Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ
This book is hard to categorize. At first you might think it’s an American religion reporter’s travelogue, introducing readers to noteworthy historical sites, contemporary conferences, or outreach opportunities. Early chapters take us in 2007 from Becky Garrison’s home in New York City to Israel, England and Ireland, the Bahamas, and, most interestingly, Jordan; and later chapters to California and the Pacific Northwest. The chapters appear chronologically as they were written and (seemingly/probably) published in magazines or blogs. Garrison regularly contributes to Sojourners and has written for other magazines including The Wittenburg Door.
Every few pages, the text wraps around a complementary photo, often of a setting she has described or of an illustrative cartoon (not her own).
But there’s more. This is a spiritual journey of a satirist, someone who jabs at human and institutional foibles with wit that can be caustic, but, in its best forms, redemptive. Garrison writes from the vantage point of middle age. As the book progresses, the reader “hears” a more reasoned and seasoned voice, the voice of a woman who is listening more to the Spirit who speaks with a still voice. She starts looking for ways to draw believers together rather than sitting in separate rooms, and grows closer to Christ who draws us to His table.
This isn’t to say she has lost the “edge” of a satirist. There’s something here to offend most every Christian or Christian community. Garrison is opinionated and sometimes flip.
One of the best chapters, titled “Rogue Relative,” gives a very personal historical perspective to freedom-of-religion issues. Garrison can trace branches of her ancestry to the Mayflower and, more interestingly, to Roger Williams; because of his liberty-of-conscious views, Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop banished Williams to “Rogue” or Rhode Island. Toward the end of the chapter, Garrison asks, “If Williams and Winthrop can shake hands at the end of the day, what prevents me from extending the hand of compassion and love toward those who drive me nutso? Here’s where Christ has to enter the picture because I can’t do this radical-love biz on my own.”
Much, not all, of her this-side-of-the-Atlantic “conversation” seems to be with or about influential people (primarily men, she points out) who are players in various contemporary models of the church. Pointedly illustrating this, one cartoon pokes fun at a gathering of “influential emerging church bloggers.” If you don’t know the contextual meaning of “emerging church,” “New Monasticism,” “postmodernity,” “emergence,” or “missional” (a word that’s not in dictionaries), you might not hold on to the end of this book. But if you are familiar with these terms and have any interest in discussions of their demerits or merits, JESUS DIED FOR THIS? is for you.
If you think this review is a little scattered, well, let me return to my opening sentence: the book is hard to categorize. It’s a collection of essays by a woman with a critical eye on the well-being of the Christian church. My introduction to her work is long overdue.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011