Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Book Review: Credulous by Andrea Lingle

The only problem with writing a church book right now is the church scene is a bit untidy. There is senseless argument and decline and bureaucracy. Now that it is no longer cool or assumed that a person would be in church on Sunday morning, there seems to be an impulse to explain why one still goes. But I don't know how to explain. I am moderately afraid I go out of habit. What interests me is, amid the clamor of arguments and definitions, a quiet pulse of hope that faith and spirituality can be resurrected toward a new way of joy and peace. If we could let go of truth and take hold of mystery, what would we see? If we could abandon our obligation for curiosity, where would we go? If we could see each other in the light of infinite abundance, what would we do? - Andrea Lingle, Credulous

Popular church memoirs released in the last decade or more seem to all have a few things in common. First, there is the season of doubt that sends the writer into wondering if a life of faith in general and involvement in the church in particular are worth holding onto. Next there comes the season of disarray, where the person explores questions, becomes disillusioned, strains friendships, perhaps switches political allegiances, and often begins to find a new and different path that makes sense. And then comes a fleshing out of what this path looks like, which may feature a new understanding of the world and a formal or informal faith group that one has found to help continue their journey after the last page.

To be blunt, many of these memoirs are from former evangelicals who began to feel stifled and dissatisfied by canned answers to complex scenarios, and who face pushback and even exile from the communities they trusted to shepherd them through such times of disorientation. But the third act is not necessarily uniform: some land in mainline denominational traditions, others find less structured gatherings, and still others are still searching or have concluded that they're better off on their own.

Credulous: A Journey Through Life, Faith, and the Bulletin by Andrea Lingle actually bucks this familiar script in several ways. Lingle is a self-described "life-long United Methodist," so the need or desire to migrate from one tradition to another will not be a feature. She comes from a pastor's family and has married a pastor, which has had a natural affect on her view of and place in the church in different ways over the course of her life.

This book also does not follow a linear timeline in recounting some of Lingle's experience with the church. Rather, she has chosen to structure it around the typical liturgical elements included in a mainline Protestant worship service: welcome, opening hymn, scripture reading, sermon, communion, and so on. With each chapter following this theme, they become a series of anecdotes, reflections about the larger world in which the church finds itself, and scriptural reflection.

As an example, the chapter on "Offering" moves from a basic description of how churches approach this part of the service to the author's love of cleaning her house to explaining how economics affects everything to how the kingdom of God involves all of life and connects us to each other. Lingle anchors these reflections in Jesus' parable of the mustard seed and Paul's call in Romans to bear things together as a community. The chapter builds upon each theme and ties them together in ways the reader might not see coming at the beginning but where it makes sense by the end.

Every chapter does this, moving in and out of the author's own experience--including especially her admissions that she doesn't always know if faith is worth doing--and connecting it to a larger need that the world faces and that the church is, however imperfectly, trying to address. She is one of those who has chosen to remain with what she knows and to keep loving it, because she's seen the truth it is trying to embody.

Not every reader might be familiar with the structure from which she borrows for this book's organization. Others might be familiar with it but also tired of it. Lingle moves between tired and hopeful, not to make the case that it's the most faithful or to critique it, but to show how it's one way to make sense of what the world and human faith community needs. She also reflects on how it's a way that needs occasional redeeming or refreshing, where we in these traditions sometimes forget why they matter, and that they still can.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)