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The Hunger and Inclusion Advocate for the Presbytery of San Jose penned a pair of books during the pandemic

The Rev. Ryan Althaus takes on an eating disorder and the hereafter

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Ryan Althaus is the Inclusion and Hunger Advocate for the Presbytery of San Jose (contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Among the handful of clergy authors published by Cyclical Publishing is the Rev. Ryan Althaus, the Hunger and Inclusion Advocate for the Presbytery of San Jose, whose latest book carries the provocative title “The Expanse: Homos, Hobos, and the Holy Hereafter.”

“What happens when Caleb, the hobo, abruptly exits the world? Welcome to the expanse, where you’ll meet two socially stigmatized souls in an atypical afterlife encounter who are striving to set themselves free,” according to the book’s description. “Open your mind to new perspectives and get ready to dance with the derelict on a not-so-fictional evolutionary journey.”

Cyclical Publishing “does a lot of stuff with new worshiping communities kind of things,” said Althaus, who also wrote another book published this year, “From Emaciated to Emancipated: The Story of a Skinny Mango,” which includes a foreword by New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and centers on Althaus’ eating disorder. Learn more about Althaus’ take on “Ed,” the name he gave his eating disorder, through this piece Althaus wrote for the September issue of The Christian Century.

Althaus said he spent part of the pandemic trying with limited success to get resources on hunger and the Matthew 25 movement into the hands of Presbytery of San Jose faith communities, “so I wrote a novel. It was a fun thing to release, and Cyclical picked it up,” Althaus said.

The three central characters are “a gay guy, a homeless guy and God. It was a joke at first, but it turned out pretty well,” Althaus said of “The Expanse.” “The idea is to walk alongside progressive pastors and create a community. Just writing it totally saved my sense of call throughout the whole Covid thing.”

Althaus spent two years writing “The Expanse,” which he said touches on themes of “division and despondency” as well as “social and spiritual acceptance.”

“It was super therapeutic for me,” Althaus said. “It did a lot for my creative sense and for my general well-being.”

He said shame and guilt, themes Althaus explores in the book, “are two big themes I have noticed in my work.”

“The book takes into account experiential wisdom” that Althaus gained in part by living homeless in four different communities. Asked for an example, Althaus noted using a number of pairs of pronouns, including “they/them,” “he/him” and “she/her.” As someone who identifies as gender nonconforming, gender “is not something I ascribe to,” Althaus said, adding, “we would call God gender nonconforming.”

Althaus hopes using words like “homos” and “hobos” in the title of the book “puts people off. I feel by living a life” of gender nonconformity and experiencing homelessness, “I have somewhat earned my ability to use those words.”

“We as a church dance overly gracefully around the terminology,” Althaus said. “We are so scared to speak normally that we put people off.”

“The beauty of fiction is it opens the door for people to speak, listen and read, but not to take it as a truism,” Althaus said. “It allows people to get offended in a good way.”

Part of Althaus’ presbytery work has been to explain the work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program to congregations and worshiping communities within the presbytery. Among the worshiping communities is Sweaty Sheep, a new worshiping community in Santa Cruz that Althaus helped found.

The presbytery work has included forming partnerships with two farm operations — one designed for people with special needs, and the other for people without housing. “My work is to help build relationships between those alluded to the in the Matthew 25 texts and our congregants,” Althaus said. “We sit with people, and it’s been going really well.” The ministry “takes away the hierarchical view of ‘I am serving you’ and makes it more into ‘We are serving each other,’” Althaus said.

Listen to an excerpt from “The Expanse” here.

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