Colors of God

“OK. So the church is broken. Now what?”

It’s the tag line for Colors of God: Conversations About Being the Church and one that resonates with me–which is why I was super excited to read and review it.

This book, written by Randall Mark Peters, Dave Phillips, and Quentin Steen, was developed as a conversation–and indeed written as such. It is not a difficult conversation to follow and, for this traveler, was refreshing at times. They were saying what I’ve been thinking or articulated conclusions to which I have come as well.

Colors of God is organized around four broad areas using colors to illustrate each one: Gospel Faith, Healthy Living, Inclusive Community, and Cultural Engagement. These areas also are an attempt at a framework for living out one’s faith as a member of the Kingdom of God.

The conversation is authentic. The questions are honored. The answers are well thought out. And it’s tough to find the latter in most churches these days.

I still am tempted to give up on church–and this book certainly hasn’t compelled me to try to find one. But Colors of God did give me a way to articulate some of what I believe and how I frame my understanding of the life, message and work of Christ–and how I live in response to those things. To that end, mission accomplished.

The part of this book that resonated with me the most wast the issue of Healthy Living and that God is a promoter of good health. Indeed, health can be a litmus test for the things we think or do as they are associated with our faith. If what we are saying or doing promotes health, chances are that these are things from and/or approved by God. This isn’t just physical health. This is holistic well-being. This is asking whether any act or behavior is going to promote love–whether it’s going to promote peace, patience, wellness and contentment. One thing I would caution the reader about–and the authors to articulate better–though is the issue of mental health. I was surprised at how cavalier the authors were at one point when talking about anxiety. Certainly, the church is great at invoking anxiety in its people–there’s always something we should be doing more of in order to stay in favor with God. But there’s also anxiety that is very real for people–that has nothing to do with their faith practice (but can be exacerbated by it). As a mental health practitioner myself, I challenge the faith community to develop a better–indeed healthier and more holistic–response to individuals with mental illness as well as foster a space of mental health.

After all, God is about the health and well-being of the whole person.

Regardless of that one sticking point, I put this book in the “must read” stack. Read it. Share it with everyone you know. Have a better conversation about how all this plays out. And then GO DO IT.

This book was provided for free review by theooze.com

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Imaginary Jesus

I finished Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos this morning. And it moved into the must read list.

We all have our ideas of what Jesus looked like, how he behaved, what he did. We bring him to life in our own biased imaginations in order to better understand and get to know Jesus. Over time, though, our imagination–and our Jesus–becomes overtaken by our beliefs, doubts, perceptions, misconceptions, what we’ve seen or heard–things that come from others who imagine Jesus in their own way–overtaken by their beliefs, doubts, perceptions, misconceptions, what they’ve seen and heard…and…well…you get the idea.

In Imaginary Jesus, Mikalatos contends that in order to see the real Jesus, you must first get rid of your imaginary Jesus. This not-quite-true-probably-spiritual-memoir gives us laugh out loud story-telling and a frolicking journey around Portland, Oregon and first century Judea as Matt himself chases after his imaginary Jesus in order to let him go. In the process, Matt encounters many other Jesuses that are in the world, conjured up by all kinds of different people. We meet Testosterone Jesus, Magic 8 Ball Jesus (my personal fave), King James Jesus (always quoting scripture), Bargain Jesus, Liberal Social Services Jesus (who has no mouth, constantly doing kingdom work but never talking about God), Conservative Truth Telling Jesus (who thinks the only way to tell people about God is through hard truth and never raises a hand to help with physical needs–so he has no arms), and many others. As Matt encounters these other Jesuses, the reader is bound to see Jesuses he or she recognizes–either because they’ve met people who imagine Jesus these ways or because they are meeting their own imaginary Jesus.

With the help of the Apostle Peter, a reformed prostitute and a talking donkey, Matt works to get rid of his imaginary Jesus in order to start over with the real Jesus. What he finds is better than what he expected.

I appreciated Mikalatos’ way of describing his experiences with Jesus–imagined and real–and his fantastic sense of humor along the way. Even in the midst of personal grief, Matt maintains his sense of humor–and renews his search for who Jesus really is.

Perhaps it’s because I can relate to Matt’s story in many ways personally. Perhaps it’s because I, too, have been searching for the real Jesus. Whatever it was, this book was a fantastic read that prompted me to consider my own imaginations and thinking about who Jesus is and what Jesus does–and what it means to be a follower–and I’m starting to really like the conclusions to which I’m coming. Even if “the real Jesus is inconvenient” (p. 79).

Mikalatos should have another book coming out next year–and I look forward to reading that one, too.

As Is: Unearthing Commonplace Glory

It’s the title of Krista Finch’s musings on life as it is, with all its busyness, velocity, brokenness and beauty.

“Life is a broken jumble of failure, defeat, and unsettled-ness” (p. 35)

And yet…

Finch has uncovered awareness of life as it is–something of which many of us are unaware. We aren’t in touch with nor do we think about the best parts of life. Caught up in the daily grind of work, family, bills, dishes, laundry, what have you, we often neglect our inner selves. We lose our muchness and forget who we really are in the midst of all the noise. Drowning out the noise, however, is a nearly impossible task. Finch reminds us that despite our best efforts, we may only be able to take in a few brief moments. But even in those moments, we can be fully alive.

This book doesn’t exactly beg to be a treat on which you nibble day by day, though it should be read that way. As Is would make a great source for daily reading, devotion or musing and may spark in the reader something new to consider. Finch’s writing is low on the God factor (making her appealing to readers such as myself) but remains holy in its depth of awareness and understanding. Although I blew through this book to make some deadlines and move on to other books I need to read, I highly recommend savoring As Is over the course of time. And then putting it on your shelf to come back to later.

“And this is life…life unfinished, noisy, as is. The very best we can hope for here and now” (p. 32-33)

The Naked Gospel

Andrew Farley’s Naked Gospel is an invitation to celebrate the newness we receive in Christ, to learn who you really are and to just be yourself. For many, this book will likely shatter paradigms, illusions and preconceived ideas about who we are and what we are “supposed” to do as Christians.

Farley reminds us that “the old has gone; the new has come,” and, as Christians, we live under the new. That means, folks, that we don’t answer to the Law. We live in the Spirit just as the Spirit lives in us. We are born sinners and that’s just part of our make-up. What we don’t need to do is spend all our time self-flagellating and “getting right with God.” All of our sins–every. single. one.–were wiped out on the cross. We’re wasting our time and denying the saving work of Christ when we fixate on our flaws, shortcomings or sins. Unfortunately, most Christians focus there and not on the resurrection that happened three days later. Farley points out that “we’re inundated with a lackluster gospel that advocates partial forgiveness, a pressure-filled motivation for behavior change, and the promise of earned rewards in heaven or a cash return while on earth” (p. 192).

Farley helps to liberate the reader from this lackluster gospel, providing a new way of thinking about the message and work of Christ. And, if we take the time to adjust our views, liberated we become. When we stop focusing on the inevitable (that we will continue to screw up), we can focus more on the important things of loving God and people–which is really what it’s all about.

This book is an easy read, though the language may not be as accessible to those who are not Christians. It assumes that the reader has a Christian background–whatever form that background may take. For me, personally, it helped to articulate and even put a scriptural basis to what I was already thinking and the way in which I viewed God and what I should be about as a Christian. It’s Christ in and through me theology. The question is whether I (or any of the rest of use) will live fully in this new paradigm, this new covenant.

Farley’s examples were, at times, not particularly useful or fell short of the point he was trying to make. The book wandered quite a bit and I found myself wondering how much longer would this go on. However, the message is worth reading, and the implications are worth considering.

The Naked Gospel is a call to differentiation, to embracing who you are as a person created by God, to liberating yourself from the list of things all “good Christians” should do–from prayer to confession to tithing. This book is a reminder that Jesus liberated us from the restrictions and limitations of the Law to provide us with the freedom to love God and love people.

For my anti-religion/anti-things Christian readers, I apologize for all the God talk. However, I’m also up for loaning out the book or having a conversation about it.

Thanks to The Ooze for a copy of this book!

Reviewing The Ooze

A couple of months ago, I signed up to be a reviewer for The Ooze. Mainly because I like to read…and I like free books. So, I beat the clock at the monthly email and choose whatever book(s) I want to read and review within a month of receiving them. (I say beat the clock, because the books are first come, first served.) Not only do I post a review there (where you can also read reviews of lots of other books), but I also post it here.

Sooo…get ready…I’m about to write my first review for The Ooze for the book The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley.