Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Featured: JESUS DIED FOR THIS? Becky Garrison [Vol. 3, #35]

“Lessons in Expectations

A Review of
Jesus Died For This?
A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ

By Becky Garrison.

Reviewed by Greg Schreur.


Jesus Died For This?
A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ

By Becky Garrison.

Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Jesus Died For This - Becky GarrisonTwo things that are good for everyone, and probably for Christians in particular: reading about others’ spiritual journeys and learning to laugh at ourselves, even at those things about ourselves that we may consider too sacred to laugh about. Becky Garrison’s Jesus Died for This? A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ offers an opportunity to do both. As a Christian, as well as a cynic, and as someone who goes to a church with a lot of wealthy and/or attractive people, I eagerly anticipated my copy in the mail.

As someone who has learned that expectations are often just illusions there to disappoint us, I try to avoid strong preconceived notions when it comes to books. Expectations are limiting because they narrow our focus and sometimes require mental adjustments; the other danger, perhaps more even sinister, is when our expectations are met, robbing us of an opportunity to be challenged and to grow. But when I saw the title and even the cover, which depicts a vendor hawking savior figurines for fifty cents, expectation snuck out of its cage.

The day it arrived, I read the prologue, which begins:

Although I possess this inborn hunger to connect with the Jesus whom I encounter in the Gospels, I often wonder if he’s truly present when Christians gather together in his name. Are we really trying to put his teachings into practice or playing the Sunday morning God game? Watching the Christian cliques gather—the holy hipsters, the Promise Keeper/Suitable Helper couples who put Ken and Barbie to shame, the prayerful powerbrokers who keep the minister and the church coffers on a tight leash—reminds me that I’m not the ‘right’ kind of Christian.

These are sentiments that nearly every Christian has experienced—articulated perhaps in a way that most, someone like say Bill McCartney, would not necessarily express them. It might even be argued that anyone who hasn’t experienced them is not a sincere and mature Christian. They are an important part of the self-evaluative, soul-searching process of sanctification, and it is good to be reminded of them and to be reminded furthermore that they are part of a journey that, with some grace, leads to the “right” kind of relationship with the risen Christ.

There is always value in reading about another’s spiritual journey, whether that journey resembles your own or perhaps even more so when it does not. Being a satirist, Garrison is likely different from most Christians. Ultimately however, the book is less about her than it is about the sights and people along her journey. There are visits to interesting places like Syria, Scotland, and monasteries in the United States. There are examples of dedicated Christians doing interesting things, including a couple from Oregon who take in Muslim exchange students and a music and arts festival in Europe for Christians outside the mainstream.

At times the litany of names becomes confusing; it is as if she is writing about people she already knows—in some cases she does—and she forgets to introduce us to them adequately. Most of the chapters are quite short; fewer visits described in more detail might have been more effective. Furthermore, these chapters sometimes fall into a predictable pattern wherein every cloud has a spiritual lining, such as a sleepless night in Ireland affording the opportunity to catch a beautiful sunset. Of course this fall-redemption theme is common in Christian writing, but it is very difficult to write about and still sound genuine.

A notable side-note to this list of people is her father, who was a priest, narcissist, civil rights activist, and addict, among other things. There is one chapter devoted to her parents, both of which struggled with alcohol, albeit for seemingly different reasons. It offers some interesting background and potential motivation for Garrison’s search. Unfortunately, coming as it does in the middle of the book, it stands out rather than integrates itself into the rest of the book. Additionally, it fails to lay bare in raw, honest language what is really at the heart of this story, falling back instead on phrases like, “I admit to my own neuroses,” and, “I’ve been to hell and back.”

Satire is shocking and maybe offensive, and Garrison does occasionally shock with her observations, such as referring to the use of indigent children’s images in fund-raising brochures as “humanitarian porn.” She clearly derides the commercialization of religion and our tendency to be uncomfortable around or even shun those that don’t fit our predominant socio-economic status, such as the homeless guy who shows up to the morning service, although those are pretty easy punches to throw.

More often however, she plays it safe. Given the opportunity to take jabs at the inherent foibles of the mega-church and the superstar preacher, she quickly becomes sympathetic, admitting the draw such a community can have. At another point, near the “humanitarian porn” reference, she refers to hell as “h – e – double toothpicks.” Of course this makes the book more palatable to those mainstream Christians, and perhaps that is good. However, it also raises the dilemma: the book is written in a way that is palatable and might not offend those Christians who most need a good, satirical jolt.

If a review is to be a bit of advice, then forget that Garrison is a satirist and set aside the expectations for biting sarcasm and humor. You are likely to be disappointed if you allow these expectations to narrow your focus and blind yourself to the other opportunities of the book. Because—along those same lines, as Garrison’s book can remind us—we also need to have open minds when it comes to other people as well, including how they progress on their journey toward the risen Christ.

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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