I am a very messy reader of books. I tend to jump around from book to book while reading multiple books at a time, rarely finishing a book I’ve started. I realize this is not the best way to approach reading, it’s just the way I do it so I’ll have to live with the consequences. But occasionally there are instances where my method happens upon a beautiful literary harmony.
I’m currently on a plane traveling from Sydney to Los Angeles doing everything I can to pass the 14 hours as quickly as possible. On this trip to Australia I’ve been ping-ponging back and forth between two books that I’ve been enjoying a great deal. One, written by Bruce Feiler, is titled “Abraham” and the other is Brian McLaren’s yet-to-be-released book, “The Secret Message of Jesus”.
Bruce Feiler is the same writer who wrote “Walking the Bible” and “Where God Was Born”. He is a journalist that has covered a wide variety of topics during his career but lately has dug in deep into the Jewish historical aspects of the Old Testament that has been the result of several books. He was raised in the south and comes from a Jewish family. In the book “Abraham”, Feiler takes an in-depth look the massive significance of the story of Abraham in regards to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Brian McLaren is a writer and pastor who is heavily involved in the Emergent Church. I’ve read several of his books in the past and have found him enormously helpful in my own Christian Faith. “The Secret Message of Jesus” focuses heavily on the life of Jesus in the midst of the political, social, and cultural backdrop of the first century. To me, it’s been a favorite of the McLaren books I’ve read. It peels away the noise and clutter that is so often found when learning about the life of Jesus and I think it will be a very significant book for anyone who reads it. I got a hold of this book from some Christian publishing elves who I hooked up with Green Day tickets; they are really big fans of bay-area punk rock.
Both of these books intersected unexpectedly for me today. Here’s where they seem to join together in an unlikely but illuminating union.
Feiler writes about the importance of “The Call” of Abraham by God:
“This is the ultimate power of the Call: It’s a summons to the world to devote itself to God. God once again sends out an olive branch to humanity. If you put your life in my hands, he suggests, you will be rewarded. Since humans have flouted this branch in the past, God now requires a down payment: Do this today so you can get that tomorrow.
This demand for proof introduces a terrifying gap. In God’s beckoning, the sacrifice is known, even the reward is known, but the route, the location, even the deliverer of the message are unknown. To be a descendant of Abraham is to live in that gap-to glance back at your native land, to peer ahead to your nameless destination, and to wonder, Do I have the courage to make the leap?
Abraham makes the leap and thus secures his reputation for all time. The text is so matter-of-fact it almost masks the significance: “Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him.” He does so silently, joining the covenant with his feet, not his words. The wandering man does what he does best, he walks. Only now he walks with God. And by doing so, Abraham leaves an indelible set of footprints: He doesn’t believe in God: he believes God. He doesn’t ask for proof; he provides the proof.”
McLaren writes regarding the daily outworking of those who follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God:
“The same thing happens with teacher, politicians, lawyers, engineers, and salespeople who take seriously their identity as participants in the kingdom of God. The way they teach, the way they develp public policies, the way they seek justice, the way they design and work with resources from God’s creation, the way they buy and sell…..all of these are given the dignity in the context of God’s kingdom, and soon, transformation begins to happen. After all, when you see your students, constituency, clients, or customers as people who are loved by God and as your fellow citizens in God’s kingdom, it becomes harder to rip them off or give them second best. And when enough people begin to live with that viewpoint, in little ways as well as big ones, over long periods of time, things truly change. Education as we know it evolves, as do public policy, law, manufacture, and economics. In this way, each of us not only prays, “May your kingdom come,” but we also become part of the answer to that prayer through our sphere of influence.”
I read both of these amazing insights within minutes of each other and it seemed to me that these books were working in tandem to really drive something home. I’ve heard the saying “We are the ones we are waiting for,” and both of these writings presented the same reminder in two separate but very harmonious and powerful ways. I pray we have the faith of Abraham to attempt to be the “proof” to others of our covenant with the Creator. I also pray that we can accept the responsibility given to us by Jesus to take a part in the answering of our prayers to heal this broken world in big and small ways within the kingdom of God.