12.02.2004

"Schizophrenic Christians in search of orthodoxy."

I'm usually not a fan of memoirs written by people still in their twenties. Maybe this is based on an unfair generalization, but let's face it--two decades and change makes for a pretty measely retrospective. It also doesn't give you much of an opportunity to write from the reflective, wizened perspective that comes only from years and years of seeing how your life actually turned out.

Yet it seems that these stories of life-in-process are becoming ever more popular in the publishing world, particularly in the religious press. There's Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God, which she wrote before she reached a quarter of a century. And Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, who is supposedly "the male Anne Lamott." (Not if you ask me, though.)

Patton Dodd is the latest twentysomething memoirist, but at least he's blunt about his limited life experience, given his new book's title: it's called My Faith So Far. While I hope this doesn't mean he'll be giving us an update every ten years ("My Faith Even Farther: Now With Cute Anecdotes About My Teenaged Offspring"), I'm interested in Patton's book, mainly because he appears to be the poster child for expatriates like me.

I first heard about Patton Dodd years ago, because of my friendship with Cameron Strang, now the all-powerful and omniscient CEO of Relevant magazine. Cameron and Patton went to Oral Roberts University together, and in the initial planning stages for Relevant, Patton's name came up as an excellent writer who might be interested in working with the publication in some capacity.

I don't think that connection ever materialized (and my connection to Relevant has since dissolved--which is one of those proverbial whole 'nother stories), but Cameron's enthusiasm for Patton's writing stuck with me. I've spotted Patton's byline here and there over the years, but most frequently as a contributing editor for Killing the Buddha. (If you are reading this blog, you should also be reading KtB. It's written in part for "people made anxious by churches." I don't know if that describes you, but personally, most churches give me overhead-projector-induced anxiety attacks. I wish I was kidding about this. I know I've found a church I can live with when I can actually breathe there--for me this usually means, as a commentor said in an entry below, "less sermon, more sacrament.")

But I digress. So, Patton Dodd has written this book, and everything's come full circle because I heard about it from Relevant's weekly e-newsletter. I wish I could link to the interview, but they don't archive them online. So here, simply, is the question that I thought summed things up rather nicely:
RM: So where are you now? How would you "label" your beliefs after all this?

PD: This will come as no surprise to anyone who is at all in touch with trends among young religious people, but at the moment I'd say I'm a schizophrenic Christian in search of orthodoxy. I'm an evangelical by virtue of my past and the basic structures of my belief, but I'm not entirely comfortable there. As the book makes clear, I'm not comfortable rejecting it either. I'm middled.
This certainly isn't anything profound, but there is a certain satisfying virtue in reading something that explicitly states how one already feels. Patton is one twentysomething writer I'll be giving a chance. Has anyone else read his book yet?


10 Comments:

At 12/02/2004 5:09 PM, Blogger James said...

I can still remember the enjoyment my friend Chantal and I experienced when we discovered a book going by the name "Beyond The OHP". I have no idea if it's any good, but http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/185078454X/qid=1102025288/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl/026-0621501-2502816

Interested to hear more of your thoughts on Blue Like Jazz. It's been recommended to me a lot, but I've yet to succumb.

 
At 12/03/2004 11:02 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I'm not farmiliar with this Patton Dodd fellow. What can I say, he sounds good...the critic in me is unsure whether he can deliver the message that I hope he delivers. I've seen such good things turn out to be so bad (i.e. churches, relevant magazine, etc.)

I suppose there's still hope!

Brandon

 
At 12/04/2004 11:13 AM, Blogger William said...

Hi Kate. The kind folks at The Revealer pointed me toward your blog. Thanks for giving me and the book a chance, and all the other generous comments above. Should you do the book the honor of reading it, I'd love to know what you think.

 
At 12/06/2004 3:57 PM, Blogger kate said...

Oh geez louise, is the cyberworld ever small, or what. Thanks Patton Dodd for stopping by and making me feel bad about being critical of the Younger Memoirists, not to mention guilty about being snide towards Relevant. :)

Seriously, though, I am glad you commented here, and I hope you'll keep up with this blog as it (hopefully) gets more content-heavy. I do hope to pick up your book over Christmas. You really summed up my own feelings about church and orthodoxy in that quote, which is reason enough for me to want to read My Faith So Far. As for The Revealer, they're going on my "Expat Resources" list... as soon as I have time to make such a list. Thanks again for swinging by!

+++++++++++

James, my objections to Blue Like Jazz are based only on a brief skimming of a few chapters. My main impression of Miller's writing was that I probably would have found it a lot more helpful and relate-able when I was still in college and suffering various existential/religious crises. It just didn't hit me where I'm at right now, but I recognize that lots of other people have found Miller extremely engaging and encouraging (although I also really disliked the way he talked about women on a number of occasions, and that's enough to put me off entirely). I'm also heartened by the fact that Blue Like Jazz has gotten popular among evangelical college students, which means they're more apt to listen to Miller when he's naming the necessity of nonviolence to Christian faith. And that's ok by me.

 
At 12/07/2004 11:54 AM, Blogger wooten said...

There is a certain anxiety in all this for me. I attend an Episcopal church. Last week my partner and I had dinner with our priest. Over dinner he asked me what I thought about a more contemperary service for our parish. “Something that would speak more to the younger generation.” I asked him what he meant. He spoke of guitars and more relevant music. “Maybe even dance for certain moments in the liturgy.”

It makes me anxious because it starts to require more than I can give. As an evangelical I was never forgiven enough. In fact, there was always something else to confess. As a post evangelical I was never relevant enough. There was always a fresher way to connect with my generation. You know, listen to RadioHead and smoke a pipe. Have your bible study meet at the local pup. And now, as an orthodox believer I can’t quite get rid of myself enough. Somehow and someway I just want to go through the motions. I just want the rhythms to become a part of my bones. The rhythms that the church nailed out a thousand years ago. I find that part very comforting. But last week at dinner my rector made me anxious.

 
At 12/07/2004 1:00 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Kate,
Love what you've done with the place. Since you never responded to my request to post you on my site, I'm going to do it anyway. If that's not cool, you know where to reach me.

As far as Blue Like Jazz is concerned, it's the kind of book I recommend to Christian high school kids who have grown to hate the church. I agree that Miller's writing is less than ideal, but I think it speaks to a certain (younger) audience. I have a coworker who refuses to recommend it. She thinks Blue Like Jazz is nothing more than a poor attempt to be Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies, as you so sweetly allude to. I think Blue Like Jazz illustrates a great point about Christian literature - even if the idea of the book is great, the execution is usually mediocre.

 
At 12/09/2004 9:02 AM, Blogger Ruthie said...

I, just started reading your blog - some of the stuff here really resonates with me.

I kind of think that it can be quite interesting to read younger people's accounts of their spiritual journeys - if only for the potential of reading what they write 20 years later ;)

Richard Holloway started off railling against the kind of bishop he became and the kind of theology he now writes. Thomas Merton started off rather scathing about anything that wasn't Roman Catholic, and now he's one of the most Catholic (in the proper sense of the word - universal) writers we've ever known, drawing not only from the richness of the Roman Catholic tradition, but also from Zen!

Wooten - this is something I also was discussing in an episcopal church last week. I think what I would say as a young person who grew up with loud guitars, flashing lights and "culturally revelevant" services, is that they might have looked just like the local nightclub but they didn't speak to me where I was at. I think that if the church wants to me culturally relevant then it needs to respond to the issues that effect us as younger people in our culture - so politics, social injustices, education, healthcare, existential angst, isolation, loneliness, sexuality - these are relevant. The most culturally relevant people I know don't play guitar, they respond thoughtfully to pertinent issues in our society and in our world.

 
At 12/09/2004 12:22 PM, Blogger kate said...

Ruthie--welcome! Great thoughts, and I think you are quite right about everything you wrote. I'll have to rethink my dismissal of young memoirists--perhaps I wouldn't have so much objection if they didn't call what they were doing "memoirs." :)

Hope you'll stick around!

 
At 12/09/2004 12:47 PM, Blogger Ruthie said...

Thanks for the welcome - I'll keep noseying around!

 
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