Ever think that you’re the only one in church who has doubts? Ever wonder if there’s a safe place to express them? Ever thought about asking those questions in church?
Michelle DeRusha, one-time Catholic and current Lutheran, takes her writing expertise from the Lincoln Journal Star and her own blog, and turns it into a strong opening salvo on exploring faith. Well before I tripped over her quote, “a path and a little light to see by,” I was reflecting on the time I spent with Anne Lamott in 2007, and how DeRusha reminded me of her. [The fact that she references Blue Like Jazz only makes it sweeter.]
It’s fair to say that the woman who opens with a vignette about stealing a necklace and wearing a scapula to make up for it, and will later share her stories on birthing her first child, is a wide-open candidate to follow Lamott’s path toward full spiritual disclosure. While the scapula story sets up the point that our signs of faith actually have to be an outward sign of our inward faith, it also shows off how clever (funny, sarcastic) DeRusha can be as a writer.
When she writes that “I have always liked a precisely ordered universe. I crave order and structure, love the rational, and have an unflagging zest for control” as a reason why she struggled with the immensity of an out-of-control, overwhelming God, DeRusha shows me that she gets it. Stuck between people like her husband and mother who have an overwhelming “that’s just the way it is” faith and having no faith at all, she lays out her journey from ‘faking it’ to ‘leaving it’ to ‘finding it’ in a way that I think most readers (of faith and otherwise) will find engaging.
Along the way, DeRusha explains how it was just expected that ‘everyone is a Christian’ in some of the communities she lived, outlining the social experience of religion; she’ll also share her own (false) expectations about church that if it didn’t look the way it had in the past, then it wasn’t in fact church! Her willingness to critique starts with herself, and in the process, it makes for a much better read. Because we trust her point of view.
One of the points DeRusha makes, and not necessarily as a major one to her, is the emphasis that some denominations put on the devil, on evil, and on sin. It’s as if the threat of the ‘other’ darkness must be stressed to guilt/threaten/fear/shame someone into grace. Which of course takes grace out of the equation. But we find, as DeRusha does, that Jesus and God’s love are so fantastic that it doesn’t matter what the other side is, that love is enough.
Ultimately, the author comes to a point where she embraces that faith in God is about head and heart, knowing and feeling, thinking and doing. It’s a beautiful synchronism that is what we all want when we pursue faith, but we don’t get there at the same time or in the same way. It’s the wonder of grace, and DeRusha delivers her story so that maybe we can experience more of it, too.
Thank you so much for this lovely review, Jacob – I appreciate your kind words (and the fact that you actually read the book!). I would so appreciate if you could post all or part of this review on Amazon, should the Spirit move you – thank you again so much!