Leaving Ruin

“Jeff Berryman has taken an evangelical preacher, and turned him into the most unexpected thing: a human being. A remarkable first novel.” –Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Holy the Firm.

“. . . an exuberant romp through the territory of the spirit that has as many laughs as moments when it pulls at the heart. LEAVING RUIN embraces the life of the religious and lets it sing with humor, pathos and, ultimately, true significance.” –Albert Haley, author of Home Ground: Stories of Two Families and the Land, and Exotic: A Novel, winner of the John Irving First Novel Prize.

“Cyrus Manning is a compelling character not because of his physical appearance (completely bald) or his rhetorical skills (cannot boil a sermon down to three points) or his rigid moral scrupulousness (has a temper, occasionally swears, and admits to lust), but because he earnestly tries to seek God and serve his fellow Christians in spite of it all.” —Jeremy Lott, Christianity Today

Loreen is her name–the old woman in the angel costume who accosts Cyrus Manning near the dance floor of the Down Under. A gift is coming, she tells him. “The gift to die for.”

For Eleven years Cyrus has pastored First Church of Ruin, a small city deep in the barrens of West Texas. He has come upon hard times. His congregation doesn’t want him anymore, and he is questioning not only his call but his very identity.

And God is quiet.

In this richly textured novel, Jeff Berryman enters the world of the small town congregation, revealing its natural wonders, its natural cruelties, and, here and there, breathtaking moments of unnatural grace.


“Jesus wept!”

A voice spits an oath, crackling with irritation, as if it’s been in the business of hate for decades, and I look up. The non-haloed angel drops into the chair across from me, her flimsy wings falling around her waist. I grin. This gnarly cherub is an old woman, a tree-stump of a woman, seventy if she’s a day. A cigarette dangles from her mouth, a mouth stretched with frowning, and it looks like the rest of her face followed. Ears sagging, nose drooping, turkey skin under her neck. Sun baked wrinkles crisscross her face, with cheeks pockmarked in crevasses etched in childhood. Her chin is a round moon, and dark circles under black eyes frighten me, scaring me into thinking this could be me someday.

Her right hand even fingers a cane–plain brown wood, drugstore variety–her twisted digits clinging to its handle like tree roots. . . . She barks at me . . . 

“First Church of Ruin.”

I’ve never seen this woman before in my life.

“You see the wings, don’t you?” It hurts my legs to hear her talk. Now she’s laughing, and that’s worse.

“Cyrus, God tells us these things.”


The Christianity Today Review of Leaving Ruin

Christian Chronicle Review

5 Replies to “Leaving Ruin”

  1. I just read this for the first time and now I know that I have to purchase it and read it (devour is more like it). I can tell I will like and want to share it with others. It is engageing and exactly the kind of humor I like. What’s more I can’t wait to see what the message really is!

  2. This is the third time through “Leaving Ruin” for me, although this time I’m using it more as inspiration by reading random pages as the Lord leads.

    I’m currently re-reading and absorbing “… such a large request …” on pages 247-259 as a springboard for a creative project.

    Thanks for sharing your unique insight on the everyday ups and downs along the Christian walk!

  3. I was reading “Ruin” simultaneously with a former youth pastor, to whom I had recommended it. He had been forced out of his position & oddly – had to leave Seattle for Texas. We both found Cyrus’ story to be honest, faithful, full of the personal mysterious connections God orchestrates for us to recognize if we’re paying attention. Then there were the unavoidable church hypocrites as well as encouraging true & loving disciples. Your lyrical phrasing is wonderful. I did find myself writing “NO NO NO NO!” in the margins where Cyrus & Connie were toying with each other. I concluded that it could be clearly instructive in context, a cautionary for those dangerously dallying.

    I’m a friend of the B. Williams’, NW Church musicals, & Taproot. I have told so many about your story of Jesus returning to Bethlehem, it was an amazingly original plot with glorious music. I’ve wondered if you ever put that into book form & what was the title?
    Thanks, Ann

    1. Hi Ann! How wonderful to get your kind note! Thanks especially for the comments about The Question of Bethlehem. To answer in brief, that musical never really got off the ground, and it doesn’t live anywhere in published form. It’s good to know it lives well in your memory. Thanks again for reaching out, and I was, as I always am, truly grateful for the fact that there are still readers of Leaving Ruin. Makes me happy.

      Grace and peace, Jeff

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