Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book review: When Gods collide

I read this book just before I turned 40.  Significant because the author of this book and I shared our 12th birthday party together when we were living in India.  Her parents were teachers at the boarding school I attended and at the time Kate and I were, as they say, BFF.  Kate's mother threw a joint party for us and this was such a treat for me being so far away from home.

What fascinated me about this book was how much Kate and I share in common in our life stories (MK's, age, Australian, school, returned to Australia at a similar age, travelled together in India in 1997), yet how we've ended up in different places in terms of faith.

'When Gods collide' is Kate's second book (her 2006 book, 'Women of the Gobi' about missionary women in China in the 1920's is a great read too).  The basis for this book was Kate's interest in the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in India in 1999.  Kate says it was in the aftermath of these murders that she finally stepped away from her Christian beliefs.  Kate returns to India 10 years after the murders and speaks to a variety of people - Christian and others - asking questions about religious tolerance in India.   I thought Kate was incredibly open in sharing her spiritual thinking - very deep and personal reflections.  I can understand that this book would be hard for her Christian family to read - I found it hard at points.

Here are some good reasons to read this book.

If you're a Christian - and especially a Christian parent - you should read this book to gain an understanding of the possible impact of sheltering your children from the world.  Kate repeatedly says that she only knew Christians when she was growing up - and says it was tricky to ask the hard questions, have the doubts when you're exposed to no other options.  I too had the same experience - lived in a Bible college and went to a conservative Christian school - seems idyllic - but I don't think I was really confronted by an ownership of my faith for myself until university.  I wouldn't blame her parents (or mine) for that - they are lovely Christian people.  It's just what it was.

If you're a missionary parent - it gives an insight into the experience of a missionary child.  Just one person's thoughts but these are so rarely recorded it is good to read.

If you're a MK - read it. It doesn't hold the answers to all your issues, but it is always good to read and consider how other people have responded to the challenges of this type of upbringing.   You might find some of your own experiences reflected in Kate's words.  I like the end of the book - Kate speaks about returning to Melbourne after her trip in 2009, and realising that she really does think of Melbourne - finally - as her home.  It is easy as an ex-MK to default to your upbringing country as 'home' yet miss all that you have right in front of you.

If you grew up in a Christian home, but wrestle with particular aspects of your upbringing there might be aspects of Kate's story that you relate to.  Kate retells a period of intense spiritual revival that we experienced at the school - I think I had just left before that particular episode, but I had been there for earlier revivals and found it very uncomfortable.

In theory I could have written this book (if I was writer with 20 plus years experience!) - well, in the sense that I could have done the same journey as Kate.  But the book would have looked different.  I think there are lots of complex reasons for those differences - mainly to do with our faith, but also because we are different people.

Quite a full on experience for me, reading this book.  Left me thinking about it for days afterwards.

2 comments:

Karen said...

Whenever you review and recommend a book in here, I think "Wow, I so want to read that." Thanks again :)

Finished I Think We Need to Talk About Kevin last week. Agreed totally with your thoughts about it, and I too am amazed that someone could write with such insight about an experience she'd never been through.

Taara said...

After reading this post, I thought, "I should read this book". So, I just finished it and came back to re-read your review. Come to think of it, I am a MK, Christian, and Missionary Parent so it was definitely an interesting read for me, especially being able to identify with many of the people and places from my personal experience. Thanks for sharing it!