Book Review Friday: When Donkeys Talk by Tyler Blanski

_233_380_Book.792.coverLet’s be real. If this book were a movie, it would have a great trailer promising you hours of excitement and a journey into enchanted. But in reality, it would go straight to DVD.

I wanted to like this book. I liked his previous book, Mud & Poetry. However, this book fell flat. It was disjointed and that made it hard to really focus. Without reading the already-written book summary, I think I would have a hard time summarizing this book. I would be half-way through a chapter, and I would find myself thinking, “What is he even talking about?” Then out of nowhere, he’s mentioning donkeys again.

Tyler Blanski “set out on a Holy Pilgrimage to rediscover the saints, stars, and beauty of Christianity for the twenty-first century. Rich with deep application for living in the modern world, When Donkeys Talk is an invitation to become enchanted again with Christ and his world,” according to the book’s description. Sounds great, right? Maybe the lesson I learned is to not over-promise in your book description.

He includes conversations he has with his friends. I suppose he includes them because they are random and they are about talking donkeys—which feels like might be the only thing this book is about. I have a lot of random conversations with my friends but no one is about to give me a book deal.

What I liked: He has a way with words and can really paint an image with his words. It is clear he values art and he sees beauty in the world. I really respect and appreciate that. I often get very caught up in the hustle of life that I rarely slow down or stop. He wants there to be a holy renaissance.

He said some really great things. He said some things I even agree with. “Not every church has a Christian liturgy.” True. And: “many of us have picked up the idea that the Lord’s supper is only a dry custom and eating bread and drinking wine while ‘thinking about God.’ It is so much more than a mental gymnastic.” Also true.

I really enjoyed his section on the Lord’s Supper and sacraments. It almost redeemed the whole book for me. Almost, but not quite. Plus he quotes N. T. Wright, and I love N. T. Wright. However, I can’t find myself recommending this book when I would rather just recommend books he mentions. But, I did enjoy his writing on Communion. It was nothing new to me (but it may be new to some—not everyone is a Ministry major like me).

“To participate in the Eucharist is to participate in the love of Jesus and his universal church in a real and transformational way. We become a communion, a living covenant.”

Yes, yes. I like that. He also says the Lord’s Supper re-members us. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard and read that, but it was good to be reminded.

In in the middle of a book that was otherwise not my cup of tea, I liked reading what he had to say about liturgy:

“Christians have almost always and everywhere developed a liturgy, a way of living and participating in the heavenly song. It’s a way to return to the cosmic dance, to stop making everyone and everything orbit around us but to allow ourselves to orbit around Christ. Liturgy helps us join the goodly fellowship of saints in having personal peace and forgiveness and bringing shalom to the whole world.”

What I didn’t like: All of the chapters were short and felt choppy. For the most part, I like his writing style. It is laid-back and conversational, but I struggled with the content.

He makes a lot of references throughout the book, which proves he is well-read. However, it is too much packed in too little. I felt like overall it was scattered-brained. He makes a lot of various points, but they don’t stick. They don’t connect.

He also mentions his “medieval-style beard” a few times. We get it. You like the Middle Ages. God uses magic. You really like to talk about donkeys by calling them “ass.” We get it. Sometimes his language just came across as babble, and it felt unauthentic.

He promises big things at the beginning of the book. He invites you on a journey, offering to be a guide of sorts. However, it reminds me of the time I was in Swaziland. We were determined to visit Piggs Peak. More specifically, we wanted to see Harmon F. Schmelzenbach’s grave (because he is a great Nazarene missionary). To get to his grave, you travel steep and dusty roads. We were going with our friends from Richard’s Bay, who did not know how to get there. They stopped and asked for directions. Whoever we asked wanted to be helpful, so they pointed us in a direction. It was not the right direction at all, but they wanted to be helpful. I feel like Tyler wants to be helpful and understand, but ultimately, he just leaves us wondering aimlessly on a mountain.

I didn’t I disliked this book because I disagreed with some of his ideas. In fact, this book made me think about a lot of things. I believe part of being a theologian is to get people to seek to find the answers for hard questions. It made me ask a lot of vital questions. I believe very strongly that we should continue to read people and listen to people we don’t agree with. It is in engaging with the other that we find they are not so different than we are.

I appreciate Tyler’s heart in seeing something wrong with Church/Christian culture and wanting to change it, but I also think I’ll be fine if I don’t hear about donkeys in a while.

Overall, I give this book two out of five stars.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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