriend, traveler, moron, doggie daddy and priest.  Hopefully folks will find this liberating, encouraging and maybe provide some food for thought (both canned and dry),” he said.

Miller grew up in Houston and first experienced religion in a fundamentalist and restrictive tradition. While this offered some things he believes he had to overcome in gaining his own worldview, it also provided some positives. “I grew up in a home where God was involved in our lives, knew our names and cared when you fell off your bike. . . Early on, I felt a connection to this God and a desire to serve God,” he explained.

Miller attended McCormick Seminary in Chicago and was introduced to the Episcopal Church while studying at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. He later served as youth minister at St. John the Divine, Houston.  “I love being an Episcopalian,” Miller said, noting the dual expertise of the denomination to both pray and party. Both congregations where he has served as rector, St. James’, Austin and Trinity, Houston have been supportive of his need for time to write. After studying about and with many writers, Miller arrived at the indisputable: “Writers write.” Encouraged by friends who were writers, Miller set his summers aside to travel and write. The first result is The Gospel According to Sam.

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