Reviews

How to Proclaim Restoration

AL TIZON’S Missional Preaching, as one might expect, is designed for those who proclaim the gospel. The text, moreover, should prove useful to homiletics professors, local ministerial groups, and church bodies seeking to encourage more reflective approaches to the craft of sermon-making. Tizon, an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church and professor of evangelism and holistic ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary, writes with lively prose, frequently deploying humor and hyperbole to complement biblical exposition and theological reflection.

For Tizon, missional conviction is about joining “God’s mission to transform the world, as the church strives in the Spirit to be authentically relational, intellectually and theologically grounded, culturally and socio-economically diverse, and radically committed to both God and neighbor, especially the poor.” Tizon’s commitment to mission is both theological and autobiographical: The author spent nine years doing community development in the Philippines and currently serves as the director of the Word and Deed network of Evangelicals for Social Action.

Structurally, Tizon begins with three chapters on missional theology, covering liturgy, biblical perspectives on mission, and the missio Dei (the mission of God). For Tizon, missio Dei signifies God’s restorative purposes for the world, beginning with Israel and consummating in Christ. To complement the opening essays, each subsequent chapter pairs Tizon’s reflection on a missional topic with a sermon on the same subject matter. In a particularly compelling chapter, the author’s insights on whole-life stewardship are concluded by a riveting homily from Shane Claiborne.

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Chronicling Belief's Strange Wonders

WITHOUT SOME advance warning, you might not know that Jeff Sharlet is a man of God. That’s not an insult or backward compliment so much as it is fact. Though perhaps best known for his acclaimed nonfiction expose The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, Sharlet doesn’t beat readers over the head with the proverbial Bible he carries in his knapsack. If you don’t know what clues to look for—tales of Germans born again in Oklahoma, descriptions of hipster trucker caps emblazoned with flashy youth crusade logos—you might miss some of his most powerful nods to spiritual and religious influence in his travels. You might mistake the nondenominational journalist for just another fantastically gifted storyteller, a shrewd correspondent reporting back from remote spiritual enclaves, rather than a disciple of God seeking to understand those with whom he shares some belief.

Sweet Heaven When I Die begins by tracing Sharlet’s youthful days visiting a girlfriend’s Colorado ranch and his grandmother’s Knoxville home. His keen sense of personal history first grounds his essays in what is clearly important in his own life: the closeness of loved ones, the nearness of God. But he quickly moves beyond situating himself in his writing and instead steps back to peer like a prophet into the lives of others—philosopher and educator Cornel West or Yiddish novelist Chava Rosenfarb.

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From the Hollers to City Streets

THE VIDEO for the title track of 2/3 Goat’s EP Stream of Conscience features members of the New York City-based band standing knee-deep in a stream in the mountains of Central Appalachia. Lead singer and mandolin player Annalyse McCoy belts: “Stream of conscience hear my cry / I don’t want my hills to die.” The video intermixes a fictional family’s daily life in the coalfields with harrowing footage of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, which has destroyed more than 300 mountains in the region. In later scenes, the band walks down a country road with coal-dust covered miners, young people, and families in a rambling, spontaneous protest march. It truly is a visual evocation of Appalachia Rising—a tagline of the region’s anti-MTR movement.

The other core members are guitarist, song writer, and vocalist Ryan Dunn and fiddler Ryan Guerra. 2/3 Goat is a self-proclaimed metrobilly band, a portmanteau referring to the music’s urban audience and its roots in country and mountain music. Its acoustic-driven, bluegrass- and old-time-music-inspired sound has engaging harmonies and a sweetness and honesty to it. The other tracks on this five-song release are strong, both in musical composition and storytelling. “Lay It on the Line” is a playful duet between McCoy and Dunn with upbeat fiddle, guitar, and mandolin accompaniment that will make you want to flat foot (if you have enough mountain swagger to pull it off) to this almost-love song. “Band of Gold” highlights McCoy’s textured alto voice and ability to wail when the lyrics call for it. The tone is emotionally heavy, but the fiddle accompaniment and the shift in tempo at the end of the song save it from needing a side of whiskey to wash it down.

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New and Noteworthy

Power of the Word

Like any life-sustaining resource, language can also become depleted and polluted, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes in Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. She reflects on what it means to be good stewards of language, focusing on 12 practices that can revive and restore it. Eerdmans

Communion=Community

For writer Nora Gallagher, Holy Communion illustrates a web of people being continually stitched together. In The Sacred Meal, she reflects on her own experiences of Communion, includes a brief history of the practice, and presents various Christian perspectives on it. Thomas Nelson

Made for Relationship

For Living L’Arche: Stories of Compassion, Love and Disability, Azusa Pacific University psychology professor Kevin Reimer studied U.S. L’Arche communities for two years, asking questions about humanity and security, “downward mobility,” and “disability.” The result is a collection of stories that illustrate the transformative effects of compassionate love. Liturgical Press

Spiritual Awareness

Why do most of us feel spiritually imprisoned within ourselves? Why do our egos resist change? In The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, author and spiritual adviser Richard Rohr takes up these questions with love and directness—teaching us the difference between believing in God and experiencing God. Crossroad Publishing Company

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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A National Emergency

WE’RE IN A national emergency, and it’s not swine flu. While we were being mobilized by an illness whose power was more media- than pathogen-induced, the fact that more than 100,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S. since 9/11 seems to be just business as usual. Violence is clearly a public health crisis, yet our culture is ambivalent about murder.

This ambivalence is closely connected to the stories we tell about it. The recent film The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is a good example. The movie does nothing more than most other films in the hostage-taking action genre subset: It makes us feel afraid, hits us in the face with imaginary bullets, and “resolves” the superficial good versus evil conflict at the film’s core with the audience’s surrogate (in this case Denzel Washington) becoming vengeance on our behalf.

We are so used to fictional violence as a source of fun that we are unable to see the continuum between the myths we expect in storytelling and the realities we are prepared to accept in real life.

The English writer Geoff Dyer says that “You have to be a stranger to the landscape to regard it as a view.” Maybe we should change our perspective on how we tell stories rather than hide from the truth by, for instance, boycotting violent films. I felt this while watching The Cove, which for me is the best film of the year so far. It offers a new vision of what a campaign documentary can be, in which intrepid oceanographers expose the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. The Cove is as exciting as the best thrillers—full of human drama and the vicarious inspiration we take from watching other people’s courage.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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New and Noteworthy

Serve God, Save the Planet
Coffee, cars, chocolate, clothes—small choices we make can add up to lifestyles that are more ethical and sustainable. In Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, Julie Clawson offers biblically based wisdom on living justly in our consumer society, starting with: “Don’t Panic.” InterVarsity Press

Melodic Pop
The 10 tracks on The Fray’s latest CD, The Fray, offer the melodic lines and moodiness fans have come to expect from the Denver-based pop band. “I found God on the corner of First and Amistad,” they sing in “You Found Me.” “Just a little late, you found me.” Epic

Love Beyond Bars
When their daughter, Carolyn, went to prison, her parents, Wesley and Marilyn, also “did time” in a sense. Learning to Sing in a Strange Land: When a Loved One Goes to Prison is Wesley’s beautiful account of how they remained connected—and hopeful—during the years of Carolyn’s sentence. Resource Publications

A Familiar Companion
Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim, by Philip Yancey, pulls together thoughtful daily reflections from Yancey’s writings over the last 30 years on God, faith, prayer, and the Christian life. Zondervan

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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Dueling Visions of Human Life

THE UNITED STATES as envisaged in cinema is often a fight club, a place where there are three kinds of people—the thieves who milk the system, the cops who try to catch them, and the rest of us, who are either oblivious or caught in the crossfire.

Director Michael Mann has been advancing this notion for about three decades, in elegant but brutal films such as Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice. His protagonist is usually a lonely, well-dressed man in love with adrenaline, money, and the guns he uses to get them until a crisis—in the form of a woman or a robbery gone wrong—ruptures his hopes for tropical island retirement.

Mann’s new film, Public Enemies, is the story of the FBI’s tactics in the 1930s, a period that reinforced the idea that justice can come from a gun barrel if it is fired by an agent of the state. If Public Enemies is true to its director’s form, it will be a film in which men actualize themselves through violence. Mann’s films are compelling, stylish, and exciting, but it’s unclear what Mann thinks about violence: Does he find it attractive, or is he simply addressing the fact that it exists?

Crime, and the methods used by the state to control or restrain it, need to be examined in art, but Mann’s characters don’t seem to believe it’s possible to have an extraordinary life without killing anyone—nor that we can achieve criminal justice without someone dying.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Global Christians

“MORE THAN 800 million people in the world are malnourished. More than a billion lack access to clean water. Six million children under the age of five die annually as a result of hunger. Three million children die each year from waterborne disease. More than 22 million people have died from AIDS, leaving at least 13 million children without mothers.” Statistics like these, contained in Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches, by sociologist Robert Wuthnow, provoke responses ranging from activism to nervous avoidance to apathy. American Christians, who claim compassion for the poor and love of neighbor as core values, cannot, however, altogether avoid coming to new terms with global inequities and injustice as worldwide media access widens our awareness of the scale of human suffering.

In many of the places where such suffering is most acute, Christian faith is flourishing, sometimes in forms quite foreign to American Christians. Sometimes that faith brings sufferings of its own: Wuthnow reports that “more than 13 million Christians worldwide died between 1950 and 2000 under conditions that could be described as ‘martyrdom.’” Historically, the church thrives under persecution—and it is also the church’s task to challenge and resist those who persecute, whether they do so by direct violence or by economic oppression. For Christians, material abundance and safety come with responsibilities toward those who have neither.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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New and Noteworthy

Love and Justice
Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings, selected by Francis McDonagh, provides insight into the Brazilian archbishop who consistently elevated the rights of the poor and marginalized. The writings trace his conviction that liberty is the heart of the gospel. Orbis

“Living Inside a Fire”
In Where Mercy Fails: Darfur’s Struggle to Survive, Chris Herlinger’s words and Paul Jeffrey’s photographs take you from camps for Darfurians fleeing from violence to the empty village of Bela, where the “silence is the sound of genocide in slow motion.” Seabury Books

Practicing the Bible
In The Economics of Honor: Biblical Reflections on Money and Property, Roelf Hann mines biblical passages for their relation to economic topics such as globalization, money, and development. The thoughtful chapters remind us that our discipleship can’t be divorced from our economic lives. Eerdmans

Man on a Mission
Albert Schweitzer was an established pastor and musician when he decided to become a doctor and open Lam-baréné, a clinic in West Africa. Albert Schweitzer: Called to Africa, a 50-minute docu-drama by Martin Doblmeier, alternates between dramatizations and interviews with friends, theologians, and family members. Journey Films

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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New and Noteworthy

Economic Interest
Money might be the last thing you want to read about these days, but Michael Schut’s Money & Faith: The Search for Enough is worth checking out. Essays by writers such as Walter Brueggemann and Leonardo Boff delve into the thorny issues of equity, abundance, and sustainability with clarity and grace. Includes a study guide with plans for up to 12 meetings. Morehouse Publishing

Catalysts for Change
Young readers will get a good introduction to the lives of 15 nonviolence activists in After Gandhi: 100 Years of Nonviolent Resistance, by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien. Inter­esting and easy-to-read profiles cover the years 1908 to 2003 and include Wangari Maathai, Vaclav Havel, Charles Perkins, Mairead Corrigan, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Charlesbridge

Praying Together
Beyond Our Differences, a video directed by Peter Bisanz, showcases a broad range of musicians, artists, activists, and authors such as Karen Armstrong, Peter Gabriel, and Desmond Tutu on how people of different faiths can work together to solve critical global problems. What inspires them to work for change? (72 minutes) Entropy Films

The Green Stuff
In Kids + Money, documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield trains her camera on Los Angeles teens from economically diverse families and asks them how money affects their lives. The cinematic portraits tell a compelling—and scary—story about the power of our consumer culture. The 33-minute DVD includes a study guide by the founder of Share Save Spend. Bullfrog Films

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Sojourners Magazine June 2009
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