I hope you have read our last few blog posts; we are fond of them, and really hope to continue to promote those great titles. Those who are friends and fans (or followers on twitter) know that we have lately discussed some really extraordinary books. Books about social justice (Generous Justice by Tim Keller), about cultural diversity (several by Eric Law), caring for the poor (Economy of Love by Shane Claiborne and his “relational tithe” gang), praying for a world of justice and peace using a new prayerbook drawing on ancient liturgical traditions (Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro.) And then that stunning book, the science/medical/family drama story, The Match: Complete Strangers, A Miracle Face Transplant, Two Lives Transformed, which tells the tale of a historic face transplant, written by Susang Whitman Helfgot. (Here, by the way, is another very recent piece on Susan, the widow of the deceased man who gave his face, and Jim, the recipient, and Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the doctor who did the transplant. Here is a remarkable video done by our photojournalist friend from Pittsburgh, Andrew Rush. What a great series the Post Gazette has been doing on faces!) The Match really has become one of the books I most care about these days…
What interests you—or doesn’t?—about these various reviews? Why is there a renaissance of evangelical social concern, specifically, and volunteerism generally in our needy world? Why would someone work in the field of organ transplants, or among the urban poor? Why do some of us learn to care about such things, to embody such virtue, and others may not? Why do some yield to “compassion fatigue” or encroaching cynicism, while others grow more loving as they age? And why do some who are indeed quite kind often limit their love to those in their personal circle, failing to care much about the suffering of the outside world?
You may recall I’ve often noted the eloquent and rich writing of my good friend Steve Garber, whose Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, set out to explore why some young adults who grow into serious, orthodox, and socially engaged Christian discipleship stick with it, year by year. Why do some who intend to be followers of Jesus Christ, who join churches and strive to live out their faith in every area of life, move into their mid-life years with “cares and convictions intact”? Dr. Garber has pondered this most of his life and his book remains among a handful of essential texts for religious leaders interested in deepening their understanding of how folks become–and remain–engaged in God’s call into radical Christian living. His research has shown us why some deepen and some don’t. It really is important.
And, now, I will add another essential book to such a must-read short list, The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus by Mark Labberton (IVP; $20.00.) This is a new one that has immediately catapulted onto my list of “must-read” resources for anyone wanting to deepen Christian discipleship, learning to care for others in God-honoring ways, being aware of and sensitive to the needs of the world, and, specifically, for those of us who want to influence others to do so. That is, if you want to care (if you felt drawn to order the books I listed above, or, more, if you didn’t) this new book will help you explore how it is that some people end up with tender hearts, caring for others, growing in passion for issues of justice and how to grow, yourself. And, further, as I said, it is ideal for leaders, spiritual directors, Christian educators, campus ministers, pastors or anyone who wonders how to help others learn to love, who long to motivate others to ministries of kindness, public justice, or social concern.
Mark Labberton is an author who we’ve come to admire for another book that we take out with us almost anytime we are displaying books among church folks: The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice. (IVP; $20.00.) In that fine book, this Presbyterian (USA) pastor explores the ethical implications of proper worship, and shows how worshiping leads us to living well; praising a God of justice creates in us a desire for justice, and we live out our grand worship of the majestic king in a way that is consistent with the truths we proclaim in our assemblies. Rev. Labberton is a persuasive, good writer; clear, inspiring. He brings things together in that book like few others. We sincerely recommend it.
The new one on loving neighbor is in many ways a sequel to the first, on loving God. The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor helps us further enter the world of injustice, pain, brokenness, carrying God’s love into the world. Yet–and this is the moving and essential heart of the book–the question remains: why do some move more generously into loving service and some do not? How can you move more generously into loving others? How can I?
I suppose this might be seen as a book about ethics, public justice, living in the world, global concerns, and it is. Yet, is seems also to be an astute survey of regions of the human heart, a book about character formation and spirituality. As Labberton says,
Our hearts don’t consciously will injustice. Nor do they deliberately withhold compassion. Nor is it that tales of injustice fail to grab and concern us. Yet our hearts and weak and confused. Our hearts are easily overwhelmed and self-protective. They are prone to be absorbed mostly with the immediacy of our own lives. Our hearts have the capacity to seek justice, but they are usually not calibrated to do so—at least not beyond concern for our inner circle.
He is clear about “the systemic realities greater than human hearts and elements beyond individual will.” He is a senior fellow, now, for the International Justice Mission (IJM) and knows well the complexities of structural and political matters; in the book he spends time reflecting helpfully on the forces of patterns of injustice.
Yet, this book includes very, very helpful insights about the workings of the heart. About how each of us sees ourselves, our privilege, our cultural settings, the stories (sometimes of great injustice and bullying forced upon us) that have shaped our own worldviews. Some of the chapters are so illuminating, inviting us to explore what he metaphorically calls “our address.” (Ahh, and here is part of it; it is move metaphor and somewhat literal. Who will deny that where we live effects how we see the world, our position in the world coloring our angle of vision.) In the really useful second chapter called “paying attention to paying attention” he wonders how we use words like “we” and studies the relationship between what is, well, “inside” and “outside.” While Walsh & Bouma-Prediger’s Beyond Homelessness remains the mature standard fo
r such worldviewish studies of social location, Labberton’s Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor is similarly wise and provocative, and loaded with fun stories, interesting illustrations, and some very rich spiritual exercises he calls “sabbath encouragement.”
My favorite folk/rock recording artist is the highly acclaimed Bruce Cockburn. He sings in Child of the Wind (from Dart to the Heart )
Little round planet/ In a big universe
Sometimes it looks blessed/ Sometimes it looks cursed
Depends on what you look at obviously
But even more it depends on the way that you see
Labberton spends some remarkable pages writing some insightful, engaging, and inspiring stuff about “what you look at” and, more, “the way that you see.” Part Two of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, in fact, is called “Seeing” and we are so grateful for this important kind of work done by such a clear and helpful pastor and evangelical thinker. The way he combines astute insights about what I might call “worldview formation” and spirituality and the differences (as he puts it) between “vision and sight” are tremendous.
I don’t always take back-cover book blurbs that seriously, but there are authors and leaders who I trust, and who I admire, and when they commend a book with gusto, my ears perk up. When folks like Richard Mouw call it a “must-read” and Brenda Salter McNeil says it is “the book I’ve been waiting for” we know this is going to be great. For instance, missional activist, prolific writer, and all-around creative dude Alan Hirsch says Dangerous Act of Loving is
Eloquent and subversive, intelligent and passionate, these reflections are designed to move you toward a true worship of God that involves loving him in and through every sphere and domain of life.
And the always interesting singer-songwriter Sara Groves says of it,
This book opened my eyes to the difference between doing something, and becoming someone—a person of justice, reoriented to the heart of Jesus
I could list other leaders who have raved about the spiritual helpfulness of The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor and who give ringing endorse-ments. You have my own assurance that this is a book I personally have found very moving, very stimulating, and truly important. Many of us have struggled for years to grow into being the people we long to be, to be those who care rightly, who live lives of mercy and justice (in private and in society.) It’s that old Micah 6:8 thing, isn’t it? Being personally kind and politically active? Walking with God? Living into a spirituality of justice, a philosophy of kindness, an integrated faith-life?
Mark Labberton’s The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor: Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus (IVP; $20.00) helps us grow into all that and more. From sources as diverse as medieval mystic Meister Eckhart to Ugandan Anglican priest David Zac Niringiye to contemporary Afghani novelist Khaled Hosseini, this book glows with great stories and great writing which is clear and profound. Labberton tells stories (some pretty funny, even) from his own experiences, making this an often enjoyable read, despite its hard topic. He offers wise reflection questions throughout, and has an excellent set of conversation questions for reflection and discussion, making this a fabulous resource for a book club or discussion group—if you are willing to be honest and supportive. If you are willing, as he argues, to follow John Calvin’s advice and allow our worship to “rename” us. Re-naming? Books can do that to us, too, and this one surely will. We are happy to promote it and invite you to order some today.
Visit the IVP webpage and click on Author Q & A for a very nice interview about the book.