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InterMat Reads: They're Just Not Interested

What can an author do when he writes a book that strikes a chord and resonates with thousands of readers?

How about an encore?

That describes the situation with former wrestler Michael Fessler who penned the incredibly popular "Faith and Wrestling" book a couple years ago. Now he has crafted a follow-up book geared to a wider audience -- yet still very applicable for the wrestling community -- titled "They're Just Not Interested: Rediscovering Our Faith and Approaching Non-Believers with the Faith of a Wrestler," just published by Banyan Press.

First, a bit about Fessler's first book

The title of Mike Fessler's first book, "Faith and Wrestling: How the Role of a Wrestler Mirrors the Christian Life" described two significant aspects of who he is, as a former wrestler (competing at the storied Apple Valley High School mat program in Minnesota, and at Cal State-Bakersfield) as well as a graduate of theology at Bethel University.

"I was not only engaged in religious study at Bethel, but also had reconnected with wrestling as a fan," Fessler told InterMat in 2014. "Wrestling and faith (as subjects) collided in my head. My experience as a wrestler and my faith became even more interconnected, an idea that I could not keep from swirling in my mind."

After all, there's a strong linkage between religious faith and wrestling. Wrestling is featured in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, as Jacob wrestles with the angel. Numerous wrestlers openly profess their religious faith with their clothes, their tattoos, in their participation in groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Athletes in Action, and in their interviews. It was even the subject of a 2009 InterMat article titled "Christian faith serves wrestlers on and off the mat."

"The (InterMat) article was a springboard," Fessler disclosed last year. "I thought, 'Readers might want to hear what I have to say.'"

Fessler's first book "Faith and Wrestling" created something of a sensation within the wrestling community.

"The success of the first book was pretty surprising to me," Fessler told InterMat in a recent interview. "It was exciting to see how many individuals, schools and teams wanted to read 'Faith and Wrestling.'"

The inspiration for a second book

A comment from a reader can get an author to start thinking about a follow-up book ... especially when the reader is a wrestling coach.

"Coach Lenny Zalesky at Cal Baptist told me as he was reading 'Faith and Wrestling,' 'I'm looking forward to 'Faith and Wrestling II,'" said Fessler.

Michael Fessler
However, it took more than a coach at a Christian university in California to inspire former wrestler Mike Fessler to commit to writing another book.

"I was giving a talk about the first book in a church, where the vast majority of those in the audience had no idea about wrestling," said Fessler.

"I thought the idea of wrestling with faith is bigger than the wrestling community. Perhaps there is a real need for a book that goes beyond the sport. I wanted to explore how churches reach out to others -- and how they wrestle with issues in connecting with those who aren't part of the church."

"Fifteen percent of Americans consider themselves to be 'spiritual' but don't consider themselves to be Christian," Fessler said. "They want to know 'How does spirituality impact my life?'"

"I wanted to offer a different way to help others connect to faith. Engaging people as human beings, rather than through religious philosophy," the former wrestler continued. "We are rational, intelligent individuals, but we're also emotional beings."

"We often try to appeal to these individuals intellectually. There is a place for this kind of discussion. A place where people can wrestle with issues, while we're making it clear to them that we don't have answers for everything."

As for the new book's attention-getting title ...

"It popped into my head after coming across the Pew Research analysis of the spiritual landscape in America -- the study that revealed fifteen percent of Americans identify themselves as spiritual but not interested in traditional Christian faith," said Fessler. "They are not interested in philosophical arguments. After all, we're not just rational beings. A lot of us struggle with life. We seek an experiential connection."

Wrestling with greater intimacy ... and simplicity

"They're Just Not Interested" continues with the themes explored in "Faith and Wrestling" in that it continues to explore the faith of a wrestler ... with a focus in reaching out to others who seek spirituality but may not be comfortable -- or may even be turned off -- by a deep philosophical approach to Christianity.

"Wrestling and faith is a Christian concept," said Fessler. "There are unique elements of wrestling that connect to Christianity. Think of Jacob wrestling an angel."

"The church has always talked about a relationship with God," said Fessler. "Wrestling implies intimacy. Struggling can create a stronger connection, which translates into more faith in God."

"If we talk about Christianity being a relationship, the faith of a wrestler comes into it."

"There will be times of wrestling, conflict, struggle. Issues of confusion."

"I think it's OK for us to say that God wants us to wrestle with him, engage with Him," Fessler continued. "We don't wrestle with things that don't mean anything to us."

"It's part of our quest for deeper intimacy ... Even in times of struggle, there can be greater intimacy."

Quoting from his new book, Fessler said, "God brings simplicity to a world with people on a merry-go-round of complexity."

"While spirituality and Christian faith can be complicated, all too often we make it complex. We human beings are often uncomfortable with simplicity. We try to complicate things."

"We've become infatuated with complicated thoughts," the former wrestler continued. "We need to simplify things."

"We need to focus on the original simple Christian message."

Lessons learned from "Faith and Wrestling"

To say Fessler's first book "Faith and Wrestling" was a huge hit would be an understatement. Coaches, wrestlers and families within the wrestling community read it on their own or made it a component of their Bible study groups ... then recommended it to others.

In a 2015 interview with InterMat, Fessler said, "A year ago, I was a former wrestler and a theology grad that no one had heard of. Now, to see how it (the first book) has been received, well, it's beyond anything I had hoped for."

However, there were challenges along the way. The first publisher suddenly went belly-up, leaving book orders unfilled. Eventually Fessler found another publisher who was able to get "Faith and Wrestling" into the hands of even more readers.

That whole experience led to the wrestler-turned-writer in a new direction for "They're Just Not Interested."

"I took a different route with publishing the new book," Fessler disclosed. "It is self-published."

"The positive reception of the wrestling community to the first book provided me encouragement to self-publish."

That encouragement from a receptive wrestling community provided the author greater confidence with the second title in ways that go beyond taking the self-publishing route.

"All the aspects of having been a wrestler make me comfortable in sharing my thoughts in a new book," said Fessler.

"They're Just Not Interested" continues the thread Mike Fessler first presented in his earlier book, "Faith and Wrestling." That said, it is not mandatory for a prospective reader who is intrigued by the new book to have read the first one. However, those who gained much from "Faith and Wrestling" will definitely appreciate Fessler's exploration of Christian outreach in his new title. As with his first book, Fessler is able to wrestle with challenging issues of making Christianity meaningful to those who aren't churchgoers but consider themselves to be spiritual and are seeking "something more" to their lives ... as well as to Christians who may have lost some of the intimacy that was foundational to their faith in earlier times.

Nor does one have to be a theologian -- or even someone who knows the Bible backwards and forwards -- to gain from reading "They're Just Not Interested." Mike Fessler has a gift for making his case in the clearest language, often referring to his own life story and faith journey to make the book all the more compelling and clear.

"They're Just Not Interested: Rediscovering Our Faith and Approaching Non-Believers with the Faith of a Wrestler" is available from a number of sources as of September 9, 2016, including Amazon.com.

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