Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hello, My Name is Jonah: A Book Review

I've been making weird food again lately.  My favorite was a rice, sausage and chickpea casserole from Peru.  I just can't stand eating the same food all the time.  Frankly I don't like reading and reviewing the same kind of book all the time either.  Recently at a Ladies Day, I ran into the author of a strikingly unusual book. Lynette Gray introduced her book on Jonah to me based on the things that were unusual about it and I found that those were the 5 things I like best about it. 

1. It's outside the "norm" for books written by women.  If you've been reading here long you'll know that Melissa and I are a bit nerdy.  We write 12 month series on ways to study the Bible and encourage readers to dig into 1st Maccabees for fun. We are outside of the normal realm of mom blogs, food blogs and even female faith blogs; we are a bit strange.  So you can see why I'd appreciate the fact that Hello: My name is Jonah includes excerpts from preachers and scholars as well as an entire chapter of background on Jonah and his world.  Theological topics (more on this later) and even the Hebrew itself are commented on.  

2. It's right brained.  Although there's enough research and quotes to make this a full on academic paper, Ms. Gray spends time focused on poetry and song. This conjunction runs parallel not only to Jonah-a 4 chapter book with an entire chapter of poetic prayer - but also to our Bibles which include both Psalms and Romans.  Sometimes she refers to well-known hymns like Fanny Crosby's "Rescue the Perishing" and asks the readers to analyze the relationship of the lyrics to certain scriptures. Other times she includes short poems of her own. 

Jonah's Pronouns     by Lynette Gray
   Pampered and hampered by his own self-talk,
   Jonah's voice says a lot of "I, mine, and me,"
   But Father God calls him to think, speak, and do
   For the loving benefit of "them, they, and you."

3. The questions.  I am not sure if Ms. Gray originally intended the material for group study or for individuals reading more devotionally but I enjoyed the questions that she left the reader to ponder.  Rather than questions which call on the student to repeat the material, her questions focus on the way Jonah might call us to repent. For example, 

When was the last time you read the Bible and laughed, cried, or repented? Do you read Scripture in a monotone? Do you hear it as sometimes sweet and other times tragic, mournful or lyrical, emphatic, dramatic, inviting or indicting? Originally, Scripture was read aloud. Still today, its words need to be in our ears and in our minds so we will envision the story and then store the words in our hearts where the Spirit can help us appreciate and apply them. How do you hope to be improved by Jonah?

4. The humor: Each chapter has these wonderful little quotes from that snarky voice that haunts the back of our mind and provides a counterpoint to our more public feelings. Like this one: God is so annoying when He thinks that like Him, I should show grace to ungracious people.  If you've never been the least bit irritated at God, this book's honesty may not be for you. For those of us who have wrestled with backtalk all our lives, it's nice when someone says it out loud so we can see how ridiculous it is.  Besides letting her own sense of humor shine through, Ms. Gray even includes an analysis of the way that Jonah as a short story uses humor to drive the story. 

5.  The marrying of application and complex theology.  In several sections, Ms. Gray takes time to work out the details of theological issues brought up by the book of Jonah.  For instance why does Jesus compare himself to Jonah?  How are we supposed to understand the "relenting" of God? What can we understand about the connection between grace and obedience in the book of Jonah?  She works each question out in a revealing and challenging way (I personally found the sections on grace and obedience/works especially lovely.  It's a difficult topic and she offers neither license nor room for boasting.)  Yet despite being willing to tackle these difficult topics, the driving force of the book pushes the reader to see him/herself as Jonah.  Reluctant, prejudiced, graceless, and disobedient-just like Jonah.

I won't pretend this book is for everyone.  It's not.  I wouldn't recommend it for anyone looking for light reading or a fluffy feminine devotional book.  Yet, unlike most books written by Christian women, I would highly recommend it for a mixed gender audience or for anyone who loves hymnology or poetry. I would also recommend it to anyone looking to dig deeper (or perhaps teach about) the book of Jonah!


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