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Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (book review)

There are too many books written and marked as “Christian – General” or “Christian Inspiration.” I have read a good number of these books, and I used to like many of them. But eventually you realize that many of them are rather boring, unoriginal, and poorly written. My co-pastor Greg and I like to quote Tolkien when we talk about preaching: “Sermons – they are bad, aren’t they?”

And I feel the same about Christian books. Most of them are bad, aren’t they?

But every once in a while I’m gratefully surprised to encounter a truly good book that’s both Christian and inspiring (though I still cringe at the thought of calling it “Christian Inspiration”).

Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine arrived at my house on a Tuesday and I write this on a Wednesday after setting aside my other pile of reading to finish Bread and Wine.

It’s really good.

The book piqued my interested after seeing the trailer (how silly is it, that books have trailers? Maybe not so silly, I guess, since I watched it and was interested in reading the book.). I’m in the midst of a writing project focused on the Eucharist along with some church discussions about the role of food, hospitality, and sharing meals together so I figured a book focused on food with eucharistic undertones in the title might be interesting on multiple fronts

Niequist writes about the importance of meals in developing and maintaining relationships, celebrating life’s joys and processing tragedies, loss, and sadness. Her writing is honest and beautiful. I marked up more pages than I anticipated and shared several parts with my wife and friends.

Parts of my own life feel fragile and delicate right now, and sharing several sections of the book with my wife, we both found ourselves a bit choked up and teary-eyed at the way Niequist links food, family, and the roller coaster of life’s emotions. She’s right that food is not just about food – it is a window into the way we go about loving and living and celebrating and grieving. Food is obviously physical but undeniably spiritual.

A few snippets to share with you:

I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see thesemlves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful plan, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious. (98)

Food matters because it’s one of the things that forces us to live in this world – this tactile, physical, messy, and beautiful world – no matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals. Food is a reminder of our humanity, our fragility, our createdness. (250)

I want all of the holiness of the Eucharist to spill out beyond the church walls, out of the hands of priests and into the regular streets and sidewalks, into the hands of regular, grubby people like you and me, onto our tables, in our kitchens and dining rooms and backyards. (252)

One final thought: this book is marketed for a female audience, maybe more than I wish it had been. You’ll see it and feel it looking at the cover, flipping through the recipes woven through the book, and in some of the language used (you probably won’t catch me reading this in the bathtub, despite the back cover’s invitation!). That said, food and hospitality and the messiness of life are hugely important for people of faith and I think this book does a terrific job engaging and challenging readers on those topics. I hope the book is read by men and women alike!

Note: An early copy of the book was sent to me by the publisher and I have done my best not to let that impact my review.

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