The Mystery of Ordinary Places Book Review

The author of The Mystery of Ordinary Places, Shannah Martin, added “waking up to God’s goodness around you” to her front cover. This is the perfect way to describe the contents of these pages. Shannan was chasing after the dream. I’m not talking about God’s dream for her life, I’m referencing the American Dream. She was trying to get ahead, to be a bulldog in the workforce, to make a lot of money and get the dream home to match the dream career. But when God gave Shannan and her husband a wake up call, every dream she ever had became the opposite and God’s goodness shone like the sun.

The imagery Shannan uses in her writing will take your breath away. She has a way of taking seeminly ordinary and simple things and allowing you to see them in a new light. She has a way of writing about the everyday occurances in the life of her and her family and allowing you to read your way into it. She also has a way of taking what we have traditionally seen as ordinary and causing you to rethink it all into something beautiful, magnificant, and mysterious.

I found myself highlighting and underlining a quote on almost every single page. This is the type of book you need to sit with and let soak into your bones. It is filled with stories that also translate into practical advice about loving your neighbor. She challenges everything we’ve been taught about what hospitality looks like and shows us the possibility that can see the light of day when we open up our homes, lives, cars, families, meals, and time to those in closest proximity to us. She comes up against the idea that in order to help others we need to have a lot of resources.

Shannan tells the stories of her early church experiences. She calls out the harm in some common church practices such as witnessing to people without having a previous relationship with them and the hard truths about doing outreach events in lower income areas. She also talks about the way we have used the gospel to make it fit into the mold of our American dream, instead of being molded and broken to fit into the gospel mold.

Shannan speaks of the power of inclusion and belonging to each other. She speaks the truth about addiction by quoting Johann Hari, “…The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection” She says that essentially, addicts die of loneliness by clinging to whatever brings comfort when they can’t cling to relationship. She tells the tales of those who have no voice and voices the importance of giving them a safe place to begin to speak openly.

Shannan takes the shame out of our leftovers and funky meal parings to make sure there is enough food for everyone. She reminds us to invite people as they are, and see them as God sees them. She shows us the importance of endurance and deciding to stick it out. She gives us example after example of going against the traditional grain and staying in our uncomfortable situations in order to see the fruit of our faithfulness on the other side. This book is about linking arms and getting dirty with our neighbors. Near and far, all our neighbors, the way Jesus defined being a neighbor.

My favorite quote: “My song is always the same: ‘I almost missed this. I almost missed this.'”

My favorite chapter: Chapter 16, “A Theology of Endurance”

The Ministry of Ordinary Places
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The Value of Stories in The Storyteller’s World

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell… a story. Make some light.”
-Kate Dicamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

In The Beginning.

These three words marked the start of a tale God would tell over the course of 66 books. One string of events, poetry, tales of bravery, history, courage, fear, truth, allegory, metaphor, prophecy, law, genealogy, narrative, and even erotic literature (yep, it’s in there, and it’s holy). All one consistent story. The story that reveled who God is, and the part we play in His narrative. 

“Encountering God through story, imagination, and creativity seem to be some of His favorite avenues.”
-Sarah Clarkson

Everything God does to reveal truth to us seems to be through story. He’s the Master Storyteller. So why do we shy away from stories? Why do we treat them as a lower form of necessity in education, or as less important in growing in faith? The God who created us decided the information He had to share would be grasped and retained best through humble parables, even though He held every profound thought and word ever imagined.

Childlike


I went through my books for the thousandth time and organized them by genre. In putting them into categories like this, I was able to see that the smallest section was fiction. I had so few books that simply told tales only true in imagination. It seems as I’ve gotten older, I have slowly worked them out of my “important literature” list. I have thirsted to learn as much as possible about God, which has led me to collect huge stacks of Bibles, concordances, devotionals, study tools, and a wide array of books on faith, but what I lacked in my current collection was stories of worlds that made the absurd and imaginative truth of faith and gospel REAL to me. There is a time to consume meaty content. But Jesus taught lessons by telling stories, so why in the world do we put them in the children’s category? Why don’t they grace our bookshelves?


When I think back on the early cornerstones of my faith journey, books like Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, and The Pilgrim’s Progress, were actually the ones that made God real t. The themes of His gospel woven into these books had such strong parallels, that they made it all come alive for me. I can remember having deep spiritual moments reading the tales of these fake characters. But now, I spend a lot of time studying big words and even bigger concepts. Though they are good and needed in my life, imagination, inspiration for creativity, and childlike realization of the invisible God resound loudly and clearly on the pages of story in a special way. 


We are told that the key to faith is to come to the level of a child. Faith like a child is strong, it is bold, it believes all things and hopes all things. It is positioned to trust and know that there is an invisible God who has a great love for us, there is a Spirit who is working in us, and there is a savior who is redeeming our death and grave story. Childlike faith is what makes it possible to believe that we will rise again, and there will be no more morning or crying or pain, in a world where that reality could not seem further away. Children are quick to believe these things because they are positioned, both by their nature of innocence, and nurture by the adults preserving and encouraging their innocence. Room for belief is built into them.

The gospel is a story, and so are we.

What would happen if we really believed that? If we believed we were in the middle of His story, how much more would our faith grow? We might see that we have not beaten this sin because we are only in the middle of the redemption story. We still doubt and fear because we are only in the middle of this journey. We struggle, we war, and we experience pain and loss, because this life is structured just like a story.

Many of the thick books of faith end in periods. They end without much mystery, without a ton of imagination, and they can lead us to believe that we know more than we do if they are all we consume. 

I don’t know what your faith struggles are. I don’t know how much you’ve overcomplicated it to the point of discouragement and disbelief. I don’t know if you’ve buried the truth of story so deep under Christian rhetoric and grand concepts and words that you not longer come to God as an innocent faith filled child. But I know this: the gospel is not complex. It is not for the one who has the most knowledge or the most sound theology. The gospel is simply a story of fatherly love, redemption, courage, hope, and restoration. The gospel story resounds loudly in every children’s book. It has the themes of fiction tattooed all over it and all throughout it. The gospel is for the simplest illiterate man, or the most educated. 


“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

-Walt Disney

So here is my challenge for you: Read more stories, and tell more stories. Chances are, none of your unbelieving friends will listen very long to your explanation of the word “propitiation”, but they will lean in closely as you tell them how your faith has carried you through turbulent times. Stories are the only hope of true and lasting connection between us and God and us and others. They are the only thing that will give hope to this lost world and to our own weary souls. No one needs our sermons, they need our stories. They need to hear the redemption that is possible through the gospel story in our lives.  We need to hear it too. 

Gay Girl, Good God Book Review

Jackie Hill Perry seems to use as many creative outlets as possible to share her story and the gospel. She’s a poet, an artist, an author, a teacher and speaker, an influencer, and a wife and mom. She inspires so many daily through her social media and in her fearless proclamation of the Word in unique ways. I have followed along with Jackie for a few years now, but this book is by far my favorite of her pieces of work.

Gay Girl, Good God is broken into three parts. Who she was, who she became, and then practical help for those caught in the struggle as well as fresh perspective of the reality of same sex attraction as God sees it, and therefore as absolute truth. We follow Jackie through her life as she points out key events that helped shaped her into who she is, but she never fails to highlight that none of these things are to blame for her attractions, but sin entering into the world is. Jackie speaks of her life and her story, but only as it fits into God’s. His story is central and He is the main character of hers. The major themes of this book are redemption, identity, and endurance.

Jackie speaks with the authority, creativity, and sharpness of a poet. She uses her words to paint pictures that hold the attention of her readers. She speaks the truth in a fresh way that makes you ponder and chew on it. She shares her story boldly in Gay Girl, Good God, but she shares God’s even bolder. This book is for everyone. Whether you struggle with same sex attraction or want to love someone better who does, this book is for you. No matter your personal sin struggles, you can relate to the battle of sin and flesh that takes place in every believers story.

Jackie does what has not been done before, or at least not done well. She calls sin what it is. Instead of holding same sex attraction above the others, and making it untouchable, she calls it by it’s name. A struggle with identity and a refusal to bow before Jesus. The body of Christ desperately needs this message, especially right now. We are given the label “hateful” towards those who have made homosexuality their identity, and how could we deny it when we are struggling to love those who have been born again and still struggle as outcasts in our own churches? Jackie’s perfect marriage of storytelling and practical, life giving content makes this one of the greatest and most useful resources for the church today. She and those who identify with her story are living proof that we serve a good, good God.

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31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes: Day Seven – Hope

The great thing about hope is that no matter how dark the story, no matter how lifeless, the hope part of it never has a thing to do with me. It motivates me to share when I am aware of God’s role in all this. Hope is brought no matter how messy or dark my situation simply in the fact that I am able to say “God is the hope of my heart.” Sharing hope, just like sharing everything else as a believer does not depend on me. This is such a moving notion. I am free to share boldly. To give the goriest of details. To bring all my hurt, and pain, and questions. I am free to do this because I know that God will not fail and that is where my hope lies. When I speak my hope, my faith strengthens. When I speak hope, the truth is reaffirmed in me. When I speak hope, I know that I am not alone in any of this. I need to share because it not only gives hope away, but it makes it stronger in me. Hope is my anchor, and anchors can be thrown. To give it away is the wisest thing I can do. For both my sake and the sake of others. Hope won’t let go, of this I am sure.

31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes: Day Six – Belong

How perfectly timed the Lord pulls the deepest things from us. And how painful they have the potential to be. If I share my burdens with my sisters in Christ, my burden is cut in half. But if I keep it locked inside with the key of shame turned, I am only hurting myself. It’s a severe misconception (one that I have long believed) that those who love us most will get tired of our stories. That they’ll one day tell us that they disapprove or are exhausted with the changes. Those are the isolating lies that keep me from so many I love on a daily basis. But these lies are built so that I will lack community. Lack belonging. Lack care. These lies are built so that I will keep myself closed off in my safe cage with fear as the barricade. Do you know what is the only thing that will be able to break me out? Sharing. Sharing my burden so that the weight is no longer all mine, so that my sentence is cut in half. Sharing releases me. It heals me when I confess these deep things. And it is met with love by God’s people every time.

31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes: Day Five – Share

What if a lot of the sharing we do is just noise? As an introvert, small talk can be very draining and tedious for me. But it is still something I have learned to do well in order to be friendly, positive, and open. But what if we aren’t leaving the zone of small talk? Think of when you’re talking on the phone with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a few months. The first fifteen or so minutes will usually be filled with talk that you would share with a new friend or perfect stranger, talk about the weather, updates on exciting new things, and things of that nature. But once you get past that, you begin to dig into the deeper stuff. The stuff that is hurting, the stuff that isn’t pretty. That is the stuff that creates true and lasting CONNECTION. How can we be intentional with getting there more? Instead of so much small talk, more big talk. Deep talk. Talk that will leave people better than we found them. That’s my goal. So sure, if small talk is the avenue I can take in order to make people feel warm and welcome, I will take it. But my goal is big talk. Talk of the heart, of pain and fears. Talk of God and of truth. Big talk is the goal. Sharing mutually and deeply is what heals.

31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes: Day Four – Why

He comforts us so that we can comfort others. That is my why. I truly believe nothing is wasted in this life. No trial, no heartache, no fear. Nothing is wasted UNTIL we decide once He gets us over the mountain, to keep what we’ve learned to ourselves. It becomes a waste when we decide, for whatever reason, that our story does not deserve to be shared. It can be for millions of reasons. Maybe it uncomfortable. Maybe it’s sticky and painful and hard to tell. Maybe it falls in the opposite category and it’s simply “too small”, or not impactful enough. We believe these lies over and over again about why it is better to keep our experiences to ourselves. But we don’t realize what a waste it is. God will have His glory regardless, but what a beautiful thing to be able to create the avenue in which He is glorified. Through US! God does not comfort or love or change us for nothing. He does it out of His overflowing heart of love for us, and then He calls us to share with others. Not out of obligation or to pay Him back (as if we ever could), but simply because we want to make His name great through what He’s done in us. Exalt him. Tell of how He has loved you. Share the ways in which He has comforted you. His work is never insignificant.