Storyteller Steven James assumes an enormous responsibility in this slim volume: retelling the entire story of redemption for a postmodern audience that needs to hear --- and experience --- that story in a fresh and powerful way. In the hands of a lesser writer, such a task could easily fall flat. Not so with James. Through his honest prose and beautiful poetry, he delivers on the promise inherent in the book's subtitle. He does indeed enable us to recapture the mystery.
Take, for instance, the chapter titled "chains," one of the 30 reflections on the key elements that make up the mystery we live in. Centered on the Passover as experienced by the Israelites, and the unavoidable questions about God's judgment that such an event raises, James writes (in lowercase):
what do i need in my life
to keep the shrieking at bay?
what do i need to do
to get your anger to pass
But James doesn't leave us there. Yes, he writes about the chains that our freedom often places us in when we use that freedom as a means of breaking free from God. But he makes sure we know this: "There's one thing stronger than the chains on our souls: the love of a Jewish carpenter. The crack of dawn at Easter was really the sound of the chains falling away."
Everything in this book --- every image, every metaphor, every thought, every sentence --- points the way to the cross and the resurrection and the profound love of God.
One of my favorite chapters, "longing," opens with a mini treatise on the superficial longings created by the consumer society we live in. Even here, James avoids the temptation to go off on a tirade and instead recounts a conversation with an angel in a dream, a dialogue about the sad illusion of life on earth. We long for Eden, but we mistakenly believe we can re-create it here and now. "We bite into the chocolate bunny over and over again," he writes, "and find it's hollow each and every time."
Despite the seriousness of the message, and the dark places in our own spirits that we can't help but notice as we read STORY, James frequently manages to lighten the mood with his own brand of subtle humor. You get the distinct impression that he does not suffer fools gladly, especially those who market or misrepresent or manipulate the gospel story. That story is far too precious to James; his overarching concern here is to rescue the story from ho-hum familiarity --- or worse, false teaching --- and restore it to its rightful place as our only hope in life.
It would be tempting to recommend this book as a gift for any seeker in your life, but the truth is that it's probably best reserved for those readers who appreciate a more lyrical, poetic style of writing. Given that condition, you're likely to find that STORY resonates with both the postmodern seeker and the mature Christian who longs for a fresh experience with God.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on February 1, 2006