Thursday, 12 December 2013

Getting real with Coupland and Co.

So it's been a while since I blogged; I've been busy living life. Amongst the things I have been doing is being involved in setting up a book club which meets once a month at a local church. So far we've looked at The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland. The coming books are Memoirs of a Not So Dutiful Daughter by Jenni Murray and Eat,Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Hey Nostradamus is one of my favourite books, although I know it's a bit of a marmite text. What I really like about this book, and various others of Coupland's works is that they deal with the complex reality of life where the apparently extraordinary is far more ordinary than it seems. This author has the ability to look at emotions and human reactions in an authentic way which I think is sadly lacking in many books which come from a faith position.

There are two themes within the book which challenge me. The first is how we deal with real tragedy and pain and the place of prayer within this. The second is about Christian subcultures and how their norms and values operate.

In terms of the nature of prayer and how we deal authentically with God in places of pain, confusion and anger for me reading this book has always provided a breath of fresh air. Snatches of prayer said over a coffin indicate that for some who have never prayed before there is a type of comfort, whilst for others extreme situations can take faith to breaking point and move them away from a relationship with some kind of divine being.

The second theme about how Christian subcultures work is something I find interesting. Whilst it could be argued to be exaggerated or located within a very specific religious, historic and geographical location I think there is something to be learned from Coupland's observations - however uncomfortable.

Recently I read the study Christianity and the UniversityExperience: Understanding Christian Faith by Mathew Guest, Kristen Aune, Sonya Sharma and Rob Warner. It highlighted how for some young people who are active in their faith at university, via campus organisations such as CU's, the rigid norms and values indicated in Coupland's book are more complicated than portrayed. However they are seen as more significant identifiers than traditional doctrinal beliefs about the trinity and so on.  

So I would recommend Hey Nostradamus to anybody who is looking for a book to explore faith in an authentic way, particularly people who already own a faith but want to think it through in an intelligent way. It may not necessarily be an easy or comfortable book to read but it is one which has much to commend it. And if you are interested in the experience of Christians young people in universities today and the influence or otherwise of campus organisation I would also highly recommend the Guest, et al study which makes a very interesting read.

*Book group meets 4th Thursday of the month at West End United, Wolverton (7:30pm) - next meeting Jan 23rd

* If you are interested in exploring prayer a bit more MK Mission Partnership is running a course in the New Year