Title: Slouching Toward Zion and More Lies
Author: Robert Flynn
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion, Humor/Satire
Reviewer: Dian Moore
Twenty-three short stories round out the contents of Slouching Toward Zion, all with a singular goal of making anyone involved in Christianity, take a step back and look at some of the ridiculous things we have succumbed to in our actions, traditions, and beliefs. Funny and outrageous, Flynn pulls no punches as he pokes fun at religion in general and Baptists in particular. A Baptist himself, Flynn has intimate knowledge of himself in that role and uses that knowledge to call himself to order.
"Do You Have a Rapture Lawyer?", "Questions Mormons Never Ask," and "Mission to Mexico" are guaranteed to have you rolling, and coming away with a new outlook.
Other chapters explore such mysteries as what happened after the stories told in the Bible. In a Paul Harvey kind of way, Flynn tells the rest of the story. We all remember the story of Jesus spitting on the ground and making mud to apply to the blind man's eyes. Flynn points out the ungratefulness of the human race in some of their worst moments, by depicting the healed blind man as having this conversation the following day with Jesus:
"You have ruined my life. I can't read or write. I don't recognize numbers. I have no skills. And now my neighbors know I'm not blind. How can I beg? Are you going to let me starve?" And Jesus spat on the ground again. (see page 111)
All in good fun, Flynn seeks to bring us to the forefront of awareness of our personal misdeeds, aggravating habits, and quickness to judge, so we might use these stories to better ourselves and think more kindly of our neighbors. Flynn recognizes how easily we hide behind religion as an excuse to hate.
Slouching Toward Zion would make a good gift book for those that like humor and can laugh at their selves as they open their minds and hearts to the possibility of forgiveness and letting go of those things that hinder their spiritual growth. It could also be used to liven up some study groups.
Flynn is the native of Chillicothe, Texas, and the author of eight other novels.
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Interview with Robert Flynn, author of Slouching Toward Zion and More Lies
FWM: From several sources available, online and in your permission material, I find that you are a man of many aspects, including a Baptist, a former Marine reporter, a world traveler, an idealist, and a student of humanity. How would you describe yourself?
FLYNN: Bon vivant. Boulevardier. I was a Marine during the Korean War. I was a civilian reporter in Vietnam. The combination allowed me to be an associate member of the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association. I am a Christian who considers himself a writer.
FWM: In Slouching Toward Zion, you have used humor and satire to point out the ridiculousness of many of the traditions and some of the concepts that religious people hold. I'm interested in what kind of feedback you have been getting from this bold book.
FLYNN: Most of it has been positive. At one reading of the title story, one man demanded to know if I were a Baptist. I said yes; I chose to be a Baptist. And that allowed me to point out exaggerations and pretensions in our posture before doing the same of another faith group. At another reading of the title story, some people smiled when I compared Baptists to Jews but when I compared Baptists to Muslims, many of them walked out. When I read the story at a Presbyterian Church a woman asked, "Are you sure youíre a Baptist?íí She was pastor of the church.
FWM: You stated that you poke fun at Baptists because you know the denomination from the inside out and are a Baptist yourself. If you could redesign the Baptist traditions, or dictate what they believe, what are some of the first ones you would make over?
FLYNN: Iím sure any redesign by me would be worse than what we presently are. I think Baptists have an earned reputation as mean-spirited, exclusive and lacking in loving forgiveness. I would like to change that. Baptists are passionate people and too often, that displays itself as anger, self-righteousness and disapproval rather than love. Like most Christians, we put country before God. We are captive to our culture, unable to see beyond our personal and national self-interest. I believed enlisting in the Marines was as much a religious duty as a patriotic one. I am unable to be a pacifist, but I think Christians too often return evil for evil. We donít believe vengeance is Godís; we demand it for ourselves. That may be idolatry and blasphemy.
FWM: The world has made a practice of choosing up sides and disguising it as religion. What are your thoughts on this common practice and what words of advice would you give to someone who is ready to choose or change their "religion."
FLYNN: We tend to adopt culture and traditions to identify with our family or our region or rebel against them to separate ourselves from our families and our region. That may be our belief but it is not faith. Faith is a relationship with God, not doctrine or tradition. Seek the church where your faith takes you, not your belief. And, perhaps this is a Protestant idea, where you can help those both inside and outside the church. A church has to be bigger than its own membership.
FWM: During your many world travels, have you found any nationality to be more accepting of diversity than any other?
FLYNN: As a visitor to foreign countries, I can only draw generalizations, but the Scandinavian countries and Iceland seemed open to diversity in visitors, but citizens are basically of one ethnic group and one religion, and they arenít eager to change that. Thatís also largely true of Southeast Asia. India is a complex country with many ethnic groups and religions, and for some time there has been conflict between Muslims and Hindus. France, the Czech Republic, and Austria seemed open to religious diversity, but that may be because they have little interest in religion other than cultural interest. France and England have ethnic groups from former colonies, but they donít seem well assimilated. Canada has always seemed accepting of diversity and, despite our history of slavery, Americans are open to diversity unless we are frightened by war, crime or loss of jobs. Thatís true of the West.
FWM: what is your ultimate wish at how Slouching Toward Zion will be received?
FLYNN: I hope that a reader will begin with a laugh and end with many questions. Weíll never know all the answers in this life, but people who have all the answers they want frighten me.
FWM: The basic desire lives in most of us to improve the world in which we live, to leave a legacy behind; what legacy would you like to leave?
FLYNN: I have a daughter and a grandson. Thatís a legacy. Words. If any of the words please God, they will be a legacy.
FWM: I'm curious if any of the chapters in Slouching Toward Zion have insulted a reader enough that they have contacted you, and if so, how did you deal with the situation?
FLYNN: A few. I try to understand their complaint, and itís usually a misunderstanding. If they disagree with the point I tried to make, then we have to disagree in an agreeable way. In "The Rest of the Story," I tried to put a human touch to some New Testament stories. After the feast, the Prodigal Son thinks, well, he got away with that so heíll get some more money and do it again. Jesus heals a man who has been blind since birth and the man complains that he canít beg any more, he has no trade, what is he going to do? And of course, the disciples bicker. I spoke to a class at a Baptist College that had read "The Rest of the Story" as an assignment and they were offended. After we discussed what the point of the Bible story was and what the point of my story was, they were no longer offended. Iím not sure any of them thought it was funny.
FWM: Thank you for writing a book that at once entertains, informs, challenges and educates the reader.