She’s back with some holiday reading

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do this, but I spent the Advent season reading some books that have been on my post-seminary-reading-wish-list. It was a wonderful way to savor the season of waiting and watching.

In an interesting and mysterious way, each of these books spoke to a different part of me. I highly recommend all three of them. They are intelligent, meaningful, deeply spiritual books by women I would name theologians… great theologians… earthy, real, grappling with the complexities of shaping their lives around the Gospel, searching for God at work in their journeys.

Real Sex by Lauren F. Winner—Part of me will always be a youth minister. It’s not something I can leave behind… teenagers have snuck into my heart and they refuse to leave. This book spoke to that part of me, the part that longs to help teenagers make sense of what it means to follow Jesus’ call in the midst of raging hormones, passionate emotions, confusing messages from the media and the urge to just want to have fun and experience adventure. Winner has a way of weaving scripture, psychology and church tradition together in order to present a holistic and helpful approach to sexuality. Even as a married woman, I found her book to be full of wisdom and healing, in a very real way. If I was still in youth ministry, I would have parents and teens read this book together. I hope to read it with my children when they come of age.

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor—This book spoke to the pastor in me. I resonated with her story as she shared about having a strong intuitive sense of God’s Presence from early in her childhood. Yes. Me, too. Taylor is honest about the spiritual poverty that plagues many church leaders and volunteers, those who give so much of themselves to church that they don’t realize they are unable to listen to their souls, to hear clearly from God. Emptiness, anger and exhaustion are common, but not commonly named within us. Like Taylor, we create external places for prayer and meditation, but inside we remain restless and fearful of stopping. What will happen if we become still long enough to examine what is really going on in our souls? What ugliness will we find? I am still tossing ideas around in my mind—how could we shape church ministry differently, so that it is not soul-destroying for leaders and volunteers, so that church life does encourage healthy rhythms? Is leaving church the only option when we’ve run dry? If we are called, is that a viable option at all? An important thing to ponder…

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott—Anne speaks to the rebel in me, the raw and wounded bull-dog that will survive at all costs and that questions all assumptions about goodness and holiness. She never strays far from grace and is continually grappling with the messiness of relationships and journey. She encourages us to take risks, to risk honest and authentic relationships in church… to be The Body and also to live fully within our own bodies. I hope I am someday able to grasp that I live LOVED—she communicates that truth so well, but often I am so far from truly knowing it. It is easy to sanitize theology, to boil it down to letters on a page—“Believe this, friends, and then you’ll have it! You’ll have the truth, the answer to life and faith! Just do it!”—but life is full of gray areas and unexpected turns. You can think you’re doing what is wise and true, only to find that everything has unraveled at your feet, an ugly mess. A beautiful mess made of your own darkness, and that of others. Then, what does it mean to love, to have faith, to be holy?

I have noticed a gender difference in theology (and I truly hope that my male friends, family and colleagues are not offended by this). I don’t know why this is, exactly… is it because our bodies are so connected to the cycle of life? But here it is: I find female theologians much more holistic than male theologians. It seems sometimes that males are more detached from earth and body. They are certainly able to connect scripture to God and the world, to outline practical and specific ways we can live a faithful life; but often I put down their books and feel like there is an important aspect of LIFE missing from their scope. My mind, my body and my soul are all linked together—truth and theology flow from all three of them and weave together. They speak to each other. Does that make sense? Female writers seem to intuitively get this, and I am fed more deeply by them at times. May I offer a piece of advice? Read more Christian theology written by women, especially by these three women. They are gems.