I Hadn’t Thought of it This Way…

becoming curiousI’ve just begun reading Casey Tygrett’s new book titled, Becoming Curiouswhich proposes that the asking of questions, of being curious, is actually a practice that may be spiritually transforming (and one we often lose as adults as we think maturity equates with having answers and certainty).

That’s not actually the point of this post. Rather I want to focus on an observation he makes about the word “repent.” We most often hear it as an imperative, but he asks the question of whether it might be understood differently, similar to an ad he saw for a certain airline saying, “Fly _____”. The ad is not a command, but an invitation in the imperative form, kind of like what I am doing when I answer the door at my home, see a close friend standing on the doorstep, and I say “Come in!” It’s not a command but an invitation of welcome.

We usually think of the word “repent” being spoken in angry tones by an adult (like a grim father figure) who is really put out with how awful we are and is warning us to clean up our act or face the consequences (“turn or burn”?). Most of us usually respond pretty negatively to this kind of stuff. Perhaps it is a “sez who” response. Or maybe it is disbelief that people could be so obsessed with “sin.” Maybe we just put our hands over our ears.

What if this were framed, and heard as an invitation? What if we heard it as the chance for life to begin again, anew? What if we heard it as a second chance being offered, saying that we can change our minds, change our ways, and this will be honored and received with gladness? What if we heard this as the words of the father to his prodigal son, saying “come home”?

Are there any of us who has not desperately needed this invitation? We know we have screwed up, made bad choices for which we are utterly responsible, done things that have deeply hurt another. We know in our deepest selves that our “transgressions” were not noble acts of rebellion, but rather a self-absorbed descent into the darkness. In our most honest moments we wonder and despair whether there is any way to escape the cloud of shame and the pangs of guilt. We cover it well, put a brave face on our self-justifications, and maybe even start believing the lies we tell ourselves.

What if we heard in the invitation of repentance a chance at forgiveness, a chance at a new beginning? This only stands to reason, when you think about it. Wouldn’t the invitation to repent be the most ultimate act of cruelty were it followed by condemnation? That, I think is why the invitation to repent is often followed by the words “and believe the good news.” What if there were One who so radically loved us that he paid what we could not possibly pay or repay? What if there were one who could empower us to live differently, to become the self we know we ought to be, even as we are delivered from self’s tyranny?

What if repentance were an invitation into this kind of life? Would you say yes? Will I?

Review: The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom

book of isaiah and God's kingdom

The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom (New Studies in Biblical Theology), Andrew T. Abernethy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: A thematic approach to understanding Isaiah organized around the idea of ‘kingdom’ exploring the nature of the king, the agents of the king, and the realm and people of the king as elaborated throughout the book.

If you have ever attempted to study, teach, or preach the book of Isaiah, you understand what a challenge it is to wrap your mind around the 66 chapters of this book. Andrew T. Abernethy thinks that a thematic approach to the book can help with our overall understanding. The theme he develops throughout Isaiah is that of God’s kingdom.

For those looking for a discussion of the authorship of Isaiah (single or multiple), this is not your book. What Abernethy does is take a synchronic approach which looks at the finished product of the book as a whole, while still noting the distinctive character of chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66. Likewise, while organizing his biblical theology of Isaiah around kingdom, he avoids flattening out the contours of the book. He takes a canonical approach to Isaiah without reading the book through an exclusively Christological lens.

He begins with Isaiah 1-39, observing God as both present and future king, reigning in holiness, seen in all his future beauty as judging and ruling on Zion, and in the present delivering from Sennacherib. Isaiah 40-55, speaking to exiles proclaims the good news of God as the only saving king. Isaiah 56-66 then presents God as the warrior king, showing compassion on faithful outsiders, and ruling over the nations as cosmic king.

Chapter 4 particular reflects Abernethy’s willingness to understand Isaiah on its own terms as he considers the “agents” of the kingdom. Rather than simply reduce them to a single kingly or messianic figure (Jesus!), he takes the text on its own terms and discusses three distinct agents, the Davidic ruler, the servant of the Lord, and the Spirit empowered anointed messenger. While a canonical approach sees the fulfillment of all of these in Christ, by allowing for the distinctive character of these three agents not to be merged into one in Isaiah, one sees all the more the splendor and greatness of Christ, who encompasses all three agents in his person.

Chapter 5 then considers the kingdom realm, noting both the focal point of Zion, to which all the nations come and yet the international, indeed cosmic extent of this realm. He then concludes the book by raising the idea that the theme of the kingdom and its many faceted elaboration is meant to encourage the readers of Isaiah, then and now to a richer and fuller imagination of what this kingdom rule is like. For Christians we see its fulfillment, now and yet to come, in Christ, the church as God’s living temple, looking forward to the Zion of the New Jerusalem. Following this conclusion, Abernethy provides two different teaching outlines for how one might teach Isaiah along the lines this book has developed.

Abernethy’s book makes a good complement to John Goldingay’s The Theology of the Book of Isaiah (reviewed here). Both authors take a synchronic approach to Isaiah, but Goldingay only considers the book from the horizon of Isaiah’s first readers, and not through a canonical lens. They reach different conclusions about the servant in Isaiah, but also recognize many of the same themes in the book–particularly the holy King of Israel amid the nations, and the ways this king will come as warrior, and judge, and savior. What Abernethy’s book most helpfully models is the process of both reading Isaiah in its own setting, and as part of the biblical canon, without slighting either of these. This makes the book a wonderful resource for the pastor-theologian, or anyone else who would make the attempt to scale the challenging and wonderful mountain that is the book of Isaiah. Abernethy helps us see that it is indeed Zion that we are ascending, to encounter the great King.

 

Review: The Tech-Wise Family

tech wise family

The Tech-Wise FamilyAndy Crouch. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: A book for taking steps to put technology in its proper place, allowing persons to grow in wisdom and courage instead of giving in to an “easy everywhere” life.

I think anyone who uses our modern technology–computers, tablets, gaming systems, and especially smartphones, realizes how powerfully addicting these devices can be and the various ways they destroy our engagement with the flesh and blood material world, and especially the other real people in our lives.

Crouch organizes the book around some fundamental premises worked out in ten commitments that he and his family have sought to live by. The premises are that families exist to form the character of their members–to form them in wisdom and courage through their relationships and shared lives with each other, and that this is hard yet rewarding work. The other is that technology is “easy everywhere” luring us into easy preoccupation rather than extended conversations, isolation rather than shared experience, distraction rather than devotion, virtual sex rather than the much more challenging real thing, and listening to music and viewing art, rather than making it. Most of all, it lures us away from real into virtual presence with each other.

The book is interspersed with statistics and diagrams that underscore the impact of technology in our lives. One that caught my attention was on the pervasiveness of digital pornography:

“The rise of digital pornography and its effects are hard to overstate. More than half of teens seek out pornography (only 46% say they ‘never seek it out’) and the numbers are much higher for young adults ages 18 to 24 (less than one quarter of whom never seek it out). Even when they aren’t actively seeking it out, teens and young adults regularly come across it (only 21% of teens and 9% of young adults say they never come across porn). While most teens say they seek out porn for personal arousal (67%), substantial minorities regularly view porn out of boredom (40%) and curiousity (42%). “

Yet this is not a book driven by fear of such things but rather a commitment to putting technology in its proper place, helpful tools rather than addictive devices that destroy our capacities for human engagement. What Crouch proposes and that his family seeks to practice is a life that prioritizes people and experience that are not mediated by devices and taking measures such as media sabbaths and vacations and transparency with each other to ensure that this happens. What they wanted for their children is the discovery of the rich experiences of books, long conversations, explorations of nature, singing and making music together, and real presence in life and death with each other.

Crouch gets real and admits his own failures in the commitments they’ve made, but also the victories and what this has meant for his family and in his own life. I was a late adopter of smartphone use, but a quick convert to its addictive properties. Commitments to keep phones away from the table, to wake before my phone does, to put it away before I retire and to mute it during important conversations are beginnings of keeping this form of technology in its place. If you are becoming aware of the intrusion of technology into relationships and life experiences that matter more, this book may be helpful for its practical counsel, and a vision of life centered around growing in wisdom and courage rather than in our access to “easy everywhere.”

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Coolidge

Coolidge

Coolidge, Amity Shlaes. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

Summary: An account of Coolidge as a man of quiet conviction who presided over a great American transformation.

Calvin Coolidge was always one of those presidents who was a name on the list of presidents who otherwise seemed unmemorable. Especially in a time of a president who dominates the news coverage, Coolidge might come as a pleasant breath of fresh air–someone who cared more for deeds than words, and sometimes influenced more by what he did not do. Perhaps he is not better known simply because he was a president between the wars, during the great economic expansion known as “the roaring Twenties.”

Amity Shlaes gives us a presidential biography of Coolidge that certainly raised him in my estimation while reminding me of the limitations and challenges every president faces. Shlaes begins with describing the Coolidge family tree–those that left Vermont for better land, and those who stayed to eke out a life on its rocky soil, a lineage tracing back to the early colonists, peopled by both farmers and politicians. We trace his education at Black River and St Johnsbury Academies and then on to Amherst, where this quiet young man excels in debate.  He establishes a law practice, winning clients attracted to his quiet efficiency that cost them less, kept them out of court, earning him less but building a clientele.

He married Grace, who had spied him through a window while shaving. She was a teacher at the Clark School of the Deaf, which Coolidge in his later years raised $2 million to endow, and created a cause to which Grace gave himself after his death. Shlaes traces his political career from city and state legislator positions to his governorship of Massachusetts during which he takes a strong stand against the Boston Police strike that brings him to national attention, and eventually to nomination as Vice President on the Harding ticket, with the indignities of that office, disrespected by Cabot Lodge from his own state.

Then Harding dies, and Coolidge finds himself in the White House. The bulk of the book traces that presidency. He begins with a restoration of integrity after the crony politics of Harding. He gathers people like Andrew Mellon and Charles Evans Hughes around him. He consistently balances budgets, cuts taxes and expenditures, and increases revenues and surpluses. He wins election in his own right, probably saying less than any other presidential candidate. Often, he presided through the veto and even pioneered the pocket veto, which was upheld in court. He also presided over an incredible economic boom, highway construction, the Lindbergh flight. He resists veterans bonuses which he believed the states should pay. When floods ravage Vermont, he resists flood control legislation because of how it would bloat federal budgets, which he was able to hold to a mere $3 billion per year.

Shlaes makes us aware of how tough the presidency is on the occupants of the office. It broke the health of Wilson, Harding died, and Coolidge also was broken in health by the office, dying within four years. He suffered the loss of a son, Calvin, during his tenure. His marriage was strained. His last years provided a measure of restoration, even though his relationship with Hoover was always tense.

Coolidge, like some others, served to restore the dignity of the office when his predecessor had jeopardized the stature of the office. That is a particular kind of greatness, not the greatness of a war president, but nevertheless important to the republic. Shlaes helps us appreciate the important role men like Coolidge have played in our history.

What I Learned From My Father

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My father, on a beautiful autumn day in 2011. (c) Robert C. Trube

I’m writing this on the evening of Father’s Day and I’ve been remembering my own father, who passed nearly five years ago. Remembering him is cause for profound gratitude for the kind of man he was, and the ways he gave himself to shape the man I would be. Whether I’ve lived up to that or not, I’ll leave to others to judge. All I can say is that while he was never famous, he is truly great in my eyes, a member of “the greatest generation” not only by association but by character. These are some of the things he taught me:

  • Any work is worth doing well, if for no other reason than you know whether or not you’ve done your best.
  • He taught me to assume responsibility to earn my own spending money. When I was ten he fronted me the money for a lawn mower to cut lawns. He helped me sign up for a paper route, and got up early on winter Sunday mornings to help stuff and deliver the Sunday papers.
  • He treated people with dignity, no matter who they were. I saw him treat hourly employees and company presidents and people of all races the same way.
  • I grew up in the Vietnam era. Dad taught me that military service could be honorable and something to be proud of. The military salute he was given at his burial was a fitting closure of his life.
  • Perhaps because he never finished college, he valued education and encouraged all of us to excellence. He took our grade cards seriously and responded to teachers’ comments and talked to us about them.
  • He communicated how proud he was of whatever achievements I made in school. Years later, he gave me a file he had collected of these various recognitions. He tracked my career and he gave me the wonderful gift of never having to wonder about his approval of my work, or wife, or anything else.
  • He taught me what love and faithfulness means in marriage. I watched him holding my mother’s hand as she passed, loving her to her last earthly moment before death parted them after nearly 69 years of marriage. Perhaps it is no coincidence that between us, my siblings and I have celebrated 123 wedding anniversaries of our own. Mom and dad taught us well.
  • Because of dad, I never struggled with the idea of God as Father. When I was little, we took walks in the park together and I loved the time where he taught me about different trees, birds, and plants and where I could ask him anything. It is what I think of when I think of “walking with God” or what we call prayer.
  • I work among academics and it is easy to intellectualize and “complexify” almost anything, including matters of faith. Dad often brought me back to earth with what I call his “watchword” which summarized for him what it meant to live as a Christian:

Read and pray;

Trust and obey;

Live God’s way.

My son and I had an interesting conversation today. I happened to use the word “adult” as a verb in a sentence, as some in his generation do. He rebuked me for that. He said adult isn’t something you act like, it is something you are. I think that would have made my dad proud (actually it made me quite glad that he felt this way). Whether it was military service, separation from family, scrambling to make ends meet, dealing with health emergencies, and more, my father just kept showing up, just kept being responsible. In a word, he was an adult. And so much more. He was a father.

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Social” Media

media-998990_1920A friend of mine recently sent an email around with this humorous look at Facebook:

Your morning smile!

For those of my generation who do not, and cannot, comprehend why Facebook exists: I am trying to make friends outside of Facebook while applying the same principles. 

Therefore, every day I walk down the street and tell passersby what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later and with whom. 

I give them pictures of my family, my dog, and of me gardening, taking things apart in the garage, watering the lawn, standing in front of landmarks, driving around town, having lunch, and doing what anybody and everybody does every day. 

I also listen to their conversations, give them the “thumbs up” and tell them I like them. 

And it works just like Facebook. 

I already have four people following me: two police officers, a private investigator and a psychiatrist.

–Source unknown

I do suspect that our parents and grandparents probably would have thought our involvement with sharing our statuses, posting our photos, and “liking” and sharing cute little emoticons with others a bit bizarre.

In the past probably the closest we got to social media was listening in on a party line. We didn’t use media to be social unless it was to subject our friends to utter boredom by showing the 400 slides from our last vacation. Often a slide would get stuck, turning the sleep-inducing travel narrative into a blue streak of cuss words. That woke us up!

Social was something we did most of the time face to face rather than through a phone or computer.

Summer evenings were a great time to be social–everyone sat out on their front porches and shared their “statuses” in the form of regular conversation with the neighbors walking by on a trip to the local DQ–the remodeling project in the house, the vacation plans, who was getting married, who was “expecting, or just how hot it was.

Social happened as we sat on the hoods of cars at Handels. It happened when we were hanging around at the pop machine at the local service station. It happened at the neighborhood bar as people talked sports, work, and sometimes about how hard things were in their lives.

Social happened at company and church picnics and family reunions. It happened on the midways of Idora Park and the Canfield Fair. Social happened as neighbors talked over the back fence while working in their gardens. It happened in the driveway as you changed the oil on your car or washed it up on Saturdays.

Social happened at the coffee shop, the mom and pop restaurant with the other “regulars”. It happened at the family grocery, where you knew the butcher, the produce guy, and the cashier. Often, they were all related.

We didn’t post pictures from our local sporting events. We went, we cheered for our team, we enjoyed sitting in the stands during a summer evening game. Better yet, we were on one of the teams, whether a local softball league, or an intramural basketball team or a pickup game of tag football.

We didn’t keep track of the number of “friends” we had. We just had friends. Instead of nearly running into each other staring at the rectangles we carry in our pockets, we waved, smiled, stopped and talked with people we met along the way.  We often had time for unhurried conversations, uninterrupted by buzzes and beeps and “dings.”

It’s funny though. At one time we all would have thought all this social media stuff a bit nutty. And here I am writing all this on a blog. And here you are reading it on a computer, on your phone, perhaps from seeing it on a Youngstown Facebook group. How did that happen?

“Do You Do Well to Be Angry?”

anger-1007186_1280“Do you do well to be angry?”

It’s a question God asks the pouting prophet Jonah sitting outside Nineveh, angry with God for sparing this city, Israel’s arch enemy. It’s a question we may well ask ourselves.

Yet another mass shooting resulting in the serious wounding of a senator and several others and the death of the 66 year old shooter, underscores the danger of unchecked anger. He called the President a “traitor” on social media, had been involved in a variety of angry altercations, and was deeply dissatisfied with the way things were going in the country.

Truthfully, he’s not so different from many, except that he made the fatal transition from anger to violence. We seem to live in a society with many angry people. It is dangerous to challenge rude or reckless behavior in a public setting. You could find yourself in a gunfight without even a knife.

Why are we so angry? I wonder if some of it is that everything from advertising to our schools suggest to us that we are the center of the universe and that we should fulfill all our longings. Reality doesn’t work like that. We share the planet with 7 billion other people. Maturity often calls upon us to live with unfulfilled desires. Yet we believe no one should get in our way on the road or delay us even a minute or two when we are running late for work or another scheduled event.

I also wonder if we are angry because we spend too much time listening to angry and inflammatory voices. Online pundits and much of the new media build their followings around arousing and feeding their following, no matter what the political persuasion. At times it can be quite entertaining, and then there is the twist, the inflammatory accusation, or even the suggest that the world would be a better place without X.

Most of us have enough of a sense of proportion to just laugh at this, or even the good sense to change the channel. But a steady diet of this can take its toll, kind of like too much refined sugar. Combined with personal frustrations and perhaps a sense of inadequacy, and inflammatory rhetoric ceases to be a laughing matter.

All this emphasizes how important it is to teach our children, and ourselves how to act constructively with our anger. We all experience anger, but the trick is figuring out how to use it constructively. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Be angry yet do not sin, do not let the sun set on your anger.” Yes we do get angry, but it doesn’t have to end badly. You can write that letter to your congressperson, propose that compromise with a co-worker you don’t see eye to eye with. Maybe going for a walk, a run, or digging your garden gives you time to work off the adrenaline and get some perspective.

Paul also makes a good observation, that anger is best when it is a brief moment, rather than a way of life. It is when it festers and grows bitter that it can become lethal. Anger is a place we are all going to visit, but none of us should live there.

So we might ask, “do we do well to be angry?” And with this, we might also ask, do we do well to arouse another’s anger, and to feed a lingering, free-floating sense of anger at the world, toward a particular group of people, a particular party?

It’s not just for ourselves that we might ask these things. It is also for those most vulnerable to giving way to anger. Contrary to the angry Cain’s question, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. While I think people are responsible for their own anger, I would not want to be the one to help ratchet up the anger of another.

“Do you do well to be angry?”

Review: The Living Temple

the living temple

The Living Temple, Carl E. Braaten and LaVonne Braaten. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2016 (originally published in 1976).

Summary: A theology focusing on our physical bodies as dwelling places for the Spirit of God and the implications for the food we eat, including the problems of processed, chemical-laden foods full of empty calories.

This is a book I wish I had read in 1976 when it was first published. It might have led to amendments in my own diet much sooner. More than this, it might have led to a more thoughtful perspective on one thing we all have in common, our bodies. What the Braatens offer in this brief work is a theology of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, countering the incipient Gnosticism and other worldly spirituality that the church has been dealing with throughout its history. It is not from Christianity which throughout its scriptures attests to a healthy body-theology, but from Greek Dionysian myths that the idea of body as evil comes to us. Sadly, over-spiritualized versions (and maybe over-intellectualized ones) deny our embodied existence, and lead us to a sad neglect of our bodies.

Much of the neglect that the Braatens focus on concerns the food we eat. While food cannot make us ritually and spiritually unclean, it certainly can pollute and deplete the temple of the Holy Spirit. They focus much of their attention on chemically treated and supplemented food and highly processed foods like white bread and white sugar. Presciently, they speak of a growing movement toward healthy, organically grown foods in which groceries would be forced to give over more space to organic foods.

They also see a connection between our care for our bodies and our care for the earth. They write:

“We are to our individual bodies what the whole body of mankind is to the earth. Our attitudes regarding our bodies reflect and express the way we look at the world around us. It is downright silly, for example, to fight for clean air in the city and then suck cigarette smoke into our lungs. We must learn that we are dovetailed into the world. We simply die without day-to-day communion with the vital systems of the good earth. Good body ecology is the key to the renewal of the earth on a global scale” (p. 67).

I do wish this work could have been revised rather than simply re-printed. It suffers in places from what is probably outdated nutritional advice. Yet some things, like the concern about nitrites, are right on target and only now being addressed. At times the authors make sweeping statements railing against big business without substantiation. Yet their fundamental case concerning the food processing industry, the values of organic foods and moving away from a meat-laden diet, path-breaking then, is increasingly common wisdom. In sum, they still get more right than wrong.

Christians are just discovering a theology of our embodied life and working out the implications of this in various areas of self-care. What makes this book so interesting is that it anticipates by forty years work only now being done and articulates both theological grounds and concrete action, and with remarkable brevity. Wipf & Stock is to be commended for bringing back into print this pioneering work.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Shelving Solutions

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One of my shelves

One of the challenges for voracious readers is where to shelve their books. In terms of physical books, I am at the point where any book I finish goes on the giveaway or resale piles unless I pull something else off the shelves in its place. If I haven’t thought of or read the book in ten years, it’s a good candidate to get culled out.

Bookriot article today, “Ways to Shelve Your Books on Goodreads” brings up another shelving dilemma that our book apps create. Where do we shelve our books electronically? Actually, this has been quite useful at times when I have done posts on books in a particular category. The challenge is figuring out the categories, which I may suspect vary widely from person to person. The article suggests some different ways including the year read, the format and location, the genre, by author and book identifier. Here’s what mine currently looks like:

Goodreads Bob Trube The United States 1 056 books

The article provides several examples for different kinds of readers. I am probably much like the author of the article in that my categories get more specific with types of literature I especially like. In my case, it has to do with various subcategories of Christian literature. Mine include works of theology, spiritual formation, on culture, on politics, leadership, ethics, apologetics, and Bible study and more. Under biography, I created a category of presidential biographies because this is one of my favorite genres. Probably I should create one on British royalty!

That brings up another question. When do you create a new category? And if you do, do you go back and “re-shelve” books into that category. I did this with presidential biographies and when I created my “inklings” shelf, but, because I read numbers of books, that can be a bit of work. I might be inclined to consider it “busywork” that I don’t have time for. But that is just me.

Probably the greatest usefulness of this to me is that I regularly get asked the question of “what is a good book on…?” It can be handy to pull up my shelves on my phone and offer a few suggestions. If it was just up to memory, I’d probably find myself saying, “I’ll get back to you” which may never happen.

It is also handy in providing a more extensive set of categories than is easily accommodated here on the blog. I still dream of creating an indexing system that would work here, but at this point it is a dream. You can always search a title on the blog. For categories, my Goodreads page works better and all the reviews I do here are also there.

All this falls in the category of “first world problems.” My suggestion if you are trying to create more shelves than “reading” and “read” is that you create a list of the categories of books you most like to read. Create new categories for things that don’t fit.  Then as you go along combine categories where the numbers of books remain just a few. Figure out if there are any categories that are particularly relevant to your work or other interests. And don’t worry if it looks nothing like your friends. That’s what makes it interesting!

Review: To Alter Your World

To Alter Your World

To Alter Your World, Michael Frost and Christiana Rice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: Explores a different metaphor for the church’s role in God’s mission, that of midwife to what God is birthing, and how this might change the ways we engage with our world.

One of the dominant metaphors for Christian cultural engagement today is that of battle, whether of spiritual warfare, a war to “reclaim” the culture, or retreat, because of perception that either we’ve been fighting the wrong war, or that we are seriously losing and need to re-group and re-build. A more sophisticated model is that of “changing” or “transforming” the world. Yet as James Davison Hunter points out in To Change The World, this has often been an exercise in starry-eyed naivete’ and a prescription for burnout when the world doesn’t easily or quickly change.

Michael Frost and Christiana Rice, two missional practitioners and theorists have come together in this book to suggest a different model, a different way of “joining” God in the mission. Their inspiration is drawn from Isaiah 42:14:

“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

Their contention is that it is God, through his work in Christ, who is birthing a new world and our role is akin to that of the midwife. They write:

“If God is groaning like a woman in labor, and if a new world is being born before our very eyes, being pushed forth through the cracks of our broken world, our job isn’t to hurry it along. Rather our job is to join God and partner with him in the delivery room and to stop imagining we can birth the new world with our own strategies and methodologies. Indeed, our attempts to usher in the new order in recent years haven’t produced the kid of restoration, redemption or reconciliation in this world that we believe God envisions” (p. 17).

Frost and Rice don’t stop with a new metaphor or a new paradigm but press this out in the practical work in which teams of missional people engage. They challenge us to forego our colonizing and rootless efforts at church planting that fail to listen to and attend to communities and develop wholistic ministry in partnership with its people. Instead they elaborate the metaphor of midwife, both in ancient Israel and contemporary practice.

Midwives neither give birth to the child for the mother nor “make it happen” according to a plan but attend women during their pregnancies. They make space for a birth to happen to remove all barriers to giving birth and welcoming new life. They study place, they notice signs, they look at physical space. They act flexibly and fearlessly to the changing circumstances of the birth process. They don’t spend lots of time arguing the importance of midwifing, but quietly live that narrative with the women they attend. Rice and Frost work out practical applications of these principles.

They also see that collaboration to effect change is a multi-level process: with individuals, interpersonally in small groups like families, in community, in institutions and in structures and systems. Much of this happens not just through “church” activities but through a transformed vision of our work that things about our work societally as well as individually.

Place and space is a big part of what they talk about, and often overlooked. They draw on the work of the Project for Public Spaces to identify seven principles for creating great spaces that missional communities in a space need to consider:

  1. The neighborhood is the expert.
  2. Craft a place, not a design.
  3. Look for partners.
  4. You can see a lot just by observing.
  5. Have a vision.
  6. Money is not the issue.
  7. You are never finished.

The concluding two chapters concern the missional person. Not only do they attend to the changes God would birth, but they are changed themselves in the process. Often this comes through suffering. Change is disruptive and there will be push back. To love a place and its people and to persist in all this is hard and we will be changed through it.

The call of this book is not to quietism as opposed to human-centered activism, a kind of can-do, we can make it happen spirit. The midwife, is active, but in a different way, and this is what I most appreciate about the theme and approach of this book. It offers, to people who have begun to think they must make something happen to advance the mission of God, the insight that God has something God would give birth to in the world. Perhaps most striking is that this is a distinctively female metaphor–one of a woman attending to another giving birth, and God uses it of God’s self! Many of us who are fathers went through childbirth classes that taught us how we might attend and accompany our wives, perhaps in the presence of an obstetrician or midwife, in the incredible process of birth, one we could only support as our wives labored. Perhaps we might begin to draw upon that to understand and become skillful midwives in the birthing process of the new creation.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.