Saturday, February 04, 2006

'Trading Ashes for Beauty: The Phoenix’s Song' by Ron Viers

TITLE: Trading Ashes for Beauty: The Phoenix’s Song
AUTHOR: Ron Viers
EIDTOR: Mia Coleman
PRICE: $15.99
GENRE: Gay & Lesbian/Memoir
ISBN: 1-4116-7535-5

Pride and jealousy were beginning to wage war in the house of God. p.24

There is a great deal of courage in this book. Personal testimonials are some of the most heart wrenching pieces to write. Ron Viers bares his soul to a world which doesn’t often accept what he is… a Gay man. That same soul is open to the GLBT community that might not understand as well. Christianity is something that has betrayed many of us. A place where, especially in the evangelical churches I’m familiar with, diversity and God don’t coexist. Like oil and water the two will never mix.

At its simplest level this is a narrative of the rise and fall of a Southern, GLBT evangelical church. Another is the story of a close knit group of people who share a common goal and faith. On a higher plane it is “Testimonial” of faith. There were times when it happened… the all the hair on my body standing on end.

It’s an entertaining afternoon’s read. Ron is a decent writer – decent enough that I was left wanting more (and I’ll explain that at the end). He takes his own life back to the scripture at times and that’s a nice tie in. There’s no hesitation in telling us that he questions The Plan at times. “God, are you smokin’ crack?!” (p.40) he comments at one point. Questions, misunderstandings and lack of comprehension are presented unvarnished. The preachers, deacons and pastors are humans who screw up. Given who they are, those screw ups affect more lives then just their own.

I would have like to have heard of how Ron and Michael’s relationship began at an earlier in the book instead of in Chapter 6. It would have given some of the conflict in Ron’s secular life a grounding that seemed a little lacking otherwise. When you finally get the background, you have an “aha” moment.

I would have liked to have seen some of the songs he had written. Why choose Steve Nix when you could have given us Ron Viers? I would have liked to have “heard” the conversations between the personas dramatique although I understand how memory is hard after a time and those bits are lost. I think as a testimonial, the book would have been more effective with more personalization. Although he does have a gift of perception, an ability to tie the characters into the metaphor of their station, we’re left a little wanting about who these people are.

I want to know about the church and the people in it. I’ve been to evangelical services. When Ron says the Pastor spoke in Tongues or they Laid them Down, I know what he means. I’m not certain readers outside the movements would. I’ve watched people go catatonic at the touch of a preacher whom they feel is Speaking In The Lord. Most people have never seen such things. Another 100 pages of those types of detail would have given the reader a far deeper connection. That bond with the congregation would have helped explain why many of the events within the book were so shattering to the flock.

Ultimately, I wish he’d written it and put it in the drawer for a year.

For us to understand, Ron needs to have moved past the hurt. The pain he’s gone through is still too raw. While I may not be of the same religion as Ron, it is not that different. We are all often called upon to do things that we don’t yet understand. I believe that his heart is true. I believe that he has been called by his faith to write this. I also believe that he has jumped the gun in getting the word out there. In the end we’re left with the story of a man who comes off as bitter and betrayed (not unjustifiably so). Ron is still in the stages of betrayal and grief – which maybe where he needed to write the book from. It is not where he needed to publish it from.

The book just isn’t finished… the Phoenix hasn’t risen yet.

RATING 6.5/10

Review by James Buchanan

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