The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the Marks of God’s Grace in the World

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the Marks of God’s Grace in the World

  1. Review

    Since everyone who sees his name will wonder, the author acknowledges that he is a likely but remote descendent from one branch of the American patriot Patrick Henry"s family tree. Of more relevant interest, he was a professor of religion at Swarthmore College, for seventeen years, specializing in early Christianity. He is presently director of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey and University at Collegeville, Minnesota.

    In 1975 while he was typing a letter, Patrick Henry’s finger slipped and he was "transported to the middle of the 198th century: ‘March 26, 19756."’ At that precise moment, he felt that his imagination was "sprung free from the trap of time." Thus free, he was able to see that from the vantage point of the 198th century , the twenty centuries of the history of the church occupy only about ten percent of the church’s past, which means that we, who are living today, are part of the early church. The implication of seeing from that vantage-point, he writes, is that "We, in our own time, deserve the same respect we have been giving to what we call the ‘early church’ -our authority and responsibility are no less than theirs, for we are, with them, members of the early church."

    It is the author’s conviction that Christians can be most responsible today when they recognize that they inhabit a world that is more ‘as if than ‘just like. ‘ Many Christians today inhabit a "just like"’ world where everything has been decided" settled, set in concrete and "faithfulness is measured by the fervor with which one assumes the bumper- sticker litany: ‘The Bible: God said it, I believe it, that settles it."’ So these days, the author writes, "’Christian’ sounds pinched" squeezed, narrow. Many people who identify themselves as Christians seem to have leapfrogged over life, short-circuited the adventure. " So he warns, if you require " a neat, brief answer, this book is not for you. "

    In contrast, an ironic Christian inhabits a world that is "more ‘as if’ than ‘just like,’ a world fashioned by a God of surprises." One of the chief characteristics of an ironic Christian is "an instinctive" abiding suspicion of no-loose-ends answers. " Some Christians, the author suggests, seem to "chalk things up much too easily, too quickly, to the grace of God." But for himself "grace has come as irony: an off-balance deflating of my pride, sometimes as funny as vaudeville slapstick; a gentle dismantling of my despair …clarity when 1’m too confused and confusion when I am too clear ."

    The author states that the only way he can explain ‘ironic Christian’ is to "invite you to come with me into a world I have found, and been found by, the grace of God." His book is intended to be a Companion, meaning ‘to go with me, , on a journey into what it means to be a responsible Christian in today’s world. He describes it as a "combination of shared wisdom, spiritual resource" antidote to boredom, helper out of jams, teaser of the imagination, and ideally, a good read."

    Some of the chapter titles will point to the scope and depth of this Companion: "On Where We Are, " "On Paying Attention," "On Hoping and Praying," "On Why I am (Because You are)," "On Grace At The Improv." In developing his perspective, the author shares the works of his favorite " conversation partners" , Vaclav Ravel, Julian of Norwich, Fyodor Dostoevsky, C. S. Lewis, Yogi Bera, Anne Sexton and Dr. Seuss. At the end of his book, he includes an Index of field marks of the grace of God

    Reading this book reminded me of a book I read about the same time Henry’s finger slipped: Images of Faith, An Exploration of the Ironic Imagination by William F. Lynch, S .J . In paging through the book recently, I ran across these words which I had underlined. "Either we can say that left to itself faith believes too much and too indiscriminately, believing everything, absolutizing everything (this is the faith that leads to disappointment, despair and fury); irony comes along to educate faith. Or we can say that the irony which knows how to de-absolutize things and control faith is faith itself."

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