CHURCHED: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess
Matthew Paul Turner
No doubt about it, Matthew Paul Turner is one hilarious writer. In this slice-of-life memoir about growing up fundamentalist, Turner unleashes his considerable wit in describing a childhood marked by an early family conversion from respectable Methodists to "independent" Baptists (not to ever be confused with the Southern variety). The Baptist God, Turner learned right away, was a lot more particular and a lot more intrusive than the Methodist God: "I didn't have him all figured out at the time, but one thing I noticed about the new God we worshiped: he followed us home."
So it was at home, and not just at church, that this new God made his influence felt. Fundamentalism, Turner writes, fit his father "like a tailored straitjacket." His mother, who on one occasion was horrified when her son used that unnamed word for donkey --- the one that's right there in the King James Version --- also took to fundamentalism so quickly that it had to have a lasting effect on all the Turner children.
Despite being catapulted into a culture that railed against smoking, dancing, drinking, long hair (on men), Barbie dolls and so much more, Turner writes with gentleness and grace about a life that could have turned him against God forever, leaving him bitter and angry. But somehow Turner survived, eventually leaving fundamentalism behind and embracing Jesus in a far more healthy way.
The operative word there is "somehow," because we never get to see that pivotal, transformational time when Turner saw the light, so to speak. It's almost as if we should be able to figure that out on our own: Turner had this rigid upbringing, and he got through it, and he's okay now; what more do we need to know? A lot, actually, because without at least a glimpse into the change he undoubtedly underwent, the book feels incomplete. It's less of a journey and more of an anecdotal account of various incidents in his life.
But make no mistake about it, the book is still as funny as all get-out. Turner describes the dreaded day when he turned 12 --- to the Baptist way of thinking, the age of accountability, the age when children "officially became eligible for hell…Eleven-year-olds had it made at our church. They could be skateboarding drug addicts who robbed grocery stores and killed bald eagles every other Tuesday and God would have still accepted them into heaven. But 12-year-olds were toast." Anyone who grew up in that kind of church culture can certainly relate to Turner's observation, but few could express it in quite the same way.
On nearly every page, Turner slips in a humorous observation so subtle that you just might miss it, like this snippet from a reaming-out he got when he brought home a less-than-stellar report card: "'You're walking on thin ice, buddy! That's all I've got to say!'" my mother said, lying through her teeth. She had more to say."
All in all, the book is well worth reading, especially if you managed to escape a fundamentalist upbringing or if you appreciate an intelligent wit --- or both. Just don't expect to discover any insight into what brought Turner to where he is today with regard to his faith. You won't find it in CHURCHED.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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