December 16, 2017

The Book I Can’t Review

UPDATE: Ok. Moderation on. Keep your comments civil. We are not bashing anyone here. Don’t make me impose a two-drink limit.

MOD NOTE: Comments are closed for the time being. Sheesh, I leave for a few hours and return to find a bar fight!

It might be comforting, to those Christians who doubt the current indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our damaged, compromised selves, to tell ourselves that our failures are because Jesus is now far, far away.

It might be reassuring, to those tired of dealing with our violent, scary, or just unpleasant neighbors, to think that we can worship God by turning our backs on them. That we can’t do much anymore about our lives or the lives of other people, except gaze at the sky and pray to a disembodied spirit. That Jesus was alive once, and we remember him fondly, but now we’re left with nothing more powerful than plastic crosses, Christian rock bands and church committees. WIth Jesus safely tucked away in heaven, we’re off the hook.

But he’s still breathing in us.

Sara Miles–Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead

In a literary landscape littered with memoirs–mostly overwritten, self-serving examples of why most memoirs should be approached with great caution, if approached at all–it is really fun to come across one that is well-written, and written about something worth reading. This is the case with Sara Miles’ Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. Miles, a lay minister in an Episcopal church in San Francisco, relates how her church reaches out to the homeless, mentally-challenged, drug-addicted population of the inner city–the very people Jesus  came to seek and save–in radical and unique ways. More than this, Miles presents Jesus to us in his raw, real form as found in the Gospels, and does it as well as anyone I have read in quite a while. For instance, she writes:

In stories that still have the power to scare us, Jesus tells his disciples to live by the upside-down values of God’s kingdom, rather than the fear-driven values of human society. He shows how family, tribe, money, violence, and religion–the powers of the world–cannot stand against the love of God. And he tells us that we, too, are called to follow him in breaking down all worldly divisions that get in the way of carrying out his instructions. Sure, it’s impossible to feed five thousand people, make a deaf man hear, bring a dead girl to life, as long as you obey human rules. So do it God’s way instead, Jesus teaches. Say yes. Jump right in. Come and see. Embrace the wrong people. Don’t idolize religion.

Good stuff, isn’t it? As the iMonk himself would have said, this is Jesus-shaped spirituality. As I read the first pages of Jesus Freak, I thought this would be a great book to review for the iMonk community. But then I came across three words that told me I wouldn’t be able to do so. Three small, short, powerful words.

My wife, Martha.

Those three words were written by Miles, referring to herself. Sara Miles has a wife, Martha. Sara Miles is in a same-sex relationship. (I knew this before I read the book, but it was actually reading those words in print that made me realize there would be trouble in River City.) And because of those three words, I knew that anything good that we could discuss from Jesus Freak would be buried in the avalanche of comments about the author’s homosexuality. And that is a real shame.

(Do you doubt me? Michael ran into the same problems when he reviewed Miles’ first spiritual memoir, Take This Bread. And in his review of Andrew Marin’s Love Is An Orientation.)

Before you start hurling those rocks in your hands at me, let me say this right now. Homosexuality is a sin. And I am as straight as a knife’s edge. There. That’s said. Happy?

Yet it frustrates me that because Sara Miles refers to her homosexuality in passing I know that the content of her book will be of little or no consequence. The entire discussion would be made up of, “Should we listen to anything she says?” kind of comments. Or at least the comments would center around her sexual orientation much more than they would the stories of feeding the poor. I shared this with a group of friends recently–shared the topic of the book and read a few passages. I asked if it was a book they might want to read, and the overall response was positive. Then I mentioned that the author is a homosexual. Everyone of those I asked changed their tune: “No, we would not read that book. Not if it was written by a practicing homosexual.”

So we are going to take very good content, very good stories of feeding those in need, and toss it away because…because…because why, exactly? Is it not possible that we can reach a point where we say, “I have no idea what God thinks of someone who professes to love Him, yet continues in sin”? Or, maybe better yet, “I’m glad God still loves me even though I continue to sin daily.”

Again, loose your grip on that stone. You’re going to pop a blood vessel in your hand. I am not advocating an “anything goes” morality. But I would like to ask just how far God’s grace can go. Does it cover every sin? Really? Even continuing homosexuality? Is God’s grace scandalous, as Robert Capon would put it? Capon, after all, takes grace to extremes that can be very frightening. From his book, The Mystery Of Christ–And Why We Don’t Get It, he writes,

There is no sin you can commit that God in Jesus hasn’t forgiven already. The only way you can get yourself in permanent Dutch is to refuse forgiveness. That’s hell. The old baloney about heaven being for good guys and hell for bad guys is dead wrong. Heaven is populated entirely by forgiven sinners, not spiritual and moral aces. And hell is populated entirely by forgiven sinners. The only difference between the two groups is that those in heaven accept the forgiveness and those in hell reject it. Which is why heaven is a party–the endless wedding reception of the Lamb and his bride–and hell is nothing but the dreariest bar in town.

Ok, let’s forget whether a practicing homosexual can be a follower of Jesus or not, at least for the moment. (Michael Spencer wrote about the topic of Evangelicals and Homosexuals a couple of years ago, and presents his case much better than I can. You should read that post for his wise insights.) Let’s change the question. Can we possibly receive anything good from one who is a practicing homosexual? Is it possible that we can read a book like Sara Miles’ Jesus Freak and focus on what is good–the feeding of the poor and outcast and forgotten–and ignore what makes us uncomfortable? Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is for the friends I asked about the book.

Or am I wrong? If I did a review of this book, would the comments stay on the content and not the author’s lifestyle? Not according to very, very recent past. In this past weekend’s Saturday Ramblings, I mentioned Jennifer Knapp is in a same-sex relationship. How many of the 110+ comments do you think were about something other than Knapp’s sexual orientation?

So, instead of reviewing Jesus Freak, I will return the book unreviewed. But I read it, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I learned from it. I was encouraged and entertained. I was not offended, but at the same time I do not condone all that is talked about in the book. I pray that the grace God extends to Sara Miles is extended to cover my sins as well.

Comments

  1. I tried to post another comment here yesterday and it said the comments were closed. ?. Nevermind.

    • Yeah, we had a temporary hiatus to clean up the joint after the bar fight.

      • It looks like you’re still sweeping up. Some of the juicier stuff is gone. 🙂

      • I’d probably start another brawl if I say what I was going to say anyway 🙂 Reading blogs like this though help me wonder if it was like this in the days of Noah, everyone eating, drinking and getting married all the while discussing, “Did God really say.”

        • P.P.S @ Mark – I think you are very brave and I thought maybe Proverb 28:4 would be encouraging to you to remain brave.

          Love is the fulfillment of all the law so if we are going to be loving people I think the Holy Spirit will help us keep all the laws.

          I used to profess to be a christian and I was sleeping with a man and had two children out of wedlock, I believed it wasn’t so bad – after all I loved him. Then God showed up and I saw that I wasn’t loving this man at all just encouraging us both to sin. The consequences of that sin will reverberate for years as our two children suffer the fallout of my misguided christian love.

          I felt like Job – “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes!

          @Debra – may He grant you eyes to see.

          Guess I felt like a fight after all – ’cause I’m a Rock star.’

          I can only pray God’s continued mercy on us all.

          • The Guy from Knoxville says:

            Debra,

            I agree with you 100%! I don’t necessarly disagree with Mark – all he said was spot on for the most part however, my issue was with his approach. Example – if I called up the two guys next door and asked to come over they would be more than glad for me to and once there in the course of conversation I came on strong on them being gay, being unrepentant, unsaved, going to hell etc I would be asked to leave and ushered to the door very quickly and they would have nothing to do with me again period. My approach, which others were trying to point out too, is the approach that living my life out daily as a christian, living Christlike is more apt to open the door for discussion and perhaps an opportunity, in love, to share the truth of the situation and present the gospel to them.

            I agree completely with what you said in the third paragraph – encouraging each other to sin insted of real love…… I can identify with that more than you could know but that’s for another time. I told Mark in both posts that I believe homosexuality to sin – scripture is crystal clear (to me anyway) in both old and new testament but so is a host of other things – many listed in scripture and I agree that willful, continual, habitual sin no matter what you say otherwise is definately indication of not being truly saved or indication of having wondered far, far, far from God. I think most all of us agreed on that for the most part.

            Hope that clears things abit – my issue was with the approach…… in love versus blasting hell fire at every opportunity – that might not be what Mark actually does but it came across that way at times hence the responses that he got. At any rate – all is fine and Chaplin Mike’s clean up was due, partly, to Mark and I sparring on this issue – sometimes those bar fights get a bit rough and tumble. One thing for sure, as you said above, it does take a bit of bravery on all sides to write here. If you’re really feeling it read BHT sometime – those guys can lay it and each other out (LOL!).

            Blessings and Peace.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Yeah, we had a temporary hiatus to clean up the joint after the bar fight.

        Let me guess… Matt & Mark vs All Comers?

  2. I’m going to pop a comment in quick while comments are open. I want to read this book; it will have to go on the list for now, because budget is a little tight.

    I read and loved “Take This Bread”. I think Sara gets sacraments and their purpose way better than even many Lutherans I know. From what I have read from “Jesus Freak” on Amazon, I think this next book is just as good. I think she sees people the way God does.

    I know, I know, but does anyone REALLY want to go there? Does anyone want to talk about Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum?

    I don’t know. When all this cultural war name calling gets going, does anyone else get a little nervous? I really do get the feeling that all this talk about grace is a sham, and that the behavior police will come after me next for whatever imperfection my life bears.

    I agree that our lives need to bear witness to Christ and that holiness really does matter; but in the end, people need Jesus, not me. I will never be an adequate substitute. I could be the holiest man on the planet and still be no substitute – not even close. But there, too, we put piety ahead of love and think somehow by our actions that we are proclaiming something about God. I’m ranting. I’ll stop.

    • I read and loved “Take This Bread”. I think Sara gets sacraments and their purpose way better than even many Lutherans I know. From what I have read from “Jesus Freak” on Amazon, I think this next book is just as good. I think she sees people the way God does.

      Can you share what Sara says re: the sacraments, esp. the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist? Thanks!

      • Let me see if I can find a quote. It’s been a year since I read it.

        My opinion is not based on any doctrinal wrangling. It has more to do with her encounter with Christ in the bread and wine, how it changed her and her view of others. Lutherans are very proud of how their view of communion is superior to Catholics and reformed, but the practice lacks something. I know Lutherans who are all into revivalistic and charismatic worship experiences, but receiving Jesus in and under the bread and wine seems to be less than a life-changing experience.

    • I am not God and I will not 100% whether Karl Barth is in Abraham’s bosom or Hades right now. I will say this: those who willfully and unrepentantly engage in adultery will not inherit the Kingdom.

  3. @guy from knoxville – I missed the brawl – they all got cleaned up before I got a chance to read them so my reply wasn’t really in direct response to you.

    The thing to me is all our ‘sins’ are only symptoms of our deeper need. For those of us whose symptoms show in the blantantly outward ‘don’t do’s’ it is easy to say, ‘they are sinning’. For those of us whose symptoms are more subtle in all the ‘good do’s’ we do to please God it is not so obvious we are sinning.

    Regardless of what symptoms sin produces in us the cure is across the board the same – The Gospel – or we perish. That is what Jesus said. He has conquered sin and its symptoms. and has given us the power to do the same. To overcome. Yet we overcome in Him. I don’t really understand how it works just that it does.

    I am yet to work out how just loving people gets this message to them clearly. That is where I am at – I am not sure how to ‘act out’ The Gospel without words – to me it seems to put the focus on how well ‘I’ can love rather than talking about how Christ has loved us. When the focus is me it becomes subjective not objective.

    John Piper gave an interesting message a few weeks ago on that Pharisee that thanked God he was not like the tax collector. Mr Piper pointed out the guy was actually thanking God, he believed it was God who had kept him from all the nasty symptoms of sin and it was he who went home ‘not’ justified. The tax collector prayed for mercy and was justified. I thought it was a very insightful sermon from Mr Piper and something I had overlooked in believing that all Pharisee’s were trying to earn their way to God. Not true – some of them thanked God for being God’s people and for being kept from the worst symptoms of sin yet they remained blind to the Truth.

    I think those who thank God for making them the way they are sexually are treading dangerous ground – sin always blinds us and in defending our sin, (our ‘how God made us’), we will always brawl against each other. Satan likes it that way.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      At the same time, nothing hoists the Bright Red Murder Flag and starts the screaming Jihad like Homosexuality, Abortion, or Evolution.

      • Very true. I read a bit of Sara’s story on her website, in one interview she talks about what she thinks of the Bible and it seems to me that there are a lot of people on the planet right now who think the ‘books of God’ we have right now are not God’s final say and what they do say has been corrupted therefore we can interpret them however we wish. Ever notice that the only part of the Bible that everyone agree’s is still pure is the forgiven factor. Plus she hasn’t always been in love with a woman. She has a daughter. In saying that I am not going to not read her book because of her sin – we all sin – some feel a Godly sorrow for it and some don’t plus feeding the hungry is not a distinct christian thing – many who don’t believe in God are doing a good job at providing for the poor and hungry.

        • dkmonroe says:

          Thank you, Debbie – that is remarkably perceptive.

          We all certainly agree that we are forgiven, but we so often want to argue about just what it was – or is – that we are to be forgiven from. It seems that there has been a paradigm shift – in past centuries many Christians, especially those of an ascetic or mystical persuasion, had a very keen sense of their own sinfulness and were often begging God for forgiveness of things that we would think quite irrelevent. Today the focus seems to be not on finding fault or weakness within ourselves but rather justifying ourselves and finding fault with traditional notions of what is righteousness or propriety or duty. While I am sensitive to the fact that some people suffer tremendously with guilt feelings and have no wish to magnify that, I’m not always certain that on the whole we have made a wise trade.

  4. Bless you Mark & bless my other brothers and sisters on here too 🙂

    “What! At peace with the Father, and at war with His children? It cannot be.” ……..said Flavel.

    Trouble is not everybody is His child……………..

    • Well, MY own child recently came out to me as gay. I was not particularly surprised, but I am conflicted. I love this child more than life. He is a wonderful young man in every way, but I am mindful of the words of warning in the Bible concerning the practice of homosexuality.

      My child’s eternal welfare means more to me than anything, but it’s not my job to save him. My job is to be his mom and to love him as much as I can. I’ve totally handed over the task of his inner conversion to God – what else can I do? I’m not the Holy Spirit.

      It would be the same if he were a gambler or a habitual liar. I would love him as much as I could and leave the rest to God.

      • This must be a very emotional time for you PL, my eldest son has just started smoking marijuana, my heart breaks for him yet I know I do not have the power to raise the spiritually dead – I pray the One who does has mercy on my (his?) child. In the interim my boy and I talk a lot about a lot and I always tell him that when the bottom comes and he finds he cannot set himself free there is One who promised.

        • Oh Debbie, I will pray for your son. I can feel the concern and love you have for him. It doesn’t sound like he thinks this is a problem, so he wouldn’t be a candidate for NA. But if it gets to that point, NA is the best organization I know to help addicts.

          In my own situation, I don’t know if I’m particularly emotional, but here’s my trouble. I don’t think that his homosexuality was ever a choice for my son. I saw the tell-tale signs of same-sex attraction for him from fairly early on in his childhood (hence my lack of shock at his telling me). I simply think that’s how he’s wired.

          I can be of the opinion that you can have same-sex attraction, but not act on it in the same way that I can have opposite-sex attraction but wait until marriage to consummate my relationship and begin creating a life with my husband/life partner.

          As a heterosexual, I have that option. But my son doesn’t. He can’t be married in the eyes of the Church, so he is precluded from a licit lifetime partnership. (Not that he’s playing by the rules of the RCC, but if he wanted to, he would have to forswear any partnership).

          So that’s my dilemma. And I just met the young man my son is seeing, and I think he’s delightful.

          Sigh.

  5. Jesus is real, and so, praise God, are we. Every single thing the resurrected Jesus does on earth he does through our bodies. You’re fed, you’re healed, you’re forgiven, you’re pronounced clean. You are loved… Go and do likewise.

    – Sarah Miles, Jesus Freak

    Do you think Jesus steps out of our bodies every time we do things that conflict with His purity?

    I was reading the first pages of the book and she speaks of Jesus’ parables as ‘good tips’ and says that Mary doesn’t need a man to have a baby. That she isn’t going to follow worldly norms.

    I may have interpreted her intent incorrectly so as the lady before said you can read the first few pages at Amazon. To me Sarah has an agenda that could even fool the elect.

  6. Back when her first book(take this bread or whatever) came back, my interest was peaked… I never bought the book but I did listen to one of her sermons… and I wasn’t too impressed…

  7. Well, that was interesting.

    I think I just learned how discussion works on this thing.

    The poor mods….