A student’s crisis of faith

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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.