Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Review- Hear no Evil by Matthew Paul Turner

Back in December, I decided I had had enough with my life and decided to stop being married to my job and attempt to have a life. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. Do I have a life? Well... Am I a different person from when I started this? Absolutely. The reason? Well, there's a lot of reasons, but a big inspiration has been Christian author and humorist Matthew Paul Turner. I virtually never read Christian books because, like most "Christian" things, they're rather pants.

Turner's memoir of growing up entitled churched is about the opposite of pants one can get. It's quirky, funny, and above all, really opened my eyes to the fact that I'm not the only person on earth who feels like they don't quite fit in in evangelical churches. My beef has never been doctrinal in nature, but rather the culture. It feels a bit oppressive at times as well as anti-intellectual. Being a bit of a free-thinker and, well, well-read, it provides plenty of abrasive moments. Unlike Turner, I didn't leave my church, but I am a lot more free in both my theology and my outlook on life than I was before.

Enter Hear No Evil. Turner worked for the popular magazine CCM as editor for several years, so came in contact with a lot of Christian Music makers and saw the industry on the inside. As Turner points out Christian Music is chock-full of people trying to become famous whilst the whole time telling us they don't want to be famous. As he points out near the end of the book, if they're not telling us they're not out to be famous, they're telling us they're virgins or were virgins until they were married.

Like how I saw my upbringing come to life in a lot of ways in churched, Turner does the same with his relationship with music growing up. Unlike Turner, I never sang in church (Allegedly I sound like Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, but I don't believe that for a minute), wanted to win Star Search, or bought an Amy Grant cassette five times. I did learn how to operate a sound board in high school, and only owned a single cassette tape growing up: Weezer's Blue Album, which, considering our similar upbringings, was the far greater sin, especially since I never got rid of it and hung on for it in secret for eight years. Turner used his love of music to go to Belmont University in Nashville to get a degree in Music Business, only to return home and do nothing until he got his break at a coffee shop. From there he ended up back in Nashville, where he currently lives and writes.

If there is a flaw to this eminently funny book is that it's a little light on plot. If you've read churched, you already know he grew up in a restrictive if not outright oppressive household and church, and you know he ends up escaping it for a life of freedom in Christ. Here you get a glimpse of his days in Nashville at Belmont (The chapter "Bubble Boy" could have been written by me and only differed in minute details and the timeframe) and even a chapter on his days at CCM, but there's the feeling that there's plenty more material that would be equally funny that would make the same impact as the rest of the book's material, as well as driving the point home that Christian music is full of people--both good and bad, as well as doing a better job of explaining his spiritual journey to where he is now.

On a personal note, this flaw is more than compensated by his chapter "Wannabe." After graduating from Belmont, he moved back home to Maryland with the intention of only staying until he could get on with his life. That turned into a long ordeal that ended up with him at Jammin' Java where he finally got his break into music. On his way back to Virginia, he struggled with the fact that he felt like he had failed. He then said something very profound when he said

According to the apostle Paul, half the Christian faith was pretending not to be angry and bitter about God's decisions. Hiding discontent was one thing, and I could do that; making people believe that I was thrilled beyond all reason with the crappy circumstances God had given me was much more difficult. Still, the rest of the drive I begged God to help me be content.

There's so much truth in especially how we expect people who are given a bad position in life to just leap for joy that we're in the midst of a trial. I know Paul says for us to count it all joy, but there are times we just can't. The chapter reads so much like my own past and now present trials in tone not so much in deed, though I do admit in the past and even this past weekend doing exactly what he talked about near the end of the chapter how "all [he] seemed capable of doing was sitting around and making lists of things God had failed [him] on." It's not exactly my greatest moment, but I'm not perfect. I just hope I never do it again.

One last thing: my favourite line in the whole book? This dandy that tells more about being an evangelical than any other line could:

For a lot of Christians, their imaginations are liabilities, like the five senses and genitals. Growing up in a church that bordered on being a religious regime often stole my chances to experience God as a mystery, Ms. Lansing told us that God made people creative so we could retell his story in new ways. She said it was a part of our calling. "You'll understand it in time, " she said "Trust me. God will make it clear when he needs your imagination."

You know, if we stopped focusing on creating a homogeneous congregation and obsessing about sexual purity to the point that our kids hop in bed with each other in order to either (1) rebel or (2) find out what the fuss is all about, some folks might actually listen to what we say, because why would anyone want to join a group of people that give up our individuality and creativity to become a cookie cutter Christian, as well as feeling guilty of what you did in your past life that, to be perfectly honest, was something that Jesus would have died for just as readily for as the white lie you told your boss this morning.

Final Verdict: 4.5/5.0 stars

Buy Hear no Evil on Amazon

Until next time.

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