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Quick Reads for August 2018

August 22, 2018 by

Here are our recommendations for this month:

book covers

Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age starts with the usual litany of complaints about pervasive mobile technology. These issues are certainly real, but Noble doesn’t bring anything new to the discussion: “Our frenetic and flattened culture is not conducive to wrestling with thick ideas, ideas with depth, complexity, and personal implications. It is a culture of immediacy, simple emotions, snap judgments, optics, and identity formation.” In the religious sphere, Andy Crouch, Trevin Wax, and others have addressed it, and secularly, Jean Twenge has been all over it.

But Noble quickly moves from rote recounting of a problem most of us are fully aware of to perceptive insights into how Christians might go about solving it. Such solutions won’t be easy, he says: “This calls for a different way of bearing witness to the gospel of Christ. We need a method of living in light of the gospel that unsettles people from their stupor. The way we communicate our faith must puncture the buzz of modern life. . .” In three sections, he proposes ways we might bear witness – disruptively – with our personal habits, our church practices, and our cultural participation.

His most challenging solution, and the one we’ll most shy away from, is finding silence. “Although Christians, of all people, should not be afraid to be alone in the dark of the modern world, many of us rely on distractions to get through the day. This can be true even when we devote ourselves to religious activities.” He recommends not cold turkey from modernity, but simply finding more time for small breaks from our connected distractedness – low-hanging fruit, he calls it. Say grace before meals (even in public), take a Sabbath rest more seriously, and be amazed at what might grow from that seed.

Away from the personal, take a look at how your church might have adopted – perhaps for very good reasons – very secular habits in preaching, worship, marketing, or merchandising. If any of that can be rolled back, it will demonstrate a church set apart from the world it is trying to witness to. He suggests finding a way to simpler liturgies, even if a lack of lights and fog machines means fewer people show up on Sunday. Noble doesn’t think that will actually be the case, but if it is, well: “The traditional liturgical elements of a church service have a goodness and beauty in them that we ought to pursue regardless of their effectiveness as evangelism.”

Noble also has a suggestion on how to participate in the “stories” (meaning not only books, but films, TV shows, music, or podcasts) that the wider culture is discussing, and how we can put our spin on them. In this way, we can broaden the influence of church and interact with our neighbors who may not share our beliefs.

But on whatever level we can work – personally, church-based, or broadly within the culture – Noble says we should never forget the majesty and beauty of the Creator and the creation. And as we rediscover and exhibit the glory of God in our actions, we’ll hopefully, prayerfully, reveal it at work in others. That’s true disruption.

I hope I don’t bore you by reviewing another book about Christian hospitality and thick community, but it’s such a great topic, and Leah Libresco’s Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name is such a great book, that I hope you’ll forgive me. Libresco writes in response to Rod Dreher’s 2017 Christian blockbuster, and like other books of this ilk, hers starts in the intellectual sphere but soon finds its true calling as a practical handbook. She enumerates the many “little ways” that we can build community in our neighborhoods, with friends in the faith and outside it, and if one or the other seem too impractical she suggests alternatives. Can’t cook, or even host, a big dinner in your tiny apartment? Go out for dinner, or meet in a library, a church, or a park. (Ever the practical “den mother,” as Dreher dubs her in his foreword, Libresco acknowledges all the ways these options might not work for you, too.)

But her main point is that to build a stronger, “thicker” Christian community, we need to do together what we used to do alone, and do in public what we used to do in private. (These are the titles of the two most crucial chapters.) And yeah, she even addresses public prayer and saying grace in a manner similar to Alan Noble, and acknowledges that while we might find it embarrassing, and others might find it off-putting, that is no excuse to not do it. She closes her book with a line that Noble would agree with: “We who live in Christ must, through our love of each other, offer his glory a lively witness.” And call it what you will – disruptive or lively, salt or light – it’s a witness worth giving.


Hear Libresco’s thoughts during a recent visit to our Fox Hill Community


Want to really build community and be revolutionary? Read Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now, and then act on it. The book doesn’t need much more summary than that, for it is exactly what it says it is. If the ten short chapters – sample titles are “social media is destroying your capacity for empathy” and “social media is making you unhappy” as well as “social media is making you into an a**hole” – don’t quite convince you to go all the way, they’ll certainly make you think long and hard about the negligible value and prodigious downsides of Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. Which is more than most of us were doing a couple years ago.

But if you do go all the way, with all that time you’ll save by not being on social media, you’ll be truly free to disrupt the culture – or even better, cook dinner for your neighbors.

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Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman

Red Zimmerman lives at the Woodcrest Bruderhof and is the editor of Bruderhof.com.

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