“This book isn’t an argument to make or a point to take.
It isn’t a single story with a plot and a climax and a denouement,
and it doesn’t have a simple three-step program to follow with nicely spaced headers.”
Out of Sorts, p.2
Sarah Bessey speaks my language.
If you haven’t yet decided to read this book, I hope you do. Sarah is an engaging writer, weaving you in and out of tales from her life, engaging your heart and mind carefully yet honestly. On that basis alone, the book is worth it. I like good writing, and this is excellent writing.
But this is also a book for people who are trying to figure it out, those who don’t have it all together but are compelled by the beauty and truth of the Jesus story. Now I know “people who are trying to figure it out” sounds like bad salesmanship when approached from a Christian perspective. Because so much of what we talk about in church is approached from the opposite angle.
We savor our answers instead of engaging our questions.
We embrace the concrete rather than pursing the mystery.
We speak with certainty instead of voicing our doubts.
One of my favorite writers/speakers is Dr. Brené Brown, who has done a ton of research on shame and vulnerability. She often talks about how one way we cope with the fear and vulnerability of the world is through numbing. (She discusses this in her famous TED talk. Start at 15:20 of this video.) When it comes to religion, we often numb ourselves with certainty. So instead of believing in faith and mystery, it becomes about being certain and arguing for our own positions.
But we can’t numb discriminately. When we numb fear, we also numb joy. When we numb vulnerability, we also numb thanksgiving and happiness.
This is why I so appreciate how Bessey begins her book. It’s a place to which I can relate.
“It was somehow easier when life and faith and God were an exercise in rule making and literalism, in black-and-white cause and effect.” Out of Sorts, p.5
That one hit home.
Since I grew up in the church, my faith journey started at an early age. The formative years of faith are all about building a worldview — learning the story, categorizing and understanding the world through the lens of Scripture. Things are solid, manageable, simple.
Then the teenage years (whether literal or a type of spiritual adolescence) come along, and everything gets reassessed. This is part of the reason I love working with teenagers so much — they push back on everything. They question and prod. Teaching a class of teenagers can feel like a rigorous cross-examination. The natural reaction of parents or the church is to fight this process of pushback and questioning. Because we’re afraid. But it’s not something to avoid, but a process to be engaged.
Fr. Richard Rohr talks about he process of faith as Construction-Deconstruction-Reconstruction. Trevor mentioned this the other day. First you construct a worldview, then eventually spend some time deconstructing it. And although it’s a violent and messy process, it’s leading somewhere.
I spent a lot of my early years in ministry still in the process of Deconstruction. I got into the church and could see all of our flaws up close and in technicolor. So like a teenager, I spent a lot of time angry and frustrated. I flung some arrows of blame because I was discontent.
I feel bad for some of my attitudes during that time, but these days I am far less frustrated and angry. And it’s not because the church suddenly got more perfect. Rather, it’s because all that deconstructing was headed somewhere.
It was leading to Reconstruction.
These days I am far less concerned with talking about what’s wrong with the world and with church than I am in building something better. Something good. Something worthy. Something true.
A piece of paper hangs on the wall by my desk with a quote that’s attributed to the artist Michelangelo. It says:
“I criticize by creating something beautiful.”
This is the heart of Reconstruction. And it’s the heart of Bessey’s book. It’s not about acting like we have everything figured out or simply questioning to tear down.
It’s an honest look at life, faith and the church and attempting to create something beautiful. Now that’s a train I could ride for a long while. And it’s one I’d encourage you to join.