A Letter From a Magi

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(This was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “Journey of the Magi”)  

To the King of Persia and His Most Holy Court,

 

A cold coming we had of it.

As a Magi, our authority was in the stars. See the future, understand the past, and decide for the present all made sense by the heavenly bodies over our nighttime, eastern lands. Every star connected to another star, telling a story. If one just slowed down and studied the sky, one could make sense of life contained upon the four corners of the Earth we called home.

Then one night, everything went wrong.

A new star, brighter then all of the others appeared. It hovered above in the west. An intruder, it upset our heavenly balance and threw chaos into the schools, diagrams, and prophesies of our entire country. How does a star just suddenly come into being?

I visited all of our wizards, soothsayers, holy books, priestesses, poets, and sages. Nothing. They were experts of a thousand religions and none of them could explain how a star could just arrive.

Except, almost by mistake, we ran into an ancient set of prophesies given to us by the Jewish people. Centuries ago, when Persia was greater than the might of Rome, we had taken the Jews as slaves. A Prophet who went by his Jewish name “Daniel” told that a star would announce the arrival of a great King that would rule all peoples.

The birth of a king, one who would save all people from all things.

We poured over every scroll belonging to the Jews and discovered this One born shall be called Wonderful, Messiah, and Christ the King.

We brought the texts with us as we mounted a caravan. Rumor had it that there were only three of us. Simply not true, for no royal dignitary would ever travel to the wild west without guards, servants, and musicians.

The travel cold, the locals wild and half-crazed, and we missed the posh comforts of true, Persian civilization.

Arriving in Israel, sought the local authorities and met King Herod. When he heard the news, he pretended to be okay. But there was a frightened look hidden behind his eyes: did he know this new king now numbered the days of his reign?

He sent us to the location of the new star, but asked that we would report back to him on what we learned. Something didn’t feel right about his request.

We read the Jewish texts at night. Another Jewish slave in another country, Isaiah, said that he would be hated, killed, and despised but that this King would change everything on Earth.

Would that would be true, we all would be glad to follow Him: we felt life was being stored in old wineskins that needed to be changed. A new king, greater than Rome or Persia would suit us fine.

We arrived in Bethlehem, in the king’s city. We needed gifts so we bartered everything.   We gave the boy gold, a gift befitting that He would command all of the world’s resources; frankincense, aroma for a king’s court; and myrrh, the treatment for the body when He died so He may live forever.

Seeing Him, we bowed. We couldn’t help ourselves. The Child was more just a person and not just an elevated person, but someone who could wipe clean the thousand of religions we studied before Him with just a sigh.

Overjoyed to see the star align with the Child, we remembered what another Jewish Prophet, Micah, said, “He shall be the shepherd of Israel.”   We wanted Him to be our shepherd too, we would be like sheep and follow Him around, do what He commands. With the star in the town and the Boy King, everything made sense.

We left Him when the controversy started, a controversy that exists today. We would do it all again, if we had the chance, for no other reason than to clear up a mystery: what did we witness?

Certainly, there was a birth. But did we also witness a death? His death? How so? Or our deaths? Was the arrival of this boy king the very moment our days were numbered when we were all alone, guessing at the stars above to make decisions? And would this life be better, following a greater King?

(Read Matthew 2:1-23 for the whole story)

Laughter is a Clear, Opened Window into Our Soul

parker-big-laugh            There’s a creative writing trap: adding lots of laughter to a scene that isn’t particularly interesting.

As a writer, you’re stuck. Just around the corner, a bomb about to go off or aliens will rain on the Earth or pirates shall kidnap the beautiful princess. So you need to set up the significance of this impending drama and also calm the reader before the storm. So what do you do? You have a dialogue, establishing the oncoming threat. But you can’t make the dialogue boring. So what do you do? You make lots, a lots of laughter to establish mood and friendship. If the characters think it’s funny, maybe the reader might as well.

Example:

            “So what’s a nice place doing around a girl like you?” Tim the Librarian asked Susan.

            Erupting with laughter, she replied, “Oh no! Your standards a pretty low for bars.”

            Now it was Tim’s turn and he exploded with laughter, barely able to breathe.   “But this is a nice bar. Nicer than you’re used to!”

            Susan falls to the ground, shaking with fits of giggles. “But,” she tries to get out. “You’re the alcoholic!”

            Tim yawps with chortles.

“What’s this madness?” your editor asks later. For her, she doesn’t get why this dialogue is so funny. You defend this piece that it sounded boring, so you decided that if the characters laughed hard at the jokes, then the reader might as well. “No,” the editor says. “The laughter is just there. There is no meaning to it.”

This is my criticism with the old style of situation comedies on TV: the laugh track. Out from nowhere, a group of people would laugh as if to instruct you, the home viewer, that what was happening was actually funny. This group has been recorded long ago, laughing at something else from another comedy.

If it wasn’t funny, you felt odd; if you did think it was funny, you wondered who were these recorded people who laughed with you. Whatever the case, the comedy feels lonely.

Laughter needs a home. If it is tacked on in order to be interesting or funny, it fails. Laughter is a creature of context and when it is alive, it reveals the character, story, and setting.

Laughter is a clear, opened window into our soul. Whenever I think of laughter, I think of a friend of man who was a master at laughing. A big man, whenever something struck him genuinely funny his feet stomped the ground, his shoulders shook, and his belly rattled his entire body. If ever I have to imagine what laughter sounds like, it’s my friend. His deep throated, joyful spasms of sound are so imbedded in my memory that if ever I see something on a street I’m walking along or read a funny passage in a book, I think of his laughter. Why? I know it is the spark of his delight. I catch his spirit quickening in glorious approval.

When I hear people laugh-genuinely laugh-I see their spirit, I see what makes them them.

Polite chuckles, gentle ribbings, sarcastic snickers, well-timed smiles- these do nothing in comparison to the rips, roars, cries of one who is in the throws of laughter.   A good, hearty laugh reveals:

Character: What is this person REALLY about?   Really?

Plot: What is going on? Is there a happy ending insight? What’s the story going on?

Setting: Is this a place that allows laughter? Or is this an act of defiance?

Of course, I’m talking more of life than writing when the subject of laughter. In our post-truth, stoic age of consumerism we don’t laugh much. We chuckle. We smirk. And we use emoticons. Sometimes clap, if at a show.

But the laughter that shakes us from the inside out can be as out of place as a dodo or a unicorn in James Thurber’s garden.

But when it happens, it is glorious.

Years ago, I heard a story about a painter  in an advanced class and hit a wall in his imagination. His teacher knew this and was gently coaching him through this dry spell.

One day, in the class, the painter made a mistake. Suddenly, the stroke he painted didn’t look like a mistake but an entirely new picture. He started painting furiously to discover what this new picture was going to be. Leaning in, his eyes narrowed, his jaw tightened: he resembled a man possessed.

His teacher ran behind him and growled, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes!!!”

It furthered the frenzy and he painted as if the brush had a will of its own. And it did.

The teacher started laughing wildly.   The laughter added to the fever. The laughter turned to belly cries and the teacher couldn’t stand up anymore. The painting now became a blur. The teacher, in between chortles, whispered, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”

The laughter brought out the picture within my friend. He used it to find out his story-overcoming a lack of inspiration-, his setting- art class is about finding your painting-, and his teacher’s character- he came alive when his students found there voice.

In all of this discussion, here’s a question: how hard do you laugh? And what is the source of your delight, revealed by the severity of your chortle?

A Canadian Family’s Prayer For President Trump

Donald Trump

During the announcement of the 2016 Presidential results, I was teaching a class at church and my girls were with my wife. Optimistic about a win for Hillary Clinton, she wanted our girls to be up to see the first woman President of the United States.

I’m an American, but I have lived in Canada for over ten years. My girls are Canadian. In their elementary school, they’ve heard about Trump and that he’s a mean bully.

As many of you read https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/this-is-why-evangelical-republicans-cant-see-anything-wrong-with-trump/ and https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/evangelicals-will-not-be-in-heaven/, I feel that Trump’s political platform is not Biblical. As a Christian, I could not vote for him and my wife felt the same way.

The results were coming in and it wasn’t looking good for America to have their first woman President. The girls were feeling more and more anxious. It was getting late. They went to bed, but made their mom promise that she would leave a red piece of paper on the floor if Trump won or a blue piece of paper if Hillary won.

Before they went to bed, my daughters described that Trump was a bully. My wife told them that there are better ways to act than the ways we’ve seen Trump behave.

The next morning, our oldest daughter came down the stairs early in the morning. I was up. She held the red paper and said she was scared.

I tried to reassure her and saw the youngest daughter was up. She was furiously drawing on a pad in her sister’s room.

I took a shower. When I dressed and got out, I saw that my youngest had made a comic book. The first panel was war. The second was of a wall that surrounded America, meaning that she would never see her American cousins again. The last was a man yelling at short people.

“We’re scared,” they said.

We tried to be careful about how we talked about politics with our kids, but some of it leaked out. As well, their school was full of chatter about Trump.

So we went downstairs for breakfast. I felt we should pray.

Suddenly, a prayer came out of me. It wasn’t from my brain, for I’m usually not this smart. No, it was a prayer I needed to hear and I hoped it was what they needed to hear as well.

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“God, “ we began. “You are bigger than the boogey-man. You are bigger than lightening and earthquakes. And you are bigger than Donald Trump.

“We are scared because we see in him as a bully. We pray that the things that make us scared don’t come to our home in Canada. Whenever we see people do bully things, give us the courage to say, ‘No, we don’t do that here.’ Anytime we see people pick on someone different than us, teach us to say, ‘No, we don’t do that here.’ Any time there’s fighting or wall building or yelling, may you say through us, ‘No, we don’t do that here.’

“May there be people around Mr. Trump who tells him whenever he wants to be mean to say, ‘No, President. We don’t do that here.’

“Show Mr. Trump how to work with you, Lord. Teach him how to be a really good President. May he be really successful in all of the important ways. God, keep him safe and healthy. And keep Canada safe because we really like living here. A-men.”

This is my prayer for the United States and all of my friends who live there. I am praying also that our freedom will be protected and that we are allowed to choose not to follow the example of Trump.

The Cabin in My Mind

a-frame-tiny-house-in-the-woods

It had been a long day. I had experienced a meeting where disapproval was the currency used for the people I was visiting to buy their way into things. I left that meeting with a sour, stinging taste. My faith in humanity would return- I knew- but it would take a while.

So I got home and said good-night to my girls. Visited with my wife, told her the news of the day including the last meeting defined by imported despair. She asked I wanted to be alone; I did.

So I sat on the couch, thinking. Do you know what thinking is? It’s a fancy way for time and space travel.

The 13th incarnation of Doctor Who- during his last season-faced an almost impossible situation. He had to figure out a way out of his problems, so he went to think. The show had him go to his TARDIS[1] and speak with an imaginary version of one of his former companions. Later in the episode, we learn that part of his problem was being separated from his companion and TARDIS and so this travel inside of his craft was all part of his imagination.

peter-capaldi-doctor-who-tardis-01

In short, he crawled into a space inside of his imagination to sound out issues and problems.

When I saw this episode, my spirit yawped, “Finally, someone understands what it’s like to be an introvert!”

That night, I had to travel through time and space. I had to get into my mind an imagined space, to think things out.  I had to travel through space and time.

My space is very specific.

It’s an A-frame cabin in the woods. No phones, no TV sets, and enough energy to run it’s lights and stove. The décor is a 1980’s faded neon, with pillows and chairs all borrowed from other homes and used up. It goes in the furniture cemetery, a place where discarded furniture could be used for vacationers. Every piece of furniture smells of old books and tea, including the black pot-belly stove reigning the room as it presides from the center.

The upstairs in a loft with a bed, surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of books cradled by oak shelving. Guardians of thought and keepers of the peace, these books represent the library of my thoughts. The things I’ve either read or considered, they all get a paperback volume. Yes, paperback. If ever I’m to have a thought, it’ll be in a paperback cover that hugs a ream of yellowed paper.

So I will go to the A-frame cabin in my brain to think, pray, reason, praise, tell stories, relive other stories, and sort through the day.

Most Christian ministers have a prayer closet: a metaphor for when they pray. I used to think this way, that prayer and thinking and dreaming were separated boxes. I prayed-with the same precision as one does with DOS based command entries for computer programming. Then I would think. And, if I had the luxury, spend a day-dreaming.

I’m now more economic with my time. It now happens all under one roof: the cabin in my mind.

It’s a nice place. I’d say it’s open for visitors, but that’s hard to do when you’re talking about a place that doesn’t really exist. But I can spend my time here and then leave, encountering my new, real world. I believe I smell like old books and pine needles, when I emerge from my times of thinking.   It’s the cabin’s work, helping me be a better person as I daily step into God’s story.

[1] The TARDIS is his space/time machine. Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.

THE BIBLE: THE BOOK THAT SET FIRE TO THE WOODS

ban-books 

Make no little plans; they have no magic

to stir men’s blood.

            — Daniel Hudson Burnham

 

Once upon a time, a boy disobeyed his parents’ warning and wandered into the surrounding woods of their cozy, idyllic village. The woods, they told him, were wild and savage and filled with magic. Deep in the woods, the boy found a man named Tanndor who threatened to eat him. The boy fled, but returned the next night, asking Tanndor if he knew any magic. Only a magic story, the wild man said.

He told the tale of a sickness that threatened to kill an entire kingdom, but their king took the sickness upon himself and died as a sacrifice for the kingdom. Three days later, the king returned from death and led the kingdom to a new land, where the taint of illness would not follow.

As Tanndor told the tale, trees split apart, the ground ripped open, animals screeched, and the moon melted. The boy, upon hearing the story, left the old man and returned to the safety of his village. The next morning, the boy told all of his friends the tale and during each of the telling, horrible disasters ensued. Whole fireplaces burst apart, homes were split open and streets ripped to shreds.

The adults soon learned of the spreading of Tanndor’s tale, but they couldn’t stop it. Every time they found a youngster telling the story, they would stop him or her only to hear three more tell the story. Soon, the whole village had been destroyed.

Devastated, the adults found Tanndor and accused him of ruining the town. “I might have,” he said. “But there’s another Kingdom we can go to, the one without the taint of illness.” Where?” they asked. Tandoor replied, “Let’s find the king in the story. What, you thought it was just a story?”

When asked about the Bible, most Christians will affirm it’s an important book. Some will use such words like “inerrant” or “authoritative”. A small minority of these Christians will quote the motto, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!”   And an even smaller group within this group, have their own scientists and schools to conform all scholarship to the literal, present day reading of the Bible. For a while, Evangelicals have claimed they were a “Bible-believing” group and have attached “biblical” to every discipline in order to affirm its authority.

But what if some of the problems found in the present day church’s witness are due to Christians not taking the Bible seriously enough? This seems to be absurd since the pride of the fundamentalists and those who hold to inerrancy is the cry, “How much more seriously can we take the Scripture?” It shall be argued that although the present day church has done quite a bit to defend and present the Scripture, its view of participating with God on a local level is meager and weak. Instead, a more aggressive belief of the Scripture must be taken. The virtue needed, when coming to our understanding of the Scripture in our neighborhood, is incarnating God’s word. In other words, we must become the Bible we preach.

Like everything, submitting to Scripture can be found in levels. Cutting through an onion reveals the layers within layers – deep into the heart, the foundation of the vegetable. So too, when we journey deeper and deeper into God’s word, we see the story that can and has changed the world before our very eyes. As we believers mature, we travel through four basic levels of yielding to Scripture: agreeing, believing, obeying, and becoming.

Agree

This is the first and most superficial level of yielding to the Scripture, yet it’s the most common place in Protestantism. Ever since the Protestant Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment, the pulpit has been the chief source of leadership within the local congregation.       The Bible, from the pulpit, is not only read, but exposited and reasoned and explained and argued for, and encouraged to be followed. In essence, the pulpit-centered church spends most of its time, money, and resources arguing people into agreeing with the Bible. All of architecture in the church is centered around the pulpit, most of pastoral training is geared to reasoning with Scripture, and small group ministries, in this model, are centered around either understanding what the Bible said on Sunday or what other Bible passages say about other, more tailor-made topics.

And why is agreeing with the Bible so important? It’s right. It’s true. It’s a fact!

It’s right…but according to whom? It’s a fact, but according to what standard? It’s true, but who are the ones bestowing truth upon the Scripture? And do they see themselves in competition with all of the other truth-sayers surrounding us in our postmodern, globalized stream of information?

Back to David E. Fitch. He writes of a story of a discussion where he claimed inerrancy was too liberal.

Inerrancy begs the question “inerrant according to who?” and too often the “who” consists of scholars, scientists, and archeologists. They are the ones we allow to determine whether or not there are errors or not in the Bible when we consent to this strategy. They are the ones we are reacting to when we defend the Bible using “inerrancy”…This strategy therefore ends up putting us in the position of forever looking over our shoulders to see if science has another problem with the Bible. So I believe the Bible is without error, but I need more than that![1]

 

This is inerrancy as put into the propositional camp of “just agree.” But what if there’s more to it than just the Bible is right, factual, and true?

This flies in the face of most Evangelicals who have spent millions of dollars creating a new science to coalesce with the literal reading of Genesis, to somehow talk the science community into agreeing with the Bible. The flaw of this approach is we are now using someone else’s construct of truth (science’s) to affirm God’s Word. Why not, then, just worship that construct and not God?

Or archeology? Much of my time in the pulpit has been spent with outside resources to talk people into believing the miracles of the Bible…because archeologists told them the stories were true! Or psychology? Or history? Or any other scholarship the Bible must bow down to and kneel in order to get everyone to agree with it? The greatest flaw in under-selling the power of Scripture by getting people to “just agree” with the Bible is that it is out-of-place in the age of postmodernity and it dethrones God as the Alpha-Omega of Scripture.

In our present age, do people still hold to practices that have been proved to be unhealthy, unreasonable, or against many truth constructs? In Canada, we post pictures of a damaged lung from a long-term smoker on the box of cigarettes. According to the “just agree” camp, this information should stop all forms of smoking. Does it? Obesity is a leading cause of child diabetes. The cure is a proper diet and lots of exercise. This has been proven, taught, and modeled in our schools and by our teachers. Based upon the idea of “just agree,” there shouldn’t be any obese children in our town because education and reason has won the battle. And yet…obesity is on the increase, not the decrease.

Let’s say a pastor is horrified when his teenage daughter thought it was okay that her best friend was gay. “But didn’t you hear my sermon on homosexuality,” he asked. “I gave some really good reasons why it’s wrong.” His daughter shrugged and agreed that his reasons were very good. “But my friend is still gay,” was all she said. For her, his point was valid but it was one of many points. She let her father win the argument by agreeing with him, but he lost the ability to influence her. Agreeing with God is not equal to following Him.

Believe

The weakness of presenting the Bible as just a reasonable document of historically true, scientifically viable, and psychologically healthy book of advice is that it denies its origin: it was God-breathed and God-spoken. What is the most intimate proximity you can experience with another person? It’s when you feel one’s breadth on your own skin. I feel my wife’s breadth on me, I feel a whole host of positive sensations; I sense the bitter, soured breadth of a stranger on an elevator, I’m unsettled for the entire ride.

God’s Word is God-breathed. “All Scripture is inspired by God,” 2 Timothy 3:16a explains. Inspiration is a weak word in today’s vernacular, for it can be used to explain the effect of being passed by a Kenyon runner during a marathon to working alongside a righteous grandmother at a soup kitchen. Inspiration, in the Hebrew context, is found to be akin to life. God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7), and to demonstrate life (John 20:22). To say the Bible is God-breathed is to assign an out-of-the-science-box quality to the literature; it was intimately formed and shaped by God, God gave the Bible life, and now it is alive in our midst.

The Bible is a God-given, magic book. Calling it magic does not mean it is a book of spells, that it is intrinsically holy, or that the pages are full of pixie dust. No, it is not by itself special. However, it does something no other book can do with its success: it reveals the Mission of God. This takes belief that is not afforded by modernity. Modernity is ruled by progress, science, and empiricism. It cannot make sense of such a wild claim. Luckily for today’s church, we’re no longer modernists and the setting is now postmodern. Postmodernity has plenty of room for the Jedi, wizards, magic, miracles, and the Bible being the Living Word of God.

But belief is not enough. An elderly theologian once quipped to a class full of young pastors, “We don’t need more believers in our world to make a change for Christ.” The room gasped, as the old man intended. He then finished his thoughts. “Any fool can believe. What we need for our world to experience the incoming Kingdom of God. We need more followers of God.” James 2:19-20 states, “You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe-and they shudder. Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless?” The problem is that belief can be commodified.

You can believe from the back row of a dimly lit mega-church, never engaging in ministry or God’s mission. Belief can make you an idle, lonely, and bored consumer. The lie of consumer Christianity is that all you need to do is believe and keep believing in the Bible…just enough to buy Christian products, attend Christian institutions, and bear the image of Christian name brands. Meanwhile, the Mission of God marches on while Christian consumers are left in its dust. Believing in the Bible is not equal to following Him. It falls short, for our human hearts crave more than just belief.

Obey

“All Scripture…is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,” 2 Timothy 3:16b-17 says. This is why God gave us the Bible, right? For us to change our behavior, to accept a new way of living? Isn’t God interested in our daily decisions, our habits, and the rules we are to follow? If this was the case, then why did God give us a book of stories, poems, letters, and other such documents as if all humanity needed was a rulebook to be followed, a “one-size-fits-all” spirituality by ancient laws that could always be applied in every time, every culture, and ever neighborhood?

It’s interesting: God committed to a work in a specific community in order to leave behind a story for any future communities to learn about how God does His Mission. You can’t capture the sense of God or what He can do with people by a rulebook alone. No, the Word of God is always found in community, in experience, in story, and in cooperation.

God’s revelation is found in story: character, setting, and plot. How does the setting shape the follower? How does God speak to the faithful community or neighborhood that calls them to His mission? Eugene Peterson, in his memoir The Pastor, seeks to answer how his setting shaped him just as the Bible had shaped the setting for Israel:

I have often occasion while walking these hills or kayaking this lake to reflect on how important place is in living the Christian faith. As I let the biblical revelation form my imagination, geography….became as important in orientating me in ‘the land of the living’ as theology and the Bible did….Soil and stone, latitude and longitude, lakes and mountains, towns and cities keep a life of faith grounded, rooted, in place. But wherever I went, I always ended up here. This was the geography of my imagination.[2]

 

Obedience can miss context, which is the very thing God used in Israel’s transformation and is using in our present day, the context of the immediate neighborhood. Therefore, we need more than a rulebook; we need a story that reveals a mission.   And by the revealed mission of God, we enter into it and become transformed by its purposes: inside-out. This is what God desires most. Obedience of the Bible is pretty close in following God, but He wants more than just our actions and behaviors. He wants our whole being to become.

Become

God does not want us just to agree, believe, or obey the Bible; He wants us to become the Bible to our neighborhoods, as we cooperate with His mission in our immediate, localized setting. Through yielding our hearts, minds, strength, and our relationships to Him, we let the Scripture transform us into the church needed as partners in His plans. This requires us to experience Scripture, not simply read or follow it. The process calls us to allow God’s words to take over our own. And it takes a life-long pursuit of God in our transition from complacency to holiness. Eugene Peterson describes, in regard to writing, the level of commitment required to speak of God:

Pastor John of Patmos showed me the way. He wrote what he saw. His Revelation is the result. It is a thorough immersion in and the last word in what is often named Spiritual Theology, lived theology, comprising the entire scriptures and the witness of the communion of the saints.[3]

 

Our words, The Word, and all of the words in between serve as bridges either to the holy or the profane, the common or the supernatural. The sifter of our language of these words must always be The Living Word, the one whom became flesh for us and is dwelling amongst us. In other words, the incarnate, living word of God must be incarnate in the church if ever we are to be a witness to our post-everything setting.

Our neighborhoods do not need more sermons about the Father’s love to the Prodigal Son: it needs more loving fathers to our own prodigal sons. The people near us are not in need another expression of “go and sin no more;” they need to be forgiven just as Jesus forgave the adulteress. And our communities do not need to hear more about the Bible, but they need to step inside its pages to become its embodiment within a local congregation. Alan Roxborough Jr. writes, in his book Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood:

“Scripture can only really be engaged as its performed within a community of God’s people…I’m going to argue that one of the most critical ways of performing Scripture and entering the world of God’s story today is by discovering how to perform together the world of Luke unfolds to the Gentile Christians be is addressing….Luke’s stories invited these second-generation Christians into an understanding of what had taken place that would help them confidently perform the gospel in their own context.[4]

 

This is a radical departure from the approach of most churches which tend to be centered around the pulpit, for the emphasis is no longer solely on the service but also the potluck afterwards: how are we embodying, becoming, transforming into Scripture.

The church becoming the Living Word of God to their neighborhood: this is how the future generations shall experience Christ. The virtue needed for this is incarnation. Are we, as the church, willing to become the Bible to our neighborhoods? Our world may ask us to stop preaching about the Good Samaritan, but they may, on the other hand, be waiting for us to love and care for the actual injured travelers right in front of our building’s front door. In other words, we will never be stopped by the world to become the Good Samaritans to our immediate world. If we desire for the neighborhood to experience the Gospel, it must be found in those incarnating God’s words.

[1] Fitch, David & Holsclaw, David. Prodigal Chistianity. (San Francisco: Josey Bass Publication, 2013), 69-70.

[2] Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, 11.

[3] Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, 243.

[4] Roxborough, Alan J. Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 133.

Great Books List That are About Great Books

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Coming up with a list of great books is, well, great if you subscribe to that particular genre. If I come up with a list of “Top Ten Westerns” and you can’t stand riding in the old west, then it kind of leads you out.

And yet, I love these kinds of lists. Book recommendations are such a healthy, vibrant part of any healthy community. A community that shares books is one that is full of life, thought, and love.

So what to do? Simple. I shall give you a list of novels that are about books. The one common denominator in all novel genre lists is they are about books and those who read tend to love books. So here is a list of great novels about the reading of many, many books:

 

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Luiz Zafon.

This is a beautiful novel written by Spanish author Carlos Luiz Zafon. In the very beginning, the reader is introduced to the “Cemetery of Books”, an extremely powerful image that not only follows through this book, but it’s prequel and sequel. Loss, love, secrets, meaning, and community all come through as the heroes/heroines solve a family mystery by reading.   The other books in this series are good, but they don’t capture the magic of this first entry. Even though it has a prequel, read this one first.

 

  • The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco.

I would have sounded smarter and recommended “Focault’s Pendalum”, but I didn’t get half of the references or in-jokes. This novel is his best exploration of memory, death, and integration of ideas. It would make a lousy movie: some old man sitting and reading a bunch of books. However, Eco moves the plot well and holds the reader’s attention at page one.

 

  • Possession by A.S. Byatt.

This one is an allegory for the love of reading, along with a clever love story. Two researchers from the present day try to figure out the fate of lovers from a long ago.

 

  • The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte.

Perez-Reverte is able to write almost anything. He can write adventure, romance, loss, and-in this case-a book detective novel. At times, this novel headed in the direction of goofy and that direction seemed on purpose for Perez-Reverte. Still it’s a good yarn and explores so many references (ones that I get this time), that its liking hopping from book to book.

 

  • If On a Winter’s Night a Stranger by Italo Calvino.

What if the moment you opened a book, you fell into a mystery novel and you were the main character? This is not “The Never-Ending Story” but rather a clever trick of 2nd person narrative that is consistent through the whole novel. In this book, you pursue a rare book to solve a murder mystery and fall in love. Calvino takes breaks, every once in a while, to discuss the nature of story and fiction.