A Mile Wide: A Review

I will be honest with you, I found Brandon through his wife Jen. My love for her is well-documented, and I often gravitate toward blogs, books, and seminars led by honest, insightful, hilarious women like her. I found my way to Jen’s break out group at a college ministry retreat many years ago, drove up to Memphis to stay the night with my godmother and get a huge hug from Glennon Doyle Melton after a brutiful talk at the downtown Presbyterian church just a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t wait to join some of my favorite women in Chicago for Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held EvansWhy Christian? Conference this fall. These women are my jam, and theirs are the books that always go with me to the beach, which is, as you know, my happy place. Thank goodness, Brandon Hatmaker has the good sense to be married to one of these phenomenal females, and I’m so happy to add him to the fold of authors who challenge and captivate me.

 

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Brandon’s new book, A Mile Wide, is available for pre-order now (see his website or click the cover above to grab it from Amazon), and after devouring my Advanced Reader’s Copy in a single afternoon, I can tell you,  this is one to check out. This book invites us to get unsettled, uncomfortable, and out into the unfamiliar, remembering that making our way to the margins of our communities is, paradoxically, the only sure-fire way I know to draw closer to the center of our faith.

 

If you’re at all familiar with Brandon and Jen’s story, you will know that they’re no strangers to radical lifestyle changes in the name of discipleship. Brandon gave up a secure ministry position at an established church where he and Jen comfortably “blessed the blessed” as she puts it, to get to know their neighbors living on the streets, establish a new mission-oriented congregation called Austin New Church, and eventually found and run the Legacy Collective, an organization focused on collaborating with local and international partners to address systemic social issues around the world, all because of that pesky, persistent little calling to follow Jesus with all they had. In A Mile Wide, Brandon invites us to ask ourselves the kinds of questions that lead to that kind of revolutionary discipleship.

 

Simple, yet dangerous, Brandon reminds us to look again at Christ and to take our cue from his posture in the world. So often we focus on being invitational, assuming a hospitable spirit that welcomes visitors and strangers is the aim of Christian living. But Brandon reminds us that Jesus didn’t just wait around to “let the children come to me,” Jesus took the initiative to meet people wherever they were, starting with relinquishing a position of comfort at the right hand of the Father to embrace our human condition and live among and within us. The sanctuary doesn’t feel like a safe place for everyone, so Brandon encourages us to find out what does and focus our love and attention there. We’re invited to slip quietly from our designated pew and take a walk through our neighborhoods with the intention to “taste and see” what God is already doing there. We’re invited to ask questions, re-evaluate our place, and make changes where God calls for it, over and over again. Complacency has no place here: we’re not simply going with the flow on the surface, we’re diving deep into the heart of the ocean.

 

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This is not a book about increasing programming or following a formula into deeper discipleship, it’s a 200 page reminder that God grants all of us an innate need to belong to one another. To meet that need for ourselves and one another though, we have to drop the Sunday morning smiles and chit-chat. We have to be brave enough to choose vulnerability and openness over the appearance of holding it together. In Brandon’s description of his friend Crump I heard echoes of too many of us: “He hungered for community but didn’t trust his Sunday school class or weekly small group. He felt as if he was the only one willing to be honest.” Who else has been there? {*Raises hand*} Brandon encourages us to be vulnerable in our relationships, to be the one who will speak the truth and name the elephants in the room, because there is a very good chance everyone else is just praying somebody will take the dive already and give them permission to do the same.

 

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With a mix of personal stories, practical advice, and theological reflection, over and over again we’re given the opportunity to broaden our view of the Gospel, of the church, and of what it means to be a Christian in our communities.

 

 

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