Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Good Read

Being an avid reader, I'm always looking for the next bestseller to read and yet I don't just want to fill my mind with just anything. I've found the coolest website to help me. It's www.dearreader.com and you simply sign up for any of several email book clubs and every day you'll be sent a 5-minute sample from a book. By the end of the week, you'll have read 2-3 chapters. If it's a book you've just gotta finish, visit your local library or your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. There are many catagories of books, nonfiction, fiction, etc but the one I'm enjoying is Good News which features christian books. The first one I passed on but the second one is one that I can't wait to finish reading. I'll add an excerpt to hopefully get you excited about the book and the website. Check it out!

In "The Irresistible Revolution," Shane Claiborne invites
you into a movement of the Spirit that begins in the heart
and extends through our hands into a broken world. Using
examples from his own unconventional life, Shane Claiborne
stirs up questions about the church and the world,
challenging you to live out an authentic Christian faith.
This book will comfort the disturbed, disturb the
comfortable and invite believers to change the world with
Christ's radical love.

CHAPTER ONE
WHEN CHRISTIANITY WAS STILL SAFE

It's what always happens to the saints and prophets who are
dangerous: we bronze them, we drain them of their passion and life
and trap them in stained-glass windows and icons, confining them
safely in memories of the past. St. Francis becomes a birdbath,
Malcolm X is put on a stamp, and Martin Luther King gets a holiday.
And Jesus gets commercialized, whether it's the plastic night-lights
or the golden crucifixes. (And now there is a bobbing-head "Buddy
Jesus" for your car and the "Jesus is my homeboy" T-shirt.) It
becomes hard to know who Jesus really is, much less to imagine that
Jesus ever laughed, cried, or had poop that smelled.

I can remember when Christianity was still safe, comfortable,
trendy. I grew up in the Bible Belt, in East Tennessee, where
there's a church building on nearly every corner. I can't remember
meeting anyone Jewish or Muslim, and I distinctly remember being
dissuaded from dating a Catholic girl because she "prayed to Mary."
I attended two or three different youth groups, whichever had the
best entertainment and drew the largest crowd. Church was a place
where there were cute girls, free junk food, and cheap snowboarding
trips. I discovered a Christianity that entertained me with quirky
songs and velcro walls. (I'm hopeful that not everyone reading this
grew up in the same bizarre world of youth-ministry entertainment,
so for those unfamiliar with the velcro wall, it's a giant
inflatable wall of velcro that you wear a special velcro suit for
and bounce up and stick onto...all for Jesus.)

In middle school, I had a sincere "conversion" experience. We took a
trip to a large Christian festival with bands, speakers, and late-
night pranks. One night a short, bald preacherman named Duffy
Robbins gave an invitation to "accept Jesus," and nearly our whole
youth group went forward (a new concept for most of us), crying and
snotting, hugging people we didn't know. I was born again. The next
year, we went to that same festival, and most of us went forward
again (it was so good the first time) and got born again, again. In
fact, we looked forward to it every year. I must have gotten born
again six or eight times, and it was great every time. (I highly
recommend it.)

But then you start to think there must be more to Christianity, more
than just laying your life and sins at the foot of the cross. I came
to realize that preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot
of the cross and weren't giving me anything to pick up. A lot of us
were hearing "don't smoke, don't drink, don't sleep around" and
naturally started asking, "Okay, well, that was pretty much my life,
so what do I do now?" Where were the do's? And nobody seemed to have
much to offer us. Handing out tracts at the mall just didn't seem
like the fullness of Christian discipleship, not to mention it just
wasn't as fun as making out at the movies.

I was just another believer. I believed all the right stuff--that
Jesus is the Son of God, died and rose again. I had become a
"believer," but I had no idea what it means to be a follower. People
had taught me what Christians believe, but no one had told me how
Christians live.

SPIRITUAL BULIMIA

So as we do in our culture, I thought perhaps I needed to buy more
stuff, Christian stuff. Luckily, I found an entire Christian
industrial complex ready to help with Christian music, bumper
stickers, T-shirts, books, and even candy ("Testa-mints"...dead
serious...mints with a Bible verse attached, candy with a
Christian aftertaste). They had lists of bands and the Christian
alternatives to them, so I got rid of all my old CDs. (And I must
confess, I was a bit disappointed by the Christian counterfeit. Who
could compare to Guns N' Roses and Vanilla Ice?) And I bought books,
devotionals, T-shirts. I developed a common illness that haunts
Western Christianity. I call it spiritual bulimia. Bulimia, of
course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and
image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up
before it has a chance to digest. I developed the spiritual form of
it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and
saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to
friends, small groups, and pastors. But it had never had the chance
to digest. I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian
industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death. I was
marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality,
suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God.

It was Mark Twain who said, "It's not the parts of the Bible I don't
understand that scare me, but the parts I do understand." I don't
know if you've read the Bible, and if you haven't, I think you may
be in a better place than those of us who have read it so much that
it has become stale. Maybe this is why Jesus says to the religious
folks, "the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the
kingdom of God ahead of you" (Matt. 21:31). For me, it became hard
to read the Bible and walk away as if I had just watched a nice
movie. Jesus never seemed to do anything normal. How about the fact
that his first miracle was the old turning-water-into-wine thing to
keep a party going? (Not a miracle that would go over well in some
Christian circles.) And there's that time Jesus' friends leave him
on the shore. If we had been in Jesus' shoes, some of us might have
yelled for them to come back. Others might have jumped in the water
and swum out to the boat. But Jesus just steps on the blessed water
(Matt. 14:22 - 26). That's nuts. It scares his friends to death. Or
take healing a blind person, for instance. I've seen people gather
around and lay hands on the sick. Others anoint people with oil. But
when Jesus wants to heal a blind guy, he picks up some dirt off the
ground, "spits" in it, and then wipes it on the dude's eyes (John
9:6). That's weird. No one else did that. Can you imagine the other
religious leaders? "Rabbi, could you hack me up a holy loogie?" Not
a chance. No one else did stuff like that. Only Jesus would be crazy
enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you
should become the least. Only Jesus would declare God's blessing on
the poor rather than on the rich and would insist that it's not
enough to love just your friends. I began to wonder if anybody still
believed Jesus meant those things he said. I thought if we just
stopped and asked, What if he really meant it? it could turn the
world upside-down. It was a shame Christians had become so normal.

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