Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.
Matthew Paul Turner was raised in a religious family and has spent his career authoring books about faith. However, in this episode, Annmarie and Matthew talk about the importance of uncertainty, questions, and doubt. Matthew reminds us that doubt and belief can work together as both children and adults grow in love, faith, and understanding.
Parnassus Books — An independent bookstore located in Nashville, Tennessee, Parnassus Books is co-owned by bestselling author Ann Patchett and Managing Partner Karen Hayes. Parnassus provides a refuge for Nashvillians of all ages who share in our love of the written word.
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Annmarie Kelly: As I've mentioned in previous episodes, my dad died last year, after a two and a half year struggle with terminal cancer. We were by his side for all the things, the brain surgery, the hospital stays, the radiation, the chemo, the seizures, the memory loss. It was all a labor of love, but it was also so much worse than I ever imagined it would be to see the larger-than-life dad who raised me, who pushed me on the ropes swing high into the tree branches in our front yard, who gave us dolphin rides on his back at the city pool. It was devastating to see this guy, so diminished both by the cancer inside his head and by the medications we administered to try to stop it.
Annmarie Kelly: Throughout what people optimistically called dad's cancer journey, I prayed to God. First, I prayed for a cure. I prayed for magic, an intervention that would take dad's incurable brain cancer and somehow make it different. Then, when it was clear no such miracle was coming, I prayed for ease and mercy. I did not want my dad to suffer. And for the most part, I guess he didn't. Dad mostly didn't remember what he was forgetting. When he stopped eating, he didn't know he was hungry. Even when he could no longer say I love you, he could still grab my hand and squeeze. I sat with my dad the night he died. I sang, gave him his meds. I held his hand. I was with him when he passed away, when his body went stiff, when his eyes lost their light, and when the men from the funeral homes zipped him into a bag and took him away.
Annmarie Kelly: I know love was there that night. But where was God? I did not catch a glimpse of light on the wing of a dove. I didn't hear a song from the heavens or a sign on the wind. I did not feel a voice inside me saying words of comfort or peace. If there is a God, I cannot help, but feel he abandoned me in the hour of my greatest need, which is why I guess it has been easier in the months since my dad's death not to believe. If there's not a God, then we were not abandoned. We are just a family who went through a horrible time with cancer, which millions of people suffer from every single year. There is something so much easier about embracing that doubt.
Annmarie Kelly: But recently, I came across a children's book that made room for both doubt and belief. What is God Like, co-written by Matthew Paul Turner and the late Rachel Held Evans is part magic, part acceptance, part questioning and all love. The book reduced me to a puddle on my kitchen floor and I wanted to talk to the people who wrote it. So, my guest today is Matthew Paul Turner, blogger, speaker and author of many books including When God Made You, When I Pray For You, and the recent New York Times number one bestseller, What is God Like? Matthew lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his three children. Matthew Paul Turner, welcome to Wild Precious Life.
Matthew Paul Turner: It is good to be here, Annmarie. How are you?
Annmarie Kelly: I am groovy. I'm-
Matthew Paul Turner: Good.
Annmarie Kelly: I'm glad to have you join me in my attic recording studio here. I often start off by asking guests their story and we will absolutely get to yours, but I feel like there's a third person in the studio. For those who have not ever met Rachel Held Evans, I would love for you to tell us who she was.
Matthew Paul Turner: First and foremost, Rachel was my friend. We met in 2009 and I sort of watched her grow into the progressive faith influence that she became. She was a writer, a theologian, though she would have probably challenged that. She wrote four books while she was here. She's got and I think she has one more coming. This is her first children's book. Rachel was a New York Times bestselling author before this book came out. She's been on every list. She's been on every podcast and from NPR to the New York Times have celebrated her life.
Matthew Paul Turner: It was when, two years ago, she became sick in April of 2019, and passed away unexpectedly three and a half weeks later, on May 4th. She was just, she was wise beyond her years and was a force in so many faith circles and political circles. She was an activist for women, an activist for people of color, activist for LGBTQ people. There wasn't really anyone else, there's no one else quite like Rachel. She really had a... she had an approach that moved you even when you disagreed with her, like you just, you couldn't, you couldn't dislike her. She was just brilliant. And what an honor for me as her friend to carry these words across the finish line for her. It has been an emotional moving experience from day one. I've said this before, I feel like I needed this book before anybody else did.
Annmarie Kelly: I've also heard you say that she burned down the patriarchy one article at a time. And this idea that she was fierce and kind. How did the two of you come to know each other?
Matthew Paul Turner: Our mutual friend, mutual writing friend introduced us via email and because we both lived in Tennessee, we ended up getting booked on the very same Southern Book Festival. So, her book, her first book had just come out or actually, we came email friends because she wanted me to endorse her first book and so, that was how we first met and then we became fast friends. We first met in person just a couple of months after her first book released. We were at the Southern Book Festival. And there were eight people there to listen to us read our books.
Annmarie Kelly: Don't you love those?
Matthew Paul Turner: And I have a really unique perspective, just because I saw one of her very first speaking engagements, but this was one of her first things that she did publicly with her book. And when I think about the woman I met that on that day, and then fast forward to 2018, when I heard her speak at the conference that she and Sarah Bessey, another writer friend of mine, that they put together, Evolving Faith in North Carolina. When I compared the two, it's like night and day, because Rachel grew into the force that she was. We were both bloggers. And so, there was a good... we have a circle of friends, who were all bloggers that during that time and when blogging was a thing.
Matthew Paul Turner: And when anytime, there was a topic that we were going to write about, we'd all write about it and we'd want to beat Rachel to the punch because we knew that Rachel was going to kick our butts with research and preparation and it was going to cover every angle. And we were just going, like our posts were going to be emotional and funny and moody and hers was going to be bring the information and challenge all the things. And so, she used her words well. She was a friend of mine, but I learned as much from her as, as anybody.
Annmarie Kelly: I love that Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church felt like a real-time description of what you're talking about, like, "This is the church that I've loved. And here's why I have to move in a different direction." I met Rachel in 2016, so I didn't meet her till what turned out to be the in the last years of her life and I drove to a panel. It was the year my book came out and I drove to a panel that she was sitting on, hours away in the Midwest because I heard she would be there. And it was a panel about women and faith.
Annmarie Kelly: At the end, my hand went up before I even had thought about my question and my knees are shaking, and I stood up and I said, "I wonder, I was raised Catholic. But I wonder sometimes about the messages that we hand down to our children, especially our daughters about power and agency and self-worth. How do I raise daughters who can run for President, who can become astronauts, but can't stand on the altar and celebrate mass?" And so, I asked this question and the two other women on the panel whose names I've forgotten, told me they would pray for me. And then one of them said, "But also I should pray for me." And then Rachel was third. So the other two, the elder two women said, "Pray about your doubts." And Rachel anointed my doubts.
Annmarie Kelly: She was funny and welcoming. And she said, "If you're not sure about God and faith, come sit next to me, because there is room for all of us at this table." And I sat down and cried in public. And I'm crying now thinking about what it felt to say, "I'm afraid and I'm not sure. And I have doubt." And to have this rockstar say, "I love you for saying that. And there's room for all of that here." Afterwards, we turned out we both had sons named Henry, which it turns out Moms of Henrys Unite. And afterwards, she asked about my own writing and made time to tweet about my book. She had no need to be generous with her time. But I don't think my story is a one off. I think that that's what Rachel was really like.
Matthew Paul Turner: That was Rachel. One of the things that all of her friends, most of her friends could do is we can search our emails and we can all find emails from Rachel at very, very specific moments of her encouraging us or her saying, "I'm just letting you know I'm thinking about you. I'm so sorry, that you're day." She was the person who would see where people were and join them in that story. The one thing that I love, because I love, one of my favorite parts of this whole experience has been releasing this new book, has been hearing people's experience with Rachel.
Matthew Paul Turner: And if, like you met her, like you know, she was the most down to earth, I mean, from a teeny tiny town in Tennessee, out in the middle of nowhere, nothing about her influence and success as a writer and a mover and a shaker makes any sense whatsoever. But it does in light of just how God uses people. And so, that is, it was a powerful thing to just hear people talk about Rachel and just how she affected their story.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, Rachel passed away in 2019, as you said, unexpectedly, especially for those of us in the outside. I couldn't believe it when I heard that. And this book, What Is God Like?, came out this year, in 2021. And I'm wondering, how did you come to be involved in this project?
Matthew Paul Turner: Rachel was transferred while she was sick, was transferred to Vanderbilt University Hospital. So, I was one of the few people that Dan knew in Nashville and we and we didn't know each other. Dan is her husband. I'd met him a couple of times, but he knew me and so, and asked me if I'd come to the hospital. And so, that first time I went to visit Rachel, Dan told me. He goes, "I don't know if Rachel talked to you about this, but she's been working on children's books." And so and at that point, it was this just a little story as we were sitting there.
Matthew Paul Turner: And so, I would say probably the two and a half months after Rachel passed, my editor called to tell me that she was trying to publish Rachel's children's books. During that conversation there, she was like, "I really would love for you to consider finishing them." And I said, "That would be such an honor. I mean, I'm so honored to even be invited to that, to do that." But I want to talk to people because I was afraid that I wasn't the right person just because of all that Rachel stood for. All of the people whose voices Rachel elevated and I just, I needed affirmation from her friends and of course, from Dan. And every one of them just gave me full-on affirmation that I was the right person to do this because I had written children's books. And so, my goal was to get as far away as possible and just let Rachel's message and book shine.
Annmarie Kelly: I've read that you said that, What is God Like? is a gift to Rachel's readers, right? It's a gift to us from Rachel, but also, it was a gift to you. How has this book been a gift to you?
Matthew Paul Turner: If you know anything about my story, in 2020, my wife and I separated and we're divorced now. It was because I came out as gay, so when I was handed this book, I was in one of the darkest, most lonely moments in my whole life. Like I just, I felt like a failure at every little thing. And in the process of writing this book, Rachel helped me feel seen, helped me feel loved, helped me. I've told Dan, it was like it was the only good thing that happened in my life during that, during a six-month, eight-month time period, where everything was hard.
Matthew Paul Turner: And this book was even hard, but it was also hope. It felt a grace amid all of the things happening in my story. And not only did it help me through my own situation with all the stuff going on in my life, it helped me heal, it helped me grieve. It helped me heal from the idea of losing Rachel. Rachel helped me see a side of God that I didn't think about. When I got to the part that was, "God is like a mother." I mean, there were moments like I was so close to, but I mean, I felt like I was in the moment of experiencing God the way Rachel was seeing and feeling God. That moved me because I just, I was going through a time when I needed God to be just like a mom.
Annmarie Kelly: So, I want to share those lines, because they also grabbed at my heart, "God is like a mother, strong and safe. You can crawl up into her lap whenever you want to and she will hold you until you fall asleep."
Annmarie Kelly: Again, I was raised Catholic. We had lots of fathers and sons in our God, but I love the image of God as being like a mother. I'm a mother of three. I come and go in my faith. I come and go in my feelings of closeness to God, but the steadfastness of my love for my children, and them cuddling in my lap. God or what I would describe as God, some of the most powerful feelings I ever feel are when I hold my children. And that, you know what I mean?
Matthew Paul Turner: Absolutely. And I mean, it took me back to some of the best moments with that happened in my childhood. I mean, we all bring, we've all been on some level from our faith story, especially if you grew up in church, chances are you've got some baggage, some people have way more baggage than others. This, the imagery that Rachel helped us helps us experience God in this book is it's healing. For some people, it's going to be alarming at first or it's going to be different or outside the box. But if you work through those differences, it is a healing book for both children and for adults.
Matthew Paul Turner: But in order to turn the tide, we also had to change the story. We have to give our kids a different story. We have to give our kids a different approach to the story of God that included the concept of questions and searching. And when you're not sure, the idea of ever not being sure growing up was not even in my... I wasn't allowed to be unsure. I wasn't allowed to ask questions. And so, hopefully this inspires healthier believers, healthier doubters, healthier people of faith.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, I know. For those of us who came up in the world of organized religion, we may love the idea of God. But part of what always attracted me to Rachel's work, at least was that, I didn't always love the gatekeepers. The man made constructs that stood between me and belief, between me and fate, between me and love. What was your childhood experience with religion? What was it like growing up for you?
Matthew Paul Turner: That's a loaded question, Annmarie. I went to an independent fundamental Baptist Church. My parents left the Methodist church when I was four years old, so and helped start this conservative Baptist, very proudly Baptist Church. I had Barbies burned in front of me to explain hell when I was in second grade. That was like, that was a Sunday school lesson.
Annmarie Kelly: My God.
Matthew Paul Turner: And then I also went to the school that was associated with the church. So, I had a very toxic, hard understanding of God growing up, I could literally talk for eight podcasts on just the drama and the healing that had to take place in order for me to heal from my growing up in my God life of growing up, because there really was no other light.
Matthew Paul Turner: I mean, our whole life changed when we started this church. My mom, on one day, it was okay for her to wear pants. The next day, it was not allowed. She was not allowed to wear pants. We weren't allowed to go to a movie theater. We weren't allowed to listen to music with drums. It was all across the board. I mean, we were proud patriotic followers of God. It took a lot of healing. And so every step away, every step that I've taken away created a war that happened within my family.
Matthew Paul Turner: I remember when my mom found out I went to a movie theater, she cried for two days. It was just like, so every, and so I learned really, I learned early that I had to keep secrets. And so, because it was not worth it to let my mom in on anything that was going on in my story because some situations or some things were bigger than others. The movie theater thing that only lasted a couple days. But I experimented with Calvinism in college, and so, that was a big deal. My parents did not like Calvinist.
Matthew Paul Turner: And so it's just, so every little thing created a dramatic experience that I had to contend with. And so, I just, I started keeping things. And God forbid, they find out that I wasn't straight. And I wasn't even ready at that point and I wasn't anywhere close to being ready to talk about not being straight. And so it just, my experience growing up in fundamentalism has impacted every aspect of my story.
Annmarie Kelly: Do you ever question your own faith?
Matthew Paul Turner: Absolutely. To me, it's like when somebody becomes they de-convert from Christianity and they take on the label of agnostic or atheist or whatever and I just, I relate to that. Because I have days when I don't, I wake up and I am an agnostic. I mean, I have weeks when I wake up and it feels way easier to be an atheist than to deal or sit in my own faith. God has always been such a vivid part of my story, for good and for bad. But has been such a vivid part of my story, I've never really been able to fully let go of God.
Matthew Paul Turner: But do I, like fully, fully understand the challenges and the leaps that people have to take in order to believe and I certainly can see why people de-convert why people, the people who have no experience with faith or they didn't grow up in church, they choose not to. I mean, and also then you have the whole the ugliness of Christianity. Just the ugliness of the cultural, the politics, the nationalism, and all the various things that make American Christianity just grotesque. I've had just enough moments where God has felt so real, that I just, I keep believing somehow. I get up the next day, and I believe again or I just, I can't ever let it go fully.
Annmarie Kelly: No, I understand that. My father passed away last year and as a caregiver, that meant when he entered hospice, we knew that he was in the last days of his life. And I was able to hold his hand as he took those last breaths and I got to be there and love him from this life into his final sleep. And I don't know where he went. I don't know if there's a heaven or not. And I'm never going to get to know that.
Annmarie Kelly: And so, some days, I feel I have a real crisis of faith. I'm not in a place where I'm talking to God very much, but I do talk to my dad. If I've had a tough day with my kids, I talk to my dad. "Dad, I don't know how you did it with four." And I'll talk to dad. It's half prayer and half missing him and I don't know where God is in that. I felt God when I held my father's hand. I felt God when I knew that I had done everything I could for my dad and loved him through it and he loved me. I felt God there.
Annmarie Kelly: But since he's gone, some days I'm really angry. I don't always find my way back to God because I'm torn between being angry at a God who would let something like this brain cancer happen to my dad or let Rachel die without raising her children, right? I feel angry at that kind of a God. Why would I want to believe in someone like that? And then other days, I'm reminded of the love that he had for me and that there's God in that love. Maybe the word for God and love are interchangeable sometimes in my heart, but you're right about organized religion can sometimes stand between us and that belief.
Matthew Paul Turner: And I think that it's the people that we know and love are about as close to God as we get most of our life, if not all of it. And so, your connection to your dad somehow had a spiritual thing. There was a spiritual layer, at least and so, losing him affected that. And so, it makes sense for you to be walking through anger and heartbreak and heartache, and it'd be a spiritual thing.
Matthew Paul Turner: When I lost my grandmother, my grandmother was like the... she was the picture of Jesus for me when I was a kid. She was the joy. She was the light. She went to the same church. When she talked about God, it was not the God, like it was different than the God I met at church. Like I just, it just was different. Losing her, I lost a little bit of the good God that I did not have in the rest of my life. That was a big moment.
Annmarie Kelly: And throughout this, I'm glad you had that, that grandmother connection through what was sounding more and more like a Kevin Bacon movie in your church. I hope that's the movie by the way that you went and saw when you snuck out to a movie.
Matthew Paul Turner: No, no. It was worse. It was Robin Hood Men in Tights.
Annmarie Kelly: My gosh. Is that the one with Kevin Costner's butt? I'm trying to think because the way you [crosstalk 00:25:41]-
Matthew Paul Turner: No. That was Kevin-
Annmarie Kelly: No, no, that's the actual thing.
Matthew Paul Turner: That was the other, that was the actual Robin Hood. This was the parody. This was nothing. It's terrible, but there were a couple of funny moments, for sure.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, I'm glad you had that, that relationship with your grandmother that brought joy through a difficult time. And I just, I feel all of these doubts and this love in this book. Even when you guys write, "God is the wind passionate and full of mystery. God is both here and mysteriously also over there." And that concept for a child, right? That's so hard for anyone to believe and yet when you guys write it like, "God is the wind blowing out," that for a child, "Oh, of course." Because it's wrestling the trees and it's against, its warm sometimes, and cool sometimes.
Annmarie Kelly: I just, I love the way that you guys come back to the mystery and the power of God, but it isn't scary. And the mystery isn't scary, it's just part of it. And I have to at least mention one more. I'm probably giving away the whole book, but...
Matthew Paul Turner: That's, I should say thank you.
Annmarie Kelly: ... people should buy it anyway. I love the dancers. God is like three dancers.
Matthew Paul Turner: Three dancers.
Annmarie Kelly: Graceful and precise. They moved to the same music in very different ways, showcasing all of God's elegance and rhythm in your life. The way that Rachel used to write about churches and how we're all these different churches with all these different beliefs and somehow the same and different, I thought your dancers in this. Because they become the vague God, right? Because sometimes God and this is female, right? The pronouns change. She is a mother. Sometimes God is male. He is trustworthy. And sometimes God is plural. They are your friends when you are alone. And I have never in my life seen God referred to with shifting pronouns and-
Matthew Paul Turner: And there's a power. Is there not a power in that page? It is, because I'll be honest with you.
Annmarie Kelly: Incredible.
Matthew Paul Turner: I'll be honest with you. Dan and I went back and forth, because in my own book, I avoid pronouns. I don't use and I avoid because I know that lots of people don't have good relationships with their moms and their dads. And so, I just use God. God is God is God. And I told Dan, I was, again, I love the pronouns, but I also know that this is going to be a stumbling block for lots and lots and lots of people. I am so, so glad he told me to like, "Let's keep the pronouns," because it has become a page of healing for me.
Matthew Paul Turner: And for people who are very particular about scripture, there's scriptural precedents for all three. In the book of Genesis, God is referred to as us. We created mankind in our own image. It's not outside of Scripture to think of God as in the plural sense and so, with they and then pronouns. And so it is, and I don't know why it's moving to get to that page after all of these things that you've seen what God is like to get to that page and where it says, "She is your protector. He is trustworthy. They are friends. They are your friends." And it's just, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Matthew Paul Turner: And so that, the Trinity page, that was the only, that was one of the big things that we asked Ying Hui to do these, the illustrator. We wanted the Trinity to be represented by three dancers and for them to be very diverse, very like nonbinary characters of or nonbinary people and celebrate diversity. And it is one of my favorite pages.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah. Ying Hui Tan's illustration there, you're absolutely right that, that all three of those dancers are in bodies of various shapes and sizes with hair colors of different hues with someone has a beard, someone's ponytail is flying. That page takes my breath away. And then of course, the Trinity every single time. Because there's room for everyone in this book. There's room for faith, there's room for doubt, there's room for you and me and all of us.
Annmarie Kelly: I once heard, I don't know, it was not a sermon, but a talk about the loaves and the fishes. And I remember very little of what I hear in talks, but this one stayed with me. That it just asked, "Did it matter or not that Jesus was God that day?" The loaves and the fishes, of course, there's a whole crowd of people. They're listening to sermonizing and it comes time to eat. And is there any food? Do people have anything? And one interpretation of the story that turns a few loaves and a few fish into enough to feed many, many people. Or in another version of the story, food somehow appears. Where does the food come from?
Annmarie Kelly: And the person was just asking, "Does it matter if there was magic that day or not?" Literal poof and now, there's food magic. Because either way, it wasn't there magic. Because if you bought a granola bar that day that you hadn't intended to share and I didn't have one, but I had half a bag of old raisins and we split them, isn't there a magic that day? So, the person wasn't saying, "I know if there was there or wasn't magic."
Annmarie Kelly: It was just this idea that aren't we called to be generous of heart and giving loving individuals? Aren't we called to say, "Hey, I have this thing, would you like half or more?" Isn't that whether there was magic or not, there was magic and that interpretation of that made me think about all of the stories that I grew up hearing. That the Shazam Jesus is actually less interesting to me than the one who's like, "Don't be a d-bag."
Matthew Paul Turner: And it's funny, I don't even think about that Jesus. I don't. Right. Exactly. Exactly. It's so funny, I don't think Jesus, the miracle Jesus is not the first Jesus that I think about anymore. I think about like, "Hey, be salt." What does that mean? Well, that be a preservative or be the thing that brings out all the god-ness that's all around you. Be that person. When you start to rethink how you engage God or how you engaged the faith story, it is, it's all those little things, all those little things really do matter.
Matthew Paul Turner: I love that you bring up that it doesn't matter whether there was actual magic, there was still magic. People still got fed, people still shared people. Jesus still stopped his sermon and said, "You know what? Our bodies are speaking to us. Let's let our bodies speak for a minute and have a minute." We don't get those nuances so often.
Annmarie Kelly: No. Most of us didn't. Hey, what's it to be a gay man? You said you've came out?
Matthew Paul Turner: Yeah.
Annmarie Kelly: What's it like to be a gay man? I know that's the end of my question. What's it like? Speak on behalf of all gay men if you would, Matthew? If you've got it? No. What's it to be a gay man writing Christian books at a time when not all Christians are accepting of gay men, but more are now than ever before? What is that to be you now, writing this?
Matthew Paul Turner: I can say that coming out for me was one of the most beautiful things that ever happened in my life. And I say that not because it was perfect or not because people were all kind because they weren't. But the fog lifted. I lived so much of my adult life in the fog. It doesn't mean I wasn't always unhappy. Jessica is the most amazing woman I've ever known. And it was a joy to be-
Annmarie Kelly: Jessica, your wife.
Matthew Paul Turner: Jessica, my wife. Yeah, it was a joy to be married. We're still very much best friends. But I personally lived in a fog and when I came out, when my truth, when I became willing and unafraid to say that out loud, I wake up, I wake up a different person every single day. And every single day is not perfect, but I'm different. I'm walking in my own story. My kids see a difference or Jessica sees a difference. I feel like for the first time I am letting the average person see the whole me.
Matthew Paul Turner: When you've been hiding a part of yourself for so long or afraid of a part of yourself or well, all the things, when you let that part of you be seen, it's like your friendships change, all the things change. And I love that I can still write about God because I didn't think that I'd be able to write about God and after because I thought that people would... I pictured the very worst. I pictured book burnings and lots and lots of people returning their books to the stores and whatever. But let me just say, I have been loved by the multitude of people who've reached out to me. I mean, not just loved, celebrated, not just tolerated, affirmed, and celebrated.
Matthew Paul Turner: I do believe that I think that's lots of things have changed in the last 25 years and there has been a shift in how people, especially in the last couple years. And I had the grace of standing on a whole bunch of people's stories, who came out when it was scary as hell. And so, I was standing on their shoulders when I came out to a warm, beautiful, welcoming reaction. But thank you for asking that. I'm glad that you asked that.
Annmarie Kelly: I was listening and wondering it and so I thought, "Well, I'll ask." And thank you for answering. You said earlier that throughout this book, throughout What is God Like? it coming to the world, people say to you, "Because of Rachel, I fill in the blank, because of Rachel, I fill in the blank." Is there any part of your story that you just told me that is "because of Rachel?" I understand that it would be because of many people, but does she factor in to your decision to let your light out from under the bushel and just be your whole self?
Matthew Paul Turner: Rachel and I sort of became a couple of voices in the Christian culture that because we didn't have a church attached to us, because we were our own thing, we had to look in the mirror and deal with the person in the mirror. We welcomed people of all orientations long before lots of other people did. But Rachel theologized it. For me, it was just like, "You know what? It just makes sense." It just makes, like I believe Jesus would be sitting at the table with the people who are gay and queer and transgender. And I mean, it just made sense for me.
Matthew Paul Turner: I got to a place where I was like, "If I can't be out, what can I do to make it easier for kids? Who are growing up in church now to be themselves? Is there anything? How can I use my influence to fight their fight. And so, that's kind of what I... one of my very first children's book was called When God Made You. And there's a moment in there where it's called, so be you, fully you. A show stopping reveal. Live your life in full color, every tint, every hue, discover, explore, have faith, but love more, and learn and relearn all that God made you for.
Matthew Paul Turner: And so, when I wrote that line, I'll never forget, I fell down and just wept, because I was writing to myself, and I was writing. But at that point, I was writing for all the kids who were growing up in church, who were gay, and they knew they were gay. And I wanted them to feel loved, seen. I just wanted them to feel loved, feel something that I never got.
Annmarie Kelly: I'm so glad you mentioned that. And that is exactly what those lines do for you. I was learning your story. And going back and reading your books, and I heard those lines. And I wondered if you wrote them before or after you came out.
Matthew Paul Turner: Before.
Annmarie Kelly: And it turns out, it doesn't even matter because it's all part of your journey and I heard that again and again in this book, and in your previous ones. Whether you heard it or not, it is there and it's glorious. Those lines that you guys wrote together whenever you aren't sure what God is like, think about what makes you feel safe, what makes you feel brave, what makes you feel loved, that's what God is like. I just have never read anything your books, this one and the ones before. I am thankful that you guys did this and that you're still out there doing this work. As Rachel's husband, Dan, said this is the first book of hers that her children, Henry and Harper, Rachel's kids will read.
Annmarie Kelly: Thank you for writing it. I could talk to you about this all day, but they make me only talk for an hour. So, we get to close with icebreakers. I know you're camp counselors at your church, you're retreat leaders always would have started with icebreakers, but we'd like to end with them.
Annmarie Kelly: So these are just multiple choice questions, just multiple choice. You just pick one. Dogs or cats?
Matthew Paul Turner: Dogs.
Annmarie Kelly: Coffee or tea?
Matthew Paul Turner: Tea.
Annmarie Kelly: Mountains or beach?
Matthew Paul Turner: Mountains.
Annmarie Kelly: Cake or pie?
Matthew Paul Turner: Cake.
Annmarie Kelly: Early bird or night owl?
Matthew Paul Turner: Early bird.
Annmarie Kelly: Are you a risk taker or the person who always knows where the Band-Aids are?
Matthew Paul Turner: Probably, the Band-Aid.
Annmarie Kelly: And then which performance do you better? Kate Winslet in Titanic or Kate Winslet in the Mare of Easttown?
Matthew Paul Turner: Kate Winslet in the Mare of Easttown, of course.
Annmarie Kelly: [crosstalk 00:39:56].
Matthew Paul Turner: One of the best shows in the last 30 years on, like just, it's beautifully written. Just so many richly rich characters that you just related to. I'm always fascinated for somebody as well-known as Kate Winslet when she's portraying a character. When you actually have moments where you sort of almost forget that it's Kate Winslet. She becomes so much Mare and the woman who plays her best friend is one of the most, and I can't think of her name and I'm sorry, but like-
Annmarie Kelly: No. She's in I, Tonya as well. I keep seeing her in all these films since, yes, you're right. This is Mare of Easttown for people who don't know what we're yammering on about. Matthew and I have a shared interest. I don't watch crime dramas. I don't like dark, tragic things. I do not watch this kind of show, but I was captivated by this Kate Winslet portrayal of a woman, a detective called Mare of Easttown, and her very unfiltered [crosstalk 00:40:57].
Matthew Paul Turner: And her best friend is played by Julianne Nicholson, Nicholson, yeah.
Annmarie Kelly: Kate Winslet fought to keep wrinkles, belly rolls, flaws on screen. She has gone out of her way to make this main character, unpolished and unfiltered. And you're right you forget it's Kate Winslet, but you feel like, I've grown up here in the Midwest and I felt like I was watching, I'd been in those houses. I knew those people. Some of them were my cousins. Even though the story is not a story that happened to me, but the churches that they're going to. This community feels like people you know.
Matthew Paul Turner: And even when a character was out, like the daughter, who you find out, which is not really. This is not a spoiler, but you find out who's a lesbian and the daughter, Kate's daughter on the show. And how they interacted with that storyline was not, she just was who she is. There was no drama built around that. It was a part of the story. You watched a little bit of that storyline play out, but it wasn't, there was a love that had happened or an acceptance that had happened before we came into seeing what was going on in their story, this story.
Matthew Paul Turner: And I love that. There was, again, it was just, it was like one day, we started interacting with Mare of Easttown. And just started watching that story and the richness of the characters. You loved and/or felt sorry for every single person on the show at some point in the story.
Annmarie Kelly: Okay. I have a few other questions for you. These are not multiple choice. These are short answered, just they're worth more points. Who was one of your best teachers?
Matthew Paul Turner: I'm going to have to go with my grandmother because I grew up in a private school and I had some really awful teachers. My grandmother was my teacher.
Annmarie Kelly: What was your grandmother's name? I know you said she passed away. What was her name?
Matthew Paul Turner: Olive Abigail King. And my daughter's name is Adeline Olive and so, she was named grandma.
Annmarie Kelly: That's wonderful. That's beautiful. What's the song you love?
Matthew Paul Turner: Anything by Amy Grant. I have been an Amy. I've been an Amy Grant fan for way like way long. And so, and even though I wasn't really allowed to listen to Amy growing up because she had drums and everything?
Annmarie Kelly: Really?
Matthew Paul Turner: Yeah. She had drums in her music.
Annmarie Kelly: Drums.
Matthew Paul Turner: So, any, Christian rock was not allowed. But I would literally sneak listening to her in my car once I finally started driving. And she gave me a glimpse of God and life outside of what my little bubble that I just wanted to know.
Annmarie Kelly: Give me a favorite book or movie.
Matthew Paul Turner: Dead Man Walking. That movie was the first movie that really just moved me from a spiritual, but again, I was a little late bloomer with movies, because of my childhood. But the look on Susan Sarandon's face at the end was, like it was the most beautiful picture of Jesus I had ever seen at that point in my life and that I didn't understand.
Annmarie Kelly: It turns out we're allowed to love people no matter what they do.
Matthew Paul Turner: And sometimes it's work. There's something very real about that.
Annmarie Kelly: Yeah, that's true. I haven't seen that movie in a long time. I'd have to geared up for it because I'm pretty sure I cried through at least half of it. Second to last one, what's your favorite ice cream flavor?
Matthew Paul Turner: Cookies and cream. When they put vanilla ice cream together with Oreos, I mean, it just, I became a fan and it's just, no, there's something, yeah, wonderful about it.
Annmarie Kelly: Yes. I'm old enough to remember the PCC, so the pre-cookies and cream time. There was a time...
Matthew Paul Turner: Right. There was a time when it did not exist.
Annmarie Kelly: ... when that wasn't a thing. It doesn't exist. Cookie dough? I remember when that came tumbling in. Those are not old school flavors. Those were born in our lifetimes here.
Matthew Paul Turner: You couldn't recreate cookies and cream and do it.
Annmarie Kelly: Well, I tried.
Matthew Paul Turner: Yeah, you tried because like, but it's like, it's something about being in that cream for a long period of time and frozen together for long. There's an aging process that has to happen with cookies and cream that make it really good.
Annmarie Kelly: We would crunch them up.
Matthew Paul Turner: Yeah, totally.
Annmarie Kelly: We'd crunch them and smash them in, but the ratios were always wrong and the pieces were too small, because you'd pulverized them.
Matthew Paul Turner: And they were too hard. They were too crunchy. It was always too crunchy. There's that, then you would search the ice cream gallon for that perfect bite where they would be two whole cookies that were almost whole in every half gallon and you would go looking for them.
Annmarie Kelly: Take them. You could always tell if I'd been at the ice cream because it'd been dug through and you can see where those have been pried out.
Matthew Paul Turner: That's so true.
Annmarie Kelly: My children now do that same thing. I've taught them well.
Matthew Paul Turner: That's it, that's it.
Annmarie Kelly: And then last one, if we were to take a snapshot, a picture of you really happy, doing something you love, what would we see you doing?
Matthew Paul Turner: During the pandemic, my kids and I would go on a hike or a bike ride every single day. And we found a lot of joy in that simple act of doing it, almost every day together. And it was a time of really fun conversations' time when we've just, so it would just be me, literally, because my youngest is still on a scooter. So, he would scoot, my two oldest would be on bikes and I would be trying to run and keeping up with the one on the scooter. So, it would be that some sort of picture of that, because that has been, that's been a really beautiful thing during this last year and a half.
Annmarie Kelly: I can picture that. And that's a great, that's a great image. Matthew, I'm so glad to have been able to meet you today and talk to you today. This has been great. One of my favorite lines from another one of Rachel's books inspired is that when she says we live inside an unfinished story. And I was thinking about that, because you literally took an unfinished story of hers and stewarded it into the world. And we're all living inside of Rachel's unfinished story and we're lucky to be here. But I'm glad to meet you and your unfinished story.
Matthew Paul Turner: It's good to meet you, too. Thank you.
Annmarie Kelly: And to be part of that. I do think we are called to help one another, like and finished and write those stories.
Matthew Paul Turner: I've loved having this conversation. And thank you so much for just the light that you are.
Annmarie Kelly: Thank you. I'll tell everyone again about your book. So, folks, we'll put the links on the website. But this is Matthew Paul Turner and he is the author of many books. We'll put those links up there. The most recent one is called What is God Like? You can find it in any independent bookstore near you, at your library. Wherever you are, we're wishing you love and light wherever the day takes you.
Annmarie Kelly: And until next time, be good to yourselves, be good to one another and we'll see you again on this Wild and Precious Journey.