Viral Vitality Q&A with Art Toalston
Q: What do you hope the new book, A Pandemic Proposal, Viral Vitality … Hope for the Human Soul, will accomplish?
A: First and foremost, I hope the book makes its way to non-Christians. For more than 20 years of my life, I was not a Christian. I was an okay person, but after I turned to Christ in 1971 on the front porch of my aunt’s house in Newton, Mississippi, the difference has been night and day. Christ can impart a wholesomeness and vibrancy to our lives through the Holy Spirit that enhances everything we do. And in its high regard for the value of our souls, it has no equal in any other religious tradition or secular philosophy.
Second, I hope the book makes its way to church members. We need to eradicate anything ho-hum about our faith. We need to optimize our lives by tapping into its supernatural dimension, reflected, for instance, by the fruit of the Holy Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
And third, I hope it can join with others in challenging the prevailing secular mindset in our country that is dismissive or ridicules the supernatural things of God. Christians are intelligent people who are part of an extraordinary heritage of faith through the ages, and that remains viable today and in each new era of the human story. Just because something is supernatural doesn’t make it anti-intellectual or nonexistent.
Q: What are the key features of the book?
It is drawn squarely from Scripture in short stop-and-go sections for easy reading. More than 60 Scripture passages are set forth in the seven chapters of the main text; 45 verses are recommended for further reading, study, and meditation; and more than 50 passages are addressed in brief reflections by 42 pastors and laypeople who were kind to add a grassroots type of perspective for the final chapter. There are no quotes from luminaries, past or present, no anecdotes, no personal storytelling and no sports analogies. Just the Scriptures and some insights and reminders about their value in a time of societal upheaval as well as the regular flow of life. Of course, they have value only as we ask and trust the Holy Spirit to apply them to our hearts and minds.
Q: What is the overall message of the book?
Even amid the horrors and heavy sorrows of the COVID-19 pandemic, there can be a distinct vitality in our souls, in our circumstances, in our relationships, in the world within our sphere of influence, and in how we each move into the future. It may not be a euphoric vitality when a prolific number of us suffer illness, and many die, in a society gripped by fear, economic tumult, and looming infections facing healthcare and law enforcement personnel and store clerks.
But still, just as our physical bodies, when well, function as they were intended to do, so too can the spirit within us. A vitality is available in Christ that can enhance our daily lives, even in a time of social upheaval and widespread grief. As long as we have a heartbeat and can breathe, why not venture forward with an optimized view of life? A coronavirus pandemic cannot alter God’s creation of the human soul.
Q: What happened to stir you to write the book?
My part-time job was suspended and several freelance stories I had written became irrelevant when everyone’s attention began turning to the looming COVID-19 crisis. I was at the Y one afternoon in the pool; I can’t swim but I was doing my aerobic exercise, kicking my legs and moving my arms, and asking the Lord what I could do to be productive. That’s when and where the thought came to write a book drawing on the Scripture I had memorized over the years. I wrote the first few paragraphs the next day, around the middle of March.
Over the course of about two weeks, I experienced moment after moment when it seemed that the Lord took me to various Scriptures that I had copied to notecards over the years and had memorized, meditated upon, and re-memorized whenever they had faded from memory. And it seemed that the Lord gave me the ideas for starting each chapter and each section along with ideas for the flow of each chapter. It was a humbling experience.
Q: Why do the Scriptures have such a central place in your ebooks?
Scripture memorization, internalization and meditation have changed my life. I have been memorizing Scripture since around 2000, stirred to do so by a speaker at church. I started with the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23, and have since focused on several new passages a year, about 95 in all, ranging from one verse to multiple verses. When they have slipped from memory, I have re-memorized them, repeating the process numerous times, each time experiencing anew the Holy Spirit’s illumination and rejuvenation through God’s revelation. As various realizations came to mind during times of prayer, I wrote down as many as I could, yearning to share these gleanings with others, now through the new ebook, A Pandemic Proposal: Viral Vitality … Hope for the Human Soul, and two earlier ebooks, Meditation & Morality: Praying for a Better Way and When I Meditate: Reclaiming a Key Facet of Prayer. While new birth began an extraordinary transformation of my life when I trusted Christ in my early twenties, the Holy Spirit’s dynamic in Scripture continues to make my relationship to God all the more wondrous.
Q: Why did you utilize an ebook format?
A: It seems to be the only way to fast track a substantive message. I believe this could be the first book or ebook from a faith perspective addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, to say to non-Christians and to church folks that there can be hope and even a vibrant faith in the midst of a crisis. Major publishers in New York can release a book on any given topic within a few weeks. Sadly, it doesn’t seem there is a rapid response capability in Christian publishing.
By the way, if someone has an important message but no way to get it out, doing an ebook is not overly difficult. I used eBookIt.com. They have an easy-to-follow checklist for each step of the process. They can provide a book cover. They’ll place it at Amazon, iTunes and other platforms. They’re responsive, quick and competent. And they can do all this for around $300.
Q: How are you letting people know about the ebook?
Social media is a challenge. I’m on Facebook – @atoalston – as well as Instagram and Twitter – @arttoalston. But I haven’t spent a lot of time on social media over the years. For me, the priority has been spending time with God through the Scriptures, seeking to be a good husband, full-time work as senior editor of Baptist Press and doing ministry at the nursing home in Alabama where my wife’s parents were.
It’s kind of odd, I think if I would have chosen to devote time to social media over the years, I wouldn’t have a message, or a life, with any depth.