230: When Donkeys Talk by Tyler Blanski

by Gerard


230: Blanski, Tyler. When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 195 pp. ISBN 0-3103-3498-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 200: Religion
  • 230: Christianity and Christian theology

I don’t really know where to begin talking about this one. There’s no broad lede I can start from to introduce a writer who’s prepared to talk about everything in the cosmos as it relates to the Christian God. Poet and theologian Tyler Blanski has a fundamentally different way of approaching his faith and his religion. When Donkeys Talk chronicles his journey through the field of theology as he comes to understand it. Along the way, we meet a few friends that help to clarify matters and few who muddy the waters.

It all starts with the Book of Numbers. In it, Balaam is riding on a donkey with the princes of Moab in defiance of a direct command from God. He twice sends angels (that only the donkey can see) to stop him and twice the donkey stops in its tracks. This irks Balaam and he beats the donkey in order to get it to move forward. When this happens a third time and Balaam strikes the donkey, God grants speech to the ass, who then berates Balaam for his belligerence. The angel now appears to both Balaam and the donkey, and Balaam begs for forgiveness.

These stories are treated with extreme skepticism by atheists and gentle laughter from Christians. They are parables, stories from which to glean life lessons. But Blanski argues differently. Blanski posits that each little miraculous occurrence in the Bible happened and that God’s ability to perform miracles is the quintessence of Christian faith. From this understanding of how God operates, he weaves an intricate tapestry of theology. He argues that when we allow for the miraculous, then the sacraments gain meaning, the Kingdom of the Lord is more easily accessible.

He frames the journey as if he were the one riding the donkey through his life, first becoming irate at occurrences that move off his intended path, but then coming to the understanding that they are all part of the plan. He incorporates elements of early Christian rituals and thought with modern science and medieval thinkers. He bounces his ideas off his many neighbors: a church deacon, a burly non-believer, a young Christian, and a red-headed ex-Jewish agnostic. One of his main arguments is that modern science and industrial thought have convinced humanity that it can understand everything (or least be composed of individuals the sum total of whose knowledge would cover everything). Everything can be explained with the laws of science. He thinks that when that happens, we incorrectly equate ourselves with God.

This book was a fun and quick read. Having published a few books before, Blanski has a good sense of timing, flow, and anecdotal humor. Granted, I don’t think I could ever be his friend; the conversations he documents in the book seem a bit contrived to me. The only irritating part is his constant belittling of scientists, calling them “residents of Atomland.” These cutesy, patronizing damnations get in the way of his real message. If you want to have a little fun with one of the faithful flock, however, then this one may be right for you.