Saturday, March 28, 2020

"The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You" - Shannan Martin

I have to be honest.

I was a couple of chapters into Shannan Martin's "The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You" and my eyes were already rolling.

It's not so much that I was hating what I was reading. She was waxing poetically. Her writing had an enjoyable enough rhythm. It was semi-inspirational. It just wasn't what I had been expecting and I was starting to think "Okay, I can check this one off my list."

Then, Martin's words started to land. I noticed how those early couple of chapters set the tone for a move into Martin's real life existence, an existence described at first rather generally yet with more and more specifics as she moves into the book and into her life alongside her husband and adopted not so littles in the relatively unknown city of Goshen, Indiana.

Being from Indiana myself, Indianapolis in my case, I was actually kind of embarrassed I didn't realize that Martin is in Indiana and in one of my favorite parts of Indiana. I've done several outreach events in Elkhart County, conducted a couple of my wheeling events on the nearby Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, and even spoken in a couple of Elkhart County churches.

How did I not know about Martin? Heck, I even followed her on Twitter before actually sitting down to start reading her books.

Shannan Martin is the kind of writer I've been wanting to find. Don't get me wrong. I love lots of other writers. I will always grieve the loss of Rachel Held Evans's literary voice. I love Hatmaker. I love Bessey (who strikes me as the closest I've found to Martin in many ways). But, Martin speaks my language and once I found myself surrendered to that she had me and never let me go.

The interesting thing is that if I had to describe Martin's ministry it would be exactly that - "never letting go." She reminds me a lot of a local group here in Indy called The Pourhouse, a group that doesn't just "help" those without homes but builds actual relationships with them. It's relationships that don't end once they have homes (if they ever get homes). It's one of my favorite organizations and it's precisely what I loved so much about Shannan Martin's ministry and her writing.

The eloquence with which she wrote early on is similar to how I often write - so, it was hard to be too bothered by it. In fact, it ended up being the perfect lead-in to the rest of her stories.

I have a golden rule regarding my reviews - I'm not allowed to review a book until I actually finish it. Completely. I honestly just sort of shake my head when I read reviews from people who gave up on books. To each their own, but I simply don't regard that as fair. "The Ministry of Ordinary Places" is a great example of why - if I'd stopped after a couple chapters and decided it wasn't for me, I'd have missed out on an amazing experience. Oh sure, I might have still given it a solid rating but it wouldn't have been a 5-star rating. I needed to read the entire book.

As an older adult with a disability who has far outlived my life expectancy, to the point that I'm practically alone in this life now, Martin reminds me of the kind of people who built me up and kept me going when me and my lifestyle seemed determined to knock me out. There was a small core of people who just didn't give up and they pushed me through those young adult years as I tried to figure things out. While there's many awesome Christian writers, there's few who still write with that sense of awe about the common, ordinary experiences that make up the life of faith.

Martin writes about her own relative success, or being able to have a refrigerator full of food in a neighborhood where some children have never seen a refrigerator full of food. She writes about the challenge of ministry experiences with people who live with addictions and traumatic backgrounds - and how sometimes they leave your life, come back, leave again, and sometimes you're left wondering and praying and trusting that God goes with them wherever they are next. She's the kind of writer who still appreciates that church member who drops change in the offering plate because that's what they have - and who calls you up because they have a McDonald's coupon and want to use that and their elusive $10 bill to have lunch with you.

Oh my word. I sobbed in this book...tears of joy and some tears of sorrow. I sobbed from the recognition of my own life of being both the giver and the receiver the recipient of a myriad of kindnesses over the years. By the time I finished "The Ministry of Ordinary Places," I found myself wanting drive up to Elkhart County (Don't worry, Shannan. I'm not doing it!) and just say "thank you" for being this type of person and this type of writer.

I'm writing this review just when we're in the early stages of COVID-19, or Coronavirus, impacting our daily lives and we're having to re-imagine what it means to be a neighbor. I'm writing this a mere 3 months after having lost another limb as a 54-year-old with spina bifida whose body is kind of tired, yet I just returned to work last week. I'm writing this in a place in my life of pondering what it means to be genuine community and friend and neighbor. I'm writing this having experienced over the past 3 months exactly what Martin writes about - God's Goodness is all around us if we open our eyes and see it.

As I start working from home today, a journey I kind of dread because I just finally re-connected to my daily life after 3+ months off, I bring this writing with me and an appreciation for being the community I wish to experience.

I loved, really loved, "The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You" and I've definitely discovered one of my new favorite voices of faith-filled living.

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