So here we are: the February, pre-Jubilee conference Ministry Exchange. The big question looming for me is, "what to review?"Â The glorious conference theme of the creation-wide renewal Christ brings--didn't we sing "far as the curse is found"Â just a month ago?--will be explained as you discuss and invite folks to Jubilee. Students should know that coming to this event is, if not utterly unique, certainly pushing towards a vision not yet commonplace in most churches. It is special and important--they're in on something! What books can I mention that might help you here in the final days of Jubilee promotion AD 2001?
Let me first mention a great way to bring up the implications of faith for daily life, inspired by Gathering at the Table, the $2.00 booklet I promoted (through Scott Calgaro) at January staff training. This is a handsome little booklet on how cooking and eating--and all that that entails, from going to the market to cleaning up--can be seen as an invitation to celebrate God's presence and provision. In a nutshell, this essay offers a Christian perspective on dining and therefore can serve as a perfect, practical example of Jubilee thinking.
Happily, its framework is both practical and symbolic. That is, it reminds us of the need for just agricultural practices (in a world where some--including, ironically, those who pick and harvest our fruits and vegetables--don't have enough food to eat, it is simply wrong to not be attentive to justice issues) and at the same time, it describes eating in the nearly liturgical sense of being at table, sharing bread. To say it again: it emphasizes practical matters--good, homemade stuff is nutritionally and economically wisest--as well as the more symbolic--simple attention to good manners and table aesthetics can illustrate deeper truths about the nature of the good and the beautiful in God's world.
The booklet is garnished with delightful quotes from writers like agricultural essayist and Christian farmer, Wendell Berry, and the wild and woolly Episcopal chef Robert Farrar Capon (whose spectacular Supper of the Lamb was used in new staff training about 15 years ago). Add a few prayers by Catholic mystics and some very helpful details about kitchen staples--tomato sauces, salad dressings and the like--and you have a perfect way to understand the Jubilee vision thing, eating and drinking to the glory of God!
This book raises the Big Question of Connections. If we know that we and our churches live from the bread and wine placed on our Sunday table, blessed and shared by God, what must we do about all the other tables of our lives? If God has called us not just to "see"Â the world differently (a wholistic worldview) but to embody that in a distinctively Christian lifestyle, what better place to begin than the very ways we approach one of our most obvious daily experiences? How do we connect faith and life, spirituality and the ordinary, our fallenness and our feasting?
This wise booklet starts with an invitation to reflect on the meaning of eating and the richness of the experience of gathering for meals. It reminds us that food has something to do with our relationships with our bodies, other persons, the earth, even God. Other writers have said this, of course, but this booklet says it so simply. In a more lengthy treatment of food and meals in the Bible, Breaking Bread: The Spiritual Significance of Food by Presbyterian educator Sara Colvin Juengst, we learn how central Jesus' meal-sharing (prefiguring the last supper) was to his hospitality; some theologians even talk about "table theology."Â In fact, there is an incredible children's book which traces the uses of food in the Scriptures; written by a professor from Saint Vincent's in Latrobe, it is called God Speaks to Us in Feeding Stories; it wonderfully shows that, in the Bible, food can reveal much about God and His reign.
It is very interesting that Gathering at the Table and a little companion book of table graces and prayers, Giving Thanks at the Table is published by a Roman Catholic press, Liturgy Training Publications. LTP usually publishes books about creative worship, liturgical renewal and serious Eucharistic theology for parish renewal. That they believe good worship leads to a spirituality of the mundane and a daily discipleship informed by liturgical insights should come as no surprise. That our Jubilee conference invites cultural reformation and Christian thinking goes without saying. But will it all make a difference in our daily practical lives? Do we really believe that our celebrations of faith in the Hilton ballroom inform and reform our daily lives? Jesus promises to give us big things to do if we are faithful in little things. If you want to model "baby steps"Â for your Jubilee students, carry this inexpensive essay around with you, pass a few out, invite folks to apply some of it--even ask students who eat in the dining hall to reflect on how it might work out, even there.
Wendell Berry, I'm told by a friend, recently visited a Christian college renowned for its commitment to Jubilee-style integration of faith and learning. When asked what he thought such a Christian institution might do to enhance its vision and embody greater faithfulness, Mr. Berry quickly responded with a germane proposal to reform food purchasing--buying from local farmers--for the dining hall and the consequent eating habits of students.
The erstwhile President of said institution brushed him off, citing financial matters which make such practices impossible.
Perhaps our students--nurtured in radically-committed fellowship groups, intentional discipling relationships and gaining hopes and dreams and imagination at Jubilee--will take prophets like Berry more seriously. If so, Gathering at the Table is a very nice place to begin.
While I'm on a food theme, allow me to invite you--particularly women, or those who work with women--to enjoy a fresh-brewed life. That's the coffee metaphor Nicole Johnson shares in Fresh Brewed Life: A Stirring Invitation to Wake Up Your Soul (Word, $12.99 paperback). Complete with frothy coffee recipes, this guide to daily spirituality is a delight to read, packed with ideas which will percolate long after you've finished each chapter. It covers everything from awakening to God's presence in our "longings,"Â invites readers to the habit of journaling, and looks at topics such as anger, beauty, sexuality and friendship.
Perhaps you will be convinced to check out this tasty brew if I tell you that one of the features of each chapter is a sidebar where Johnson shares recommended movies and CDs for that section. How many Christian books know enough to cite "That's What the Lonely is For"Â by acoustic folkster David Wilcox? Or recommends films like The Fisher King or books like (get this) Succulent, Wild Women by the artist SARK? This book is surprisingly interesting and, for a middle-American evangelical press, rather edgy and unique. Fresh-Brewed's thesis is that God is calling us to wake up, to shout an enthusiastic "Yeeesss!"Â to life. Immensely practical and simply written, this could be a guide which helps encourage a sense of being reflective about one's life, solid Christian truths and Kingdom vision into women's ordinary life issues. Forgive the indulgence when I say that I found it "good to the last drop."Â
It's almost a sure thing--after, if not during, the Jubilee conference--that a student is going to look at you eagerly and ask, "So what's the deal with postmodernism?"Â
Or, the wiseacres, mocking our tendency to abstraction and intellectualism, will loudly insist that they have no interest in learning about a word they can't even spell. (I wonder if Bill Painter recalls me refusing, on populist principle, to attend a 1976 conference on hermeneutics. "Herman Who?"Â was the cheap joke, and I'm still embarrassed at my display of not-so-witty anti-intellectualism.)
So. You need to know a bit about postmodernism. I've said it a hundred times here that Walsh & Middleton's Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be is the best book on the subject, despite it's depth and breadth. (It is not the hardest work on the subject, but as a mid-level book, it is a serious read.) Stan Grenz's Primer on Postmodernism is quite useful, too (with the first chapter comparing the old Star Trek and the new almost all one needs to know). Gene Vieth, while perhaps seeming a bit too attached to the modernist project, has a very readable and fascinating book called Post-Modern Times.
For worried beginners, though, I think I have found the best introduction yet: the brand new The End of the World As We Know It by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel fame (Multnomah Press, $17.99 in hardcover only). This may be the most user-friendly guide to the shifts in our culture yet done. Gladly, it does not dumb it down so much that collegiates would find it shallow, nor does it try to avoid some of the more complex aspects of pomo philosophy, art or pop culture. It quotes most of the right books and recommends the most important primary sources. Still, it is a basic read, written with clarity and a simple, light touch. Very commonplace stories illustrate Smith's points nicely. His constant focus is on how this new era, demanding new paradigms, affects our mission and ministry; he even maps out some new strategies for faithful witness and service.
Supplement any of these titles with Os Guinness' nicely written, critical reflection, A Time for Truth (which I bravely reviewed in these pages a few months back), and the fab audiobooktrax of Len Sweet's (SoulTsunami), and you will be set to talk seriously with students who have kept their ears open at Jubilee and want to know more.
It is a gift that we bring to our young friends, you all know, helping them understand the basic debates amongst the scholars in the academy where they witness, helping them to engage the philosophical ideologies reflected in popular culture and mass media. The Jubilee conference to a large extent is about this "taking every theory captive,"Â which necessitates diving into the realm of ideas like postmodernity. But it also means less abstract aspects of sanctification, too. As we walk alongside students--sharing with them our own journey of daily faithful living, interpersonal growth and Christian scholarship--perhaps these resources will be of use. Perhaps you will be drawn to deeper Jubilee visions and uniquely Christian ways of living yourself.