Just received notice of this review of A Permanent Becoming – could one ask for anything more?
Alan Mann, what are you doing to me?
When I invited Alan to tell me about his new book, when I designated that book UKCBD ‘Book of the Month‘ for September 2008, little did I realise what I was letting myself in for. It’s rare for a Christian book to choke me up to the point where I am unable to continue reading for fear of being reduced to a blubbering wreck in public. On reflection, it’s not rare: I don’t think it’s ever happened to me before. On the tube, no less, travelling to and from work. Three times already, for God’s sake, and I haven’t even finished the book yet!
If you’ve read Alan’s introduction to the book then you’ll already know what it’s about: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (always ‘humility’ in my mental list) and self-control. The ‘fruit of the Spirit’ as described by the Apostle Paul (or whoever wrote Galatians: I honestly don’t give a fig about that). A list of what Alan himself describes as rather mundane virtues: the qualities we expect of our grannies, but not exactly cool or radical enough for today’s young people, or even someone like me, desperate to deny the onset of middle-age.
But Alan takes hold of these virtues and reworks them for an iGeneration, flipping that ‘i’ around until it becomes an exclamation point: ! — a warning, an alert message. Apple have given us iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iWant it all, iWant it now. Where does an arcane concept like the fruit of the Spirit fit in today’s world? Love? iLove my iPod but iLove yours more with it’s shiny touchscreen technology. Alan’s assessment: Love is… as love does. Seen supremely in Jesus, who gives himself away. An impossible standard? Maybe so, but this is the fruit of the Spirit we’re talking about, not the fruit of human strength or determination: God’s Spirit at work in us. And by God’s Spirit, I am reworked: Love is… as love does.
I have to stop writing: my train has arrived. But as I step onto the platform, a sign greets me: i for information. I drop the ‘n’ to make sense of my thoughts: iFormation. This is what Alan’s book brings us: not information (though, yes, there is plenty of that too) but iFormation. Personal reformation — formation of the self beyond self.
It’s tempting to say more: to offer you excerpts from Alan’s writing. To tell you about the exact points at which I personally had to stop reading simply to hold myself together, and the points at which Alan and I don’t quite see eye to eye: it would be a boring book indeed if I agreed with everything in it! One particular point of frustration is the lack of general references: biblical references are meticulously noted, but other sources are not. But, as a friend said to me yesterday, there’s wisdom in knowing when to stop, and I think I’ve more or less reached that point. What I want now is for you — yes, you — to get hold of a copy of the book and read it for yourself. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to describe this book as a postmodern spiritual classic, a book that should be on every theological student’s essential reading list. A book that should be on your reading list, whoever you are.
So I end as I began, but a step or two further on: Alan Mann, what are you doing to me?
More to the point, what have you unleashed upon me? You’ve subtitled your book ‘A Contemporary Look at the Fruit of the Spirit’. But it’s far more than that, isn’t it? It’s the start — or rather, the continuation — of a journey. It’s a journey I embarked on many years ago and it’s a journey that’s been going on all my life: a journey into God, with God and into true humanity. It’s a journey that I’m still travelling, still tripping and stumbling: bumbling, fumbling and stumbling my way into the Kingdom of God… goofing and screwing it up but somehow continually alternating between picking myself up and being picked up by God and by God’s people around me, even by those who wouldn’t identify themselves as God’s people.
I’ve finished the book now. But the book hasn’t finished with me: it is, as you say, a permanent becoming…