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My Beautiful Idol by Pete Gall

Written by Michael Cline : May 2, 2008

If fourth century saint Augustine ever met up in a dark alley with twenty-first century author Donald Miller… and then instead of coming to blows, they skipped hand in hand to the nearest pub…and then it was decided upon to sit down over a pint and share their stories with one another…and then somehow they self-published their collaborative journey only to see it picked up by Zondervan and spread to eager bloggers—the result would be awkwardly similar to Pete Gall’s spiritual memoir My Beautiful Idol.

And if you think my intro was a bit scattered, just wait till you get your hands on a copy of the book, where the journey goes from the tempting delicacies of the corporate Chicago landscape to the spiritual violence done at a half-way house in Colorado. Gall has a knack for robbing any sense of control from the reader without taking it so far that the pages stop being turned. His prose shoves the reader forward, even when the first paragraph of the next chapter seems to hardly connect with the last. You’re just along for the ride, manning shotgun with Gall as he encounters a populace he couldn’t possibly make up such as Critter; “the thirty-year old Cajun grade school dropout pedophile” and Hungarian Vince; “whose second-biggest disability is that he doesn’t quite look retarded.” But the last thing you would want on this ride is for the safety locks to be disengaged because somewhere along the voyage, Gall has begun to read your mail. You see a glimmer of yourself in his tale of idolatry and being the “nice guy” for all the wrong reasons and you must read on to find some sense of hope for your own self constructed hiding place.

But back to original metaphor…

It’s Pete Gall’s absolute honesty that brings Augustine into the frame. At times he’s self-deprecating. Like Augustine’s Confessions, much of My Beautiful Idol is the journey of one man who desperately wants to be all God’s, but enjoys the few toes and fingers still reserved for the self. The symptoms are different, but the disease is the same. For Augustine, the pleasures of sex and lust were a little too fun to give up just yet. For Gall, it was faking the part of being the “tremendous man of God.” He’s that “nice guy” who manipulatively, yet secretly, wants everyone to notice how pleasant he really is. Both as a successful brand strategist and as an inauspicious non-profit engineer, Gall was merely looking to be defined by how much love he could suck from those around him. He was wading through life, attaching little trinkets to his shell like the collector crab (a metaphor that encompasses the entire book). God becomes our own personal brand that we slap on to hide from the “squids” in our lives. “And so long as we remain uneaten, it feels like it’s working.”(19) The problem with these hiding places is that “they’re more like prisons than protection.”(43)

In Donald Miller fashion, the offhand and imaginative writing style of My Beautiful Idol is sure to agitate its fair share. In the process of deconstructing a false sense of self before an all loving God, Pete Gall also deconstructs some camouflage that many Christians will cling to such as the local church—“I’d feel better about selling motherhood to a teenager than church to a person looking for God.”(33) and the suburbs— “Zionsville…is proof to me that there was a reason we were kicked out of the garden.”(53) Being currently enrolled at Bethel Seminary, the author’s critique of seminaries as places that are more likely to mold salespeople than witnesses was hard to read. And it will only be a matter of time before Christian watchdogs will be all over Gall for comparing a genuine experience of God with his early days of smoking pot. But the readers need to heed the end of the story before jumping to conclusions. Gall comes to embrace the church as the terribly flawed, but finest alternative God has at His disposal. He treks back to Zionsville to live with his suburban family who demonstrates the real meaning of love at the moment he needed it most. After roasting seminary, it is Gall who states that seminary professors are some of the most submitted people to God that he’s ever encountered. But many will find it just as easy to pick on the parts of Beautiful Idol that upset our worldviews while disregarding the counsel that we “don’t get to decide who Jesus is.” (120)

Pete Gall was seeking a faith… “the sort that can flex and grow and be beautiful without needing me to shine it up and pose it just so.” (11) It is the style of his writing, while leaving numerous questions unanswered, that best captures such a dynamic faith. This reviewer can only hope that he too comes to the place where “success in life is not measured by what we achieve, but by what we admit.” (267)

Michael Cline is a co-editor of the Jesus Manifesto. He considers himself a freelance pastor and and over-employed learner who currently attends Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. When not snuggling with his wife, he’s blogging at www.reclinerramblings.blogspot.com


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