Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey (A Book Review)

In April of 2014, I was introduced to the writing of Sarah Bessey through her book Jesus Feminist. I was intrigued, like most people I suppose by its title, but I was skeptical. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often disappointed in books and music hyped by the Christian community. Many times, I feel like people are using Jesus to market watered-down, mediocre art. Oh, was I supposed to sugarcoat things? I’m not good at that.
After reading Jesus Feminist, I had so much respect for Sarah because she said things out loud that aren’t popular in certain Christian circles (and took some serious flak from people who apparently aren't aware that other people can read what they write on the internet). At the time, I was part of a thriving congregation in Olympia, WA, where many of the "issues" she addressed weren’t really issues anymore. I’d moved away from some of the damaging teachings from my past that encouraged gender-based discrimination within the church into a family of believers that saw the image of God in me with no regard to my genitalia. 
I walked away from Jesus Feminist with three thoughts: 1) thank goodness I no longer live in bondage to some of the theology that she challenges, 2) thank goodness someone is saying these things because I know so many people who need to hear them, and 3) this girl better write more books.
Fast forward a year, and there were rumors of another book. I found out through being on Sarah Bessey’s email list that she was looking for a “launch team” to help her spread the word. The benefit is that I got the advanced reader’s copy a few months before the book release.


I've been advertising all over town in my launch team shirt.
Plenty of interesting conversations around these words.
Our family had moved to a new town and decided to attend the church closest to our home, the church connected to the school our kids attended. This made sense and fit in with our new-ish take on “church shopping” (what can be a terrible experience for military families), which was that we weren’t going to shop at all. We would be a part of our neighborhood church, and unless they were handling snakes or straight up hateful, we would as Tim Gunn says “make it work.” Not to hit the punchline too soon, but word of wisdom: there is probably a happy medium somewhere between “go to the closest church” and “shop for the ‘perfect’ church.”
We are not people who need a perfect church because perfection and humanity are not friends. As long as there are humans involved—well, there’s a possibility things won’t be perfect. I should say this—the people at our church are pretty lovely. We love our Sunday school class, which is full of other parents who have become our friends as we’ve studied the Bible and ways to be better parents together. The church leadership is always friendly. Interacting with the congregation at potlucks and service projects has been delightful. We actually never have and probably never will have a problem with the people.

The problems came when we started seeing “dealbreakers” that weren’t as extreme as handling snakes and hating people. Our kids were really upset when they learned this particular denomination has a closed communion table, one that was not open to them. We started looking around and realizing that there weren’t many women serving at the decision-making level, which is how we learned that this denomination does not ordain female pastors. It had been about ten years since I was part of a worship community that held these sorts of beliefs, so I wasn’t even sure how to approach the subject. I still don’t know what to do with this information. And honestly, I’ve been so settled on this issue theologically for so long that I’m kind of baffled as to why I would even need to have this conversation. So, here we are—surrounded by people we really like and/or love at a church where we want to engage, but what now? Do I have more deal breakers than I thought?
In a few words, I would say, I’m feeling:
In Sarah’s new book, which releases November 3rd, she talks about that tension we feel as our faith changes. She asks hard questions and doesn’t necessarily give all the answers. I read the book in one sitting (with a short nighttime nap of six hours in the middle) and felt like I was having tea with a friend to talk about my doubts and fears, about the things that make me angry, about the things I need to let go. Aside from having tiny personal epiphanies and revelations along the way, I also enjoyed (as I always do) reading someone else’s story. Sarah weaves her personal narrative seamlessly with her thoughtful theology.

I am so honored to be part of the team of midwives (and a couple midhusbands) helping to birth this baby because I know I have friends interested in reading Out of Sorts. Like right this second. The bad news is you’ll have to pre-order because it releases next Tuesday. The good news is that you can read the first four chapters FOR FREE by clicking here!
I would love to hear some feedback from all my friends—how does this book challenge the parts of your faith that feel settled? How does it affirm the parts that are evolving? I know that I’m not the only one out there feeling tension as I navigate what faith means for me and my family because I have conversations about it ALL THE TIME. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has considered faith at all. Well, except those of you who have it all figured out already.


  1. I sure don't have it all figured out. My practice in Zen Buddhism, and one of our most prominent teachers said, "Not knowing is most intimate." And I'm going to read this book, because I want to be part of any conversation you're having that welcomes us all. I love the ongoing, perpetual, persistent place for spiritual inquiry in your life. You inspire me.

  2. So well said and well lived, Leia - loved this! xo