Posts Tagged With: Memoirs

RevGalBookPals: Healing Spiritual Wounds

Lately, I have been paying attention to negative space. Not just space where the energy is 515o5ugeajl-_sx329_bo1204203200_less than positive, but negative space with regard to art-
making, language, and emotional processing. Negative space focuses on what isn’t. What wasn’t. What didn’t. Wha wouldn’t. Negative space can drive us to the other extreme in all kinds of ways, sprinting away from pain into a overzealous commitment to do the opposite of the thing that scarred us deeply.

The negative space created by a wounding church or hurtful church people leaves space that aches in its emptiness. The echoing lies in the negative space speak untruths about God and about our own goodness. That echo reverberates in our lives- affecting our health, our choices, our habits, our relationships, and our faith. In order to live with this hollowness, we set up a system that feeds on the negative space. But negative space has nothing to give.

3a Carol Howard Merritt writes that people who are inclined toward faith will find themselves at the edge of this negative space, again and again. They long to be filled and yet the echoes of the negative spce seem too broad, too deep, and too loud to be overcome. Overcoming this pain with healing, positive truth is a real and tangible possibility. This is the premise, the structure, and the achievement of Merritt’s book Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.

Within the book, Merritt shares some of her own story as well as that of others she knows. The pain of church lies, leader deceptions,  and the religious idolatry of the appearance of perfection and prosperity are not the telos (end) of God’s desire for the church or for any part of creation. Resurrection and renewal as a spiritual person, in communion with God and others,  is entirely possible, achievable, and worth desiring. This book teaches those lessons gently, like learning how to swim.

You don’t need to conjure God; you simply need to find ways to awake to God’s presence and deepen your connection. (61)

Beyond her gentle prose, Merritt offers clearly structured exercises for contemplation and action. Her metaphors and examples help the reader sit with pain and roll it over like a stone in the mind. As the hurtful thoughts are rolled, their sharpness slowly smoothes. Their ability to inflict pain dulls.

Merritt’s own story- with the religion of her college years, with her father, with her spiritual journey- allow the reader to see that trauma can cause physical pain, grief, illness, and long-term internal and external work. The act of helping someone else in healing can bring healing to one’s own heart, as she often demonstrates.

Toward the end of the book, Merritt writes a litany of the power of biblical women. She reclaims their stories into her own and sees their strengths as a witness to God’s love and work through women. Merritt’s awakening in this section feels very open-ended, as though she wants the reader to know that she is still healing, still discovering, still being loved by the Divine into a new fullness. And because it is happening to and for and through her, the same is true for you.

I highly recommend this book. It would, in particular, make a good Lenten reading for individuals or small groups. Take a positive step to fill negative space in your life with healing and hope. Reading this book can be that step.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit. 


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RevGalBookPals: This Littler Light and Faitheist

I have two books to recommend today.

This Littler Light: Some Thoughts on Not Changing the World, Wipf and Stock

Jesse James DeConto

From the start of this lyrical memoir, I kept thinking, “I have never read a memoir from a guy, written like this.” Then I reflected on the reality that memoirs by straight, white guys who are not comedians are actually a) somewhat hard to come by and b) not often from a perspective in which I am interested (which is about me and not them). This book, however, began with a deep and grieving reflection on why the author got a vasectomy.

My eyebrows raised to my scalp, I pored on through his wrestling with fundamentalist roots through his reflections on his first marriage over his discovery of depth and breadth in music into his realization that his little light doesn’t have to brighten the whole world at once. This is truly a book about unlearning a savior complex and leaning into the complexities of having been saved, not only from death, but from one’s own self.

DeConto reflects that people are often already deeply aware of brokenness, even if they don’t name it as such. Those who are trying to walk the Way (and not be in the way) must embrace the messy reality of upshot of faith.

Resurrection is good, whether you live a long, beautiful life, surrounded by people who love you, with a successful career, real teeth and a head of hair, or you get beaten and whipped and fed vinegar and have your hands and feet nailed to a wooden cross.

I strongly recommend DeConto’s book for those in your life, especially men, who have come out of a more fundamentalist background and are looking for how to live faithfully in a softer way. This book swims in and out of social issues, personal reflection, song lyrics, and stories of people and places, but it remains grounded in a hopefulness that is undeniable and undeniably appealing.

** This book is not expensive in its ebook form. It is pricey in print. If you’re considering it for a group read, I advise contacting the publisher to see about a group purchasing discount.

Faithiest: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious

Chris Stedman

Stedman, a gay, Humanist, writes about his journey out of faith and into interfaith activism. For the deeply religious, especially those with whom Stedman’s pain will resonate, the stories of his childhood spiritual struggle and trauma within the confines of faith environments is heart-breaking, resonant, and frustrating.

The book is not, however, a diatribe against religion or religious people. It is about how the author wrestled with his own ethics and desires to improve the world and his realization that it would and could only happen alongside people who had the same, regardless of where their moral imperative originates.

The book is not smoothly written, but the narrative is easy to follow and reveals the deep reflection that went in the writing. Stedman’s reflection on the fundamentalist bent of the “New Atheists” is particularly engaging because he notes how it does  not actually accomplish anything that improves the world or the circumstances of people for whom one cares.

A world absent of religious would not necessarily be a more cooperative or peaceful one; a world absent of fanaticism, totalitarianism, and tribalism would certainly be.

 

I would recommend this book for 1) a church in a community wherein there is a struggle between the religious and non-religious voices, 2) a group that is working to name positively how their faith shapes what they believe, or 3) a inter-faith group working to understand each other (within a group of other potential readings).

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RevGalBookPals: Wilderness Blessings

Sometimes the only introduction a book needs is just to get it into your hands. Such is the case with Wilderness Blessings: How Down Syndrome Reconstructed Our Life and Our Faith. Pastor Jeff Gallagher processes some of his thoughts and experiences during his son Jacob’s first year in this world.

 

This book is commendable, first, because Jeff does not pity himself, his wife Kristen, his older son Noah, or Jacob. Jeff certainly laments his family’s dark valleys, particularly Jacob’s pain and struggles following heart surgery and stays in the hospital. However, as a father first and pastor second, Jeff persists in seeing God with him in these experiences. Actually, I believe Jeff would say God persists in revealing God’s self in all that happened.

 

The book is a compilation of Jeff’s CarePage notes- taken during Jacob’s first year- and Jeff’s later reflections on those notes, his memories, and Jacob’s later years (he’s five years old when the book is published). Jeff processes for himself and his family, but also acknowledges that theirs is not the only experience in the wilderness of differing abilities and early childhood illness, trauma, and surgeries.

You may not know anyone with Down syndrome, you may not be a churchgoer, you may never have set foot in Maine, you may not have any children, and yet this story has intrigued you enough that you’re still reading… In this way, Jacob’s story is Sophia

’s story. Sophia’s story is Luna’s story. Luna’s story is Noah’s story. Noah’s story is your story, and all the stories are God’s stories- God’s stories for God’s children, who have the power and the potential to teach and inspire us all. (164)

 

Jeff explains that he does not believe that God caused Jacob’s suffering (the physical struggles that make that first year painful and difficult). However, God can, does, and will use Jacob exactly like he is. (I’ve just noticed that I’m writing “Jeff” and not “Gallagher”. It’s too difficult to reflec

t on such a personal story and still use just the last name.)

Jeff inserts sermon excerpts and notations from books on theology in disability. His self-disclosure is well-spaced and inviting. His own experiences with his son’s different abilities caused Jeff to reflect deeply on what it means to say all people are welcome in community and at communion. His own congregation made accommodations for Jacob’s needs. Yet, “accommodation” doesn’t seem like the right word. Changes that are made in a worship setting so that more people can experience God in worship and fellowship is more than accommodating, it’s gospel living. Jeff makes that very clear.

 

All of this is not to say that we make God who we want God to be, but rather, that God- through the many and varied ways God reaches out to connect with us- has the ability to reveal God’s self to us in ways that are as unique and varied as the individuals to whom God is being revealed. As such it becomes clear, through such revelations, that what makes us unique- imperfections included- gives God a unique and powerful access point to connect with us. (38)

The congregation Jeff serves is to be commended for their deep care for their pastor a

nd his family during this first year (and, I assume, after). Jeff reiterates his gratitude over and over again. He also explains that this is not an experience limited to this church’s life together. This is the experience that anyone SHOULD find in a worshipping community.

…[The] church was amazingly supportive. And I have seen this happen time and time again with people- not just the pastor- going through different life challenges… [Church] is the only place in society today that can come together and act as the extended family that we all so desperately need to get us through in this life… (69)

 

All in all, this is a gentle book. It doesn’t make assumptions, but it brings some serious and real truths home in a very persuasive way. I would recommend this book to any pastor who enjoys reading memoirs or self-reflective essays. For congregational life, I would recommend this to any reading circle (excellent for reflection), as part of the church library, or as part of a parenting/marriage preparation retreat. This is the kind of book that grows on you as you reflect on its lessons and its implications for daily life and for life eternal.

Gallagher, Jeffrey M. Wilderness Blessings: How Down Syndrome Reconstructed Our Life and Our Faith. Chalice Press: St. Louis, MO. 2013.

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