Archive for the ‘Ooze’ Category

Reading Rapture Ready!
July 28, 2008

Do you believe in parallel universes? Daniel Radosh found one. And if you’re reading this, you might very well be living in one.

Radosh is a secular Jew from New York who explores the world of Christian pop culture in his recent book Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. With a combination of thoughtful critique, appreciation, good humor and above all graciousness, Radosh chronicles his year-long experience exploring the Evangelical subculture in America. A true outsider, Radosh immerses himself in the good, the bad, and the ugly of this sometimes bizarre world. Among other things, Radosh describes his encounters with “Jesus junk,” the Holy Land Experience, Christian romance novels, Bibleman, Stephen Baldwin, the Cornerstone music festival, Ultimate Christian Wrestling, Christian sex advice, creation museums, and even a Hell House. Seeking to understand this vast culture, Radosh does a fine job chronicling his experiences and offering some much needed outsider insight. I think this book is a must-read for Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians should read it for exposure to an outsider’s perspective on our strange world, and non-Christians should read it to better understand the growing diversity of the Evangelical movement. Everyone can read it for an entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny look at a much talked about but little understood element of American culture.

When I started reading Rapture Ready! I was hoping for a funny and entertaining read, and in that regard I was not disappointed. However, I wasn’t expecting such an insightful perspective, and I wouldn’t have guessed I would finish the book feeling challenged to live differently. Now don’t get me wrong, you probably shouldn’t read this book looking for a life changing experience. Read it to be entertained. But don’t be surprised if it challenges you to think seriously about your relationship to Evangelical culture (whether you are a Christian or not).

Radosh concludes his book with a call for greater interaction between the moderate and progressive elements of Evangelicalism and Radosh’s own secular culture. He believes an increasing interaction between these oftentimes separate universes will prove helpful for everyone. I agree. Radosh finds popular culture to be a good starting place for this interaction, but I don’t think he sees this as the only place for healthy communication. Personally, I finished Radosh’s book with two insights. First, I want to intentionally further separate myself from much of the Christian subculture I’m still part of. This separation has been happening fairly naturally over the past ten years but I think it’s time to cut the cord. I’m done with it. (Radosh is not necessarily calling for this kind of reaction) Second, I am more convinced than ever that this interaction between Christians and non-Christians should occur within environments open to the experience of God, the transcendent, and/or religious experience. In fact, I am most interested in the dissolution of this Christian/non-Christian divide. And I increasingly want to play a part in the creation of spaces where this very thing can happen.

In the final pages of his book, Radosh makes a statement I think Christians are in much need of hearing. After discussing the Christian notion of “lifestyle evangelism” Radosh takes it a step further and declares the following:

“Personally, I’m not sure how successful [lifestyle evangelism] really is in leading people to Christ, but I can attest that it’s a very successful method for generating positive feelings about Christians. The evangelicals I’ve felt the most fond of, the most comfortable around, and the most commonality with – regardless of political, social, or philosophical differences – were the ones who never tried to sell me on Jesus yet always seemed to be trying to live the life Jesus desired of them. The paradox of lifestyle evangelism is that while it might sound like a Christian’s loving, friendly actions are all driven by an ulterior motive, it only really clicks when they’re able to let go of that motive. The people who made the best case for Christianity were the ones who were genuinely unconcerned with whether I ever decided to become a Christian or not.”

I think this statement, and Radosh’s book as a whole, is something Christians need to hear. And hopefully we will take it to heart.

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Reading Books for Free (and I’m not talking about the library!)
July 16, 2008

Because my blog is one of the top blogs in the universe, and because I am fabulously famous (which was the goal in starting a blog in the first place), I’ve started to receive free books as part of The Ooze Select Blogger Network. Yes, that’s right, I’m “select,” and you probably aren’t. Sorry. And don’t even think about being select until you start having at least five or six different people coming to your blog. And I mean every day.

[As an aside, I recently watched What Would Jesus Buy? and when Reverend Billy prays or conducts credit card exorcisms (yes, you read that right) he calls God the “fabulous creator” – or something like that. I like the word fabulous. Rolls off the tongue. I’m a fabulous blogger. Sounds good. Maybe it should be The Ooze Fabulous Blogger Network…I’ll see what I can do about that…]

So anyways, I’ve started receiving books in the mail with the expectation that I will read them and write about them on my blog. This is great news for you! Not only will you be reading a blog that’s part of a select fabulous blogger network, you will also be receiving free advice from me about books you should or should not be reading! Free advice from a fabulous blogger! You are very lucky people.

Alrighty, let’s get down to business. Here are my first reviews.

Hokey Pokey, by Mathew Paul Turner
Yep, the first book is called Hokey Pokey. It’s written by a former editor of CCM magazine and the book is about issues related to vocation and calling. These are issues I think about a lot. I’m not sure, but perhaps because I think about these issues a lot, this book didn’t do it for me. Turner is a good writer and has some good things to say, but no big revelations. And let me tell you, I need big revelations – especially when it comes to this topic. But if you are interested in a book to get you started thinking about vocation and calling, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Feel, by Mathew Elliot
I only made it through half of Feel, but I actually did like what Eliot is saying. He’s basically trying to debunk the myth that feelings are always to be discounted. He is particularly interested in showing that the Bible does not support this way of thinking. I agree. However, I thought the book was repeating the same thing over and over. After reading half the book I just had a feeling the second half was going to be the same as the first. I decided to trust my feelings and skip the second half. But if this stuff interests you, I do recommend the book (or at least the first half of it).

We the Purple, by Marcia Ford
Marcia Ford believes we’re in the midst of a growing revolution of sorts – the growth in the number and influence of independent voters. Ford is an independent voter and is quite proud of it. And very excited. But I’m not as excited. I have nothing to say about this book. I only read a couple chapters. I wasn’t interested. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later. If you want to read a thoughtful review from someone who actually did read the book, check out Makeesha Fisher’s review of the book (by the way, I agree that it’s probably a good idea to read a book before reviewing it. I’ll try to follow that rule.)

Songs for a Revolution of Hope, Volume 1
This is not a book, so I did not read it. But since it’s a cd, I did listen to it. Songs for a Revolution of Hope is a collaboration between Brian McLaren and Tracy Howe of the Restoration Project. It’s a cd that tries real hard to produce a different kind of worship music for the church. As you know, typical worship music is something I definitely have a problem with, so I really do appreciate what this project is trying to do. However, I just couldn’t get into it. I like the lyrics to the songs (for the most part). I like the sounds. But I just have this block against worship music. Sorry. I love McLaren and I love what he’s trying to do here. Please go and check out this cd. Or at least check out the lyrics. It really does represent a good change in direction for worship music. I just have a problem.

Well, that’s it folks. I’m sorry there are no strong recommendations here. I’m just now starting to read the next batch of books provided by the Ooze Fabulous Blogger Network. I am hopeful there will be some good ones. Right now I’m reading The New Conspirators by Tom Sine and Rapture Ready by Daniel Radosh. I’m particularly excited about Rapture Ready.

Memoirs, Idols, and Pete Gall
April 21, 2008

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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