[This is a review of Jake Owensby, A Resurrection-Shaped Life: Dying and Rising on Planet Earth (Abingdon Press, 2018), 111 pp. — My regular blog article partly based upon this book can be found here.]
Author of three previous books, including Gospel Memories: How Future Can Rewrite Our Past (2016), Dr. Jake Owensby (b. 1957), Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, has written this new book about resurrection not as a theological treatise but as a practical guide for seeing the significance of resurrection for our daily lives now in this world.
The author’s central assertion is stated clearly in the Prelude: Jesus’ “resurrection is shaping our everyday, ordinary lives” (p. xiv). This work of grace is illustrated by the Japanese use of kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with gold dust. That sort of mending becomes an ongoing image of a resurrection-shaped life.
Much of the first part of Owensby’s slim book is based on the story of his remarkable mother, who was 20 years old when she emigrated by herself from Europe to the U.S. He ends the first chapter by stating that just as his mother was inspired to set sail for a new world, Jesus invited us all “to leave an old world, an old life, behind and to set sail for a resurrection-shaped life” (p. 14).
Trudy, author Owensby’s mother, was not a Jew, but she was sentenced to a Nazi death camp for being “an antisocial element.” After being freed, she embraced “two related marks of a resurrection-shaped life. First, she embraced life with an inextinguishable sense of hope.” The second mark was “a compassion that made her frightfully vulnerable to the suffering and the sorrows of others” (pp. 20-21). Indeed, hopefulness and compassion are key characteristics of a resurrection-shaped life.
“Recovering from Shame and Blame” is the title of Owensby’s perceptive third chapter. Sharing his own boyhood experience of shame, which he describes as “a strong and painful feeling of deep unworthiness” (p. 34), he asserts that overcoming shame “involves changing our minds about ourselves”–and the good news is that “Jesus came in part to help us do precisely that” (p. 36). Moreover, “Jesus shows us that God is a healer, not a blamer” (p. 39), and this helps us move from blaming others to having compassion, that core characteristic of a resurrection-shaped life.
In the following chapter, Owensby asserts that “it’s in the depths of loss and sorrow that hope brings us to new life” (p. 51). Jesus had said to his disciples, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matt. 5:4). Even though they did not understand this as they mourned Jesus’ crucifixion, they experienced that blessedness when Jesus was resurrected. So, “the resurrection of Christ gives new meaning to our experience of grief” (p. 52). Those who live a resurrection-shaped life embrace, and are embraced by, the blessing of hope in the midst of grief.
The last two chapters relate the resurrection-shaped life to justice. “Our compassion,” he writes, “expands into a passion for justice” (p. 70). That is because “the resurrection refines and deepens our perception of other people.” Thus, “From the perspective of the resurrection, there is just us. There is no longer an us opposed to a them. We are one” (p. 80).
In his Postlude, Owensby states, “The resurrection-shaped life we lead in our ordinary coming and goings foreshadows life beyond this life” (p. 97). This leads to his important assertion that “resurrection is not the same thing as what philosophers call the immortality of the soul. And that’s a crucial distinction for understanding the idea of a resurrection-shaped life” (p. 98).
A Resurrection-Shaped Life is a book that I found it insightful and inspiring. I recommend it to all who are interested in thinking deeply about what it means not just to “believe” in the resurrection but actually to live a life shaped by that belief.