This review of This is Awkward, by Sammy Rhodes, comes to us from Brian Mesimer.

“It’s been said that a friend is a gift that you give yourself. Maybe it’s better to say that friendship is giving someone the gift of yourself. You in all your ruined glory, waiting to be opened and enjoyed.”  – This is Awkward

41iDy+zrioL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Martin Luther’s dichotomy between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory is a well worn theological concept. Like a good sweater on a cold day, it’s a way of viewing life that you want to keep putting on when the time calls for it. Yet, like any good sweater, it can be worn with a variety of other things and still look good. Try on the theology of the cross with everyday relationships, and you have Sammy Rhodes’s new book This is Awkward.

Rhodes is no stranger to awkwardness himself. Born in a small southern town, Rhodes sensed a call to ministry, only to find himself working with perhaps the most awkward demographic: college students. Somewhere along the way, he stumbled into Twitter superstar status, sending little snippets of humor to thousands of followers, and being retweeted by celebrities. And then it all fell apart. A Twitter scandal that saw commentary from Patton Oswalt and Rainn Wilson brought Sammy’s short-lived online career to an end. If that’s not awkward, I’m not sure what is.

All of this is evidence that Sammy has some experience with the cross-and-glory roller coaster, being exalted by the path of glory and humbled by the path of the cross. Most of us have taken a ride or two, but one piece that often gets left out of the conversation is how awkward it can be to be humbled. Taking the way of the cross means that, like Jesus, we expose our shame and hidden places to the mocking world. This experience can be characterized by many words: hurt, spite, depression. But awkward also fits the bill.

And this is precisely the path the book takes. Spanning the gamut of modern Christian issues, Sammy shares his own personal struggles with all sorts of dark places: porn, divorce, depression, family, friendship, and overeating. Like a friend said, the book reads like a counseling session. And like a good counseling session, Sammy doesn’t skimp on all the juicy details. Stories of past mistakes, sins, and hilarious missteps fill the book. The reader will laugh, cry, wince, and maybe even get angry at some points. Part Anne Lamott and part Tim Keller, Sammy communicates his brokenness effectively while also communicating the only cure for brokenness: a Savior who loves us in our awkwardness.


Take, for example, Sammy’s impactful chapter on porn. Like most books on the subject, Sammy discusses the typical ‘guy’ experiences with porn: the discovery of it, the endless cycle of sin and repentance, and the shame that it brings. But unlike most Christian books on the subject, Sammy takes a painfully holistic approach to it. What’s missing in the former sorts of books is usually the dehumanizing events that make porn so appealing to some, like past abandonment and abuse. Instead of giving the generic five points for dealing with porn, Rhodes tells a painful tale of a lost childhood that found solace in the arms of a virtual lover. But Rhodes also tells how Jesus’ love and affirmation are a potent antidote to the poison of porn.

Or take his surprising chapter on overeating. Rhodes opens this chapter quipping that he didn’t gain a freshman fifteen, but a freshman fifty. Here he tells an honest story of how food became his God, his pathway to glory. Late night trips to Wendy’s filled a void of loneliness and pain. But here again Rhodes points to the path of the cross as the only escape.

Binding this all together is Rhodes’ witty sense of humor. A particularly poignant example can be found in his chapter on marriage. Not realizing the impact of going to a tanning bed on the day before his wedding, Sammy’s discolored demeanor (he looked like “the offspring of a hot dog and a raccoon”) forced his wife to render all their wedding photos in black. While this was a disaster at the time, it makes a humorous party story now, and this reality is important. Rhodes vacillates between telling dark stories of his past and poking fun at himself. Part of this is undoubtedly to ease the tension because the book is surprisingly more intense than its light-hearted cover betrays. But part of it also demonstrates the gift of being able to laugh at oneself. Being able to laugh at your own awkwardness is something only someone who is deeply loved can do.

Detractors will have a bone to pick with some of Sammy’s points and style. They may point out that the book isn’t theological enough, or that it leans heavily toward the Sonship movement. They may say that some of the stories are too revealing or that Rhodes uses lots of psychology. While these critiques may have various elements of truth about them, they largely miss the point of the book. This is not a theological treatise or a self help book. It is really an experience of hearing one sinner share his stories with other sinners, and, as Steve Brown is fond of saying, about “one beggar telling another where he found bread.”

As a therapist, one of the things I’m supposed to encourage my clients to do is to stay with their emotions. That’s easier said than done, usually because it’s the tough emotions that cause us the most pain. Feeling awkward while standing alone at a party is a painful thing, because your brain starts to tell you lies about who you are. Those lies and that feeling of shame represent a familiar voice, one that was heard and felt in a Garden in ancient times. In these moments we are tempted to mount an all-out assault against the voice with the power of glory. We become arrogant about who we are, tell ourselves that the people around us are ignorant, do something drastic, or fashion on some fig leaves.

But what if, in those awkward moments, instead of avoiding our places of shame and awkwardness, we accepted them? A theology of the cross tells us to acknowledge our awkward parts as loved by a God who is in the clothes making business. It also tells us that we should even boast in our weaknesses, for in them Christ is glorified. Part of doing that is both having the courage to be awkward in front of others because we have a Savior who made us and loves us. This kind of freedom is life giving to self and to others. And this is all Sammy is really doing: giving the gift of himself.