Saturday, December 04, 2010

Dangerbooks! Living Mission

Let me first make a commitment: not every "dangerbook" I review will be one that I edited. I'm not so naive as to think I, who live in relative comfort and who rarely venture outside my home, let alone into discomfort of any kind, might be thought of as a "dangereditor." But I have found particular gratification in the editorial process on those books that challenge me, and so I freely admit that I sometimes seek them out. Hence my first "dangerbook" review, found here, was a book that I edited.

The nature of challenging books is such that, in the current reading climate, they're often strategically overlooked in favor of books that are "safe for the whole family" or some other category of innocuousness. Don't cry for these dangerbooks, of course: they're doing fine, and they're not so naive as to think writing books that threaten to change people is a viable retirement strategy anyway. Nevertheless, I like to do my part to showcase these books, as much out of appreciation for their impact on me, as out of my conviction that the responsibility of publishing is to push and stretch and confront and afflict, even as it encourages and empowers and even comforts. With that in mind, I bring you Living Mission, today's book o' danger.

Living Mission is a followup of sorts. Its editor (and author of chapter one) is Scott Bessenecker, associate director of missions for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and author of the book The New Friars. That book profiled five contemporary mission organizations that defy the caricature of missions and instead live among people in extreme poverty, advocating for justice and developing self-sustaining communities undergirded by faith. In Living Mission Scott hands the microphone to representatives of each of these movements to give further definition to how they came about and what they're all about. (Full disclosure, I've also edited books by two of the contributors.) As they see it, mission that is living and not hollow has essentially five traits:

* First and foremost, mission is incarnational--which is to say, emulating Jesus by living among and like those they serve (even though they don't have to).
* Next, mission is missional--which may elicit a "duh" from the audience but needs to be said anyway. It chases after the things God chases after--kingdom values--which often grate against the overarching values of the status quo.
* Next, mission is marginal, seeking out the places and people being neglected (and often actively suppressed or simply sacrificed) by the powers that be.
* Then mission is devotional, striving to keep its savior and lord and source of strength in view. This type of mission attracts a lot of activists, after all, and such people can often lose sight of their "why" as they chase hard after a particular "what."
* Finally, this living mission is communal. Those who engage in this type of mission are making a home for themselves, with new neighbors and an expansive and diverse family. Outsiders cannot swoop in and save a community; this isn't a comic book. No, communities are saved when they discover Christ and one another together, and when they step out in search of God's kingdom come, God's will done, in their neighborhoods and cities as it is in heaven.

As foreword writers Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove rightly observe, in a world where as many as two billion people live in megacity slums, "is the good news . . . really the promise of Disneyland and a trust fund?" We don't need to read this book just out of appreciation for the people who take such a difficult challenge for themselves; we need desperately to read it because the world so many of us occupy--the world of Christian publishing and suburban living--is not the whole world in God's hands. Whatever normal is, it's not us; whatever God's doing in the world, it's not leading to a utopia of shopping malls and worship CDs.

Some of the contributors to Living Mission live in Cambodia or Mexico or other harsh urban environments, but some of them live in San Francisco, London, Omaha, where they also regularly confront the underbelly of economic idolatry. We need to read Living Mission because it offers a map through the world where we find ourselves to the place where God is leading all of us together.

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