By Austin Carty
Plume - Nonfiction
I started confiding in people close to me, telling them that I was going to forego acting and move back up to North Carolina, where I could live cheaply and focus on writing. Invariably, every one of the people I confided in told me to grow up, to get back in school and focus on getting my degree.
Everyone, that is, except my dad.
I told my old man how everyone I knew was telling me I was foolish, that I was wasting my potential and that I needed to get a degree and get a real job. Very calmly, he said something I'll never forget:
"Austin, everyone wants to tell everyone else how to live their own life."
--p. 48 of High Points and Lows
I'm going to quote the cover blurb because I think it's a good one:
In these funny and moving essays, Austin Carty traces his own stumbling journey toward adulthood and true faith, drawing on lessons from pop culture and Christianity. Whether he is failing miserably at his first real job as a [barback] nightclub gofer, explaining how Saved by the Bell has ruined our youth, or struggling to come to terms with the death of a beloved friend, Carty demonstrates how finding the courage to be ourselves is the best way to forge a genuine connection with friends, family, and God.
I loved this selection of essays about Carty's personal experiences and how each of them has touched him spiritually and led to new revelations that have gradually helped him become a confident Christian and a man who is paid to speak about his faith.
I don't watch Survivor and never have -- I'm not a fan of "reality" shows -- but I was fascinated by his memories of time spent on the show and how his candid comment that he'd just had an extremely spiritual experience (while on camera) made certain people sit at attention. Suddenly, he wasn't just another contestant on Survivor. He was now known for his Christianity.
There were several times I had to look up pop culture references because Austin Carty and I are not of the same generation and at times I couldn't relate. The book speaks mostly to people of his age (maybe late 20's?) or younger, but he has a lot of interesting things to say. I'm going to let him speak for himself and make the rest of this review a series of quotes. I liked this book a lot because he cuts right through religion and pretense, to the heart of Christianity -- Christ, himself.
It is true that we all have different sacrifices we need to make in order to pursue what we really love. And it's true that some of us have tougher roads than others. But the point is not about the difficulty of the journey; it is about the power of perseverance and the spiritual reward we receive through doing what we have to do in order to keep our dreams alive.
But here's what I am slowly beginning to understand about Christian spirituality: it's not a debate.
There is no argument--no words, no creed, no doctrine, no nothing--that is going to convince someone that the whole Jesus thing is real. Only the Spirit of God can do that. If God is not the instigator of the conversation, then trying to convince someone about faith is like throwing darts at a brick wall.
I imagine a menacing red devil with pointy horns and a swirling, dark chocolate beard standing before his demon minions, pronouncing, "I have figured out how to get them, boys. It's called credit!"
Credit is a deadly seducer promising instant gratification while leaving us with an ever-growing mountain of debt that renders us incapable of enjoying what we've already purchased. Its hook is that it allows us a brief moment of vanity. Thanks to credit, we can buy flashy things we don't need, to impress people we don't care about.
I'm trying my best to be done with materialism, and I owe it to having finally figured out who Jesus is.
For years I understood the God of the Bible as being in the business of financially rewarding those who diligently seek him. One can't totally fault me for this logic: in the last decade there has been a huge push in pop-Christian circles to paint God as some sort of Morgan Stanley portfolio manager who answers people's prayers for cash and success. With the phenomenal success of books like The Prayer of Jabez, and with wealthy pastors from megachurches seemingly representing proof of God's favor, it has become very easy for twenty-first-century Christians to indulge the idea of God as Santa Claus.
It is my experience that if you don't feel like you know Jesus, church is intimidating. It seems like everyone in the building is looking right through you, that they are all judging you and thinking you're full of crap. Feeling like an outsider at church is not really any different from feeling like an outsider among peers or in society. There's no real difference between feeling foolish in a fraternity for being a virgin and feeling foolish in a church for not being able to find Philemon in the Bible. Both situations make you feel left out and insecure. That's why understanding the difference between going to church and knowing Jesus is so important--if Jesus isn't the reason for being there, the church is just another social club, a boring one with strict rules.
The bottom line:
I definitely recommend High Points and Lows. It's fascinating, thought-provoking, at times deeply moving. The essays are kind of a hodge-podge but they all circle around the same theme and I really enjoyed reading Carty's thoughts on Christianity. I'd love to hear him speak.
In other news:
Things are blooming like crazy, down here, so I've decided to return to posting pics of things that are blooming in my sidebar, when I've got anything new worth sharing. My sidebar is so crammed that you have to page down a bit. Sorry about that. I think it means I need to stop reading 6 or 7 books at a time.