REVIEW: Jesus Died For THIS? - Becky Garrison

This is a review long overdue.  I've been reading Becky Garrison's Jesus Died For THIS? for the last two months.  Homework, and a strange and short-lived reversion back to my teenage science fiction reading habits (David Brin, for starters), kept me from really seeing it through.  It's a fabulous read, though, so here goes:

 - Becky Garrison

There are few voices in the Christian literary world as distinct as Becky Garrison's.  That's probably because the sub-genre of Christian-satire is decidedly small (too few of us have a very good sense of humor about ourselves) and because few Christian writers speak with Garrison's clear honesty.

But there's more to Garrison's writing than biting satire and quick wit.  What makes her so unique is her ability to remain somehow respectful, even pious, in the midst of sharp criticism and genuine cynicism.

Jesus Died For This? begins with Garrison's visit to the Holy Land: an adventure rife with both the ridiculous and the sacred.  "No trip to Christ's crib would be complete without a visit to Nazareth Village, a community theatre-styled production depicting life as it 'might have been' when Jesus walked on this earth... I refrained from any Lamb of God lampoons, camel cracks, or sheep 'n' goat gaffes at the risk of offending our hosts, but this was getting way too Disneyfied for my tastes." (18)  Nearing her journey's end, she reflects on a direct and intimate allusion to the Gospels: "During my last day in Israel, while the sun rose over Jerusalem, a rooster crowed in the background.  At that moment, I had a flashback to Peter's rooster revelation (Luke 22:34).  The presence of God's saving grace throughout history hit me in a visceral way, as though some theological two-by-four had whopped me upside the head." (35)

In the next chapter Garrison leads us along the silly and sometimes-seedy underbelly of Christian writers' conferences - riddled with kitsch, self-promotion and sweet, sweet capitalism (ever the good friend, she quotes me in this chapter with a shoutout to this blog - thanks for the ego stroke, Becky!!).

Throughout the book, Garrison consistently surprises with her ability to critique both extremes of the theological spectrum.  Publisher's Weekly writes: "The author’s irreverent style is charming, but she does not use humor as a crutch; she clearly comprehends the Christian tradition and calls both progressive and conservative believers to task for misrepresenting the faith. The gospel, she contends, should not be twisted to fit personal agendas."

It may be Garrison's observations about emerging church folks that resonated most to me, and hit closest to home.  She repeatedly points out the sad inequity of emerging/Emergent circles - inequities I've often complained about (and repented of) here in this blog: where are the women?  Where are the minorities?  At an emerging conference in the Bronx, Garrison laments:
...the "emergent" video shown consisted mostly of white males "talking" about "doing" church... I'm tired.  Sick and tired of people preaching about ushering in this new kingdom of God, when their programs attract mostly well-educated males with only a smattering of minorities.  Once in a blue moon, one can find a gathering that's more female friendly.  These women's gatherings tend to remind me of my debutante and Junior League days, where the women get to be displayed on center stage.  But do the math, and it's pretty clear that in this game, women are just the players - the men still own the chessboard.  (138)
I don't talk about "doing church" much anymore because I'm not interested in programmatic kitsch.  But still: ouch.  Becky, you cut right to the core!  I'm not afraid to have my own complicity and participation in "principalities and powers" called out, however.  I need to be reminded.  I need to be rebuked and pushed to be better - to share power and platform.

I hope you'll make space on your reading list for Jesus Died For THIS?.  Becky Garrison's is a voice we need in the vulgar clamor of American Christianity today.  It's medicine, but it's not bitter - it's a lot of fun along the way!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for engaging with the book. I look forward to chilling with you on the 17th. Becky

Peter J Walker said...

Looking forward to it Becky!

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