Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: THE COLORS OF HOPE – Richard Dahlstrom [Vol. 4, #13 ]

“A Vibrant Vision of the Kingdom

A review of
The Colors of Hope:
Becoming People of Mercy, Justice and Love.

by Richard Dahlstrom

Review by Alex Dye.

COLORS OF HOPE - DahlstromThe Colors of Hope:
Becoming People of Mercy, Justice and Love.

Richard Dahlstrom
Paperback: Baker Books, 2011.
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Dahlstrom introduces the book by recalling a scene from the movie Schindler’s List, a movie shot almost entirely in black and white, in which a young girl shown wearing red stands out in stark contrast against her duo-tone compatriots, symbolizing her humanity amongst the animalism to which the Nazis subjected the Jews.  He continues in describing scenes from current day life which, in many senses could appear grey:  the daily drudgery of work and television and sleep and repeat which serves as a template for the majority of our lives.  He then continues in discussing how life can often appear grey, purposeless, and tainted by various evils existing throughout the world (slavery and starvation juxtaposed with wealth and affluence).  Amidst all of his discussion about the greyness of life, I couldn’t help but hearing the sweet voice of Dave Matthews crooning in my brain “Oh there’s a loneliness inside her, and she’d do anything to fill it in, but all the colors mix together, to gre-e-e-ey, and it breaks her heart…”  Lo, to my surprise, Dahlstrom proceeded to discuss several cultural statements made about the lack of color in the world, which included “Grey Street” by Dave Matthews and “Garden State” (one of my favorite movies). Yet, I still was not convinced that his metaphor of the world as a grey canvas in need of the paint of hope would not prove to be repetitive and overstated.

I am happy to say that these preconceived notions were incorrect; Dahlstrom uses the metaphor well, weaving it in and amongst stories of “artists” that he had encountered who in their own ways were painting the beauty of the Kingdom of God into this world, through ways like community gardening and taking women out of sex slavery.  He spends time discussing a grey portrait of the current world and introducing the reality of the beautiful symphony of colors found in the coming Kingdom of God.  He then invites the reader to collaborate as an artist in this coming Kingdom which will be painted from a palette using the colors of justice and mercy.

In the chapter entitled “Pastel Fantasy,” he discusses a childhood memory of seeing a Children’s Bible that had famous scenes such as the angel visiting Mary and the Resurrection colored in pastel, which to him proposed the idea “…that a deep sense of contentment and satisfaction is the birthright of every follower of Jesus.  God is in the business of orchestrating our lives in such a way that good things happen to those who know and love him.” (119)  It wasn’t until the death of his father at the young age of fifty-three that he began to realize that life exists in much richer colors.  At this point for him, it was the deep red of blood.   He relays that we need to be aware of the darker, more difficult parts of life if we are to truly serve God; we cannot hide behind this “Pastel Fantasy” that tells us that we are guaranteed deliverance from all difficulties (which flies in the face of the “health and wealth gospel”).

Dahlstrom continues to share anecdotes of his own life and calling into a life committed to the artistry of God’s Kingdom.  He discusses the temporality of life, saying that we are only given so much time on earth, so we must make the most out of it.  His revelation about this came during on a chairlift during a ski outing on a perfect day in which an invisible “preacher” continued to remind him that all of this would soon pass and could never be recovered.

He sheds light on our reliance on excuses as to why we are not actively pursuing God’s Kingdom, using the example of Haggai and the Hebrew people returned from exile.  This, of course, may be one of the few moments in which this minor prophet may grace the pages of popular Christian non-fiction, so enjoy it.

And he gives an emotionally-charged recounting of a time in which his deceased father spoke to him while running on a treadmill, showing him that in spite of the difficulties of life, he and his mother continued to pursue the calling that God had placed on them.

He concludes with words from the Preacher in Ecclesiastes who writes “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning, nor knowledge nor wisdom.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV)  This serves and an appropriate conclusion to his thesis:  we are called to paint color in the world with our full selves, we cannot simply offer to paint from our margins in time.

The Colors of Hope reads well but its points are not particularly novel.  Similar themes, for instance, can be found in David Platt’s Radical and Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution.  However, one cannot be encouraged enough to take seriously the Great Commission and Commandments, and Dahlstrom’s work is certainly an appropriate and compelling reminder of that.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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