Book Review: ‘Evolving in Monkey Town’ is an Introspective Journey Worth Taking

I was intrigued by ‘Evolving in Monkey Town’ the minute I unwrapped it from its travel envelope.  What caught my attention was that the front cover talks about a girl (first-time author and friend of this site Rachel Held Evans) who learned to “ask the questions.” See, I don’t question out loud.  I have them, and while they fly through my head every single day, I just care too much about what others will think of me, so these pesky questions remain inside my head, unanswered.  The idea of learning to ask “the” questions, no matter what “the” might be, was very interesting indeed.

Rachel takes you through the journey of her life thus far- starting with her upbringing.  It was so exciting to read that her and I shared similar church experiences growing up and that our introduction to God was very close to the same.  If this girl, a girl who started out just like I did, could ask hard questions, perhaps it was okay for me to do so as well. But I felt like I needed more proof first.  Instead of getting too carried away, I returned to reading more about her journey (although when I read that she too believes that both bullfrogs and butterflies go to heaven because, as the song states, they have both been born again, I did almost jump out of my chair with excitement).

The next part of Rachel’s journey is her “Challenge” as she puts it.  This is the section of the book where the “Christianity” she had been taught started to feel not right.  She began to have a faith “malfunction” as she puts it; from this she produced the beginning of her questions.  I found myself being SO proud of this girl, because she had the guts to actually ask the hard, icky, perhaps “God might smite a person for this” type questions.  I was proud because I had these very same questions but no guts at all to ask them, let alone to dig deep and research them and try to find actual answers.  I was always too terrified to ask why God deemed it okay to send everyone to Hell except the people who were “Christians.”  Why were “we” the only ones who had gotten it right?  Why, as Rachel puts it, had my number been drawn in the “cosmic lottery” that allowed me to be born into a white, American Family who believed in and taught me the Christian ways, so that my soul would be one of the few that was eternally saved?  Rachel didn’t shy away from those questions, and for that I am forever grateful.

The beauty of this book is that you are not left hanging with the “Challenge.” She brings you right through to the “Change.” Rachel turned to Jesus for answers, or as she puts it “God, in Sandals ” (which made Jesus seem that much more amazing and personable to me.  I don’t know why people in sandals seem easier for me to talk to, but they are).  She turned to her husband, and to her parents, but ultimately it was her “doubt that saved her faith.”  This happened when she was able to ask “what if I am wrong” not of her Christianity or religious foundation, but of her beliefs and ideas about God.  She describes in chapter 9 (Survivor’s Guilt) her journey back to God, like leaping across safe lily pads one at a time over a dark swamp of doubt and fear (quoting another book Traveling Mercies). Her first lily pad served as the realization that perhaps she was wrong about God.  It was such a powerful moment for me, for I have had those moments myself.  Perhaps He is not an angry God just waiting on the edge of his seat to cast us all into a fiery lake.  Perhaps there are others who have it wrong as well, others that teach us about this angry God.  Perhaps I need to figure out God on my own, much like Rachel did in ‘Evolving in Monkey Town.’

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This book was one of the best that I have read in a long time.  It alternated between light and heavy with a perfect balance.  It was not so light that I felt like I was getting a watered-down version of the truth, but it was not so heavy that I felt like I could not laugh now and then (her story of Judgement Day houses as opposed to haunted houses in her home town had me cracking up).  This book felt like I was sitting with Rachel on the other side of a kitchen table, with a glass of wine, trading stories, asking questions and finding answers.  It made me wish that I had her on speed dial for the day when more questions come up, because she seems to have such a handle on the best way to find the answers, and, moreover, a knack for letting you know that it is okay to ask.

Evolving in Monkey Town on Amazon.

Rachel’s blog.

A free copy of this book was provided to me for this review. The opinions expressed are strictly mine.

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