December 17, 2014

IM Book Review: Why George Bailey Is My Hero

The God Of The Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People
by Matthew B. Redmond
Kalos Press (2012)

* * *

“For we want to be the George Bailey whose significance has been revealed. However, we do not want to be the George Bailey who leads a mundane life, void of the excitement of the wider world which he longed for. We identify with his frustrations. We run away from the mundane. Or we tolerate it in expectation of something…other. Wanting to have the same kind of impact on people’s lives is not the same as wanting to be George Bailey. No one really wants to be George Bailey.” (Matthew B. Redmond)

It is an interesting fact that, in order to portray the significance of an ordinary life, Frank Capra had to make a movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” that is a fantasy. To communicate the point that simple, mundane living and loving can be extraordinarily meaningful and impactful, the director was forced to create an imaginary world in which angels come to earth to teach heavenly lessons to mortals through supernatural machinations.

Apparently, the actual living of our lives does not seem so “wonderful.”

You might think that Christians and churches and pastors would recognize more the need to encourage one another in the midst of the daily ordinariness of life. However, it is an unfortunate fact that we are often just as caught up in the quest for extraordinary experiences, visible, discernible signs of God’s power and favor, and participation in an endless variety of “great things for God” that keep us from viewing our daily lives with anything approaching a sense of wonder.

Matthew B. Redmond agrees, and he has written a marvelous book which gives an alternate perspective.

How do I love Matt Redmond’s new book?

Let me count the ways.

I love this book, because…

  • He is clear-eyed enough to see that, in many Christian circles, “the ordinary is given lip-service, but overlooked like the garnish on a steak dinner.”
  • He repents of being a pastor who preached a God who is “waiting for each and every believer to do something monumental.” (Me too, Matt.)
  • He affirms that “there is a God for those who are not changing anything but diapers.”
  • He recognizes and has the courage to say that most of us have always lived mundane lives, are living mundane lives, and will always live mundane lives. And we need encouragement.
  • He is wise enough to read the New Testament as it is and not as we imagine it to be. I am not the Apostle Paul. I am one of those nameless Gentiles in one of his churches. I do not travel the world as my vocation, engaged in daily adventures of the Spirit: winning converts, escaping persecutors, calling down miracles, planting churches, writing the Bible. (Actually that is hagiography that hardly describes Paul’s life either, but that’s another story.) Rather, I am to identify with the “nameless, ordinary believer who listened to Paul and lived faithfully as a farmer, mother, etc., right where they were — they are the standard.”
  • He is right to see the disconnect between Paul’s approach to ministry of calling believers to daily faithfulness and our contemporary fetish for zeal and “radical” Christianity. Are we as wont to ask people if they are “willing to be numbered among the nameless believers in history who lived in obscurity” as we are to challenge them to be missionaries or to do something heroic for God?
  • When someone asked him to recommend a missionary biography, he encouraged her to find and read a book about a Christian banker first.
  • He honors his dental hygienist as an example.
  • He writes such breathtaking, quotable passages as this: “There is a spirituality for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. Jesus did not die to change this so much as make it more so. We are not saved from mediocrity and obscurity, the ordinary and the mundane. We are saved in the midst of it. We are not redeemed from the mundane. We are redeemed from the slavery of thinking our mundane life is not enough.”
  • He reminds ministers that not everyone is as passionate about or consumed daily with the kinds of things around which a minister’s life revolves.
  • He has a strong doctrine of vocation, which recognizes that the plumber who does good work is pushing back the Fall just as much as the minister who preaches.
  • He commits a whole chapter to the most neglected NT passage in modern, activist Christianity: 1Thess 4:10-11 — “But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you…” (NRSV). Live quietly. What a concept.
  • He draws lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” my favorite film of all time. I love it for many of the same reasons he records in his book.
  • He has the insight to see that, here in the U.S., we approach Christianity just like we approach our weekly lives. In life and work, we’re “living for the weekend.” As Christians, we’re living for the extraordinary, the spiritual high, the transformation, the “moment” when “God breaks through.”
  • He honors a friend and her husband and their ordinary life of raising four small children.
  • He lifts up simple kindness as a great virtue.
  • He likes growing older and the perspective it gives him on life and what really matters. I do too.
  • He has the guts and wisdom to say: “But I say, be nobody special. Do your job. Take care of your family. Clean your house. Mow your yard. Read your Bible. Attend worship. Pray. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Love your spouse. Love your kids. Be generous. Laugh with your friends. Drink your wine heartily. Eat your meat lustily. Be honest. Be kind to your waitress. Expect no special treatment. And do it all quietly.”

* * *

For these, and a hundred other reasons, I love Matthew B. Redmond’s new book, The God Of The Mundane.

Unfortunately, teaching with Matt’s combination of spiritual insight, common sense, personal credibility, and winsome wit is rare in far too many segments of the Church today.

It doesn’t have to be.

Read this extraordinary book. Meditate on it. Believe it. Share it with others.

Then, like the shepherds who returned to their flocks after hearing angels sing and seeing the miracle of the Incarnation with their own eyes, we can get up on Monday mornings (like George Bailey did), go to our daily work, and have a wonderful life.

More wonderful than we will ever realize.

Comments

  1. (LOL!!!) This is too funny….. Over the weekend I purchased this book as a gift from Amazon for a friend of mine and his wife. I’ve been having spiritual discussions about many aspects about faith. I was really captivated by the reviews that I read, all across the spectrum. And that gave me notice.

    One other thing to is that I am amazed by reading Matt’s blog and seeing the shift in his thinking. I mean he goes from writing about his passion for reformed theology, Mark Driscoll, etc… to raising concerns about it. Last year he blogged about why Christians should be concerned with Mark Driscoll being emulated as a leader. He goes on in another post to show the hypocrisy of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Why…he asks aren’t Christians concerned and raising their voices to the claims of child abuse in SGM Ministries?

    When I read that I thought man this guy gets it. From the outside many skeptics see through the facade of Christianity and for some strange reason…I don’t know call it a blind spot; many Christians enable the problem by supporting corrupt churches and questionable ministries. Matt Redmond calling Driscoll on the carpet as well as SGM was refreshing. Being on the outside of Christianity I have to say…I have a lot of respect for someone like Matt who stands up to evil and challenges it, as compared to Christians who turn a blind eye and enable that evil to continue. Seriously…is that what Jesus would do?

    Finally as someone who once worked in banking I’d love to grab a beer with him and trade some stories. I’m sure he has his share. I cut my teeth in the banking industry. My stories include catching bank fraud, trying to avoid internal company politics, dealing with the Y2K issue, having interesting customers that to this day still remain fresh in my mind, and finally pushing balloon loans as a teller from 1999 to 2000 in what would later become the largest bank failure in US history…the collapse of Washington Mutual. So if you’re angry over the credit bubble crisis imploding…blame me. Though I was doing my job I wish I had known better…. (sigh)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This sounds a lot like St Thereise of Lisieux’s “Little Way” of finding holiness in everyday routine.

      • HUG, I don’t know my Catholic saints all that well yet. But am exploring slowly but surely. I loved this book by Heather King: Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux: Is she the same saint that you refer to above?

    • I read his blog too, and loved his observation:
      “I know some people may buy the book simply because they think I’m the Christian singer…and I’m OK with that.”

  2. I will read this book, Chaplain Mike. I love, “We are redeemed from the slavery of thinking our mundane life is not enough.”

  3. The Kindle version is only $2.99, and I am looking forward to reading it. As a United Methodist, I lament that this is one area that the Methodist tradition tends to get wrong. Luther had a much greater appreciation for ordinary lives and labors than Wesley.

  4. Wow. I know what I am going to ask for Christmas now, this!

    “He affirms that “there is a God for those who are not changing anything but diapers.”

    I have been in bottom business for awhile now… First it was about a year when my husband couldn’t wipe his bottom due to surgery, then my Mother lived with me and in between depends & the commode I had moments when I thought I just couldn’t do it… I asked for grace a lot and twice 2 whole times out of a year that she lived with us I was filled with a compassion that I knew it came from above…

    Now, O! The joy of having the privilege of taking care of my grand baby 2 days a week, with another one coming in March. It seems enough for my heart, now if I could only get my mind to let go of the teaching I was immersed in for years: i.e. “it is an unfortunate fact that we are often just as caught up in the quest for extraordinary experiences, visible, discernible signs of God’s power and favor, and participation in an endless variety of “great things for God” I cannot wait to read this book!

  5. Thanks for this – another one for the reading list. Working in an urban mission for youth, this is something that is so hard to get across. We all, not just our youth, push for the high – the feel good – and take a pass on the mundane of the every day, a most frequent phrase – inbox me I’m brd – in fact not a day passes when at least 1 of the group posts that. So will be doing some reading this Christmas.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Push for the high all the time and you expect the high all the time. Then you get addicted to the high.

      And what happens when someone/something else promises and delivers on a bigger and better high, with even more feel-good?

  6. So, here is my question…

    How do we know if we are called to the mundane or the extraordinary?

    • First, I would say we are all called to the mundane. No matter how many extraordinary things we may participate in, the vast majority of our lives involves “the daily grind.”

      Second, I don’t think I’ve heard too many people who planned to be extraordinary and just jumped into such a life. Extraordinary achievements are usually the outcome of a long process of ordinary hard work and effort. God rarely drops an extraordinary life from the sky.

      • Here is what I struggle with Chaplain Mike. Over the last 25 years I have had significant involvement (as a lay person) in 7 churches (family moves, church closures, etc. is why the number has been as high as it is.) In each of those case, I have been asked to take on a significant leadership role or roles, usually within 2 years of arriving at the church. Others would say that, despite my stutter, I have a leadership gift. Yet there have been times in those 25 years where life has been overwhelming, and I have had to really resist those calls to leadership. Part of me wants to respond to the call to leadership in a positive way, and part of me wants to say “I’m sorry, I can’t handle this right now.”

        If God has gifted me this way, and others recognize that gift, then is it wrong for me to avoid that calling? I think of examples of Moses and Jeremiah, who essentially said, “Don’t pick me please.” That is how I often feel, yet I also feel that God keeps picking me for leadership.

        Or is it just that I am called to the mundane, see a need, try to help fill that need, and through that the mundane become extraordinary?

        Help me out here if you can!

        • Those are good questions, Michael, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the one to try and answer them for you. This is why we need loving family members, pastors, and a community of discernment to walk with us as we face these decisions.

          • I guess my question was really intended as generic, as others probably face what I face.

          • Maybe one of our fellow monks can give insight.

          • God’s calling doesn’t always involve what we think we’re gifted at. God calls us to grow in Him. And there’s a difference between being called by God & simply being called by someone at church to consider a certain role. If the role would stretch you & your family beyond your limit, is that God’s calling or our ego calling? No easy answers but discernment can bring clarity.

        • I think that serving in your local church is is still kinda mundane. It seems more like you have been wise in resisting busyness.

          my two cents :)

    • Joseph (the original) says:

      or the extraordinarily mundane???

      ;)

    • Contentment with the mundane IS extraordinary. Ambition can rot the soul.

  7. Sometimes the writers to the churches in the New Testament make it seem like the “mundane” is not enough. They seem to say that we have to be “on fire” for the Lord and often it is all I can do just to drag myself out of bed.

  8. Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come in you by the grace of God….
    – Phillip Brooks (1835-1893), Twenty Sermons

    This is today’s message from “The Daily Spiritual Seed”, another website I subscribe to. Seems appropriate for this conversation. If we “pray for powers equal to our tasks”, the mundane becomes sacred (extraordinary) & the extraordinary may not be so unusual. This is how people for centuries have elevated whatever their chosen task/job to be worthy & worthwhile. It’s only in our media saturated culture that that is no longer enough & we’re told we must always be more. After all, Jesus was born in a manger but became the miracle.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    The first person who came to mind when reading this was my mother. Her life was full of the mundane, many times not easy, yet she always tried to be faithful to her God and to her family.

    • My mom and dad also come to mind. A little over a week ago, my mom passed away suddenly, but peacefully. The Sunday evening before she died (on Thursday) she was at her church as usual and a former pastor was visiting. He had began pastoring the church when he was a young man and was there almost 14 years. He told the story that night, according to my mother, of how my dad had encouraged him in his early days of pastoring. Things at the church were difficult for him and he was thinking of just quitting. My dad, on his way home from his job as a custodian, stopped by the pastor’s home just to tell him he was praying for him. That simple act of kindness/encouragement kept that young pastor going. An ordinary life, doing an ordinary thing with extraordinary results. I had never heard that story … but my mother got to hear it at the last church service she attended. She passed it on to me … and then a few days later she was gone. Thanks be to God.

      • I don’t mean thanks be to God she is gone … but that she heard that story and passed it on. Just wanted to clarify.

      • David Cornwell says:

        That’s where greatness in the ordinary comes through, doing the work of Christ in the simple.

        And your story reminds me of my father-in-law, who for most of his working life was chief custodian and groundskeeper of a large Methodist children’s home, in those days what amounted to an orphanage. He lived in a house on the grounds, was a quiet and loving man, who became a father and grandfather to to many of those children. In some ways I remember him as one of the most Christ like people I’ve ever known.

  10. It’s tiresome seeing people repackage bits and pieces of Luther, but never accept the whole doctrine that underlays it.

    • Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.

      http://scottmoonen.com/2007/08/02/luther-on-changing-diapers/

    • I’m having difficulty not responding with sarcasm. What’s so tiresome about someone accepting or even repackaging bits and pieces of Luther without accepting the whole thing? Should Redmond affirm the perpetual virginity of Mary as well?

    • Boaz, could you elaborate? I’m missing your point. Veith’s article seems fully compatible with what is being said here.

    • I think I get it. Luther’s view of vocation doesn’t completely make sense (nor is it fully tenable) without Luther’s view of word and sacrament. Detached from Luther’s view of the gospel, it easily can become a human works like so much pietism and pragmatism. In the context of Luther’s catechism, the “Table of Duties” comes after first learning the other sections. Works – including our vocations – without faith (in the finished work of Christ) are and will always be sin. That could be why Americans have for years lacked the ability to truly relax from their labors, or why retirees fade or even die shortly after retirement. Work consumes us out of fear of failure and a desperate search for identity (estrangement and non-being, if you will).

      Having said that, Lutherans shouldn’t take too much offense if evangelicals borrow from Luther. They should be proud to have some influence on the dialogue. My bigger beef is seeing Lutherans throw out Luther on his keester and welcome Rick Warren, Beth Moore, Ken Ham, and Joel Osteen with open arms.

  11. Another one for my reading list, and soon at that. I’m living the mundane right now especially, grinding away at work each day to pay for two kids in college, going home to a loving wife, mowing the lawn every weekend more or less, changing leaky faucets, helping friends in need when I can. There’s absolutely nothing spectacular about it, and I sort of like that, but it can get bland at times and there’s sometimes that creeping doubt that one may be missing some greater calling. need to be reminded anew how it can a faithful and fruitful way of living.

  12. Matt is an old friend of mine and I’m pleased to see his book get so many positive reviews.

  13. I think part of what drives Christians to pursue the extraordinary rather than the mundane is that many of the central Scriptural narratives which form our faith depict extraordinary and dramatic events. We end up thinking and feeling that if our lives don’t exhibit some of the same drama, we are not being faithful or authentic or committed. So we drive ourselves to attempt the extraordinary as a kind of proof to ourselves and others that we are true disciples of Jesus, like the apostles and martyrs. This is a difficult mistake not to make as a ” people of the book,” but it is a mistake, nevertheless. I think some of the contemplative practices of the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity are salutary for addressing this problem. Practices such as the Jesus Prayer and centering prayer help us to stop in the midst of our lives and attend to God as he is in the present moment, and to give up the conceit we have that he needs us to do anything to achieve his purposes. In fact, in such prayer we find that he is working in us and moving us toward his goals in the most ordinary ways. This kind of prayer is a course in humility. Another thing that would be helpful is if our liturgies contained times of holy silence, times of corporate waiting and listening for God, not with the expectation of any specific result but rather in the knowledge that he forms us even, or perhaps especially, in our inaction and weakness.

    • I think your first assertion is correct, and that is why I am so gratified to see a book like this. If you are correct, there is a serious problem, not with the Bible, but with the way we teach it and present the faith it represents.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      In my church, All Saints Day is celebrated for ALL the saints — including those anonymous saints who were never recognized or formally canonized. The forgotten ones. The mundane ones.

  14. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

  15. I fail to understand how certain branches of evangelicalism can on one hand pragmatically reduce Jesus to a CEO, while on the other hand can malign secular vocation as a lack of a passsionate, on-fire call. It seems quite schizophrenic. The blue-collar worker attending church is a “lazy pew sitter”, while the guy behind the pulpit holds the title of Senior Executive Spiritual Marketing Director. Please stop me if any of this makes sense.

  16. Regarding how to properly read scripture, I don’t think one reads about a heroic figure in scripture as a model for ones own life. Let’s quit our jobs and become shepherds like David, so we can then go slay giants?

    I don’t even think John Wesley preached to Welsh coal miners to quit their jobs and join a methodist society. Rather, he brought the gospel to common people who were placed out of reach by the high church. They didn’t have to become more desirable to receive the gospel, rather, Wesley brought the gospel to them where they lived and worked.