Russell Levenson returns to Birmingham with his new book, ‘In God’s Grip’

The Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr. at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: The Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr. is not an avid golfer. Not anymore, anyway.

He played while in high school at Mountain Brook High School and a little while in college at Birmingham-Southern College, but graduate school and, eventually, a career in the pulpit and raising a family kept him off of the golf course for the most part.

“When I retire, I’ll play again,” says Levenson, former associate rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Mountain Brook and now rector at Houston’s St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, the largest Episcopal church in North America with more than 10,000 members.

So why does this matter? Because golf is front and center in his new book, “In God’s Grip: What Golf Can Teach Us About the Gospel.” Levenson will be at Homewood’s Alabama Booksmith on Thursday from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. signing copies of the book.

The basis for “In God’s Grip” is legendary golfer Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons,” something Levenson came across while preparing for the funeral of an avid golfer.

And though Hogan’s lessons are about golf, “The more I read it, the more I thought it could be a metaphor for the Christian life,” Levenson says.

So, about six years ago, he wrote the book and started trying to sell it.

“I found an agent who said yes, there might be a market for it, but in the middle of the conversation, I said, ‘I’m also kind of thinking of a book on George and Barbara Bush and the relationship there.’ He said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s the book.’ That happened, and I completely put this on hold.”

That book was last year’s “Witness to Dignity: The Life and Faith of George H.W. and Barbara Bush.” The Bushes were longtime members of St. Martin’s and friends of Levenson, who officiated at both Bushes’ funerals.

Eventually, though, Levenson returned to the golf book, which, with permission from Hogan’s heirs, takes the golfer’s lessons – grip, stance, backswing, downswing and review ­– and applies them to faith.

For instance, “grip” includes realizing that “the grip that matters is not your grip on life, it’s God’s grip on you,” Levenson says. Stance means realizing you’re standing day to day in the love of God. Backswing explores methods people use to employ faith, including prayer, Bible study and meditation. Downswing is employing your faith, and, in the end, there will be a review.

The simplicity of Hogan’s golf lessons dovetails nicely with Levenson’s approach to faith.

“I think some people are reticent to grab hold of the core beliefs because they think it’s too hard, or it’s beyond their comprehension, or they just don’t have time for it,” Levenson says. “I want to say that faith isn’t as complex as you might think it is.”

And, as in golf, practicing faith takes practice.

“One of the things I say is we shouldn’t just pray once,” Levenson says. “We should constantly be praying. We shouldn’t open the Bible and read it just once; we constantly should be doing it. And you don’t employ your Christian faith to just a few people; you employ it to everybody. It’s a lifelong process.”

The Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr., signing copies of his new book, “In God’s Grip: What Golf Can Teach Us About the Gospel,” at the Alabama Booksmith,  2626 19th Place S., Homewood, Thursday, Nov. 16, 4-6 p.m.

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