book report: 40 days without food by Russ Masterson

The Christian discipline of fasting is exotic to me. I can't resist books about fasting. This year I completed my first hungry Lenten fast, 40 days without breakfast or lunch. I've done Lenten fasts which were more about abstentions from one thing in particular but not entire meals in general before this year. But Russ Masterson explored a more intense fast, no meals, just grape juice and V8 for 40 days.

The books chapters are based on journal entries over those 40 days. This format lends itself to poignancy and banality. I'll give an example of each. A)"I keep struggling with the same issue, the same distrust of a good God who I doubt has a plan for my passions and gifts. It’s all selfishness and disbelief, an amazing amount of each of those. I have a plan and a picture and God isn’t cooperating." B)"The lady with the coupons then began asking questions about the bananas. Who has questions about bananas? I wanted to grab one and shove it in her eye socket. I formed reasons why this horrible lady should be tied up and left in the ice cream freezer. And why the incompetent cashier should lose her job and starve like I am. Just short of grabbing a knife off aisle three and stabbing everyone in the place, I realized they were not the problem. I was the problem. I was my own problem."

Masterson blends a few real people into one foil for his story, Mac. Mac whispers deep things into Masterson's life, but for all I can tell, Mac might as well have been Donald Miller's book, A million miles in a thousand years, which I've previously reviewed, because Mac encourages Masterson to live a good story. For example, Masterson writes, "but I’ve come to believe the greatest offense to God isn’t failure—it’s doing nothing with what you’ve been given. Some people’s greatest stories are what latte they ordered at Starbuck’s. It’s just not a good story.”

He is honest that this fast is a strain on his wife of less than half a year. "Kristy’s tears really bothered me. I hate that I’ve neglected her, all in the name of spirituality. It’s all so backward, and I’m not sure how to reconcile it. It just seems wrong. It’s unfortunate our loved ones often get the worst of us. We pour ourselves out all day and leave nothing for them." I'm glad he acknowledges his cluelessness. I wish, since he is employed as a pastor now, he would have provided answers to those issues. How could he have been a caring husband in the midst of his fast?

His fast took place 6 years ago, before the current economic recession, so his dissatisfaction with his non-ministerial job rings hollow in this era, when 1 out of every 10 adults are not looking for their dream jobs, but any job to provide for themselves and their families. His interspersed flashbacks and flashforwards help with the pacing of the book. However, they also reveal privilege that most readers, like myself, can only envy (I confess my sin). A honeymoon in Hawaii, a trip to the beach of Costa Rica nine months after the baby is born, but without the baby, are very nice trips indeed. I don't think it is Masterson's intention to infer that his 40 day fast was rewarded by God with a new job in the field of his dreams and trips to exotic locales, but he does not seek to prevent that line from being drawn. He seeks to inspire his readers, as did Donald Miller, to seek God's better story, and his book does take on the mantle of the inspirational genre towards the end. But it's more of a meandering journal, with excursions onto the topic of marriage. It lacks focus. But if read as a kind of devotional, a genre which is not expected to have one focus from beginning to end, it works. I hope that Masterson returns to this raw material again and brings out of it a concentrated work on fasting and the work God does in those times.

I read this book on my Kindle for free in exchange for a review from
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