Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A faith evolved: Monkey Town reviewed

I don't usually talk explicitly about my faith on this blog. My faith is more of a behind-the-scenes thing that pops up every once in a while here. I wanted to share a review of a book I've read recently however, and since the book is a spiritual memoir about a faith journey, I figured I'd let faith take center stage for the day.

Last December when I moved to Auckland I came across a blog by author Rachel Held Evans. She's 28 and was in the process of publishing her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, which came out this month. As I became a part of her blog community I really enjoyed the conversations she was initiating and it was good to find people on the same page as myself in the faith department. I couldn't wait to get my paws on her book!

Well I just finished it and wanted to review it because I think it's an important book. Basically, it's about Mrs. Held Evans' journey away from a place of knowing all the answers to learning how to ask the questions. It resonated with me in many ways, not least because I swear that if we would have known each other as kids we would have been best friends forever. Who knew that I wasn't the only pre-teen in America gorging on Ravi Zacharias' apologetics books? And I know I would have given her a run for her money in her pursuit of “Best Christian Attitude” award at school every year. I never did write out a plan for salvation on a paper airplane and fly it over the neighbor's fence, but what a great idea! If anything this book made me nostalgic about growing up with intense spiritual zeal.

I admire Rachel's honesty and vulnerability in sharing her journey away from being a young know-it-all/ avid defender of the faith, to becoming a woman who wrestles with hard questions – the questions lots of Christians give weak answers to or just sweep under the carpet with a fatalistic, “God's ways are higher than our ways.” I appreciate how she's kept a record of the “false fundamentals” she's challenged in the last few years – the things we're taught in the church to be crucial to our faith but really are just cultural or stylistic.  I like that she's not afraid to say “I don't know.”

In the last few years I've also learned to say these words a lot more often. When my brain is fried trying to make sense of a universe and God outside my realm of comprehension, instead of scrambling for a formula or doctrine to make sense of it, I've just learned to simplify. It's quite a relief actually to say I don't know that, but what I do know is...XYZ. For me, what I do know is that I believe in a God of love. I know that I need to love this God. And then I need to love other people and to love myself. Those three things have become my fundamentals and they keep me pretty occupied. Of course, I have more specifics that I believe, but really, this is what it boils down to for me right now: love.

I think this is a great book for anyone who knows the answers but is more interested in asking the questions, anyone who's ever participated in a sword drill (competitive Bible verse finding game) or anyone who thinks the following is funny:

“Sometimes I think that John the Revelator might have been a crazy old man whose creative       writing assignment for the Patmos Learning Annex accidentally made it into the Bible.”

That's got to be my favorite quote from Evolving in Monkey Town!

Like Rachel, I believe that faith evolves. It's too deep and wide to be contained into a creed or a static worldview. Like a good wine, I think we need to give our beliefs room to breathe and develop flavor and body.

Thanks for giving me the chance to talk about my faith today – and Rachel's! And thank you Rachel for writing this book. Vulnerability isn't easy.

Have you read a book that resonated with you recently? Do share...

And any other young Ravi Zacharias fans out there? There must be more!

{I think it's my legal obligation to say that I received a free copy of this book! But I was not coerced to give it a positive review - that I did of my own free will. I'm not really the coercible type anyway.}


Anonymous said...

I loved Monkey Town too. I grew up learning the answers to questions nobody was asking me...and I've since moved to a place of asking LOTS of questions, and believing that it does all boil down to love.

Great review, Alisha!

alisha said...

Thanks Katie. So glad you liked it too! Hope your move is going well also. :)

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