A Review of Soul Graffiti…Introduction

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 30, 2007

For almost a month, I’ve been promising to give a review of Mark Scandrette’s new book Soul Graffiti. I thought about doing a one-page review, but rejected that idea. Instead, I want to give the book more of my attention…I want to write a worthy review. And so, each week I will review a section of the book (Soul Graffiti is divided into 4 parts). Next week, I’ll take a look at Part 1…this week I’ll focus on the preface and introduction.

But before I begin my review, let me make a disclaimer: I am friends with Mark Scandrette. He is one of my favorite people. I haven’t known him that long, but he’s the sort of guy that I’ve already decided I want to know for the rest of my life. Folks like that are rare in life–the sort of person you instantly connect to. From what I hear, he has that sort of effect on people–he’s creative, charismatic, and a bit eccentric. And so, given my affinity for the guy, I am a biased reviewer.

On the flip side, however, my affinity for Mark gives me the benefit of knowing something that many people don’t know about their authors: is this author practicing what he preaches? The answer is: “Yes.” Though Mark travels around a bit speaking, he isn’t one of those authors who writes abstractly about ideas they’ve barely explored. This book flows out of his life and the life of his community.

Soul Graffiti has been getting some buzz, here and there, but not enough buzz. Most of the review out there are short and pithy. But this book isn’t the sort of cheap fluff that can be quickly consumed and digested. This book is poetic–and all good poetry requires a degree of discipline. It isn’t organized by trite chapter titles and nifty sidebar comments. Most mediocre books only require a skim and you’ve got the meat. You know the books–one needs only read the chapter titles, the first and last paragraphs of each chapter, and the conclusion to get the gist and then move on. And usually a deeper read ends in frustrations, for all-too-often the thousands of mediocre Christain books are poorly written and cheap. They are good sermons turned into poor books for quick profit.

But Soul Graffit needs to be embraced. You must emerse yourselve within its pages. I tried to skim it and found myself PROFOUNDLY frustrated. But then I began to read…to actually read through the book. Once I gave the book the sort of attention I only pay to “literature” did it begin to give up its treasures.

And that is what this book is: it is literature. It is prose. It isn’t the trite eruptions of a would-be writer. It is the work of a craftsman.

The preface sets off the tone for the books. In the first paragraph, the stage is set:

In many religious traditions, Christian faith, as it has been shaped culturally, has brepared people to die, but has not equipped them to live well amid the complexities of contemporary culture…Many of us find ourselves searching, not only for a way to believe, but also for a way of life.

This book is an exploration of the that way of life. And instead of exploring it abstractly, it firmly roots itself within the life and experience of Mark Scandrette and his adventures in San Francisco. But–and here’s the thing I enjoy the most about Soul Graffiti–it doesn’t do so stupidly. I find that most most books in the “Christian Living” or “Ministry” sections of the Christian book store are not only poorly written, but also insulting to my intellegence.

The introduction continues to set the stage for the rest of the book–it cries out for an integrated faith that stands up in the midst of our fragmented lives. It is in the midst of this fragmentation that our souls cry out for a life that makes sense–one that “clicks.” We don’t long for a system of thought–for a Jesus who simply paid the price for our sins or who helps us get through the bad times. We long for a radical Christ who is present in our lives–whose eyes dance with creativity and energy. We long for a Christ who experiences our lives with us in the depths, but who also invites us to drink deeply of the Divine.

Scandrette depicts Jesus as a Companion (whose arms are open wide to all people), an Artist (whose imagination explored the depths of God’s kingdom), a Healer (who was present to the hungry, thirsty, sick, lonely, and imprisoned), and a Mystic (who dwelled in God’s presence and found, through contemplative prayer, the power to love).

Scandrette invites us on a journey–to experience THIS Jesus and and follow in his footsteps. Soul Graffiti is a call to discipleship in our post-Christian, fragmented world. Pick up your stencil and your can of paint: we’ve got some soul graffiti to paint.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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    I've been eying this book for a little while and planning on reading it at some point. I must say your review pt.1 is very compelling. Soul Graffiti is going to the top of my list. From what you've told me about Mark and his community he really does seem like one of those guys who is writing from his experiences rather than abstract ideas. Maybe we (Missio Dei) should talk about what we can learn and implement from this book. peace Brother Mark.


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