A review of Jake Owensby’s “A Resurrection Shaped Life”

There is a temptation in our instant gratification culture to skip past the difficult stuff.  By way of the well-worn refrain, “its Friday, but Sunday’s coming,” Christians prove ourselves to be complicit in this system of ignoring the pain that life so often brings.  The truth is, however, that we cannot get to Easter Sunday without living into the hard truth and searing pain that is Good Friday.  In A Resurrection Shaped Life, Jake Owensby invites readers to experience the fullness of the life of faith – only getting to resurrection once we’ve admitted that death, pain, and grief are real forces acting on our lives.

81-eszh46l

A Resurrection Shaped Life is a relatively short book. Six chapters, each with a set of reflection questions at the end, give the reader the opportunity to mine deeply the truths contained within.  Like a beautiful Burial Office service, Owensby bookends the difficult, but rewarding, work of redeeming grief and shame through the power of the resurrection with a stunningly powerful prelude and postlude.  If you are prone to skipping the prologue and epilogue of a text, take note that these seem to be intentionally named differently in order to invite you in to an experience of the holy.  In that same vein, Owensby does a masterful job of taking commonly used theological words and concepts and turning the crystal on them in unique and solidly orthodox ways.  He has keen ability to make what is old new again.  Just to name a few, he offers crafty redefinitions of compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

My nerdy excitement about theological definitions aside, what really drew me into this book was the way in which the author weaves together his own personal story with God’s story as told through Scripture.  Again and again, Owensby cracks open his own life story, difficult as it is, in order to help the reader see how the story of God through Jesus Christ seeks to redeem hardship, not simply take it away, through resurrection living.  The stories will be hard for some to read.  I’m not one who is prone to the expression of human emotion, but even I found myself caught short in the stories of his abusive father and the death of his young sister.*

To get to resurrection living, Owensby is unafraid of taking us all the way through Holy Week.  Through the careful weaving of story, he takes us deep into angst, fear, sadness, and anger, and brings us back out on the other side with grace, compassion, and justice.  I would heartily recommend this book as a text for Lenten devotion.  An individual, or better yet a group of people committed to meeting weekly – a Sunday school class, contemplative prayer group, or even a church staff, could read one chapter a week for the first five and half weeks of Lent, and then re-read the whole book, a chapter a day, through Holy Week.  No matter how you read it, A Resurrection Shaped Life offers readers the opportunity to find themselves within the stories, to reflect deeply on God’s dream for each of us in creation, and to take seriously the work of redeeming grief, shame, and loss.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Jake Owensby’s A Resurrection Shaped Life and read it prayerfully.  You will not regret it.


* I should note, these two stories are unrelated, as far as I can tell.

Advertisements

Living and Active

One of the great joys that came in 2017 (and there were many – new church, new house, new town, etc.) was the opportunity to write two chapters for Acts to Action: The New Testament’s Guide to Evangelism and Mission.  Edited by two dear friends of mine, Susan Brown Snook and Adam Trambley, Acts to Action is a deep dive into the eight chapter of Acts as a blueprint for being the Church in a changing world.  I commend it to you. (Full Disclosure – I receive no personal financial gain from your purchasing this book from Forward Movement for you, your congregational leaders, family, and friends.)

acts-to-action

Seriously, buy this book

One of the chapters I was asked to write was about the Bible, and how we might use it to help facilitate mission and evangelism.  The central text was the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, in which Philip, led by the Spirit, helped the Eunuch to understand what he was reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  As I wrote that chapter, what continuously came to mind is the opening line from Sunday’s lesson from Hebrews 4, “The word of God is living and active…”

There are two things I love about this phrase.  First, as I’ve discussed elsewhere (here and here), I think it cases the letter w properly as a lower case letter.  Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the Word of God, capital W.  The Bible, on the other hand, is the word of God, lower case w.  I can’t remember whether it was on the television or radio, but sometime in the last week, I happened upon a preacher who was talking about the absolute truth of the bible.  He suggested, with an eye toward liberal mainline Protestants, that some churches didn’t believe the bible to be absolutely true in everything it says.  Count me among those accused, but I’d argue for a bit of nuance, which isn’t the forte of television and radio preachers.  Saying that the Bible isn’t absolutely true, to my mind, means that it isn’t 100% factually accurate.  One need not look beyond the first two chapters of Genesis to see the two very different creation stories to know that the bible cannot and does not claim factual infallibility.  The bible is, however, 100% true in that it tells the very real story of God’s love for all of creation, and God’s desire to be in right relationship with humankind.  My friend the radio/television preacher was arguing for the book he was holding in his hand to be the Word of God, but I would suggest that only Jesus gets to carry that capital letter.

I’ve digressed, as usual.  What this post was supposed to be about was the titular phrase, “living and active.”  As I said, while writing that chapter, this phrase kept coming to mind.  Those who read the scriptures with regularity often note that they have found something new in their reading.  Rather than being a dry, old book that sits on a shelf, when you engage the bible, you’ll find that the Spirit is at work in and through the words on the page, ready to teach you something new, expand your horizons, or call you to a new and deeper understanding of God.

Clemenceau’s Daughters – a book review

When I was first asked to write a book review of Southern Yellow Pine Publishing’s newest author, Rocky Porch Moore’s first novel, I was nervous.  First of all, I’ve never done a book review on this blog before.  Outside of the assigned book reports I’ve had to do throughout the years, I’ve never reviewed a book for public consumption.  Second, a four-fingered man could count the number of novels I’ve read on one hand.  Having scammed my way into a free pizza with the Book-It program for many years, I graduated from high school having not read a single book from cover to cover.  Since then, I’ve learned to enjoy reading, when it fits my particular areas of nerdery like theology or church history.  I just don’t do fiction.  Last, but certainly not least, Rocky is a parishioner of mine, what if I didn’t like her book?

12189338_1085719588107350_3554918375870754589_o

While my first fear is still alive, the others faded away almost immediately as I opened Moore’s debut novel, Clemenceau’s Daughters.  Much in the way that I wouldn’t say I liked Slumdog Millionaire, or I enjoy the Passion Narratives, the sheer intensity of Clemenceau’s Daughters precludes me from saying I liked it, but the truth of the matter is, for a guy who doesn’t do fiction, I could not stop reading this book.

The story moves quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that at points I found myself wishing the action would slow a bit so I could catch my breath, but it continued, nearly unabated.  Just when I felt like I was catching up with where the author was taking me, we started on another adventure, and I found myself enjoying the next ride as much as the one before.

Moore is a master of imagery.  The book, which jumps between the mountains of north Alabama in the 20th century and the rolling hills of feudal France, is filled with vivid descriptions.  As I read, I could feel the heat of an Alabama summer day, feel the sting of a hand raised in anger, and smell the stench of a drunk who won’t dry out by morning.  No matter where the action takes place, one gets the sense that Moore had been there before.

I hope you’ll take the time one evening to pour yourself a bourbon, sit by the fire, and experience the adventure that is Clemenceau’s Daughter.