Review: Of Falafels and Following Jesus

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Of Falafels and Following Jesus
Nathan Brown (with Michelle Villis and Brenton Stacey)

A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to take a subsidised trip to the Holy Lands. The offer was generous and I was tempted but found myself ambivalent about the prospect. I’m not a patient tourist at the best of times, so how would I deal with the noise, the crowds, the hawkers and visiting the “traditional” sites where Jesus “may” have been born or the last supper “might” have occurred? It all seemed a little too much to invest when, after all, Jesus doesn’t live there anymore.

But reading Nathan Brown’s latest offering, Of Falafels and Following Jesus, has given me pause. Brown outlines his aims for the book early on: it was conceived of and written to share the travel experience with people who will never make it to the Holy Lands; to revitalise the memories of those who have gone before; and for readers who, like me, are curious about what such a trip might offer—but not yet ready to take the leap.

The book is equal parts travel journal, devotional, history lesson and spiritual reflection, with a little bird-watching thrown in for good measure. And my experience of reading it was much like a pilgrimage itself—some sections resonate deeply, some are intellectually interesting, others practical and perhaps a little tedious, while yet others draw you into deep reflection as the writers’ musings plunge into raw and honest territory.

And yes, Of Falafels and Following Jesus has multiple authors: Brown invited two fellow travellers to reflect on the journey with him. The voices of Brenton Stacey and Michelle Villis offset Brown’s thoughtful but analytical—and occasionally cynical—voice, with some of their insights providing the emotional heartbeat of the book to balance Brown’s more intellectual, probing style. The downside of a multi-author, hybrid-genre book is that it can feel disjointed at times, with some chapters covering territory already explored. But the disruption is compensated by unexpected richness and diversity of experiences and viewpoints. Stacey’s unpacking of the term “gethsemane” is brief but compelling, while Villis’ reflections on worshipping in the midst of unapologetic patriarchy highlights the revolutionary nature of Jesus’ treatment of women—clearly a message still needed today.

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