Becky Garrison, Jesus Died For This? A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervans, 2010), 233 pages.
As Garrison travels and reports on the faithful and absurd (which too often seems to go hand-in-hand) she ponders her own upbringing. Garrison’s father was an idealistic Episcopal priest and professor who crashed and burned. Both of her parents were dead by her seventeenth birthday, plunging her into a “dark-night-of-the-soul.” (52) Such a background certainly colors her view of the world and also provides much to reflect upon. Although her father’s excesses were many and destructive, she also saw glimpses of good in his work. In most everyplace she travels, she sees both the good and the bad and her critique is not spared on the conservative and liberal, the fundamentalist and the mainline, the charismatic and the emergent. As a good satirist, Garrison cares for the church and for the gospel of Jesus Christ and is constantly calling for those who follow him to live up to his standard and not a standard that we force onto Jesus. During her travels, Garrison notes that
“select Christians have appointed Jesus Christ to the rank of a four-star general in the “War on Terror.” Meanwhile, some progressives depict Jesus of Nazareth as the ultimate social justice warrior, as though they’ve reduced the crucifixion to nothing more than a really bad day at the activist office. Then you have the armchair insurrections decked out in faux Che Guevara gear who deconstruct and then deny the resurrection, a war of words that may exercise the mind but fails to feed the soul. All this cherry-picking through the gospel leaves us with a Christ that tastes good but in the end is less filling.” (137)-
Garrison does realize that the pen can be dangerous and destructive. “Righteous anger, which is one of the best weapons in the satirist’s arsenal, can eat me alive if I’m not careful,” she writes. “Jesus must look at some of my moves and shake his head.” (136-7) Although a satirist, Garrison seems to hold back some punches out of respect for the church and certainly for the church’s Savior. As Mark Twain did in Innocents Abroad, in which Twain traveled through the Holy Lands, Garrison pokes at that which fails to live up to Jesus’ ideal, but never pokes at Jesus himself. Instead, she finds comfort in the mystery of Jesus’ resurrection, the hope in which all Christians share. I agree with her assessment that she makes early in the book as to the 21st Century’s greatest challenge, “finding ways to communicate theological change without becoming yet another crass Christian marketing machine.” (42) Of course, if we can find a way to communicate Christ in such a manner, there would be no need of satirists and Ms. Garrison may have to find another arena to satire. However, I don’t think her pen is in danger of being retired.
Ironically, I found myself reading this book while in Las Vegas for a wedding. Vegas was another city Garrison visited during her travels. Sitting by the pool at the Monte Carlo, I nodded in agreement when Garrison writes about the “majestic mountains surrounding Sin City [being] obliterated by massive man-made monstrosities.” I had already decided the city needed a sweep by the INS when I read her description of “the throngs of illegal aliens hawking flyers promising the ultimate sexual partner.” I agreed with her assessment that “The Strip” blocks Nevada’s natural beauty. (111-112). Yes, there was much in this book that I found myself agreeing, but maybe that is because we’re both an ENTJs on the Myers-Briggs scale. (101)
I recommend this book to the faithful who need to be reminded of what’s essential in our faith: Jesus Christ. I also recommend this book to the skeptical, who may see through Garrison’s insights that not all Christians buy into Joel Osteen’s slickness or the rapture-ready hype of the LaHaye dispensationists. And I recommend the book for anyone in need of a laugh, but warn you that there are also some sad parts.
To meet the full disclosure requirments the FCC may have imposed on bloggers, I admit I was given a copy of this book to review, but received no other compensation (not that I would be opposed to that, if it could be arranged). I also note that, to my knowledge, I'm not related to the author.