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O2:  Breathing New Life into Faith
Artist: Richard Dahlstrom
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Length: 270 Pages
“Take a deep breath” the computer program Skype reminds me, as I wait for it to whir into life on my computer.  Almost without thinking, I obey, and almost imperceptibly I feel my body relaxing, my muscles loosening, and my mind clearing.  Every time this happens I find myself aware, for a few brief minutes, of my breathing, and I pay attention as I inhale and exhale.  Without the constant intake of oxygen, my body will simply cease to function in a relatively short amount of time.  Likewise, I need to rid my body of the potentially harmful carbon dioxide that is the bi-product of the respiratory process.  In Richard Dahlstrom’s book O2: Breathing New Life into Faith, he uses the simple and yet profound rhythm of breathing to illustrate the need for balance between the many different kinds of spiritual disciplines that ought to mark the life of a believer.  
Dahlstrom’s book is unique in its focus.  There are many books out there about what he calls the “inhaling disciplines,” practices meant to foster individual spiritual growth and renewal (prayer, fasting, silence, Bible reading, etc.).  Likewise, there are almost as many books about what Dahlstrom labels the “exhaling disciplines,” disciplines that are focused outward on service, generosity, and working against injustice, to name a few.  Unfortunately, Dahlsrom argues, many in the church have emphasized one of these kinds of spirituality over and against the other:  “Champions of inhaling, who represent our need to receive life-giving strength from Christ through things like study, prayer, and silence, treat the exhalers, who represent our need to serve and be involved in the issues of this world, with varying degrees of disdain, often portraying them as proponents of a different gospel, a different Jesus.  Meanwhile the exhalers have turned a suspicious eye toward the inhalers, who are so heavenly minded with their praying, reading, fasting, and solitude that they are no earthly good” (11).  This book is an attempt to bring both parts of the breathing rhythm into balance, challenging Christians to think holistically about spiritual disciplines.
Part of Dahlstrom’s thesis is that it is the exhaling disciplines that are a good way to offer the nonbeliever or the new believer a place to begin a relationship with the church.  To ignore people’s need to exhale is to risk portraying Christianity as nothing more than a private, interior religion that has little to do with the day-to-day realities of living in a broken and hurting world.  This is to risk alienating a new believer as she becomes “one of the millions of faith casualties who started down the road of following Jesus but eventually becomes sadly disenchanted with the whole thing. Her own passions for living in a more just, clean, and hopeful world may find little room for expression among those communities concerned predominantly with the development of the interior life, certain lifestyle constrictions, and habits of the heart” (21).  Dahlstrom urges Christians to copy Jesus’ model of evangelism, which was to invite people to follow Him first (exhale), and then to help them understand their need for good clean air (inhale).  Part Two of the book details several different “exhaling” disciplines, including moving out of comfort zones in order to be a blessing to others, understanding the real nature of building God’s kingdom, serving others, extending hospitality, and generosity.
The other half of the equation is, of course, everyone’s need for oxygen, to inhale.  We get so busy, so engrossed in our work on behalf of Christ and His Kingdom that we forget to nurture our souls, to pause and consider our vantage point, to simply rest.  “The fact that we can easily bypass the regular habits of inhaling has led many to believe that no oxygen for the spirit exists, that such habits are a mirage, a waste of time.  Having dabbled in these habits at different times and having seen no results, we discard them.  Making matters more difficult, we can quickly point to people who lack any silence, solitude, Sabbath or prayer in their lives.  And they appear to be getting on with life just fine” (32).  In Part Three, Dahlstrom details the “inhaling disciplines”:  appreciating and being taught by Creation, the re-fueling that happens in times of solitude, the invitation to the intimacy of prayer, the problems with and some suggestions for reading the Bible, the practice of silence and the importance of Sabbath rest.  
The body of the book is packed with clear explanations, helpful suggestions, and personal illustrations.  Intended to be a general survey of several different kinds of disciplines, rather than an in-depth look at any one in particular, this book would be an extraordinary resource for the new or not-yet believer.  Dahlstrom’s background as both a Bible teacher and a pastor are in evidence as he conveys concern for the reader’s spirit, mind, and soul.  He concludes the book with an encouragement to develop a “rule of life” characterized not by a soul-destroying legalism but by a life-giving adaptation to the rhythms that energize, focus, and sustain our Christian faith.  
My main critique of this book is that I believe Dahlstrom relies too heavily on personal experience to support and illustrate a great deal of his points.  Not only would more outside resources offer additional credence to his arguments, but they would also serve as jumping off points for people who find themselves interested in one particular kind of discipline and who want to learn more.  There are numerous authors who have explored some of these practices at length and with great care and concern and including them would have been of service to interested readers.  Along these same lines, I think this is the kind of book that could have benefited from the inclusion of questions for group discussion, as I could easily imagine it being used in churches and small groups in the context of Christian education.  
In recent years, I have heard many decry the absence of “Generation Next” in today’s churches.  Young people are growing up in the church and then, once they reach their twenties and are “on their own,” they leave, never to return.  I have read articles explaining why this is happening, analyses of the situation, and strategic plans for “winning them back”.  It seems that, in general, these younger people sense a discontinuity between the needs they perceive in their day-to-day lives and what the church is offering as a solution to those needs.  Forced to choose between a faith that over-emphasizes personal piety and looks with suspicion on social justice and creation care on the one hand, and an almost completely outward-looking religion which seems to largely ignore our culture’s growing interest in and desire for inner spirituality on the other, many of these people simply opt out altogether.  It seems to me, however, that Dahlstrom’s book offers a third way that can encourage all Christians to see the ultimate relevance of their faith to life in the 21st century.  It might be that we all simply need to be reminded to breathe.   
Jennifer Monroe



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