Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple

Yup, it's that time again. Time for me to write a review/free promo for a book! This time, it's The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose. Now, this book doesn't quite fit the mold of other books I have famously reviewed--namely, The Irresistible Revolution and The Heavenly Man--but it will nonetheless go down on the imaginary list of "Nate's Favorite/Most Influential Books" aka his facebook profile.
The reason it doesn't fit the mold is because, well, this book is not a Christian book. Yes, I first found it in the Christian section at Borders, and yes, it is almost entirely about Christian culture. But Roose himself is not Christian and, unlike most of the books I read nowadays, this book doesn't suggest that I live a certain way, it doesn't make any attempt to teach me about God, and its author has yet to graduate from college. In spite of--and maybe because of--these reasons, The Unlikely Disciple is one of the most interesting and well-written books I've come across in my short literary lifespan. I highly recommend it to Christians and not-so-Christians alike.
First, a brief synopsis: So Roose is a college sophomore at Brown University, a very liberal Ivy League school that I imagine to be kinda like Berkeley. He decides to spend a semester "abroad" at Liberty University, the evangelical Christian center of America, founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, pretty much the pioneer of right-wing, ultra-conservative Christianity. Roose is not religious, he parties every weekend, and he's pretty liberal--you know, the life of a normal guy. So you can imagine the kinds of things he encounters at Liberty--antigay attitudes, Christian culture, crazy rules (no cussing, no dancing, no r-rated movies), creationism classes, bible classes, and the list goes on.
And besides the fact that the book is really really well-written and funny, Roose's reflections on Christian culture provokes a lot of thought, at least for me. Though often critical of right-wing ideology, Roose is rarely judgmental. He speaks fondly of prayer, of worship services, of the (sometimes misdirected) compassion of his friends. He ends up loving the people around him and appreciating a lot about faith.
I think it was good for me to read this book at this point in whatever spiritual journey I'm on. I think I've become so critical of religion and Christian culture that I'm beginning to lose sight of what faith is all about. I've grown to used to "fighting the system" that I may have thrown a few punches at the faith behind the system as well. And as much as I agree with Roose on his level-headed thoughts in regards to evangelical sentiment on homosexuality, abortion, and conversion (among other things), I cannot help but envy and admire the way he describes their commitment to prayer, to bible reading, and to other spiritual disciplines... things that I've quickly overlooked as I've convinced myself that the best way to understanding Jesus is via intellectualism. I sometimes worry that I've become arrogant in the way I see religion, that I'm too good, too strong of a person to be swayed by demands of a pastor or a church. There's a part of me that believes a bit of distance from religious institution is healthy. There's another part that wishes I could just go with the flow without questioning, that I could enjoy all the church activities like a blind sheep--it would certainly be much easier. It's a thin line between healthy criticism and paralyzing cynicism and I feel like I'm on a tightrope, but I still hope that I never just "settle" into the patterns of religion or church. I don't wanna be written off as a newly independent Berkeley student who, inevitably, would come back after his sophomore year and question things. I always want to question things. Not for the sake of questioning, and not even because part of me enjoys being a self-proclaimed black sheep, but because a little distance is healthy, and I hope I always stay true to my own convictions even if my church disagrees...
Wow, did that get into a rant or what? Sorry. I think it's because I recently had another talk with my pastor about some of my thoughts about our church. And then today she gave a sermon about being judgmental... I will admit, it was a good sermon--probably the first sermon I've been completely attentive to in awhile--but I know it was a response to the talk we had earlier in the week. Of course, she was quick to say, "It wasn't all about you!" to me as we passed by after service, but I just keep getting this idea that she thinks I'm just in a phase and that my opinions will pass away and that I'll eventually become a normal, passive Chinese churchgoer. God forbid.
Anyways, to wrap up this book review that has somehow turned into a valleygirl rant--The Unlikely Disciple=great book. If you're a Christian, it'll make you think about the things you do, the ideas you believe in, and the way you are perceived by people outside the bubble. Basically, what Roose does is bring the two worlds together. The biggest reason for intolerance and prejudice is a simple lack of exposure between two parties. This book bridges (or at least lessens the distance between) two very different worlds and it definitely makes you think. And it's funny. Get it. Or ask me to borrow it.
So until next book, take care <3