In Brief : Daytripper

2016 ReadingTitle: Daytripper : Deluxe Edition
Author: Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon

Pages: 256

The premise of Daytripper is fascinating. Bras de Oliva Domingos is an obituary writer. It is fitting, then, that in each issue this man, whose vocation is death, would himself meet his end. Ba & Moon have masterfully written a unified arc that is unexpectedly cut short in every episode. I can only imagine they began by writing the life of Bras, and then explored what it would have looked like had he perished in various circumstances that came to define his life.

The stories are not chronologically arranged, a detail which shines light on the grown man before considering the possibility of a much earlier demise. It is helpful to catch a glimpse of the man Bras will be before looking, for example, at his childhood.  

The series itself stands, in the writers’ own words, as an honest meditation on mortalityThey’ve succeeded. Daytripper raises wonderful questions as to the significance of a life, and the value of knowing the full story before casting a lasting judgment.

I can honestly say that the final two issues of the series take an interesting story and infuse it with meaning. Without them, the story would be far more tragic. These final reflections frame the authors’ efforts and make the story extraordinary. I share this, not as a spoiler, but as an encouragement to see the parts in light of the whole. In that regard, their story writing mirrors the story they wrote.

As a fair warning, the book does contain panels that are inappropriate for children. As much as I’ve grown to love the graphic novel as a medium, I sure wish folks believed they could write a real story without necessarily showing everything. It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten code in the industry that there must be at least a few nude panels, some blood, and  curse words. As it turns out, humans have been blessed with a certain creativity that enables us to fill in blanks. But that’s a commentary for another day.

 

 

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Ba & Moon, by varying the timing and circumstances of death, demonstrate their point, that the end casts its shadow over the minutiae of the middle. What might have seemed a tragedy in the middle becomes a mere stepping stone, and what appeared to be the best day proves to be nothing more than a dangerous snare. The final perspective is set by the instance of death. Unforeseen fatalities keep the tragedy a tragedy, and the best the best, removing the opportunity to see growth dependent upon survival.

Were the authors to lay out all of the possibilities and then choose a particular instance of death and declare, “this is how it really happened,” (something like the end of one of my favorite movies, Clue) they would have introduced an entirely different effect. In light of the proposed possibilities held within the life of Bras, this would have stirred a set of emotions and forced a particular judgment. But by merely exploring the possibilities, Ba & Moon have instead raised a number of wonderful questions on the effect of mortality and the valuable process of life.

Daytripper calls upon the reality that moment by moment our stories are being written, as are the stories of all humanity. Every encounter might be a piece of tragedy, or a slice of the best. The final determination will become clear when death enters the picture. In many ways, Daytripper awakens the sense that our limited human perspective means that we rarely (if ever) understand the purpose, effect, or alternative possibilities of any given moment. We cast our efforts, be they in love or enmity, without any substantial perspective. We inherently lack divine perspective.

 

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As an honest meditation on mortality, the effect of death upon life is central to Daytripper. Ba & Moon offer encouragement to embrace the reality of death, without being so bold as to suggest exactly what that will look like. Instead, their engaging efforts allow you to walk away into meditations of your own.

If you are not easily offended or tempted by the more depraved panels, I would highly recommend the series. The challenge within is compelling.

 

A Christian Consideration

Our brains may acknowledge death, but that doesn’t mean our hearts are prepared. In reality, we fear death. Death raises questions we aren’t, by nature, excited to answer. But just because we fail to see the baby grand piano hanging by a frail thread above our heads (a la Looney Tunes), doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I am thankful for Christ. He has not only conquered death, but the fear of death as well.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [that is, Christ] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Death has no hold upon the Christian heart. Death has been defeate, losing its sting. The slavery of fear has been eternally broken by the Son of God who died in our place. This does not mean death is no longer a reality. Sadly, we must still face death until Jesus returns to make all things new. However, death has been put in divine perspective for the Christian. The work accomplished by Jesus has enabled the Christian to see death through God’s eyes, and to rest confident that the enemy has been defeated, that resurrection is the final reality. Resurrection and life embraced by grace through faith.

For the Christian, the consideration of death being in a state of care by the Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, the concern moves as well to the life and death of others. I meet Bras every day. Men and women, created in the image of God, growing by their experiences, unwilling to face the fear of death and unaware of the hanging piano.

Even with a hint of divine perspective, though, I am incapable of fully discerning the heart condition beneath the surface. What I see as tragedy, God may be working for their glory. What I see as joy may be nothing more than the deep and dangerous snare of sin. How do we move forward in such ignorance?

With love.

Love meets the tragedy and the joy as a single facet of a much larger picture over which we have no control, and over which Jesus is Lord.

When we reach the end, I mean the REAL end, the picture will be clear. The moments will make sense. The minutiae will have had a purpose. And Jesus will be praised.

For now, I rest my ignorance at the foot of the cross, gaze upon my Savior, and go out to love.

Make no mistake, Daytripper will awaken something in your heart.

 

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“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory? 
O death, where is your sting?”
(1Corinthians 15:55)

 

 

In Brief: Work Matters

2016 - Work MattersTitle: Work Matters
Author: Tom Nelson

Pages: 203 (plus notes)

Because of a forthcoming Sunday school series on the topic of vocation, I have been on the lookout for simple but helpful writings to supplement our secondary resource. I came across this book by Tom Nelson at the college library. Because of the author’s association with TEDS (I have much respect for the institution!), the recommendation by Ravi Zacharias, and the trendy cover (by which, sadly, you can occasionally judge an actual book), I decided to give it a shot.

I am glad I read the book, and I would gladly have given it 4 stars had it not been for the 9th chapter. Sadly, I considered 2 stars because of the 9th chapter. Harsh? Perhaps. But there are certain subjects that have such an effect on me.

I’ll start with the merits, and there are many:

Nelson is faithful to advocate for a “robust doctrine of vocation.” He is personally and pastorally committed to connecting Sunday worship to Monday work. I am a fan of this aspect of his ideology. Far too many churches elevate Sunday at the expense of the other six days of the week, providing an experience instead of equipping the saints to live. Nelson is determined to reclaim Sunday as not only a day of worship, but also of thankfulness, encouragement, and preparation for a life of worship. After all, if worship means to ascribe worth, then certainly we should desire to ascribe worth to the person and work of Christ through a life of faith by God’s grace.

 

“It is not a question of whether we are being formed spiritually, but rather, are we being spiritually formed in the inexhaustible riches of the gospel as we live and work in the already and not yet kingdom reign of Christ.” (p. 107)

 

Even if not by conscious decision, Christians live in danger of equating church work with ministry. Nelson advocates (I would say, rightly so) the intentional application of matters of the gospel to the many and varied vocational callings of Christians. The church does not exist that the world may run to us, but rather we are called to be the body of Christ exactly where the Lord finds us. If we fail to communicate God’s good – and now redeemed – plan for everyday work, our brothers and sisters in the faith may struggle with dissatisfaction and discontent at the life and means provided by God’s grace, wishing away six of every seven days just to get back to Sunday.

Nelson also strongly defends God’s common grace, and the connection between work and the common good. The value in work is found, not in compensation or benefits, but rather in God-ordained human contribution to the common good of creation. Early in the work, Nelson pronounces the value of work like this:

 

“Not only would the crown of creation (referring to humanity) have joyful intimacy with their Creator, but they would also be given the joyful privilege of contributing to the work of God in his good world.” (p. 24 emphasis mine)

 

God provides for his creation through common means. Human connection is one such glorious means. We use the gifts and talents endowed to us as a contribution, an offering to the benefit of the Father’s world. This was God’s plan. In Christ, we have the opportunity again to find the true value of work as a gift of God, an avenue of sacrificial worship in his name, and a distinct way to love others. Our misunderstanding (or sinful dismissal) of the value of every vocational calling leads us to undervalue work, or worse yet to undervalue the image-bearers God has gifted to perform the work.

Nelson also spends time on the significance of work in the believer’s sanctification. Work provides one crucible in which the Christian is sanctified, molded in holiness through common trials and successes. Considering the hours of life spent in vocation, a failure to understand the value of work could easily result in decades wasted with regard to the intentional pursuit of Christ and Christlikeness. If we believe ministry and worship only happen on Sunday, then we will surely downplay the spiritual significance of work.

It is in the matter of trials that I offer my only disappointment in the book. Chapter nine addresses the challenges of work, the dangers and temptations of working in a fallen world. From matters of honesty to sexuality, the workplace is yet another setting in which humanity unfortunately displays the depth and outworking of original sin. I do not disagree with Nelson’s premise, but rather his proposed remedy. For a book that so heavily leans on the gospel as God’s means of redeeming work, Nelson leaves Jesus out of the discussion of temptation.

Blatantly absent is the account of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. Absent is the reality that a Christian’s ability to resist temptation comes from Christ who endured temptation on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16). Absent is the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting our hearts. And, sadly, absent is the hope born of the sacrificial blood of Christ, offered for a world full of failures. There is none who is righteous – no not one. 

Subtly, and tragically, present is a works-based righteousness through the mishandling of prominent Old Testament personalities. Daniel made good decisions, so should you. Joseph made good decisions, so should you. Moses made good decisions, so should you, because God blesses good decisions. Chapter nine presents these men as flawless models to emulate, instead of sinners in need of God’s grace. Chapter nine presents these men as heroes to worship rather than sinful and fatally flawed forerunners of the only authentic hero. Daniel’s good decisions were filthy rags without the sacrifice of Christ (Isaiah 58), as were those of Joseph and Moses. Even their finest work required the purity of Jesus. By the account of chapter 9, God may provide the trap door to escape temptation, but you can take care of the rest on your own.

I would strongly argue for the removal of chapter 9, or better yet crafting it anew in light of grace.

 

In conclusion, the book is good, but not great. I would argue that it lays a wonderful foundation, but that it casts a dangerous gaze away from Christ at a critical junction.

 

 

“All vocations are intended by God to manifest his love in the world.” (Thomas Merton – p. 19)

  “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. – p. 83)

 

 

 

For other brief reviews, keep an eye on my Reading page.

In Brief: Calvin on the Christian Life

2016 - Calvin on the Xn LifeTitle: Calvin on the Christian Life (Theologians on the Christian Life series)
Author: Michael Horton

Pages: 262

As I passed by the closeout section at a not-so-local Christian bookstore, I couldn’t pass this one up for $3.75. I now know this will be my first dip into the Theologians on the Christian Life series. I am happy to have stumbled upon a great bargain, and a great read to start the new year. Broadly speaking, the series aims to get beyond the common caricatures of popular pastors & theologians. Too often, folks grab hold of the wildest imaginative exaggeration of a person’s beliefs and build an unfortunately lasting case. Or, as is often the case with matters of religion, the summaries of critics – written in response to “followers” who themselves misinterpret original intentions – rule the day in terms of determining an individual’s legacy. I am thankful for a series whose outright aim is to dispel the fiction that has all-too-long cast harsh dividing lines among Christian brothers and sisters.

The book is well written and engaging, not a doctrinal defense but rather an engagement of Calvin’s life in light of his beliefs. His writings are widely quoted, not just from the Institutes, but also from letters and commentaries that provide greater insight into the heart behind the weighty texts. It is encouraging to read of Calvin’s engagement with his supporters as well as his critics, of his love for his wife Idelette, and his involvement in matters of the public arena.

I found the final chapter, regarding Calvin’s view of the future life while simultaneously looking at his own death, to be the most moving. In particular, the words of his last will and testament reveal not a cold Christian (again, the all-too-common caricature), but rather a man humbly dependent on the grace of God in the sacrifice of Christ.

 

“I have no other defense or refuge for salvation than his gratuitous adoption on which alone my salvation depends. With my whole soul I embrace the mercy which he has exercised towards me through Jesus Christ, atoning for my sins with the merits of his death and passion, that in this way he might satisfy for all my crimes and faults, and blot them from his remembrance. 

I testify also and declare that I suppliantly beg of Him that he may be pleased so to wash and purify me in the blood which my Sovereign Redeemer has shed for the sins of the human race, that under his shadow I may be able to stand at the judgment seat. I likewise declare that, according to the measure of grace and goodness which the Lord hath employed toward me, I have endeavored, both in my sermons and also in my writings and commentaries, to preach his Word purely and chastely, and faithfully to interpret His sacred Scriptures.

But, woe is me! My ardor and zeal (if indeed worthy of the name) have been so careless and languid, that I confess I have failed innumerable times to execute my office properly, and had not He, of His boundless goodness, assisted me, all that zeal had been fleeting and vain. Nay, I even acknowledge that if the same goodness had not assisted me, those mental endowments which the Lord bestowed upon me would, at His judgment seat, prove me most guilty of sin and sloth. For all these reasons, I testify and declare that I trust no other security for my salvation than this, and this only, viz., that as God is the Father of mercy, he will show himself such a Father to me, who acknowledge myself to be a miserable sinner.” 

 

In his death, he longed to be buried in obscurity, to give all he had to those in need, and to move one step closer to the future life. Never desiring a movement or theological position to be based upon his name, witnesses testify that he spent his final weeks in prayer, attending worship and meeting with friends and city officials. He served the Lord faithfully to the end.

Many of the Reformed church, as well as those under the Calvinist moniker, are known for intellectual and theological rigor. Yet the example of Calvin was one of heart and humility, all too aware of human frailty, yet confident in the goodness of God as Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Redeemer, and Joy. His views of common grace opened the door to an appreciation of creation and human creativity. His veracity in pursuit of God through the Scriptures is encouraging to any who seek to know God through his inerrant Word.

Indeed, many disagree with his theological positions. But in an age where we reduce individuals to a label, I am grateful for a book (and a series) which serves to restore humanity and compassion to the individuals who so faithfully gave themselves to the bride of Christ.

 

 

 

For other brief reviews, keep an eye on my Reading page.