FAQs About Dayton, The Scopes Trial, and My Book


I get a lot of questions each week about Dayton, the Scopes Trial, and how I anticipate the local community will respond to my book. So I thought I’d take this Friday morning to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions for those of you who are history buffs…or nosy...or just like monkeys.  

Q: Have you seen Inherit the Wind?

A: Yes, but as a good Daytonite I feel obligated to remind everyone that Inherit the Wind is only loosely based on the Scopes Trial. In fact, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote the play in response to McCarthyism back in the early 1950s, so much of the story is complete fiction.  (Inherit the Wind was supposed to be a bit like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which also served as an allegory to McCarthy Trials.) To tell you the truth, there aren’t many Inherit the Wind fans in Dayton because the play and the film make the residents of “Hillsboro” appear ignorant and backwards, and because so many people get all their information about the trial from that source alone. If you want a more accurate picture of the Scopes Trial, consider reading Edward Larson’s Pulitzer Prize winning account, Summer for the Gods, or check out the PBS “American Experience” documentary on the subject. 

Q: How do people from Dayton feel about the title of your book—“Evolving in Monkey Town”?

A: I don’t know, and I wasn’t really that concerned about it until recently.  See, a few weeks ago,MainStreet Dayton, a local organization that funds and organizes events in the downtown area, announced with a big, colorful billboard an event they called the “Monkey Town Mardi Gras,” scheduled for March 6. The billboard, located just north of town, included a picture of cute cartoon monkey wearing a hat and mardi gras beads. When I saw it, I thought to myself, “Oh good. People around here embrace Dayton’s colorful history, including the whole ‘Monkey Town” thing. I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Well, three days later, the vinyl on the billboard was ripped off so that only shreds of it remained.


It stayed that way for nearly a week before it was replaced with this:  

The very same billboard, but without the “Monkey Town.”

So now I’m a little paranoid. I love the title of my book, and I wouldn’t dream of changing it.  I can only hope my friends and neighbors will have a sense of humor about it, recognizing that the Scopes Monkey Trial is a part of our history—for better or for worse.  In fact, as I explain in my book, the idea to host the Scopes Trial in Dayton came from local politicians and businessmen who hoped a high-publicity test trial might bring some much-needed attention to the town in the 1920s, when the local coal mining companies were really struggling. Any expert on the trial will tell you that it essential began as a publicity stunt.  The way I see it, we can either pretend the whole thing didn’t happen or embrace it with a smile. 

Q: What do you think of William Jennings Bryan?


WJB was a fascinating character, and the more I’ve learned about him over the years, the less I’ve been able to box the guy in.  Sure, he was a bit of a Bible-thumper, but he also supported women’s suffrage, advocated for the rights of laborers and farmers, and so passionately opposed U.S. involvement in World War I that he resigned as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. He was a prohibitionist, a trust-buster, an anti-imperialist, and a (borderline obsessive) proponent of Free Silver. In fact, I would say that his performance on the witness stand during the Scopes Trial was a low moment for WJB. He was not well prepared, and he should never have allowed Darrow to cross-examine him. Interestingly enough, if you read the transcript from the Scopes Trial you will see that Bryan did not necessarily believe in a literal seven-day creation, but conceded that the “days” described in Genesis may have simply been “periods.”

Q: How will people at Bryan College react to your book?

A: I’m not sure. In a lot of ways, I have strayed from what I was taught at Bryan. I can no longer support young earth creationism in good conscience. I’m not exactly a strict religious exclusivist anymore. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, support gay rights, and prefer the word “inspired” to “inerrant” when describing the Bible.  I would hope that my desire to follow Jesus and my commitment to orthodox Christianity would be enough to keep me in the Bryan College fold, but this remains to be seen. My biggest fear is that my parents will catch flack over my book. They have been nothing but encouraging, supportive, and understanding throughout this whole process, and I'll be really disappointed if they are ostracized because of something I wrote. I worked especially hard to portray my experiences in Dayton and at Bryan College in a favorable, yet truthful, light, and I’ve spent hours and hours double-checking the manuscript to make sure that I am fair, considerate, and honest. At the end of the day, I can be confident and at peace knowing that I did my best to write with integrity. How people respond is out of my control. (Read: I worry about it all the time.)

Q: This book sounds like a work of literary genius. How can I pre-order it?

A: Why, thank you for asking! You can order it now on Amazon for the low, low price of just $10.19. The book will be released in June/July.

So, do you have any more questions about Dayton, The Scopes Trial, or the book?

What about you? Is YOUR hometown famous for anything? (Please include food, if applicable.)



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Do you ever fake your faith?

Mechanismatic sent me a link to a really interesting article by Stephen J. Dubner, one of the Freakonomics guys. The article features an email from a reader who says she and her husband pretend to be Christians in order to fit in with their community. She explains:

“We are agnostics living deep in the heart of Texas and our family fakes Christianity for social reasons. It’s not so much for the sake of my husband or myself but for our young children. We found by experience that if we were truthful about not being regular church attenders, the play dates suddenly ended... We are not the only ones. We have found a few other fakers out there.”

My first reaction was to be mad at the Christians in Texas who are too cliquish to arrange play dates with agnostics. But the longer I thought about the situation, the more I identified with the woman and her family.Because the truth is, sometimes I fake it too.

As you can imagine, Dayton, Tennessee is not the most convenient place to have doubts about your faith or questions about biblical inerrancy, religious pluralism, and homosexuality.  Home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, it’s one of the most conservative Christian towns in America. Sometimes I revel in the chance to rock the boat a little. But often, when I really want to be liked or included or esteemed, I pretend to be more at peace with my faith than I really am.

For example, a dear friend of mine had a strong negative reaction when I first began expressing doubts about Christianity. Our relationship has been a bit strained ever since, so whenever we get together to catch up, I make an extra effort to talk about church, drop some Christianese into the conversation, and mention my newfound love for liturgy. I really want her to respect me again, so I try to say what I think she wants to hear. I’m not exactly lying, but I’m definitely leaving out a lot—like the fact that there are still days when I’m not convinced that God exists, still nights when I lie awake begging him to “help me in my unbelief,” still mornings when I wake up mad as hell for not hearing back from him.

I fake it in other situations too. I’ll refer to my good fortune as “blessings” when I’m around Christians and “luck” when I’m around non-Christians, (when the truth is I’m not exactly sure why I have so many good things in my life while millions around the world are desperate, hungry and lonely). I’ll participate in religious activities even when I’m not feeling particularly religious. I’ll refer to myself as a “follower of Christ,” when Christ seems so far ahead in the journey, I can't even see the back of his head anymore.

I fake it for several reasons:

1) This is not a particularly hospitable place for agnostics
2) Nothing would crush my parents more than learning that their daughter has walked away from the faith
3) I have a book deal with a Christian publisher
4) I want to keep my Christian friends
5) My doubts come and go, so there’s no reason to unnecessarily drag the people I love through my drama 
6) If I fake it maybe I can convince myself that everything's okay

Christians talk a lot about counting the cost of following Jesus. But I often wonder if, in this particular environment, the cost of NOT following him is actually greater.  I'm not sure what that says about modern Christianity, but it scares me a little.

Still, I've found that there is a surprising upside to faking it.

Like the times when I reluctantly drag myself to our little church gatherings, only to leave feeling indescribably hopeful. Or the times when I begin the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that no one is listening, but finish it with the sneaking suspicion that I’ve just connected with the most powerful, beautiful thing in the universe. Or the times when I go through the motions—caring for the poor, showing hospitality, fellowshipping with believers,  praying, reading Scripture, trying to live like Jesus—to find that there is redemption in the motions themselves, that taking a step of faith does not necessarily require a desire to move. 

Sometimes faking it through one leg of the journey is what gets me to the next.

Do you ever fake your faith? What reasons do you have for faking it?



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The Olympic Spirit - In You

What I love most about the Olympics is the chance to see people who have worked really hard at something succeed. It’s exciting to watch as all those hours of practice, moments of frustration, and years of preparation come to fruition in one beautiful moment on the winner’s podium.

So, in the spirit of the games, I thought I’d ask:

1. When was your last “Olympic moment”—a time when you felt your hard work really paid off?

2. What’s your favorite Winter Olympic sport?



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Book Review: "Hear No Evil" by Matthew Paul Turner

To get an idea of just how conservative Matthew Paul Turner’s Independent Baptist upbringing was, consider this:

   • In middle school, he “rebelled” by listening to Sandi Patti.

   • In high school, he felt so guilty for buying Amy Grant’s Heart in MotionCD that he destroyed it, and then bought it again, five times.

   • As a kid, he had to cover his ears at Sea World when Ollie the Otter began dancing to Michael Jackson. (“The beat was syncopated,” explains Turner, “and for a young Independent Fundamental Baptist, few things existed that were more frightful than a syncopated beat.”)

   • The first time he set foot in a movie theater, he was 19 years old.

   • When his Belmont University professor began quoting Bob Dylan, Turner raised his hand in class and asked, “Should I know who Dylan is?”

If these tidbits make you grin (or cringe), you will love Matthew Paul Turner’s latest book, Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost.  A collection of anecdotes about Turner’s tumultuous relationship with popular culture through the years, Hear No Evil can best be described as a lighthearted tribute—to growing up, to the evangelical Christian subculture,  to music.

It’s been a while since a book made me laugh this much. I found myself reading some of my favorite lines out loud to Dan—“For a lot of Christians, their imaginations are liabilities, like the five senses and genitals” (p.51);  “Then my father introduced me to Sam, a thirty-something single man who had recently converted from being Episcopalian to Christianity” (p. 52); “A month or two later Laura and Jesus broke up, and she started dating a nice-looking keyboardist from Arkansas” (p. 156).

Those who grew up in the evangelical subculture will especially appreciate Turner’s stories about accountability groups, contemporary Christian music, and how the Holy Spirit was so involved in the everyday decisions of Christian college students that he appeared to work part-time in Belmont’s admission office.

Of course, Turner is at his best when he turns the joke on himself and connects his personal stories to the universal so that the reader can really relate.  In one of the more insightful chapters of the book, Turner explains how he and his college classmates “rebelled” against their upbringing by becoming Calvinists.  Writes Turners, “I liked being Calvinist because it made me feel controversial and edgy to believe something different than what my parents believed. On those trips home, I felt like I was experiencing my own little Protestant Reformation, hammering various disagreements I had with my past into my parents’ faces…Reformed doctrine offered a different way to think about God. And sometimes different, even when it really isn’t that different, is all we need to make us feel alive, creative, and in control of our own destiny” (p.131).

I hope that in his next book, Turner does a little more of this, for it transforms his funny, sometimes bizarre anecdotes into more relatable, human stories and makes the reader feel more like a participant and less like an observer.

If you’re looking for a fun, memorable read, be sure to check it outHear No Evil will get stuck in your head, like a song you almost forgot you loved.

[This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.]

So, what have you been reading recently? What are some of your favorite books that humorously highlight the idiosyncrasies of your particular religious culture?



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40 Ideas for Lent

As I’ve been researching the season of Lent over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that Lent is about so much more than just "giving something up."  It’s about repentance, preparation, reflection, discipline, self-denial, and reevaluation. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what this means for me, and if you are too, here are 40 ideas to get you started:

10 Questions to Ask Yourself

1. When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different? 
2. From what do I need to repent? 
3. Is there one particular sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? How do I address that sin over the next 40 days?
4. Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation? 
5. What distractions most commonly interfere with my time in prayer/Scripture?
6. What spiritual discipline do I need to improve upon or want to try? 
7. What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t? 
8. Why am I giving this particular thing up? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter? 
9. What am I going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard? 
10. Is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature my fast with others or should I keep it private?

10 Book Recommendations  

1. 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight 
2. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
3. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
4. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle
5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
6. A Gift For God: Prayers and Meditations by Mother Teresa
7. The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns 
8. Following Jesus by NT Wright 
9. The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard
10. The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross 

10 Creative Ways to Give Up AND Give Back 

1. Choose to make water your only beverage for 40 Days between February 17 - April 3 to help Blood:Water Mission provide clean water for people in Africa who don't have a choice. Check outForty Days of Water for more info.  
2. Eat porridge for a day (or for 40 days!) and host a Broken Bread hunger meal to raise awareness about hunger. 
3. Give up eating out for 40 days and donate the money you save to The Christian Women’s Job Corp in Nashville. My sister works full-time for this organization, so I can personally vouch for the fact that the money will be used wisely and lovingly! 
4. Do a 40-day purge of all your excess stuff and donate the best of it to Goodwill or a local thrift store that benefits the needy in your community. 
5. If you are giving up social networking (like Facebook and Twitter), commit the next 40 days to getting to know your neighbors better and meeting any needs you perceive. 
6. Ladies – Give up your favorite beauty products for a month and loan the money you save to an entrepreneur on Kiva.
7. If you are really brave, try living on $2 a day for 40 days, the way millions of families around the world live every day.
8. Give up your favorite little luxury purchases (chocolate, iTunes, magazines, books, shoes, specialty coffee, electronic gadgets, etc.) and send the money you save to an organization that provides help to the victims of the Haitian earthquake. 
9. Give up your Saturday mornings for 40 days and volunteer at a local soup kitchen. 
10. Become a "ringleader" for Take This Ring.   

10 Mediations

1. Psalm 51
2. Psalm 139
3. Isaiah 58
4. The Beattitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
5. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) 
6. Litany of Penitence 
7. Litany of Humility 
8. Prayer of St. Francis 
9. Penitential Prayer of St. Augustine 
10. Consider reading the Sermon on the Mount (alternating between Matthew’s account and Luke’s account) every day for the next 40 days.

What approach do you take to the season of Lent? What is its purpose in your life? Do you have any additional resources, ideas, or links to share?

(Note: I recently decided to abstain from asking people what they intend to “give up” (specifically) for Lent and also from sharing (specifically) how I intend to observe the season. If you would like to volunteer this information here, that is totally fine; but please don’t feel like you must.)



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