Grace… Sea Monsters… and Gems in the Depths
A review of “How to Survive a Shipwreck”
It’s late at night. You’re with your dear friends, you know, the ones you feel right at home and the most yourself with, the ones who finish your sentences… and you’re talking about all of the deep things of life that best friends love to talk about late at night… when the subject of shipwrecks come up. No, not the actual, physical “Gilligan’s Island” type shipwreck …
I’m talking about the metaphorical kind, when the circumstances of your life implode, or explode, or come crashing in or sinking down… where you feel like you are out there, alone, in the open sea, grasping at pieces of wreckage to hold onto, with ever increasing awareness of the frighteningly real possibility that you may very well go under… THAT kind of shipwreck.
And the question comes up: How does one SURVIVE that kind of situation? Of course, another valid question that might get thrown out there might be, how does one AVOID the shipwreck in the first place? But that’s another question for another book review.
Fortunately, for you late night deep talkers, I had a chance to have my own deep conversation (albeit mid-morning) with Jonathan Martin, a self described “sacramental hillbilly Pentecostal mystic”, and someone who’s given the subject a good deal of thought, having some up close and personal experience of his own. The topic of discussion? His newly released book “How to Survive a Shipwreck”, published by Zondervan.
(NOTE: the dialogue with Mr. Martin will be paraphrased, rather than interview format, as yours truly had a “shipwreck” experience of her own recording the discussion!)
One question, ironically enough, I did not ask him was about the circumstances of his life surrounding his personal shipwreck, nor did he offer many (or really any) “juicy” details whether in our conversation, or in his book. And, aside from the ugly banal parts in all of us (myself included) that hunger for plain old fashioned “none of your business” gossip, I for one am glad to not know. That part is immaterial. We all have our own stories, our own shipwrecks, and we get there in a variety of ways; sometimes by the seemingly cruel circumstances of life, sometimes our own doing, and sometimes by a murky combination of both.
The point is, it’s something we can all relate to, and Martin, now a Teaching Pastor at Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK, is the first to admit that he had a hand in creating the perfect storm that led to his own metaphorical maritime disaster.
He had grown up in the church. Accepted Jesus at the age of five. Practiced evangelism on his superhero action figures. He was a “good, moral” boy, who grew up into a “good, moral” man, with the encouragement and favor of everyone in his world propelling him forward. His mission was one of doing all the right things, preaching the Good News and teaching others to put their faith in the God he, by his own admission, had barely scratched the surface of knowing. But he was convincing. And people liked him. Really liked him. And life, at least on the surface, was comfortable. Until it all changed. When the painful awareness of all He did not know about this God he had spent his life telling others about became more painful than the thought of leaving his charismatic comfort zone. And he could not go on with the life he knew was false. Thus, the shipwreck.
Strangely enough, I asked him who his intended audience is. Well, duh. Shipwreckees, of course. Yes, I know that. But I asked, not to be obtuse, but because so many of his thoughts were built on the premise of having already come through the door of Grace, to faith in Jesus. It may seem a subtlety, but it’s an important distinction, especially when it comes to concepts he spends a great deal of time expounding upon, such as healing from our brokenness, grappling with our “monsters” as he calls them, or referring to our “creatureliness”. Nowhere in the book does he use the term “sin” or “repentance”.
So you can begin to see that, though everyone can relate to a shipwreck, no matter what their faith (or lack thereof), not everyone will respond with like-mindedness. Repentance is the starting point for the Christian, whether hillbilly mystic or otherwise. Healing comes after that. But what about the one who has not experienced the freedom and grace that comes only via repentance from our sin (i.e. our “creatureliness”)? The Christian knows that grace is not the end, but only the beginning, a launching pad, if you will, for all kinds of restoration and transformation that take place over a lifetime. The one who has not yet come to Jesus knows they want relief from suffering. They just don’t necessarily know the key to said relief lays in surrender.
I asked Martin about this and his response was that though the terminology of “sin” and “repentance” was absent, his hope was to avoid buzzwords that can be barriers to communication, and instead describe the concept of turning from our ways by not running from or suppressing our “monsters” but letting God deal with them… which is an adequate portrayal of what he feels is the process of confessing and repenting of our sins. He does talk a good deal about monsters, and in fact has an interesting take on Leviathan… which is a good teaser to get the book for yourself… so I’ll just let that hang there for now.
I also asked him about a curious tendency to use the pronoun “She” for every reference to the Holy Spirit, which led to an interesting discussion about the Trinity, and the full embodiment of true masculinity and femininity in the very nature of the Godhead. See Genesis 1:27. While not negating God the Father or Jesus the Son, he feels there is Biblical room to consider the possibility of the feminine nature of God embodied in the Holy Spirit. It’s a perspective others have taken, of course (remember Paul Young, from The Shack), but one that nonetheless sparks a variety of thoughts, especially in our current culture that seems to be confused about gender identity… another post for another time. (Incidentally, he told me I was the first person to ask him about the “she reference – which actually, amazed me).
Finally, I asked him to talk about what I felt was perhaps the most important line in the book: “Grace has to blind us before it can heal us.” He spoke of the apostle Paul’s famous conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul, blinded by his own religious zeal, was literally knocked off his horse and made blind so for the first time in his life, he could truly see. Ah yes, perhaps there’s something to this. We who think we are enlightened, how often it is we are just groping around in the dark, unaware of our own myopia, until Someone turns the Light on.
In the end, I’m not exactly sure where Martin lands on his theology of salvation. Maybe that’s intentional on his part. But there are plenty of “aha” type underlining moments, and gems to be mined from nearly ever chapter. After all, Truth is Truth, and if you are seeking it you will surely glean nuggets of it in “How to Survive a Shipwreck”. At the very least you will find plenty to talk about in those late night discussions with your besties. Just keep in mind to proceed with an open mind, and a discerning heart.