It's one of those cold, rainy Irish "summer" days where there's nothing quite like cuddling up in bed with a candle, one's favourite cableknit throw and a deep book. So it's a good thing I put off reading Interrupted* till the last minute.
(before you get too envious, it should be noted we came home from church to a doggy-upset-stomach stink you would not believe, so the candle is not just for show)
To recap: I love Jen Hatmaker mainly because, in her own words, she will "tell my little stories" or "have public rants" or "tell very borderline inappropriate anecdotes with no heed to the repercussions." This is right up my alley. If I don't make a new friend cringe in the first 60 seconds of our meeting, I'm not being true to myself.
But that's beside the point. The truth is, I didn't even know who she was 3 years ago, and at that time, our life had already been massively interrupted - twice, actually - and I was not keen for more.
We'd just returned from our dream job, "that to which we had been called." Nothing went particularly wrong. We joined a Christian non-profit, raised our funds (in record-breaking slowest time ever), moved overseas and worked in full-time ministry. We fulfilled our two year term and when it was up, we came home, unsure when or if we would return.
And to be honest, we were heartbroken. It wasn't exactly what we had initially planned and hoped for. The initial vision with which God had interrupted our lives didn't really come to fruition. Not yet, anyway. And we weren't sure it ever would.
Topping off this massive season of doubt and loneliness, we found ourselves stranded back in the suburban American evangelical church bubble. Having tasted and seen just a glimpse of the international family of God, we were lost for words under the glare of bright lights and electric guitars plaguing the mainstage of worship. I felt like we were carrying this secret, an inner longing that something was not right here, that these consumeristic strappings were out of tune and out of sync with the quiet bleakness of the Upper Room, or the miraculously humble feast of loaves and fishes.
This isn't even touching upon the politicizing, the ostracizing, the reminder every Sunday that evildoers (mainly homosexuals and criminals, obviously) would not inherit the Kingdom of God. It didn't matter what the sermon was about, as long as a quick name-drop of the big sinners was included.
Where was this Kingdom, again? I didn't have a clue.
Enter Sentralized, a conference about and for nontraditional church planters, theologians and friends of the freaks (their words, not mine). A new church plant we had hoisted ourselves upon - and thank you, Jesus, they took us in and tended our wounds - spread the word for those who were interested, and somehow I found myself attending each and every session, soaking up the words, crying through the prayers and asking God to make the path straight because this was the Kingdom I wanted to be about and longed to find.
They used phrases like "Jesus moving into the neighbourhood" and being a part of the crazy, messy family of God (also right up my alley). And they spoke of a Hat Guy in Austin (of course) and his barefoot church. Now that seemed like a brilliant idea.
Suddenly our hopes for our return overseas didn't seem so strange, so deluded. We found ourselves among likeminded and open-hearted people and though it was not going to be easy from here on out (not that it had been in the first place), it was the beginning of our journey back home to Ireland.
Later that year I picked up a book called 7 that these missional weirdos couldn't stop raving about, wherein I finally read about the Easter service at a barefoot church. This eventually led me here, to Jen's latest book, a revised and updated edition of Interrupted, and the 6 years-in-the-making realisation that we weren't alone. God was up to something with us, with them, with this whole lot of people who were less interested in voting scorecards and sin hit-lists than they were in actually being good news, sharing a life lived for Jesus and bringing the light of the Kingdom to dark places.
Now here's the rub: After a few years going at this now, I feel like I should be able to say I've been there, done that. I mean, come on: we moved to a different country. We have foresaken family proximity and cultural ease to love Jesus and love our neighbour amongst heart, body and financially broken people. I read Jen's work (and Hugh's and Scot's and Helen's) and think, "Great. My people. So glad we're marching to the same drum." I catch up with old friends and new ones, discovering God is taking them on similar journeys as they serve in their own communities, churches and schools back home.
But moving, replanting and living in the general vicinity of those in need doesn't mean I'm always willing to throw open my doors - and my arms - to my new neighbour. So far I've been fairly content in letting Matt take the reigns on the Big Stuff.
Apparently, God is asking me for a bit more.
And this is where it scares me so much more than it did the first time he interrupted things, way back in 2003 when the biggest fight of our day was the removal of the 10 Commandments from a Georgia courthouse. The radio said, "70 million evangelicals in America are talking about this issue," and it was like God dropped out of the sky and said straight to our faces, "Then what are you two still doing here?!"
The decision to go was easy, though the road was bumpy as all get-out. And now that we're finally back here, more than a decade after this all began, in a comfy Irish home in the near suburbs of Dublin in our pretty good (and wonderfully multi-cultural) school and fairly secure neighbourhood, He's asking "What if?" of us again.
How will I answer this time?
Oh wait, now --- this is supposed to be a review, not a confessional. Pardon the massive exposition. I'll just go ahead sum up with this:
If you're quiet in church because the literal and figurative noise is just too loud, read this book.
If the words from the Sermon on the Mount don't sound like the words from the sermon up front, read this book.
If you can afford to pay your cable bill but said no to sponsoring a child in poverty or supporting an overseas missionary, read this book.
You'll find Jen unabashedly honours the Bible and interacts with the text in a way that keeps you on your toes (full disclosure: sometimes I had a hard time keeping up). But this is a woman who isn't just making it up as she goes along: she's dug deep for the information, the history and the context, doing all of us who are searching for something more than the American Dream dressed up in Church Lingo a ginormous favour.
Finally, if Jesus sounds amazing, but Christians sound crazy, read this book.
I promise, we're listening. We're trying to do better, live better, so the Kingdom of God isn't so unattainable for the person down the street or the housebound senior in the inner city or the child working in the hills of Colombia. We probably still sound and act crazy, but it's a holy passion. And we're counting on Jesus to make sense of it all.
In the book, Jen suggests doing the next right thing. I think I know what my next right thing is (hint: it's going to involve a lot more opening of my front door, and related cleaning!). Even if you haven't read the book, what's your next right thing?
*Disclosure: I was provided an advanced reader copy of Interrupted by Tyndale in exchange for a fair review. All views and opinions my own. Affiliate links are included.