Tuesday, September 23, 2014

tables in the wilderness: preston yancey

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again on Amazon

tables in the wilderness cover"They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness? Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?" Psalm 78:18-20

This time I'm blogging a combination book review and life reflection I've distilled into basics about the book for my Amazon review. Tables in the Wilderness is a memoir from a traditional-age 2012 university graduate; on the eve of my 30th birthday I announced I might finally be getting old enough to begin writing my own memoirs, and even though I'm older than I was then, and Preston Yancey is younger than I was at that time, I love Love LOVE this book! I love its easygoing kind of bloggish writing style, its not very structured organization, how it nonetheless moves along to a temporary resting place. In sometimes present tense, other times past, Preston chronicles a few years of his young adult wilderness wanderings as a Baylor University undergrad. This book tells part of the story that's my story that's the story of Israel's wilderness peregrinations. Tells the story of many who seek to journey faithfully with the God of history, attempt to live baptized in the world about them. How many times have I commented how the people who wrote down the words of scripture wrote theology at least as much as – probably more than – they wrote history? In Tables in the Wilderness, author-blogger Preston Yancey writes theology at least as much as he writes about the days of his life. For the most part my God-related reading has mostly been (overwhelmingly been) on the more formal, confessional, intellectual side of God-talk. But what a surprise, even to me! After claiming Tables in the Wilderness from Amazon Vine, I grabbed a few other books in the more prayerful, devotional categories from the Vine list. In addition, a couple months ago on the high recommendation of a friend, I got the kindle of Barbara Brown Taylor's Learning To Walk In the Dark, and want to begin reading it soon!

Among other things, Preston Yancey's experience resonates with my own because of his ongoing observations of his own brokenness, and especially because of how he loves, appreciate, and seeks to understand the divine presence in the Eucharist (Holy Communion, Lord's Supper—like Preston, I trust I've learned to use those terms interchangeably, depending upon context). In fact, I knew I had to read the book because of the cover photo and book title. Like Preston, I mark time by the seasons of the liturgical year, and maybe need to be a little less know-it-all and not tell a totally unchurched stranger about my experiences during Epiphany 2010?

Although I was baptized in the Episcopal Church as a very young child, my first serious church involvement happened during my undergrad years at a huge urban university. I've described that church as the worshiping arm of an ABC-USA- affiliated neighborhood multi-service center; the church pastor also was the executive director of the center. Of course I've never forgotten it, and in some ways I've tried to find another like it. To quote my currently inactive testimony blog; it was:

"...a community whose life, ministry and mission was activist, prayerful, devotional, worshiping, celebrating, biblically reflective and inclusive. The total balance in the congregation’s life, ministry and mission and in the lives of the individual members was awe-inspiring! First Mariner's was a small, very urban, American Baptist mission congregation, which showed me a model for ministry – especially inner-city, multi-cultural ministry – I’m still running with. Since that church was the first real home and the first real family I'd ever known, leaving its shelter, support and especially its spiritual provision left me endlessly yearning and constantly longing for what in my memories has become irreplaceable near-perfection.

At First Mariners I fell in love with the BCP, Book of Common Prayer; at First Mariners I first prayed the canonical hours on weekend retreat. I remember going next door to the church to borrow the office books from the discalced Franciscans; I also recall the brothers walking around the snowy urban streets in their sandals, recollect their presence at community and political meetings. I also found myself some weeks at Wednesday morning eucharist at University Lutheran, which my Baptist pastor had suggested to me because I was starting to love theology.

Author Yancey was raised southern baptist, and when he began exploring and learning other ecclesiastical traditions (mostly Anglicanism, Episcopal Church USA), a couple of his counselors advised him to find and stick with what you could call a denominational home, or at least a home within a particular, definable church tradition. I've described my own theology as "quite well examined with a hint of Luther, a slice of Calvin," and so it tends to be, so that places me pretty much within the confessional traditions of the churches of the continental European Reformation. You know I love the sacraments, the liturgy, the city, the desert, the beach, the church, and the world. But have I found a settled place within a particular tradition or not? No, not yet, not really. But like Preston and so many others throughout the centuries, whatever else has been going on (and these have been bleak years), by grace I do whatever I can to participate in at least one Eucharistic liturgy each week. And yep, I place myself well within the broader traditions of the church because I am within them, sometimes solidly, at other times marginally. As I explained probably most recently in my blog and review of Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism, "Our Holy-Spirit created individual faith is always the common faith of the church."

What else did I especially like about Tables in the Wilderness? I enjoyed yet envied Preston's interactions and ongoing relationships with his faithful (interesting, unusual, supportive, etc.) friends. His observations about church architecture, including Church of No Windows, made me want to write about a few church structures I've known, including those in the distant past I don't have and can't take pictures of. Also again made me too aware of how I love to hang around the church building, campus, complex as much as possible. Don't we all "test God in our hearts" and demand the food, community, companionship, healthy air, human presence we crave and need? And despite our intensive, extensive yearnings, longings, and cravings, you know it's only by grace that we even imagine approaching the Table of Grace, that eschatological wilderness banquet, the ultimate earth day celebration.

My current blog header promises, And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, and he will swallow up death forever." Isaiah 25:6, 8a Before that day of fully realized eschatology comes to earth, the Lord of Hosts will keep on keepin' on setting Tables in the Wilderness and welcoming all of us to those wilderness feasts: Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life; Jesus Christ, the Cup of Salvation. Amen!

last things:

There's chapter-specific suggested reading in the back of the book, plus "Reading Guide and Questions" for each chapter. My pre-publication copy may be missing other features, such as photographs or other illustrations. Although the first edition will be hardbound, I truly prefer the easy, bendable feel of the paperback in my hands, and despite probably missing features, I'm happy to have this version.

Legal Notice in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR Part 255: I received a pre-publication Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via Amazon Vine with no obligation to write a positive review.

my amazon review: wilderness feasts

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