I’m in the middle of finishing up graduate school AND I’ve got a new baby at home, which means if I’m going to make time to read a book that’s not required for graduation, it better be a good one.
Jonathan Merritt‘s latest, Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, is just that sort of book.
It’s filled from cover to cover with rich, engaging, and powerful stories that leap off the page and make the book all but impossible to put down. I knew Jonathan was a great writer from countless articles of his that I’ve read, but I had no idea he’s such a good storyteller.
But more than that, with Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, you don’t just get a glimpse into Jonathan’s fascinating life, you see the faithfulness and goodness of God on full display in the lives of real people with real struggles, real joy, and real faith.
So, go ahead, take a second, head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy now. I’ll wait.
Seriously, I’ll be here when you get back.
Still not ready to click “Add to Cart?”
Maybe this will help. Jonathan was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions I had about the book. At least I assume he was sitting down. It was via email. Maybe he likes to go jogging while he answers his email?
Who knows? Anyway, here are 5 good questions or at least a few decent ones with senior columnist for Religion News Service, author of Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, and my friend, Jonathan Merritt.
1. There seems to be a lot of spiritual memoirs hitting the shelves lately. What makes yours stand out?
For one thing, my story sets my book apart. The book begins with a profound time of spiritual emptiness from which I cry out for God to show up and surprise me. God doesn’t disappoint and I experience a series of God-encounters. In a Benedictine monastery in the desert, I encounter God in silence. When I’m held at gunpoint by bandits in Haiti, I meet God in the impossible. When my friend contracts a rare flesh-eating bacteria and dies, I encounter God in tragedy. But more than my story, I’d say that this isn’t simple memoir. It is prescriptive. Along the way, I’m trying to distill lessons and principles from my encounters to help readers find a better Jesus in their own lives.
2. I couldn’t help but notice you start with chapter 0. I’ve never seen that before. Is there any meaning behind that?
I wish I had a magical story to tell you about why I chose to do this. That chapter is sort of an introduction, but statically, many readers will skip the “introduction.” Since the material in chapter 0 is so important to understanding the rest of my book, I chose not to call it “introduction” so people hopefully wouldn’t miss it.
3. My father-in-law happens to be a Benedictine monk, so I really enjoyed the chapter about your trip to a Benedictine monastery. Are there spiritual practices you learned there that are still part of your life?
I spend slices of each week in silence still. This is difficult, but I use practices that some of my more contemplative friends have taught me. I’ve found that if I can stop talking to God and listen for God’s voice even 10 minutes per day, it helps to recenter me. I encourage others to find even tiny slivers in their days or weeks to do the same.
4. The chapter on honesty in which you talk about being outed online by a fellow blogger is some of the most personal stuff in the entire book. How hard was it to write that chapter and what do you hope those struggling with their own sexuality will learn from your story?
It would be difficult for me to express how much I struggled writing this chapter. When I first turned it into the publisher, I told them I wouldn’t do any interviews on it and people who wanted to talk with me about the book needed to agree to that. Over time, however, I think God liberated me from fear about sharing this story. I’m glad I was able to share it in this way. One thing people will notice about this story, which I hope others will learn from it, is that I don’t have it all figured out. I’m still in a period of discernment. The chapter merely recounts how I came to a place where I could even begin talking about and thinking about and confronting the matter. It doesn’t have a neatly tied bow at the end with three alliterated points for facing these situations. Rather, I wanted to connect with readers who had secret things in their lives that they were afraid to share with God and others-which is to say, all readers-and encourage them to let God liberate them to a place of honesty.
5. I really like this statement from chapter 8 about your visit to Sister Louisa’s- “I believe that God inhabits every cubic inch if this spinning ball of dirt we call earth.” Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of us in the church go out of our way to avoid the sort of people of who hang out at Sister Louisa’s (to say nothing about the least of these who too often go all but ignored). What do you think the church would look like if the rest of us started believing like you believe?
First, I should point out that I believed that when I wrote it but I don’t always. I don’t mean this cognitively, but functionally. I still struggle to accept that God inhabits every space and can show up anywhere. I catch myself judging other places and people as “Godless” and have to relearn this principle almost every day. But if the church could get to a point where we understood this, I think we’d find our sacred buildings were more inviting, our sacred gatherings more inspiring, and our sacred scriptures more transformative. Instead, we often choose to build boxes and construct prisons for God to live in. Then we wonder why we worship such a predictable, boring, and unattractive deity. I think many of us-myself included-need to uncurl our white-knuckled fists from our rigid, systematized conceptions of God and let the wild, wondrous, mysterious, thrice-holy One encounter us afresh.
OK, now you’ve waited long enough. Don’t wait any longer. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Jesus Is Better than You Imagined today!!