Meet A.J. Swoboda. He lives in Portland, OR. He pastors a church in the same church family I serve. He likes to listen to NPR. We have a lot in common. He also has a PhD (in ecotheology, no less) from the same university I attended. That university happens to be in Birmingham, England. Right. Two Foursquare pastors, living in adjoining states in America, one from England and one from the U.S.A. both studied in the same theology department. Except I don’t have a PhD. I barely survived my undergrad studies. So, we have some similarities, but A.J. is smarter, more hip, a writer of books, and wears those killer glasses. I have the remnants of a British accent. I have that, at least. Suffice to say, the peculiar connection we share caused me to keep track of his work.
This month sees the release of his new book, A Glorious Dark, and I am adamant that you should get a copy. Structured around the three days of Easter weekend, the book is a series of reflections on finding hope in the tension between belief and experience. Yes, life does not always fit within the confines of our nice, tidy, theological constructs.
For some…faith appears like the dead surface of a frozen river. And what I want to say is that below the dead-looking surface is a living river too – a glorious dark. (page 1)
If our faith has taken on the form of only one of the three days of Easter (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday), then we are going to struggle when the fullness of existence comes crashing into the front rooms, kitchens and bedrooms of our lives. For instance:
When we live only in Friday, we assume that the Christian life is an existence of pain and punishment – and those who smile or have joy must be fake…Sunday Christianity dismisses the realities of death and loss. (page 4)
After making the case for the ongoing purpose of the three days in our own lives, A.J. then paints multiple vignettes that explore the terrain of faith in existence. He gets painfully vulnerable, in a beautiful way that will start many restorative conversations. He challenges and provokes with ways of seeing and saying that are liable to offend you at some point. Quite honestly, we all need to be offended.
But underlying all the probing and searching is a man who knows Jesus, walks with him, and wants us to walk authentically, too.
The writing, itself, is winsome and accessible, and there is a startling depth to the thoughts and the engagement with the historical community of faith – whether referencing Bonhoeffer, L’Engle, Lewis, Motlmann, Calvin, Chesterton, or making fun of David Hume, this guy has theological chops that add flourishes and nuances beyond many of his peers. It’s just, plain fun to read his writing. And just when you think you get to come along with an ironic chuckle about some anecdote or another, he drives a point home that crucifies some unsound principle in your soul. It’s rather sneaky, but entirely effective.
I want you to experience the book for yourself, so I’m cutting this short. Take this as more of an all-out, embarrassingly gushing recommendation, rather than a review. If you decide to break the ice and swim in the depths, contact me on twitter and we can chat.
Better still, share some thoughts with A.J. too!