Matthew B. Redmond. The God of the Mundane. Kalos Press, 2012.
I am always thrilled by the offer of free books. I was especially flattered when an author offered his own book free of charge and asked me to review it. It was wonderful both in the gift of a book, but also the “shot in the arm” to me as a newbie and amateur reviewer of books. But Matthew Redmond (who is adamant in ensuring he not be confused with composer, musician and worship leader Matt Redman), who I’ve had various twitter exchanges with arranged with his publisher to get me a free digital copy of The God of the Mundane to review. It’s also a great change of pace for me- switching gears from reading commentaries and monographs and academic theology for reviews, sermons and research to reading something about life outside my own head, something about real time spirituality and discipleship.
Redmond (who blogs here) served as a pastor for several years, but recently “switched gears” and now works in the banking industry, which in part inspires the book. The first line of the introduction reads “I’m 40, I have a master’s degree, and now I’m having to learn how to be a bank teller.” Of course he goes on to reflect about some of the interactions with customers which have opened up opportunities to minister from another angle because of the doors opened by the mundaneness of the original interaction with people.
What it’s about:
Is spirituality about striving to be extraordinary? Does one have to be a missionary, pastor, or evangelist to be spiritually significant? Of course no, right? I mean we all affirm that all are equal in the eyes of God, don’t we? Well, why then do we idolize the stand outs? Is God more present in the lives of folks whose vocation is Christian ministry? Or is there a God of the mundane? Is God present in the “average” Christian’s life? That’s what Redmond is asking. He concludes (as the title gives away) that God is very present, active and alive in the “mundane” tasks of life- changing diapers, mopping floors, working in a secular profession, etc. There ought not be the sharp distinction between the work of the stay-at-home-mom, plumber, banker and the third world missionary.
Redmond critiques the celebrity culture of Christian leadership, in which pastors push their congregations to be exceptional, to be great, to be world-altering people. Redmond astutely points out that Paul wrote to congregations which are made up of mostly anonymous Christians, whom he even encourages to live a “quiet life” (1 Thess 4:10-11, 2 Thess 3:12). The New Testament’s existence speaks to the need for Christians who continue to do the mundane where they are. Many of the Christians of Corinth and Ephesus who heard Paul’s letters read aloud didn’t become apostles. They didn’t plant churches. They didn’t preach sermons or build schools in needy communities. They worshipped with the Church, and the raised families, and did jobs, and cooked and ate meals, and died and we don’t even know their names now. Redmond suggests that it’s ok to be unspectacular. To do the simple, unremarkable things well honours God, and lives out the Kingdom. The Kingdom, if I’m reading Redmond right, includes an understanding of God’s presence with us in the daily tasks of life. And God will remember and honour that testimony.
What Redmond is putting forward is a call for Christians to see value and possibility in simple things and for pastors to stop berating their congregations for not doing more to serve God and the Church.
People need to hear this- both laity and pastors alike. Most folks need to hear this to be reminded that God is very much present in their daily walks. The guilt of “not being involved enough” is a pressing reality for too many people. I’m sure many would look at their daily lives and see little “Kingdom value”. Redmond tells us that yes, there is inherent value in being; being what and where God has placed each of us (or where we’ve found ourselves to be, depending on your theological slant 😉 ).
It’s a quick read- less that 100 pages. Which can be good or bad. In this case, it’s probably for the best. The point he’s making doesn’t need to be beleaguered more than Redmond does. He makes his point, and doesn’t try to do too much with it. Sometimes, authors let the page count run and it weakens the point. I’ve read a lot of books like that. You know, the ones that are 200+ pages, and only needed to be 75. Some books need to be long. This one doesn’t. It’s basically a collection of 15 short reflections on the same general theme of finding God and Kingdom in the everyday, mundane stuff. Each reflection is only a few pages, so there are natural breaks, and you can stop and take stock of what you’ve just covered. Not all books can do this, I realize, but when possible, it’s a nice feature, especially in a book which is more reflective and less academic.
Redmond demonstrates a great ability to tell stories and paint pictures. He vividly describes scenes and people and situations which allow you to see what he sees. Whether it’s describing the warm and humble folks showing Southern hospitality in a small-town restaurant and catering company, or the nostalgic love of the old house of his grandparents, or the customer at the bank who just got awful news, he paints the scene to depict the real emotive value of a seemingly inconsequential event, place, interaction. He is able to flesh out the value in these, to show what he’s getting at with the overall work.
Ever have a book that feels like it’s both too short, and still not short enough? That’s the feeling I’m left with here. It’s hard to explain, but here’s my best shot; it’s a simple and short book. The point he’s making is fairly clear. All 15 chapters all simply reworked versions of each other. There’s not a ton of development and expansion of the point he made at the beginning. You want him to build the discussion, expand, clarify, add nuance. He shows signs he will, but then doesn’t quite get there. The final chapter (“Be Nobody Special”) does some of this, ending on high note. He states “This little book is not a call to do nothing. It is a call to be faithful right where you are, regardless of how mundane that place is.” So you can see he is ending right where he began. Sometimes books come back around to the opening point, but here, the trip to get back to where he began was short one. He didn’t travel far from that point. Which is why I wonder if the book was too long. He could have made the point quicker, or expanded the trajectory and done more.
My preference would have been for the latter- to add more “meat” to the basic thrust, to expand, and give more content, more to chew on. I agreed with his basic “thesis”, but I wanted to be challenged more. I wanted more biblical/theological content. More of Jesus’ prodding me towards where Redmond was trying to get me to go. I would have preferred to see him draw from various resources to put more flesh on the skeleton if you will. Aside from a few scripture references, there isn’t much beyond story telling and personal reflections. Even in a book like this there is room for drawing deeper from the well we have in Scripture and church tradition and historical theology.
This little book is of significant value. If you’re looking for an in depth study the theology of vocation, this isn’t it. The value is in hearing the stories, and re-imagining our own mundane experience within the context of Kingdom and grace. It was a nice change of pace for me, a break from my usual reading of commentaries and academic theology. It’s a humble, and well crafted reflection on a theme needing exploration in Western Christianity with its incredibly celebrity driven style of Church. In a world where Christians look to mega-church pastors with book deals and a full schedule of conference appearances as the model of faithfulness and holiness and Christ-likeness, this book speaks needed truth. A waitress’s smile, or a mother’s care in changing a diaper, or plumber’s integrity in how he does his job all speak to the grace which God has given, which is molding his people into loving, gracious, people of integrity and humility. Redmond calls us to turn aside from the flashy, celebrity culture which casts shame on the stay-at-home-mom, the plumber, the bank teller who aren’t doing more, because they don’t have the time or the resources or the seminary degree to change the world and become notorious leaders.
I am grateful to Redmond and to Kalos Press for providing it to me.