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February 24, 2015 by acontraryspirit

Thanks to all the snow this past weekend, I got a chance to finish reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Leaving Church.”  The memoir follows her life in the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, shifting from an urban church as her home, to the leader of a church in a rural area in Georgia, all the way through to her decision to leave church leadership altogether for a different kind of walk leading a department of religion at a college.

Reading this book was a relief to me.  The way she carries the reader through her journey, resonated with me. Some of my favorite parts are towards the end, where she ties together her experience in a series of reflections on what it means to lead a church, to be part of a church, to be Christian, and to be human.

Possibly my favorite is the way in which she describes the church as the center of her map, her frame of reference.  But what she captures in the telling of her own story so clearly is how truly awakened you are once you leave church, once you leave the center of your map.  It’s only then that you venture to the edges of the map, to be one of those outside of the walls of church, that you can explore enough to find new truth and meaning in existence.  She delicately explores how the church still has an important place for many, still holds it’s own importance and how that is ok, but with balance.  My favorite excerpt is below; which comes after her paragraphs on the origin of heretics being a result of the Nicene Creed creating ‘the’ church and narrowing the ways individuals could interact with and interpret their understanding of god in the Christian context:

In my closet I have a T-shirt with many of their names on it, which I wore to bed while I was sleeping in the wilderness: Matthew Fox, Hans Kung, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, Meister Eckhart, Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Galileo, Copernicus, Peter Abelard, John Scotus Erigena, Tertullian, Origen, Jesus.  All of those people made unauthorized choices in their love of God. They saw things they were not supposed to see or said things they were not supposed to say.  They wondered about things they were not supposed to wonder about, and when Mother Church told them to stop they did not obey her.

Some of them died for their disobedience while others were locked in their rooms.  Still others were sent out of the house and told never to come back. Many of them are spiritual heroes now. At least one of them is revered as the Son of God, but none of them got where they were going without passing through the wilderness first. Given their amazing comebacks, might it be time for people of good faith to allow that God’s map is vast, with room on it for both a center and an edge? While the center may be the place where the stories of the faith are preserved, the edge is the place where the best of them happened. – Barbara Taylor Brown

I started this year with a collection of books to see from others’ eyes what  the book and beliefs I grew up with still might have to offer me.  And honestly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  What I have not been able to find by listening while sitting in a strange new church pew, I have found on the edges, from people who are no longer practicing in the church or are unwelcome in the community, but who continue to create and put things out there that are approachable for those of us on the edge.  It’s nice to see that the faith I was raised in still has some inspiration to offer that seems to be valuable to the world, or at least to me.

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