Review

Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Alarming Words of Faith

by Joy Jordan-Lake

This is a book you’ll want to delve into, which is to say you need to get past the packaging. Don’t let the title make you nervous. Its content may be spiritually challenging, but its tone is warm and winsome. As Lauren Winner says in her endorsement, “This book is downright restorative.” This is no guilt trip. And don’t be put off by the front cover. Red toenails? This isn’t exclusively a women’s book. A diving board hovering over a swimming pool? Well, it took me a day to figure out what it was.

I also advise getting past chapter one. Joy Jordan-Lake’s voice and anecdotal style don’t take hold until chapter two, when she insightfully reveals intricate relational dynamics of Christian “community” --- one of the “ten alarming words of faith” that frame the outline of this slim work (others being “resurrection,” “abundance,” “wisdom,” “holiness,” “peace,” “blessedness,” “worship,” “forgiveness” and “hope”). In chapter two, given the bald one-word title, “Community,” we walk alongside the author as she journeys with a friend who has lost a daughter in a car accident; the friend in turn helps Jordan-Lake sort through a decision of whether or not to adopt a third child.

The author’s life-circumstances and accompanying characters make for good reading. Consider this description: “I first understood I was an illiterate, inbred, backwater hick when I moved to New England” to continue graduate studies. “True, I started life in the North with a Southern accent, an eighties blonde perm, a Tennessee license plate, and a deep discomfort in and around shoes….

“But it was news to me that Southerners couldn’t read.” Jordan-Lake delves into the topic at hand, “blessedness,” by challenging the way we negatively stereotype or label people perceived to be less cultured or capable than we are. The chapter starts with her mother’s admonition in childhood: “We don’t call people rednecks.” It eventually leads to Jordan-Lake’s new take on an old theme, correcting her adolescent children, “We don’t call people losers.” And it ends with a twist on an ancient story: “For unto us, us misunderstood, us passed over, us rednecks and losers who’ve discovered we bear the image of God…is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

This is not a hard-hitting volume on “social justice,” and yet the prose keeps returning to scenes at a church-sponsored food pantry and distribution center for children’s clothing (founded by Jordan-Lake and others in Cambridge) or at other shelters, sometimes accompanied by the author’s children. She reminds us that “to worship is to prepare for the uncomfortable. For God’s showing up, often not when and how we expect.” She challenges us to “worship with cymbals and the clatter of clothes-closet racks. In stained-glass cathedrals and dank basements.”

WHY JESUS MAKES ME NERVOUS includes questions that personalize the content and would be a great book for a group discussion.

Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011

Why Jesus Makes Me Nervous: Ten Alarming Words of Faith
by Joy Jordan-Lake