Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review: Hear No Evil

Matthew Paul Turner grew up in an ultra-conservative Baptist church and eventually became an editor of CCM, the "Contemporary Christian Music" magazine, and this is a book about that. More accurately, it's a collection of vignettes arranged chronologically that are well-written but don't quite cohere -- perhaps coherence is overrated? In any case, I found I had to finish it once I started, and (although I'm biased because of my own background) I found Turner to be much better at the apt turn of phrase and general likability than Steve Almond (author of Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life). However, I want more. This book goes out of its way to detail a terrible incident in which the publisher of CCM forced Turner to interrogate Amy Grant about her divorce and not to leave till he extracted an "apology." The thing is, that's about the only story about Turner being an editor. That incident can't be entirely typical -- if it was, I have a hard time understanding why he was even in that job for any period of time and also how he could survive with his faith intact in any form. His faith is intact at the end of the book, although changed to be sure -- but the book never gets deep enough to let us see what and why. There's moments of deliberate vulnerability that make this book special, but I still feel like I have no idea why Turner lives life the way he does, and what the whole CCM thing means to him, if there's anything good in that industry at all. Another area is the whole way youth groups talk about abstinence and CCM singers are almost forced to be white-washed tombs by the system. That's fascinating and tragic, but the alternative system offered by the mainstream media doesn't seem to be more successful. The thing is, the warts-and-all Christianity you have here is funny and right-on with its depiction, but the alternatives are not put to the same test. I'm sure Turner has this in him, it's just the book seems like it was forced to be "funny vignettes like Blue Like Jazz" and it does not feel complete. Well, Turner has other books out there and I will be reading them -- he has a gift as an author. I just think it's better to think of this book as a long magazine article than as anything approaching a "real" book. It's a blog post, not a manifesto or complete philosophy. I'd just like to know, how DO you put it all together then?

Oh, and Turner's blog "Jesus Needs New PR" is great too, possibly suffering from the same incompleteness, but I don't expect completeness from a blog.

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