This is a monthly column on the writing process. Topics will range from books and authors to writing conferences and workshops to the writing process itself.
Reading Jesus by Rev. Vance L. Toivonen. iUniverse, Inc.
Rev. Vance Toivonen, pastor at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Armstrong, will be the last in a series of authors holding signings at Simply Unique at 610 Central Ave. in Estherville this summer, with his signing at 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 10.
For starters, I have a confession to make. It took me a while to actually pick up Toivonen's book. While I'd done a story earlier, theology isn't really high up on my leisure reading list.
When I picked up Toivonen's book, though, it was really hard to put down. It only took a weekend to get through it, a weekend that also included finishing up John Fante's Selected Letters and getting pretty far into his son Dan Fante's memoir (both of which I'll go into in a later column), doing laundry, mowing my lawn, and unpacking my car from my Wisconsin trip and repacking it for Oregon.
The monthly author signings have been going very well, in fact. I was very pleased with the turnout for mine June 8 and Joel Jurrens sold out his entire on-hand inventory and had to take back orders at his signing July 13.
In his book, Toivonen goes very far to address if not resolve a lot of the crises today in contemporary Christianity. Not everyone will agree with what he has to say (I for one am glad we kicked the Taliban's butt), but he does clarify a lot of the controversial perspectives in Christianity today.
If you've ever struggled with the issue of capital punishment, for example, the Bible provides two polar opposite perspectives. One is the Old Testament "eye for an eye" and the New Testament when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek.
Toivonen's response to that dilemma is to read the Bible as Jesus would have us read it. Even Toivonen readily admits that taking this Christ-centered approach can often be at odds with the Bible itself.
"The Word of God is the Word of God only when it speaks; only when it has voice. Can it be the Word of God if no one hears it? If a Bible falls out of a tree in the forest does anyone hear it? The book cannot speak. Only the voices in the book can speak; and that one most essential voice - Jesus' voice can certainly speak. This is the voice I will encourage us to listen to in the book."
With the Bible written by many authors, Toivonen is encouraging us as Christians to view scripture through Christ's perspective. Sort of makes sense, huh?
So what about that eye for an eye thing? Well, here's what Toivonen has to say:
"When one chooses to follow Jesus one is signing up for a counter-cultural tour of duty that involves inherent risk. This is another reason why people find it more amenable to believe in the Bible than to follow Jesus. Someone once told me they could do both. I'm not so sure. the Bible at Times advocates for war and violence. Remember Psalm 149? Jesus never advocates for war and violence - period."
Toivonen carries that same rationality into dealing with the temptations of today's culture:
"Think about it; our whole society is built around lust. We are made to want what we do not have every single day of our lives. Unless we crawl under a rock, or live off the grid in the wilderness, we can hardly avoid the influence of capitalism that pervades our culture."
The picture that emerges of Jesus in Toivonen's book wouldn't be too far from a counter-culture leader of the sixties (minus the drugs and free love, of course):
"Following Jesus will require us to take unpopular stands, like protesting against war when the majority that rules thinks otherwise; like forgiving when the state has ruled to fry someone in the electric chair or end their life by lethal injection; like confronting people who spew forth racial slurs in the form of seemingly innocent jokes; like welcoming the stranger and giving until we have no more to give."
Not everyone will agree with what Toivonen has to say. And probably not too many will agree with everything. However, this book does have the potential of shifting the paradigm that has created a polarization between the religious community and the rest of society.
This is an important book for clergy or anyone who has ever struggled to understanding the seeming inconsistencies in the Bible. No, let's rephrase that.
Tale of an itinerant book peddler.