Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World



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Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World by John Joseph Thompson

Farmer’s markets, artisanal dark chocolate, home-made bread, craft-brewed beer, and independent boutique coffee shops may not immediately call to mind issues of faith, but they should. As the “American Dream” starts to fray at both ends, millions of people are embracing values that seem to hail from a bygone era. They are seeking out the local, the small, the responsible and the nourishing instead of the cheap, the homogenized, the mass-produced and the canned.

Is it possible that this renewed interest in these pre-modern values may actually offer an open door into the hearts and minds of this generation? Is there a way to explore specific, inspiring stories about coffee, bread, chocolate and art that lead people toward a truly Biblical understanding of the person, words and work of Jesus to reveal the truth, goodness and beauty of the Gospel?

With fascinating stories and a thread of memoir, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate explores the emerging—actually re-emerging—values of this post-industrial age and points out parallels between them and the teaching and ministry of Jesus and his earliest followers. Rather than seeking to tie the faith to trends in the culture, it shows how trends in the culture are already very close to the organic kind of faith that could reenergize the church and bring countless young and middle-aged people into a saving experience of Christ.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310339397
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 793,092
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John J. Thompson is a culture critic, teacher, artist, and writer who roasts his own coffee and loves the East Nashville community he, his wife, and their four children call home. The former marketing coordinator for Cornerstone Festival and inner-city pastor is a creative director at Capitol CMG Publishing, where he spends his days serving gospel songwriters and independent filmmakers.

Read an Excerpt

Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate

Crafting a Handmade Faith in a Mass-Market World

By John Thompson


Copyright © 2014 John Joseph Thompson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-33939-7



My biological father was a charming, articulate, sociopathic mess of a human being. His mother taught him how to get away with check fraud, and it's unclear if he ever did an honest day's work in his life. He was a controlling, abusive, alcoholic monster who could change, without a second's notice, into an exuberant, hilarious clown. If he had been more disciplined, he would have made a good mobster.

He was a con man by trade—or at least that's the best we can figure. He scammed people and then disappeared. His life was about hiding from the law while living large. He had a car phone in his fancy ride, while his wife and kids were scrimping by on welfare. His fraudulence sent me searching desperately for the truth at a very young age.

We moved a lot when I was young. For several months during the summer of '77, we were basically homeless. My brother and I stayed with my grandparents while my father and my pregnant mother drove around Illinois trying to find a new place to live. We eventually settled on a run-down farm outside of Peoria, Illinois, for a couple of years. It was the longest we ever lived in one place, so I used to say I grew up on that farm. The truth is that in many ways I was forced to grow up before we moved to the farm. I was seven then.

My mom became a Christian when I was about three years old. By that I mean she transformed from a well-mannered Episcopalian into a young woman who believed that Jesus was alive and real and available to her. A spiritual phenomenon that LIFE magazine referred to as "the Jesus Movement" inspired millions of young people to connect with Jesus in a very personal, intimate, and communal way. Once these Jesus people got to Mom, I was a quick convert. At three years old, I began developing my own relationship with God. My faith, in fact, predates my conscious memories.

My earliest church-related memories include the high, vaulted ceilings and haunting choral singing of the Episcopal and Catholic churches, and the joyful mayhem of Mom's early charismatic Bible study groups. It was a pretty normal occurrence to hear people speaking in tongues and to see them laying hands on people during prayer and searching large, leather-bound Bibles for answers. I remember when my mom got baptized. It was a strange thing to see these people I barely knew take her into a lake and dunk her under the water. She came out crying. I was upset. I ran to her—ready to protect her from these strange people—but she told me the tears were happy tears. Jesus was in her heart. I was used to seeing her cry, but this was different.

She stayed with my father for seven more years, until I was not quite ten, because she did not believe that divorce was acceptable in God's eyes. Mom wore long sleeves to cover the bruises on her arms when she took us to the beach. At one point, things got bad enough that we moved to my grandparents' house in the Chicago suburbs. After a few months, my father managed to convince her he had changed. He had "found the Lord." He even became the pastor of a storefront church.

Yes, you read that correctly. He preached up a storm at that little church, cried like a televangelist on the evening news, and then went right back to the same old, same old once we moved back in with him. I hated him and feared him, and I was mystified by him and terrified of becoming him. I defined myself, to the best of my abilities, as his complete opposite.

Late one night, he came home drunk and armed with a large handgun. With me on his right knee, and my brother on his left, he waved his .38 just inches from my right ear as he threatened to kill my mother and take away my brothers and me if she ever tried to leave him. There were four of us boys by then, and though she believed divorce to be a sin, Mom rightly understood that leaving us to be raised by him would be a greater sin. It was time for us to flee.

Unfortunately, she had no idea how to escape. One day while she was at a community college in town, a couple of college students approached her tentatively. They explained that while they had never done anything like this before, as they had been praying, they felt strongly compelled by God to approach her to tell her she needed to escape some kind of situation, and they were going to do whatever they could to help facilitate that escape. These complete strangers coordinated the details with her, and within a few weeks, a pickup truck carried us and our belongings away while my father was in court.

Because of my father's criminal connections, we had to go into hiding. We lived at a rescue mission called Wayside Cross in Aurora, Illinois, for a while and then moved to a Christian summer camp for underprivileged and at-risk youth on the Fox River in St. Charles. We couldn't say goodbye to our friends. We couldn't call our grandparents. We had to completely disappear.

Months later, the police assured my mother that it was safe for us to come out of hiding. We moved back in with my grandparents in Lombard, a typical Chicago suburb. My parents divorced shortly thereafter, and somehow, our father was granted visitation of us boys every other weekend. We then experienced a season of psychological warfare, as he did everything in his power to use us to convince our mother to return to him. He read me Scriptures about divorce and wives submitting to husbands, and he wept juicy tears as he testified to his undying love for her and us. My youngest brother was just a baby and was already showing symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Excessive acid in my stomach—in part the result of near constant stress—caused me to throw up every night. I was pale and skinny, and my eyes were dark. I was falling apart physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

On my thirteenth birthday, my father called, and I, at my counselor's suggestion, finally let him have it. I swore and cried and screamed at him. After our conversation, he told my mother that if she ever remarried, he would find her and kill her. My grandfather heard the whole thing on the other line and made sure my father knew it. My mom called the police and filed a report. My father disappeared.

My mom had met a man at our church. He was a relatively new Christian and had recently gone through a divorce himself. He and Mom clicked, and despite the incredible baggage involved, he married her and took us all on.

I had recurring nightmares about killing my father. I begged God to send his car off a bridge, then prayed for forgiveness for having such evil thoughts. My "personal relationship with Jesus" involved lots of screaming at the heavens, pounding my fists into the earth, and reading Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." I read it over and over, trying to make sense of my life. That verse drove me crazy.

I tried to stop believing in God, but it never worked. There was just too much evidence all around me. Everywhere I looked, I saw his fingerprints. Music, art, nature, kisses, the sun and the moon—it all pointed to him. I believed in God, but I thought he had forgotten about us or was punishing us for our father's sins, like I gleaned from my reading of Exodus 20:5, where God is said to be "a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation ..."

As terrible as my biological father was, the rest of my family is incredible. I am blessed to have grown up with a loving, attentive, and extremely cool extended family and with mentors and heroes who celebrated my eccentricities and encouraged my headfirst approach to making sense of the world around me. When I kicked against what I perceived to be stale traditions, they were gracious and patient. When I asked what I was sure were deep questions, they honored me and gave me thoughtful answers. I see now that my instinct to handcraft my faith instead of settling for the off-the-shelf version that wasn't working for me was inspired, encouraged, and enabled by family members and close friends.

Life as I saw it unfolding spoke of humanity's fall and evil and the serpent and death and pain, but a deeper reality gripped my heart and has never let me go. The flame of faith could not be extinguished by abuse and terror. A few months after that terrible phone call on my thirteenth birthday, I made a conscious decision to begin to find a way to forgive my father so the pain and anger wouldn't consume me. At one point, I regularly attended five different youth groups. I was an aggressive seeker and was interested in the different ways various churches sought God's truth. As a teen, I read theological books I could barely understand by Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton because my mentors read those books. Mostly, though, I dug for truth in music and conversations.

I now realize that throughout my teen years I was sheltering in a grove of tall, nurturing trees. I often felt alone, or I liked to imagine myself as some kind of pioneer, but in hindsight I see I was just a bucking lamb in a very safe corral. I remember regularly dressing as obnoxiously as possible for church, just to irritate "traditional" people. I wore fake leather pants, studded leather wristbands, and a rippedup shirt, and I spiked up my hair as high as it would go. I scrawled Bible verses and lyrics from Christian songs on my jackets and jeans. I challenged every vestige of traditional church life I could find—always kicking against the pricks and deeply desperate for it all to be real. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents' friends were eventually joined by priests, pastors, youth ministers, volunteer "big brothers," songwriters, and other role models—all doing their best to equip me to thrive.

It seemed clear to me from a young age that truly authentic people inhabited all types of spiritual environments. I remember profound and life-changing conversations with priests and Sunday school teachers at St. Mark's Episcopal Church and sermons delivered by nondenominational pastors that were easy to understand and apply to my life. As a teen, I found my place among a tribe of edgy rock-and-roll Christians deeply invested in issues of cultural relevance, social justice, and good, clean fun. In all of these varied environments, I have been profoundly blessed and lovingly tolerated.

Some of my heroes were people I actually knew, while others were musicians and songwriters I admired from a distance. Terry Scott Taylor sang acerbic, haunting faith songs in his tragically unknown band, Daniel Amos, while Greg Hill mentored me through confirmation and youth group. Obscure rock bands, filmmakers, authors, parish priests, extended family, and high school friends formed a spiritual and cultural tapestry that covered me like a cloak during some very confusing years. The gospel modeled for me was not one of fear or retreat; it was a careful balance of improvisation and faithfulness. I do not take these relationships and experiences for granted. They not only helped me survive but also tuned my heart to see and hear things differently.

Someone set up this world, filled it with all the necessary elements, started it spinning, and seems to enjoy interrupting its gradual and temporary decay with glimpses of a bright and glorious future. "The kingdom of heaven has come near," Jesus said. It's not far-off in the future. It's here, right now; yet it's still not yet. The brokenness in me, and in the world around me, is groaning to be repaired. There's a beat to it, a cadence. All creation points toward this someday coming and present healing. People with ears to hear can detect its patterns. I want to be a person who hears.


* * *

My life didn't begin to resemble anything normal until I was a teen in the Chicago suburbs. Having grown up "on the lam," I hadn't benefited from peer groups, social cues, or a common culture. Lots of kids don't fit in. I, however, was terrified of boys my age. I made up stories about myself because the truth was too hard to talk about.

Once, in sixth grade, when the kids in class were taking turns telling the group what their fathers did for a living, I froze. One kid's dad had been a Stormtrooper in Star Wars. Several other dads were doctors or engineers. When it was my turn, I panicked. But I'd seen a documentary on PBS about the history of Chicago's lakefront and how hundreds of men had basically built a big chunk of the city out over the water. "My dad dug Lake Michigan," I blurted out. The other kids laughed. The teacher laughed. I tried to moderate my lie. "Well, he didn't dig it by himself; he had lots of help." I was mortified. I had no idea what my father actually did. I just knew it was illegal and that I wasn't supposed to walk home alone because my mom and grandparents were afraid he would abduct me. But I couldn't say that. I never did.

From the time I was very young—maybe five or six—music was my escape from the pain and confusion of life. At one point in the late 1970s, probably around age eight, I was given a set of stereo radio receiver headphones that would have to be considered the primordial ancestors of the Sony Walkman that would debut a few years later. They were enormously bulky and had an antenna that stuck up from one side. Those goofy headphones and I were inseparable. They were like a secret door to another dimension. In order to keep them on my head when I rode my bike, I had to tighten them down with a bungee cord. I would sneak them on in bed and slowly dial through AM radio stations coming in from as far away as Chicago. Once we moved to the Chicago area, one of my favorite ways to spend a day was to ride my bike to the library and check out a dozen LPs (the limit)—everything from Hotel California to the Star Wars sound track to Mahler's Fifth Symphony. I would lie down on the floor listening to records, writing stories, painting pictures, or trying to play along on my guitar.

We attended a variety of churches until we settled in at my grandparents' Episcopal church. Once my biological father was out of the picture, my mom married Tom Thompson, the fascinating, goateed college man she had met at church. He began to unconditionally love my three younger brothers and me, though none of us were "normal." He'd played in rock bands during the 1960s, so he and I bonded over music. I needed a bit longer than my brothers to trust that he would stick around, but by the end of eighth grade, I took his name. When I was eighteen, he adopted me. To this day, I consider him one of my best friends. This father let me listen to his records, and he taught me how to play the guitar. Whenever I refer to "Dad," he's the one I'm talking about.

* * *

Sociologically speaking, I am a member of Generation X. I'm the oldest son of a baby boomer. I came of age during the 1970s and '80s, awash in popular culture, emerging technology, and skyrocketing consumerism. The arbiters of cool neatly subdivided my generation into "markets," then sold us all the corresponding accessories. I fell into the "alternative" camp. I knew a few real people who were on the same wavelength, but most of my community was virtual. I stayed up late to watch U2 Live at Red Rocks on MTV, and I imagined that all those people in the rain were My People. I read magazines and imagined sitting at a table with writers and artists talking about stuff that really mattered, while the ignorant masses listened to dumb music and ate white bread. I watched movies and imagined the offbeat girl would notice me and appreciate me as a Curator of Interesting and Meaningful Ideas rather than see me as Awkward Teenage Dork.

When I discovered a somewhat underground world of Jesus-loving rock-and-roll artists, I was more than a little intrigued. One of the first records I found was by a hard rock group from a gritty neighborhood in Chicago. They were called Resurrection Band, and they blew my mind. They played seriously hard rock that was every bit as good, or better, than anything my friends were listening to. They also lived in an "intentional community" called Jesus People USA with hundreds of other radical Christians. They served the poor and the elderly. They worked hard and blessed the urban world around them. Talk about authenticity! I begged God to "call" me to move in with them. He never did.


Excerpted from Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate by John Thompson. Copyright © 2014 John Joseph Thompson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: New Respect for the Twang 13

Chapter 1 The Road to Ruination 21

Chapter 2 This Means Something! 35

Chapter 3 Breaking Broker Bread 53

Chapter 4 Pure Chocolate 85

Chapter 5 The Best Coffee I Ever Had 113

Chapter 6 Civilization, Reformation, Discernment, and Beer 147

Chapter 7 Time Began in a Garden 189

Chapter 8 Artisanal Music and the Tune of Community 207

Chapter 9 Seeking Gob's Table 239

Postscript: Help Someone Less Fortunate Craft Their Own Story 255

Acknowledgments 261

Photo Information and Credits for Chapter Title Pages 267

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