Book Club Channel
"Raised Right": A Book Review
Unlike the biographies of the famous, memoirs are often written by everyday men and women seeking to process something, to decode their past and cobble it together with their present. The writing stands as an integral part of the process and not just storytelling in the aftermath. Alisa Harris, a young Christian and journalist, allows us to look over her shoulder as she traces and contemplates her still-evolving spiritual coming-of-age in her new memoir Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From My Politics. (Visit the Patheos Book Club on Raised Right here.)
Raised in a strict Christian home, Alisa Harris grew up with parents whose small strip mall evangelical church rode the crest of the Religious Right's power years of the 1980s and early '90s. She stood outside abortion clinics as a child, outgunned her peers in a home school speech group to win a Ronald Reagan calendar, helped man GOP phone banks in election years, and exhibited a goat dressed as Bill Clinton at a county fair (Alisa was dressed as Hillary).
It's easy to dismiss Alisa and her family as over-the-top right-wingers and note her story as an interesting piece of Americana. But Raised Right tells the story of thousands like Alisa who still embrace the spiritual and theological faith of evangelicalism but reshape its living out and who will change the face of American Christianity over the next two decades.
This change invigorates and hurts at the same time. Stress fractures creep into what we once thought unshakeable, while dissatisfaction and disillusionment grow through like weeds poking up through a cracked sidewalk. Her deep respect for the faith of her parents and grandfather made Alisa look beneath the legalism of the churches around her. D. Michael Lindsay commented that the power evangelicals gained institutionally and culturally ambushed them. Power created empire. Alisa's parents just wanted to engage the lives of suffering people as followers of Jesus Christ. They saw the flaws, but an evangelical faith welded to empire building and political muscle seemed to be the only place to go. Her parents emerge as noble chapters in Alisa's story.
Other stress fractures included college experiences. Poems describing the carnage of modern warfare (Wilfred Owen on WWI) and human rights violation reports detailing horrific violence against women punctured the airtight compartment of her beliefs. She began to read classical writers to chew on their ideas. Although her school, Hillsdale College in Michigan, brings in the heaviest hitters in conservative thought, Alisa often skipped their appearances, discovering she was burned out on rhetoric. (For an account of someone moving from left to right, see David Horowitz's Radical Son.) Finally, at the Obama victory celebration, Alisa realized that no human being (even one she voted for) could deliver the deepest fulfillment of human hope.
David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.