Readers, as you well know, I am a hard reviewer to please in the non-fiction market, constantly begging authors (even if they never read the reviews) for even a teaspoon of honesty and visceral truth. Logan Merrick's Chasing Dreams, Killing Idols: A Story of Almost Famous has puzzled me, and all because he wrote exactly what I've been waiting for.
Merrick tells the story of his foray into the almost-famous world of the archetypal struggling artist. He drove from gig to gig before he even met the bandmates with whom he ended up playing, and for each big break that never happened, he became a tad more fervent, a tad more determined, a tad more obsessed. When he met his bandmates and formed Letters From Patmos, the group saw that God was doing something interesting and possibly career-building; the group would get calls from far and near (as far as local places go), and Letters From Patmos played worship and youth services, camp meetings, campus concerts, and more. At one point, the band even took to touring parts of the country. During this period of time, Letter From Patmos was approached by several labels, but the band felt that each option fell short of what they thought God wanted for them; consequently, the strain took hold, and one night in Ohio, Merrick snapped, yelling at their lead singer and accusing him of not being as dedicated as the rest of them. From this point, the band declined and eventually broke up. (To avoid spoilers, I'll leave you to discover the point at which the idol Merrick had created of the band was ripped from his hands.)
Typically, I start every book on an unbiased (albeit somewhat-cynical) plane until it convinces me one way or another of its quality. Non-fiction receives an especially tilted eyebrow-raise before the pages have handed over their secrets, and Christian non-fiction has a notorious reputation for pages filled with fluff. Merrick's book surprised me by being so viscerally honest and so down-to-earth right about his spiritual points, I come to the point of puzzlement I spoke of earlier. In terms of prose, Merrick is no Victor Hugo; the simplicity in his style is reminiscent of a revival speaker's at a camp meeting, which is in no way ill-received. This stylistic leaning hands him an extra leg up on getting straight to the point, particularly since this is a mixed-genre endeavor.
Merrick takes the approach to Chasing Dreams as half a memoir, half a devotional. At each point in his own story, he stops to point out exactly what he did wrong, exactly what God was telling him to do (which he ignored), and exactly how such things bring disaster in Biblical terms; he outlines what he has (correctly) dubbed the three symptoms of idolatry, backing up each with some sort of hard-hitting Biblical story and truth, and every single one of these proofs is not left half-said. Merrick goes on to explain in a very systematic approach: anecdote, reflection, Scripture example, explanation of how these points link together like puzzle pieces of life, anecdote, reflection, etc. And not once does he trip and leave a base uncovered.
One failing of many books such as this is the tendency to drag something out, lose the point, and flounder until dry land is only half-discovered, ground half-recovered. Merrick (as I noted earlier) keeps the track straight, gets to the point, and moves on. However, I searched for the opposite tendency as well: to hit something only briefly and move on. To my utmost surprise, Merrick fails to hit this low obstacle. Nothing was drawn out so as to make me bored, and nothing was so clipped that I experienced narration-whiplash. A bonus here? Merrick never once makes an excuse for himself or offers a higher-than-thou platitude, something pat and trite that would make any reader worth his or her salt roll the eyes and sigh in frustration.
Now, you may be wondering that if all of these usual non-fiction errors fell to the wayside, what exactly did Merrick give to make this hardened cynic so very, very happy? The answer is simple: Merrick gives us Jesus. The points, the anecdotes, the reflections, the self-exposing truths and stories, the soul-eviscerating revelations--all of this is related back to Jesus Christ, and many, many times does Merrick proclaim that the only thing that is really important, above all else. Make no mistake, the fact of family holding highest priority and being second only to God is presented as brightly as the beacon saying Jesus comes first. No blame of ultra-skewed radicalism can be placed on this author's shoulders.
Throughout the revealing of his ordeal, every reader is offered encouragement and prayers, faith and family through this bold author. Chapter Nine itself is dedicated to bolstering the reader, whoever he or she may be, and to tell him or her that the dreams God instills into each and every soul ever created matter. And even if dreams change, anyone can rest assured knowing that God has the ultimate plan for their life that grows out of every failure, mistake, trip-up, and sometimes out of the successes, too. With an undeniable, unmistakable center on Christ, Logan Merrick's Chasing Dreams, Killing Idols: A Story of Almost Famous is a sharp and hopeful reminder that we are human, we fail, and we have a God who knows us better than we like to think we know ourselves; this book belongs on the shelf of every Christian in America, and for those of you who know me, you know that statement is not given lightly. For those of you who don't, ignore me for a biased critic, fine, but do yourself a favor: Read this book.- Review date: 1/1/15, written by Caitlin Schesser of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Publisher: Lucid Books
Logan Merrick: If I'm honest about that question, I believe this lack of discussion brings about the idol worship we know as the prosperity "gospel." We start looking at what God can do for us and how we can use Him to gain more. All the while, we're never worshipping the One true God--we're worshipping at the feet of stuff (aka idols)! The Bible is filled with scriptures that deal with the topic of idols. There's a reason why the first commandment is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) God knew that His people, in their sin and brokenness, would always chase after things that never satisfy. As believers, we must understand that we're wasting needless energy by running back and forth to wells that run dry and never satisfy. Instead, we must dip our cups into the well of true life. (John 4)
Logan: Man! There's so much I want to say here, but for the sake of time and readership I will limit it to this…in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus preaches the greatest sermon ever, right? Starting off, the very FIRST thing He says is "blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." A good translation of that would be, "blessed are those who understand they're broken people in need of a savior." Looking at this verse, I would say that my hope, more than anything, is that the chapter on pride jumpstarts conversation on the ugliness of pride. My prayer is that those who read it will find their hearts comprehending that pride is an ugly, disgusting disease that the Father despises. More importantly, I hope they grasp that we can do NOTHING apart from God. The Father desires broken, humble people--and that should be our desire as well.
Logan: (Chuckle) You know, the main comment I've been getting about this book is that one. People have said that they appreciate the authenticity and openness they've found within its pages. On my part, I can honestly say that I struggle to be anything different. Personally, I'm refreshed by speakers and authors who are willing to be real about the ugliness of our sin natures and life struggles. I want people to feel the same way when they read my words. Do I think there will be some discomfort? Sure, especially at the part where I describe a breakdown that involved a lot of cursing and fist shaking towards the heavens while speeding down the highway! One of the senior adults in the church where I pastor told me she feels like she "knows me a whole lot better now" and that "I can be a bad, bad boy in my sin." That made me smile because I knew she was trying to nicely tell me that I'd shocked her but she loved me anyway. I think this mode of putting on airs in the church has gone on for far too long and people are hungry for authentic, real testimonies of God's redeeming work. There may be moments where my honesty makes people uncomfortable, but my prayer is that it will also free them from the pretenses in their own lives so we can all learn how to live authentically for Christ.
Logan: Ah man. Yeah, God has done some amazing work in my heart and the hearts of the other guys! I think it's a true testimony to God's desire for there to be healing in every facet of our lives. Christians need to understand that God doesn't want to leave any part of your life burned and charred--that includes past relationships. When you repent and ask God to truly do a work in your life, He takes those things that you thought could never be resurrected and breathes life into them. He truly is an amazing King who loves to redeem!
Logan: You know, my editor and publisher have asked me the same thing. I had honestly never thought about it until they asked, but yes! I think that's definitely something I would like to do. Or maybe put together a small group discussion guide that acts as a companion? It is something that I think is worth trying if there are people who are interested in it.
Logan: Totally. I'm terrible with grammar, so the thought of writing a book seemed daunting and pretty awful. But that's why I think God wanted me to do it. He knew I couldn't do it apart from Him because I would need His guidance to speak through me. Writing is completely foreign to me, so leaning into Him was my only hope. I also learned greater humility because I had to partner with my wife in writing this. Her ability with words is what puts a fine edge on my content and working with her is what ensured that I didn't make this book yet another idol--she was my accountability for why I would write this and what God wanted to do with it. It can be hard to have your spouse as your accountability partner because they know you so well that you can't hide anything. She kept me honest about where my heart was throughout this entire process and continues to do so even now.
Logan: Love this question! Crazy Love by Francis Chan. That book totally altered my view on the love and faithfulness of God. GREAT BOOK!
To Live is Christ to Die is Gain by Matt Chandler. Matt is by FAR my favorite pastor/speaker because of his unique gifting of exegetical preaching style mixed with his funny, witty remarks. This book will totally break down your understanding of the book of Philippians. Killer read!
The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This book is, if I'm honest, a hard read because of its major depth. It really lays out the true cost of following Jesus. My favorite quote in the book is "when Christ calls a man, He bids them come and die."
I could go on forever with favorite books and why I love them, but will end it with those three! ;)
Caitlin, thank you again for the great questions and for reviewing the book. Truly a pleasure to talk with you!
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