Book Review: A Curious Faith

Review: A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert

Have you ever read the kind of book where you want to go fast and slow at the same time? You want to rush through the pages because each page is a revelation, but at the same time you can’t bear for it to be over, because then the revelations will cease. Of course we can always go back and read it again, and each reading will reveal more. But there is nothing like that first read through, where you feel your thoughts and your heart and soul have been revealed on the page before you.

Well, this is the kind of book A Curious Faith was for me. I can’t promise it will be the same for you, because I don’t know your story. But, as Lore Ferguson Wilbert writes her story and her questions, I see my own story and questions reflected back. I can only pray and hope for the same experience for you.

When I was reading, knowing I would write a review, I kept thinking that this would be the chapter I focus on. The one where she talks about the fear of not knowing what God will require of us in his plan for the world. The one where she talks about the damage particular theology has done in telling us we are first and foremost broken, not first and foremost loved children of God. The chapter that cut me to the heart where she echoes my own pain: that my life has not been a fairy tale. That the disappointments and hurts of life have made these questions not just needed but essential. I could on. And on, and on, and on.

But these are the chapters that spoke to me. These are the questions that echo deep in my own soul. I don’t know what chapters will speak to you. I don’t know what questions you are asking, or are afraid to ask, or don’t even know you need to ask. But God does. God knows your questions. God knows your story.

And I truly believe, that through this book, God will speak to those questions in your life. No matter who you are, where you are or the state of your heart, God will use this book to draw out the questions that will examine the state of your soul.

My review is biased, of course. I have followed Lore Ferguson Wilbert’s writing for years over on Sayable. I share her words and pictures on social media frequently. I loved her first book and love this book even more. But I don’t think I am being biased when I say this is a great book, it is accessible, and it is right for all those struggling under the weight of their questions.

Each chapter is short. You could read a chapter a night as a devotion, or you could read each of the three sections in a chunk, or you could race it all before going back to the chapters that speak to you, that pull on your heartstrings.

I know this review is late (the book has been released into the world for over a week) and I know my reach is small (I have few followers on social media and even fewer who will click through to my blog). But I hope if you are reading this, you will check out this book. It is available on book depository, my preferred place for book buying as an Australian constantly facing increasing shipping prices. This book is well worth the investment.

I wanted to end with a quote or section that meant a lot to me and would persuade you of the goodness of this book. But again, I was left with too many sections to choose from. So I will just leave you with this tweet by another writer I respect, and invite you to ask the questions, and know that it is act of faith.

Living the Questions

I have been lucky enough to be a pre-reader for Lore Ferguson Wilbert’s new book, A Curious Faith. I was excited to read it, as I have followed her writing for years, and her last book, Handle With Care, really transformed the way I thought about our physical bodies as not disconnected or separate to our spiritual selves. Especially as my body has endured tragedy and sickness, Lore’s words have been a comfort again and again.

I have not finished reading A Curious Faith yet. When I do I will write a proper review. This is just a halfway point, to ponder the thoughts I am thinking and the things it has prompted me to consider. And perhaps, an invitation, for you to start to ponder and consider as well.

As a child, a teenager and even a young adult, I loved to answer questions. I never met a question I couldn’t have a go at answering. I could logic or puzzle or bible my way through to something that makes sense. I loved to hear people’s questions and reassure them with the answers I had.

But of course, too often, I was not really listening to the hard questions they were asking. I was too quick with answers, and solutions and the right things to say. I repeated the answers given to me, without looking too hard at the details. I have blocked each question with an easy reply, that fits into a nice little box.

I have not been afraid of questions. But I have feared not having an answer. I have feared not having an answer that holds up. I have been afraid my arguments will fail. I have been scared of the questions where all I can say is: I don’t know.

I thought I had to defend God from questions. I thought my frail, human answers protected God. But God has been peeling back the layers of my faith and my identity, and the revelation has been full of welcomed, surprising healing. I have learnt that God welcomes questions. God is the one who made questions, and made us curious. And God asks questions of his own.

I have learnt the freedom in answering: I don’t know. Or: I am still learning. Or even: I have changed my mind.

I have learnt God is good enough and big enough and kind enough for all our questions. I have learnt there are worse things than an unanswered question.

Because even in the asking of the question, we are demonstrating faith in God. That he can handle our doubts, our concerns, our confusion. That he does not need to be defended from questions or hidden with nice answers that stop us from looking closer, or asking more questions.

When we stop putting our faith in the answers we have memorised or the arguments we can make, and instead put our faith in God, our faith becomes deeper and surer and more certain. Because if an answer falls apart, or an argument fails, our faith is not shaken. The answers are not what we have put our trust in.

So instead of being afraid of being left without an answer, I am left without answers, and only Jesus. I have no answers of my own anymore: none that I trust more than Jesus.

You can preorder A Curious Faith here: https://www.acuriousfaithbook.com/

For Australians, I would recommend using Book Depository for free shipping.

Writing As A Spiritual Practice

I’ve been taking part in a writing workshop the last few months. Once a month, a group of Australian Christian writers get on zoom and share writing and give feedback and practice writing skills. It has been wonderful to read work from others all over the country. I’ve appreciated reading a variety of styles and for a variety of purposes, and being able to give and get clear, constructive feedback. But my absolute favourite part has been how it has helped me think about writing as a spiritual practice.

Writing is deeply personal. No matter what we write, our voice comes through. This is even more true when we write about ourselves, our lives, and our experiences. Even if we are sharing these things to show others what we have learnt and are learning, and even if we desire to point the reader to God as the author of our story, it can easily become all about us. We can get stuck in an echo chamber for one.

Writing is also deeply introspective. It is about expressing ourselves, to get the words out of our heads and on the paper to clarify to ourselves what we are thinking and feeling. But we also write to communicate, to be understood by our readers and audience. Writing therefore has two purposes – to learn about ourselves or to be understood by others.

When we confuse those purposes however, and we publish what should be between us and God or sit on words we should be sharing with the world, we get into trouble. When we stay quiet about what should be shouted aloud or share with the world what we are still processing in our hearts.

I have not been blogging for a few years, but I have still been writing. Some of what I have written was for the purpose of introspection. Some of it was not. There are words and chapters I have written that I want to shared with the world, but in the right way, and in the right time. I want the words I share, especially about myself, to be done in a way that is honouring to God and the gifts he has given me.

In determining not to be caught in the loop of circling around my feelings and getting trapped in a self-reflective cycle, it is tempting to think writing about ourselves is a selfish endeavour from start to finish. So why blog at all?

Because, through my writing I can show how God is working in my life. Through expressing my emotions about what I experience and the world around me, I am participating in the redemptive work God is doing in my heart and brain and life. How do I see God’s actions in my life if I don’t stop to reflect on the story, he is telling through me? As God tells this story through me, it is meant to be witnessed by the world. We are not called to hide ourselves away in darkness, but to embrace the light and what it shows.

So I am back to blogging, but in a more purposeful way now. For the right purposes, I hope. I can’t promise to always get it right between what should be shared and what should be private, but I can promise to keep writing and reflecting and praying about the words God gives me.

3 years, 7 months, 15 days 

Last time I wrote (blogged?) here on Searching For Grace was the 25th of January 2018. That was 1323 days ago. Over three years. A lot has happened in that time, personally and globally.

The obvious thing is that last time I wrote on this blog no one had heard of COVID or any of the safety measures we now take daily. The world wasn’t safer necessarily, but it was easier to feel safe.

Personally, since then, I have gotten married, moved house three times, and experienced other huge upheaval and change in all kinds of personal circumstances. Three years ago, I didn’t know the joy of pregnancy or the heartbreak of miscarriage. I didn’t know the fear that comes with having loved family members overseas and not knowing when I will see them again. I hadn’t experienced the realities of marriage and having your life tied to another person’s life, for better and for worse.

But way back at the start of 2018 I was still a graduate teacher. Now I am more confident in my teaching and myself. I am also a more confident writer. I wrote a book. A book that is still in the process of making its way into the world, so I won’t say more about that yet.

In the intervening 43 months and 15 days, I have worked full time for a few years and chosen to step away from the education career mill. I have experienced gain and loss, and endless health problems. I have met people who listen compassionately and genuinely care, and I have deepened other friendships in the way that only comes when you walk through life and joy and sorrow with someone. I have sought therapy to better understand myself and taken medication to improve my mental and physical health.

So where am I now? Relief teaching when I am well enough. Waiting to have my gallbladder removed, when the public health list gets to my name. Watching my husband thrive in a new job environment where he can do ministry and teach people about Jesus. Writing when I can. Now that all my writing energy isn’t being poured into lesson plans and school reports, or my book, I have time and energy to write for other reasons now.

I wasn’t sure if I should resurrect this blog. In many ways, the person who wrote the posts on here is not the same person I am now. But they also show my growth and change and as I started to grow into who I am now. So there is value in that.

Maybe I will come back to blogging on here, when I need to shout into the void. Maybe I will start a new blog. Or maybe I will stop blogging altogether. Maybe I will find a new way to write and express myself.

So much has happened in the last three years that I couldn’t have written about it at the time, even if I had wanted to. But now I am left with the only way I know how to process things that have happened to me and thoughts I am exploring. I am left with writing it all out.

Book Review: The Creation of Anne Boleyn

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo is one of my favourite books, and definitely my favourite historical book. For lack of a better description, I would call it a deconstruction of the historical character of Anne Boleyn and her many portrayals in history and media ever since her turbulent life.

Divided into three sections, the book outlines the historically known facts of Anne’s life, her depiction in history after her reign, and then her various portrayals in media (books, movies and tv shows) ever since.

The premise alone however can not capture the witty, intelligent and clever writing that makes this book so enjoyable. Susan Bordo doesn’t hold back in her critiques of historians, historical fiction authors or screenwriters, producers and directors. She brings a fresh gaze to the recent and not so recent tropes often repeated about Anne, and draws patterns and connections in a way only someone who has dedicated a far chunk of their life to studying Anne’s portrayals can.

Bordo does the hard, fatiguing work of digging through the historical record, and then manages to organize and present her findings in a way that is clear, concise and entertaining even to someone who hasn’t spent the last few years of their life buried in Anne Boleyn related texts.

In case this hasn’t already been made clear by my raving review, I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone – anyone. Interested in history, media, fiction, popular culture or even just how a figure like Anne Boleyn can develop and change over time? This book will not let you down.

Book Review: The Blue Castle

I know, I know – I am incredibly late to the game in discovering this delightful story. Written by L. M. Montgomery (think Anne of Green Gables), set in the wild beauty of Canada and the odd societies people create, it’s possibly my new favourite. At the very least, I can envision it being one of stories you return to again and again.

All you need to know in terms of the ‘plot’ of this book, is that Valancy is 29, unmarried and unhappy. Events prompt her to drastically change her life, and this story is the result. Valancy grows in character and heart page by page, to the shock, amazement and slight dismay of her various family and friends.

Like with most of Montgomery’s work, there are detailed and captivating descriptions of the landscape and natural locations of the story. Even more captivating is her ability to describe people – physically and psychologically – in such a way that you immediately can picture them, mannerisms and all, in your mind.

If you haven’t read any of her work before, I’d highly recommend it. While the Anne sagas are understandably my favourites, I know they can be a bit overwhelming. Perhaps starting with The Blue Castle, this short, stand alone novel, is more manageable. If you are an Anne fan, but haven’t read any of Montgomery’s other work, I again highly recommend it. I especially enjoyed The Story Girl, but I think The Blue Castle has now overtaken it in my affections.

Do you have a favourite Montgomery book I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know. If you read The Blue Castle and enjoy, also let me know!

The State of the Blog

My blogging break was longer than I expected. But here I am. My five week teaching placement is done and my assignments are submitted.

For complicated university logistical reasons, I can’t do my internship until term 2 next year, which is approximately April. I have an intensive subject to do that runs for a week in November. Otherwise, that’s it. That’s all I have to do to finish my degree and graduate.

I enjoyed my teaching placement. It was hard work and it kept me busy, and some days I felt overwhelmed. Most days I felt exhausted. Sometimes I wondered if I had managed to teach my class anything at all.

But I had lots of things filling my head. I had interesting things to think about and constant tasks to do. I couldn’t help but feel productive and purposeful. Working full time was surprisingly good for my mental health.

It wasn’t perfect. I had afternoons where I couldn’t motivate myself to do the pile of work waiting for me. Sometimes I felt very isolated and cut off from my friends. But overall, it was better than empty days and a lack of purpose.

But now I have a long break stretching ahead of me, filled with empty days and a lack of specific purpose.

I’m dreading this long summer. I’ve found some part time work, and I’m going to volunteer with the RSPCA and find some useful things to do. I’ll find some books to read and online courses to do. But it’s not the same – creating entertainment and purpose for yourself, rather than constantly working and being productive.

I know it’s a lucky problem to have – too much time and freedom. But for my anxiety and my ideal well being, I need structure and purpose and limits around my choices. Other people may love this unstructured life, but it is not for me.

How To Be A Global Feminist

I’m back to writing. Kind of. I actually wrote this post quite a while ago, but only getting around to publishing it now. But here it is. I’ll try and write a more cohesive update sometime soon. 

Jesus made a feminist out of me. When I see his love displayed at the cross and the way he loved women like we’ve never been loved before, all I want to do is make sure all women, everywhere, know they are loved and valued. I want all men to see that Jesus doesn’t discriminate or prioritize – his mercy and grace are on offer to all people, all times, places, races, genders.

Being a Jesus feminist, or a Christian feminist, or an advocate for gender equality – whatever term or phrase you prefer – is an important task, as there are still so many barriers facing women, even here in the privileged western world. But so often when I am thinking about the challenges I face, the issues affecting women like me, I forget the wider perspective.

I forget there are women from different racial and social backgrounds living here in my own country where their gender impacts their freedom much more significantly. I forget that many women don’t have the choices I do. I forget that in many countries, basic healthcare and education are still out of reach. Never mind equal pay, there are women working as slaves or indented labourers, and the things they make end up on the shelves in my local shops. I was so caught up in the arguments of who can preach, or teach or lead or serve, I forgot that my sisters in Christ are sometimes denied even the chance to read the bible for themselves.

I don’t want to downplay the very real discrimination and harassment women are facing in all countries. But it’s easy for me to forget that others don’t experience the world the way I do, and that my own concerns aren’t always the most pressing issue. So I am resolved to be a Global Feminist – a feminist for all women, everywhere.

Do you feel overwhelmed by it all? I do. There are so many issues facing women – it can be exhausting. There’s so many battles to fight – how do I choose? But what brings me back to these issues, to caring about women worldwide, is the cross of Jesus. He saved those who couldn’t save themselves. He gave us his life to restore everything that is broken in this world. When we have been shown such grace and mercy, how else are we to respond? God has shown us how much he values justice, and how far he will go to set things right.

To participate in his redeeming work, we must make room in our feminism for a global perspective. We must start looking beyond our own circumstances and show that in this fight for equality, we stand with all women, in all times and places. Don’t feel overwhelmed – you’re not alone in this pursuit. There’s two key areas where you can dog things, right now, to start being a Global Feminist.

Buy Ethically

Over the last few years I’ve been trying to change my buying habits, especially when it comes to clothes. I’ve become more and more aware that all the readily available, cheap, off the rack clothing comes at a high price – the lives of those forced to work in awful conditions for awful pay (or no pay at all). Big companies outsource their production, and those companies often outsource it again –making it easy for our department stores to turn a blind eye to who has really made their products. The International Labour Organisation estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labour victims with 11.4 million (55%) trafficked victims per year. Underprivileged women are the ones carrying the burden created by our consumer culture.

When I purchase cheap dresses and under-priced jeans, the cost involved in making the products doesn’t go away – it just means someone other than me is paying it. Usually it’s the most vulnerable people who are paying that cost. When I do that, I am communicating to the clothing companies, the world and to myself that I value cheap clothes more than I value the humans, often female, who are being exploited, under-paid and enslaved.

Value Education for Women

Education can make all the difference in the world for women. However, of the 100 million children who don’t go to school, two thirds are girls. There is an ongoing expectation in many societies that women take on the work involved in running a home – cooking, cleaning, childcare, fetching water – and girls start this work from a young age, often at the expense of education. But education can give women the power of making informed choices. UNESCO’s statistics have shown that when girls receive even a basic education, they marry later, have smaller and healthier families, are more likely to enter the labour market and to seek access to healthcare for themselves and their children. Education for women has been called the single most effective tool for development – when women are economically empowered, their towns, cities and countries benefit. You can support this work, through organisations like Women for Women and many others. You can show you value education for girls, and never forget the privilege of your own education.

Women and The Reformation Part 4 – Always Reforming

This is part four in my series on the Reformation and it’s impact on women. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

The Counter Reformation

The Counter Reformation is the name given to the Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation. Even before Luther and the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church was starting to adapt and change – this was certainly made more necessary, however, with the advent of the Reformation. Recently, historians have revealed the importance of women to the Catholic revival after the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent has been called the launch point for the Counter Reformation – the Catholic Church declared a number of the Protestant beliefs as heresies, as well as revising and confirming the Catholic liturgy. It shaped and defined the future of the Catholic Church.

In this period of history, women often used their social status to negotiate their own spaces for religious expression. Where the traditional institution did not make room for them, the women forged their own groups and positions. For example, women in the Benedictine convent of Überwasser used their elite social status as ‘members of the noble class’ to challenge the reform of their convent. The nuns revealed themselves as more than silent brides of Christ. As another example, the group of pious lay women known as the Lichtmutter (light mothers) were overseers of the provision of candles in the parish church, but who came to fulfill a range of duties including the collection of alms and church maintenance.

At the close of the Council of Trent Catholic society offered two respected roles for women: wife and cloistered nun. By the end of the following century women had numerous other roles available to them, such as nurses, teachers and activists. They were integral parts of the new Counter Reformation society.

Where are we now?

The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation changed society for all people. As we have looked at, it’s easy to notice the changes it brought to the lives of women, for better and for worse. But where are we now? What difference has it made?

Most Western Protestant Churches are still dealing with the ‘women’s issues’ and struggling to find answers. This is telling; women are still seen as an issue. The leadership of women, the place for women as teachers and preachers is still contested and viewed by many (both men and women) as unbiblical.

Of course, some denominations have embraced the idea of female pastors – though sometimes for societal reasons rather than the conviction of scripture – and even in these churches, women are still facing struggles their brothers in Christ are not. Women often still feel like second class citizens in the church family.

Always reforming

I think the Reformers would be horrified if the Reformation had stopped with them. Reformation is not a one time event in history, but an ongoing attitude and process as we look at the Bible as we make decisions around how we do church and how we follow God.

The world is changing – it was changing for the Reformers, and it hasn’t stopped since. We will always be reacting to events around us as a Church, and we will always be tempted to both cling to old traditions out of fear and to leap ahead without stopping to check before we jump. Instead, we must turn again and again to God’s Word, just as the Reformers did, as we evaluate where we are heading as a Church.

References

Assess the Effects of the Reformation on the Lives of Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/assess-the-effects-of-the-reformation-on-the-lives-of-women-in-sixteenth-century-europe/

Review: Women in Reformation and Counter-Reformation Europe: Private and Public Worlds (Social History) by Sherrin Marshall

Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History – Diana Lynn Severance

Reform and Conflict: From the Medieval World to the Wars of Religion – Rudolph W. Heinze

The European Reformations – Carter Lindberg

The Education of Women in the Reformation (History of Education Quarterly) by Lowell Green

A Key to Counter Reformation Women’s Activism: The Confessor-Spiritual Director (Journal of Feminist Study In Religion) by Patricia Ranft

The Protestant Education in the 16th Century: https://www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/the-protestant-education-in-the-xvith-century/

The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on Education (Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences) by Mihai Androne

More Than Footnotes: Part 3: http://juniaproject.com/more-than-footnotes-part-3-women-reformation-era/

Women and the Counter-Reformation in Early Modern Munster: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1688

I Went To A New Church

Over the last few months I’ve started going to a new church. I’ll be honest and say this process hasn’t been easy, but it also hasn’t been as hard as it might have been. I’ve learnt a lot about churches, people and myself, and I thought it was time to reflect on that a bit.

Myself 

I don’t like large crowds of people. I already knew this, but I’ve realized more than ever than a growth group or bible study with a few people is much easier for me than a church service with 60 people.

It’s okay to low expectations of myself in terms of social interaction at church, as long as I get to church. Even if I need to leave five minutes after the service ends or arrive five minutes after it starts, that’s okay – meeting with God’s people is still good and valuable.

Church

My favourite part of church is singing songs about Jesus – for similar reasons to why I like prayerbook services. I think the first function of a church service should be the family of God telling each other the truth we believe about Jesus – through song, through prayer, through reading the Bible.

I’m not sold by the concept of a traditional ‘sermon.’ I don’t think it’s the best way to hear the truth about Jesus, encourage each other and grow in him. It would be different if it wasn’t so hard to preach a good sermon – but it is.

People 

The first conversation isn’t hard. It’s the second, third, fourth conversations that transition into building a relationship that is hard.

People are generally friendly and kind. People are also busy and already in relationships. That’s okay. There will be people with space in their lives for you. Keep meeting people and you’ll find them.

If you’re going to a new church…

Taking it slowly is okay. You won’t feel connected and at home straight away – commit to a certain number of weeks before giving up. Inconsistent attendance is better than nothing.

Small steps all add up. Be friendly and open to possibilities. Keep persisting.

If you’re welcoming new people…

Be willing to not just have that first conversation with someone, but the third and fourth as well.

If you don’t have the energy or room in your life for a new relationship, connecting them with someone who does is a good idea.