Saturday, June 14, 2008

You put your left foot in...

This is the first of four book reviews that I am doing for the lovely Jan Edmiston... well, for her friend, actually, whose loveliness I cannot vouch for since I've never met him. The best I can figure, all these four books have in common is that they're Christian books published by Christian publishers targeted at addressing contemporary Christian folk. So. Let's get on with it, shall we?

(I just googled Hokey Pokey by Matthew Paul Turner and found a whole bunch of other blogs on it... I guess this is a gimmick to prompt viral, virtual, free advertising for the book. Ick.)

Ok, so I just finished Hokey Pokey by Matthew Paul Turner (maybe if I write it a bunch of times I'll turn up FIRST on the Google search mwahahahahaha), and I barely know how to write about it. The basic idea of the book is that it's about "calling". There are nine chapters, all of which view the topic of "calling" from a slightly different angle. Matthew Paul Turner (look at ME, Google!) structures the chapters around a whole passel o' interviews/conversations that he did/had with various people he's met that were either specifically about calling or touched on the topic. He closes out the various sections of the chapter with questions for the reader that invite further thought on the topic. The chapters cover topics such as being free in God (free enough to hear His call, more or less), the search for a "sign" from God, the need for mentors, waiting on God, change and its various discontents, and facing the truth about ourselves.

The Hokey Pokey title is a reference to the children's song, which I learned at the skating rink when I was 8 or 9. For those who may not have grown up in the U.S. or otherwise are not familiar with the song, it goes sumpin' like this:

You put your left foot in
You put your left foot out
You put your left foot in and you shake it all about
You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around
And that's what it's all about.

Doing this while on roller skates is difficult for the less coordinated children (i.e. Yours Truly) and so involves some hilarity when they fall on their butts in the process... but this is obviously not what he is referencing. Matthew Paul Turner uses the Hokey Pokey as a metaphor for being willing to get one's hands dirty in the search for God's purpose in our lives. "You put your left foot in" with all you've got and you figure out what it's all about. Or putting your left foot in is really what it's all about.

Ok. So, let me start by saying that the book definitely has its funny bits, or rather, that Matthew Paul Turner has a quirky, enjoyable sense of humor, and scoots in a lot of little funny bits here and there as he explains or gives his reaction to something (I actually put little smiley faces in some of the margins, for what that's worth). I think I would enjoy hearing him read the book because I think most of the humor would be even funnier if I heard it in the context of a public address of some sort. I also think he'd be a really interesting, quirky guy to know. There are some complex, unusual people that he interviewed that say interesting, profound things about life. I dog-eared pages where I thought there was a bit of something worth noting, and I may well have dog-eared over a third of the book.

That being said, the book reads like an ok blog (and his blog is actually fun to read, refreshing, etc.), and the overall effect is like Christian mental cotton candy. I forgot pretty much every chapter I read as soon as I finished it, and nearly threw the thing out the bus window when he made back to back references to conversations with Amy Grant and Kirk Cameron. I understand that this book was probably meant to be written for the ultra-contemporary reader and therefore MPT was under the gun to be not only spiritually profound but Christian-culture-savvy, peppering his text with up-to-the-millisecond cultural references (he references Facebook, Avril Lavigne, Grey's Anatomy... unfortunately he mentions poking and throwing sheep on Facebook, which is SO a year ago), but mixing those with twenty-five year old cultural references was just too much for me. Admittedly, I get most of his cultural references (except some of the TV ones because I don't watch TV) because he is just a couple of years older than me... but this doesn't make me want to listen to him. It makes me want to throw the book out the bus window.

Honestly, I spent most of the book underlining profound bits and wincing painfully when I felt condescended to by the completely unnecessary and irritating pop-culture references. I'm guessing an editor made him do that, and that editor should be spanked. That technique jacks up the book. It's also written in a choppy style that I believe is probably meant to cater to the "contemporary reader" with the attention span of a mentally impaired goldfish. Again, from my perspective this seriously undermines the effectiveness of the book and condescends to the reader. He begins to develop a point and then spins off into an interview, then follows that with questions. I think this is why I can barely remember any of it... nothing had a chance to really percolate.

Interestingly, he references something related in his chapter on change. He's talking about Generation X, and specifically a quote from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (which was one of the culture references I didn't get), and he says

"...every generation has its issues, but mine seems to suffer from an incessant need to be cool and relevant, which to me seems like little more than a resistance toward growing up."

Preach it, brother. and while you're at it, smack the editor who told you that you needed to make your book more "cool" and "relevant".

So bitter vitriol aside (few things rouse my ire as much as an idea that could have been good being thwarted by clever marketing techniques), there are a few things about this book that did resonate with me, and one was the chapter titled "waiting on God is a contact sport". That chapter --which is about patience and how difficult and counter-cultural it is to simply wait on God's direction-- spoke to my experience in my language (most of the time), and may be worth a read on its own when I am tempted to forget about the universality and timelessness of this process of waiting on the LORD. There are also some really compelling stories among the interviews in the book, like Devon's in the chapter "God paints (and we are his art)", or John the Homeless in the chapter "everybody needs a Yoda". The range of people that Matthew Paul Turner was able to talk to in his book bears witness (some Christianese for ya'll right there) to his ability to connect with people and to hear their stories. The questions he asks at the ends of sections are meant to probe into the experience of the reader, and some seem to delve into fairly deep spiritual territory and are worth further consideration just on their own.

So the bottom line is: know what you're getting into before you read this book. There are neat bits and there are observations that may well stimulate thought, but you have to navigate through a lot of nasty little techniques designed to make the "average" contemporary Christian reader find the book interesting. I'd love to see what the book would be like WITHOUT all of that stuff in there.

And for Google: Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey Matthew Paul Turner Hokey Pokey

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