Monkey Town Read-Along: Week 2

This week’s read-along assignment was to read chapters 1 & 2 of Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. Chapter 1 was hilarious. I could feel her sarcastic pain. Chapter 2 made me want to puke. SOOOO much to talk about, I’ll have to choose just a few points. UPDATE: I’m only talking about chapter 1 in this post so it doesn’t become wayyyy too long. I mean, we’re already around 1000 words here. I will deal with chapter 2’s business in another post today or tomorrow. I gotta go for a run right now…

Chapter 1:

Rachel talked about her early years growing up and how she attempted to win the “Best Christian Attitude” award at her private elementary school. I was cracking up at this. She mentioned her “strategy” for winning several times, which she said included things like keeping extra pens and pencils at her desk to loan to “needy students”, allowing classmates to cut in line at the water fountain, and making a point to mention “the plight of the poor, homeless and heathen” during prayer-request time, while all the other students were focused on lesser matters such as their sick pets. (pg 36) She won the Best Christian Attitude Award 4 years in a row. She didn’t make it past 4 years because they moved to public school. I wonder if she was a little relieved not to have to work so hard for that anymore?

The whole thing reminded me a little of the “Most Christ-like” sticker (I think that’s what it’s called) in Upward sports. My niece used to cheer for an Upward basketball team and every week when the stickers were handed out, it always seemed to me that the kid who didn’t get any of the other ones for the week ended up getting the “Most Christ-like” sticker. Sorry, kid…you don’t have any real athletic ability and you have no concept of the whole teamwork thing, but you didn’t cuss and you didn’t punch anyone, so I guess we’ll give you this sticker…

Later in the chapter she talks about her “strategy” for dealing with fellow classmates at her high school in Dayton, TN. Everyone there was basically already professing Christianity, so there was no one to “evangelize.” (Pg 41) She dealt with this by being overly friendly to everyone and “always looking for openings in the conversation that would naturally lead to a discussion about substitutionary atonement.” (I laughed/snorted really loud when I read this!! She’s flippin’ brilliant!)

Isn’t that just so like us?? Striving and creating strategies to deal with life and people? We all do it. Sometimes I guess it’s necessary, like creating a strategy to deal with a toxic person in your life, or a strategy to stay away from something that is detrimental to you. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, but when devising a strategy to look good on the outside becomes our focus, we become exactly what Jesus talked about: white-washed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but are full of dead men’s bones. Making ourselves into a white-washed tomb should not become a conscious effort.

Moving on…

What I loved most from this chapter was her admission of being in a constant state of tension between being “discovered” and “found out.” (pg 37) She wanted to be discovered (or maybe recognized?) as a do-gooder and praised for her efforts, but underneath it all she was worried about being “found out” as a fraud who was only out to do good so she could be praised for her efforts. I have to say that I struggle with this tension a lot. Being the baby in a family of 7 siblings, I was doted on and was always the center of attention. That shaped my personality as a loud (even obnoxious!?) extrovert in the truest sense. I grew into a life-of-the-party kind of girl in my teenage and college years, and as you’d expect, that self-centered, “look-at-me” attitude got me wrapped up in some seriously awful experiences in life. Since devoting my life to Christ, I can see both the good and bad sides to this trait.  On one hand, I’ve learned to take risks and put myself out in front of things that I’m meant to lead. It’s a natural fit for me, most of the time, and it comes with the benefit of being able to use my gifts in the way they’re meant to be used. But on the other hand, that little girl inside of me still twirls around in my floofy skirt insisting “look at me! look at me!!” and I have to make sure that I don’t allow her too much free rein. So I am constantly questioning my motives and asking God to search me out for that shred of the little girl who wants all the attention for herself, when it is God who deserves the glory for any good in me. On that note, I’ve come to realize that this can also easily be used as a weapon of the enemy, when it’s twisted up in my mind to make me shy away from doing things I am supposed to do. Sometimes I don’t end up accomplishing my given task for fear that I am just doing it for attention. I worry that I’ll be “found out” as a fraud who is only trying to get a pat on the back. It’s a crazy tension that I just have to count on God to work out in me. I suspect we all have our own type of this tension.

I want to say thank you to Rachel for her stark honesty and for her humor in this book. My brain is going a thousand miles a minute after reading these pages. Writing about chapter 2 might just take me out. Yikes.

Even if you’ve not read the book, these are some questions you can think about:

Who in your life might deserve a “Best Christian Attitude” Award? (really!) What traits do you see in them that make you think that? And how to they compare to what Jesus himself was like? Are they things you see in him or things that we’ve made up as “good” Christian ideals?

Have you recognized yourself at all in this explanation of living in a tension between being discovered and being found out? What’s behind that? Is there a central message that’s been spoken to your heart over the years that creates this tension? (Check out chapter 4 of Wild at Heart by John Eldredge for more on The Wound and the Central Message)

Other thoughts?


Monkey Town Read-Along: Week 1

The back cover of the book states, in bold print at the top:


For some things, this statement doesn’t sit very well with me. For example, if I’m going in for surgery, it’s not a motto that I’d like to see hanging on the wall next to my surgeon’s med school diploma. I’d kind of like him to know the answers when it comes to the why and where and when and how of cutting me open. Because surgery is something that must be precise. There’s not a lot of room for doubting and questioning, you know what I’m sayin’? I like my surgeons to have lots and lots of definitive answers…not questions.

But faith is not surgery. No matter how hard we try to make it so, it’s really not exact and precise. In fact it can get pretty messy and even uncomfortable at times. That’s why it’s faith.  Scripture, the scripture that I believe to be wholly inspired by God, even tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see.” (Heb 11:1) I think that in almost every way, our entire lives are spent pressing toward the place where we become content with that exact definition of faith.

Last week I started a new summer read-along that I’m doing with some folks over at my new friend Marla’s blog. The book is called Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. It’s about one woman’s journey through the questions we all (likely) ask of our faith. She just had the cojones to ask them out loud, on paper, through thousands of copies out in front of the world. If she can be so bold, can’t we??

Part of the reason it’s taken me a week to write this post is because I felt the need to establish a bit of context for my comments about this book. Much like Rachel, I felt like I needed to tell my own personal faith story in order for anyone to know where I was coming from in reference to this book or my own questions about faith. So I took the time to go back and piece together story of how my faith was born. If you’re interested, check it out here, but be warned, it is looooooong.

Okay so let’s get on with it, shall we?

This week’s assignment was only to read and comment on the preface and introduction to the book. Lemme tell ya…that was plenty for me. Here are some things that stood out to me:

  1. Deep breath…..I forgive you, Rachel, for referring to apes (via Koko the Gorilla and Dian Fossey references) as monkeys. It’s a common problem and a personal pet peeve of mine. I am going to assume you did so on purpose so as to keep up the clever reference to the Scopes Monkey Trial throughout the book. Enough about that.  Deep breath….
  2. The introduction is actually entitled “Why I Am An Evolutionist.” I thought this was a very good use of this sometimes-dirty word. I don’t really get what the big deal is. To evolve means to change into something new… evolution is actually defined by the good folks at Merriam-Webster as “a process of change in a certain direction.” By that definition, all of us are evolving, either into something more and better than we are now or something less that we hoped we’d be. The direction is what matters. As Christians, we are called to constantly becoming more Christ-like every day. That is an evolution if I’ve ever heard of it, and certainly in one specific direction. So if our actual being is changing to become more like our Savior, then wouldn’t our understanding of that process (our faith) constantly be changing along with it? It would have to. I know that because of God in my life, I understand more about Him, myself, and others around me that I ever have. Therefore my faith itself has changed. For example, I love my husband. He is one of the most important parts of my life. But when I learned, through studying the Word and prayer, that he could not be THE most important thing in my life, the way I interacted with him changed. I no longer looked to him to give me my identity or my worth. That’s a job he couldn’t do. Those things only come from God, so I have to go to Him with those needs. When I do, my foundation is firm and I can live confidently and love my husband better because I am not expecting him to do things that he cannot do. My faith in God is actually bigger because that understanding has changed…it has evolved into a faith that allows me to put God before my husband, which enables me to honor both. So I am not scared to say that indeed our faith evolves. In fact, if it does not…are we living fully and growing at all?
  3. My faith began with lots of questions. I have a feeling it will always include and even end with questions upon questions. That doesn’t scare me either. I feel like if I had everything all settled and felt like God was figured out and I could explain every miraculous event and I had a quick, neat little response for everything God-related… then how big could God really be? Isn’t the fact that we humans cannot figure him out and explain his reasoning and all that just more proof that He is in fact, God? God is enigmatic, and if He weren’t, then what would about him would be worth worshipping? I have experienced many cool things in my life, but none of them were worth reshaping my whole world around. God is. And the sheer fact that he is so awe-inducing and beyond my tiny understanding is what makes Him worth giving my whole life to. I know there will always be things about Him and His decisions that I do not understand. But if I allow them to produce anxiety and fear and doubt in me, then really I think He’s keeping something from me that I need and I question His motives. If I do that, then do I really trust Him? Not so much. If I believe that God is good and loves me and knows what is best for me, then I’ll understand that He gives me knowledge about what I need to know (and what I can handle) when I need to know it. I trust that whatever I don’t know yet is just because I have what I need to know right now. He gets to call the shots when it comes to tell me more details. I am okay with that because I know that He gives me only good things.
  4. What about monkeys (APES!!) and evolution and old earth vs. new earth and evolution and all that stuff?? I do not believe science and faith to be mutually exclusive at all. The bible says that God created everything in 6 days. It also says that a day in the Lord is like a thousand years. So does that mean He created everything in 6000 years? Hmmmm. I think this: God created everything. All I have to do is look at a newborn baby or see the Fibonacci sequence in nature to know that there is a rhyme and reason to all things. Things like the way food chains work, the way that our body heals itself, and the vast diversity of species on the earth and deep in the sea… those incredible things don’t point to a happy accident that resulted in a long line of events leading up to the birth of human beings to me. No way. There is purpose in everything, everywhere. Those things point to a Creator who knew what He had in mind when it was created. It doesn’t matter how long it took for Him to create it. The point is…whether is was 6 days or 6000 years or 60 billion years, humans couldn’t have made it happen. A couple of molecules and some heat couldn’t have done it. It’s beyond our understanding…it’s an unfathomable task, regardless of the time it took. I am not dismissing the discussion about it, but again, I love the wonder it creates in me….it’s not going to shake my faith in any way shape or form. God chose men to breathe his Word into. Therefore, when they penned the writings that He knew would eventually be the compilation of what He wanted to say to us in that way, He had to allow those scribes to put it in language that we could wrap our minds around. So whether he had allowed the scribe who penned Genesis to say “6 days” or “6 billion years” we would still question it. It’s amazing that God created everything and He still loves and cares for us. He is outside of our complete understanding, outside of time and space. The fact that He’s let us in on even some of His big story is amazing.
  5. On page 18 of the introduction, Rachel uses this sentence: So fearful of losing their grip on faith, they squeeze the life out of it. She is referring to fundamentalists, or people who “think God is pretty much figured out already” and He’s “done telling us anything new.” (pg. 17) I’ve known a few people like this in my day, haven’t you? Those churchy folk who refuse to allow their children to participate in science class for fear of what they might learn. Those people who don’t believe in healing because that only happened “back in bible times.” Those church leaders who insist their congregants dress a certain way and cover any tattoos and cut their hair because by golly, that’s what Jesus would have looked like if he’d had the modern conveniences of a suit and a shave. Um, yeah…those folks. Don’t they just seem to drain the life out of everything? If that’s what people want to believe, then that’s fine…but don’t go slapping a Jesus fish on it. Because that’s not what Jesus was like. He questioned things. He rebuked the folks who looked like they had it all together. He shot straight to the heart when people came around wanting to look cool on the outside. He didn’t have time for all that. He was busy trying to bring life to people. And I would rather do that too. I’d rather focus on bringing life to people around me rather than holding tight to the way someone should dress or act or think or whatever. I’m perfectly okay with asking questions. As long as they inspire wonder and awe for God, rather than causing us to simply grasp for knowledge just for the sake of feeling like we know something more than the next dude.

Okay then, there’s a lot more that I could say about this, but I need to get started on my next reading assignment anyway. If you’ve made it through this long-arse post and you have another sec, why not leave a comment telling me a faith-question (or maybe an anti-faith question?) that makes you a little uncomfortable. It may end up being one of the same question asked in this book later on. I can’t wait to find out.