HOLY NOMAD: The Rugged Road to Joy. By Matt Litton. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012. 207 pp.
I often use the term journey to describe my own faith, and I’m not alone. Being a person of faith is not a static thing – or at least it shouldn’t be static. Our faith is intended to be organic and growing. The term nomad isn’t one I normally turn to, but it has biblical roots. Abraham was a nomad. Deuteronomy speaks of him as “a wandering Aramean was my father” (Deut. 26:5). The people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness before settling down in Canaan. Jesus was an itinerant preacher, who had no place to lay his head.
The nomadic image drives the story line in Matt Litton’s book about pursuing a road that leads to joy. We often are, he suggests, nomads stuck in a basement suffering from “Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome.” That is, people are religious but not experiencing joy. They’re stuck in place and resist the journey that leads to joy.
Like the prisoner of war, we’re pardoned, but are too comfortable with our surroundings to leave. We would much prefer to remain prisoners to our own constructs” (pp. 20-21).
That is, we willingly let ourselves get caught in a “dark and joyless cell from which we’ve been freed” (p. 21).
It is this journey out of the cell that the author takes up in this book. He suggests that we’re intended to be nomads, and that we follow Jesus, the “Holy Nomad.” As a metaphor for the journey, Litton turns to an old TV show from my childhood – Kung Fu. Like Caine, the Buddhist monk who traveled across the Old West, encountering resistance but bringing a sense of justice and rightness to the world, we too take up this quest. We carry with us baggage including trust and imagination. Unlike Caine, however, we don’t take the nomadic journey alone. We go with our tribe, as family. And as such we live out the Great Commandment, care for creation and our neighbors, while serving as peacemakers.
We’re sustained along the way by worship, by addressing sin, and most of all, finding joy in the journey.
I’m offering a brief response to this book which a publicist friend shared with me. The premise is a good one – the nomadic journey, taken in partnership with the Holy Nomad, should be and is life-changing. It is a journey that moves us out of prisons of hopelessness into the joy of God’s presence. It’s a journey that changes our lives. Although the nomadic image is a good one, I'm reminded that Diana Butler Bass wrote a book a number of years ago encouraging us to move from being nomads to pilgrims. The latter has a more firm sense of destination than the former.
It’s a good book, written for a general audience. It’s quick reading and conversational in style. My only real critique is that I never really come to know the author. I sense that the author is a moderate evangelical Christian, but I really never get a sense of who he is. What is his background, his history? Where did his sense of being a nomad arise from? He mentions stories, but I’m left wanting more depth and more transparency. I’m left with the sense that he’s a professional writer who is a Christian and seeks to write for a Christian audience. But, why should I attend to his message? That being said, he offers helpful guidance for taking the journey of faith in tandem with Jesus.