Monday, October 11, 2010

Book Review: Not Like Me

Book Review: Not Like Me
Author: Eric Michael Bryant.
Paperback: 256 pp.
Publisher: Zondervan
ISBN: 0310329965
Price: $14.99

A smart book that looks at those hard, emotional issues spawned by an uncivil religious war with reason, compassion, humor, plus a refreshing “love your neighbor as yourself” perspective.

Cohabitors. Gays. Muslims. Freaks. Homeless. Liberals. Unbelievers. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your family? What stereotypical picture pops into your head preventing you from touching others-not-like-you with Christ’s love?

Fear? Anger? Repulsion?

If you are wondering how to make ministry happen with others who make you feel uncomfortable, then this book is a must-read. Eric’s uncomfortable laugh-out-loud encounter with his wife’s fellow classmate’s lesbian partner is worth the price of the book.

I was provided a review copy of Not Like Me by Eric Michael Bryant.

What’s This Book About
We live in a diverse world filled with unprecedented opportunity. According to author Eric Bryant in Not Like Me, formerly titled Peppermint-Filled PiƱatas, we can become agents of change creating genuine unity among people from a variety of backgrounds and belief systems through our relationships.

Through humorous stories and pointed insights gleaned from Eric’s own personal experiences and failures, the experiences of others and the life and teachings of Jesus, you will discover how to move beyond ethnic, racial, cultural or ideological barriers towards genuine friendship with others.

In addition, spiritual seekers will find that when stripped away from the religion created around him, Jesus’ dream for our world is remarkable and refreshing. In this new world, we can discover how to resolve conflict, overcome bitterness, create a better future, develop diverse communities and enjoy our diverse world.

Not Like Me includes a brief article after each chapter with practical applications and questions for small groups. For more small group or sermon resources, visit www.NotLikeMe.org.

Eric Bryant’s Bio
Eric Bryant serves as an elder, speaker and navigator with the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles, a church known for its creativity and diversity. He is part of the core teams for the Mosaic Alliance and The Origins Project. Bryant completed his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership with Bethel Seminary.  He lives with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Caleb and Trevi, in the middle of Los Angeles County.

Inside the Life and Mind of the Author
Tell me a little bit about your background and your family.
I was born in California while my dad was in the Air Force. From Kindergarten through college I grew up in Texas.  I am fortunate to come from a Christian family, but I struggled to follow Jesus as a teenager. Just after college I got married to Debbie, and we moved to Seattle where we helped plant a church which had 4 senior pastors in the first 4 years. Twelve years ago we moved to Los Angeles to volunteer at Mosaic to experience a healthy church before planting our own.  Instead of planting elsewhere, I was invited to help with the youth group, then college ministry, then starting new venues, and then about 5 years ago I became a navigator.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Hobbies?
I love watching movies, playing Wii with my wife and kids, traveling, and performing stand-up comedy.

 If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
I would want to have the same super power that Bruce Willis had in Unbreakable. I want to be able to play basketball into my 70s.

What has God been teaching you lately?
I have been reading through the prophets and have been reminded of God’s passion for people.  Even as stubborn as they were (and they were really stubborn), he would continue to send messengers to warn them of the consequences of their continued rebelliousness.  Ultimately, God loves people so much more than we do.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a professional basketball player. At 5’8” I would have had a better shot at becoming a gymnast or jockey.

Where are you headed next?
My passion remains communicating and catalyzing community for the mission of Jesus wherever I may be.  Right now at Mosaic I am helping as the campus pastor at both the Pasadena and West Los Angeles campuses, but our roles are always changing according to what is needed.

How did you get involved in writing?
I wrote my first book in 5th grade.  It was an intergalactic adventure called “Thysar and the Benay.”  It was never published.  In college I wrote a devotional book which was also never published.  Most of my writing has come in the form of my journal and my blog posts.  Writing has always helped me to express better what I am going through, experiencing, and learning.

What was the most difficult aspect of the writing process?
I am an extrovert to the highest degree, so sitting still to actually begin writing poses a challenge to me at times.

What did you enjoy most about the writing process?
By taking the time to sit still and reflect, I hear God’s voice more clearly than when I don’t do that. I learn from Him when I take the time to write.

How do you find time to write?
I try to write a little bit each day, mostly in my journal, on my website, on twitter, or when working on a message.  When writing a book or my dissertation, I would sneak away for longer periods of time to really make progress. At times I would pull together what I had written elsewhere to include in the book.

What would you say to someone who wants to become a published author?
Learn to enjoy writing. I have written a great deal more that is not published than what has been published. Share what you are discovering with the people already in your community (family, church, friends, etc.).  If they don’t find what you are writing helpful then other people probably won’t either.  Give them permission to help you revise your work, and be willing to edit over and over. It took me 15 years and dozens of rejection letters or conversations before I had a book published, so I would also recommend perseverance as well.

Where did you get the idea for the book?
Erwin McManus, the lead pastor at our church in Los Angeles, encouraged me to write a book on diversity. What we have experienced here at Mosaic is quite unique in terms of the diversity of people we have reached and/or who have become leaders in our community.  People come from such ethnically, spiritually, and socio-economically different places, yet for far too long, even in diverse cities, churches have remained homogenous. I have personally failed and seen some successes in reaching out to others not like me, so I wanted to be able to help others become more effective in their own mission fields.

What are the major themes of the book?
In essence the book describes how to allow people to belong before they ever choose to believe. Too often Christians view those who do not follow Jesus as outsiders or as people to be avoided. My hope is that through this book, people of faith could become more known for their love of people no matter what they might believe, look like, or the choices they may make.  In many ways, I am advocating for the rights of those who do not yet believe.  In addition, the book helps people move from social conversations to spiritual ones.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?
I share a great deal of personal stories from my experiences as a youth pastor in Texas, as a church planter in Seattle, and as part of the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles. At the same time, I include insights from the Scriptures, seminary textbooks, and pop culture.

With which character do you, personally, identify most and why?
The biggest issue is that we don’t even try to get past cultural barriers. Sometimes we confuse the ideas of being “set apart” and being “sent out.” We are supposed to be “set apart” in our behavior but “sent out” into our relationships. Sometimes we do the opposite. We become “set apart” from the very people God has brought into our lives to love, serve, and influence. It’s human nature to spend time with the people who are most like us because of our self-centered tendencies. Another big part of the problem would be our more consumeristic view of the church. At Mosaic, we strive to go against that. Our lead pastor Erwin McManus  says: “The church is not here to meet our needs. We are the church here to meet the needs of the world.” If our relationship with God was all about me and Jesus, then my pastor should have just drowned me during my baptism so I could go straight into His presence. Instead, he brought me out of the water because there is much more for me to do. I now represent Jesus everywhere I go.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
My prayer is that those who read the book will be able to love, serve, and influence at least one person they had overlooked before reading the book. One of my favorite responses to the book is when I hear that someone who read the book went on to have a real breakthrough with a neighbor, co-worker, or friend. That is the best result possible!

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