Real Austin: The Homeless and the Image of God by Annie Vocature Bullock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Annie Vocature Bullock departs from the usual feel good platitudes that plague the American Christian church. In Real Austin, she instead confronts her own sin as she lovingly invites her readers to go beyond a superficial faith to a path of real change. A scholar of the writings of the ancient Christian church, Dr. Bullock weaves her thoughts of faith, sin, and redemption into her vibrant stories of encounters with the homeless of Austin, Texas. In a city that is charming Hollywood with its playful weirdness, Dr. Bullock beckons you to take a closer look at what it means to be human, and insists that though our humanity may be marred, no one is worthless. This is not a book meant to guilt you into volunteering at the local homeless shelter or any other good work that might make you feel better about yourself. Instead this is a book that asks you to have frank honesty and to seek a change within yourself until you see every person, no matter their creed or background, as human beings with an innate priceless value. When we deal with the reality that we are actually not better than anyone else, then we can at last begin to affect the world around us with change for the better.
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I wanted to keep the review for Goodreads and Amazon brief (which I lazily copied and pasted from one to the next), but for the blog I thought I'd elaborate: At first, I struggled with some things in Real Austin. Annie, who is a friend of mine, doesn't tiptoe around tender subjects. That trait is something that I love about her, but it can also be uncomfortable at times. After the struggle, came the reward of deep convictions that are more than just "felt"--they also have reasons which have been thought through.
I read the book in a day, and I talked about it for weeks. I still talk about it.
I tire of popular Christianity constantly patting me on the back telling me I'm beautiful inside when I know I struggle with ugliness every day. This isn't to say that there isn't beauty in me. I believe that every human being has beauty and is worth loving. But as C. S. Lewis pointed out, we were born into a world at war. Most of the battles are fought within ourselves, and this fact is often ignored by ministers who want to make everyone happy so they can fill the offering plates.
When I first met Annie I met someone who shared my discontentment with band-aid theology, and I was intrigued. Most of the people I knew who had similar views to mine were Reformed, but Annie described herself as Anglo Catholic. She leans to the Orthodox side in her beliefs, and I found it fascinating to talk to her. So although we share similar views, there was enough difference to truly make me think. And this was an answer to prayer, because I wanted to think more!
Annie's writing isn't dry. Her stories of her bus rides to St. Edward's University are lively and heartfelt. She intersperses these stories with sayings from the desert abbas and ammas (those who lived a monastic life in the desert during the 2nd and 3rd centuries), weaving in sin, confession, and redemption. But at the core of this entire book is that we are image bearers of God.
I recommend this book because I think Annie brings up subjects that we need to talk about in the Body of Christ. I recommend this book because I believe we need to do more thinking in the Church, even if it hurts a little. I also recommend this book because Annie's stories affirm the magnificence of the Creator's hand even in the midst of trash, grime, and sin.