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Interview: Neil Cullan McKinley, Author of From Mason to Minister: Through the Lattice

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Neil Cullan McKinley was born in Ontario, Canada.  He later, at the ripe age of two, sailed across the Atlantic with his two older brothers and his mother and father, to their native homeland, Scotland.

Mr. McKinley grew up in the Vale of Leven, on the southern end of Loch Lomond. He then left school at 15 to work in a Glasgow shipyard but subsequently became an apprentice plumber in his hometown of Alexandria. Neil Cullan McKinley later moved back to Ontario, to work as a journeyman plumber.  It was during a trip back from Scotland that Mr. McKinley met his beloved wife, Dorothy. The two married in 1981 and have three wonderful daughters.

In 1998, Neil Cullan McKinley became ordained as a Presbyterian minister.  Mr. McKinley and his wife now reside in Brisbane where he works part time as an Army Chaplain, and spends whatever time he can writing.  

Readers can visit Neil Cullan McKinley’s blog at Snow Off the Ben.

Please tell us a bit about your book: From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice — characters, plot, etc.

From Mason To Minister is an autobiographical memoir in which I engage Christianity with Freemasonry. I entered the Lodge on a personal quest to find God. Subsequently the Lodge presented me with a Bible as an expression of thanks for the Masonic research papers I had been writing and presenting. These papers came as a result of my reading of dusty tomes in Masonic libraries in my search for God. I then searched the pages of Scripture by and with which God revealed Himself to me in Jesus Christ!

There is indeed an overall plot supported by various subplots in From Mason To Minister. The book details my journey through life from Scotland to Canada then on to Australia while stopping to smell the flowers, which is to say that I was catching little glimpses of God through the lattice along the way. Therefore, not only is my journey geographical, but it is also spiritual.

One of the subplots revolves around Solomon and his Temple, two predominant themes in Masonry. I posit the idea that, in the Bible, Solomon’s Temple, the Garden of Eden, though historical and real, pose as pictures of Christ’s Kingdom which is to come. The little cameos or anecdotes (about birds, animals, trees, fish, people, and even smells, etc.) taken from my life’s journeys that are peppered throughout my book serve to illustrate what I refer to in the book as “Christ Moments” whereby Christ and His Kingdom is flashed before us in even the mundane activities of our daily lives.

I had some of these “Christ Moments” when I participated in many of the rituals in the Masonic Lodge. It turns out that “the stone the builders rejected” is really Christ! After meeting Christ I left the Lodge and went on to study for and became a Christian Minister.

If you could meet, in person, any of your characters, who would it be and why?

I would like to meet King Solomon for one. He was a man of peace and his kingdom (which is a picture of Christ’s Kingdom to come) experienced peace all around for many years. He wrote many songs and proverbs, speaking of trees, animals, birds, fish, reptiles etc. The man was a true scientist! How interesting would it be to listen to him wax eloquent about these things? He was the wisest man on earth. Therefore, it would be extremely educational to meet with him. The meeting would be full of “Christ Moments” whereby Christ and His Kingdom would be readily glimpsed through the lattice of Solomon as it were.

If you could fictionalize yourself and put yourself in any situation, how would it play out? Could you give us a scene/scenario of such an occurrence?

I’m working on a fictional novel at the moment with the working title A Stick In Time. It’s about Saint Patrick’s Staff which travels along with two male twins in their twenties from Dublin, Ireland in the early 1600s to Springsure, Australia today! I’ve made Springsure into a sort of Tir Na Nog or Shangri La where the people age very slowly, the Golden Age I speak of in From Mason To Minister. The twins, Bram and Thomas vie with rivalry for the affections of Erin, a beautiful woman who lives in Springsure. These two represent the conflict of Protestants and Catholics in Ireland vying for spiritual and political supremacy. The Staff of Patrick symbolizes unity.

Anyway, I would love to be the character of Bram. He’s young and handsome, intelligent, and is able to convey his well-reasoned arguments with convincing eloquence. And wouldn’t it be great fun to be in competition with your twin brother as you try to win over beautiful Erin and then actually succeed?

Do you have any particular habits that you do while writing? Places you write the best, foods, drinks, etc that help set your “writing mood”?

I used to drink gallons of coffee when writing. However, I’ve now switched to the more “muser-friendly” green tea. I like to have a cup beside me as I ponder my navel and/or novel. I have a bedroom that I’ve converted into a study, but I do switch to the laptop which I use to tap out my thoughts as I sit in my backyard whenever the weather is nice. I wish I knew what food or drinks best set my writing mood, then blank pages on screens would be a thing of the past!

What are you reading right now?

I continue to read the Bible cover to cover. I have many books on the go at any given moment. I love theology, but try to include fiction among other books. At the moment I’m reading Robert L. Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, The Virgin Mary in the Light of the Word of God, by Labib Mikhail, God’s Ten Commandments by Francis Nigel Lee, George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Peter A Lillback with Jerry Newcombe, Ireland Awakening, by Edward Rutherfurd, The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown. Like the Bible, I’ve read some of these before, but what’s wrong with giving a good book another go? I probably have other books that I am reading right now, but my wife Dorothy likes to keep our house tidy…

Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

I need to mention the Bible – Job and Ecclesiastes are two books hard to beat. When it comes to fiction I think Robert Louis Stevenson is brilliant! I spent a year reading some of the old classics and included many of his novels. Treasure Island is probably my favorite. I’ve read a few of Dan Brown’s and, though he’s a great storyteller but a lousy theologian, I found myself liking his The Lost Symbol best. When it comes to accurate theology you can’t go past RC Sproul. I’m not sure which of his books I like best (there are that many good ones!), perhaps The Holiness of God which I read on a train travelling to my first parish in Outback Australia. Still on theology, I like anything by Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck,, Martyn Lloyd Jones, Francis Nigel Lee and John Calvin to name a few. I don’t mind the odd biography. I’ve read Sean Connery’s, Billy Connely’s, Maire Brennen (of Clannad fame) to name a few.

If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Probably the great theologian John Calvin would be the dead author I’d most like to meet. Someday Calvin will be granted the deserved recognition of being the great founder of Western Civilization! Capitalism, Western Democracy of the sort found in the Republic of America, the Dominion of Canada, Great Britain, and Australia can be traced back to Calvin and his Geneva. He was the great emancipator of the Church from State control and vice versa. It was Calvin with his Biblical doctrine of the adiaphora (i.e., things indifferent in which the individual’s conscience is accountable only to God, not the Church or the State) that set the stage for the explosion of scientific study and ideas, and cultural development. The man was a sanctified genius! But most of all it was his study and exposition of the Bible that brought about the Gospel blessings that we in the West enjoy, such as City and Home Sanitation, Safety rails on stairs, the Banking System, Medicine and Medical Technology, Freedom of Speech, our Judicial Systems and Rule of Law plus a whole lot more. Yes, I’d love to meet this man because he understood the Bible, not only how it affects the individual, but also how it impacts the world, the cosmos!

Okay, here are a few “get to know you better” questions:

Please share with us a favorite memory.

My favorite memory gets a mention in my From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice book. It’s sitting on our front doorstep in Winnipeg, Manitoba with the warm sun on our faces in spring after a long and hard winter. Our three daughters when they were little are playing there on the front lawn. There’s laughter and joy! My wife, my children, my family!

Please describe a perfect meal – including menu and those present.

Och, this is a hard question, there’s so much good food! At home it has to be Dorothy’s spaghetti bolognaise. The spaghetti is al dente (i.e., it would stick to the wall if you threw it at it!), and the bolognaise has sliced up red and green peppers in it, along with mushroom, onion (not to mention the secret herbs and spices!). The red sauce is thick with tomatoes but not too much so. There’s parmesan cheese awaiting liberal sprinkling. This is accompanied by a nice fresh salad comprising of spinach leaves, iceberg lettuce, sliced Spanish onion, almonds, sundried tomatoes drizzled with olive oil. There’s a glass wine goblet with the ambient glow of a red merlot helping to set the mood. Even though red not white, in our warm climate we prefer our wine chilled. Michael Buble is crooning softly in the background…

What are some of your favorite ways to relax?

For me it’s all about books. I have been known to lie on a sunny beach with a copy of Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology! I once remarked to a friend that someone needed to invent a waterproof laptop so that I could use it in my outdoor hot tub spa. He replied that I need to learn how to relax! Relaxing for me is reading a novel instead of theology or philosophy! Is watching a movie counted as relaxing? Watching the Inception movie is definitely not relaxing. That movie makes my brain hurt! I love just sitting talking to Dorothy. Now that’s relaxing!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

There’re three places I’d love to be in the world: Scotland, Canada, and Australia. Scotland for family (my big brothers and wee sisters all live there); Canada for lifestyle (glorious summers that you appreciate after a long winter and make the best of); Australia for climate, culture, and my children. Over the years I’ve grown to love the Aussie way of life, sense of humor and stoic resolve in the face of adversity. So, if I was as rich as say Donald Trump I would flit among these three places at different times of the year. Mind you, one of my life’s ambitions is to sip a pint of Guinness in a pub somewhere in rural Ireland with the sound of Gaelic chatter in the background and a fiddle band warming up.

If you could only read books by one author, who would it be? *I know, this is an inconceivable thought, lol.

Seriously, I immediately thought of John Calvin, but I think the writings of Francis Nigel Lee would cover it. He quotes Calvin so much so that I think there would be enough there to form the complete works of Calvin. I kid you not! Also, Lee quotes from the Bible left, right, and center. So, that angle is covered too. And then Lee also quotes widely from Abraham Kuyper Snr., another of my favorites. Come to think of it, Lee quotes widely from most of my theological favorites. Therefore, Rev. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee it is!

Share with us a few of your dreams. Also whether they have been fulfilled or are still a work in progress.

I guess one of my dreams was to become a published author. Mission or dream accomplished! Another was to see my three beautiful daughters grow up and get married. That has also been fulfilled. Grandchildren? I have one, a grandson and another grandchild on the way. Woohoo! I dream of seeing my brothers and sisters in Scotland again soon. It’s been over five years now (since I was back when dad died). I long to see them again along with my old mates I grew up with. By the way, I discovered a great freedom when I discovered that it’s grammatically okay to end a sentence with the word with. (I’ve gone and done it again!)

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

There’s nothing much I feel guilty about now that all my sins have been forgiven in Jesus Christ. If I can bring Dorothy into it for a second, she says she would take up smoking cigarettes again if she was given a few weeks or so to live! I might join her in smoking a cigar or two! Seriously, I don’t mind a Guinness or two. The Irish are experts at making beer. Their Kilkenny is just as velvety to the throat as their Guinness. Mind you, the Scots have got the whisky market cornered. The Irish and the Americans can’t even spell ‘whisky’ never mind make it! Sorry about my bombasticity (!), but what I was indelicately trying to say previously is that I like a nice single malt with my Guinness!

If you could leave the world with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Worship not the creation but the Creator through Jesus Christ!

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