Out of Sorts

When I was younger, I was bold and free about my faith. I was one of those chirpy Christians that would talk about it to strangers on trains. But as I got older, I became a little more reticent, for a number of reasons.

There are, if I’m honest, aspects of Christianity and the Church that I feel at best, embarrassed by, and at worst, ashamed of. The Church has not always been perfectly aligned with the all-embracing, hopeful, liberating qualities I associate with Jesus and hope to be associated with myself.

And I’ve had other reasons for holding back, too – like the way sad things happen and miracles happen, but not always in the same stories. Like how I know now that nothing is black and white, how so much is open to interpretation, how you can’t really understand a thing until you’ve lived it. And navigating all the assumptions and explanations that go along with all this stuff is hard, so I tend to keep my thoughts – and my faith – to myself, at least at first.

But my faith has not left me – far from it. My relationship with God is not even all that complicated. It becomes simpler with each challenge, each sorrow, each question, because in all these things that beautiful sense of divine love, comfort and grace has not yet left me. In spite of the tragedies of the world, and in spite of my comparatively small difficulties, I rarely doubt in God or in his goodness and love, because I experience that goodness and love every day. My inner world, like anyone’s, is full of emotion, memory, loss, hope, wonder, curiosity and love. And running through all of that is this simple sense of companionship. An uncomplicated trust that he is with me in it all. (One of the truly resonating names for Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.)

For me, the trickier bit is the outer world – how I relate to church and it with me, how church is perceived, how expressions of faith can fall so short of what it’s really all about, how I fall short of what it’s really all about.

Which is where Sarah Bessey’s book comes in. Out of Sorts describes the author’s journey of faith deconstruction and reconstruction. She talks about a ‘rummage sale’ of the church and the soul, where (particularly in times of loss or change), we sift through our beliefs and traditions and decide what must stay or go.

There was a part of me that expected (hoped?) that this book would consist of a good old rant about the state of things. But that’s not what this book is, and of course, it’s all the better for it. It’s a tender book that acknowledges the beauty and nuance of the human heart and the journeying nature of faith.

Bessey writes so eloquently about human life. I love, for example, how she writes about sadness (her own and others’): ‘When your heart breaks, anyone or anything can tumble in… That’s probably where we all belong, being carried along in each other’s tender hearts.’ She describes how, for her, faith can be felt and expressed in bright, light ways but also in darker, more “lunar” ways; in big, brash experiences and small, ordinary things; through the natural world and through the simple warmth of community. ‘I think the Kingdom is more poetry and life than it is definition and boundaries”, she writes. “Go for a drive, go for a walk, go to work, look up, and fill your eyes with the Kingdom already come.”

Bessey calls herself a “recovering know-it-all” and describes how her understanding of things shifts, widens and grows with God’s help: “Black-and-white thinking has been denied me repeatedly… The Spirit always sweeps into my opinions and preferences with holy disruption.

She acknowledges the pain that can be caused by the Church around the world; the complexities of difference; the distractions of projects and props; the difficulties associated with power and authority and establishment. She doesn’t hide these things, explain them away, or dismiss them with platitudes, nor does she get on her high horse, rant or rave about them. But she spends longer writing about how, despite not attending church for years, her heart remained devoted to Jesus, and how gradually she reconnected with his people too, and learnt to love them as they are. “It’s an imperfect sort of story,” she says. “And that makes it all the more beautiful to me.”

Perhaps the most lyrical writing in the book is the way Bessey writes about Jesus. Her love for Jesus began at a young age, when her family converted to Christianity, and this love has been a constant throughout her life, despite times of disillusionment with church and Christianity. Her words about him are passionate: “My broken heart – cynical, jaded, frustrated, angry, wounded – somehow exhaled at every mention of His name.” Much like in her Jesus Feminist book, this love for Jesus becomes the central theme in her book, and, really, in her life story.

I found Out of Sorts an intelligent, wise, human book with a motherly, warm heart and Bessey, as an author, can be described in the same way.

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