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Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

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By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained. Today those vestments are hanging in the By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained. Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday mornings with friendly Quakers, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists as I am with the Episcopalians who remain my closest kin. Some-times I even keep the Sabbath with a cup of steaming Assam tea on my front porch, watching towhees vie for the highest perch in the poplar tree while God watches me. These days I earn my living teaching school, not leading worship, and while I still dream of opening a small restaurant in Clarkesville or volunteering at an eye clinic in Nepal, there is no guarantee that I will not run off with the circus before I am through. This is not the life I planned, or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me -- that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human -- seems important enough to witness to on paper. This book is my attempt to do that. After nine years serving on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Barbara Brown Taylor arrives in rural Clarkesville, Georgia (population 1,500), following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock -- Taylor is one of the only professional women in the community -- but small-town life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she serves, but ultimately she finds herself experiencing "compassion fatigue" and wonders what exactly God has called her to do. She realizes that in order to keep her faith she may have to leave. Taylor describes a rich spiritual journey in which God has given her more questions than answers. As she becomes part of the flock instead of the shepherd, she describes her poignant and sincere struggle to regain her footing in the world without her defining collar. Taylor's realization that this may in fact be God's surprising path for her leads her to a refreshing search to find Him in new places. Leaving Church will remind even the most skeptical among us that life is about both disappointment and hope -- and ultimately, renewal.


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By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained. Today those vestments are hanging in the By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained. Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday mornings with friendly Quakers, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists as I am with the Episcopalians who remain my closest kin. Some-times I even keep the Sabbath with a cup of steaming Assam tea on my front porch, watching towhees vie for the highest perch in the poplar tree while God watches me. These days I earn my living teaching school, not leading worship, and while I still dream of opening a small restaurant in Clarkesville or volunteering at an eye clinic in Nepal, there is no guarantee that I will not run off with the circus before I am through. This is not the life I planned, or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me -- that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human -- seems important enough to witness to on paper. This book is my attempt to do that. After nine years serving on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Barbara Brown Taylor arrives in rural Clarkesville, Georgia (population 1,500), following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock -- Taylor is one of the only professional women in the community -- but small-town life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she serves, but ultimately she finds herself experiencing "compassion fatigue" and wonders what exactly God has called her to do. She realizes that in order to keep her faith she may have to leave. Taylor describes a rich spiritual journey in which God has given her more questions than answers. As she becomes part of the flock instead of the shepherd, she describes her poignant and sincere struggle to regain her footing in the world without her defining collar. Taylor's realization that this may in fact be God's surprising path for her leads her to a refreshing search to find Him in new places. Leaving Church will remind even the most skeptical among us that life is about both disappointment and hope -- and ultimately, renewal.

30 review for Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    A moving memoir, showing how faith can grow beyond easy categories. It is also an interesting account of what it means to be a pastor.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Deirdre Keating

    It wasn't the book I wanted it to be, but I loved it even more for telling its own story, instead of the one I had in my head as I began. A beautiful and generous book. I wanted a slightly less guarded tone, but when it felt guarded, it was her old congregation's privacy she was mostly guarding. We couldn't have started our faith journeys more differently, but we ended up on very similiar land. The last 50 pages of my copy is full of dog-ears. Here's one of my favorite passages: "What if people It wasn't the book I wanted it to be, but I loved it even more for telling its own story, instead of the one I had in my head as I began. A beautiful and generous book. I wanted a slightly less guarded tone, but when it felt guarded, it was her old congregation's privacy she was mostly guarding. We couldn't have started our faith journeys more differently, but we ended up on very similiar land. The last 50 pages of my copy is full of dog-ears. Here's one of my favorite passages: "What if people were invited" (to church)"to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe? What if they were blessed for what they are doing in the world instead of chastened for not doing more at church? What if church felt more like a way station than a destination? What if the church's job were to move people out the door instead of trying to keep them in, by convincing them that God needed them more in the world than in the church?" and this one too: "The clerk at the grocery store is messenger enough for me, at least if I give her a fraction of the attention that I lavish on my interior monologue. To emerge from my self-preoccupation long enough to acknowledge her human presence is no mean feat, but when I do I can almost always discover what she has to teach me--and not only she, but every person who crosses my path."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    At first, this memoir seemed almost too painful to read. I have witnessed firsthand the way in which clergy and church leaders can be stretched to the breaking point trying to be all things to all people in the fractious household of God. It's not an easy task, and in some cases, it's not a task that can be accomplished at all, which is the subject of Barbara Brown Taylor's book. After years of serving as an assistant rector in a large church in Atlanta. Rev. Taylor willingly and eagerly became At first, this memoir seemed almost too painful to read. I have witnessed firsthand the way in which clergy and church leaders can be stretched to the breaking point trying to be all things to all people in the fractious household of God. It's not an easy task, and in some cases, it's not a task that can be accomplished at all, which is the subject of Barbara Brown Taylor's book. After years of serving as an assistant rector in a large church in Atlanta. Rev. Taylor willingly and eagerly became pastor of a small, historic village church in north Georgia. At first, the world seemed to glow with her accomplishments. She was named by Baylor University as one of the 12 best preachers in the English-speaking world, her tiny church grew so fast she was doing four consecutive services on Sunday mornings, and new church mission projects sprang up all over the region. She had expected to be there at least a decade. She lasted a little over five years. She left, broken, dispirited, exhausted, to become a professor of religion at a nearby small college. One of the key things she acknowledges in the book is her own doubts about how much she was truly trying to serve God, versus how much she was trying to get credit as an exemplary good person -- the one who had all the answers, who never said no to a need, who was always available. When she gave up on her parish ministry, there was a part of me that was angry with her for collapsing, and a part of me that felt she had been unrealistic in her expectations from the beginning. Eventually, I realized that I was putting too great a burden on the author, who really is not trying to tell the universal story of all clergy, but the very particular story of her own hopes, dreams, frustrations, loss and recovery. For Rev. Taylor, losing herself -- losing her status, her certainty of her role and her parish -- was the path to beginning to find herself. In one of her most honest and poignant statements, she says near the end of the book, "On the twentieth anniversary of my ordination, I would have to say that at least one of the things that almost killed me was becoming a professional holy person. I am not sure that the deadliness was in the job as much as it was in the way I did it, but I now have a higher regard than ever for clergy who are able to wear their mantles without mistaking the fabric for their own skin." After giving up her parish, she tells of going to a party and spending some time with a couple who had been members of the church but whom she had never gotten to know very well, "since they had never served on any committees and were never, as far as I knew, in crisis." It is one of ministry's greatest risks -- to spend too much time with the neediest and least healthy and leave no time for the healthy -- or yourself. In the end, Rev. Taylor recovered her sense of connection to God by giving up her privileged position in the church hierarchy. Sundays could now be a new kind of Sabbath for her, with no commitments to others; the free inquiry of the classroom could replace the tense debate of church doctrine; and she could reclaim her most important goal, to try to be fully human, living the life Christ had called her to, without benefit of collar or alb.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Eiffert

    "As many years as I wanted to wear a clerical collar and as hard as I worked to get one, taking it off turned out to be as necessary for my salvation as putting it on. Being set apart was the only way I could learn how much I longed to be with everyone else." This book hit WAY to close to home to be a comfortable read. All the stars. Just take em.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I normally rate the books that I read, but in this case, I am going to take a wimpy pass on providing a rating. The story follows a woman Episcopal priest who joins the clergy- helps her church grow quite quickly and then eventually burns out feeling empty and further from the Divine than she has ever been before. In all her religiosity and business for God she misplaced her love relationship. She then becomes a teacher and is free to explore religion again and anew. I loved the story and the I normally rate the books that I read, but in this case, I am going to take a wimpy pass on providing a rating. The story follows a woman Episcopal priest who joins the clergy- helps her church grow quite quickly and then eventually burns out feeling empty and further from the Divine than she has ever been before. In all her religiosity and business for God she misplaced her love relationship. She then becomes a teacher and is free to explore religion again and anew. I loved the story and the warnings about not becoming overly religious or ceremonial. I also appreciate where she has been and come through, as I have also been burnt by the church and left for dead upon exiting ministry. She has many great quotes and I will list some below. I guess I struggle with some of her ideas. They are massively uncomfortable to me, but I don't feel I can rate this book lower because of it, because I am not prepared to declare myself completely right or even necessarily at odds with most of what she is saying. The part that made me the most uncomfortable was her views on the Bible. "... a great deal of Christian theology began as a stammering response to something that had actually happened in the world. Because Jesus dies instead of ushering in the messianic age, Paul responded with a doctrine of atonement. Because the risen Christ struck his followers as very close kin to God, the early church responded with a doctrine of the Trinity. Because Christians did not turn out to be much better behaved than anyone else, Augustine responded with a doctrine of Original sin." (p. 108) This just makes me so uncomfortable because Jesus taught many of these things himself, though maybe without the catch titles listed above. I don't think the Church is responsible for making these up. Later she says: "I will keep the Bible, which remains the Word of God for me, but always the Word as heard by generations of human beings as flawed as I. As beautifully as these witnesses write, their divine inspiration can never be separated from their ardent desires; their genuine wish to serve God cannot be divorced from their self-interest. That God should use such blemished creatures to communicate God's reality so well makes the Bible its own kind of miracle, but I hope never to put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve." (p. 216) I like many of her ideas, (church reform, Jesus as the new Adam) but I cannot sit comfortably with the above thoughts on the Bible. (admittedly, I am far from prepared to defend my opinion that the Bible is infallible, yet I am not prepared to place it's authority underneath my own ideas or whispers from the spirit in my single heart.) I agree that the Holy Spirit is important, but I think we need to pass all things through the test of God's Word, the ultimate truth. It seems the author is afraid people will stop living and purely study the Bible for life and truth, but in my experience, I don't see much danger in our current generation spending too much time in study and not enough in life and love. The Bible is the road map to life and anything else makes me extremely uncomfortable. I am glad to have read this book, I might even read more of what she has written, but I am cautious of some of her beliefs.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Padraic

    I had not come across Brown's writings before (my wife, on the other hand, raves about her). This is a beautifully written and gentle memoir about an Episcopal priest choosing to leave formal ministry for a more broadly defined sense of the divine. I know there are millions of these stories out there, but few are as exquisitely crafted and ultimately reassuring as this one. It spoke well to the heart of a weary Catholic.

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

    Ironically Barbra Brown Taylor's experience of personal/spiritual growth through the process of leaving her pastorate to teach, convinces me that I shouldn't at all be eager to jump ship. If our life isn't deeply rooted in community, everything is open to question. Taylor glories in this. I am not so sure. There is something good about being able to explore things as an outsider, but it is not the same thing as belonging.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Being a cradle Catholic with 11 years of base education completely in R. Catholic schools- then 7 years of public university, and after a lifetime of secular work, then eventually working for a R. Catholic university for 15 years, this book is difficult for me. Bemuddled! Not because of her universal search for her own spirituality or because of her understanding of both her own religion and her role within it- but more so in the way she approaches inquiry and rationalization. A run-on sentence Being a cradle Catholic with 11 years of base education completely in R. Catholic schools- then 7 years of public university, and after a lifetime of secular work, then eventually working for a R. Catholic university for 15 years, this book is difficult for me. Bemuddled! Not because of her universal search for her own spirituality or because of her understanding of both her own religion and her role within it- but more so in the way she approaches inquiry and rationalization. A run-on sentence that holds the crux of my problem with this book. I am not a writer of such abstract and complex searching- but I do know psychology, both social and cognitive aspects. So overall, to me, this entire is rather a self-fulfilled prophecy. Faith is faith and not reasoning. And organized religion certainly has its downsides for individuals over time because it is human (flawed) in its operation. But there is a real dichotomy to her thinking, IMHO. Too much knowledge! Lots of rationalization, she picks the "facts" that work for her, to convince herself to the role which gives her more energy. And that is going on without pause from the earliest pages. She protests too much, as Shakespeare would say. If she goes the way that is best for her own spiritual growth and to a life where her mind, body and family thrive better, there is nothing "wrong" within her own conscience? Hmmm, there are so many excuses, to me. She's like an OCD person that has to check that she turned the coffee pot off, again and again. In my eyes she holds a bunch of dodgy rationalizations in her dogma to begin with too, despite her historic and academic knowledge. Some are not fact at all but theory. And because of this knowledge, the chapters holding information on the Early Christian movements and community cohesive tenets in the earliest 3 centuries after Jesus were the best in the book. So she need not go on and seek a belief or not in the literal translation of the Bible, the Word of God, to begin with- in the style and type as she so often did here. As she has demonstrated and shown the many forms and translations it has taken over time, who is she trying to convince- outside of her own self and the most literal Bible believers? The Bible was a book of lessons to live by, in parables for those who heard it aloud, could not read themselves. Stories to illustrate lessons of behavior and standards of positive direction, away from sin. It never was considered literal until the Protestant Reformation. It was considered Truth, but not literal at all, before then. Those are two very different definitions. It makes me uncomfortable when Doctorates in Religion have such rigid beliefs and perfection standards that they apply to themselves too. Especially when these same motes of concern were never in much evidence at all re the Christian belief system, before the 15th or 16th centuries. Her kind of spirituality needs to be rather self-centered in "feeling", it seems. And nearly the opposite of the nature she describes as just trusting in fate and love- the sparrow in God's plan or butterfly she wanted to emulate. She continually needs to back up her wants/needs with spiritual proofs. That's nearly the opposite of such trust. My own personal beliefs do not put all the saints on Earth within organized religions, do not get me wrong. In fact, I feel nearly the opposite. But my ideas of Christian belief and spirituality do center far more on the selfless than these types of measures and rationalization to purpose. Primarily in acts too, and not in words and feelings. Too much wishful summation (omitting what she needs to omit) to be a 4 star, IMHO. But I did give her an entire star for truthfulness. And, btw, the conflict of interest between herself and her family life! That's one of the reasons that the Church in the Western world desired its priests to be celibate. And also because without children they could be "poor" and the organization would inherit the legacy. There ARE arguments for the priest without family. This author is supposed to be a great speaker and inspiring for a lecture toward acts or a purposed "cause". Maybe that is her gift, to work in that light, in Academia- or as a guest speaker to social groups. She sounds too introverted to be a good priest or minister.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    This book was "almost" amazing. I did love the book and I find Taylor's spiritual insight both sensitive and liberating. She has communicated what I've felt for several years about the personal spiritual journey and the love/hate relationship many people share with "organized" Christianity - yes - I said Christianity not religion. Being a Christian is very simple and too often "churchianity" makes it far too difficult. While Taylor's "leaving church" was not a jarring as I expected it to be, I This book was "almost" amazing. I did love the book and I find Taylor's spiritual insight both sensitive and liberating. She has communicated what I've felt for several years about the personal spiritual journey and the love/hate relationship many people share with "organized" Christianity - yes - I said Christianity not religion. Being a Christian is very simple and too often "churchianity" makes it far too difficult. While Taylor's "leaving church" was not a jarring as I expected it to be, I am glad. The sharing of her journey from one chapter in life to the next is one that can help many who have difficult decisons to make especially when "the faithful" might think that we are not following the path that they think God has for us. Some of her ideas are edgy and made me just slightly uncomfortable but I'm not sure yet if that is the "good" uncomfortable or the "bad" uncomfortable. I want to read more from her before deciding. But for now there are several quotes in this book that I find significantly valuable.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Unless you love all biographies, skip to the last chapter. The summary of everything is there. This is the truly sad story of a woman who salivated all her early life to be a priest. Yet, having achieved her goal, discovered she was not capable of fulfilling it. She did not fit the role and burnt out trying to be someone she was not. This is a far more common story in ordained ministry than laymen suppose. Taylor's gift lies in being a blacksmith of words, not a handyman Mr. Fixit of the cloth. Unless you love all biographies, skip to the last chapter. The summary of everything is there. This is the truly sad story of a woman who salivated all her early life to be a priest. Yet, having achieved her goal, discovered she was not capable of fulfilling it. She did not fit the role and burnt out trying to be someone she was not. This is a far more common story in ordained ministry than laymen suppose. Taylor's gift lies in being a blacksmith of words, not a handyman Mr. Fixit of the cloth. That is why she is popular as a writer. As a speaker, she is in demand by laypeople and clergy who already know the gospel; but like to hear well crafted essays about the ultimate mysteries of life. She is the perfect example of that old saying:"Them as can-do; them as can't-teach!" In her case that simply means that research, writing, and teaching is what god created her to do, not priestly ministry. She has not completely buried her former role yet. That day will come more quickly when she preaches her first sermon in a pants suit instead of a collared robe.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    Leaving Church is one of those books that has been recommended to me over and over again in the last few years by people whose opinion I trust. Because I share enough of Taylor's story to have it resonate with me, I suppose I would say that I could not make time to read it before now. I would add that I am grateful it came into my hands when it did. I underlined a good portion of the book; there are sentences that both sting and ring true for someone who has also found her worth in being good Leaving Church is one of those books that has been recommended to me over and over again in the last few years by people whose opinion I trust. Because I share enough of Taylor's story to have it resonate with me, I suppose I would say that I could not make time to read it before now. I would add that I am grateful it came into my hands when it did. I underlined a good portion of the book; there are sentences that both sting and ring true for someone who has also found her worth in being good (and helping others to be good). My only criticism would be that I feel as if Taylor is protective of her story: for someone who has learned to 'be human,' her rebellion still seems measured, managed, and safe. For example, I love that she has a t-shirt featuring heretics through the ages; I just wanted her to wear it to the grocery store and not to bed. I am sure that publishers and her current role within another institution keep her from providing the kind of examples that would give evidence to her humanity (or maybe she really is so good that her insurgence was limited to a few cuss words and some fits of crabbiness), but I felt like she lacked the freedom and honesty of someone like Anne Lamott.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marguerite

    Barbara Brown Taylor's beautiful little book tells the story of a painful part of her faith journey: the decision to leave ministry to remain close to God. It resonates with me because it's my experience. While studying for and getting a degree in ministry, a process that encouraged questions about beliefs and practices, I found myself on the outs with organized religion, but not with the Almighty. Taylor's book offers reassurances that being on the margins is an opportunity to minister in a new Barbara Brown Taylor's beautiful little book tells the story of a painful part of her faith journey: the decision to leave ministry to remain close to God. It resonates with me because it's my experience. While studying for and getting a degree in ministry, a process that encouraged questions about beliefs and practices, I found myself on the outs with organized religion, but not with the Almighty. Taylor's book offers reassurances that being on the margins is an opportunity to minister in a new way and setting, also my experience. In my case, it's meant a new language and practices to reflect a different way of seeing. But, the estrangement from institutions and church people is the same. I don't need to shop for a different place to call my house of faith. I keep mine with me. Taylor's writing is honest and thought-provoking. I need to buy a copy of this to read over and over. There are at least two dozen passages I flagged for further meditation and prayer: "I do not know anyone who readily volunteers for loss again. Yet loss is how we come to surrender our lives -- if not to God, then at least to the Great Beyond -- and even those who profess no faith in anything but the sap that makes the green blade rise may still confess that losing really has helped them find their ways again." After being a widow for six months now, all I can say is "Amen, help me get there." "If it is true that God exceeds all our efforts to contain God, then is it too big a stretch to declare that dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common? Or that coming together to confess all that we do not know is at least as sacred an activity as declaring what we think we do know?" "Church did not strike these wounded souls as a place they could bring the dark fruits of their equally dark nights." "Freed from defending the faith, I began to revisit what faith really meant to me and found that much of the old center did not hold." "I had arrived at an understanding of faith that had far more to do with trust than with certainty. I trusted God to be God even if I could not say who God was for sure. I trusted God to sustain the world although I could not say for sure how that happened. I trusted God to hold me and those I loved, in life and in death, without giving me one shred of conclusive evidence that it was so. While this understanding had the welcome effect of changing faith from a noun to a verb for me, it was an understanding that told me how far I had strayed from the center of my old spiritual map." "If my time in the wilderness taught me anything, it is that faith in God has both a center and an edge and that each is necessary for the soul's health." "I admired the sense of real risk, which kept the community from imagining God as a stuffed bear. For many Christians I know, the idea of divine dangerousness went out of fashion shortly after the book of second Kings was written." "If I had to name my disability, I would call it an unwillingness to fall. On the one hand, this is perfectly normal. I do not know anyone who likes to fall. But, on the other hand, this reluctance signals mistrust of the central truth of the Christian gospel: life springs from death, not only at the last but also in the many little deaths along the way." "I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place." Salvation is the divine spaciousness that comes to human beings in all the tight places where their lives are at risk, regardless of how they got there or whether they know God's name. Sometimes it comes as an extended human hand and sometimes as a bolt from the blue, but either way it opens a door in what looked for all the world like a wall."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda Rae Baker

    I totally identified with this memoir. Leaving the church organization is the best thing that I have ever done. It was a starting point for my spirituality even though there were many things that hurt me within the walls of the church. Religiosity has left a sour taste in my mouth, especially when it comes to one person believing they are better than others. Some of this story was funny because I understood where she was coming from. Some of it was serious because I know what it is to be judged I totally identified with this memoir. Leaving the church organization is the best thing that I have ever done. It was a starting point for my spirituality even though there were many things that hurt me within the walls of the church. Religiosity has left a sour taste in my mouth, especially when it comes to one person believing they are better than others. Some of this story was funny because I understood where she was coming from. Some of it was serious because I know what it is to be judged by others. Interesting definition of hypocrite...I've removed myself for a reason...I am not backslidden...I have moved on. Found much greener pastures in unconditional love from some of our family members and have more balance with nature and connectedness of souls. I'll have to read parts and pieces again to mine deeper threads of gold here and recommend it to anyone who has struggled with their faith in a God that allows bad things to happen to good people. Sometimes the best step, the first step, is to leave the church. Find yourself some quiet time and listen to your own soul. Learn to take care of yourself by observing 'rest' every week as God intended. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to be human. If you give everything you have and don't take care of yourself, then you will be unable to take care of those you love. My husband has taught me about solitude...he quite frankly, has saved my life. I was a train wreck...depleated of all energy and direction. He has loved me unconditionally and shown me what it is to appreciate all of creation around me. There are so many more things in life besides rules and regulations. Those that hold themselves up inside of a church are missing on life. They are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. Break away and go out into the world. Let your light shine. Be human and make a difference to someone else.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Barbara Brown Taylor went from being an Episcopal priest at a large church in Atlanta, to working at a small parish in the mountains, to leaving the ministry. It was interesting to read. (About not recognizing depression)"When I shook people's hands on the porch of the church after services on Sunday, my eyes would start stinging for no reason at all... I could not imagine what the problem was, but whatever it was made tears run down my face as I stood there trying to greet people. ... I believed Barbara Brown Taylor went from being an Episcopal priest at a large church in Atlanta, to working at a small parish in the mountains, to leaving the ministry. It was interesting to read. (About not recognizing depression)"When I shook people's hands on the porch of the church after services on Sunday, my eyes would start stinging for no reason at all... I could not imagine what the problem was, but whatever it was made tears run down my face as I stood there trying to greet people. ... I believed this myself until one Sunday when I climbed in my car after everyone else had gone home. I thought that maybe if I just let my eyes run for a minute instead of mopping them, then whatever was stuck in them would come out. So I stopped fighting the tears, and what was stuck in them really did come out. In moments I was sobbing out loud, upended by great waves of grief that caught me entirely off guard." "As a general rule, I would say that human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God." "I was, however, no longer in charge... I was not essential to anything that was going on. Instead, I was sitting in a pew wearing a nice dress following someone else's directions, and this was not going particularly well for me.... I hardly know what to call this loss... but I think that the word I am looking for, which I am also loath to use, is power."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    As someone who has left churchand religion I was in for over 20 years, I have tried to find and read as many memoirs as I can about people that have left their churches, their religions, their faiths. This book is about a woman who becomes an Episcopal priest, loves it, gets burned out, and stops being a priest and becomes a professor. It's very well written and insightful. She doesn't stop believing what she believed all along, but her beliefs evolve, they aren't static. Her adjustment to As someone who has left churchand religion I was in for over 20 years, I have tried to find and read as many memoirs as I can about people that have left their churches, their religions, their faiths. This book is about a woman who becomes an Episcopal priest, loves it, gets burned out, and stops being a priest and becomes a professor. It's very well written and insightful. She doesn't stop believing what she believed all along, but her beliefs evolve, they aren't static. Her adjustment to becoming a "civilian" and finding out what it is like to live in this world without being identified by your collar as a priest, to everyone you contact. It's a big change and challenge, but the author seems to enjoy that challenge most of the time. She mourns the real losses and celebrates the amazing gains. I really liked this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    A powerful and thought provoking work, that made me think twice about what it means to be called by God as a pastor. A great storyteller, who fills the pages with stories that make you laugh till you double over, but then hits you with a truth so hard that it stands you back up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Ibrahim ♥

    Disappointingly preachy! Just tell me the story and quit all that homolitical verbiage! Arrrrg!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    "Encountering God in other people is saving my life now. I do not look for angels anymore, although I have nothing against them. The clerk at the grocery store is messenger enough for me, at least if I give her a fraction of the attention that I lavish on my interior monologue. To emerge from my self-preoccupation long enough to acknowledge her human presence is no mean feat, but when I do I can almost always discover what she has to teach me – and not only she, but every person who crosses my "Encountering God in other people is saving my life now. I do not look for angels anymore, although I have nothing against them. The clerk at the grocery store is messenger enough for me, at least if I give her a fraction of the attention that I lavish on my interior monologue. To emerge from my self-preoccupation long enough to acknowledge her human presence is no mean feat, but when I do I can almost always discover what she has to teach me – and not only she, but every person who crosses my path. While it is generally more pleasant for me to encounter people who support my view of reality, I am finding that people who see things otherwise tend to do me a lot more good. Like quantum physicists, they remind me that reality is more relational than absolute. Every time I am pretty sure that I have some absolute truth all worked out, a human being comes along to pose an exception to my rule. Over and over, the human exceptions prove to be more revelatory than the rules." —excerpt, Leaving Church

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    I found her journey interesting even though it’s not the same as mine. I especially loved the quotes that she inserted throughout the book. They didn’t necessarily speak to me in the same way but they caught my attention.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ben Schnell

    Very cathartic for how the author describes the reasons its hard for a for a former pastor to attend church. This book articulated thoughts and feelings about church I thought only I had, which makes for a great reading experience.

  21. 5 out of 5

    RuthAnn

    Recommended This memoir has been on my list for a long time, ever since I read a quote from it in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, and I have only just got to it. I wish I had read it sooner. The writing here is introspective and strong, and I nodded along the whole way. Reading this book has helped me reflect on faith and work, viewing my professional life has vocation, as well, and what aspects of priesthood (though it sounds strange) apply in that realm. I'm Recommended This memoir has been on my list for a long time, ever since I read a quote from it in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, and I have only just got to it. I wish I had read it sooner. The writing here is introspective and strong, and I nodded along the whole way. Reading this book has helped me reflect on faith and work, viewing my professional life has vocation, as well, and what aspects of priesthood (though it sounds strange) apply in that realm. I'm really glad I read it, and I can imagine getting my own copy for reference later. --- "Think hard before you do this," one [priest] said to me when I told him I wanted to be ordained. "Right now, you have the broadest ministry available. As a layperson, you can serve God no matter what you do for a living, and you can reach out to people who will never set foot in a church. Once you are ordained, that is going to change. Every layer of responsibility you add is going to narrow your ministry, so think hard before choosing a smaller box." (40) In my lexicon, at least, a priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another's love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either a well as each deserves. To be a priest is to serve a God who never stops calling people to do more justice and love more mercy, and simultaneously to serve people who nine times out of ten are just looking for a safe place to rest. To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are. To be a priest is to suspect that there is always something more urgent that you should be doing, no matter what you are doing, and to make peace with the fact that the work will never get done. To be a priest is to wonder sometimes if you are missing the boat altogether, by deferring pleasure in what God has made until you have fixed it up so that it will please God more. E.B. White once wrote, "I can't decide whether to enjoy the world or improve the world; that makes it difficult to plan the day." (44) The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God's sake. (107) Because church people tend to think they should not fight, most of them are really bad at it. (109) I wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business. (111) My dedication to doing good had cost me a fortune in being whole. My desire to do all things had kept me from doing the one thing within my power to do, which was to discover wheat it meant to be fully human. (127) If you decide to live on the fire that God has kindled inside of you instead of rushing out to find some sticks to rub together, then it does not take long for all sorts of feelings to come out of hiding. (140) Today I will take a break from trying to save the world and enjoy my blessed swath of it instead. I will give thanks for what is instead of withholding my praise until all is as it should be. (141-142) A priest is a priest no matter where she happens to be. Her job is to recognize the holiness in things and hold them up to God. Her job is to speak in ways that help other people recognize the holiness in things too. (204) ... I saw that my humanity was all I had left to work with. I saw in fact that it was all I had ever had to work with, though it had never seemed enough. (209) There was no mastering divinity. My vocation was to love God and my neighbor, and that was something I could do anywhere, with anyone, with or without a collar. My priesthood was not what I did but who I was. In this new light, nothing was wasted. All that had gone before was blessing, and all yet to come was more. (209) All these years later, the way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we do not know what to do about it. (220) Where church growth has eclipsed church depth, it is possible to hear very little about the world except as a rival for the human resources needed by the church for her own survival. (221) All I found out was how helpless love can be, with nothing left to do but suffer alongside with the beloved. (224) Since then, I have learned to prize holy ignorance more than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. (224) Many years ago now, when I was invited to speak at a church gathering, my host said, "Tell us what is saving you now." It was such a good question that I have made a practice of asking others to answer it even as I continue to answer it myself. (225-226) Although we might use different words to describe it, most of us know what is killing us. (226)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Lindsey

    "If my time in the wilderness taught me anything, it is that faith in God has both a center and an edge and that each is necessary for the soul's health. If I developed a complaint during my time in the wilderness, it was that Mother Church lavished so much more attention on those at the center than on those at the edge." It is moments from this book like this one that make this one of my favorite books. As a person who has spent much of her adult life on the edge of her faith, I know full well "If my time in the wilderness taught me anything, it is that faith in God has both a center and an edge and that each is necessary for the soul's health. If I developed a complaint during my time in the wilderness, it was that Mother Church lavished so much more attention on those at the center than on those at the edge." It is moments from this book like this one that make this one of my favorite books. As a person who has spent much of her adult life on the edge of her faith, I know full well the deep and abiding loneliness that is found there. Those of us living on those edges need to find fellow edge-walkers and I have found that in Barbara Brown Taylor. Her experiences with faith and church are different from my own -- and that's okay. She has lived out her faith in a way that I have not -- but I have found in her that common yearning -- I have always felt the ache, the call to the spiritual. I can't walk away from it no matter how hard I have tried. I feel like I met a friend in this honest, heart-felt book. And then there is this -- a call to more from the Church: "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." This book provides that expansion of the map for me. I highly recommend this book for people like me -- who are in the faith, who often believe in spite of themselves -- who have deep and abiding doubts about God coupled with deep and abiding pulls towards God. This is a safe book and a read that readers like me will likely find very comforting.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Winnie

    Susan Greene gave me this book. After 9 years serving on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Taylor arrives in rural Clarksville, GA (pop. 1500) following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock. She is one of the only professional women in the community -- but smalltown life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she Susan Greene gave me this book. After 9 years serving on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Taylor arrives in rural Clarksville, GA (pop. 1500) following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock. She is one of the only professional women in the community -- but smalltown life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she serves, but ultimately she finds herself experiencing "compassion fatigue" and wonders what exactly God has called her to do. She realizes that in order to keep her faith she may have to leave. Taylor describes a rich spiritual journey in which God has given her more questions than answers. As she becomes part of the flock instead of the shepherd, she describes her poignant and sincere struggle to regain her footing in the world without her defining collar. Taylor's realization that this may in fact be God's surprising path for her leads her to a refreshing search to find God in new places. Taylor was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University. Ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1983, she became rector of Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church in Clarksville, Ga in 1992. She resigned from there to accept an endowed chair in religion at Piedmont College. She lives on a working farm in rural Habersham County, GA with her husband, Ed.

  24. 4 out of 5

    ben

    A page turner for me. I am a person who seems to not be able separate myself from a "divine presence", but at the same time I am so confused by faith and this presence that I often feel lost or tricked or at best drawn. Taylor's journey through her faith and a life of being a "professional holy person" was close enough to mine to help me get clarity on the last few years of my journey. She is inside faith enough for me to feel connected but also outside "safe faith" enough for me to join her A page turner for me. I am a person who seems to not be able separate myself from a "divine presence", but at the same time I am so confused by faith and this presence that I often feel lost or tricked or at best drawn. Taylor's journey through her faith and a life of being a "professional holy person" was close enough to mine to help me get clarity on the last few years of my journey. She is inside faith enough for me to feel connected but also outside "safe faith" enough for me to join her mystery. I recommend it for those asking unapproved questions inside the christian context, but only expect insight related to journey rather than answers to such questions.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ian Caveny

    Pastoral (in this case, priestly) memoirs are quickly becoming a genre that I gravitate towards with an earnest interest and curiosity. Maybe it has something to do with this being a year in which I myself have become a pastor for the first time. Whatever the case, whether nonfiction (as was the case with Open Secrets) or fiction (as was the case with Jayber Crow), I have enjoyed hearing others' reflections on what the nature of the pastoral vocation is, full of all its strifes and dangers, Pastoral (in this case, priestly) memoirs are quickly becoming a genre that I gravitate towards with an earnest interest and curiosity. Maybe it has something to do with this being a year in which I myself have become a pastor for the first time. Whatever the case, whether nonfiction (as was the case with Open Secrets) or fiction (as was the case with Jayber Crow), I have enjoyed hearing others' reflections on what the nature of the pastoral vocation is, full of all its strifes and dangers, toils and snares. As such, I was quite excited to jump into another memoir, this time of a former Episcopal priest who left the pulpit to pursue teaching religion at a local university. Barbara Brown Taylor's writing, I must say, is first-rate, far more polished and tuned than, for example, Richard Lischer's in Open Secrets. She routinely compares her spiritual life to that of a variety of birds, connects her natural observations with her spiritual discoveries, and earnestly calls for a renewed attachment in Christian theology and practice between transcendence and immanence. And much of the early sections of the memoir flow rather smoothly, describing Taylor's slow-and-then-sudden burnout from pastoral life, her ever-increasing drain from (as she would diagnose) an over-zealous attempt to become Jesus for others. Not only is her rhetoric and grasp of narrative tight, but so is her spiritual and theological wrestlings and wranglings as she navigates several difficult decisions in her faith-life. As a new pastor, I found plenty of wisdom and grace in the story of her "leaving" Church - in particular, there is the wisdom of recognizing the unique challenges of a fruitful season of ministry! But about halfway through I began to be more and more surprised with Taylor's rationalizing. After all, when an evangelical (like me) reads the memoir of a mainliner (like Taylor), one would expect that the former would fit the category of the rationalist while the latter fits better the category of the experientialist, the spiritualist, etc. These are the stereotypes we have inherited. Taylor would have us believe that she is more of an experientialist, more of a spiritualist, and not so much a rationalist or a dogmatist, but she does not convince. She finds herself hard-pressed in a vocation that she herself chose, and then less hard-pressed in a different vocation that she herself chose. For her to call one the better choice, the more spiritually freeing choice, the choice that fits best the character of God, is not so much spiritual discernment (like she narrates it as being), but much more like Aristotelian virtue-ethics, pursuing "the good life" whose end (telos) is happiness. To be sure, there's nothing wrong (necessarily) with pursuing a life that will make us less constrained, more free, and more happy. But there is also nothing more "spiritual" about that choice. This interpretation of spiritual discernment appears most concisely near the end of the last chapter, where she re-interprets Jesus' saying of "hate your father, your mother, etc." to mean "go home, you don't have to go to Jerusalem and die." This is a rather stark and shocking (and bourgeois, might I add) re-interpretation of Jesus' view of discipleship! A far more honest reading would suggest that going to Jerusalem to die is precisely what Jesus thinks that Christian discipleship looks like. To think otherwise is to miss His point altogether. As such, while I applaud Taylor's narrative and rhetorical skill, her ability to reflect on her life with verve and grace, I find the substance of her narrative unconvincing and, in the end, hollow. What she proposes as a more spiritual direction in her life sounds to me more lonely, more Self-actuated, and less full of Faith - that is, the kind of Faith it takes to say to Jesus "Yes, I will go to the Cross with You; Yes, I will follow You." Truly, Taylor's observations of the hurts caused by "box-y" forms of Church are real; but she does not take the time to consider what other kinds of hurts might be caused by an "un-boxed" form too. Finally, near the end Taylor does embark on some rather surprising polemics against "Church-faith." She suggests that Jesus proclaimed a Kingdom but all He got was a Church, as though that were some great failure. She even relates the story of a friend of hers who has, in his own way, graduated beyond Church. Maybe Taylor sees herself as having graduated beyond Church too (she doesn't go in-depth on that regard)? Her ecclesiology is pitifully weak here, something that I am quite surprised by given the beauty of her sacramental experiences. I wonder where she found the idea that this was a healthy Christian notion? In conclusion, though the words are beautiful and the story alluring, the actual narrative of Taylor's memoir is spiritually off-kilter. She sees her story as one of catch-and-release, with more freedom being an intrinsically good thing. That narrative is un-compelling for me, and it smells more like what one's psychoanalyst might advise than what one's spiritual director would. A good spiritual director would delve deeper than a simple change-of-vocation, change-of-church, change-of-place. A good spiritual director would suggest that something, perhaps, is going on inside that cannot be easily satisfied no matter the context. A good spiritual director would warn "Maybe it's not what you're doing but with what power, what goal, what foundation you are doing it." At any rate, the whole story smells like a rationalization, one told through a smiling face, whose smiling eyes confess that they are doing well, when in reality they are desperate to make their decision "the right one." Humankind is desperately in need of better ways of discerning the purposes of God with integrity; Taylor has not provided us that story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katie Liestman

    This book is the exact thing I needed to read. At times I felt like she was writing my own story. She has a calm and soothing way of painting her experience that is clearly personal but so poetic. This is not an anti-faith or anti-church book but moreso about the expansiveness of God and the (at times) limiting nature of the structures we put God info. Highly recommend for anyone deconstructing or rebuilding their own faith journey.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Wonderful writing. This book resonated with me on multiple levels. I also left the “church” I grew up in, and did NOT leave my faith. Her feelings about losing her identity when she left the church is also easily relatable to leaving a career. One of my favorite quotes...”..I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    This book came as such a gift to me. Beautifully written with such wisdom, vulnerability and humility. The Readers Guide at the end has been incredibly helpful in processing my own story in the light of the author's. I am so grateful and I’m quite sure I will return to it many times in the future. I highly recommend it to all men and women who are considering and questioning their involvement in church ministry.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cristine Braddy

    I just love her story and her wisdom.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Quite a thoughtful book - the author relating her first glimpses of faith in God, a desire to experience "the Presence" blooming into a long process of becoming an Episcopal priest, spending meaningful but exhausting years in that role, then leaving the office altogether. Along the way, the author Taylor reflects on her strengths and doubts, how a community of individuals can be united and divided by their faith, and in general, how vision, energy, and an accumulating set of experiences can bring Quite a thoughtful book - the author relating her first glimpses of faith in God, a desire to experience "the Presence" blooming into a long process of becoming an Episcopal priest, spending meaningful but exhausting years in that role, then leaving the office altogether. Along the way, the author Taylor reflects on her strengths and doubts, how a community of individuals can be united and divided by their faith, and in general, how vision, energy, and an accumulating set of experiences can bring change to one's view of life. Moderately paced, a wide variety of observations and stories - well worth the read. A few excerpts: Speaking of the variety of people who might be found working at church together in a rural setting ..., "in a county with only one Episcopal church they learned to live together - the Yellow Dog Democrats, the National Rifle Association boosters, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the League of Women voters. Once, when I asked a newcomer what had brought him to Grace-Calvary, he shook his head, 'I know people who come to this church," he said, "and I finally had to come and see for myself how they got through a Sunday morning service without assaulting each other." Far from assaulting each other, they seemed as intrigued as I by their differences. People who cancelled out one another's votes in every county election cooked soup together at the Clarksville Soup Kitchen. ..." Speaking of times of satisfaction in one's faith and or circumstances, and another time in despondency, "According to the Bible, both the center and the edge are essential to the spiritual landscape, although they are as different from one another as they can be." "I will keep the Bible, which remains the Word of God for me, but always the Word as heard by generations of human beings as flawed as I. As beautifully as these witnesses write, their divine inspiration can never be separated from their ardent desires; their genuine wish to serve God cannot be divorced from their self interest. That God should use such blemished creatures to communicate God's reality so well makes the Bible its own kind of miracle, but I hope never to put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve."

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