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Leaving Church

book thoughts

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

BBT is one of the most gifted preachers of the 21st century--I heard her preach in Washington, DC once and her words both convicted and raised me up. She writes about her journey as a woman and as a priest towards/with Jesus without hiding the blemishes and without glorifying her own triumphs. It's humanity longing for God at its best. Ultimately (and given the title, I don't think this is a spoiler), she leaves the church she had been pastoring, her patience with human structures fractured but her love of God undimmed. She writes, "After twenty years of serving Mother Church at the altar, I have pitched my tent in the yard, using much of what she taught me to make a way in the world" (222).

We can't give up on the things we struggle with. Sometimes we're on the margins, feeling rejected and unwanted. Sometimes we're in the center, wondering what all the fuss is about. We can never be content with where we are but listen to where God is moving. "Much that is certain at the center," says Taylor, "is up for grabs in the wilderness, while much that is real in the wilderness turns out to be far too feral for the center" (172). It's about balance, about knowing what's enough right now, about feeling the moment when change is necessary.

Taylor asks in her final chapter, "What is saving your life now?" (225) What gives you strength and hope? Who is the presence of God in your life?

calling to mind

In the Eucharistic prayer, there is a section called the anamnesis which means "remembering" or "calling to mind." You could take it to meant that the Meal is a memorial where we remember Jesus and what he said and did. You could also dig deeper and think of it as re-enacting his sacrifice (which would be mimesis or mimicry). Or, you could think of it as sense memory--a kind of combination of rational remembering and physical action. Anamnesis is a kind of metaphysical participation in the events of long ago in the here and now. It's not just something we do but something that forms us, makes us into new people.

I have to be constantly reminded of who I am. Not my name or my address but whose I am and what I'm called to do. It is so easy to forget, to justify my selfishness, to ignore the push at my back to live into the good news. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "I pecked God on the cheek the same way I did Ed, drying up inside for want of making love." What we do as Christians is make love with God--interpret that any way you wish. It is not about drying up inside. It is not about simply mimicry, though that can lead you to a deeper relationship eventually. It is not about becoming Jesus either, no matter how much we want to. We are called to a dance of love in which we spin faster and faster, catching sight of the other dancers and not knowing where we end and they begin. We are called to anamnesis not just on Sunday mornings but in every moment of our lives--to remember in a visceral way, in our guts, that we are loved and that we are called to love. It will be messy and uncomfortable and it will be elegant and comforting. Embrace it, embrace God, embrace your neighbor and call to mind.