I love to review books, but especially when I’ve met the author personally and have had the chance to soak up a little of his personality. It’s funny how Matthew Paul Turner and I met. Here’s what happened:
River Jordan invited me to the Social Media Jam and Author Dutch Lunch she was organizing in Nashville a few weeks ago, and when she listed the names of some of the participants, I Googled them, friended them on Facebook, followed them on Twitter, and learned what I could about each of them before driving over for the Jam. It’s just what I do. I like to be prepared.
As a side note, one of the authors, JT Ellison, goes by the nickname, “Thrillerchick” on Twitter, because she writes thrillers. So, when we walked into the conference room at the Nashville library and introduced ourselves, as soon as I met her I said, “you’re Thrillerchick,” and she said, “proof positive the social media works!”
Anyway, another author on River’s informal panel that day was Matthew Paul Turner. When I found Matthew Paul’s blog, Jesus Needs New PR, he was posting strange pictures of Jesus. One post was called, “Jesus Picture: Holy Abs.” It featured an icon of Christ at his baptism, and part of the text of the post said, “Why does Jesus’ six-pack have testicles? … What was wrong with those old painters?”
I couldn’t decide whether to be offended, to laugh, to ignore him, or to confront him. This is, of course, exactly what every blogger (or any writer) wants—to get a reaction from his readers. And of course I chose curtain #4. I left a comment on Facebook. Here’s what it said:
“This is a detail from a traditional Byzantine icon of Christ’s baptism, and it’s not supposed to be realistic. There’s nothing “wrong with those old painters”… it’s the correct, historic style of iconography used in the Orthodox Church, of which I’m a member. (I’m also an iconographer, and I’ve painted those “abs” before.) These are holy images, Matthew Paul, venerated for centuries by people who love Christ. My essay, “Icons Will Save the World,” which was published at First Things a couple of years ago, tells more about icons, if you or other readers are interested.”
Several others joined the thread, which got lively. So when I went to Nashville, I took a picture of an icon of Christ that I had painted—one that shows his “abs,”—to give to Matthew if I met him, planning to remind him that I was an Orthodox Christian and iconographer, which is why I commented on his post. As I sat down in the conference room, a young man sat down next to me. It was Matthew. I gave him the photo, and he responded by saying he’d love to interview me some time, and then he gave me an advance copy of his new book, “Hear No Evil.” His site had a place to download the first chapter, which I had done the day before. I had printed it off and read it the morning I drove to Nashvile.
Matthew is a big social media guru, with 19 thousand followers on Twitter, and also a huge following on his blog and Facebook. Matthew believes that the social media is more than just a marketing tool. “It’s an extension of who you are… blogging is a lifestyle.” (And he’s got 18 published books. I have no idea where he finds the time to write!
So I brought home my copy of “Hear No Evil,” but I was in the middle of two other books at the time. This week I got around to reading it and couldn’t put it down. Like the Jesus pictures on Matthew’s blog, his book is at times irreverent, often funny, but always honest and poignant. Most of all it’s a candid look inside Matthew’s several worlds: the fundamentalist Baptist home of Matthew’s childhood, and then his exposure to the “cool Christian Calvinists” on the campus of Belmont College in Nashville, and finally, the world of Christian music at large.
Arriving at Belmont College, his appearance was a stark contrast to that of his new friend, Josiah—who “believed God predestined him to help Calvinism make a comeback”—and the other artsy Christian musicians. In addition to wearing the wrong clothes, Matthew “couldn’t play the guitar, which for a believer at Belmont was like being Jewish and uncircumcised.”
Two more freshman friends, Nadine and Pam, took Matthew to see his first movie, since they weren’t allowed when he was living at home. Nadine picked picked him up in her car.
“This is going to be fun.” She turned to Pam. “I’ve never watched somebody lose their movie-theater virginity before.”
She had watched Matthew’s first exposure to Bob Dylan in their Music Business History class a few days earlier. The professor claimed his life was changed forever in 1965 when he first heard Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” He played the song that first day of his class, after which Matthew raised his hand and asked, “Should I know who Dylan is?” And then he proceeded to offer his critique of the song:
“It just isn’t that good of a song. The melody does nothing but repeat itself over and over again, and his singing voice is nasal and seemingly incapable of staying on pitch…. To be honest, I’m not sure how this Dylan guy made a career in the music industry.”
And so Matthew began his bumpy ride through Belmont College and beyond. Each chapter offers anecdotes to enjoy and insights into the insular world of contemporary Christian music. Like “Chasing Amy,” the chapter which relates the story of Matthew’s biggest assignment, when he worked as editor for CCM, a magazine covering Christian music. His excitement over being given the opportunity to interview his idol, Amy Grant, was tempered by the publisher’s insistence that he force her to apologize for her divorce.
Hear No Evil is a story of a skinny little kid with a big heart and even bigger sense of humor, who grows up to be a man who loves his wife, his son, and the music that still fuels his journey. Makes me want to read his previous memoir, “churched: one kid’s journey towards God despite a holy mess,” and learn about how his strict fundy childhood didn’t quench his love for Jesus.