Memoirs, Idols, and Pete Gall

I read a recently released book this past week called My Beautiful Idol, by first time author Pete Gall. My Beautiful Idol is a confessional memoir following Gall’s faith journey through his mid-twenties. I’m a sucker for memoirs. Yes, they are all the rage nowadays, and as much as I might like to resist current fads, I can’t resist this one. I appreciate memoirs because they are honest. Not just honest about real life events, but honest enough to acknowledge that our understanding of God, faith, and spirituality always comes from our experiences. I agree with Frederick Buechner who says that ultimately all theology is a form of autobiography. Fancy theologians often fail to acknowledge this. The memoir puts it right out in the open – I appreciate that.

Even though I’m a sucker for memoirs, I’m also kind of skeptical of Christian memoirs from the past couple years. My tendency is to assume they are all just attempts to emulate Donald Miller and to make a buck off the memoir craze. So part of me almost didn’t want to like My Beautiful Idol. But I did enjoy it – it’s a good book. And even though it is a good story and an enjoyable read, that’s not really what won me over. Ultimately this is a book I can recommend because it really made me think, and that’s perhaps the most important element I look for in a book.

In the preface Gall sums up his book as “a story about how I’m a butt, and have been for some time now.” And then “the catch” – “I was also exactly the sort of Christian people tend to refer to as a hero.” The book follows Gall’s pursuit of “downward mobility” (uh oh) and tracks his various attempts at ministry, relationships, and finding meaning and significance in life. Gall’s theme throughout is that all of these experiences were ultimately a chasing after “a variety of beautiful idols,” and “the version of myself I’ve sought to create.” All of this talk about idols is what really got me thinking.

Gall spends a lot of time in his book describing how he created idols of what it looks like to be “a great man of God” or to really make a difference in the world. Through stories from his experiences he does a lot to deconstruct the popular ideas of what it means to be a “successful” Christian or a faithful follower of Jesus. His experiences in ministry also lead to quite critical conclusions regarding typical understandings of what it means to serve God and serve others. As you might have guessed, all of this really caused me to reflect on my own life and desires to be a follower of Jesus. Have I simply created a bunch of idols? Am I worshiping a bunch of self-created ideas of what it means, or might mean, to follow Jesus? I don’t know. But these are good things to think about.

In summary, if you are looking for an enjoyable and thought provoking read, and if you enjoy memoirs, then I definitely recommend My Beautiful Idol. While at times it is a little disjointed (what memoir isn’t?), and even though I wasn’t particularly happy with the conclusion, ultimately this is a thoughtful book exploring and deconstructing ideas of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in today’s world.

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