Would Jesus want his followers to drink Budweiser, or some locally produced craft beer? Would he urge them to eat Wonder Bread, or a freshly baked 12-grain loaf? These are the kind of questions one can't help but think of when reading John J. Thompson's Jesus, Bread and Chocolate. In fact, this intriguing volume might be described as a collection of object lessons for grown-ups. You remember object lessons, don't you? Sometimes called children's sermons, object lessons involved pastors taking some common everyday item, and using it to illustrate a theological point or to teach a moral principle. Lots of preachers still use them, including from time to time me. And arguably, Jesus used object lessons all the time--however we usually call those parables.
But I digress. The objects Thompson writes about all fall into the general category of artisanal products. Handmade, hand crafted, individualized things like craft beer, fair trade coffee, home baked bread . . . you get the idea. Part of the book's charm lies in the details Thompson provides about the objects themselves. He is a home brewer himself, and lovingly describes the process of creating beer. "The grain must first be malted," he writes, by exposing it to just enough moisture so that the germ inside starts to grow." (165) That kind of detail is offered up for coffee, chocolate, farmers markets and indie music. Again and again he makes the point that what makes such things extra fine is the simple fact that they are not produced by machines and assembly lines, but rather by individuals who truly care about the end result.
The key to understanding Thompson's book can be found in the final paragraphs of his text where he writes: "In confirmation class, I learned that a sacrament is 'an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.' Therefore, cultivating taste for the good, the true, and the beautiful is a sacramental process. How amazing is that? There are outward and visible signs everywhere around us." (254) Things that can be found in places like farmers markets or small local bakeries. Throughout the book he attempts to point out the "inward and spiritual grace" tucked away in such common things--much like the germ inside the grain.
As Thompson's half-title indicates, he is advocating for "crafting a handmade faith in a mass-market world" or what he calls "an artisanal faith." Occasionally he gets lost in the details, but for the most part he successfully makes his point. His object lessons work.
Thompson's book can be read cover to cover, or, one could benefit from picking out the chapters that intrigue and gleaning the wisdom contained in those so chosen. To some extent, Thompson's writing is at its best when he focuses on very tangible objects and the lessons they have to convey. It is less successful when he strays into the abstract.
Which brings me back to my original questions. I'm not sure how Thompson would answer them. However, despite Bud being the self-proclaimed King of Beers, I suspect he would have us understand that the local craft beer would be the choice of the King of Kings. And even though Wonder Bread claims to build strong bodies twelve ways . . . well, you figure it out!
(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255)
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