I grew up "Christian," in that I was in a royal blue velvet pew from the day I can remember. I knew my hymnal and later "the praise and worship" songs of the early '80's. I didn't own a record or cassette that wasn't Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, or Steven Curtis Chapman. My movie and TV watching was much more restricted than my peers. And I do remember, though vaguely, a certain end-times movie involving a guillotine.
So I approached Matthew Paul Turner's memoir, churched, of growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, with some common ground. Though the churches of my youth were far more relaxed, I can relate to the language and the sensibility of being "churched."
I was ready for hilarity. And there were plenty of cringe-inducing episodes of a young boy trying to make sense out of God while witnessing Barbie-burnings and the annual pastor vs. Satan boxing match and asking Jesus into his heart any time the pastor preached on the Tribulation, Communist China, hell, or even the Mandrell Sisters. Turner relates these events of his childhood with wry observation and also thoughtful insight.
His analysis of his parents' motivation or inclination to be in a fundamentalist church was interesting. Turner sees his dad "pursuing God through self-discipline". That meant the getting the right hair cut, avoiding curse words, wearing a suit and not a golf shirt to church, and keeping the TV off. "Dad found something in our church that gave him hope." For his mother, Turner saw her easily becoming a fundamentalist for the security and structure: "who better to organize her life than God?" There was safety in living a life regulated by a church than experiencing freedom in Christ.
My favorite chapter though is "Fertile Soil." Here Turner shows how tender and compassionate his father is. After a conversation with a farmer who was open about just how lost he was, Turner asks his dad why he didn't "put Tuck in his place" like Pastor Nolan would. His dad's response demonstrates his understanding of relationships with non-Christians and not the ticking through a tract: "I'm probably the only person in that boy's life who even mentions God. Whether he becomes a Christian or not, I think I'm there for a reason."
Although Turner confesses he still struggles with God, the American church, and American "Christian" culture (he lives in Nashville, the "Christian mecca," he calls it), he's still pursuing Jesus and is more willing to forgive the blemishes of a church and its light shows. He's a Christian despite the church in some ways and because of it in others. After their first Sunday at their new church, Turner remembers the conversation in the car during the ride home:"One thing I did notice about the new God we worshipped: he followed us home." Turner's life and his relationship with God would be forever changed and shaped by this church. What a responsibility.