Book Review: Ray Keating

I came out of the intelligence world in 2014 and was invited to write a review for an author I now consider a friend.  The review was printed in the Washington Times right before my birthday and I took it as a blessing.

I have received a copy of the past three Pastor Stephen Grant novels ever since and it is my go to summer read. Since The River there have been, four books.  Ray is a great writer.  His work will take you there.  Here’s what I wrote in 2014.

Just opened his latest called, “Reagan Country.”  Here’s my first review of…

 ‘The River’

Ray Keating’s novel, “The River,” takes you on an intriguing summer ride from Langley to the Vatican with Stephen Grant, a former CIA agent who leaves his intelligence career behind and becomes a pastor of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on East Long Island.

Mr. Keating’s storytelling is so lifelike that I almost thought I had worked with him when I was at Langley. Like the fictitious pastor, I actually spent 20 years working for the U.S. intelligence community, and once I started reading “The River,” I had to keep reading because it was so well-crafted and easy to follow and because it depicted a personal struggle that I knew all too well. I simply could not put it down.

What Ian Fleming’s 007 series has probably done for ex-MI-6 agents and Tom Clancy has done for retired CIA officers, Mr. Keating has done for the minority of former CIA agents who have served their country by working in the intelligence community, but now wish to serve God.

To me as a pastor, one of the interesting points of this story was the accuracy in the complexity of serving God as a Christian leader today. Apart from the espionage and action-oriented references to guns and tactics, there were real life, tear-jerking moments in a couple of instances that reminded me of some struggles that ministers face in sharing loss, grieving families and anger.

The book also highlighted my own inner search for truth in having made the transition from being a former active member of the U.S. intelligence community to being a Lutheran pastor. Undeniably, “thou shalt not kill” is an important part of the Bible, but during my own spiritual journey, those words took on a heightened level of contemplation.

Mr. Keating’s writing does not gloss over how things are and the responses we often hear, and that made the story richer for me because it wasn’t neat and sexy like a shaken martini in a James Bond thriller. It was a great blend of so many elements that actually happen in the intelligence community.

“The River” takes us to the core of moral principle; that is the battle between good versus evil, right versus wrong and the differences between one’s past and present lives, leaving the reader in deep reflection about the blurred lines that inspire inner conflict in anyone who has a past that they must reconcile with.

After all, in real life, the pieces rarely fit as neatly as we would like them to, and contrary to the old adage, time does not always allow all the hurt to heal before we get hit with something else. That is the kind of realism the reader is privy to in “The River,” because Mr. Keating weaves a convincing tale. After all, we are all seeking answers of some kind, whether they are to questions or merely settling on what is comfortable.

Mr. Keating also allows you to discover how each of his characters’ tick in a style and tone reminiscent of some of the best loved books of all time. The details and descriptions of “The River” brought me back into the secret corridors of the agency, trying to recall who the chief of station was as I read. Then, I wondered what operations were going on.

This riveting page-turner reminded me of some of my own experiences, such as the time I was training with a SEAL team that just happened to be at the facility I was working at as a member of the firearms-training team. I couldn’t help but wonder which of the nondescript young men I’d met back then would have become Mr. Keating’s Stephen Grant.

Which of the guys that I have run with, been bested by and traded insults with in the typical Navy versus Marine banter would it have been?

As soon as the story progressed, I knew this guy. The more I read, the more I understood him. A real-life version of Pastor Grant and I would have been friends. We would have commiserated on politics and poor choices of our youth, and surely, we would have debated church doctrines.

The book was so rich in content and story that I expected the meaning to be connected to one of the songs by Garth Brooks, Joni Mitchell or even Bruce Springsteen. All three artists of different genres have songs about “The River,” and the reader can’t be sure which one until the end of the story.

Many spy-novel authors try to appeal to members of the intelligence community as well as the average American looking for a little international intrigue and James Bond excitement. With Mr. Keating’s Pastor Grant, he has touched upon a small fraternity within the intelligence community of those who have wanted to serve both God and country — but necessarily in that order.

You can get them on


By Ray Keating

CreateSpace, $13.99, 272 pages

other books in this series:

  • Murderer’s Row
  • Wine Into Water
  • Lionhearts
  • Reagan Country

Kenneth V. Blanchard is a former CIA analyst and Baptist pastor.

I Love Gun People

None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church… Ephesians 5:29

When I got started in the gun community I was shocked to learn that I had as much prejudice and bias as anyone else. I had to check myself. The path from firearms instructor to minister of the Gospel, to Black Man With A Gun was not a straight line. My journey was unintentional. God often makes a straight line with a crooked stick. I love the people in the gun community, I didn’t know that when I started though. Let me share some of what happened along the way…

I started out with nothing. I still have most of it left.

I began as the evening, sexton of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Washington, DC. At the time it was a prolific and big name church in the African American community. I didn’t know any of that. I liked it because the Spirit spoke to me there. I had recently bankrupted my family, strained my marriage and changed jobs trying to become an entrepreneur. I was a burgeoning public speaker that had successfully lobbied and testified for concealed carry reform in four states. I was a gun activist. I was trying to become a paid lobbyist. I was trying to build a firearms training business that would stop accidents in the homes and make people in my community safer with the guns they owned. I was certified to qualify police, security and federal officers for armed duty.  My community wasn’t buying what I was selling.  Before concealed carry was an option in thirty-five states, I was trying to educate people.  So I put it all on hold and went to work for a church.

Every evening I opened the church, checked the place for leaks, spills, toilet cleanliness and then waited for the women of the shelter to get off work and unlock the house door for them. The church owned homes that it allowed homeless women to rent super cheap. They had to work of course and couldn’t lay around all day so the house was locked all day. I learned a lot. The choir members would come in and I would patrol the place to make sure they old ladies and the teens in the building were safe. After things got settled I sat in a little room near the door and worked on my first book, “Black Man With A Gun; People Fear What They Don’t Understand.” The title was changed by the editor.

The  church ladies loved me being there. They loved the attention I gave them. They giggled at the fact that I rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle and was in church. I was the good bad boy of the building. When asked what I was writing they thought my premise was sound. Help stop the violence. I was shocked when the book was published and a few of the deacons recoiled in horror about my book. I was the same guy. Fortunately, the old ladies still bought the book and supported me. It was there after hours that I got the chance to talk to God one on one. In the sanctuary, I would sit on the first pew and look at the cross in the few minutes before I closed the building down and lock it up and leave. It was there that I would ask the Lord what He wanted for me in my life. It was there that I praised Him for saving me, sustaining me, and protecting me from all the things I had willfully done.

My day job in the government had just changed and I was wondering if I was going to make it to retirement. I was a misfit among misfits. As an entrepreneur I was dabbling as a writer, a speaker, a private firearms instructor, a professional bodyguard and a private investigator. At work, I was a supervisor of armed police officers, a senior instructor of police tactics and facilitator of new hires. I was struggling. I got the opportunity to fly all over the country with the NRA, and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America but it didn’t satisfy the longing in my soul.

One night a family of four came to the church looking to see if it had food to give them. They were living on street, in an old station wagon. I had never met anyone like that before. I thought it unbelievable in this day in age, in America, in the Nation’s Capital, there were hungry families. I heard the church had a pantry so I asked someone and they told me it was upstairs in the church attic. I didn’t even know there was a church attic. I got the key, found the attic and saw that there was plenty of food there. I went shopping. I filled four bags of canned and boxed food and brought it down. I was met at the door and challenged by a church trustee that admonished me for giving food to drug addicts. It was in ear shot of the couple. The look on their faces was authentic. The hope they had vanished. I felt as if someone had gut punched me. The trustee took a bag from me and handed it to the woman. She took a couple of cans and threw it at the stairs in anger. The husband was angry but he bent down and picked up the food. I looked at trustee and his arrogance and felt repugnance like I have never felt in my life. Another church officer walked by and gave a nod of approval to his actions. I felt anger for the first but not last time in a church. I wanted nothing to do with these people if this was acceptable. I apologized to the couple and gave the rest of the food I had bagged and walked back into the church.

When the pastor came in that night, I told him what happened and that I was resigning. I asked him how he could work around such people. I told him I didn’t want his job. He smiled and said he accepted my resignation. I was surprised. He didn’t try to change my mind or anything. The next week was quiet for me. The trustee saw me at Bible Study and apologized. A few nights later, the Lord spoke to me again in a dream. It wasn’t the first time but I remembered all the times He had in the past and recognize the feeling of peace that comes from being in His presence. I don’t remember the conversation but I woke refreshed and with a Scripture on my lips as I opened my eyes from Isaiah 6:8.

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

After church on Sunday, I waited for the opportunity to talk to the pastor privately. Having been on staff, it was easy to navigate the building, and bypass the personalities. I was expected to be cleaning up or opening a room. When I approached the pastor in his study, he saw a look of concern on my face and asked if everything was OK with my family. I assured him everything was great actually and we were now doing better than ever.

“So what can I do for young man,” he asked. Pastor I think I have a calling on my life to minister, I said. He looked me in the eyes, and said, “Yes, you do, everyone in this church knew that except for you.”

Stunned I just stood there. Tears leaked from the corner of my eyes. Now what do I do, I asked, I am not like the other ministers here, I said. I am Harley riding, gun toting, former US Marine, that works as the CIA.

He smiled and said, the Lord called you, He knows.

That was during the time of the Y2K fears. I gave my trial and initial sermon ten days before 9-11. It was the year of change for more than just me. The Black Man with A Gun persona was created and firearms training, radio interviews happened. These was before Google, Facebook and other social media.

The Washington Times interviewed me and to push the article they wanted an eye popping picture. We took one with me holding my Kimber 1911 and a leather bound King James Bible. The deacons of the church voted to kick me out of the church and resend my license to preach but it was defeated. I didn’t learn about the secret ballot until much later.

I wondered from church to church, serving where I could. I created In The Wilderness Ministries, the Forgiven Christian Riders Motorcycle Club and ministered where I could. I did this until I was called to pastor an autocratic church in Washington, DC. It was a tough place. When I resigned from the pastorate I felt the anger, frustration and sadness many who no longer attend church feel.

I now know that the Lord allows everything to either move, teach or prepare you. I know 999 things that don’t work. I know who I am. I walk with God. He has never left me nor allowed me to screw up too bad that I couldn’t get back to the safety of His side.
I refused to conform to this world. I refused to conform to the politics of the church as we play it. I am not popular in religious circles around the city. I don’t get invitations to preach revivals, and special days. I can be called uneducated. I don’t have a doctorate of divinity. I have failed at many things but not my God. I refuse to accept defeat in serving a victorious God.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2

He called me and asked Who shall I send, I said again, Send me!

This is a new beginning. Please join me. Don’t worry if you like hunting, riding motorcycles, shooting high powered rifles, pistols and shotguns. I do too.  Don’t give up your faith. Don’t give up on having a real relationship with the Creator of the universe despite what has happened to you in this life. Don’t surrender to the voices you hear and the naysayers that are abundant in your life. Roll with me, follow Jesus, let’s do this thing together. I understand your situation. I have been on your street. I am not above you. I am just walking with the One that saved me and I want you to be with me.

To God be the glory!



I don’t know what it is about bodies of water but I love them. I especially love rivers, bay and oceans. Saltwater being my favorite locale of all. It started off just being a place for fishing but it is also a place I talk to God every opportunity I get.

The Atlantic ocean off of Virginia Beach was probably the first place where the water was overwhelming. It is said you can drown in less than a foot of water but I am not afraid of drowning. My father and his brother in law, took me out when I was young on a rented 15-foot boat and a outboard motor to fish in Virginia Beach. Now that I am an adult I would never do that. That boat was too small. The fishing however was spectacular. It left an indelible mark on me where I wanted to fish ever since. I used to ride my bike to any creek or stream in the area that looked like it might have fish in it. I never caught anything during my high school era fishing this way. After I got a car I would drive fifty plus miles to reservoirs and rivers with the same bad luck. But I loved fishing still. After I got my first “good government job” I met some retirees that had been fishing together for twenty years with a charter boat captain our of Solomon’s Island, Maryland named Robbie. It changed my fishing status instantly. On this old 60 foot converted crabbing trolley we fished the Patuxent river and the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay with ridiculous success. After years of hitting and missing with fishing, for the first time I was catching fish by the buckets full. We were bottom fishing for spot, croaker, perch, flounder and the occasional sport fishes like trout, striped bass, bluefish and mackerel.

I was a supernumerary on the fishing party and became a full time member after the death of one of the regulars. The fishing crew consisted of five retired African Americans that worked in the intelligence fields during the early years. They had stories of surviving Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era and filled me in on parts of history that escaped most books. I used the time onboard to learn, listen and pray. I found a peace onboard the boat that was unlike anything I had had before except maybe on my motorcycle. On back of the boat, or aft, with my back to the conversations about jazz music, the blues, and current events I faced the shore or open water. There I saw where the horizon touched the sky. Where clouds hung so low you could touch them in your mind. I watched sea birds like the osprey and eagle hunt and effortless sail across the clear blue canvas of sky.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 4:11

It is easy to pray here. There is a droning sound of a diesel as the boat moves from position to position. The charter captain spoiled us with knowing from data points favorite feeding grounds of the fish we are after. On more than one occasion he admonished me to get my hook in the water while I was marveling at Gods handiwork.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Psalm 19:1

In 2014, I lost the last of my five fishing partners. The original member that invited me went home to be with the Lord. The captain himself is fighting illness. Now I am the old guy, and I hope to keep the traditional alive by getting some new anglers to go with me regularly, once a month from June till September to fish, pray and enjoy the beauty of God.

One of the few reasons I don’t move away from this high traffic and taxing, cosmopolitan area is that not too far away are places like this where I can pray, praise and fish.

Now I prefer saltwater fishing to freshwater. I prefer being on a beach surfcasting, or on a boat in waters too deep to reach from casting from shore. I plan to get some video footage and preach from these spots this year, Lord willing. I am hoping you will join me. If you like fishing, I would love to get the invite to fish with you. Jesus likes fisherman, you know?

And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-22

What’s Killing Our Veterans?

veterans committing suicide

Is the reason behind the tragic suicides of our nations veterans guilt?  For the recently separated combat veterans of the US military I have noticed a common thread regarding faith. Many has lost their faith in God after witnessing death, destruction, and the sanctioned slaughter of civilians. Those that still have faith, struggle with “religion” because nobody is talking to them.

Even unbelievers have heard that the wages of sin are death. Most don’t like that reference because everyone sins.

A byproduct of sin is the feeling of guilt.

Guilt kills more people than we realize. For the recently separated combat veterans of the US military I have noticed a common thread regarding faith. Many has lost their faith in God after witnessing death, destruction, and the sanctioned slaughter of civilians. Those that still have faith, struggle with “religion” because nobody is talking to them.

“Every day, approximately 22 American veterans commit suicide, totaling over 8,000 veteran suicides each year.”

This statistic comes from the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed death certificates from twenty-one states, from 1999 – 2011. The report calculated a percentage of suicides identified with veterans out of all suicides in death certificates from the 21 states during the project period, which turned out to be 22 percent. (By point of reference, about 13 percent of U.S. adults are veterans, according to a 2012 Gallup poll.) Then the report applied that percentage against the number of suicides in the U.S. in a given year (approximately 38,000). Divided by number of days in a year, the report came up with 22 veteran suicides a day.

Most, if not all of us have felt some type of guilt in their walk of faith at some point. The only solution I have found is in the Gospel of Jesus. This is not to be confused with televangelist, the preachers of X place or the megachurch in your neighborhood. We know that real Christianity is not kosher in pop culture, society or anywhere for that matter. BUT, we are all guilty of sinning before a holy and just God. It is guilt that is behind suicides.

Most people in uniform I believe have a very high moral code. It is one of the reasons they joined the military. They came to serve. Our human moral code has a limit. If you don’t have a faith system in Christ, you have a high probability of failure.


We know that word. You don’t have to serve on a battlefield to identify with that monster.

In the past, Post Traumatic Stress was seen as a result of “trauma/fear overload” in combat. But now, research suggests that guilt is a key factor. According to a Marine Corps study, PTSD was found to be “more closely linked to an inner conflict rather than threats to their lives, the sight of bodies or blood or family problems.”

Who has not had some inner conflict? What if you had nowhere or no one to talk to about it?

Army Colonel Carl Castro, who is coordinating $50 million in research into suicide prevention and treatment at the Pentagon said

“The core of the issue is that it’s not that people who attempt suicide … want to harm themselves as much as they want the pain they’re currently in to stop, and they don’t see any other way out.”

The US military does try to treat service members with mental and emotional issues; but treating those individuals isn’t the main priority. Fighting wars and defending the country are. As a result, many service members fall by the wayside after they leave the service or can’t cope with the myriad stresses of military service.

So how do we combat this as a church? I believe I’ll use what worked for me, the Gospel of Jesus. I had to hear the Good Word for myself. I had t study and meditate on that Word. I had to be open to the holy Spirit. Note that I didn’t get it from any one person in church.

This guilt is exacerbated by people that are also having difficulties coping in the larger society. It is tough to receive for folks going through family issues, substance, sexual and mental abuses. Many service members have family issues that are exacerbated by lengthy deployments and separations from their families, as well drug and alcohol addictions by the military spouse, the service member, or both.

In spite of its waning popularity it is still relevant. There are many verses contained within that speak to one who is feeling guilty, or one that feels outside and in pain.

But what exactly is guilt? My definition is “feeling remorse or negatively judging yourself for things you either did or did not do, which you believe had a negative effect on someone or something else.”

I am about to die, and I cannot forget my pain. I confess my guilt; I am troubled by my sin. Psalm 38:17-18

Guilt can literally “eat away at you” like cancer.

It’s impossible to go through life without doing things we regret. But you are a spiritual being having a human experience, and you deserve to be free. Don’t think about ending your life to free yourself either. So how do you start?

First, become aware that self-forgiveness is not about condoning your past behavior or saying that what you did or did not do was okay. It’s about accepting the past as it is, knowing that it cannot be changed, and realizing that feeling guilty keeps us stuck in the past. Own it and move on.

If I can help you, I want to. I want to show you how I made it through. I want to show you that the Bible is not just another book. I’d like to be your friend.

In Christ, even the most heinous sins are blotted. Salvation is by grace, and grace forgives. After a person is saved, we will still sin, and when we do, God still promises forgiveness.

“But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).

Freedom from sin, however, does not always mean freedom from guilty feelings. Even when our sins are forgiven, we still remember them. Also, we have a spiritual enemy, called “the accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10) who relentlessly reminds us of our failures, faults, and sins. That is the one that keeps you down we you should be up. The devil boosts your guilt and says you’re just a hypocrite if you ask for forgiveness. Don’t dwell on guilt. Seek forgiveness and help from the Lord. Pray to the Holy Spirit daily for help and trust in Christ alone.

Spiritually, sometimes God uses guilt as a form of discipline to put us back on the right path. Guilt can lead us to repentance. So feelings of guilt are a blessing, because they push us towards God. Just like physical pain drives us to find out what’s wrong, the spiritual pain of guilt causes us to seek forgiveness.

Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:9-10

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23–24

Put the past behind you and move forward. Instead of dwelling on your now, dwell on God’s awesome love and grace.

If you want someone to walk with you, call, email or connect me. You are not beyond help. Life is not over. You can overcome. You can have peace again. You matter.

A broken crayon still colors.


You have forgotten the encouragement that is addressed to you as sons: “My son, do not think lightly of the Lord’s discipline or give up when you are corrected by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he punishes every son he accepts.” What you endure disciplines you: God is treating you as sons. Is there a son whom his father does not discipline? Hebrews 12:5-7

If I made sense to you, let me know.  thanks.


Three Rocks

Driving into work one evening, I noticed a column of rocks stacked neatly by the edge of the woods along the roadside. “I wonder who put those there,” I thought to myself as I continued on.

The simple fact that I had asked myself that question prompted even more reflection. Not so much on the existence of the stack of rocks, but why was that the question that popped into my head? After all, three rocks stacked one on top of the other is an extremely simple construct. It’s not like those rocks were built into a bridge, or a house, or some other structure. Just three rocks, stacked.

Yet I immediately defaulted to the thought that someonehad put them there. Some intelligent being had picked up those three rocks, and stacked them just so. It never once occurred to me that natural forces had acted upon those rocks and caused them to end up that way. It is possible, of course, that forces such as erosion, gravity, wind, or water could have come together in such a way as to place those three rocks in a column. But while those sorts of formations might appear naturally in Monument Valley, it becomes a little harder to explain next to a wooded road in Kentucky.

What would you think, if you saw a similar stack of rocks in an otherwise improbable place? I imagine that most people would immediately ask a similar question…immediately, reflexively. “Who put those there?” Despite the extremely simple nature of the structure, we innately understand that it was built with an intelligent hand. At the same time, there are those who would insist that other vastly more complex systems occurred by accident. Human beings, planets, the universe, and all the forces which make them all function…just happened?


I don’t know how you reconcile the two positions. Three rocks stacked we readily accept as a result of intelligent design, but the complexities of life and the universe are a random occurrence? Unless you can look at those three rocks and honestlybelieve that their arrangement was truly just a roll of the dice, and that physical science just happened to put them there…I don’t see how you can logically look at the universe that way, either.

Me…I don’t believe for a second that those three rocks ended up that way by accident. And as such, I can’t believe that life, the universe, and everything in it is an accident, either.