Matthew Turner is a friend of mine whom I’ve never met, something that is possible in this day of social media. Not long after I “met” Matthew, a series of conversations revealed that we had much in common: we both grew up in a Fundamentalist culture, both went to Christian schools that used the same legalistic/fascist curriculum (and we can both tell you stories), both majored in music at liberal arts colleges in the South with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention, and on the list goes.
From reading Hear No Evil, however, I learned that Matthew’s upbringing, and therefore his experience with Christian music, was/is far different from mine. Sure, we could both have sung as young people (to the tune SOLID ROCK) “My hope is built on nothing less/Than Scofield’s notes and Moody Press,” but Matthew’s Fundamentalist experience was in Maryland, not in the Deep South, and therefore has some edges to it that mine did not. He tells of a world in which going to a movie–any movie–was a sin. Movies were dubbed, in all seriousness by his Independent Fundamental Baptist church, “the devil’s excrement.”
When it came to music, Matthew’s church similarly taught him that any pop music was evil, especially if it featured a (GASP) syncopated beat! We in the South, in contrast, were handed sound-alike charts by youth leaders and chapel speakers: “Like Journey? Listen to Petra! They sound just like Journey, only Christian!” (Yes, these sound-alike charts did, and probably still do, exist, as many of my readers will attest.) When he arrived at college to study music, he was a blank slate. The episode he relates of hearing Bob Dylan for the first time in class, and then raising his hand to ask who Dylan is, is heartbreaking, cringe-worthy, and hilarious all at the same time. It reminded me of so many music majors I met in school who dreamed of a career in “Christian music” but who had been sheltered from the vast majority of any kind of music. The only categories of music they knew were “Christian” and “secular” rather than “good” and “bad.”
There are many such “I want to cry and laugh out loud at the same time” moments in Hear No Evil, such as the story of a group of rebels from his church who conspire to arrange a clandestine trip to a (GASP again) Sandi Patty concert, his buying, throwing away, and re-buying (a total of four times) a contraband Amy Grant cassette, his “inspiration” to rewrite George Michael’s “Faith” with Jesus-y lyrics, and many others. The combination of “this wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t so true” and Matthew’s keen self-awareness and honesty (I found myself repeatedly embarrassed for him) is a winning one.
As a person in the Reformed tradition, I found it particularly heartbreaking that Matthew’s introduction to that tradition was through a group of “cage-stage” Calvinists at college. Jesus may need new PR (to borrow the title of Matthew’s blog) but if his college friends are any indication, Calvin needs even more. Those of us who should be known for our celebration of grace come off as simply a group of people who love to argue. Not too far off the mark, I’m afraid. Writing as one on the outside of the Reformed world looking in, Matthew hits the nail on the head in describing a certain element within that world: “. . . at Belmont, the cool Christians, the ones who wore flip flops, played acoustic guitars, and stole song ideas from U2 albums really seemed infatuated with John Calvin.” For those of us who do like Calvin yet who are not among the “cool kids,” who do not play guitar or think U2-wannabe sounding songs with Puritan hymns for lyrics are the bee’s knees, Matthew, let me be the first to say, “Thank you!”
My only complaint is that Hear No Evil was not long enough. I wanted more embarrassing stories, more descriptions of people whom I swear I’ve met before too, more humor that manages to be oh-so-pointed without ever being mean (truly a gift). I can only hope that we hear much, much more of Matthew Paul Turner in the coming years.
UPDATE: WIN A FREE COPY OF HEAR NO EVIL.
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