Book Review: Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler
Release Date: April 9, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult Memoir, LGBT
ISBN: 9780316094658
Source: Library
Add it to Goodreads

What happens when the person you’re becoming isn’t the one your family wants you to be?

When Aaron Hartzler was little, he couldn’t wait for the The Rapture: that moment when Jesus would come down from the clouds to whisk him and his family up to heaven. But as he turns sixteen, Aaron grows more curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want Jesus to come back just yet—not before he has his first kiss, sees his first movie, or stars in the school play.

Whether he’s sneaking out, making out, or playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can’t be found in the Bible. He discovers that the girl of your dreams can just as easily be the boy of your dreams, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you.

In this funny and heartfelt coming-of-age memoir, debut author Aaron Hartzler recalls his teenage journey from devoted to doubtful, and the search to find his own truth without losing the fundamentalist family who loves him.

Wow. What a read. I was blown away by this memoir and I am so glad that I read it. From the moment I heard about this book, I wanted to read it but there was always a hesitation about actually picking it up because I was afraid that this book was going to not so much be about a journey but moreso be about completely ripping the Christian faith apart in a hateful, bitter manner. I’ve just seen a lot of fighting hate with hate lately so I was on edge. But instead, this book simply and respectfully walks us through what Aaron experienced growing up, living in an extremely conservative politically correct religious household where his individuality and sense of self were essentially crushed.

I was captivated from the very first page and encourage anybody who is thinking about reading this book to go on and read it. You will laugh and cry and want to throw the book across the room. Aaron is a wonderful writer and the journey you’ll read about here will rock your core. Rapture Practice is honest and thoughtful and heartfelt and everything so many teenagers wish they could say but are pressed not to. I know it feels good to finally be able to have the freedom to say these things and I am so proud of Aaron and loved that this was possible, this book is tangible because so, so many people need this book. Religious or not. Gay or straight. Teenager or not. Everybody has a personal story, no story is right or wrong and I absolutely loved how well crafted the execution of this story was. It is not confrontational. It’s just his life. So let’s dig into it…

The following is a list of a few rules that Aaron grew up with:
* No television
* No movie theater
* No rock music (aka no non-Christian music and even the Christian music is monitored because apparently there is no such thing as Christian rock, oh and no listening to the music of Christians who are liberal)
* No dancing
* Christian school rule: no hugging the opposite sex

Before I go further, I must say that I get a little ranty because I’m passionate and I do not like when people use something sacred (whether I believe in it or not) as a weapon and that’s exactly what’s happened in this uber conservative religious household. Okay. So…

Conforming to the politics of religion and claiming rebellion every single time there’s a disagreement is dangerous and seemingly part of the foundation of what caused this broken spirit of Aaron’s and this is maddening. I mean, can we talk about the dressing up for church for a minute? Respect is one thing but if you believe in a God that died for you and made you righteous in His sight as you are… no matter how you dress it up, you’re broken without Him. Socks or no socks. There’s this saying that God made the ten commandments but people made a million more and oh my goodness is Aaron’s story a prime example of such. I love when Aaron says, It seems like other people love Jesus in lots of different ways and have different rules about what’s right and what’s wrong. He is so right and what’s sad is that there are so many absurd rules that religion’s tangled web creates.

Aaron’s asking all of the right questions about God, and I say “right” because it is valid to have questions when you’re asked to believe in so much even after studying, really studying the bible. Many of the questions he brings up are questions I have too! The thing is, you can have all of the faith in the world but people, even people who mean well and intend to do for the greater good… people do horrible things and that can break and wear a person down and that’s exactly what happened here until Aaron had enough and was able to break free from this religious prison. Religion is unreasonable and this book will show you how.

What really got me was his father’s twisted belief that only clean vessels can be used by God. What? I mean you have to ignore essentially half of the people in the bible that God used if you’re going to say that. That’s wild. And don’t get me started on how all of their friends needed to be Christian. What? Jesus dwelled with everyone. And how dare you go to another country to be a missionary but you treat unbelievers in your own state, your own neighborhood like lepers. What is the deal with that? Whatever happened to discernment? Trust? Grace? Instead, there’s only disappointment and guilt. Aaron was trapped in a home that used God’s name as a gatekeeper. Let’s not even get to the idea that if you stray from God, He may allow you to be killed? I can’t. I won’t even touch that. Too mad.

I can relate on my own level to feeling and being alone and trapped. Suffocating under the illusion of freedom and knowing I have no free will at all. I can relate to Aaron growing up Christian but I can’t relate to the harsh conservative upbringing which really blew my mind. It’s one thing to hear about it and even occasionally be among the midst of people who live it but to read about the everyday of it… it breaks my heart. Whether you are Christian or not, conservative or liberal, anyone reading this should know that religion is conditional. Jesus is not. His love is unconditional. Ours? Well, Aaron said it best when he wrote, “I have a hard time telling the difference between their love and their approval, and when my actions don’t live up to their standards, I feel like I’ve lost both.” Love and understanding and grace are mistreated, misunderstood, and undervalued. But what’s beautiful is that even in all of this, Aaron ends on seeing the beauty in grace and that’s what’s often missing in life, especially as a teenager so what a beautiful way to conclude this book that I hope gets a sequel because this is only the beginning.

Finally, there’s a beautiful post somewhere on the internet where Aaron talks about his goal in writing this book and I can’t find it but also worth reading, Aaron Hartzler’s guest post, Diversity 101: Religion in YA.

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler is available today.