Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans, and Out of Sorts: Making Peace With An Evolving Faith, by Sarah Bessey, are two great books to read one after another, as I did, because of their overlapping subject matter yet different treatment. Each one explores the author's journey from a relatively simplistic belief system, through disillusionment and doubt, to a more authentic faith that puts Jesus at the centre yet still allows room for questions and uncertainty. These books are both excellent. I can't really do justice to them in such a brief review, but here's my attempt:
Evans's book is structured according to seven sacraments; each section contains several chapters that address both her own ongoing love-hate relationship with the evangelical church and other themes and stories about the church at large, past and present. Her style is a beautiful combination of poetic description, thoughtful storytelling (with lots of humour, often at her own expense), and honest questions about the church and her place in it. As I read, I felt like I was watching her weave a tapestry. But rather than hiding all the knots and mistakes on the back, Evans brings the knots to the front, struggles with them, and leaves them there to be acknowledged as part of the whole picture of the church.
Bessey's book unpacks her own faith journey, showing how she has wrestled with topics like the person of Jesus, the Bible, the work of the Spirit, community, the Kingdom of God, and more. Bessey's writing style is that of a wise, safe friend. It's like she's sitting cross-legged on the floor with you, unpacking boxes, sorting through old possessions and traditions, and sharing her own story of the joys and disillusionments of faith -- and sometimes grasping your hands to exhort you ("God does not want to use you: God wants to be with you because he loves you") or pray over you.
Contrary to some online reviews which seem to have been written by people who didn't actually read the books, these books are absolutely NOT about "How I abandoned orthodox Christian teachings and created a whole new belief system that meets my needs." These are strong, faithful, articulate Christian women whose voices are well worth listening to.
The Lake House is Kate Morton's latest novel. Like her other books, this one develops a complex mystery that spans decades. In 1933, an eleven-month-old baby boy disappears from his family's estate during a summer party. Seventy years later, a detective constable named Sadie stumbles upon the ruins of the estate and begins to investigate the unresolved case, enlisting the help of the missing boy's older sister Alice, who is now an elderly mystery novelist.
Because I love Morton's work, I couldn't wait to devour this book -- and it was good, although I have to say I didn't like it as much as her previous two, The Distant Hours and The Secret Keeper. With the latter in particular, I became completely immersed in the story's atmosphere and found its final plot twist shocking yet believable and satisfying. With The Lake House, though, the "Sadie" plot line (detective gets suspended because of her mishandling of a sensitive case, goes away to sort things out, and stumbles upon a long-forgotten mystery) felt like a cliche; I kept wishing the book would stick to the past narrative rather than returning to the present-day one. Still, Morton again demonstrates her talent for weaving together different plot threads, building suspense, and showing how small incidents have ripple effects across generations. I wouldn't call it her best work, but I'd still recommend it to anyone who likes big, well-written novels that combine romance, history, and mystery.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. This book is based on Strayed's "Dear Sugar" advice column, which she wrote anonymously in an online literary magazine for several years. (Strayed is the author of the bestselling memoir Wild, which is about her walk on the Pacific Crest Trail and which was made into a movie in 2014.) The questions "Sugar" receives range from "Should I leave my husband?" to "What do you think about God?" to "Must I invite my father to my wedding?" to "Why am I so jealous?" etc. Strayed doesn't just dispense advice from a lofty mountaintop: she shares honest, often painful stories from her own past, challenges her questioners to face the truth and live out of it, and encourages them (with expressions like "sweet pea" as well as more, uh, colourful language) to dig deep and be their best selves. This is a really interesting, entertaining, insightful book.
Have you read these, and if so, what did you think? And are you reading anything good so far in 2016? I'd love to hear your comments.