I am so excited to be sharing this book with you today!
Recently Jason Butler the lead pastor at Transformation City Church released his first book:
Dangerous Presence: Following Jesus into the City.
So, yes, the book is written by the lead pastor of the church I serve in; it is in large part the vision that Ben and I bought into when we moved to Milwaukee from West Virginia, and some of our own little adventures in the city are included in the book…
Even aside from all of these things, this is a really excellent work and I truly believe a must-read for anyone who wants to truly pick up their cross and follow Jesus (an idea that Butler addresses at some length in the beginning of the book).
Don’t take my very (and admittedly) biased word for it though, check out what theologian Walter Brueggemann had to say:
“[Butler] brings to expression the local radicality of the gospel as concerns missional urgency. Readers will be drawn into a fresh understanding of the gospel for a society that does not value our bodily existence very much. The word dangerous is exactly right for what Butler has in mind.”
I’m going to work my way through this one chapter by chapter and post thoughts on Friday – hence the name “Friday Book Club”.
You can order Dangerous Presence on Amazon and follow along (and you really should do that).
Comments are welcome and encouraged. Let’s wrestle through this one together!
Butler opens his book by recounting a story from his time serving in the remote Russian village, Lyahi. While in Lyahi Butler witnessed a group of orphans eating oranges one afternoon. Upon finishing the fruit, the children proceeded to eat the peels as well. When Butler asked why the children did this, he was told it was because the children did not know when their next meal would be.
Moments like this, when we are faced with abject poverty cause us (Americans) to pause and question.
I think many of us turn the questions that rise to the surface back on God, at least I know I have certainly done that.
Well, why does God allow innocent children to suffer?
What kind of world is this anyway?
How could a loving God allow people to starve?
Butler describes this moment of reckoning as having a “boulder from heaven” fall on and crush him.
“Kids eating orange peels is injustice. It’s not the way the world should be. It shows something is wrong, and we realize it the moment we see it. It’s like a flash bang of brokenness that momentarily paralyzes our senses.
Or maybe that was the rock.”
As Butler wrestled through this “flash bang of brokenness” he came to realize that the only way he could truly impact the brokenness in Lyahi would be to give up his life and move to Lyahi. To relocate into the heart of brokenness.
This is something we don’t like to think about in the Church in the U.S. We don’t like to think that in order for real, lasting change to occur that it will likely cost us dearly. We don’t like to think about the Lordship of Christ also dictating where we live, what jobs we do or do not take and whether or not we are in an environment that is considered “safe”.
We would rather go, serve for a week to ten days, feel good about ourselves – like we’ve helped to make a difference, and then return to what is comfortable and safe.
But as Butler notes in his very first chapter, “Injustice begins to break down when someone chooses to move closer.”
We can’t glimpse at injustice from afar, and believe that we have been healed of our cultural blindness.
We cannot dip our toes into the bitter fountain of injustice and claim to have turned the waters sweet.
We must jump in. We must move closer.
I love the song “Albertine” by Brooke Fraser. One of the lines from the chorus haunts my days almost constantly:
“Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead.”
Now that I have seen, I am responsible.
In this globalized, 24-news, social media driven world, how much have we seen? How many stories are we responsible for?
How many children have we seen eating orange peels, but (like Butler) decided it was too much, too costly to fully engage in?
“Injustice begins to break down when someone chooses to move closer.“
For personal reflection or discussion in comments below:
What places scare you?
What stories break your heart?
Which people would you prefer to just write off completely?
How would moving closer to those places, those stories begin to break down the injustices surrounding them?