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Monday, June 6, 2016

"The Dusty Ones" (A. J. Swoboda)

TITLE: The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith
AUTHOR: A. J. Swoboda
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (226 pages).

I remember a friend telling me that there are three types of people in this world. The first group are those who make things happen. The second group wait for things to happen. The third group are those who wondered what happened. After reading this book, I believe there is one more group: Those who are wandering as and when things happen. For God's people throughout history have been known as a people wandering toward the Promise Land. That is one reason why the Christian life has often been compared to the journey metaphor. We travel from one point to another. We experience God more and more. We in our imperfection is on a journey toward the Perfect God. Jesus has said in Matthew 5:48 to "Be perfect for the heavenly Father is perfect."

Just like his earlier two books, Swoboda does not shy away from mystery or the less illustrious parts of spirituality. He sees from the darkness as opportunities for learning. He sees wandering as a way to grow spiritually. In his first book, Messy, he sees the positive sides of struggles and challenges. In his second, A Glorious Dark, he reflects on the day of silence between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus and calls it "glorious." In this book, he offers to readers "a description of and hopeful vision for the wandering Christian experience."

After reading this book, I have a changed perspective with regard to the phrase "restless wanderer." There is no running away from wandering. It is part and parcel of who we are. If that is the case, why not do whatever we can to learn, to grow, and to experience all that God has to give. Thus, he does not seek to minimize the effects of wandering as what some other authors and teachers would do but helps us change our perspectives of things that some may find mundane, boring, or at worse, repugnant. Looking at gardening, he believes that it is a parallel to our spiritual life, that we garden with a purpose to be fruitful. The effect of being banished from the garden of Eden is an example of God practicing tough love. When we wander in the deserts, as we are freed from the enslavement to visible things, we are free to be more attentive to the invisible God. In eating, we can learn about life not only through what we eat but how we eat. In walking, Swoboda shows us that it is like two legs of faith and reason, and the two are to be affirmed together. In service, we try to meet the needs around us by serving the people, not only the ones we love but also our enemies. He sees the Sabbath not merely as a point in time but a way of life. He believes that being ordinary is the new radical. He points out the difference between a Pharisee and a Christian as follows:

"A Pharisee can't be someone unless they are doing something.
A Christian can be someone even when they are doing nothing."

Beautifully put.

He continues with eating and points out that the tragedy of our spiritual lives is when we have full stomachs and empty hearts. I loved the last part of the book where he reflects on prayer as follows:

"Resting prayer isn't a free-flowing exchange of intellectual ideas. Resting prayer is just being there." Eventually, Swoboda comes back to Jesus, who he calls, a "strange wanderer." Through the example of Jesus, who reaches out to all people regardless of status.

I am full of praise for this book because of the counter-cultural ideas that sharpen our curiosity of the most ordinary things in life. There is no reason why we should live boring Christian lives. By looking at the ordinary things with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm, there is no reason why the Christian life cannot be exciting. In fact, if we are able to see with dynamism and meaning, the very ordinary things in life, how much more will we be more effective when the extraordinary things happen? If you feel that you are going through a dry spiritual patch; or feel that the Christian life is too 'ordinary' for your liking; or the loneliness of spiritual wandering; this book is an excellent companion to quench your thirst for more. Most importantly, it gives us a fresh perspective that should add a spectrum of colours in what people would often see as a black and white world.

Swoboda is a pastor at Theophilus Church in Portland, Oregon. He is also Professor at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary, teaching biblical studies, theology, and church history.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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