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Embracing the Body :: a guest post by Tara M. Owens

Tara and I spent a wonderful lunch together in Denver over a year ago and, yes, we totally talked about Doctor Who. But she also poured out her dream and her process for this very book. It was a long road to see it come to light and I believe it’s a powerful book for our time.

embracing the body

Tara is a marvellous woman: trust worthy, strong. If I had a spiritual director, I’d want her to be someone like Tara. Considering the damaging theology that some espouse, claiming that our souls or minds are more important or more spiritual than our bodies, this book seeks to reclaim the body in Christian theology, language, and practice. Wise, erudite, loving and tender, Embracing the Body will bring true healing and wholeness to our theology of our physical bodies as a church. Tara Owens is the perfect guide for this holy journey. I’m excited to introduce you to this book and also give away two copies!

Bristled. Burnished and brown. Baby-soft. With each cheek, I pressed my lips in deeper. With each person I became a little bolder. I looked into eyes shining with hope, heads bowed with heaviness. I wrapped my arms around those who were weary. I stood in tip-toed excitement to receive each one.

Earlier that morning, I was conscripted, deputized as a makeshift monk. In this community of artists and wanderers that I had called home for the week, I was asked to be a stand in for the holy. I listened carefully as our chaplain explained what I was to do. In a blessing of these who bring beauty into the world, each would approach with a request. In the manner of the pilgrims to the Greek Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain, on approaching a monk, the traveler would call out, “Bless me.” In return, I would acknowledge what already is—that they are chosen and called by God—by responding, “The LORD blesses you.”

“Then,” my chaplain said, “we will kiss them.”

I struggle to find words for the joy that sang through me on hearing those words. The surge of delight I felt was disproportionate, sudden and thrilling. While I recognize that most people, when faced with the prospect of kissing the cheeks of more than fifty near-strangers, would not be filled with excitement, I’ve been thinking, teaching, wrestling with and writing about the wonder of embodiment for more than six years.

In today’s context, we’re rarely given the opportunity to touch others in blessing, let alone get close enough to kiss them. But the act of embodying love, of reaching out of our imperfect, sweaty, awkward humanity to touch the trembling, holy, grace-infused stuff of another is a place of sacrament. As I touch you with my lips, I give form to love. As I lean close to bless, we insist together on the holiness of creation—even as we feel and know its limitations and vulnerabilities.

I’ve blessed people with oil before, marking them gently with the sign of the cross. I’ve rested hands on bowed heads, pressed my palm over a heart. I’ve supported cupped hands as they asked for God to fill them with His love. Until this particular day, I’d never kissed others in blessing, only in greeting, and then only with the anxious fumble of one who grew up in a culture devoid of these ritual greetings. Do I kiss once? Twice? Three times? I never know.

But now I am the moment’s monk. As each artist, each pilgrim comes with their brave petition—Bless me—and I unconsciously move toward them, grasping their shoulders, holding them in the surety of grace—The LORD blesses you—I am the one kissed by love.

Assured of our common humanity, the tenderness of skin and lips and hope and blessing, I have embodied Christ, watched Him spill out of others and into me. I have fallen in love again and again with each face, and the kissing has become a needful thing, something that is right and good and true. It is a reversal of Judas’s betrayal, and embodiment of not my will but thine be done, and a release into all that they are and all that I am and all that God is in and between and through us.

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This is how we begin to create community with our bodies. Not with kissing (although there is great wisdom to be gained in reflecting on Paul’s suggestion to greet one another with a holy kiss—Rom. 16:15, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:21, 1 Thess 5:25, 1 Peter 5:14), but with an attentive awareness of the tenderness of our very selves, the softness of flesh, the hope of movements toward redemption, the aching flaws of bodies that age and ail.

What would it mean to attend to one another’s bodies as if they were our own to receive and bless? Not objects to control, but members of ourselves, whose gifts and griefs are as real as our own. To make safe spaces for the grace of touch—a kiss, a clasp, a hand on a shoulder or arms that encircle—is to create a culture of body that embraces mystery and material together. These spaces, held open at once by our God and our bodies, speak safety—I see you, I feel you, you can relax now, you are safe—and incarnate the presence of God, whose love can move through us to bring healing and wholeness.

This is the kneeling of the body of Christ, together as a community. In kneeling, in blessing, we put ourselves in the most vulnerable position possible. We expose ourselves to hurt, we risk betrayal. We open the softest parts of our flesh to others and the world, and we do it with radical trust not that we will be saved from hurt, but that God will move through our vulnerability to bring the power of Christ into the world. This is the kneeling of Christ in Gesthemane, a kneeling not for himself but for the redemption of all, an opening of a way of return to the One who loves us all the way to death.

This is the risk we must take with our bodies, our selves. We must offer a hand to the one we fear to touch, a shoulder to the one whose load seems impossible to bear. These aren’t metaphors, we have to get up and move, to let sweat and smell make us uncomfortable, let words become meals shared and savored, let the promised prayers become bedside vigils beside the cots of the dying.

This isn’t a list of things to do, another heavy requirement of a life of holiness. It’s isn’t anything further from you than the next deep breath, the way the air fills your lungs and oxygen rushes through your arteries to sustain life. We are meant to live this incarnate life together, and, however dysfunctionally we do so, it is the togetherness that lets the blood of Christ flow freely, doing what our own blood does so well: it brings sustaining energy, washes us of what is wasteful; it gives us rhythm and movement, maintains warmth and holds us open to what is needed; it defends against what will infect, closing wounds so that the life within can heal and make new.

These are things to recognize in our life with Christ and with one another, not manufacture. The wonder of kneeling, of blessing, is that it is something that we receive instead of produce, it is not what we earn but what we make known.

 

owens-0496 copyTara M. Owens, CSD is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God In Our Flesh & Bone, published by InterVarsity Press. She’s a spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo, in Colorado. She loves Doctor Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.

Giveaway!

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win one of two copies of Tara’s book. And a pot of homemade Meyer Lemon curd because Tara is awesome like that.

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Continue Reading · book review, books, Guest Post · 54

A Suggestion

Poetry :: Sarah Bessey

May I make a suggestion for your Monday? I know it’s a busy day ahead. Kids who need raising, a home that needs tending, laundry that needs folding, emails that need sending, bills that need paying, papers need writing, websites need coding, clients need meetings, important work needs doing: so many verbs.

The day is very full for you already, I know. It’s early morning here and already I’m running through the long list of verbs for my day, too. I haven’t even finished my first mug of tea and my list is long.

So here is my suggestion: Read a bit of poetry today. 

So impractical, I know. There are many ways to pray. But still, consider it. Perhaps Mary Oliver or Luci Shaw? Maybe an anthology of old favourites? Maya Angelou? Langston Hughes? W.S. Merwin? Rilke? Hafiz, the Sufi poet, is an old favourite. I’ve had my eye caught by Nayyirah Waheed lately, too.

This morning, I decided on Wendell Berry. I needed someone who loves this life and yet writes with a bit of an edge, an impatience and anger, behind the beauty of original life.

Start perhaps with “The Peace of Wild Things” and remember that:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things….

Finish your poetry reading – it doesn’t have to be long – with Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front and remember , friends, to “every day do something that won’t compute.”

“Practice resurrection,” he says.

There is so much to do, I know it, too. Snatch a few minutes of being human back from the endless accomplishing. If you want to do something today that just doesn’t compute to the mad modern world centred on production and do-do-do and go-go-go here is my suggestion: read a bit of poetry today.

Productivity isn’t always the boss of us.

 

Continue Reading · books, poetry · 35

What I’m Into (Spring 2015)

What I'm Into : Sarah Bessey

books i read

The Beautiful Daughters: A Novel by Nicole Baart. I’ve always liked Nicole’s work but this is her best one yet. I couldn’t put it down and was genuinely surprised by the turn. It’s spiritual without being cloying, dark without being hopeless.

Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist. I’m a big Shauna fan girl, it’s no secret. I adore her. This devotional gathers her best writing into a daily devotional centred on the theme from the title. Plus it’s just a beautiful book.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. I’m rather new to Neil Gaiman’s work, I became a fan after watching an episode of Doctor Who he wrote that I simply loved (The Doctor’s Wife). This work of short fiction is stunning and freaky and wonderful. I mean, I was skin-crawly and fascinated. His mind is SOMETHING ELSE. I especially liked “Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale” and “The Truth is a Cave in the Mountains.”

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion time. Even though I have loved most of his prior work, I didn’t like this book very much. Sure, there were parts I liked and I know many people will love it but I found it big on name-dropping, and a bit simplistic. Plus I had a hard time suspending my disbelief to receive relationship advice here – it’s not yet earned. That might be my smug-married coming out but I figure relationship books, particularly marriage books, are best after a few years under your belt (like, say, 25).

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. I picked up this book at the recommendation of Jen Hatmaker and it is just as good as she said. I’m not a foodie in the least. I mean, I’m a good cook and I feed my family just fine but I’m never above Kraft Mac n’Cheese, if you know what I mean. But this book was so beautifully written, it made me love how this woman loved food.

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home by Amber C. Haines – I had a chance to read an advanced copy of this book. And I want people to read it for dozens of reasons: Amber’s voice, her writing, is incomparable to anything you’ve read before. But even beyond that gift, she writes about desire, our longing for home, with a deeply orthodox and yet mystical and sensual soul. This book made me feel homesick and at-home all at the same time. Only Amber could so beautifully and rightly write into the parts of our human experience that usually defy words.

I have done a lot of re-reading of last year’s favourites. Maybe it’s the late-night nursing talking, but I have just been in the mood for every single Liane Moriarity book ever written and I have indulged accordingly. Sometimes you just need a good story, right? I re-read them all: What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, The Husband’s Secret, The Last Anniversary, and my new favourite, Big Little Lies. I just love how she writes women so fully.

books I’m reading right now

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. This book might be saving my life right now. Sometimes revelation arrives slow and steady and sweetly. Other times, it’s like the wind blows in and breaks all the windows. This book is the latter. Whew, it’s ferociously good.

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

The Royal We by Heather Cocks adn Jessica Morgan

The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion

Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

 

television worth watching

I actually binge-watched for the first time! Again: newborn. I hit all 13 episodes of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and loved it. Loved it! I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a sitcom so this was noteworthy for me. I loved the premise, the strain of darkness under the jokes, Titus has my heart forever, and Kimmy, well, she is just so believable, so earnest, so real even though the whole thing is utterly unreal. (It’s on Netflix.)

I gave up on Gilmore Girls. I am still slowly watching episodes but I don’t feel much urgency.

Otherwise, it’s all hockey playoffs – Go, Flames! – and Love it or List It here. HGTV, my heart you.

Oh, the tinies and I have just discovered Phineas and Ferb, too. I was rather stumped for TV shows for the kids once they grew out of the preschooler shows. (Little Bear, we love you.) Everything seemed either too violent or too dumb or just plain annoying. But my friend Kelly at Love Well told me that her kids liked this Disney XD show and since I trust Kelly implicitly, we gave it a go. It’s funny, complex, creative, weird, and smart – we’re big fans now.

Our other kid favourite is The Magic School Bus. We have the DVD set of the complete series and it’s a perpetual favourite with the preschooler and the big kids, so that’s a win.

movies worth seeing

I haven’t watched a movie in a dog’s age. We keep trying but I simply lack the time and the attention span right now. See again: newborn.

music worth hearing

Home by Josh Garrels – I’m a big fan of this guy and his new album is stellar.

Born and Raised by John Mayer – I just can’t quit this guy. This is the album I listen to when I’m cooking on Sunday afternoons.

podcast worth downloading

Sorta Awesome – Megan Tietz of SortaCrunchy was one of my very first Big Blogger crushes back in the dark ages of blogging (think circa 2007). Anyway, years later we’ve become dear friends and so of course I was so sad when she quit blogging earlier this year. I mean, I was happy FOR HER but I was sad for me, you know? But she has branched into podcasting! And this is the perfect medium for Megan. First of all, I could listen to her read the phone book, she has such a great voice. But then she is so good at making you feel like you are just hanging out on her front porch, talking about life and everything that’s interesting or sorta awesome. It’s like being her neighbour. Sorta Awesome is available in iTunes (I’ve already subscribed) but you can also listen from a browser by clicking this link, or search “Sorta Awesome” wherever you listen to podcasts and you’ll find it.

stuff worth reading on the Internet

On Being a Woman After God’s Own Heart by Jenny Rae Armstrong

My 22 Best Practices After 22 Years of Pastoral Ministry by April Yamasaki

Consider by Richard Beck

This is Ace by Micha Boyett

Tools for the Highly Sensitive Mother by Amber C. Haines

What We’re For by Kathy Escobar

A Hidden Opportunity in Your Church by Nish Weiseth

Born This Way by John Blase

For God So Loved by Kelley Nikondeha

10 Ways to Support Women of Colour in Leadership by Austin Channing Brown

And just because it makes me happy to watch it now and then:

pins worth re-pinning

The text of an entire book on a t-shirt? TAKE MY MONEY.

My sister made this kale and potato soup with turkey sausage and SWEARS it’s amazing. She is much more the foodie than me.

The Best of Ted Talks for women right here.

No, you cried when you looked at these pictures of women one day after giving birth.

And finally, 40 Pinterest Complete Fails to make you feel better.

 

So, friends, what about you? What’s on your nightstand? What television show or movie or music has captured your imagination?

Linked up with Leigh Kramer for What I’m Into.

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Continue Reading · book review, books, What I’m Into · 42

Searching for Sunday

As I’ve travelled and met so many readers over the past two years, I kept hearing one question, over and over from people in every context, every denomination, every city. Obviously, we would talk about Jesus Feminist or writing or whatever I had just finished preaching about but then after that, every time, there was one subject everyone wanted to talk about: people want to talk about how I’ve managed to hold onto my faith or what gives me hope as part of the global church. People want to talk about how my faith changed, evolved, and yet strengthened somehow.

Specifically? people have wanted to know why I still go to church.

Usually people ask with tears in their eyes or anger in their voice or a story on their lips. (And if you’ve been at any event where I’ve spoken you already know that I’m a total crier and a hugger so we end up having a big old cry and hug.)

After all, I’ve been open about my struggles and questions with church over the past ten years. I have left church over and over, only to return. I’ve been angry and hurt, I’ve felt excluded and shamed.

And yet I am committed not only to the Church globally but actually really committed to a local church body. Yep, I go to church and the more I go to church, the more I wrestle with church, well, it seems the more I become committed to these small outposts of God’s grace and mercy and kingdom-living.

My greatest wounds have come from church and so it makes holy sense that my great healing has happened there, too.

Imperfect and glorious, frustrating and transformative, I’m a local church girl and I think I always will be. And that baffles some people.

I get that.

I think that’s why I write so much about church here on the blog. I’m still wrestling, still figuring out my place, still figuring out what it means, still reclaiming my heritage while rewriting and trying to live prophetically into what God is doing now.

Like so many of us, I’m still searching for Sunday.

So today I want to tell you about a new book releasing today – Rachel Held Evans’ new book for other searchers, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.

Rachel has not only been a dear friend to me but she’s saved my faith a time or two (or eight). I believe that her influence and voice in the Church is not only needed right now but, in the future, many will celebrate and honour her as the revolutionary woman of valour she truly is. She’s one for the history books.

Three or four years ago, I happened to hear about a book called Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.

Humph, rather weird title, I thought. I clicked over to the author’s blog. Well, hello there, Rachel Held Evans, nice to meet you.

Little did I know how that one small click would enrich my life, challenge my faith and intellect, spur my own writing career, introduce me to new thinkers and believers, and  bring the gift of a true professional-and-personal friend.

I started off as a commenter and reader, and every comment I left was some variation of “Oh, gracious, you, too? ME, TOO!” Somehow, Rachel found my little corner here on the Internet, we began to correspond, develop a relationship, and now, I consider her a friend and an ally. We often write about similar topics – womanhood or church, for instance. She even wrote the foreword to my little yellow book.

When we met in person last year in Nashville, it was like a reunion.

Yes, we re-enacted a Thelma and Louise photo in the washroom because we’re cool like that.

Rachel and Sarah

On the outside, our current daily lives and histories are very different, and yet we had a soul-connection and theological sisterhood. (And a shared snarky sense of humour. And views on marriage.)

Rachel has always genuinely cheered me on with a generous heart. Anyone who likes to harp on the intrinsic jealousy of women needs to meet my friend, Rachel. She’s unselfish and truly believes that her influence comes with responsibility; she makes room for other voices, other experiences, and celebrates freely. She makes me work harder at my craft. She believed I had a voice that was worth hearing, and then she gave me a bit of space on her platform. She makes me think. She makes me laugh. She makes me feel less alone, and less crazy. She points me to Jesus. She’s witty, wise, loyal, and fearless.

I am so blessed by her friendship – professionally and personally.

searching for sunday

And as I read her new book, I knew I was in the presence of a great teacher and thinker, contemplative and minister.

I’m not over-stating things when I tell you that this is Rachel’s best book yet—and that’s saying something.

In this beautifully honest, hopeful and wry book, Rachel speaks for so many of us. I believe that her hard-fought words will heal many wounds.

It is a must-read for all who love Jesus but struggle with loving or understanding or finding their place in the Church.

And today is the day Searching for Sunday releases to the world!

I can’t recommend it highly enough and so I’ve decided to give away three copies here.

To enter to win one of three copies of Searching for Sunday:

1. Leave a comment on this post about how you’re searching for Sunday yourself. It can be as long or short as you like, just share a way that you’re finding “church” as you understand it these days.

2. Make sure you leave an email or a way to contact you if you win!

This weekend, I’ll choose three random winners and send you a copy of Rachel’s new book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.

Eshet chayil, Rachel! Woman of valour!

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Continue Reading · book review, books, church · 185

Introducing my new book, Out of Sorts

Out of Sorts Cover

Well, my friends, here she is!

Meet Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. If all goes as planned, it will release on August 11 of this year.

This book has been a wrestle to write in many ways. I remember when I was writing Jesus Feminist three years ago, people would ask me “How are you doing that with a four year old, a two year old, and a baby!?” and now I know the answer: naps and early bedtimes and quiet days. I have found it much more of a wrestle to find the time and energy to write this book with an 8 year old, a 6 year old, a nearly four year old and being pregnant with our fourth, I’ll tell you.

The other reason why it’s been a bit of a battle is perhaps because of the subject matter itself. As I’ve traveled and met so many of you over the past two years, after we’ve talked about Jesus Feminist or whatever, I kept hearing one question, over and over from people in every context, every denomination, every city.

People want to talk about how I’ve managed to hold onto my faith or what gives me hope as part of the global church. People want to talk about how my faith changed and yet strengthened somehow. Particularly, people have wanted to know why I still go to church.

Phyllis Tickle often talks about how the Church is in the midst of the “Great Emergence” or a major change right now – or as she calls it “a big rummage sale.” We’re figuring out what to keep, what to toss, and what to reclaim as a global Church. But as I thought more and more about that metaphor over the years since first encountering it, I began to realize that that was exactly what I had done and, to be honest, I am still doing right now.

I’m still sorting through my faith. I’m always doing that. I imagine I will always be doing that. 

Jesus  doesn’t change. There isn’t some new-and-exciting Jesus to discover here. He’s the same: yesterday, today, and forever. Rather, it’s we who change or grow or learn. If you feel a bit out of sorts, you’re not alone.

I believe we are all sorting things out on some level: we’re weighing our heritage, our inheritance, our stories and figuring out what needs to stay, what needs to go, and what needs to be either repurposed or reimagined. If the Church as a whole is going through that, then aren’t we all?

I believe if our faith doesn’t change and evolve as we go through our lives, then we simply aren’t paying attention.

So I began to write this book out of that deeply personal journey.

In our family, we use the phrase “out of sorts” to describe our heart or mind or self when we are in the midst of shifting or changing or even just growing or feeling disoriented. For this book, I am using the phrase to describe our sense of self at a time when you feel like everything that you once knew “for sure” is being figured out all over again. Caught in between what-was and what-will-be. Walking away from something perhaps but not quite at the final destination yet either.

This book isn’t an argument to make or a point to take, this isn’t a single story with a plot and a climax and a denouement, and there isn’t a single three-step program to follow with nicely spaced headers and boxes to check off.

I sincerely doubt that anyone could turn this book into a calendar for the gift shop.

Out of Sorts is about loss and how we cope with change. It’s about Jesus and why I love him and follow him.

It’s about church and church people – why they both make me crazy and yet I can’t seem to quit either.

It’s about the stuff I used to think about God but I don’t think anymore and the new things I think and believe that I’ve discovered are actually rather old things.

It’s about the evolution of a soul and the ways I’ve failed.

It’s about letting go of the fear and walking out into the unknown.

It’s about the beautiful things I’ve reclaimed and the stuff I kicked to the curb.

It’s about making peace with my unanswered questions and being content to live into the answers as they come.

It’s about knowing that this is where I’ve landed for now but holding my hands open for where the Spirit may lead me next, it’s about not apologizing for transformation and change and critical thinking.

(Some parts of the book are making me nervous, I’ll admit.)

But really, it’s a book about not being afraid. This book is my way of leaving the light on for the ones who are wandering.

This book is about my own sort, my own rummage sale, the grief that came with the sorting and the healing that was ushered in.

What I had to weigh and discard and evaluate will be different than what you will have in your own house, we all have our own legacies and baggage, family heirlooms and hoarders. It is not about convincing you to end up in the same place as me – how could that even happen when we start from different places?

The book will be released on August 11 – which feels very soon to me since I have our new baby due in just a couple of weeks. I’m sure there will be more to share as the weeks go by and we draw closer to the release. I sent in the manuscript last month to my editor so I could just focus on having another baby in the next few weeks or so. (Don’t you love the “just” in that sentence? Just have a baby. NBD.)

In the meantime, thank you so much for your prayers and support as I’ve written. It means more to me than you could know.

Since this book arose from so many of our conversations over the past couple of years, I can’t wait to offer it to you.

 

And Out of Sorts is already available for preorder!

Amazon.com

Amazon.ca

Barnes and Noble

Chapters Indigo

You can also ask your local bookstore to place their order now, too. (Readers outside of North America, I don’t know about distribution or publishers for you yet but as soon as I find out, I’ll pass it along.)


 

Here’s the official blurb from the back of the book:

From the popular blogger and provocative author of Jesus Feminist comes a riveting new study of Christianity that helps you wrestle with—and sort out—your faith.

In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey—award-winning blogger and author of Jesus Feminist, which was hailed as “lucid, compelling, and beautifully written” (Frank Viola, author of God’s Favorite Place on Earth)—helps us grapple with core Christian issues using a mixture of beautiful storytelling and biblical teaching, a style well described as “narrative theology.”

As she candidly shares her wrestlings with core issues—such as who Jesus is, what place the Church has in our lives, how to disagree yet remain within a community, and how to love the Bible for what it is rather than what we want it to be—she teaches us how to walk courageously through our own tough questions.

In the process of gently helping us sort things out, Bessey teaches us how to be as comfortable with uncertainty as we are with solid answers. And as we learn to hold questions in one hand and answers in the other, we discover new depths of faith that will remain secure even through the storms of life.

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Continue Reading · books, Out of Sorts · 54