At the heart of Kester Brewin's second non-fiction book is Miraslov Volf's question: `What sort of selves do we need to be to live in harmony with others'? A simple enough question, perhaps. But one which Brewin uses as the touch paper to ignite a brave, generous, wide-ranging and challenging exploration of the essential task facing us all as humans: to love ourselves, God and our neighbours in a `world of fractures.'
And he gives us an incredibly broad range of references and tools with which to re-imagine our task: from philosophy to quantum physics, and from theology and sociology. Sometimes the sheer speed and spectrum of these references can feel dizzying. But trust me: you won't feel battered or ill-read in the end. Instead, there is something for all readers here. Something to catch the way almost any mind and heart might work, I'd guess. And this, too, is part of the genius of the book.
On another level, Other is a deeply personal and candid book. Brewin knits in very real and vulnerable examples from his own life - as a teacher, an emerging church leader and parent - but he is never maudlin or sentimental in doing so. Rather he is saying: look, this is how learning to love the other has looked like for me - what will it look like for you, where you are?
Among the many great seams of thought and research Brewin mines and then embraces and makes part of his project, perhaps of the most inspirational is his building on Hakim Bey's idea of Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs). Above all, it is this idea that has haunted me most since reading the book. In particular, the idea that we all need to give up our addiction to permanence as a virtue to be so slavishly pursued. When what TAZs show us, Brewin argues, is that transitory spaces can have amazing and immense transformational effect; providing some of the most fruitful ground on which people can learn to love themselves, God and one an-other.
Because there's a deep personal resonance, Brewin cites Greenbelt Festival (which he is heavily involved in as a volunteer, helping to book its talks programme each year) as one such space: a space where festivalgoers and the land they occupy is, for a time, librated; where they see how the world might be different, how they might love one-an-other.
What I most liked about the book, on reflection, is the sheer amount of fuel it supplied for application into my own context and life (and I'm sure the same will be true of all those who read it). Learning to love and live with `the other' - in ourselves, in terms of whatever Big Other we ascent to, and the others with whom we share our day-to-day lives and space - is the most important knack in being human. Brewin's book doesn't prescribe a one-size-fits-all answer as to how we might do better at this high calling. Rather, he offers us insights, new angles - irritants and inspirations - to spur us into being more intentional and lovingly self-critical in our loving and living with one-an-other.
The book is also deeply confessional. Time and time again, Brewin sees no better archetype to offer up to us in the living out of what he is pointing to than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And, staring and finishing his wondering in Bethlehem, Palestine, we are reminded that we need to find ways of loving the other in a world of fractures (and walls) if we are ever to live in peace. True empathy teaches us that the graffiti in the Separation Wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem is right: `we are all Palestinians.' We are all other.