Leaving Church, by Barbara Brown Taylor, is (somewhat ironically) full of enriching meditations for the church. When she left a twenty-year career as a priest and in essence also “left church,” Brown Taylor says she was compelled to let go of her power and in turn share that power with a priesthood of all believers. Three things happened, she says, in the process. First, she came to feel a sense of “tenderness” for “everyone trying to make a go out of church the way it was.” She understood even better how hard it is to be a clergy person leading the people of God and how challenging it can be to be a layperson in a church that typically revolves around the personality of its head minister.

The “second thing that happened” when Brown Taylor “lost her power,” was an appreciation for the necessity of spiritual poverty in following Jesus. Here is Brown Taylor on this quality of “spiritual poverty”:  “Since this virtue has all but vanished from the American church scene, it is often hard to recognize. With so much effort being poured into church growth, so much press being given to the benefits of faith, and so much flexing of religious muscle in the public square, the poor in spirit have no one but Jesus to call them blessed anymore. Yet his way endures as a way of emptying the self of all its goods instead of shoring up the self with spiritual riches. Only those who lose their lives can have them.”

The third thing that happened when Brown Taylor lost her power was this: she began to understand how her priesthood “emptied into the world.” She came to see how her vocation was one of paying attention to the holy outside of church, like in line at the post office or grocery store. She came to see that she was still very much a priest, only now a priest for the whole world.

There are numerous observations within the pages of this book that make it worth a read, but these I count as most edifying. Spiritual poverty in the public square, not the flexing of spiritual muscle, is, I think, a pathway through the wilderness for the church in America- as is a church that exists in and for the world, rather than apart from and against it.

 

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