Several months ago I ran across the following twitter: Do you blog? Are you a Christian? Do you like creative non-fiction? My answer is yes to all three so I sent Amy Riley an e-mail. Amy told me about a new award, the INSPY, designed to “discover and highlight the very best in literature that grapples with expressions of the Christian faith.” She asked me to join the creative non-fiction judging panel for the creative non-fiction. I agreed.
The short-list was released on October 1st: Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, Halfway to Each Other by Susan Pohlman, God Hides in Plain Sight by Dean Nelson, and Hear No Evil by Matthew Paul Turner. All of the authors were new to me, although I have heard of Miller’s best seller, Blue Like Jazz. From reading the blurbs, I didn’t have a sense of which book I would be drawn to, which I guess is a good place to start the process. I’ve never ‘judged’ a book before and found that I read each one with a much more critical eye. There are exclamation points in the margins or comments such as “needless tangent” and “pacing shift too abrupt.”
I entered the discussions last week with a couple of favorites and a top choice, Evolving to Monkey Town. Many Christians, including myself, don’t have a dramatic conversion story. We weren’t drug dealers, evil bosses or abusive people, we simply grew up in the church. For us, there is a time when we transition from accepting the faith of our families to finding a faith of our own. That transition can be subtle or rocky, quick or lifelong. For Evans it was tumultuous and she showed great courage in sharing it so honestly in her book. As I stated in the INSPY Award press release:
Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town chronicles the author’s move from complete acceptance of the faith of her childhood, through a desolate period of questioning, arriving at a renewed conviction about the love of God. Interweaving her own tale with the views of people she meets, Evans juxtaposes all of the voices about God in her life. Evans’ honesty in telling her faith journey impressed us along with how much her love of the Lord imbued the entire narrative.
In an interview on the INSPY Award website, Evans described why she writes about her faith journey:
For me, the biggest challenge in writing about my faith is that it is always changing. Like a lot of twenty-somethings, I’m going through that quarter-life reevaluation of things, struggling through some difficult questions about life and faith and Christianity. So rather than sharing these grand spiritual insights with my readers, I find myself writing about the highs and lows of the faith journey, the view from wherever I happen to be. As it turns out, this ever-evolving approach to faith is a bit more universal than I originally thought, because readers seem to really connect with the idea that faith is less about certainty and more about risk. So the challenge is also the benefit. I’ve made my readers feel less alone in the journey, and now I feel less alone too. And isn’t that the point of writing? To feel less alone?
I found it delightful to read about Evans faith journey. She asks the questions that many Christians mull over without dictating an answer. In fact, that’s one of the points of her book, to spend less time insisting on the answer and more time explore the questions with God. Congratulations to Rachel Held Evans on winning the first INSPY Award for creative non-fiction.