Cathleen Falsani, an award-winning religion writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, calls her new book Sin Boldly and finishes it off with this subtitle: A Field Guide for Grace. That title, “sin boldly,” comes from Luther, but this book is not about sin but about grace, and it is a field guide.
How do you define “grace” and how would you define “grace” in a missional context?
In fact, it’s a journey around the USA and over to Africa in search of grace. The meaning of “grace” in this book is shaped for those who doubt grace is around, and Cathleen finds experiences that point toward God. Take the book, then, as a search for icons in life. “It is much easier,” she says, “and, I would argue, more helpful to describe what grace feels like through stories and images that illustrate the varied ways grace is experienced when encountered in the wild than it is to attempt to define it conclusively, to trap it or cage it” (12). Thus, “Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve” (14).
Cathleen Falsani is a consummate storyteller, and each of these stories — 20 of them — somehow leads us to her theme, which is not a theological definition but an experience that speaks deeply of God’s goodness. Yes, she’s got a traditional theory of grace at work in one chp — one of traipsing around Montana with a rabbi and his wife — and she’s got the graces of mercy and people and images and finding a place to live and the poor, suffering of Africa and women who have resisted tradition to show compassion to others in Kenya and pouring-down rain and noisy neighbors when she was on retreat. Not to forget watermelon gazpacho and Elvis.
Cathleen Falsani is an excellent writer, and she slid in words at times that caught me off guard and I paused and said, “Nice one.” And there’s good wit, a little irreverent at times, but good and fun and enough to make pages sparkle. Also, I need to add this: there’s a maturity of journalism at work behind this book and it shows — in every chp. I’ll be mentioning this book to many for a long time.
This is the making of a memoir — she grew up Catholic, became Southern Baptist, went to Wheaton, and became an Episcopalian. Religion newswriters have a challenge unlike most of us: they are required to tell stories of various faiths, suspending judgment often, to get into the skin of what others think and believe, and those experiences soften one’s convictions and shape one’s faith. I often wonder how religion writers can believe.
I’ll tell you why: learning to suspend one’s faith or bracket one’s faith is a way of deconstructing one’s faith, a way of learning to live and think and even be outside one’s faith. I know this is heavy for a review on Cathleen’s book, but this book made me think of this belief of mine.
This might be the first time I’ve done this. I chose to put this book in the category of “missional” because, deep inside, this book is a missional exploration for those who are seeking for grace.