Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Faith turned over to the side that doesn’t capture the light: the underbelly of trust in God—or is it distrust?—so often not shown.  At first glance, Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Learning To Walk in the Dark, seems an exercise in gently poking at faith, like the study of some awkward specimen turned over under a microscope, helplessly squirming under the glare.

I love this about Taylor’s work. To paraphrase her own words in a local book signing appearance on Thursday, she is more interested in exploring the dimensions of human experience that can cause us to call into question long-cherished beliefs and theological moorings. Hers is an appeal as much to the so-called “Nones” who now number 1 in 5 Americans and 1 in 3 Americans under the age of 30, as it is to a shrinking church in North America now grappling with its own mortality and longing for More. (My own book Grace Sticks is written for just these sorts of “restless souls.”)

Before Learning To Walk in the Dark, there were Leaving Church and An Altar in the World, where the shedding of glib religious identity and answers becomes an invitation to become more fully human and more fully in love with this world. Darkness is the latest metaphor by which this gifted writer and preacher approaches the empty vortex of suffering, loss and evil, angling to review the lessons physical darkness can teach us and to put new flesh on the dry bones of old religious answers.

Hearing Barbara speak on Thursday was a breath of fresh air, challenging me, in a period of general ennui and distraction— “distraction from distraction by distraction,” as T.S. Eliot once put it, or maybe just that familiar sickness known as “writer’s block”— to keep writing about the underside of Christian faith.



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