This book is described by Sarah Bessey as being “for all who feel or have felt at some time ‘out of sorts’ – disorientated, bewildered and feeling that everything you once knew for sure has to be worked out all over again”. As someone who has recently moved cities, jobs, and hasn’t yet settled into a new church – this review copy arrived at a great moment. I finished reading it yesterday (Sunday) morning whilst I thought what step do I want to take next in finding a church (couple of places still want to go back to…) – but meantime, this is a different ‘season’, right?
I would describe the book as powerfully vulnerable – as always are the best stories – and the best sermons … and as I hope to research at some point – are also the most shared via ‘social media’. As we move on in our faith (“Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence“) journey, it’s natural to move on from early certainties, to much deeper questioning and doubt. As I read through this book, I turned down corners for pages I wanted to return to… as you’ll see, that was quite a few of them! As someone who decluttered for 15 years, on p17, I loved the reference to her parents decluttering as an act of love – to ensure that the children wouldn’t have deal with that on top of death.
On p30, Sarah brings us to the time when she gave up on church (even as a pastor’s wife):
The trail of hurt people, wounded souls, and even dead bodies was too great. It weighed on my soul, and I felt tremendous grief. I couldn’t align myself with this any more.
I could no longer reason away or gloss over the systematic abuses of power, the bitterness, the bigotry and hypocrisy, the sexism and racism, the consumerism, the big business of church that was consuming people and spitting them out for the ‘greater good’. Church became the last place I wanted to be. I didn’t trust Christians. And I was tired of pretending that those things were not real.
At no time in this did Sarah give up on Jesus, and in fact, in not being able to rely on (the structure of?) church, she had to pay more attention to Jesus as he took her through a 6 year journey in the wilderness – and it is clear that each of us will have our own journey – it may not be as drastic as this, but I know I’ve never wanted to be part of a faith that is not open to questions – any questions. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but I want to be in an environment where questions are welcomed – in fact encouraged – part of what I love about social media is the ability to connect with people from so many different places. One of Sarah’s emphases in the book is on the importance of place – and of settling into a local community … I do still think that’s also important, but I’ve spent a lot of time working with groups – faith is a global community – and sometimes we need to look outside our geographical boundaries too – the digital allows this too!
Having just spoken on TWR about whether it’s possible for Facebook friends to be ‘real friends’, Instagrammed the below – picked up a few comments on that on FB/Twitter:
We move through concepts of ‘theology for everyone’, not just for academics to ‘tell us’ as we grapple with everyday life, notions of discipleship as ‘being more like Jesus’, being human and being part of community – not something Christians are unique at, learning to re-engage with the Bible when you’ve effectively experienced spiritual abuse through it, we talk about the ‘veil between heaven and earth fluttering’, how she and her husband grappled with questions of was his non-ministry work ‘enough’, dealing with difficult questions on suffering – in which she discovers that ‘Sovereignty is redemption, it’s not causation’, and most powerfully, how we move beyond the over-programmed burnt out life of the evangelical that has become so common, and embrace the opportunity to live life to the full with Jesus – in whatever shape of church that is. On p277:
Scarcity tells us to work until we drop. We’ve got to hustle, hustle, hustle to get ours and then to keep it. But in the liturgy of abundance, we can practice Sabbath. Exhaustion and burnout are symptoms of fear of scarcity, but wholeness, joy, and rest are hallmarks of a life lived within abundance. In fact, Bruggemann calls the practice of Sabbath an act of resistance because we are saying no to ‘the culture of now’.
As we draw near to the season of Lent, I’ve been chatting with the organisers of Passionart, who are seeking to encourage us to find stillness in busy and hectic lives – to regain some equilibrium in over-burdened and over-busy lives, and this seems to fit well with that, and I intend to keep hold of this book – and have ordered Jesus Feminist – although I still have far-too many books already in the ‘to-read’ pile!
This book was provided to me courtesy of Darton, Longman & Todd in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.