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”