January 28, 2012

Sitzbook: "Jesus Wants to Save Christians"

This book was a departure from my normal Sitzbook fare, which seems to consist mostly of novels; if there is any non-fiction on my list, it often seems to be more leisure-oriented, and very few to zero of them tend to be Christian manifestos written by pastors. But while visiting Brad in Iowa --which I still need to blog about!-- he gave me quite a few "handouts." He said that he was trying to get rid of a lot of stuff, so he gave us a colorful variety of cables, some stickers, T-shirts, a few books, and many great memories. He gave me this particular book after I commented on the cover (it looks like a bunch of indistinct boxes, but if you look closer at the individual boxes' corners, they actually form letters that spell out the book's title).

I was also interested in the book's description on the back cover, since it seemed to be focused on social criticism; it said, for example: "It's a book about faith and fear, wealth and war, poverty, power, safety, terror, Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity [...] it's about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate, and participate in the very things that Jesus came to set people free from."

That definitely caught my interest. Without going into my own beliefs, I can say that those words struck a chord with me and how I view things. And I did read the book very quickly, in fact. Much of it is actually about these themes, but a lot of it is also a sort of biblical history which, although not "disappointing," wasn't exactly what I was looking for or expecting when I picked up the book. Much of the book reads like a general history of Judaism and Christianity, and although I understand that much of this information is necessary to set the stage for the commentary on modern times, the balance was definitely tilted towards the historical part. 

Another thing that I noticed was that it did indeed have some criticism and frank assessment of modern religion's failings, although it didn't really provide much in the way of concrete ideas or suggestions about how to change things. But that may just have been an impression that I took away. In fact, the more I think about this book, the more I think I should read it again just to get my mind around what I think about it.

In any case, my goal with these individual book reviews wasn't to blabber on, but to give a summary of a book and include some interesting quotes or impressions, and I've gotten off track on that. 

So, here are some quotes that stood out to me; you can interpret or read into them what you will. I do apologize that they are so long, but if I had kept them to "sound-bite" length, they might not have made much sense out of context. And I guess if you weren't into long-winded-ness, you'd already have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. A comment about the format: the quotes actually look like that in the book, with paragraph breaks even in the middle of a sentence, sometimes. It looks strange here on the blog, but it's not so weird in the book. Finally, keep in mind that the book was written in 2008, so it's been around a few years.

From page 17/18:

"On the news are sound bites from a speech by the president of the United States. He's on the deck of an aircraft carrier, proclaiming victory in a recent military effort. Not only was the mission accomplished, according to the leader of the world's only superpower, but American forces are now occupying this Middle Eastern country until peace can be fully realized within its borders. 
This puts Christians in an awkward place.
Because Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who lived in an occupied country and was killed by the superpower of his day.
The first Christians often said 'Jesus is Lord.' For them, Jesus was another way, a better way, a way that made the world better through sacrificial love, not coercive violence. 
So when the commander in chief of the most powerful armed forces humanity has ever seen quotes the prophet Isiah from the Bible in celebration of a military victory, we must ask, Is this what Isiah had in mind?
A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage."

From page 123, after citing some depressing statistics about global wealth distribution:
"Now, when many people get a glimpse of how the world really is, whether it's through travel or study or reading statistics like the ones just cited, it can quickly lead to guilt. We have so much, while others have so little.
Guilt is not helpful.
Honestly is helpful. Awareness is helpful. Knowledge is helpful.
Guilt isn't.
Human history has never witnessed the abundance that we consider normal. America is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. We have more resources than any group of people anywhere at any time has ever had. Ever.
God bless America?
God has.
And we should be very, very grateful." 

From page 160:
"When the goal of a church is to get people into church services and then teach them how to invite people to come to church services, so that they in turn will bring others to more church services--
that's attendance at church services.
And church is not ultimately about attending large gatherings.
Church is people.
People who live a certain way in the world.
People who have authority in the world, but authority that comes from breaking themselves open and pouring themselves out so that the world will be healed. 
The authority that the church has in culture does not come from how right, cool, or loud it is, or how convinced it is of its doctrinal superiority.
As Paul says, 'We don't fight with those weapons.' A church's authority comes from somewhere else-- it comes from how we've been broken open and poured out, not from how well we've pursued power and lobbied and organized ourselves to triumph. This is why when Christians organize politically and start flexing that muscle, making threats about how they are going to impose their way on others, so many people turn away from Jesus."

From page 163/164:
"Our standing in solidarity with the single parent, the unemployed, the refugee, our joining the God of the oppressed to work for jusice in the world, doesn't just make a difference for those who are suffering.
It rescues us.
Have your ever heard someone return from a trip to a third-world setting and talk about how the 'people there' have nothing and yet they have so much joy?
Our destiny, our future, and our joy are in the Eucharist, using whatever blessing we've received, whatever resources, talents, skills, and passions God has given us, to make the world a better place. Disconnection from the suffering of the world, isolation from the cry of the oppressed, indifference to the poverty around us will always lead us to despair.
We were made for so much more.
The church, the Eucharist, says no to religiously sanctioned despair. The Eucharist is an invitation to be the new humanity. To suffer, to bleed, to open the heart, to roll up the sleeves, to have hope that God has a plan to put the world back together, and it's called the church.
In the Eucharist, there's always hope.
Hope for the poor,
and hope for the rich.
Hope for the bored, 
hope for the restless.
The Eucharist confronts its culture with the question, 
If we can spend a trillion dollars on a war,
what else could we spend a trillion dollars on?
The Eucharist is about converting all of that ability and energy and entrepreneurial skill and can-do attitude into blessing for those on the underside of power.
Those on the margins.
Those who aren't in the game.
The Eucharist is about people with the power empowering the powerless to make a better life for themselves."

So, that's it for the moment, but I'd be happy to hear any comments from people who have read or heard of the book, or also from anyone who wants to say hey or comment on the quotes... but let's not start a holy war here!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook


Paul said...

That book sounds pretty interesting, and not necessarily something you would read everyday. The author seems extremely self-aware and modern for being a pastor, which is refreshing to me. I especially liked the part where he says "the authority... does not come from how right, cool, or loud it is..." It made me think of the story about when a friend of mine went to one of the mega-churches up in Fort Collins and saw a lady pull a tambourine out of her purse during a song. Being a Christian doesn't mean you have to lose perspective on what matters or the proper ways to behave in a social setting. It doesn't mean you have to stop being human. Several of the leaders that I met at church camps along the way used to be drug addicts or sex addicts or what have you. They were always the ones that I would talk to the most because a) I felt like their involvement in the Christian community was the most driven by a true desire to be there and not an engrained social responsibility to someone else and b) they helped me keep perspective on being "good", instead of striving to be perfect, which a lot of Christian pretend to be, then hold it against you when you can't live up to their lofty expectations.
Sorry if that got off topic, but since he mentioned "turning people away", I thought it seemed relevant.
Nice post, anywho!

Sitzman said...

Hey Paul!

Thanks for the comment! I'll surely be bringing the book home next time I go to Colorado (to prevent Costa Rican mold, of course), so you can check it out then if you want.

I think that you also make a good point that the idea isn't to be perfect, but to try to be a good person and to be good to others.

My friend Richy recently referred me to a really good article along these lines that you may want to check out:


Thanks again for commenting!

Paul said...

And I also found a cute short animated film which would be good for your book reviews:

Paul said...

That other article was good as well. Short, sweet and to the point. I liked that he mentioned tipping at restaurants. I've always heard about that stigma, but I guess I haven't seen it in action. I think I always just thought it was a common sense thing, since I've seen a lot of jerk-ass kids my age go to a restaurant and not tip because "they're broke students". It kinda just comes down to the fact that you know what you SHOULD do when you go to a sit-down restaurant, so if you don't want to pay those extra couple dollars for someone to serve your every need, then there's other places to go.

The same thing would happen at the bowling alley every once in a while where people would take and take and take and then expect you to give them a discount at the end of the day because they had to ask so much of you.

Again, that's why I liked the article. It's not about being religious, it's about being better than those things that hold us back from doing the right thing.

Sitzman said...


Sitzman said...

Also, I was going to include this quote in my review of "The Old Patagonian Express" by Paul Theroux, but it's pretty long, and it applies to what we're saying here more than it applies to a general book review. He's in a church in El Salvador:

"It was not solemn music. It was two electric guitars, a clarinet, maracas, and a full set of drums—as soon as it had started to blurt, I had shifted my seat for a look as the musicians. It was the harsh wail of tuneless pop that I had been avoiding for weeks, the squawk and crash that I had first heard issuing from Mexico as I stood on the high river bank at Laredo. I had, since then, only rarely been out of earshot of it. How to describe it? With the guitar whine was an irregular beat, and each beat was like a set of crockery dropped on the floor; a girl and a boy shook maracas and sang—this was a cat’s yowl attempt at harmonizing, but off key it did not even have the melodiousness of a set of madly scraping locusts.
They were of course singing a hymn. In a place where Jesus Christ was depicted as a muscular tough, a blue-eyed Latin with slicked-down hair, a deeply handsome young fellow, religion was a kind of love affair. In some Catholicism, and frequently in Spanish America, prayer has become a romancing with Jesus. He is not a terrible God, not a destroyer, not a cold and vindictive ascetic; he is princely, and also the ultimate macho figure. The hymn was a love song, but very much a Spanish American one, crowing with lugubrious passion, the word heart repeated in every verse. And it was extremely loud. This was worship, but there was no substantial difference between what was going on here in this old church and what one could hear in the juke box down the street in El Bar Americano. The church had been brought to the people. It had not made the people more pious; they had merely used this as an opportunity to entertain themselves and take the boredom out of the service. A mass or these evening prayers was an occasion to concentrate the mind in prayer; this music turned it into a distraction."

Sitzman said...

Thanks also for the video link... I was having trouble getting it to play for a few days, but on the Vimeo site itself it worked fine--great movie!