Book Review: Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey

“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out. Then you didn’t.

Out of Sorts: a state of being in one’s heart or mind or body. Often used to describe one’s sense of self at a time when you feel like everything you once knew for sure has to be figured out all over again.”

Thus begins Sarah Bessey’s book, Out of Sorts. Because she authored Jesus Feminist, Bessey’s new book was a must-read for me. I (Helen) loved Jesus Feminist and Bessey’s focus on Jesus throughout it. I looked forward to reading her second work, and purchased it within days of its publication.

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The subtitle of Out of Sorts is “Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.” Bessey approaches the idea of evolving faith by sharing her own story of getting to know Jesus “through the happy-clappy songs of [her] tiny, happy-clappy childhood churches in the prairies of Canada,” through a season in which she and her husband realized the height of success was not full-time vocational ministry, through miscarriages and moves across the continent, to exploring other denominations’ expressions of faith. She describes her journey beautifully, making rest stops at subjects such as theology, interpreting the Bible, expressions of church, the gifts of the Spirit, and community. It was in these rest stops I found some of the most encouraging, “highlight-able” messages.

I loved what Bessey had to say about finding Jesus in expressions from different communities of faith. I grew up in a Presbyterian church that was liturgical in some senses. When I truly came to faith, it was in the context of being part of a Pentecostal young adults’ service. Since then, I have attended churches of numerous denominations, and have lately been embracing a liturgical prayer book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. At the same time, I’m part of YWAM, a multi-denominational organization. My evolving faith has found value in various ways of worshiping and praying, and walking “the well-worn paths that the pilgrims before me had carved out.”

Bessey’s chapter on grief and lament also resonated with me. I’m teaching Colossians on Monday, and I’ll be sharing about making Jesus center, in all seasons of our lives. As Bessey says, “As I sort through my faith, I’ve come to believe that almost all of our theology – and therefore our practical lives – has its roots in what we believe about the nature and character of God. It all tracks back.” Making Christ Cornerstone in our seasons of grief and lament, rather than falling back on pat answers and doing our best to retain the appearance of “victorious Christian living” in situations when we inwardly shudder, is part of sorting out our faith, and I loved Bessey’s honesty in addressing this.

While so much of Bessey’s book had me nodding along in agreement, the first half of “Getting into the Word: On Reading the Bible” left me with some major discomfort (specifically with regards to Bessey’s approach – borrowed from Peter Enns – as she sought to reconcile stories of genocide in the Old Testament, with Jesus in the New Testament). I loved what she had to say about her journey of understanding Paul’s letters (which is pretty much a testimonial of the value of inductive Bible study!), but in her efforts to understand the Old Testament, I felt Bessey was venturing down some very slippery (and not very inductive) slopes. At one point in Out of Sorts, Bessey says,

“We can be afraid to question. We are afraid that if we let ourselves question our theology or doctrines…we will be at risk…What if we go the wrong way? What if we find our way to the fabled slippery slope and tumble head long into the fall? What if what if what if?…And yet there is something exhilarating about a slippery slope. And there is usually rest waiting at the bottom.”

On one hand, I agree: if those slippery slopes lead us to know and love God and love our neighbor more fully, and to truly get to the bottom of how God is calling us to live out the timeless truths of Scripture, I’m for engaging them. Bible study is about asking questions! But when those slippery slopes call into question whether or not the Israelites actually heard the voice of God, I will not be getting out my toboggan to see what’s at the bottom, so to speak. (A friend and I were reading Out of Sorts at the same time – well, she finished it first! – and after wrapping up Bessey’s chapter on reading the Bible, I wrote her a long essay on genocide in the Old Testament, which I will spare you from. Long story short, God’s mercy is all over the Old Testament, and we needn’t put holes in the Bible to find it. His character doesn’t change.)

Overall, I did enjoy my reading of Out of Sorts. If you are wrestling with a particular issue, Bessey won’t address it and solve it for you. Her aim is to encourage you in your own journey of sorting out your faith, as it evolves and changes. While I strongly disagree with her interpretation of some Scripture (which is a big “while” for me, being a Bible teacher and all), I love her focus on Jesus, and her desire to love and serve Him, no matter where she is at in sorting out her own faith.

{Cutting Down the Tree}

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Photo credit: Cynthia Hood.

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Photo credit: Jennifer Villaflor.

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Photo credit: Jennifer Villaflor.

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Photo credit: Kyungmoon Kim.

We have a tradition of going into Kananaskis and cutting down our own Christmas trees (we have permits, of course).

Last Friday, we found three beauties and brought them home to be adorned.

In the last picture I kind of look like I’m making everyone else carry the trees, on penalty of being struck with a hatchet.

You do what ya gotta do.

Karla Adolphe: Live at The Space

Our super-talented friend, Karla Adolphe, has been at it again! Her latest EP, released today (November 17), is a live recording featuring some previously released songs, as well as some beautiful new work. As I (Helen) listen to “Live at The Space” while writing this, I can tell you this five song EP is definitely one you’ll want to play on repeat. I listened to it three times while working on dinner yesterday! Karla’s lyrics are such a reflection of her heart, and her voice is incredibly powerful and beautifully emotive.

Listen to the first track below, then click “buy” to purchase the digital album, or a physical CD.

A Long Time Coming…

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At the end of September, our campus welcomed twelve new students for our School of Biblical Studies of 2015-2016. Here they are (plus a few staff)!

They’re a fun international group, representing six different nations, and they’re about two thirds finished the first semester of their school. We’d love it if you’d be praying for them as they continue their study of the New Testament. This week they’re in 1 & 2 Corinthians. Michael taught them Ephesians a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll be teaching them Colossians in a couple of weeks.

This pic and prayer request have been a long time coming…but be praying for what God wants to do in the lives of these students as they immerse themselves in His Word! Of course, we’d love to see them do Titus Project in January 2017…

Jewelry For Missions, Starting Today!

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Today’s the day! For the next week, Láska Handcrafted Jewelry will be donating profits to Michael and I’s upcoming trip to Ukraine and Central Asia, where we’ll be working with the Titus Project, teaching the Bible, and teaching Bible school graduates how to teach the Bible! By purchasing jewelry from Láska for the next week, you’ll be part of sending us to the nations.

Don’t forget to share with your family, friends, and on social media. Thank you!

Book Review: Scary Close, by Donald Miller

Remarkably, the most common regret of the dying was this: they wish they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves and not the life others expected of them…

It’s true I’ve been hurt a few times after revealing myself. There are people who lie in wait for the vulnerable and pounce as a way to feel powerful. But God forgive them. I’m willing to take the occasional blow to find people I connect with. As long as you’re willing to turn the other cheek with the mean ones, vulnerability can get you a wealth of friends.

Can you imagine coming to the end of your life, being surrounded by people who loved you, only to realize they never fully knew you? Or having poems you never shared or injustices you said nothing about? Can you imagine realizing, then, it was too late?

How can we be loved if we are always in hiding?

(Scary Close, by Donald Miller, p. 140).

This quote from Scary Close by Donald Miller, is a reference to the author having read an article about a palliative care nurse who treated patients with twelve or fewer weeks to live. The nurse found the greatest regret of the dying was wishing they had had the courage to live a life true to themselves, rather than living the life others expected them to live. Does that resonate with you? It resonates with me (Helen).

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The subtitle for Scary Close is “dropping the act and finding true intimacy.” Needless to say, the subject matter of Miller’s latest memoir is undeniably relevant. In recent years, social media has made it even easier to create a mask to hide behind. We can edit our profile pictures, update our statuses, and capture snapshots of our lives in such a way as to make the world around us believe we have it all. On and off line, we can cultivate images of who we are by presenting ourselves as having it “all together.” I’m not immune to this. Scary Close begs the question, how can we be genuinely loved if we are not genuinely known? And how can we be genuinely known if we are too afraid to be our genuine selves? Are we willing to stop acting as our own publicity agents, and truly connect with others from a place of honesty?

Scary Close cut to the core of a lot of what I’ve been wrestling with lately, and to be honest, I’m not sure where to begin with the work of “dropping the act and finding true intimacy” in so many of the relationships in my life. Miller says “For some, becoming capable of intimacy is as difficult as losing a hundred pounds” (p. 217) – I feel like losing a hundred pounds might be easier! While Scary Close doesn’t provide a list of steps to embracing authenticity and vulnerability, it is a comforting example of someone who was able to do just this. If you are questioning whether the life you are living is true to who you are, or whether your relationships are founded out of a place of authenticity, let Miller’s memoir be a friend in your journey towards embracing true relationships, intimacy, and genuine love.

Praise & Prayers

Last week we sent out an e-newsletter which included information about our upcoming fundraiser with Láska Handcrafted Jewelry (November 14th-20th) as well as praise reports and prayer requests. As we’re little more than two months away from leaving for Ukraine, here is what we’re praising God for, and praying for, lately:

We’re thankful for:
1) Our Titus team! We have two participants traveling with us, making us a team of four – ideal for the nations we’ll be heading to (we can all fit into one taxi!). One of our participants is Canadian, and the other…wait for it…speaks Russian! Major answer to prayer.
2) Tickets booked! We’ve booked our flights from Calgary to Toronto, to Kyiv, to Taiwan (with a short stop in Germany on the way), and back to Calgary again. We have yet to book our flights to our outreach nations.
3) Over $9400 towards Titus Project! That means we only need another $5300 to meet our goal, most of which is needed to cover our ground fees while in Central Asia. We are so encouraged.

We’re praying for:
1) Visas for outreach countries. Michael’s had some complications renewing his passport, which puts us back in being able to pursue visas.
2) Connections with contacts. We’d love to hear back from more of our contacts, so we can begin to get to know what teachings are wanted/needed in the nations we’ll be going to.
3) Leadership and unity. We want to be leaders following the Lord, and a teaching team that is marked by the unity only He can inspire!

Would you pray for us?