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Monday, August 3, 2015

"Bandersnatch" (Erika Morrison)

TITLE: Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul
AUTHOR: Erika Morrison
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2015, (224 pages).

This is a book with a very unique name. What is "Bandersnatch?" Readers familiar with Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass may recall this as a mythical creature that is wild and ferocious. Morrison defines this as "a person with uncouth, or unconventional habits and attitudes, even as someone considered to be a bit of a troublemaker or nuisance" and applies it to transformed believers wanting to be a counter cultural force in this world. Instead of relying on what the world tells us what we must do, why not be liberated from the chains of worldliness and to let loose our authentic selves that God has created us to be. In other words, live not according to expectations but according to our identity. It is about being free, being our real selves, and not to be conformed to this world.

It all began with Jesus Christ, the one who defied the religious norms then; the one who braved the impending persecutions and suffered the eventual execution. Unlike popular books like the Prayer of Jabez's push toward triumphalism, the author manages to discern blessings beyond the high-fives to the lows. For "blessed" is a spiritual quality that comes from learning from the hard school of faith. Morrison calls herself a visionary and life artist who resides in the New University Town of New Haven, CT. In this book, she looks at life from four creative angles: Avant-Garde; Alchemy; Anthropology; and Art. From her research, "Avant-Garde" is defined as "lifestyle values that are informed by unorthodox and experimental methods, daring approaches, radical pioneering, and a push against the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or status quo." Her two examples of Avant-Garde are Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Lady Gaga. Surprise? Applying it to faith matters, Morrison believes that Christians are called to Avant-Garde, willing to push the boundaries of the world to usher in the kingdom of God. This can be cultivated through dancing;. through contemplating on the love of God; to improve our gaze on God as our dance partner. This means learning to accept what God has given us, and not impose "cookie cut spirituality" on others, like how the author relates her experience of being pushed by some to receiving the gift of tongues but frustrated in not receiving it. Learn to pray with your body. Be open to unorthodox parenting, like trying to find work for her 12-year-old boy in a society that only accepts those 16 and above. Be ready to let God's Spirit lead more than mere parental guides and pamphlets issued by community groups. Just because the statistics say so does not necessarily mean our kids have to follow them. Learning to be uniquely ourselves, being uncommon in a common world can be scary but experientially rewarding

Alchemy is not just some turning of plain metal into gold but a "great infusing" of our ordinary with "heaven's extraordinary." Morrison is inviting God, the "Great Alchemist" to unite with us. (Personally, I would point out a subtle disagreement with the sequencing: It is about us uniting with God, and not the other way round).  I applaud Morrison for saying that any alchemy done is not for our own sake but for Christ's sake. With God's empowerment, we too can be kingdom alchemists like Jesus. Mysticism, meditation, mindfulness, when aligned with the Spirit's leading can enable us toward that practice. Looking at the Martha and Mary story, we are reminded of Jesus showing us what "life ought to be" rather than "how life is." We can all be so Martha-like in our pragmatic and existential ways that we lose Mary-like spirituality and heavenward focus. Readers are also inspired to look for opportunities in meeting Jesus at all places, using four ingredients: 1) being aware and available; 2) being loving and glad in responding to societal needs; 3) being bold in prayer; and 4) being ready with a "bag of groceries" to give away. The purpose of alchemy is simply to find new and fresh initiatives to rejuvenate "tired or stale" faith. Being "somebody for someone" may very well be one of the most powerful examples of sharing Christ's love.

On the Anthropology of faith, Morrison imagines back to the famous words, "I See You" popularized by the hit movie, Avatar. It's learning to see beyond the surface of the ordinary toward the depths of the extraordinary that God had created the world to be. While conventional anthropology is about the study of humankind, in a "Bandersnatch" paradigm shift, we learn of Jesus as the greatest anthropologist who had ever lived. If alchemy is about the "elemental level" of heavenly stuff, anthropology here refers to that of earthly stuff. In the author's words, "Practically speaking, kingdom anthropology is a radical way of seeing everyone as if you’ve lived inside their skin and everything else for its full potential." It means learning to stand in another person's shoes. It means living like Jesus and treating others the way Jesus had treated them. It means learning to rise above normal assumptions and constraints, to let the presence of God lift us past cultural norms, to see the "blazing glory of God in everyone." Caring for people also means overcoming the barriers of gated communities and marginalized groups, to become "cross-dressers" of love and embracing people like Jesus had done.

In the final part, Art is about using the "Avant-Garde" approach, together with the tools of alchemy and anthropology, to create a special art form unique to our calling. We are all called to be life artists. Morrison says it as: "Art is your soul outside your body." The kind of art that we do reflects the ways of Jesus. The final art product we finish reflects the work of God. Applied to marriage, Morrison brings us back to the wedding at Cana scene, where we remember Jesus leaving the best for last. Marriage is indeed about journey together to become the best expression of God-incarnated love, eventually. Married couples need to learn to be crafted not according to individual wants and personal desires but what God had intended for the marriage. Marriage is a profound way of dying to self for a greater good. Parenting too is art, otherwise it deteriorates into drudgery and toilsome activities. Learn to ask for God's help and guidance each time we attempt to teach our children. Not only will there be cool and calm parenting, there will also be opportunities to teach and to incorporate the grace of God. Spirituality as art simple means spiritual rhythms. In order to be spiritual artists, we need to be awake to the movement of the Spirit. We need to be attentive spiritually. We need to be connected to God. Do we see Jesus when we look at the cross?

So What?

The world cries out for conformity, constancy, and commonality. Erika Morrison insists that these things are not the ways of spirituality. We are called to be different, to be inventive, and to be uncommon. Having said that, we cannot be different for the sake of being different. While the ways of avant-garde, alchemy, anthropology, and art are ways in which we can refresh our spiritual lives, we must remember that all of these changes are in the context of conforming closely to the Word of God, abiding tightly in Jesus, and flowing in step with the Spirit. Do not be different for different's sake. Be different for Christ's sake. Through the four "Bandersnatch" waves, readers are challenged to think different from normal worldly views. We are urged to live beyond our personal limits to reach out to the opportunities God had made possible to us. There are three groups of people who would benefit from the reading of this book. The first group are the bored. There are lots of people who call themselves Christians but live without much vigour or passion. As long as we play it safe and remain at average level, we will feel nothing really exciting day after day. When we blindly accept the limitations imposed on us by the powers surrounding us, we may miss out the opportunities that God has given to us. By adopting Bandersnatch perspective, we can be sparked into the world of possibilities. We can be motivated to see God at work in ordinary ways. We can press the refresh button to give ourselves a new start. The second group are the tired and fatigued group of faithful servants. With lots of good intentions, they have given a lot of energy, time, and resources to serve God and to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Along the way, with the common pareto of 5-10% of the people doing 90-95% of the work, it is only a matter of time before they cry out, "enough is enough." Some burn out while others totally burn up. With of new impetus and creativity, they serve with willing hearts by tired souls. Perhaps, the idea of art and acceptance can inject a dose of creativity amid pragmatic processes; energy and excitement with new perspectives on old ideas; and spiritual newness and vitality. The third group are the youthful and earnest people, dying to get things all started. The energy, the determination, the people, the resources, and the readiness, are all there. Except that these are not well aligned to the call of God.  It is one thing to want to do something fresh, new, and exciting. It is yet another to do it according to human ways and wishes instead of God's. Morrison gives us exciting ways to think anew. More importantly, she reminds us regularly that we must be conformed to the image of Christ. Whatever new projects or initiatives we do must come back to the cross, to the Person of Christ, and to the purposes of God fulfilled in Jesus and empowered by the Spirit.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

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