Author: Joe Samuel Starnes
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media (2005) – Reissued by MysteriousPress.com
Date of Publication: 8 July 2014
Number of Pages: 281
Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
On a bus outside Vegas, a washed-up gambler meets a strange preacher.
As the bus rolls away from the Las Vegas strip, Timber Goodman screws his eyes shut and tries to keep his stomach from lurching. He came to Vegas in hopes of jump-starting his fading broadcasting career, but he leaves hung over and dead broke. Beside him sits a preacher in cowboy boots, whose only luggage is a Bible, a bottle of bourbon, and a razor-sharp bowie knife. This is Ezekiel Blizzard Jr., a disgraced man of God who’s got a tale to tell—and doesn’t care if Timber’s listening. As Zeke’s story winds on, Timber finds himself enraptured. (1)
God appears in many ways and for each person this is different. I feel I was meant to read this book now, rather than when I was first approved by the publishers on NetGalley, as any sooner and I would have missed the subtlety that was working through the text. Like Zeke, I will tell you my story.
I began reading Calling in Madrid, amidst visits to culturally significant sites and heady, sometimes excessive, Catholic symbolism. Everywhere I looked signs of faith were abundant. And I’m old enough to know that even if you ain’t a believer and are lost from God’s word, you-we-are all following God’s road map – whether you know it or not…You ain’t got no choice in the matter, (location 745).
In the beginning, I could identify with Timber. He’d had a bad day, he was on public transport, he wanted to read his book, he wanted to be left alone and not forced into conversation with the people around him. Then he spots the one person he knows, without fail, will sit near him and talk. It seems to happen when you least want it, often when you least need it but sometimes there’s a point to the irritation.
Throughout the duration of this book, there are a two themes that recur.
First, There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
This is a verse I often find myself considering. When not reading, which I love, I, like everyone else, have to work to pay bills and travel and support myself. Sometimes, all of this is so hard I really wonder at the point of it all. Weighed against the global horrors of the last few weeks [Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the appalling and virtually ignored Boko Haram attack on 2000 people in Baga to mention only two], I question how strong God thinks I am. I am only one person, insignificant and overlooked by so many, what am I supposed to do?
Calling goes some way to answering this with its other main theme.
Moses in the bulrushes; the love of his parents and their desire to protect him from the Pharaoh that wanted him, and other Hebrew children, dead. This theme is loosely apparent in the relationship between Timber and his Mama. While she wanted what was best for him and tried to protect him, Timber challenged her and went on to live a life she would not have understood nor approved of.
Reflecting on this book I find more sympathy for Timber than Zeke and this is where my own cultural, social and spiritual baggage becomes apparent. Let me unpack this.
Calling is a very American novel and this makes the experiences and the story quite obfuscated. In my life, I have limited experience with preachers who shout, pant, sigh, encourage speaking in tongues and extort people to give of themselves to Jesus. This type of preacher is almost a caricature – a person who exists but you almost can’t believe it.
Understand me. I do not say this is wrong. I do not mean anything to be negatively attached to this comment. It is merely an observation. You’ve got to have faith, he said, that whatever is happening is happening for the best. Jesus is always taking care of us (location 5524).
Zeke, however, is the type of preacher/priest/pastor I would not willing choose to approach. I desire the more sedate conversations that can be had about the love of Jesus and God.
What Calling sets up, almost deliberately though, are these two extremes. The almost atheist, Timber and the the preacher, Zeke – a dichotomy that can be found in individuals as well as groups.
Perhaps I have over thought the meanings I found in Calling. Perhaps I am so far off track with what the author meant to portray I need to reread the book again. Ultimately, any book that makes me meditate on myself, on my world, on my relationships, is one that must be praised as well written and deserving of success.
I only want to make one more comment. This is for anyone reading this review, who is considering adding it to their reading list. Calling is not for the faint-hearted nor for someone who cannot reconcile the gentle, sometimes unsubtle mocking of the topic. If you can forget, or quiet your inner voice and submerse yourself in the words, you will have an experience you’re not expecting. I want you to believe me when I say you will walk away from Calling having had an experience very different to what you might have thought. Good or bad, Calling is worth the time.