Review: Ordinary by Tony Merida

ordinaryTony Merida, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down, B&H Publishing Group: Nashville, 2015. 137 pages.

Who wants to be ordinary? For much of the last few decades, the church has encouraged those devoted to Jesus to be radical and extraordinary, to be transformed, and to embrace the shocking message of Jesus. Tony Merida’s Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down joins a growing trend in the church that recognizes the importance of, to use the title of a Eugene Peterson book, ‘a long, slow obedience in the same direction.’ Instead of a team of radicals, I concur with Merida and others that we need a community that does the hard, ordinary work of following Jesus and loving their neighbor. This is what grows disciples. As the American church seeks to recover the relationship between deep faith in the person of Jesus as well as ordinary discipleship into the way of Jesus, we need a book like Merida’s Ordinary.

Merida begins by speaking of the relationship between faith in Christ and the work of justice. Justice is a response to God’s abundant grace and must be motivated by grace. It is not a ‘good work’ that earns our way into heaven, but it is also not an optional add-on for ‘super-Christians.’ Instead, all who trust Christ alone for their salvation are called to the ordinary, difficult work of loving their neighbor. The majority of the book focuses on just that task. For Merida, the command to love our neighbor includes both mercy and mission, because we do not truly love the whole of our neighbors if we address only physical or spiritual needs. We must address both. Merida goes on to tackle neighbor-love by speaking of ordinary hospitality around the table, care for the orphan, widow, and alien, and the Christian work of advocacy for the oppressed and voiceless. At every point, Merida roots his reflections in the character and work of God as revealed in Scripture.

This book was challenging for me on a personal level. Merida unflinchingly presents the call of Christ for ordinary disciples to love their neighbor. While at times Ordinary seems to call us to do something extraordinary, Merida sees that as precisely the problem. Caring for the widow, the orphan, and the poor in the context of real, tangible relationships while also sharing the good news of Christ with them should be not extraordinary, but part of the ordinary call of Christ. It is not the ‘super-Christians’ who care for the least of these and share the gospel, but it is the call for all of us who are ordinary Christians. In particular, Merida challenged my passivity to ministries of mercy and evangelism. I have been content to wait for those in need to cross my path instead of recognizing that every person I meet is a neighbor I am called to love. I have been content to feel pity and compassion for the fatherless suffering in other places, instead of recognizing and seeking them in my own community.

Merida recognizes that the ordinary work of discipleship in the way of Jesus requires community, prayer, and grace. But it also requires simple obedience and love for the people in front of us and it requires wisdom to face the complex challenges of our world. Ordinary provides encouragement and direction by connecting readers to a number of agencies and resources for loving your local neighbor.

Ordinary is a book for all of us who long to know how to love the weak, the poor, and the marginalized in our communities. But it is also a book for those of us who don’t find that task very important, but need to see God’s heart toward the outsiders. As Merida describes his own journey, “If you think you don’t need this book, then it’s especially for you. I didn’t think a study on the poor would impact me either. But maybe you’ll recognize some blind spots in your life, like I did.”

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