I picked up Every Bush Is Burning by Brandon Clements for free on Kindle at recently. I am not sure what it says about me, but I have signed up for so many sources of free or highly discounted ebooks (plus social media channels) that I can’t remember which particular one directed me to the giveaway on this one. But fiction with a spirtual thread has always interested me and this seemed like a potentially unique take:
Jack Bennett has a wife, two kids, the perfect job–and the perfect affair. When he is caught and it all comes crashing down, Jack is left with no one to turn to. No friends. No family, except his recovering drug addict of a sister.
On a Sunday morning drive, he sees a homeless man locked out of a church service, banging on the door. He stops and offers the guy a cup of coffee. He asks the man his name, and the guy says Yeshua. As in, Jesus.
Jack’s not stupid. This isn’t the real Jesus. But with nowhere else to turn, Jack forms an unlikely friendship with this eccentric homeless man–one that will test his idea of truth, faith, love, and forgiveness.
And Jack is completely unprepared for the real-life twists his story is going to take.
And free is free, right? So I picked it up and then dipped into it just planning to get a taste of the style, plot, etc. but just kept on reading. That is a good sign usually and overall I thought it was well done. I particularly have to give this book credit for its creativity and honesty. So many books written with their first priority to “preach” a certain message, rather than tell a story, fail as literature even if they manage to get their point across.
Clements starts things out that way, perhaps intentionally, as you feel as if you are reading another one of those encounter the real Jesus books that is only loosely fiction and mostly preaching. But then the lead character Jack begins to find his voice, and the Yeshua character begins to take on an unexpected edge and you feel the fission of potential blasphemy (some probably stopped reading offended) and it ends with some well done twists and turns.
Did it get a little preachy at the end? Sure, but not enough to ruin what proceeded. For what it is worth, I didn’t find the theological aspects all that compelling, nor did the criticisms of the church in America strike me as particularly insightful (not that any of it was wrong per se). I thought the dream sequences toward the end, for example, were a little obvious and broke the flow of the story without adding anything particularly profound or unique.
Instead what I found interesting was the portrayal of believable characters and their emotions, thought processes and actions under difficult circumstances. In viewing the world through their eyes you can see how often we are stubbornly sabotaging out lives, how we know what we should do but have a very hard time doing it, and how we long for forgiveness and reconciliation but struggle to offer it to others.
The author doesn’t wrap up everything in a nice bow when it comes to the character’s lives and the repercussions of their choices. Life is messy and complex. The characters were stubborn and flawed and thus felt more real. It was in their actions and reactions, their lives and choices where you really see the impact of faith, or the lack thereof, not in the attempts to convey a particular approach to church or theology.
Overall, an interesting and sometimes quite compelling thought experiment that actually works as a story.