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A Little Book on Joy: Living A Good News Life in a Bad News World
by Matthew C. Harrison. Fort Wayne, IN: Lutheran Legacy Press, 2009. (212 Pages, Individual copies: $9.99; Bulk Rate for 5 or more copies: $5.99)
A Little Book on Joy is a very fitting title in a world that seems to have so little joy. At first glance, there would seem to be little to say about joy. A search on Amazon.com turns up remarkably few books on the subject of joy, many of which deal with mental health or Eastern religion. It seems that “joy” is not even a topic popular for a self-help type of book. If the self-help book market has relatively little use for “joy,” what of the Christians? While there are some Christian authors writing on “joy,” it seems that Harrison’s got it right. “So many churches, so many pastors and Christians have so little joy today . . . These are difficult times” (p. 2). Indeed, these are difficult times for many as the news media has titled the first decade of the 21st century, “The Noughties.” Even in the Church, outside of the Christmas season with “Joy to the World,” when is the message of “joy” heard?
“To my exuberant surprise, I found joy everywhere” (p. 3), Harrison writes after mining the Psalms, Moses and the Prophets, the Gospels, and the letters of Paul. His search for joy continues through Martin Luther, Walther, and the church fathers. Joy it seems, turns up over and over in the lives of those touched by the Gospel. As Harrison writes, “where there is Jesus, there is joy” (p. 8). In contrast to the run-of-the-mill, ten-step books that promise to deliver if their exercises are followed, A Little Book on Joy offers no such formula. Instead, it guides the reader to find “joy in the mud”—that is, to see how Jesus comes to us where we are at, not afraid to muddy himself in our mess. In the recognition that Jesus is right there with us, we find joy. There is comfort in Ambrose’s observation, “Even Job on his dunghill was not deserted by the Lord.” Harrison’s secret for joy is profoundly simple: “If we seek Jesus, we shall be engulfed and inundated by joy, and quite by surprise” (p. 9).
The book itself contains twenty chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of joy. After the first chapter reveals that joy is all over the place in both the Scriptures and the lives of the saints (Luther, Walther, the church fathers, et al.), the next chapters connect us with “joy” as expressed, revealed, and gifted to us by the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Chapters 2, 3, 4). Chapters 5 and 6 guide the reader to find joy in repentance and in the reconciliation brought to us by the righteousness of Christ. In other words, there is joy in confession and absolution. Chapter 7 brings us to the “community of joy,” that is, the church where “all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Chapters 8 through 20 constitute a second part of the book, describing joy in everyday life. These chapters find joy in marriage, family, humor, worship, life, creation, in the pastoral office, in giving, in weakness, and in everyday life. Throughout the book, but especially in these sections, Harrison demonstrates that he is an engaging and vivid storyteller. (See, for instance, the wife/snowmobile and the BB gun stories.) No surprise to anyone who has read other works by the author (such as At Home in the House of My Fathers), Harrison also finds great joy in Lutheranism (Chapter 19). This should do much to help put to rest the notion that confessional Lutheranism is dead, dry, or heartless. Instead of so-called “dead orthodoxy,” Harrison finds “the joy of generous, faithful Lutheranism” (p. 167). In the final chapter, joy gives us hope for the future, hope in the promises of Christ, and ultimately in our resurrection because Christ himself rose on the third day.
If this were not enough, A Little Book on Joy gathers a selection of biblical texts into a concluding section titled, “The Great Ninety Days of Joy after Joy.” This is a meditative and devotional guide to joy beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding with Pentecost. This wonderful appendix makes the book an excellent resource for both congregational and personal devotions during Lent and Pentecost. Portions of the book could even become a Lenten mid-week sermon series. Each chapter closes with study questions written by Prof. John Pless designed to lead the reader or small group into a further exploration of joy.
The forward by Rev. John Nunes, President of Lutheran World Relief, is both erudite and accessible; it is a joy itself to read. The afterward by Rev. Bernie Seter describes joy from the perspective of a parish pastor and a congregational reconciler. Also impressive is the plethora of quotations of what people all over the world are saying about A Little Book on Joy—from laypeople and churchmen, including district presidents, bishops, seminary professors, and pastors from Myanmar, Germany, Indonesia, Russia, India, Canada, Australia, Latvia, Africa, and the United States. Another final charming aspect of the book is the artwork by Rev. Kurt Onken at each chapter head. Particularly endearing is the illustration of Martin Luther playing his lute while his dog, Klutz, howls away.
To say it was a joy to read A Little Book on Joy is more than a trite truism. Joy is also found in the reasonable price of the book at $9.99 for single copies and $5.99 in bulk. No doubt this book will provide its readers with joy for many years to come and serve as an excellent resource for both personal and congregational use.