Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World by John J. Thompson (ON SALE 20% off)

jbc.jpgI’m on a roll here, friends, and this recent book that I want to tell you about is simply a delight, more than a delight, it is important, in a fresh, fun way, offering healthy, life-giving ways to be in God’s world, developing good taste for real stuff, without being overly heavy or tedious.  It’s rare that really important books can be so easy to read and entertaining, but I think this is exactly such a book. And it is even designed and produced with some extra nice features like deckled edge pages, French folded cover, and an embossed front, so we’re happy to tell you about it.

I can’t say enough about significant cultural critics like, say, Matthew Crawford (whose very handsome, hardback book The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming An Individual In Age of Distraction I briefly reviewed the week after Easter, here) who tell us about about craft and quality and working with one’s hands. But The World Beyond Your Head is too philosophical for most ordinary readers, I’m afraid.  It offers coffee beans.jpgstanding stone coffee.jpgprofound social criticism, eloquent and artful discussions about mosaic coffee.jpgthe need for thinking about real skills for jobs that require exquisite experience and skill, and it is well worth reading through. It is the sort of excellent book that we love to recommend, but I’m aware that for many adult Sunday school classes, book groups, or people looking for a book to take on vacation, it may be a bit much.

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World (Zondervan; $15.99 — our BookNotes sale price = $12.79) by John J. Thompson, however, is a quicker, pleasant read, enjoyable, full of great stories, even inspiring ones that brought tears to my eyes more than once. It, too, is an important voice calling us to some humane values and life-giving habits that are vital in our  hyper-modern, digital age.  Thompson tells of his own story which itself is pretty interesting.

The subtitle of Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate says it well: it is about “crafting a handmade faith in a mass-market world.” Thompson extols the rise of farmer’s markets, teaches us how to make home-made bread (and support high quality bakeries), explores appreciating fine wine, celebrates excellent, ethically-sourced chocolate, ruminates on the fascination with micro-brews, good local coffee roasters (not Starbucks, since they routinely burn the beans, obscuring the real flavor), the goodness of well-produced music, and always authentic, deep relationships, even inviting us to consider slower, less formulaic ways of being church.  God cares about it all, he reminds us — “There Is No Secular” shouts one chapter heading, and throughout every chapter you pick up Thompson’s appreciation for the joy of living, a sense of the wonder of the ordinary, and a call to abundance even in a very messed up world and a less than ideal life.

Reading this reminded me of a lot of the friends I most admire including passionate coffee shop owner Greg at Standing Stone Coffee Company in Huntingdon, PA and Matt, an expert roaster at Mosaic Coffee Company in Shippensburg, PA and a most amazing Episcopalian friend (and occasional bookseller) Larry Bourgeois, considered by some to be a “Patron Saint of Espresso.” (If you care about coffee shops and serious espresso, you’ve got to read that little story about him.) Places like The Saxifrage School in Pittsburgh are actually teaching all manner of DIY stuff, creating a community of like-minded co-teachers and co-learners. Steve and Mel Montgomery have stewarded well a small agricultural ministry in Ohio called Lamppost Farms. Even local friends at Wyndridge Farm here in Dallastown are doing excellent work “living crafty” as they develop unique apple ciders, hard cider, and now craft beers. You should visit them, or the legendary Dallastown Roburritos on Main Street for that matter, the next time you visit Hearts & Minds.

So, yes,  Jesus, Bread, Chocolate… is a perfect book to tell you about now.

You see, a week or so ago I did a reflection on books about the arts. Then, the most recent long BookNotes review was of a book that told the story of the rise of punk, grunge, alternative rock, and eventually the latest indie music scene, in order to highlight the tensions between music and money, art and commerce.  The Day Alternative Music Died by Adam Caress is great rock journalism that exposes how magazines like Rolling Stone fed the myth of what hard rock was becoming — rowdy rock star celebrity lifestyles and how that eroded an earlier sense that contemporary music was, in fact, a serious art form, and that pop music journalism could also be serious art. I thought it was a fascinating – even prophetic – book that told the story of the history of rock through this interesting lens, rooted in an obvious moral center.

The Day Alternative Music Died- Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, .jpgAs I was raving about that good book, it dawned on me, of course, that some people just aren’t interested in the rise of rock and roll.  A book about Dylan and Zeppelin, Curt Cobain or U2, or the rise of indie labels like Asthmatic Kitty or artists like The Head and the Heart or Arcade Fire will bring reading pleasure to those who follow this stuff, but even though many BookNotes readers don’t have time to invest in a book like this, I’d hope that many of us are interested in how big corporations and often unsavory performers have wielded an unhelpful influence over our popular culture.

The impact of late modern capitalism which shapes our wants and desires, and has caused us to see ourselves less as citizens but more as consumers, is powerful.  Caress’s book and John J. Thompson’s have this as a backstory, it seems to me, this big bit of the zeitgeist.  Any lasting discernment about the spirit of the age and how we should then live must include — in the immortal phrase of the hot 1973 song by the O’Jays, “Money, money, money, monnn-eeeey.” 

counterf gods 2.jpgeconomy-of-desire-christianity-and-capitalism-in-a-postmodern-world.jpg(I think Tim Keller’s study of personal idolatry — Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope That Matters — is an excellent way to begin to think about this. Or consider Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh, published by Eerdmans. The Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World by Daniel M. Bell [part of a Baker Academic  series edited by James K.A. Smith] is a more sophisticated cultural study… )

I think most of us know that Jesus was pretty spot on when he said one cannot serve two masters: which will it be, God or money?

Not to overstate it, but this business – a background thesis of The Day Alternative Music Died — also comes up in Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate, although gladly in ways that are convicting without being harsh, insightful without being pedantic.  Thompson is a natural storyteller, a trail guide showing us how he found more abundant life and deeper friendships and a more authentic way of living in the material world and he gently offers it it to us.  His writing is upbeat and generous and inviting, even though he can rant, and he sometimes does. And when he’s on his soapbox, believe me, it’s fun and he’s right.

In one of the fabulous chapters about coffee, for instance, he says,

Coffee is my daily reminder that there is a major difference between cost and value. The industrial creed reinforces the idea that cheap is better and profit is king. While frugality is a positive habit to foster and it’s good to save money when you can, when industrialism helps you save cash by making things cheaper, it’s usually so you can and will buy more junk. The spiritual implications are profound. Cheap is often just cheap.

Recalling a simply beautiful story about the best cup of coffee he ever had — freshly roasted and brewed while sitting in a remote hut with a Guatemalan peasant farmer while on a trip with Compassion International – he know that “the experience was priceless.” 

Of course, we should care about where our products come from, what poorly paid workers or slaves have been abused along the way.

When economic principles shape the way we value human beings and form relationships, we rob ourselves, and our neighbors, of the sacredness of our humanity.  How often do we contribute to the exploitation of others by pursuing only our own personal gain? We turn community into a marketplace.

measuring more than money.jpgI suppose most of us understand the principles of ethically-sourced products, and why it could be argued that paying a bit more for lasting quality is better stewardship then merely buying cheap or mass produced stuff.  He explains this multi-faceted bottom line, resisting the reductionism of using merely financial metrics in determining what is best, even in our use of money. I don’t know about you, but I need reminded of this almost every day when I am tempted to pay a little less for additive laden, industrial food as opposed to more healthy organics, say, or a cheap bit of fast food instead of something more nutritious that may take longer to prepare or cost more. 

He reminds us,

You can run anything through a formula to calculate what it really is worth. Start with the cost, and make sure to factor in as many costs as you can as opposed to just the obvious ones. What does it cost you in dollars? In time? In attention? Why does it cost the environment? Your community? Your neighbor? Then consider the value. What does the thing accomplish? How does it make life better for your neighbor? How does it affect your connection to others, to creation, to God? A fast-food cheeseburger might not cost me much money – but it does cost me something in terms of health. It does cost the environment something.

And, I might add – again, I assume you know this – that it is financially so much better to buy from a locally-owned, family business, when you can, since more of your dollar spent locally stays in the local community than if you give your dough to Walmart, Target or Applebee’s with their out of state CEOs, tax loopholes, off shore accounts and such.  Even if the big corporation is relatively benign (and some do great work on instituting green policies and philanthropy, etc.) it is usually a more fruitful economic choice to keep money circulating within your own region, or within family-owned, smaller businesses with whom you have connections. (Uh huh!)

The Small-Mart Revolution.jpgAn aside: for more on this see, The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition by Michael Shuman (Berrett-Koehler; $16.95) or his book on small town financing, a guide to “community resilience” called Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity (published by Chelsea Green Publishing; $17.95.) I’m eager to read the new paperback edition of the national bestseller, set in Bassett, Virginia,  Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local,  And Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy (Back Bay Books; $17.00.)  Thompson doesn’t talk about localism as such — there is nary a Wendell Berry quote in the 250+ pages — but you really can see how this fits in.

I love the way John Thompson helps us explore this sort of question about economics and justice and common sense in an upbeat way with lots of obvious stewardly logic and spiritual sensibilities.  Listen in:

It’s like everything else, really.  Good furniture cost more but lasts longer and looks better. Carefully grown, harvested, roasted, ground, and brewed coffee costs more than the factory stuff, but boy, does it taste better. A painting costs more than a print or the same image that’s available online for free. It takes more time to find good music to listen to than it does to just go with the cultural flow and listen to whatever is on the radio or watch whatever is showing at the local cinema. Vinyl LPs cost more than DCs. It takes time to cultivate a few close, intimate relationships with people as opposed to just shaking hands with a few dozen acquaintances on a Sunday morning. But sometimes – actually most of the time – the carefully crafted is worth far more to us than what it costs. It adds real value to our lives, not just a quick fix. It stays with us. It satisfies. It inspires us.

Something as simple as coffee can reveal much about how we assign value, but the implications run deeper than what is in our cups. The industrial temptation to go for the cheapest option, to ignore the ethical implications of our consumption, or to choose not to refine our palates in order to recognize excellence and purity when we taste it is an unfortunate missed opportunity at best. We risk drowning out the still small voice of God when we succumb to the noise of the marketplace and let is carry us away.

Wow, did you get that?

Do you think this is true?

Do you agree that we may have a spiritual obligation to refine our palates in order to recognize excellence?  

Did you even consider that you can “choose not to refine (your) palates…”?  And that such choices — of inertia and lack of inspiration and attentiveness, mostly, I’d suppose — can “risk drowning out the still small voice of God”?  Wouldn’t this make for some good conversation in your church or small group or college fellowship?

Here is how he explains some of this in a section called “Civilization, Reformation, Discernment, and Beer” (which reveals some very nice history, by the way, about the brewing prowess of one Katy Luther, whose brews helped fund the Lutheran reformation.)

Individual tastes are fascinating, exciting, and frustrating things. My exploration of artisanal things has heightened my awareness of the power of taste – for good or ill – in many different aspects of human experience. Tastes can bring people together, or they can become splinters that keep people apart. Until we cultivate a taste for a thing, we will not seek it out, value it, or take it into ourselves. Once we cultivate a taste for “finer” things, however, we run the risk of becoming arrogant, self-important, and dismissive of people who haven’t yet cultivated those same tastes. There are some tastes that matter – that are either inherently good or bad for the individual and the people surrounding him or her; other tastes don’t’ matter at all. Sometimes it’s difficult to known which is which, and the necessary discernment can be impossible to master outside of the context of community. 

This is good, good stuff.  Ponder this paragraph from a section called “The Sacrament of Savoring” and tell me you don’t agree.  And that you don’t know of folks who need to be reading this book together:

created not made.jpgSome tastes are easy to acquire, while others require careful cultivation. Few children need much help to cultivate a taste for white break, sweets, pop music or cartoons. A love for whole grain bread, spinach, classical music, or good movies, however, require an intentional cultivation of taste. It is one of the saddest ironies of the fall of humankind, I believe, that the things we love most easily are often the worst things for our mental, spiritual, and physical health. The things that improve our health, sharpen our minds, enrich our faith, and embolden our service are often initially repulsive. Cultivating a taste for the good, the true, the beautiful is what mentors, pastors, teachers, gurus, and friends can encourage us to pursue, as we do the same for them.

Later, Mr. Thompson offers some clear-headed, basic reminders about how to cultivate better taste; he writes,

Cultivating good taste is a skill that tends to bleed from one area of life into other areas. As I spend time intentionally tasting new foods and talking with friends and experts about the flavors I might otherwise miss, my appreciation and desire for the good stuff only grow. Over the years I have noticed that as my discernment improves with regard to beer, coffee, and food, I also tend to become more aware of cheap teaching, weak ideas, poorly executed community, and shallow values. Then, on my better days, I actually find the strength to say no to those things.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Thompson reminds us that we need community – friends and advisers – to deepen our faithfulness in this intentionally artisanally crafted way of being faithful in the world.  I stuck a stickie-note on this passage and have pondered it for my own life:

There’s no silver bullet to subdue our taste for junk food, cheap beer, or plastic fellowship. If you want to have better taste, hang out with the people who have better taste. If you realize you need to be spiritually and emotionally nourished by fellow pilgrims, then find those pilgrims and spend time with them.  Lots of time.


But here’s the thing: some of us don’t have many friends, let alone friends who can enliven our passion for taking God’s good world of color and taste and texture and economics seriously, let alone from the perspective of a mature, subtle, sane Christian worldview.

oscar wilde what you read quote.jpgWhich is – I’m not being glib, I believe this with all my heart – exactly why books of this nature are so important.  Books like this – those that push us toward maturity and thoughtfulness and being alive with God for the sake of the world, without being doctrinaire or weird – can, especially if read together with others, generate conversations and dreams and renewal about deepening our daily discipleship.  I’ve staked my life on this — that books like this matter. They can be our allies, our guides, bread for the journey.  Reading interesting books together can make a difference in our lives, in our churches, in our world. 


lord of all pots and pans.jpg

Here is something you should know about this fascinating book: at every point Thompson moves from what he seems to be talking about — the economics of coffee, say, or the joys of pure, dark chocolate, or his friend who gave up his commercial bakery because he felt he couldn’t sustain doing it right without compromise, or another friend who is learning to be a high level sommelier — and then does a nice and helpful spiritual analogy. He shifts from baking bread to Jesus being bread in the course of a few sentences. And don’t even get him started on Jesus’s first miracle with that wine-making thing.

I usually hate it when somebody does that: teaches us something about something in God’s world, but then tacks on a spiritualized message, as if the content about the thing itself wasn’t enough, but that a Christian reader needed a theological add-on, a homily to justify writing about whatever — in this case, chocolate or bread or beer or gardening.  At first I wondered why Thompson did this – he calls us to an organic faith and almost mocks the cheesy piety of the evangelical subculture in which he was mostly raised.  He, of all people, understands the integrated sense of goodness in God’s world, and invites us to enjoy craft beer because it is a good gift of God and invites us to enjoy buying organic food because it is better for us and our environment, and doesn’t really need to “justify” his normative wisdom with little Bible lessons along the way. One would think he would refuse to do these little Bible lessons in a book about these material matters.

jesus-bread-and-chocolate-nashville-launch-party.jpgBut – having said that – it works, it really does. In the hands of a less wholistic and such deeply integrated writer, there would be this feel of bouncing back and forth between seemingly secular content – how bread is made, the history of coffee beans, the rise of indie music – and then stuff about the Bread of Life or Jesus or community.  It would feel like just spiritual icing on a cake, added on to sweeten us up. 

But for Thompson these things are so interwoven anyway that I believe this is not merely a ploy from the evangelical publisher to make the book acceptable to a conventionally pious audience (I wondered that at first, I admit) but is really who this author is.  He really does see that a good meal with dear friends is a signal of transcendence pointing us to the Eucharistic meal and he makes his case for it, without much glitz, just a wing and a prayer and it just sounds right.  He really does see that if we “taste” and see that the Lord is good, it should effect how we think about taste. So he preaches the Bible a bit.

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith is a book loaded with great insights about being blessed by contemporary Christian music and how to do worship and nurturing one’s own spiritual life even as we are called to a missional lifestyle, especially for the needy.  But these vignettes of his own faith journey, leading him to work in an urban ministry or take up global missionary travel or stories of conflict resolution in his home church or his insights about this or that Bible story are not add-ons or perfunctory. They really do relate to what seems to be the major part of the book — why crafting a slower, more artisanal lifestyle of intentional choices favoring the authentic rather than the mass-marketed is ultimately not only more healthy and more wondrous; such an anti-consumerist posture and attention to the aesthetic dimension is actually more faithful to the story of the Bible and the redemptive plan of God to bring abundance and shalom and restoration to the creation Christ has and is redeeming. 

for the life- letters to the exiles.jpgIn many ways, this is a great book to follow up the popular For the Life of the World DVDs that we have promoted so heartily over the last year.

Or, if you read Jesus Bread and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a flow package.jpgMass-Market World, and are wondering about how to incarnate this kind of lifestyle resisting cheap theology, shallow relationships and consumeristic desires, why not gather some friends over some good food or drink and watch the artful and fun and profound For the Life of the World curriculum?  There is a bit about gardening in there, a nice episode which includes how wine is made and what a good gift it is if we are attentive to it. It’s a perfect follow-up.

I have long admired John J. Thompson, and although we’ve never met, I have enjoyed his band (The Wayside) and always wanted to attend the legendary Cornerstone Festival.  (Those going to Wild Goose may find jjt picture as a child small.jpghim there, maybe even speaking on a panel, as he has before.) We were jealous of his amazing True Tunes record store that specialized in mostly higher quality, indie Christian rock and became not only a concert venue and gathering place for Chicago-area Christian artists and music aficionados, but a record label and great music and culture magazine. He tells a bit in the book about the formation of this passion-driven, music-loving ministry/business venture and how it was decimated when bought out by a larger corporate concern (ahh, what a coda to true tunes logo.jpgAdam Caress’s book, a postscript that could be called “the day alternative Christian music died.”) I found it really interesting and very relevant.  I’m sure many will resonate with his struggles to forgive and reconfigure his life after his vocation was hindered and career was lost.

For anyone who has followed contemporary Christian music, especially its more artistic and serious manifestations, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is a must-read.  His good stories of a micro-brew in Nashville called The Black Abbey named after the reformation-era rise of brewing and his forays into the complicated history of bread-baking or chocolate-making, or his families struggles with the cost of buying organic and/or local fresh food (which isn’t as expensive as one presumes, we learn) are peppered with references music.  He mentions lots of CCM and other cornestone fest.jpgartists I respect, from Mark Heard or the 77s, Rez Band or Kerry Livgren, Daniel Amos or The Call. He has a chapter or two about music and, for instance, speaks well of the recent trend of “house concerts” and smaller live shows.  In fact, the very first paragraph starts with a discussion with Americana legend Buddy Miller about “twang” and many of the glowing endorsements are from significant voices with the alt-Christian music world – from Tom Willet to Jon Trott, Doug Van Pelt to Dave Perkins, even Nick Purdy, the co-founder of Paste magazine.

I love the way thoughtful singer-songwriter and Bible teacher Michael Card puts it:

John Thompson has listened to the parable of his life and retold it in terms of coffee, chocolate, bread and beer. What could be more deliciously compelling? It is only in community, gathered around a table laid with God’s flavorful fare, that we learn to listen to and appreciate our lives. Joh has taught us just how this can be done.

degarmo_key_straight_on_lpsized1.jpgIt is really touching how he tells how as an eccentric and troubled youth (while his family was on the run from a stalking, abusive father) somebody slipped him a DeGarmo & Key cassette, perhaps saving his life as he discovered a world of faith-based rock music) which he eventually got autographed during a meet and greet at a mall. He still has that signed cassette cover in his office where Eddie DeGarmo is now his boss at Capitol Music.

There are plenty of tender stories here, some about his own experiments with home brewing, home roasting, bread-baking.  But often they are about relationships, raising children, the graces of time spent together, making memories, with families and friends. I loved one sweet story where Thompson is given by his beloved grandfather a bottle of home-made wine to celebrate his birthday.

rhubarb wine.jpgGrandpa Holton came out to the deck with a bottle that had a faded handwritten label on it. “Happy twenty-first birthday to my first grandson!” he said. “I bottled this wine when you were a baby. I think it’s time we open it.” I remember the bottle well. Grandpa opened it and poured a small bit into the cups of all the adults, including mine and my new bride Michelle’s. I’m not sure what rhubarb wine is supposed to taste like, but the flavor in my mouth was something like a cross between turpentine, lemon juice, and soap. “Some wines don’t get better with age, I guess,” my grandpa laughed.

I think that may have been the best drink I ever had. 

Awww.  I’ll admit the story made tears run down my cheek.

Thompson explains that he has “run down many rabbit trails in my obsession with twang.”  He says that readers will “get a feel for that as you read these stories and listen in on my conversations with coffee gurus, bakers, chocolate makers, brewers, and others I’ve encountered along the way.”  And he does offers great interviews, sidebars, and an array of urban gardeners and foodies and artists and entrepreneurs who help us realize what this looks like in the day to day or ordinary living.

Along the way, Thompson warns us, “I’m losing my taste for the prepackaged, the mass-produced, and the canned. It’s no longer enough to add water, microwave, stir, and eat. I want to know where things come from. I want to know how they affect me. I want to know how they were supposed to taste before the factories took over.”  Maybe this will happen to you, to me, as we read.  Some of you are already adept at this, so you will appreciate it. For others, consider this an invitation with a warning, and nearly a promise. 

 I search obsessively for the good, the true, the beautiful in the grooves of an LP, the pages of a book, the frames of a film, and the conversations and prayers I share with a small group of pilgrims in our home. In these pages I’m going to do my best to ruin you for the cheap stuff. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what kind of coffee you drink; it is the kind of faith you live, or the kind of faith you abandon, that can make all the difference in the world. 

John J. Thompson is very aware that this business is tricky, and that there’s no perfect choice in these matters, no single PC agenda. This book isn’t a new sort of legalism, certainly not a hip rulebook for being uber cool. And it isn’t always black and white, good vs bad. He says, “I’ve noticed that most human endeavors fit somewhere on a continuum between the manufactured and the handmade, between plastic and flesh.”

slow church.jpgThompson uses the word “industrial” as short hand for food and manufacturing systems that create what he calls “the sacraments of industrialism” values which favor mass production, cheap consistency, customization, measurability, efficiency, and such.   It is a critique that is offered quickly and clearly and practically and is similar to the more substantive study of this McDonaldization found in another one of my favorite books, The Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison (IVP; $16.00.) You can see my review of it here.

In response to this rationalistic, consumeristic, industrial worldview, the ethos of our age captured in what French Reformed thinker Jacques Ellul  called years ago “The Technological Society” many of us are “seeking out handmade things and communal experiences in ways that buck… years of one-way commercial “progress.”  We “follow hints of this “crafted” approach to life and faith like they are breadcrumbs leading us deeper and deeper into an enchanted forest.”  

Thompson admits, “It chills me to think of the toxic effect industrial fumes are having on our relationships, art, and imagination, and even on how we understand and interact with the designer of all this stuff.  Too many people are giving up on Jesus because of the corporate accent of his people.”

Which is yet another reason some of us should read this book.

artisanal logo.jpgEven if it all sounds trendy and even elitist to you, there is a movement like this afoot, and one would nearly have to be culturally blind not to see it. What might Christian faith have to do with this growing sub-culture? What are the implications of it for faith and church life?  It may offer a window into something good or possibly redemptive in our society, and church folk, one would think, would at least want to understand it.

Thompson is savvy about this, too, and realizes  that this back to the local and handmade could be made into a fetish or co-opted, reduced to just a look or caricature. He reminds us that,

My artisanal spelunking, however, is showing me that we don’t need to hand out suspenders and moustache grooming tools to our worship teams or replace all the lights in our churches with Edison bulbs in order to correct the unfortunate pall of industrialism has cast of the church.

For a funny spoof of all this, I can’t help myself. You should check out this website, and the video advertising Artisanal Pencil Sharpening.

Do you recall a scene from Close Encounters of a Third Kind showing Richard Dreyfuss’s characterization of Roy Neary, who, when he contemplated a mound of mashed potatoes, exclaimed “This means something! This is important!”?

Well, John Thompson cites that scene as he is sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, a cup made from beans he got from a farmer friend that he roasted himself.  His wife might be serving tea from her collection of teacups from all over the world, or they might be talking about Jesus while attending the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Life should have meaning, stuff matters; the daily is the window to God’s goodness and grace, not to mention the wounded wonder of God’s creation.  Roy Neary is right!

In a world of hardships and suffering, we might think it is trivial or a distraction to focus on the privileges of enjoying God’s gifts of fresh coffee or spicy chocolate (or mashed potatoes, even.)  But Thompson makes a great case that, even knowing what we know about world hunger and the more pressing daily needs of many, this hand-crafted sensibility, learning DIY artisanal practices and ethical shopping and slower living and searching out deeper friendship with more earthy spirituality is all really important.  I think he is right. It is, after all, finally, a question of meaning. This stuff matters.

jesus bread.jpgI think Dostoevsky was wrong to say “beauty will save us” and Thompson would be wrong if he said micro-brews or indie publishing or local veggies or fine wine will save us.  But Jesus, Bread and Chocolate doesn’t overstate the case. It invites us to a deeper, more comprehensive lifestyle of multi-faceted flourishing before the Lord, one that honors the non-economic, but very real God-given dimensions of the world, such as the aspects of products or experiences that we might call aesthetic, environmental, justice-related, relational, even.) This wholistic way of life is full of meaning, appropriately living as God’s image-bearers in a world of wonder, one that at once celebrates the good, searches for the better, and honors the complexity of it all.  

Amy Hughes, a professor at Gordon College with a PhD in theology concurs. She says,

John Thompson melds memoir and experimentation, showing us how the basic stuff of life like food and music turn out to be not so basic after all, but instead are an avenue for renewed connection, joy, and faith. This books isn’t just about “hipster” values; it’s about grounding those of us who have felt disconnected from authenticity – and not just from where our coffee or tomatoes come from, but from the gospel. The good stuff takes more time, it costs us more. It’s also messy and full of what Thompson calls “twang.” Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is about learning how to cultivate our tastes again for food and faith that connect us with flavor and mystery. 

She is absolutely right when she says that “this book is satisfying, but I must warn you: it will make you hungry… for the good stuff.”

Enjoy this rather hand made video about the book.  Really nice.  Thanks for caring.

jbc.jpgregularly $15.00

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