A Review of
Jesus’ Vision for Your One Wild and Precious Life: (On Things Like Poverty, Hunger, Polarization, Inclusion, and More)
Reviewed by Leroy Seat
Jesus’ Vision for Your One Wild and Precious Life was a delight to read and a joy to review. It is also a pleasure to recommend Mike Graves’s book to all who are Christian believers, whether lay or clergy, and to those who are interested in learning more about Jesus and his vision for human flourishing. There is much in this book for all to read and ponder.
Graves (1957) taught at three theological seminaries in Kansas City: Midwestern Baptist in Missouri, Central Baptist across the border in Kansas, and then back in Missouri at Saint Paul School of Theology, a Methodist institution. After being a professor for thirty years, Graves retired in 2018 and has been serving as Scholar in Residence at Country Club Christian Church.
Despite his close association with three major Protestant denominations, the title of Graves’s book comes from American poet Mary Oliver. Her short poem, “The Summer Day” ends with these words: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?” Graves introduces these lines from Oliver and refers to them again in a later chapter. Graves also includes a section titled “Wild and Precious Dreaming” near the conclusion of each chapter.
From the beginning of the introduction, Graves emphasizes that Jesus was born into this world not primarily to die, although that has often been a major focus of Christian belief and preaching. Rather, the author asserts that “Jesus wasn’t born just to die, and neither were we (4). Graves reiterates this point in the final pages of the book, “Jesus didn’t come to die. He came to live, and….the life he lived can be a model for us on how to live before we die” (159).
For a long time in word and song, there has been emphasis on the “seven last words” of Jesus. But Graves focuses on Jesus’ “seven first words.” Not Jesus’ literal first seven words, but what the author reframes as “seven essential sayings of Jesus,” considered in the book’s seven chapters. The title of each chapter sums up each saying: “Follow Me,” “Good News to the Poor,” “Blessed Are the…,” “You Give Them Something to Eat,” “Your Faith Has Made You Well,” and “Love of God and Neighbor.” These are all familiar words, but the author elucidates them in insightful ways.
As might be expected from a professor of preaching, Graves’s book is engagingly written and accessible to lay readers and not just to members of the clergy or to scholars. He cites both scholarly and non-scholarly books and several aspects of his citations are impressive. First, most of the books cited were published after 2000 and are not the books that he studied as he was working on his Ph.D. Furthermore, several of the books cited were published in 2023, the year his own book was published. Additionally, he referenced his recent trip to Israel/Palestine, which concluded in September, 2023. It is also notable that so many of the books referenced were written by female authors.
The “Reflections” at the end of each chapter are six or seven short paragraphs with questions that would lead to meaningful discussions for a group who had read/studied the book for the purpose of growing together. This would be an excellent book for a class to study for up to 10 sessions.
In these troublesome times in which we live, Graves draws valuable lessons from Jesus for how we can live with delight daily as well as engage in meaningful service to suffering neighbors, both nearby and around the world. In doing so, he cites the words of E.B. White that express the stance of the author for himself and his desire for all of us readers: “I arise in the morning torn by a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world.” But this dual desire is a bit problematic, for White continues, “This makes it hard to plan the day” (77). I hope you will plan to read and ponder Mike Graves’s superb book, even though doing so might complicate making your daily plans.
Leroy Seat, Ph.D., was a Baptist missionary to Japan and a full-time professor of Christian Studies and theology at Seinan Gakuin University from 1968 to 2004. He is now retired in his home state of Missouri. After 65 years as a Baptist church member, he joined a progressive Mennonite church in 2012. Find him online at: https://theviewfromthisseat.blogspot.com/
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
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