Finding God in the Ruins: A book review and giveaway

FGitR“Sometimes it feels as if God has invited Himself into my pain, when I had hoped to be invited into His healing. We want a God who heals our wounds, but it seems we have a God who heals our hearts.”
~ Matt Bays

When I first signed up to be part of the blog tour for Matt Bays’ book Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain, I was excited to be a part of promoting the book of an author I already loved. Two things have happened since then: I read the book and loved it even more, and, even before the official launch and blog tour could begin the book took off like wildfire, word of mouth, Matt’s message of hope in despair spreading from heart to heart, from friends to friends of friends, each person who read or even heard about it telling others: Get this book, now.

So now my time has finally come to tell you about Matt’s book, and, well, you might already know about it. It is a bestseller on Amazon, in several categories. Ann Voskamp wrote about it. (Read a excerpt from Finding God in the Ruins on New York Times bestselling author Ann Voskamp’s website: http://bit.ly/1Pa4R7C). Laura Parrot Perry wrote about it. If you search Finding God in the Ruins on Facebook or Twitter you will see post after post by people who have found this book and found hope and redemption in it.

But on the off chance that you have not heard of it, I’m honored to have the chance to share it with you. And I have a copy to give away! Keep reading for details.

Matt Bays grew up in a hell that he didn’t fully understand. His stepfather was abusive and his older brother learned to replicate that abuse. Matt grew up, got married, and went into ministry, and tried to push away those memories and keep them buried in his past. When he finally realized he couldn’t live like that anymore, and started seeing a counselor to try to articulate his pain, he began to uncover truths not only about his own life but about how broken the church can be in providing support for those who are speaking up about their struggles and their doubts.

For years I had longed for the church to be a safe place where I could reexamine my faith with fear and trembling and anger. I needed it to be a place where I could ask the tough questions — where I could expose God’s short sale on my life, on Robert’s life, on Keegan’s life, on yours. But the church wasn’t the place I’d hoped it would be.

I’m guessing my church would have given me six months to work things out rather than the six years it would take…

Matt writes honestly about getting angry with God, walking away from God, even giving God the middle finger. As he faces the memories and pain of his childhood, and the present pain of his sister’s cancer, he rages at God for not providing healing. But it is through that rage, through that honest baring his heart, that he discovers God’s presence with him in the wreckage. As the title of the book suggests, Matt finds that God doesn’t remake his life into something different. Instead, God sits with him in the ruins. Just like Frederick Buechner wrote about Job, “God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of his absence gives himself.”

But Matt does not stop with his own story and his own encounter with God’s absence and presence. Matt wants to free us, too, to tell our stories, to be unafraid and to trust that their is enough grace for us, whether it takes us six months to work things out or six years, or more. “Healing has no map;” Matt says:

every person’s experience is different. But if your journey is going to be successful, expect at some point to end up back at the scene of the crime, staring at the wreckage. People will tell you to move on, and they are partly right. But if you have tried and can’t seem to, you must go back and see what happened with new eyes. And then you must try to tell your story without trying to make it palatable — for anyone. You have to tell the truth — the whole truth — expecting the painful passages to come when you do. If it gets to be too much, take a break. Dog-ear the page and return to it when you’re good and ready, but plan to finish the book because there’s a beautiful ending to it.

Matt Bays meme 1

Matt writes with the eloquence of a poet, and with the heart of a pastor. He offers us his story, and whether we relate to the specific details or not, Finding God in the Ruins makes us feel less alone.

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I have a copy to give away! Just leave a comment here or on my Facebook page and I will pick one commenter at random to receive Matt’s book. *Update 3/23: soundtek won!*

On Matt’s website you can find a free sample chapter, a trailer/music video, and links to places to order the book.

You can find quotes and links from the other bloggers in the tour here.

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I received a free advance copy of the book in return for my honest review.

Social Justice for the Socially Inept: The New Jim Crow

Social justice for the socially inept(10)

I feel I have to start a lot of my stories this way, but, this really happened, I swear.

One day last fall, after a second cup of coffee, I was pushing the double stroller to toddler tumble time and brainstorming ideas for my blog, and I came up with “Social justice Sundays.” I was thinking of all the cool guest bloggers I’d have, issues I would help us to learn about, and suggestions I’d make for my readers to make the world a better place. Then, no joke, I accidentally pushed the stroller onto the heel of a handicapped, African-American man in front of me, causing his shoe to come off. I apologized profusely and tried to help him, but he ignored me. So I went on my way, chagrined, but still daydreaming about my blog series. Then it came to me — the perfect title and the perfect description of what I wanted to write about: “Social justice for the socially inept!”

Throughout my life I have tried in various ways to be an activist, a missionary, a helper, a world-changer, but most of my attempts have fallen short, often in almost tragically comical ways. I’ve gone to Turkey, Morocco, and Croatia, I’ve been to the sites of earthquakes and wars, I’ve been to church basements and homeless shelters, I did an independent study on Christian social justice organizations at seminary. I’ve awkwardly bought coffee and sandwiches for people on the streets, some who said thank you and some who swore at me. I called 911 when I found a man passed out late at night in a subway stop. I derailed a trip to the Boston Calling music festival with some friends in college because there was a homeless man passed out on the street on the way, and I was like, “What about the story of the good Samaritan? What would Jesus do?!” But all these attempts have felt bumbling and mostly useless.  I have chronic migraines, which limit my physical involvement in many things. I am very introverted and get overwhelmed quickly in social situations. I have high emotions and tend towards high anxiety, though I’m working on that. But for me, showing up at a civil rights march would be the opposite of helpful. I’d probably get claustrophobic and panicky, start crying, and need the medics to come give me oxygen.

But there are things I can do, things I am good at. I can read. I can listen carefully and think deeply about what I hear. I can write in a way that lets others know they are not alone. So I thought that instead of flying overseas to have panic attacks at refugee camps I’d try to share a little bit of what I’ve been listening to, and start a discussion about it. If you feel similarly frustrated, wanting to do something but not knowing where to start, please join me and fumble along with me. Here at SJSI, all are welcome, grace is given freely, and there are no stupid questions.

Two of my goals this year are to educate myself about race-related issues and to encourage my white friends to come on the journey with me. Incidentally, the white folks I know (myself included) are horrified at what America is coming to and will come to if Donald Trump is elected, but the people of color I know are saying that this is where America already is, and has been.

BGiM1

This thought has been making me nauseous for the past several days. Our nightmare is their reality. It’s tempting for me to want to close my eyes and go back to not knowing this. But yesterday’s primaries are making that impossible. And I don’t want to live in peaceful ignorance while others are suffering. I want to learn more, and to figure out what my part can be in changing things.

JimCrowSo I thought I’d start off Social Justice for the Socially Inept with a book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. I’ve heard this book is pretty brutal to read, which makes sense if you’re used to believing in the Matrix-generated world of a more or less safe and fair USA. A few weeks ago on Facebook I asked if any of my white friends would commit to reading this with me and several did. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday, solid and heavy in my hands.

Will anyone else join us? Will we take the blue pill and wake up safe and sound in our ignorance? Or take the red pill and find out just how deep this rabbit hole goes?

“The New Jim Crow is a grand wake-up call in the midst of a long slumber of indifference to the poor and vulnerable.” —Cornel West

Yours in the journey,
Jessica

What kind of month has it been?

stepsI have a bunch of ideas for blog posts but life has been so busy the past few weeks that I haven’t had a chance to sit down and flesh them out. So I thought I’d tell you about what has been keeping me busy.

The most exciting thing was the Love Flash Mob over at Momastery. In 24 hours we raised over $475,000 dollars to build a new wing for the Heartline Maternity Center in Port au Prince, Haiti, and to buy warm clothes for mothers and babies from Syria who are still living outside in Berlin, even as the cold weather has set in. These Love Flash Mobs are my favorite times of the year because we take the power of community and turn it into concrete, practical action to love and care for each other. The maximum donation is $25 — the average for this one was $21. That means my $25 counts just as much as that of the millionaire or billionaire or anyone else. 21,000 of us got together and gave, and countless lives will be saved because of it. You just can’t get efficiency and joy like that anywhere else on the interwebs. Check it out here. And don’t be sad if you missed this one, just follow Momastery on Facebook and/or my Facebook page and we will be sure to tell you when the next one is happening.  I even stepped way out of my comfort zone for the flash mob to create and video tape myself doing a touchdown dance for every flash mob update. Enjoy!

I’ve also been busy with the launch team for Sarah Bessey’s upcoming book Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith. The book is amazing — You are going to want to read it, trust me. I’ll have a review up soon, but for now you can preorder it on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble, or support your local small bookstore by buying it there. The release date is November 3rd.

The launch team has been an incredible experience, not only discussing Sarah’s book with her and the others, but getting to know the other team members as well. I have two new favorite blogs through the launch team: Esther Emery’s Church in the Canyon and Tanya Marlow’s Thorns and Gold. Esther is a homesteader, deep thinker, and a brilliant writer. She crafts sentences like this, which I read several times over: “And even here I see God revealed — refracted, bent, and shattered — shining out the cracks of crooked people.” Tanya Marlow writes about struggling to find God and God’s will in her life while suffering from debilitating chronic illness, something which you know is dear to my heart. And it was also through the launch team that I found this beautiful, moving letter from a 19 year old girl with Asperger’s to her ten year old self. (The rest of Debby’s blog is well worth checking out, too.)

AAI_WritingContestAnother project I’ve been a part of is the Almost an Inkling flash fiction contest happening over at Mythgard. It’s a six week contest with a different prompt and guidelines every week. We’re in week five now, which is poetry. I just tried my hand at a Clerihew and a Triolet, two forms which were new to me. I actually won the literary prize for week three, the “Minute Mystery” which was very exciting for my twelve year old self, who didn’t dream of writing viral essays about gay weddings, but about writing stories. (She doesn’t really get blogging, even though I’ve tried to explain it to her. She just wants to know why we aren’t writing more stories about cats and unicorns.) My story for week two, with the prompt “Here Be Dragons” was dedicated to Say it Survivor, my friends’ Laura and Mary’s organization dedicated to helping women and men who have survived childhood sexual abuse tell their stories. They have workshops and talks coming up in Massachusetts and beyond — check it out on their website. The challenge for the story was to surprise the reader with an unexpected perspective on the dragon. My heart was full of Laura and Mary and the other brave survivors that week, so this is what I wrote:

She first saw the dragon the same night her uncle first came into her room. She was very young. After he left she lay there, choking back tears – he had warned her not to cry – and wondering, for the first time in her life, if there was something wrong with her. Then, suddenly the dragon was there, hovering over her bed, its green eyes shining in the darkness. It had brown-red scales, like muddied flame, and its wings spanned the room and, somehow, beyond.

She caught her breath and stopped crying, terror of the dragon greater than the pain. She waited for it to pounce, but it never moved, other than the slow beating of its wings and the whirl of its eyes, locked on hers. Time passed, minutes or hours. Then, despite her uncle and despite the dragon, her eyes began to droop and her small body fell into sleep. It was very late, and she was very young.

From then on, whenever her uncle came into her room, after he left the dragon would appear. Soon she found that she would wait for it, lying in the dark, holding her breath and blinking until its unblinking eyes appeared above her. She never really stopped being afraid of the dragon, but she was comforted, too, by its presence, its strong, sinewy legs and sharp claws, its tireless wings that beat the air, swirling it into a gentle breeze. Even though the worst had happened, even though she was so, so far from safe, she felt something her young mind did not have words for yet. Something like hope, something like confidence.

She only spoke to the dragon once, a year or so after the dual visits had started. One night she took a deep breath, lifted her small chin and said,

“Just go ahead and eat me, dragon. Do it.”

And the dragon lifted its own chin, and opened its jaw, and a blast of fire came out, heating the air above her head, but she was not harmed. She understood its answer: Yes, the dragon had said, I could fry you and swallow you whole, but I will not. And she cried harder that night than she ever had before.

The last time the dragon appeared to her was years later. She was older now, not young anymore, not at all young anymore, and the dragon came to her late one night. And she looked in its eyes and noticed something she never had before: They were the same color as her own green eyes, with the same brown flecks. And she saw that the mud-red scales were the same color as her own auburn hair, which shone in the sunlight.

Then she flexed her arms and legs and she felt the sinewy strength of a dragon flow through them. She felt the movement between her shoulders of powerful wings. And she stretched out her wings and she flew.

The Almost an Inkling contest is still going on if you would like to try your hand at a poem this week, or next week’s prompt which will be “Speculate and Subcreate.” Also at this link you can read the winning entries from the first three weeks, and vote on the poems from week five. The winning entries will be published in a special-edition ebook by Oloris Press and we’ll be reading our work aloud during a webinar at the end of the contest on Halloween.

restwellWhew, well, there’s more I could tell you about — what a busy month it’s been! — but I’ll stop there and give you a chance to check out the links I’ve included. I hope you’ve all had a good October so far! What have you been up to? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t been doing that much, that’s okay, too. The resting is part of the doing.

Love,

Jessica

Searching for Sunday

Can you find the church in this picture? Oh, wait, not that kind of searching.

Can you find the church in this picture? Oh, wait, not that kind of searching.

This morning in my Facebook feed there were several people upset about an article in Huffington Post entitled Rachel Held Evans Defends Leaving Evangelicals For Episcopalians. They called Rachel a false teacher, questioned her theology and her salvation, and said that she was leading people astray. They expressed fear at her perspective and her influence. So I thought I’d share a little about Rachel’s influence on me.

For the record, Rachel responded to the article on her Facebook page saying that the title of the article

makes for an interesting headline, but which doesn’t really reflect the way I see my own church story or how I tell it in the book. This isn’t a story about demeaning one tradition in favor of another tradition. It’s a story about how the Spirit shows up, often unexpectedly, in multiple traditions and congregations and communities – particularly in the tradition that first introduced me to Jesus (evangelicalism) and the tradition where I am beginning to find a new home (the Episcopal Church). In the book I write about how I could no more “leave” evangelicalism than I could “leave” my parents. Evangelicalism is a part of me. It has irrevocably shaped my faith and my view of the world, and I am glad for that. It’s a gift. And anyone who reads the book will see that I honor it as such. ….Besides, I’ve always been under the impression that one can be both evangelical AND Episcopalian – the two are not mutually exclusive. 🙂 Most of us don’t fit into neat and tidy categories when it comes to faith. Most of us, I think, are an amalgam of experiences, beliefs, questions, longings, doubts, and dreams. A rejection of one kind of church for another would make a simpler story, but it’s not my story. And my guess is it’s not many other people’s story either.

I like Rachel Held Evans a lot. I read her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood and am about to start Faith Unraveled, and I follow her on her blog and Facebook. One of my favorite things about her is that she has been open about her struggles with faith and with the church, which are very similar to mine. She is open about her doubts as well as her beliefs, and is honest when she second-guesses herself or changes her mind about something.

I’m really looking forward to reading her new book Searching for Sunday because the subtitle — Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church — describes where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope some day to be. I will be buying the book and reading it with the goal of drawing closer to Christian community and to God. I don’t agree with everything she says. But here is a partial list of other writers whose works I read and love even though I don’t agree with everything they say:


George MacDonald
Madeleine L’Engle
Jen Hatmaker
C.S. Lewis
Martin Buber
Glennon Doyle Melton
C.K. Chesterton
Peter Kreeft
Sarah Bessey
Soren Kierkagaard
Victor Hugo
Victor Frankl
Anne Lamott
Fyodor Dostoevsky


Just to name a few.


I like to hear the perspectives and stories of lots of different people. It helps me realize that we are all trying to understand and describe the ineffable and indescribable, and that my own theology, as well as others’, is not The Truth about God, but just our best attempt to put the things of God into words and concepts we can understand. I am not afraid of being led astray because I trust, more than anything, in Jesus’ promise: “Seek, and you will find.” Evangelicals and other conservatives, you are very good at seeking. But others are seeking, too. Let’s share our own stories and perspectives, listen to those of other seekers, and trust Jesus to keep his promise.

The revelations of love

CandlePeople generally suppose that they don’t understand one another very well, and that is true; they don’t.  But some things they communicate easily and fully.  Anger and contempt and hatred leap from one heart to another like fire in dry grass.  The revelations of love are never complete or clear, not in this world.  Love is slow and accumulating, and no matter how large or high it grows, it falls short.  Love comprehends the world, though we don’t comprehend it.  But hate comes off in slices, clear and whole – self-explanatory, you might say.

From Jaybur Crow, by Wendell Berry

 

Gilead

I’ve probably posted this before, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. Gilead is one of my top 25 favorite novels of all time. This passage is about prayer and nature and the way the world can overwhelm you with its beauty. John gently interrupts his father’s prayer to point out the wonder around them, but the prayer and the wonder blend into one, and lead to redemption.

Every prayer seemed long to me at that age, and I was truly bone tired.  I tried to keep my eyes closed, but after a while I had to look around a little.  And this is something I remember very well.  At first I thought I saw the sun setting in the east; I knew where the east was because the sun was just over the horizon when we got there that morning.  Then I realized that what I saw was a full moon rising just as the sun was going down.  Each of them was standing on its edge, with the most wonderful light between them.  It seemed as if you could touch it, as if there were palpable currents of light passing back and forth, or as if there were great taut skeins of light suspended between them.  I wanted my father to see it, but I knew I would have to startle him out of his prayer, and I wanted to do it the best way, so I took his hand and kissed it.  And then I said, “Look at the moon.”  And he did.  We just stood there until the sun was down and the moon was up.  They seemed to float on the horizon for quite a long time, I suppose because they were both so bright you couldn’t get a clear look at them.  And that grave, and my father and I, were exactly between them, which seemed amazing to me at the time, since I hadn’t given much thought to the nature of the horizon.

My father said, ‘I would never have thought this place could be beautiful.  I’m glad to know that.’