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Believer, Beware: First-person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith Paperback – July 1, 2009
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This is the second collection of contributions to the online magazine Killing the Buddha (which Sharlet and Manseau founded) to be published in book form. The editors are among the smart, candid, and insightful authors whose personal narratives form the book's 35 brief chapters. The selections represent a wide range of experiences from cheating on bar mitzvah prep to discovering hunger as spiritual food in a Ramadan fast, from sabotaging Bible camp to stumbling upon barbershop theology. Contributions reflect the scope of religious diversity, including orthodox Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Zen Buddhism and even a meditation on agnosticism. Some are funny, others heartbreaking, and some are simply revelatory. Despite the variety, the collection is unified by the contributors' wrestling with received religious traditions and expectations for belief and practice, each articulating a particular moment of the author's life. The voices are refreshingly honest. Given the narratives' personal nature, readers will not jive with each one but will find particularly thought provoking those that hone in on their own questions, suspicions and experiences. (July)
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It is also laugh out loud funny, touching, irreverent and yet, in a deeper way, pays religion the ultimate compliment: it's worthy of scrutiny, debate and measuring up on a very personal scale of intimate first hand experience. This is a book for anyone who knows two things: first, that for better or worse religion is important; second, that experiencing religion can be a harrowing passage into the darker side of human frailty.
And yet... here is a book that does not reject faith but rather asks the question: what can faith mean to me after I discard the prejudice that too often comes with the territory of believing you have "the" answers?
Readers will find brilliant writing here, world-class story telling by some veterans of the trade, such as the luminous Jeff Sharlet, and newcomers like Quince Mountain, who tells the funniest and best written story - "Cowboy For Christ" -- of transgendered disaster, fundamentalist religion and self discovery I've ever read (a story that made me want to read the novel of which this could be a first scintillating chapter.)
This is the most amusing and touching book I've sucked up in years. Recovering religion survivors (of all faiths) will embrace "Believer Beware" in the same way that one revisits childhood memories that both haunt and comfort.