Praying at Burger King, Richard J. Mouw. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.
Summary: Short essays on the life of faith in the world, originally appearing on beliefnet.com, and several other publications.
Richard Mouw is the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary and one of the more thoughtful and irenic commentators in evangelicalism today. This little book, with its unusual title and book cover is a great way to get acquainted with Mouw. He has collected a number of short (most are three pages or so) essays from contributions to Christianity Today, Perspectives, and posts on his blog and on beliefnet.com.
The essays are grouped under three categories: living, believing, and church and world. They are written in a conversational style yet cast a fresh light on some familiar aspect of Christian faith. The title essay has to do with the practice of prayers before meals, and Mouw’s recognition that Burger King is one of those places where God is indeed present and so he will keep acknowledging that. The next essay gives equal time to competitor McDonald’s and an insight of how important it is to talk with youth that translates into caring for the indifferent youth who is serving his burger the next time he is at the airport McDonald’s. Subsequent essays in this first section include reflections on Halloween, Lent, Machiavelli, integrity, greed and a number of other everyday matters from housekeeping to the “ordinary” work of a researcher. He speaks simply about how we often subconsciously bracket off the “stuff” of scholarly work from the “spiritual” life when in fact “every square inch” (as Kuyper would put it) belongs to the Lord.
In the second section, three essays caught my attention. In “Entrenched” he observes how this label is often applied to conservatives when in fact everyone is interested in “conserving something” and may be liable to trench digging. He proposes that we might consider a better, more biblical metaphor of “the way” in which we’ve chosen to walk through life, something we are all doing, whether or not we are all walking in the same way. In “He Did Weep,” he writes about Jesus not simply at Lazarus tomb, but in the manger at Christmas. True incarnation involved a crying baby, experiencing the discomforts of all human babies, contrary to “Away in a Manger.” His sensitive response to a student’s troubled questions in “What about Hell?” and the distinction he made between those who think they are too good to be condemned by God, and those who consider God too good to punish are responses I will remember for similar conversations.
In the third section, his essay on “Eating Alone,” inspired by Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone notes the great dangers that come to us in our increasing isolation from social organizations, the mediating institutions, that once were a significant part of the fabric of belonging. I’m surprised how many writers are sounding this theme, which may truly be one of the great perils of our age. He also includes some beautiful essays about his encounters with Catholicism and some thoughts about “Patriotism” that are balanced and measured and worthy of consideration wherever you are on the political spectrum.
Mouw’s irenic voice is one we need in our time of ambivalent triumphalism on one side and anguished resistance on another. He explores the everyday acts of faithful Christian presence in the real world we inhabit. These essays feel to me to be “dispatches from another place” than where we usually live that call us to both our true selves, and the true north of our faith.