I know when I’ve read a good book because most of it ends up highlighted. I use an app on my iPad that lets me highlight in many different colors, and I’ve assigned different priority levels to each one. Red means, “I disagree.” Green means, “this is the author’s reflection on scripture.” Yellow is, “this is interesting.” Purple is, “this is something I should remember, and maybe keep track of for future posts and sermons.” Blue is, “Never, ever ever ever, forget this.”
A Glorious Dark and A.J.’s previous book Messy are packed full of green, blue, and a smattering of purple highlights. I rarely used pink, mainly because there was nothing I felt was interesting but not worth remembering. In other words, nearly every page was highlight in such a way that I needed to remember it.
You know it’s a good book when you stop frequently to highlight it. You know it’s a good book when your low-level highlight color is rarely used. You know it’s a good book when you can’t stop reading, can’t stop posting about it, can’t stop reflecting on what the author is saying.
You know it’s an amazing book when the author seamlessly walks through history, scripture, and personal reflection in such a narrative way that you could swear he was chatting with you on a park bench. That is A.J. Swoboda. For example, he writes:
The atheist philosopher Albert Camus once described this sort of hell. According to Camus—who didn’t believe in God but did believe in hell—hell is someone carrying around a giant sign above their head with the most embarrassing and least likeable of their identities: floozy girl, failed husband, ex-con, porn addict, infertile couple. Hell, he suggested, is your greatest embarrassment on public display, the worst part of your life you can’t escape. Infertility is that kind of hell for many. Because every time someone asks if you’re going to have kids someday, you’re reminded of the sign above your head. It doesn’t go away. (pg 80)
And such reflections like,
In the creation story, God formed Adam and Eve on the sixth day, Friday. Then, on Saturday, God rested and commanded all of creation to do the same. Ironically, that means that Adam and Eve’s first full day of existence was a day of joyous rest and fun in the garden on Saturday. Then, after the day of rest, Adam and Eve got to work on the garden on Sunday. Many readers of the Bible falsely assume that rest is what happens after you’ve worked six days. Or that humanity is created to work and then rest. I used to falsely imagine that Adam and Eve had to work for six long days and then got a good day of rest. But rest doesn’t work like that. In America, humanity rests after work. In Eden, humanity worked after rest. (pg 125)
To be fair, I’ve had Dr. Swoboda as a professor during my time at George Fox Evangelical School. He’s a Foursquare pastor in Portland, Oregon at a church called Theophilus. He teaches theological, biblical studies, and Christian history at George Fox as well as other universities and Bible colleges. A.J. received his doctorate at the University of Birmingham exploring the relationship between the Holy Spirit and ecology. While being the author of two amazing books, he co-authored Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology, the first of its kind. That will, undoubtedly, be the next book I pick up. He also blogs at www.ajswoboda.com.
A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension between Belief and Experience is a book about what happens on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. Before reading it, I never really considered it. Like most Christians, that Saturday is just a forgotten day. And like many pastors, I used it as a day for preparing my Easter message. This book brings focus to Saturday, questioning how we are supposed to feel between the days of darkness and light, belief and experience.
Unlike most Christian authors, Swoboda hones in on the darkness, on the pain, and returns to God. Friday is a time of suffering, of pain. Sunday is a time of happiness, new life, and joy. Saturday is the inbetween, the time in which we sit with God as our dreams fell apart. It is there that Swoboda says we find God, find love and grace. He leaves us with these words:
Resurrection means that Jesus didn’t leave us at his crucifixion. No. Jesus doesn’t just eat the Last Supper with us; he also eats a first breakfast. Jesus continues to eat with us. He never leaves us. (pg 219)