John J. Thompson – Jesus, Bread and Chocolate [Review]

August 21, 2015 — 1 Comment


A Parable of Authenticity and Hope
A Feature Review of 

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

Paperback: Zondervan, 2015
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Jennifer Burns Lewis


John J. Thompson’s Twitter profile describes him as a “music lifer from the faith-fueled underground to Capitol CMG publishing in 20 short years.”  Thompson’s first book, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate is part autobiography, part Christian living, part cultural commentary. It is a thoughtful and reflective parable of authenticity and hope.
Conversational in style, Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate reviews Thompson’s personal journey as a son, a spouse, a parent and a follower of Jesus. A musician by background and vocation, Thompson has found both meaning and delight in so much of what adds zest and a holistic appeal to the organic, “homemade” movement. With chapters that compare homemade bread, small batch chocolate, home-roasted coffee, craft beer, gardening and artisanal music with faith and American trends in worship.  Rooted in his own experience as a child and young person healing from the hurt of domestic violence in his family of origin, Thompson recalls the role of the Church and the faith of his mother and step-father in moving him towards music, and a faith he could claim as his own.  We journey with Thompson from a difficult childhood toward a fulfilling and challenging career in the music industry, a personal relationship with the God he meets in Jesus Christ, and the family he creates with his spouse and children.

The frame for Thompson’s recollections and reflections on faith and living is a conversation he has with musician Buddy Miller, who suggests to the author that “maybe it’s not the twang you don’t like about modern country music, but the absence of twang.”
Twang is a great word, which Thompson appropriates as he considers the heart, grit and imperfections of homemade, homegrown, homebrewed, handcrafted offerings in contrast to modern American life that has so valued efficient, perfect, mass-produced products. Thompson equates twang with authenticity, in life and in faith, which lead to “real community, real humanity and real discipleship.”  Twang, according to Thompson, is found in the grit and grace of life and in relationship.
There’s a lot going on in Jesus, Bread, and Chocolate. From his tumultuous upbringing in central and northern Illinois to his early career in Chicago’s suburbs and later Nashville, Thompson reflects upon messages received as a child and teenager and the faith he found as a young person.  While looking back and also exploring the present, Thompson continues to point out the “twang” that leads to life that which is created/ crafted, rather than made/mass-produced.
The autobiographical journey on which the author takes us is interesting, more for the transparency and authenticity it models than for the details.  The critique of the demise of the American church that Thompson describes is not new or particularly insightful, however the connection he makes between Authentic Church and Authentic food, beverages, and music is what makes Jesus, Bread and Chocolate live up to its yummy title.
Thompson takes us on a tour, chapter by chapter, beginning with bread-baking, and introduces us to a longtime friend and fellow musician  who maintained the family bakery, crafting deliciousness for many years until it was no longer sustainable. Sprinkled throughout the conversation with the baker/friend are marvelous morsels of history of bread, religious symbolism concerning bread, and some very thoughtful chips of theological reflection. (“I do think it is important to feel a hunger for that meal {communion}.”)Thompson’s thoughts about bread and other home crafted fare are genuine and his own. His observations are not overwhelming, but the way in which he kneads the yeast of the Christian faith with the flour of his own journey is really appealing.
The exploration of artisanal chocolate comes next and once more the author provides history, anecdotes, and a thoughtful series of reflections on chocolatiers the author has known and the connects he and they make to the Christian faith. Once more Thompson seizes the moment to reflect upon the cultural values of today versus the artisanal values of care and craftspersonship that he defines as being pre-modern. Thompson offers that “the beauty of handmade works is that they avoid the additives that industrialism allows in the name of expedience or cost savings. Ingredients matter. Though a great deal of variety can be accomplished with additives, it is not up to me to decide I can add whatever I want to something and call it pure. When it comes to chocolate, there definitely is such a thing as absolute truth. It is not held captive by any –ism. I can no more add cheap alternatives to or subtract costly ingredients from the gospel I live than I can add brown food coloring to sugary wax and call it chocolate.”  (p. 111) Here, and in every chapter, Thompson describes the beauty of simple, homemade products as vividly as he offers a critique of the mass-produced.
One call smell the roasted coffee beans, taste the microbrewed hops, savor the homegrown produce, and hear the twang of acoustic instruments in a house concert setting. Thompson invites the reader to consider our own stories as he shares his own, and to make the connections between a church that invites authenticity and imperfection, grace and gratitude to the artisanal movement. It’s really a very lovely picture that he paints as he describes the tension that alternately frees some and makes others uncomfortable as the twang invites us to “admit to the dissonance in (our) own hearts.”
While not an academically trained theologian, Thompson has a faithful heart and soul and a clear sense of what it means, as a person of faith, to move from that which is tasteless and unfulfilling about a mass-produced experience, whether in food, libation or worship, to something much more wholesome and unique. His book is a call to the same kind of uniqueness and authenticity in faith and worship. There is a twang in this author’s narrative that can be embraced just like a true bluegrass lyric or your mom’s best peach pie. Enjoy Jesus, Bread and Chocolate, and give some thought to the uniqueness of one’s own faith and practice of it.
Jennifer Burns Lewis is a Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor and coach who lives and works in the western suburbs of Chicago. An avid reader, she’s a wife, mom and also loves to walk her dogs, Lucy and George.

  • GinaRD

    Sounds great. Thanks for the review.

    (That line about country music is SO TRUE. And hardly anybody realizes it.)