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Monday, November 10, 2014

"Losers Like Us" (Daniel Hochhalter)

TITLE: Losers Like Us
AUTHOR: Daniel Hochhalter
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2014, (236 pages).

What does it mean to live as failures, rejects, outcasts, and in Hochhalter's words, "losers?" Not many people would be willing to tell of their failures. Most would prefer to parade their successes, their accolades, multiple achievements, and symbols of progress the world looks up to. It is much easier to trumpet our highlights and successes than to tell of our lows and failures. This is an "upside-down theology" that works pretty well in a book entitled "losers like us." In 2008, after seven years of hard work, expensive fees, big sacrifices, and high hopes, Daniel Hochhalter failed his oral defense, was denied of a PhD, and kicked out of the doctoral program with an unnamed British University. Devastated and stunned about the unexpected turn of events, this single event drastically changed the life of Hochhalter, who had dreamed of a career in teaching and academia. The words "underachiever" defines how he feels. Yet, these feelings of personal doubt and distress mark the beginning of his journey to "redefining discipleship" and how it feels to be a "social outcast" in the world, but still completely accepted by God. God loves losers too.

A loser according to Hochhalter is one who loses a competition to others, who fails to achieve his objectives, or one who simply does not fit in to expectations. The point Hochhalter makes is that winners and losers are not what Jesus is looking for. Jesus looks for people who are willing, available, and who recognize their true selves. In other words, there is hope for those who feel broken, imperfect, flawed, unaccomplished, weak, vulnerable, the under-achiever, the loser. Several categories of losers are mentioned.

"The Nobodies" are those who are not famous like many disciples who do not reach the fame like Peter or Paul. The author notes that many of "these unnamed Christians were pretty effective witnesses." Reflecting on his high school days, Hochhalter also sees himself as a "Zealot" who had admirable belief but repulsive behaviour. Despite the dislike against legalistic behaviours, Jesus chose Simon the Zealot, that Simon was asked "not to give it up, but to give it to him." Being upstaged is also unpleasant, even embarrassing. American culture thrives on dominating, winning, and overwhelming the opponents. Those who are small, the underdogs, the ordinary, are all shunned. No one likes to be in the shadows of other people. Hochhalter struggles with the image of bigotry, self-conscious of his own profiling of others in the midst of terrorism fears, only to realize that we are all "bigots" in some way. He lists examples bigotry in academia, intellectual domains, and pride, before showing us how Nathaniel himself was also accepted graciously by Jesus. Pointing out the flaws of the "Pragmatist," readers learn about how pragmatism can blind us to the work God is doing apart from the pragmatic approaches the world honours. Other categories of losers include the "Uber-Loser," the "Betrayer," the "Doubter," "the Egotist," the "Kid," "the screwup," before Hochhalter describes the "greatest loser of all," Jesus.

Each of the 12 categories of losers are associated with a biblical character and supplemented by the author's personal story of how he identified himself with the label. It is an already tough act to deal with the disappointments of not getting his PhD. It might even be tougher to belittle and paint himself as an outcast with terrible labels. Lest readers miss the main point, the book is not about downplaying the self. It is about redemption and grace. It is not about what people did or not do. It is about God choosing ordinary people, "losers" in spite of their lowliness, to serve the greatest person who had ever walked the earth, Jesus. Hochhalter suffered a double whammy, losing his PhD pursuit as well as losing his teaching position in college. After thirteen chapters of rather depressing self deprecations, followed by sparks of grace on how God blesses the disciples with grace, readers can heave a sigh of relief that the last chapter is solidly on redemptive ground.

I may be wrong, but I sense a conflicted being in the writing of the book. On the one hand, there is a sense of regret and disappointment at the loss of the PhD. On the other hand, there is hope in Christ and the power of God's grace to the weak, the fallen, and the underdogs in life. I appreciate the way Hochhalter ends the book, which really sums up what the book is about:

"They were not spiritual superstars. They were not the cream of the crop. They were broken, flawed, and sinful. And, in a moment of overwhelming grace, a still, small voice inside me whispers that if Jesus used them anyway, then maybe he can use me—and you, too. In the world’s eyes, we are losers. In Jesus’s eyes, we are disciples. And being in both categories, we are in good company." (p229)

If you are down and out, this book may very well lift you up from the doldrums of despair. If you are up and have been a high achiever, this book may very well prepare you from being easily shattered when failure looms. However, if you want to read books that avoid triumphalism or superioristic tones, that presents raw honesty against the trail of refined and highly desired worldly accomplishments, this book fits that bill. Not only that, it is very much the book for the rest of us. Assuming only the top 0.01% gets the prize, this book may be reaching out to the other 99.9% of people who have never gotten a sniff of what it means to bag that coveted prize.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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