Matthew Paul Turner’s newest book, Hokey Pokey – Curious People Finding What Life’s All About, is fortunately not about five steps to finding your purpose, as one might at first assume. On the back cover, beneath the J.R.R. Tolkien quote, “not all who wander are lost,” the summary ends with this statement: “So even if you haven’t arrived, the journey there can be a trip. Which just may be what it’s all about.” Instead of trying to tell us what we need to do to find God’s purpose for our lives, Matthew decided to interview a variety of people in different walks and stages of life and share their stories interwoven with slices of his own.
When I’ve talked with others about this book in the last five or six weeks since I read it, I find myself returning to a story Matthew tells about a university student who approached him after the final session of a three day event where he was the guest speaker. The student told Matthew a little about himself, and then said, “I pretty much lived your life except I’m not in the same place ten years later.” He asked Matthew how he had gotten free, how he was able to get beyond depending on what other people expected him to think about God to figuring things out for himself. He felt like he was suffocating, needing to ask questions but not allowed to voice any struggles or doubts. Matthew writes:
“I knew exactly what he was talking about. I knew his struggle all too well. He didn’t feel like he had the freedom to ask questions, to doubt, to be frustrated about his way of life. Like so many of those from the twenty-first century who have asked evangelicalism into their hearts, Zack had gotten to a place where he felt duped. For almost twenty years he’d invested his heart and soul into a way of living that made a lot of big promises. He was promised that God’s will would be clear. He was promised that his life would eventually fall into place if he learned how to obey. The processes that he followed included lots of things practical Christians do: praying three times a day, reading his Bible, working up a good amount of honesty with an accountability partner. But even though he followed all of the rules, he still felt lost. I know a lot of people whose stories are similar to Zack’s.”
Later on in the same chapter, Free to Dance, Matthew recounts a conversation that took place between two guys on a Sunday evening a couple years ago in St. Louis, friends discussing faith, belief, and asking questions. Sometimes hearing the stories of others deciding to be honest with each other, of not being afraid to ask questions or let others know what they are really thinking, is just the encouragement we need to do the same.
Toward the end of the book, Matthew writes more about our need to have other people whom we know and who know us.
“I learn a lot by watching my friends experience change. Sometimes their experiences are informative, while other times they are entertaining – kind of like watching a comedy. I like listening in when they’re getting honest about what part of the change they’re struggling through. And it’s not all about just hearing about their screwups. I mean, while I’ve always heard that I should do my best to learn from other people’s stupidity, my quest to be nosey is much deeper than just avoiding my friends’ mistakes. I want to hear other people’s stories so I have an idea about how life will be down the road. What are their biggest frustrations? What do they value most? Whom should I talk to about creating a will? Those are the things that I want to know.”
I think this book is worth reading because, as I said at the beginning of my review, Matthew doesn’t try to give us a five-step plan for figuring out our purpose in life. Instead, he encourages us to listen to our stories and try to follow God in little ways in our everyday life. In the penultimate chapter, Matthew asks us what would happen if we made that our modus operandi.
“Okay, so what would happen if we began listening to these little truths that come our way? What if we listened to the stories that happen in our lives? What if we began to let the stories teach us something about ourselves? In my personal life, I have experienced over and over again moments when I’m convinced that God is speaking to me within my own personal narrative. It isn’t always through a burning-bush type of sign; sometimes it’s just an experience that pushed me toward the curious path I am called to experience.”
Hokey Pokey: Curious People Finding What Life’s All About is a fairly quick read because of Matthew’s conversational writing style, coming in at just over two hundred pages. You can buy it from his (newly re-designed) website or from Amazon.com. And his blog, Jesus Needs New PR, is here.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Matthew is a good friend of mine, so I don’t claim to be impartial in my review.)