The Beauty Of An Honest Christian Memoir: Ashley Cleveland’s ‘Little Black Sheep’
Back in July, I wrote about the controversy attending the discovery of substantial fictional elements in Tony Anthony’s book ‘Taming the Tiger’. I noted the evangelical obsession with celebrity, and the lust for dramatic conversion stories as drivers in promoting such books, with an attendant risk of pastoral damage for Christians who do not have a spectacular story to tell. I began the piece with reproducing a cartoon from Ship Of Fools when it was a print magazine, not a website. ‘Born Again Testimonies’ asked, ‘You may be, but has your TESTIMONY been born again?’
Now I’ve found an antidote in Ashley Cleveland‘s memoir, ‘Little Black Sheep‘. i have loved her music for a good twenty years. Many say she sounds like Melissa Etheridge: I say she makes Janis Joplin sound like Janet Jackson. A blues-rock singer with notes of soul, she sings with passion and honesty about faith and life. In the book, she writes with the same passion and honesty about faith and life.
Superficially, her story has elements that Christian publishers and readers love. Blaming herself as a young child for the divorce of her gay father and vain mother, she slides into multiple addictions – food, alcohol and drugs. She seeks love in all the wrong places and believes that God only wants to punish her. She has no concept of a personal, loving God – although eventually she is – if I may borrow Brennan Manning‘s word – ‘ambushed’ by God.
But hers is no quick fix fairytale of the ‘When I met Jesus, everything was happy ever after’ variety. She slides back, still fighting alcoholism while winning Grammy awards for her music. She struggles to establish a healthy marriage. The Christian community is locally welcoming, in the non-judgemental members of her church, but the wider Christian constituency is offended when she dares to sing about sex – even as a married woman. But hers is the tale of the God who lifts her up by love every time she falls.
There is much more that I could say about the book, but what I essentially want to say in this post is that all sorts of people would profit from reading this book:
* Music fans should read it;
* Pastors should read it;
* Most of all, broken people should read it.
I’d better end this with some music:
The song which provides the title for the book:
Queen Of Soul – her take on being a woman of God:
An exhortation to others, based on her own experience:
Covering the Rolling Stones: