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A student’s crisis of faith

January 21, 2014

Jan Sheerin, choking-on-a-camel
Bend, Oregon

Review of “Choking on a Camel” by Oregon author Ann McArthur

Rarely do I read a book twice, but this time I did, carried along by reminders of my freshman year at a similar place and time, the turbulent 60’s. Michal Ann McArthur’s “Choking on a Camel” reminds me that I, like Alex, have moved on while the memories of those formative years remain.

Alex Ferguson, in her senior year at Providence Christian University, a conservative Southern institution, faces tragedy, guilt and rebellion amid several well-characterized groups: roommates, church, campus and family. As she faces her brother Jack’s fatal accident, her parents’ divorce, campus hypocrisy and school stress, she feels “homesick for God.” Alex, a good student, is also a “self-denying little mouse,” a perfectionist pressurized by life. In the days surrounding Easter, she eventually rises to new beginnings as she finds faith in the poor and meek. For her it’s not in the talkers, the “examples” or the institutions.

Alex needs more than the “fundy kitsch” of a place where only one interpretation of scripture, theirs, is allowed. She comments that “sermons come salted with scripture, peppered with the founder’s sayings and spiced with admonitions and a stiff belt of evangelism.” Not that it is all bad; some rules are necessary, but doctrinal and behavioral purity cannot eliminate compassion and reason. Our God is stern but kind. School rules which expel for the slightest infraction, without warning or discussion, seem incredibly harsh. She wonders if this kind of Christian college is a “castle, cloister, refuge, prison or grave.” She puzzles that “We want to be good and faithful servants, but we’re darkness and corruption, full of bickering doubts and contradictory impulses.” She is torn between escaping to find other love while yet puzzling over the “inexorable, inscrutable, immutable God…who is mystery shrouded in joy.” What eventually wakes her up is awe at the God of Creation.

The story includes more than thirty words that caused me to sidestep to the dictionary feature of my Kindle, but most are notable. I enjoyed the book for personal reasons, but it should have a broader appeal with the timeless issues it presents. It’s an enjoyable read that gives no pat answers, just an open-ended conclusion for the reader to consider.

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Discuss this article

Marie West January 21, 2014

This is a life trek many students take and have thrust upon them, everything they believe gets challenged including their faith.

Yvonne January 22, 2014

Great review, Jan. Deep questions challenge us all in our walk of faith and pat answers do not satisfy. Great read.

Carlie January 22, 2014

Nice review. I enjoyed it too and think it mirrors some of the issues the current generation is thinking about regarding religious thought.

Cheryl Linn Martin January 22, 2014

Congratulations to Ms. McArthur for writing a book that spans time–something current for some readers while reaching into the past for others. Thank you, Jan, for the informative review!

Michael Greenwood January 23, 2014

I had the pleasure of reading Michal Ann McArthur’s novel “Choking on a Camel,” and was impressed.
We live in a world that is over-burdened with rapidly changing attitudes, values and dichotomies that are becoming the helmsman of mankind’s ongoing evolution. Ms. McArthur has chosen to confront the dichotomy on which all else may ultimately rest — the need for religious subservience and commitment, versus the denials and individual independence of secularism. Her argument is brilliant in its significance, relevance, and subtlety. She is equally respectful of both sides of the argument, which the characters of her story so convincingly dramatize. She artfully stays clear of exposing her own bias in favor of one side or the other, effectively challenging her readers to come to their own conclusions as to the point of view that makes the best case relative to the rapidly changing world in which we all live. Is religion but an extension of our superstitious nature and insecurity relative to issues that we have neither the knowledge nor ability to understand? Or, is the scientific ego of man sufficient to justify the growing secularism in American thought, and its rapidly changing value systems?
As a writer, I admire what Michal Ann McArthur has done. Her book makes a statement that needs to be carefully considered. We cannot survive by circling the wagons, or believe that the opposing side of the argument is without merit. Surely, our concerns have to be with the salvation of all of mankind, and not just our individual personages. The issue of religion versus secularism will not be resolved by creating a new hierarchy in which the ego and limited knowledge of man causes him to declare himself God.

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