The Gifts of a Cold Sandwich and a Book Released in Tragedy

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During the first day of the 2012 Festival of Faith and Writing, I picked up my disappointing boxed lunch in a mostly deserted lobby at the arts building of Calvin College and regretted my decision. While everyone else I knew was going out for lunch, I was going to sit on a step and eat a cold sandwich by myself.

Way to network, champ!

Just as I was about to give up, I noticed an empty seat in a sitting area where five women were eating their equally cold and disappointing boxed lunches. I fought through my social anxiety and struggles with small talk, took the empty seat, and immediately introduced myself to the woman next to me.

Things started to look up immediately.

“Are you the Ed Cyzewski who runs the Women in Ministry series?” a woman across from me asked.

“That’s me,” I replied, relieved that the ice had been broken so fast.

It turned out that this woman, Angie Mabry-Nauta, is a pastor and had really appreciated the series on my blog where I hosted stories of women serving in ministry—a way that I hoped to outflank the tiring “women in ministry” debate. The woman sitting next to her was Christie Purifoy, a blogger and, at that time, aspiring author who had a freaky number of things in common with me.

  • Christie has a PhD in English Literature, the very degree that my wife has been working on.
  • Christie was pregnant and had a nearly identical due date as my own wife, who was pregnant with our first son at the time.
  • Christie also had plans to buy a house in the Philadelphia area, which happens to be my home town.

I exchanged business cards with Angie and Christie, found them on social media, and have since stayed in touch. Christie and I further connected as fellow writers on the Deeper Story website, which is no longer active.

Around two years ago Christie contacted me with some big news. She was finally sending out a book proposal to a literary agent. I enthusiastically read through her proposal and was completely riveted with her prose and story telling.

I’m terrible at endorsements and reviews, especially when I enjoy the book. Do I say it’s a TOUR DE FORCE!? A majestic triumph for the ages!!!!?? I can’t quite figure out the right tone and word choice for these things. It’s MUCH eaiser to be critical, right?

Truth be told, I’m picky, oh so terribly picky, about memoir. 80% of the memoirs that I pick up, I put down before the half way point. I don’t need simple, every day events imbued with embellished life-altering meaning. You ate a piece of bread and you thought some deep thoughts. Get over it and tell me something worth reading.

I’m the ultimate “get off my lawn” memoir reader.

Having said that, when I love a memoir, I really love it. For just a small sample:

When We Were on Fire? Amazing.

Any Day a Beautiful Change? Perfect.

Girl Meets God? Beautiful.

Tables in the Wilderness? I hate you, Preston.

Coming Clean? Breaks my brain.

So when I picked up Christie’s sample chapters for her new book, Roots & Sky, I found artful prose and engaging description of the everyday without unnecessary embellishment. She opens up about the simple longings and desires we all experience and invites us to sit with her over tea or to take a stroll in her garden to talk it over. It’s perhaps cliché these days to say that a book “helps you find God in the everyday events of life,” but this book takes a very unique, artful spin on that concept that I found engaging and enjoyable.

I could not be more enthusiastic about this book, but just as Christie should be celebrating this beautiful book, tragedy struck her family. Christie’s brother-in-law, the husband of her sister, was one of the 12 Marines who appears to have perished in a helicopter crash off the coast of Hawaii. Christie has set off to Hawaii in order to comfort her sister and her four nieces and nephews.

I can’t imagine what Christie, her sister, and the rest of the family are going through during this time of tremendous loss. Perhaps as you read this post, which is being posted on Friday, January 22, 2016, the families will be attending a memorial service for the Marines.

Would you like to help Christie and her family at this time?

First of all, I know that they would all deeply covet your prayers—prayers for God to be near those who are grieving so deeply, prayers for God’s provision for this family, prayers for these children who have lost their father at so young an age, and prayers that God will sustain Christie at this time as she comforts and grieves.

Secondly, as Christie has stepped back to serve her family, a group of authors, bloggers, and friends have stepped up to help get the word out about this book. While there is undeniable tragedy and pain in this world, authors and artists like Christie are creating beauty, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. Here are some ways you can help:

Order your own copy of Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. (pre-orders are especially helpful)

Post a brief review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Reviews are critical since so many people buy books online.

Share this book with your network: Check out this new memoir: Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by @ChristiePurifoy http://buff.ly/1Ta6PLz.

I’m trusting that God is going to bless a lot of folks through this book, and I can’t wait for you to read it for yourself!

5 Fun and Irreverent Religious Books that Some Christians Will Hate

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Let’s assume that you’re a Christian or you’re interested in religion. Let’s also assume that you like reading books about religious stuff that are a bit fun and even irreverent at times since you aren’t living in a perpetual siege mentality fed by conservative fear-mongering, political divisiveness, and end times madness.

Does that sound anything like you? If yes, then I have five fun and irreverent religious books to recommend for you. Some veer more toward entertainment, while others bring up weighty ideas while making readers laugh along the way. All of them have an angle or tone that our more uptight/under-siege Christian friends will most certainly hate.

Whether you’re looking for yourself or someone else, here are five books to pick today for a fun read:

 

  1. Flunking Sainthood by Jana Reiss

Mormon writer Jana Reiss digs into the Christian traditions and spiritual disciplines in an ill-fated attempt to learn a new spiritual practice every month. She reads biographies of saints and books that are supposed to provide practical guidance. Instead, Reiss grows annoyed by the anxious striving of some saints and frustrated by the vagueness of others. Along the way Reiss introduces us to important spiritual practices throughout church history—many of which she fails to do.

It’s not that Reiss wanted to fail. She started out this project with sincerity and good intentions, and that’s what makes this book so good. Sticking with a ridiculous spiritual project doomed to failure feels quite familiar to me, even if I’ve never attempted anything on the same scale.

Whether you cringe at her irreverence or you nod your head in agreement, she provides a welcome outlet for evangelicals such as myself who grew up with a great deal of anxiety and pressure to reach particular spiritual goals. For the rest of us who struggle at spiritual disciplines or have our own histories of failures with these practices, this book will provide a welcome perspective shift that just may inspire you to give them another shot.

 

  1. Do I Have to Be Good All the Time? By Vicky Walker

British writer Walker writes with a blend of self-deprecation and sarcasm that especially appeals to my East coast heritage. For all of our talk in America about the ways British Christians aren’t as crazy as us, Walker uncovers a world of conservative churchianity that should feel quite familiar to American evangelicals where singles struggle to be valued alongside married couples, receive terrible life advice, and end up in unbearably awkward conversations during dates that sometimes end with, for instance, a man confessing he loves to rub cats on his bare chest.

Yes, that is a real conversation in Walker’s book. No, that’s not the only one that prompted me to drop the book in horror/laughter.

While my single friends will no doubt find Walker’s recounting and skewering of the British Christian single culture cathartic, her scope is far wider and will certainly appeal to many. One senses that Walker has ingested a non-stop barrage of dodgy life advice from conservative Christian peers and is using this book to tell them what’s what.

What?

Pop in your monocle and give this book a shot. It’s especially delightful with a proper cup of tea and a scone.

 

  1. The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

I’m going to assume that most of my readers have at least heard of Evans’ book. Perhaps most of you are sick of hearing about it. However, if you haven’t read it yet, I assure you that you’re missing out.

After being accused by the critics of her first book, Faith Unraveled, that she was picking and choosing which verses of the Bible to obey when it came to faith and gender, Evans’ took up their challenge by obeying everything in the Bible as literally as possible. It’s not just an experiment in interpretation and application, it’s a work of performance art that asks big questions about what it means to be a “biblical” woman. Evans braves conservative books on biblical homemaking, weeps over frustrating crafts, and sits on her roof after growing contentious toward her husband.

Some reviewers didn’t get this project—or perhaps skipped reading it altogether. One conservative Bible professor lamented that Evans would fail his exegesis class. We may well respond that he would fail an MFA course. This isn’t a book about the “right” way to read the Bible. This is fun and thought-provoking exploration of what happens when we follow one theological system to its logical conclusions. If anything, this book is a humbling and humorous reminder that interpreting the Bible isn’t as easy as we think.

If you approach the Bible with greater humility and awe at the stakes of the interpretive task, the laughs provided by Evan’s journey will be well worth your time.

 

  1. Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner

Superbly researched and written with a heavy dose of self-deprecating love for our Christian forebears in America, Matthew Paul Turner delivers a surprisingly readable spin through American church history. Written in a style that brings to mind Sarah Vowell (a well-known contributor to This American Life), Turner traces the high points (what some would call “low points”) of America’s church history as he makes the case that we’re just as capable of creating God in our own image.

In fact, the staggering number of images Americans have for God makes this book both delightful and hilarious. While Turner isn’t providing a substitute for the work of scholars such as Mark Knoll and David Beggington, he has more than succeeded in providing a thoughtful and funny commentary on the history of God in America that proved to be one of my favorite books from the past year.

In my endorsement for this book, I noted that Calvinists will really, really hate this book. So that will either warn my Reformed friends to keep far away from this book, or I’ve just issued a dare to give it shot!

 

  1. The New York Regional Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

I’m probably most picky about memoirs. And of the kinds of memoirs I read, I’m most critical of religious memoirs. Let’s face it: the narrative arc is typically either:

I had a crazy religious childhood and now I’m done with that.

Or

I had a crazy religious childhood but now I’ve found a way to redeem it.

There are very few books that can succeed in such predictable narrative frameworks. Books such as Traveling Mercies or Girl Meets God provide refreshing alternatives to that script since Lamott and Winner trace their journeys from outsiders to insiders in the church. My friend Addie Zierman’s memoir When We Were on Fire is among the few faith memoirs that has succeeded in providing a truly riveting read, however, Elna Baker’s journey from the Mormon fold into the uncertain terrain of New York City is not only captivating but brimming over with wit.

While mentions of special underwear for married women and specific Mormon beliefs sometimes remind evangelical readers that Baker comes from a different tradition, a great deal of her story will look and feel familiar. Evangelicals will especially relate to her struggles to adopt her childhood faith as her own, the moral struggles of living in a city fully of temptations, and possible ramifications with her family should she leave her faith and/or HAVE SEX.

One could come away from this memoir with the impression that Baker’s story hinges on whether or not she will kiss a boy, but if you come from a conservative religious background, you’ll know that the story is about a great deal more than that. Baker takes us into the nitty gritty struggles that young adults face when their faith runs counter to the majority of people around them.

From cringe-worthy scenes at the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, which is a real thing, to the unbelievable “home meetings” with fellow Mormon singles where an unmarried couple plays the parts of husband and wife hosts, Baker provides a perspective that is simultaneously familiar and foreign. I simply couldn’t put this book down. It’s that good.

If you don’t enjoy it, I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

 

Disclaimers

Before you rush off to buy all five of these books (why haven’t you already???), you should know that each of the links here are affiliate links on Amazon. It just means I get a small percentage of the sale if you click through and buy a book. I don’t make a lot of money through these links, but every little bit helps. Having said that, buy these books wherever you like. From the perspective of an author, I’m always just happy people buy my book anywhere at all, but if you can support a local bookstore, go for it!

I know a few of these authors personally. We’re not best friends who swap childcare during the week or go out for drinks on the weekend. I’m picky enough about what I read that I honestly wouldn’t read and recommend something that I didn’t enjoy. However, I want to make sure everything I’ve written here is on the up and up.

Do you have a favorite religious book that is funny and irreverent?

Drop in the title and author in the comments below!