Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lenten Book Review: Bread and Wine

(Prior to my going into full-time parish ministry, I wrote the occasional book review for other online writing projects, and I will be returning to that writing every now and again here, as I have kept my childhood passion of not only reading, but sharing with other people what I am reading.  I hope you enjoy these occasional reviews of books I have received and read, and I likewise hope that they may provide for you a slightly wider view of the work I do and the context within which I do it--a context created by writers, preachers, and wordsmiths of every stripe.  -E.A.)

"It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression "follower."  He never asks for admirers, worshipers, or adherents.  No, he calls disciples.  It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for."

So begins the entry written by Soren Kierkegaard in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing House, 2003).

Personally, the idea of a Lenten devotional book combines two things I am terrible at: keeping a consistent devotional practice, and giving up stuff for Lent (what can I say, my deadly sin of the seven is definitely gluttony).  And in this respect, I am very much the person Kierkegaard is writing to here.  I still try to keep myself at arm's length from the Resurrected Christ, to merely be a worshiper of His, or an adherent of His.  I may follow His teachings, but I do not always fully follow Him.

But the act of being devotional helps me to move past that.  And so there is very much a place for books like Bread and Wine in even my faith life.

This is a book that is very much a part of a particular genre: the compilation of writings from a variety of authors around a particular theme (or, in this case, five main themes: invitation, temptation, passion, crucifixion, and resurrection).  These sorts of books serve a very particular purpose: they achieve great breadth at the expense of depth.  Rather than read the entirety of someone's work, you read an excerpt from them centered around a relevant topic, then move on to the next excerpt by another author.  It exposes you to a variety of perspectives, but at the expense of plumbing the depths of what any one of those perspectives might have to say; for that, you are on your own...but at least you have been given something to whet your appetite first.

This variety, though, is a key strength to Bread & Wine.  The authors curated for this collection range from patron saints of Protestant orthodoxy like C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers to people who have spent their entire lives working for the folks in the margins, like John Dear and Mother Teresa.  Chronologically, the writings likewise span almost the proverbial gamut of Christianity, from Saint Augustine to present day writers like Dear and Barbara Brown Taylor.  And while these writers may well know more than you or I about the "appalling strangeness of the mercy of God" (thank you, Graham Greene!), they don't act like it.  To a person, the authors chosen for this book write in entirely accessible prose (or poetry, in the cases of Khalil Gibran, Christina Rossetti, and others), making this volume a valuable resource for clergy and laity alike.

We're now one full week into Lent, with Ash Wednesday having been precisely one Wednesday in the past.  If you are still looking for a Lenten practice to pick up not only for Lent but for Easter as well, so that you may find richness not only in the forty days of fasting but in the forty days of resurrection that follow, Bread and Wine is a good start.  It costs twenty bucks new on Amazon, and fourteen bucks or so used.

Yours in Christ,

Disclaimer: My copy of Bread and Wine came at no charge from the publisher; however, all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

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