on Out of Sorts (a book review)

outofsortsOut of Sorts

Author: Sarah Bessey

Synopsis

In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey…helps us grapple with core Christian issues using a mixture of beautiful storytelling and biblical teaching, a style well described as “narrative theology.”

As she candidly shares her wrestlings with core issues—such as who Jesus is, what place the Church has in our lives, how to disagree yet remain within a community, and how to love the Bible for what it is rather than what we want it to be—she teaches us how to walk courageously through our own tough questions.

In the process of gently helping us sort things out, Bessey teaches us how to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with solid answers. And as we learn to hold questions in one hand and answers in the other, we discover new depths of faith that will remain secure even through the storms of life.

My thoughts

Sometimes when I read a book I feel simultaneously enamored and frustrated. I read the words on the page and have this immense feeling of relief—someone finally said what I had been thinking. They have put words to things and ideas that were rolling around in my head. And then also that sting of frustration because they said it. They said the words that I wanted to say and now I won’t.

Maturity brings a deeper ability to rest in that tension. Maybe. I do know that now I can add my own voice to the ones who have gone before me.

Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts was that experience for me. It was a book I needed three years ago when I was entering the dark night of faith. And on the other side she shines a light and brings clarity to things for which I couldn’t quiet find the words. Sarah Bessey writes about wrestling with her faith, her journey through it and the conclusions she reached on the other side. She paints a picture of a faith that is melded together from all these different pieces. She reminded me that God is not boxable; she taught me that I am not boxable either. She describes herself as an “Anglican-influenced charismatic, postevangelical with a strong pull towards Anabaptist theology” (151). She taught me that I don’t have to conform to one thing. If religion is about movement towards God, I get to keep the practices that empower that movement. I can set that ones that don’t encourage that movement aside.

There were definitely places she challenged me. These were areas where I had chosen comfort over continuing to wrestle with the questions. And there are places where I’m scared to wrestle because I’m afraid of the outcome.

Some Favorite Quotes

“The asking isn’t wrong. The wondering isn’t wrong. The doubt isn’t wrong. It’s humbling to admit you don’t know; it takes guts to ask and wrestle. The childlike quality isn’t unthinking acquiescence: it’s curiosity.”

“Sometimes I think community is just a churchy word for the old-fashioned goodness of being a friend.”

“Real life is the undignified life, and it is the classroom for holiness. If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field.”

“…sovereignty is the promise that all will be healed in the end. Sovereignty means that all will be held. That God is at work to bring redemption and reconciliation, that somehow at the end of all things, that we don’t escape from the goodness that pursues us, the life we are promised, the love that redeems.”

“Small acts of faith and justice are still acts of faith and justice.”

Have you read it? What did you think?

on race(ism)

Tell your story. No one can argue with you.

That was the advice given to me growing up in church where I was exhorted to share my faith. The premise was that no one could dispute what I said had happened to me. They weren’t there. It’s my story and mine alone.

Books are dangerous things. I never understood that until this year when my son started reading. I’m handing him book after book I read as a kid that I want him to experience. These are books that shaped me and changed the way I interacted with the world or thought about people.

The Giver

The Cay

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

Maniac Magee

Holes

Number the Stars

I want him to be shaped into a person that can listen to other people’s stories. I want him to see that his perspective is shaped largely by his own experience, and his is not the only experience. I want him to read books and be changed.

Books are dangerous. No wonder people work so hard to ban them.

It’s really hard to argue with peoples’ stories.

I’ve been bombarded with a certain kind of story the last two years. It’s a story of abuse of power. It’s a story of devaluing. It’s a story of misunderstandings escalating to murder. It’s a story about how parents are having to teach their young boys “rules” so they don’t end up getting arrested, or worse, shot. It’s a story about a system designed to let certain people, (people who seem to look a lot like me) in; a system designed to keep others out. It’s a story about how even though laws were put in place, the laws fail to protect all people equally.

It’s a story of modern day racism.

It’s a story about systemic racism

It’s a story about how people are dying on our streets for being kids, for playing, for making a mistake. It’s a story about a people oppressed and beaten. It’s a story about how my son probably won’t end up in prison when he makes a mistake, but another’s son probably will.

I can try deny it. But when person after person confirms the truth of this, I prove my ignorance when I deny the reality. Even the facts are on their side, if I’m brave enough to read through them. I live in a safe bubble, on the inside, so of course it’s not obvious to me. It’s not my experience.

But who I am to deny their stories? Who am I to try and silence them?

Because here’s the thing…My ancestors kidnapped their ancestors. My ancestors mutilated, raped, beat and killed their ancestors. My ancestors told them they weren’t real. And even after hundreds of years of slavery, my ancestors begrudgingly let them go, but used the government to continue to oppress them. They were still beaten. They were still killed. They were still mocked and shunned for trying to grasp the inalienable rights that were supposed to have been given to them.

Do we really believe that 52 years ago we paid our penance, learned from our mistakes, the system changed and life is now happy clappy?

No.

Their stories tell me their rights are still denied. Peoples’ eyes look at them and see evil. There is no grace, no mercy for them.

It will take generations to dismantle what we brought on ourselves. Especially when we continue to deny it’s existence and live on platitudes and declare, “we’re not racists.” Because when my kids go to a predominately white school, see only other white kids, play sports with other white kids, and we lock our doors when we drive through the “bad” parts of town where people don’t look like them, or cross the street when we see someone who doesn’t look like us, I’m teaching my kids that the people who look like them are safe, and these others are not. And so when my kids grow up to be the cops, teachers, lawyers, etc., they will help perpetuate an already unjust system.

No, I never held a whip in my hand. But I come from people who did. Their blood runs through me. Their system is my system.

How I can look her in the eyes, she who is made in the image of God, and not fall to my knees and beg her for forgiveness for the sins of my fathers? How can I deny his right to speak about what happened to him? How can I deny my own inert racism? How can I deny that the only person this system benefits, is me? And knowing this, how can I not speak and cry out with them when their children are still being murdered for the color of their skin?

I cannot deny their stories.

Stories are dangerous. They open our eyes; they challenge our status quo. They make us see things in our world we wish we didn’t have to see, because once we see it, we can never go back.

We might even have to do something about it…

So, dear one, my prayer is that we start reading. That we listen and hold space for experiences beyond our own. What will we lose by admitting we are culpable? What will happen if we humble ourselves and bear the sins of our forefathers, actually doing penance for them?

Maybe this is where we start to find life…

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color Blindness, Michelle Alexander

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, Beverly Daniel Tatum

http://blackyouthproject.com/survey-white-christians-dont-believe-black-experiences-with-police-violence/?platform=hootsuite

on social media

I had to take a break from social media.

I was in a darker place than normal and seeing all the images curated for social consumption made me feel empty. I have a social media filter. I know that “real life” is not what I see. But it’s still hard to be blasted with these images, quotes, and stories day in and day out.

I knew some whose lives were falling apart and when I saw what they put on Facebook…maybe they’re lying, maybe they’re not. But there was a sense of wrong-ness of knowing one truth and seeing it’s opposite. I couldn’t look at it. I’m tired of seeing the perfectly curated life, the turns of phrases that are only an iota of the full, multi-faceted life that harnesses the spectrum of human emotion.

I’m tired of living life in one-dimension.

I’m tired of the games. I’m tired of having to be “on” all the time. I’m tired of having to manufacture a life that presents as worthwhile. I’m tired of seeing manufactured pieces. It’s the old how-are-you?-I’m-good! in snapshot form.

It’s like we’ve become the advertisements and the catalogues we get in the mail…except now they’re “my friends.” I throw the catalogues away (or use them for art journaling). What do I do with “my friends”?

She’s going to buy a new house. I know how much they’re able to spend and where they’re looking. It’s the area I crave to be in; it’s the amount we don’t have to spend. It’s hard enough fighting the jealousy when I have a real investment in the relationship and want to celebrate with her. But day after day when I confront “perfect” images from people I know less well…I think a piece of my dies a little at a time. It’s too much…or I’m too human.

I want connection that goes beyond words on a screen. I want to see completed Pinterest projects in real life, rather than the photograph snapped at the height of perfection. I want to sit on your couch and see the empty wine glasses and the dirty coffee mugs littering the table from the night before. I want to see your daughter slamming doors. And the toddlers not potty trained in a day. I want to see what’s real. I want to be real.

What I learned is that there are seasons when I can accept the social media world for what it is and what it offers. I can enjoy the superficial connections and small talk. And then there are seasons—usually these are the darker ones for me—when I need to step back. I can’t fight through the lies, so it’s healthier for me to take a break.

I’m holding it loosely now. I’m not trying to manipulate the system or learn the rules. And I’m trying to value the people who touch my hands every day. The ones whose faces I see and who see mine. Fewer images for the world at large, and more for me and the ones who love me.

on being a sinner

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

There seems to be a tendency to feel either exalted or humbled as I encounter God. On the one hand, God is father-mother, who gave God’s son to the world. Jesus wrapped himself in flesh and let my human skin brush up against mine. He did not recoil in fear of my dirtiness.

But there’s always this overwhelming sense that God is entirely other, ungraspable, untouchable, and separate from me. I am small, weak, and insignificant.

One day I’m floating because of God’s presence in my life. The other day, I feel not much different than the dust I came from. Instead of God’s love being a river of mercy flowing through me, in my wake I’m leaving grave dust. Do I change that much day to day? Am I both a beacon of hope and something that is not much different than an ant scurrying from one scrap of food to the next?

It’s a funny thing, this journey. And I don’t mean to trivialize it at all. How do I explain this…this bafflement over feeling like both a sinner and a saint?

Sometimes the words and actions that well up from inside me point to something so much bigger than me. Wisdom, truth, and beauty saturate the deepest corners so things that were once dead come to life in my hands. I am a city shining on a hill. I am beacon in the darkness.

And at the same time, there are moments of utter despair where insecurities and jealousies and judgments cloud the sky. I feel like everything I touch decays and turns to dust. There is not one good thing in me.

Is that where the truth lies—directly in the middle between the two? Am I saint and sinner both?

And maybe that’s where humility checks pride, right on that razor’s edge. I get to experience the knowledge that my best works are only ever dirty rags…but infused with the scent of Jesus my dirty rags become a healing balm to a hurting world. Connected to the vine, the life-giving sap flows through my hands and feet. This picture is one of continual constant connection to the Source of love. But when I treat the Source more like a gas pump, coming in to touch base and then careening off to do what needs to be done…that image speaks of separateness. I come back only when I am burned out, exhausted, and running on fumes.

Maybe this is another work of humility. Humility keeps me always in the presence of God—this love truly isn’t something I can sustain on my own. I am a sinner in need of constant connection to the Creator. I don’t get lost in my own beauty because the connection reminds me that it’s not me, but Christ in me.

But when I forget the connection, when I forget the Christ-in-me…

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

And so it ebbs and flows…a constant need, a constant rebirth.

But here’s something else. Maybe God finds joy in my rebirthing. He finds joy in the process of me learning to return to him again and again, for the new awakenings and the re-awakenings. He is not baffled, exhausted, or frustrated with me learning the same things over and over again. Because each time there is a deeper connection, there is more of God and less of me. It’s slow, as most journeys are (at least to my human-ness). But this is where God is. God is in the journey with me, patiently holding my hand, as a mother holds the hand of a child learning to walk. When I let go and run and fall, God comes and scoops me up, holding and comforting me. God knows this is a journey. God sees the dangers and pitfalls and the places I’ll soar—yet, neither surprise or exasperate God. God just delights.

God sees me as I am—sinner and saint.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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