Memoir recalls mixed memories of ‘Growing up Church of Christ’
Memoirs can inspire and encourage. They share true stories of how a person overcame great obstacles to become the strong, interesting person he or she is today.
Most of all, they examine a life, so that readers are inspired to examine their own.
A new memoir by Mike Allen, son of prominent, now retired, Church of Christ evangelist Jimmy Allen, has the potential to do all these things, but it ultimately falls short.
In “Growing Up Church of Christ,” the author presents a string of snapshots from his life, some almost short enough to be nothing more than a photo caption, all conversational enough to be a blog entry.
Some of his stories will strike an “a-ha” note of recognition with readers who grew up in a Christian household.
Some are funny: Allen recalls his older brother Jimmy singing a hymn as he walked around the house wearing only his underwear and snapping his waistband along with his song. Allen called out, “Ooooh Jimmy! That’s instrumental music!”
Other memories recall the powerful preaching of Allen’s father, how people would stream up the aisles during the invitation song, and sometimes he and other children sitting in the front would get up and stand at the front to give their seats to those who came forward to request baptism or prayers.
Allen presents the memories by topical, not necessarily chronological order. After some background on his family and growing up, he gives a long section of general church memories, then two short sections on church camp and Allen’s education at Harding Academy and Harding University.
The largest section is on “Life and Doctrine,” which covers Allen’s experiences with some of the major aspects of his religion: baptism, instrumental music and women’s role in the church.
At the end of each topic are three or four memories or opinions of people who have been or are members of Churches of Christ.
Quite a few of Allen’s memories deal with living in his father’s long shadow, which he often seemed to resent. He recalls hearing an inspiring message from his father about how to handle college life and wondering why Jimmy Allen never shared this great advice with his son, face to face.
The anecdotes suggest that Allen’s relationship with his father merits deeper analysis and could even be one of the reasons he left the Church of Christ, but this is left unexamined.
The end result of these meandering memories is that Allen, his wife and their three children leave the Church of Christ and choose to worship at a nondenominational community church. His reasons for leaving are never fully explored. What does he get out of his worship at this church that he couldn’t get at a Church of Christ? How did his family — especially his father —react when he told them he had chosen to worship somewhere else?
Only the externals are covered: conversations he had, actions he took. The personal prayers and Bible studies are not mentioned, leaving the reader wondering what he based this decision on, besides discontent with the local Churches of Christ he visited after moving to a new town and state.
There is some value here, found in Allen’s lighthearted humor, which often hits its mark, and a few vivid scenes that draw the reader in for a moment. But his lack of depth will leave readers unsatisfied and wondering why.
KIMBERLY MAUCK is Reviews Editor for The Christian Chronicle.