They're interesting events that are often filled with fellowship, friendship, theological discussions and, as the evening goes on a bit, less censored discussions around biblical beliefs and practices. Luke T. Harrington's first foray into the world of non-fiction feels like the kind of book that would come out of an evening of Pub Theology, the kind of evening where the beer flowed a little freely and initially serious discussions about theology turned into giggly, schoolboy discussions about biblical stories we've always secretly wondered about but never actually had the guts to discuss.
Harrington discusses them. Extensively. "Murder-Bears, Moonshine, and Mayhem: Strange Stories from the Bible to Leave You Amused, Bemused, and (Hopefully) Informed" is a theological controversy free-for-all that explores the equivalent of the pitch-black comedy of cinema by examining, both seriously and tongue seriously in cheek, familiar and not so familiar biblical texts filled with murder, sex, rape, incest, outcest, contradictions and more. It's a book that will definitely resonate with more fluid theological thinkers, though more serious theological types will likely get caught up in Harrington's frequently flippant, casual, and sarcastic musings that aren't intended as a dismissal of the Bible, but more an honest and humorous look at these texts and what they really mean.
Harrington's debut novel "Ophelia, Alive: A Ghost Story" picked up several awards including a prized IPPY in the category of horror. This book is similarly adventurous. While faith-inspired humor isn't rare, it has seldom been so willing to go dark, convicting, and challenging.
Harrington is a PK (Preacher's Kid for the unknowing), a fact that likely explains a lot about his willingness to explore these texts more fully and his dark sense of humor. "Murder-Bears," as I shall now shorten the title in an effort to not make this a 10,000 word review because of the title, is a generally well-researched literary effort, though there's some definite picking and choosing of that research - most of which is actually acknowledged within the text.
Basically, most of the time Harrington tends to side with the "naughtier" interpretation. Some stories examined in "Murder-Bears" are familiar - Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Ezekiel's baking of "poop bread," and others. There are other stories that have proven to be less examined over the years - Elisha and those homicidal bears and Ehud's semi-justifiable assassination of a tyrannical king as a couple examples.
"Murder-Bears" is organized by topic - poop, genitalia, weird violence, prostitution, gratuitous nudity, seemingly pointless miracles, and other topics you may have actually thought about but never thought anyone would actually discuss. Harrington is a podcaster and an obviously curious type - his podcast "Changed My Mind with Luke T. Harrington" interviews people who've changed their minds about big stuff. I'm assuming poop is included in that big stuff. Harrington is also a person of faith. The publisher of "Murder-Bears" is a serious publisher of faith-based works. "Murder-bears" is categorized in humor, but that humor is backed by sources and research - though, again, for anyone with a seminary background the research has an obvious slant and tends to ignore alternative research that would be less funny.
"Murder-Bears, Moonshine, and Mayhem" is a unique reading experience, a book that explores challenging, controversial, and conflicting biblical texts with a unique perspective and a willingness to both question and laugh. While this may seem like a cynical, skeptical text, it's hard to imagine non-believers will appreciate it much as Harrington clearly embraces the side of faith amidst the conflict and has equal fun poking fun at folks like Richard Dawkins who would take a secular eye to sacred text. Some books almost defy critical review.
While I haven't had the privilege of checking out the also to be released audio book, my gut feeling is this is a book that will more come to life with Harrington himself reading it. It's a struggle to "rate," because for the most part I believe "Murder-Bears" is the book that Harrington intended it to be. It's a book I respected more than enjoyed.
For a book categorized as "humor," I seldom, if ever, actually laughed and barely smiled. At times, the tone is so flippant and casual that the more serious points are lost within the sarcasm. It's a "Pub Theology" type of book and that kind of setting and that kind of crowd may completely embrace it. There's value to be had here, but there's a lost balance between research and humor and "Murder-Bears," at least for me, just wasn't an enjoyable read and, perhaps because of my seminary background, I didn't end the book feeling particularly informed.
My primary goal in book criticism is not the determination of whether or not a book is "good" or "bad," but to help potential readers decide if it is for them. While I may experience "Murder-Bears" as a solid 3-star experience, somewhere in the slightly above mid-range experience, those who appreciate Harrington's approach and tone may very well embrace and be thoroughly entertained by his literary effort. It may be helpful to check out Harrington's podcast and decide for yourself if his approach and his tone resonates with you, because much of "Murder-Bears" feels conversational and as if Harrington is having a beer with you having these unpredictable, weird, occasionally entertaining, and open-minded conversations.
Who knows? "Murder-Bears, Moonshine, and Mayhem" may very well leave you amused, bemused, and, just maybe, even informed.