Tenth Anniversary Edition, with a New Preface by the Author
A fresh, new exploration of who God is and what God wants for creation.
Danielle Shroyer introduces us to a God who delights in breaking through boundaries, loves to pop up in unexpected places, and favors the outsider over the institutional insider. Written for anyone longing for a more generous and loving God, this book offers a new paradigm through which faith can be understood. This boundary-breaking God engages life at every corner--social, economic, political, intellectual, ecological--and offers a refreshing view of God that is creative and expansive.
|Publisher:||Augsburg Fortress, Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Universe Is Moving Outward
I grew up in the wide open spaces of West Texas, where the horizon stretches for miles with nary a tree or building in sight. The word flat does not accurately describe it; it is technically a basin. My hometown is situated on what used to be the bottom of a sea floor, the sunken-down middle in a concave bowl of fossil fuels. In this part of the world, the earth is only ten percent of the landscape; the other ninety percent is endless blue sky. We West Texans are known for our unbridled optimism, our refusal to accept limits. The majority of us believe the world is a place where life is always bigger than the dust storm swirling around us, more triumphant than the dry oil well evidences. We believe this because the horizon tells us it is so.
This probably explains why as a child I pictured the world as if it were entirely horizontal. I can still remember learning the story of Christopher Columbus sailing to find the end of the world. Before my teacher could tell us what happened, I began to panic for poor, brave Christopher and his little Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria fleet, praying they would not fall off the edge, never to be seen again. My teacher then tried to explain that no such edge exists because we live on a round planet, and if the explorers had not run into various land masses, they could have sailed all the way around and landed right back where they began. I'm sure I looked at her with eyes like saucers. If falling off the edge of the world was far-fetched, I thought, sailing upside down was just plain crazy.
A few years ago, I had another cosmological breakthrough when my husband Dan and I were snuggled up on the couch watching a History Channel documentary about the universe. The documentary chronicled how our views of the world had changed over time from flat earth to round planet, from earth centered to sun centered, from locating the Milky Way to discovering galaxies far beyond the Milky Way. I considered getting up for some popcorn, since this was all pretty standard fare even for a slacker science student like myself. Then they mentioned the Hubble Law, which proved that light stretched the further it traveled, and, the narrator stated matter-of-factly, demonstrated that the universe is expanding.
That's when my mind practically exploded. The universe is expanding?! I immediately hopped on a thought train that sent me headlong into the Land of What If. What do you mean the universe is expanding? Into what? Where is it going? Is there some sort of wall we'll hit eventually? What is happening in the empty space we haven't reached yet? Do you mean to tell me that, hypothetically, if my eyes could serve as super-charged telescopes, I could peer upward and watch the cosmos actually growing in size?!
Being a West Texas girl, I had always known the sky was big, but I had no idea the universe was expanding out there farther than I could imagine. It was breathtakingly beautiful to ponder.
God's story is like that. Like the universe, it is always expanding, growing, moving, and being created, even this very moment. I may not have known until that night on the couch that Hubble had a Law more significant than his famous telescope, but I do know this: Through the stories of God's relationship with humanity, we see the same pattern Hubble used as the foundation of his Law — the further we travel into the story of God, the more we see light expanding outward.
A PEOPLE OF PROMISE
As a child, I collected Bible stories like other children collect rocks or baseball cards. Every story fascinated me, and I began amassing them in such a way that my God story-closet practically bulged both from volume as well as disorganization. In a family like mine, this wasn't difficult to do.
My father hails from the tumbleweeds of West Texas and grew up attending a Southern Baptist church, but Dad is not a churchy kind of guy. For one thing, he's a rock-and-roll musician, so he would much rather play Johnny B. Goode than sing "Amazing Grace" with painfully slow organ accompaniment. Then there was the time Mom convinced him to go to Sunday School, and when the teachers separated the husbands and the wives, Dad yelled, "What for? They think we're going to get frisky in the middle of Sunday School or something? Hell, if I wanted to do that, I ' d at least go out to the parking lot!" My brother and I found this story hilarious, but Mom was slightly less amused. We may not have gone to church every Sunday, but we talked about God's stories before bedtime and around the dinner table, my dad freely inserting comical side commentary at will.
My mother is Lebanese. All of the ancestors on my mother's side are Druze, a far-removed descendant of Shi'a Islam, which, like Judaism, is both ethnic and religious. My grandparents lived all over the world, in places with such differing religious cultures as Africa, Mexico, and, of course, the Middle East. They were as Druze as you can get culturally, but they did not practice Druze religion with the same enthusiasm.
When Mom began to inquire more about the Druze faith, she quickly became disenchanted with the stark hierarchy that prevented her as a woman from being educated about Druze beliefs. In her twenties, she made a radical and life-changing decision to become a follower of Jesus, and all of her siblings, as well as my grandmother, followed suit.
In addition to our experiences at church on Sundays, my brother and I attended an Episcopal private school where we encountered all the "smells and bells" of formal church, with Latin hymns and communion with wine in fancy glass jars and thin wafers embossed with tiny crosses. Between the stories of God I heard at church, at school, and in my spiritually eclectic family, I had quite a collection.
It was not until studying religion in college that I learned how to sort Scripture stories — prophets over here, Jesus stories over there, letters from the early church in this pile, poems and songs in that one — and line them up in order. Arranging them that way helped me see and hear the cadence and rhythm not just of each little story but of the big, ongoing story, so that it began to resemble a symphony, its themes both recurring and amplifying as the song goes on. When you experience the story as a whole, you can see the trajectory of God's horizon expanding outward and practically hear it crescendo.
At every turn, a promise propels God's song toward its next peak. Promises might appear small to us, but they are the catalysts of God's story. Think of it this way: If the universe is accelerating outward, pushing the rewind button on cosmic history suggests it began as a small, outrageously dense particle of energy. Scientists call this particle a singularity. In God's story, it is called a promise.
I realize we are not used to taking promises quite so seriously. We find them easy to overlook, probably because we're often all too ready to let ourselves off the hook when it comes to keeping them. But God approaches promises with much greater gravitas. In God's story, promises are the activation seeds of God's future, the energy particle that launches the story further out.
To follow the arc of God's expanding promise, we begin with a nomadic couple named Abraham and Sarah who lived with their families in the town of Haran. God came to them there and promised to make them a great nation, through whom all the families on earth would be blessed. There was just one problem. Abraham and Sarah were old, and they could not bear children. How could they birth many nations when they couldn't even bear a single child? For reasons unknown, Abraham and Sarah chose to trust in God's promise, and that was the beginning of the great covenant. It may have begun with one couple, but the relationship the great covenant forged would eventually activate a relationship between God and all of creation. Abraham and Sarah packed up their belongings and traveled to a new land, Canaan, the place God promised would hold their future.
The journey was not easy. After many years of traveling and moving and facing disappointment month after month as they failed to conceive, they became rightly discouraged. One night Abraham lamented to God, and God beckoned him outside. "Do you see all those stars?" God asked. "That is how many children I promise you will have." Abraham looked up at the vast desert sky, and in that immense horizon he somehow found space to believe again in this grand promise.
Years passed again until Abraham had reached the age of ninety-nine. He was preparing to take an afternoon nap under the cool shade of the oak trees at the entrance of his tent when he saw three men standing before him. Abraham greeted them and, with customary hospitality, he invited them to stay for dinner. The three guests obliged, and Abraham hurried to ask Sarah to help him prepare food for their surprise company. When the food was ready, Abraham served the men, who were reclining under the oak trees. One of them remarked, "Where is your wife Sarah?" Abraham pointed through the crack in the tent curtain and said, "In the tent." The visitor remarked, "The next time I come around this way, your wife Sarah will have a baby."
Now Sarah could hear the men talking as she worked in the tent, and when she heard what the stranger said, she could not help but laugh. Imagine such a thing! A baby, at her age, after all this time? She could hardly believe in a promise that had long since grown cobwebs at that place of hope in her heart. The stranger heard her laugh and turned to Abraham. (Here the previously unnamed traveler is identified as God, so quietly that you almost miss it altogether.) God said, "Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? Trust me — she will have a son." Sarah, now feeling awkward that her moment of laughter alone in the kitchen was overheard, and being afraid of what punishment might meet her ridicule, denied it, saying, "I didn't laugh." But God, like a mother amused when her child claims innocence with dirt plainly on his hands, said, "Oh, yes you did." (And with a little sass, too, I imagine.) Luckily, Sarah was not alone in her doubt; when Abraham received a vision about this very promise not long before the three travelers showed up, he had laughed, too. It was only fitting, then, when this long promised child was finally born, that they name him Isaac, which means, "he laughs."
In time, Isaac met and married Rebekah, and they had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob, the favored one, then had twelve of his own: Asher, Benjamin, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Joseph, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun. From these twelve children, one family expanded into the twelve tribes of Israel. Each child received a portion of territory, and each tribe expanded and multiplied until their numbers were very great. The covenant that began with Abraham and Sarah now expanded to include twelve very well-populated tribes. The promise was picking up speed.
FINDING GOD'S HORIZON
If we imagine the story of God as a symphony with recurring themes that amplify as the song continues, its chorus would most certainly be "Go!" The promises of God send us places because God is on the move. When God first came to Abraham and Sarah, God called them to leave what they knew and move toward a promised new future. God didn't give a lot of details about what Canaan, their new home, would be like, or even what the journey would be like. God just said, "Go," and off they went. We will hear this chorus frequently as we travel through God's story, because God told a lot of people to go — farmers and mothers, prophets and princesses, fishermen minding their own business and women retrieving water from wells and a whole slew of shepherds just trying to keep their flocks together. Jesus told people to go so often you can hardly read a few lines in the Gospels before running across the directive, which is why it isn't remotely surprising that one of Jesus' last words to the disciples is — that's right — "Go." God moves ahead of us and pushes us from behind at every juncture of the story, because we are part of this great movement out toward God's promised future.
The circumstances of why and where God calls and sends people are incredibly diverse, but the fact that the story of God spends such an enormous amount of time talking about people moving and leaving what is comfortable or familiar for something new is probably worth our attention and consideration. I have a hunch there is something about human nature itself that needs a horizon. If you think about times in your life where there has been despair, it's most likely because you lost sight of the future. You couldn't imagine what life would be like without someone, or you didn't know what you were going to do with your life, or you weren't sure where you belonged anymore. Despair happens when our horizon begins to look and feel more like a cave. Although it often feels completely counterintuitive, when we most want to shut ourselves off and stay in our own caves, the fog of sadness begins to lift when we are ready to go out — moving outside of ourselves, serving others, thinking about something other than what feels like a horizon-less existence. We need to go somewhere and find the sky again.
This is one of a million mysterious ways I believe God has created us in God's own image. We are created to be as dynamic as the God who made us. We are created to move toward the future.
Just to be clear, to say God's future moves outward is not to say that humanity is slowly moving to perfection. The depressing truth is that despite all our achievements, the twentieth century was possibly the bloodiest in human history, so any notion that we are getting better is not entirely tuned into reality. Maybe God has to tell us to go so often because we repeatedly head in the wrong direction. If we truly want to participate in the movement of God in the world, we have to start by acknowledging the world as it is, broken as well as beautiful. We have to accept that we may be going, but we may not be going the right way. Finding God's horizon and walking toward it is a spiritual practice that requires willing and persevering feet. Thankfully, God seems fully aware that our feet will get tired, that we will become impatient, that there will be long patches when we fear God has forgotten about us and left for the beach. When Abraham was downtrodden, God did not say, "Cheer up! Everything is going great! Who's having fun yet?" God came to Abraham right in the middle of his sadness, lifted his gaze and said, "Do you remember what I promised?" We follow God not because things are always going so smashingly well, but because we trust the promise that looms on God's horizon.
Scripture tells the story of a God who promises us a future, most especially when the world looks dark. When we look up into the sky, we know we are looking toward the future, and we find hope in the promise of God. We trust God is taking us — all of us — toward something, and we trust it is worth the journey. We are a people who speak openly of what was and frankly about what is, but we live as those who believe what will be .CHAPTER 2
The God of Green Lights
I was probably six. As I stood with my toes hugging the lip of the swimming pool in the back yard of my best friend's house, I wanted more than anything in the entire world to dive in. I could picture it in my head — my arms making a graceful triangle above my head as my hands entered the water without so much as a splash. But no matter how well it went in my mind, my toes still gripped the edge. I didn't move. It didn't help that the three sons of my best friend's family — Wagner, Weston, and Wilson, as well as my brother Darren — were splashing wildly around in the water and occasionally taunting me with scaredy-cat jokes. I could hold my own just fine when we had wrestling matches on an old mattress in the playroom upstairs. I fought those matches with every ounce of my sad little underweight self. I could pinch like a champ, and they would scream like babies when I tried to rip out their burgeoning leg hair. But the pool was a different matter.
"Hey Danielleopi," they yelled. "Want us to give you a little push?" I tried to glare at them with Rocky Balboa – like fierceness. "I can do it myself," I retorted. But forcing yourself to jump is much harder than it seems. Sometimes, you do need a little push, which is the only reason that I remained on speaking terms with Weston after he snuck over and shoved me in.
To move toward God's horizon, we have sometimes needed a push, too. God calls us to go, and sometimes, like Abraham and Sarah, we go without hesitation. Other times, even when a cool pool of freedom awaits, we can't seem to detach our toes from the edge. What happens when we find ourselves stuck, either because of oppressive outside forces or the fears lodged in our own heads? The story of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt tells us something about both.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Boundary-Breaking God"
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Table of ContentsForeword: Hope--A Retrospective xi
1. The Universe Is Moving Outward
2. The God of Green Lights
3. We Come Bearing Gifts
4. From Gatekeepers to Door Openers
5. When the End Is Just the Beginning
6. Wind Power
7. A Whole New World