Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Still : Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, by Lauren F. Winner

I'm still not completely sure what I want to say about Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis which I accepted for review on account of the fact that I previously read and reviewed Girl Meets God. I'm not linking to that old review on purpose because I can't tell from what I wrote what I honestly thought about the book. (I hate my old reviews. Does anyone feel the same way about theirs?)

To save myself future trouble when I reflect back on Still, let me just cut to the chase and say that I didn't really like this book very much.

So. Now. Where do I go from that statement?

Lauren Winner is back, and Still finds us on the heels of Girl Meets God, about a half dozen or so years down the road. Winner has been married, divorced and doesn't really feel like she is connecting much with God. She still believes He exists, but she has some inner faith struggles which she refers to be as a "middle" struggle and stage of her life. It's not the
beginning of her faith story and it's clearly not the end. She's in the middle and is wondering what's wrong with her, what she believes, and what might be wrong with God as she has known Him in the past. She explains her doubts and questions "honestly" in a poetical manner (short, choppy chapters with nicely turned phrases) and by presenting herself as honesty itself.

What I ultimately gathered from what she was saying was that she was feeling good about her faith until she got married. Once she got married, she realized she didn't want to be married. (This is used both as an excuse and an explanation for the divorce.) Because a great many people told her that Christians don't divorce, she began to feel that to divorce her husband would be to walk away from God and her faith. But she really wanted the divorce. She walked away from her marriage (and admits that) and ended up in a faith tailspin of sorts, questioning everything. And in fact, she is still questioning everything up to the last page in this book. What is most remarkable is that she also announces at the conclusion of the book that she is in the process of being ordained into the Episcopal Church. This worries me for the state of the church as a whole because if your minister isn't sure who they are or what they believe then how are they supposed to honestly and accurately instruct others as to what the Word of God says? This seems a valid question to be asking.

Now, for purposes of this post I don't mean to drag us into arguments surrounding when divorce is or is not permissible.
Let's not go there in the comment section. I merely raise it as a point as it seems to be the crux of Winner's "issues" with God, the Bible and the church at large.

Mostly I dislike this book because Winner (and her publisher) are setting her out as a person who is wrestling with tough questions in an "honest" manner. She pens her questions in an intriguing style. While I know that some people are drawn to what *I* call the poetical writing of, say, Ann Voskamp for instance, I rather feel that the words are so flighty that it's hard to pin the author down on matters of doctrine. Reading Voskamp's blog or Winner's book rankles me because, sure, their words sound very pretty indeed. The way they piece words together into sentences and phrases make you feel something inside. When you read their words it makes you want to run out into the woods and "just feel a prayer." But it's not exactly hard core, thoroughly sound and accurate theology. And therefore Winner (like Voskamp) tends to make me feel a bit nervous. When it comes to my thoughts about God, my heart and my head need to match up. I feel like Winner and Voskamp are all heart and chocolate truffles without doctrine and ten years of seminary which should soundly answer their toughest questions. (Before you get your dander up, I am not resolved to say I completely dislike Voskamp. I have a good friend who I trust entirely with reading choices who likes her so I'm not quite ready to write Voskamp off. I'm merely saying I'm suspicious and her way of wording herself. She does not exactly set me at ease.) Those who like Voskamp would probably understand Winner a bit better than myself. To me though it's all poetry and not enough prose and I distrust that. It feels like they are hiding something from me. (Like truth.) I don't really know how else to explain it. It's a feeling I get when I read them. The motion of their words sway me almost without thinking but I don't want to be swayed without doing a good bit of thinking.

So, ultimately I distrust Winner. I think she wants to communicate hurt and confusion and she does. She wants to know that other people have "middle" journeys also. Many people do. That is not a fact I wish to deny. But wallowing in the questions is not the best place to find answers. Not in my mind. A quick return to the Word of God, sound counsel and a solid Biblical authority who can come alongside and instruct you, while challenging you in your walk, will help you find those answers much faster. If these things are ignored then I'm afraid the "middle" is going to last much longer than it needs to.

I wouldn't want to hand over this book to anyone on a questioning journey because they would just end up finding an excuse to pat themselves on the back and assure themselves that they aren't alone. But that's the thing: they aren't alone.

But from there you will search again for the LORD your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him. Deuteronomy 4:29

God may at times be quiet, but He is always present. And if we look for Him where He tells us to look for Him - He will be found. I believe that with all of my heart (and mind.)

This book is definitely not going on my favorites list, but I'm glad to know what it was about. Thanks Harper One for providing a copy for review. Naturally, I assume it's pretty clear that all of the opinions expressed above are my own. But I will state the obvious because I'm told I must.


B said...

This book sounds like it would raise my blood pressure. I think I'll pass :)

Shonya said...

I haven't read the books, but I have to shout a hearty AMEN at your thoughts.

"wallowing in the questions is not the best place to find answers. Not in my mind. A quick return to the Word of God, sound counsel. . ."

Makes me think of Edmund (as we just finished reading "What I Learned in Narnia) "he pretends that his relationship to the witch is not coloring his perspective; instead he pretends to be the neutral, objective, skeptical, and suspicious observer."

I've known an awful lot of people who use 'periods of questioning" to justify doing what they want rather than submitting to and following the Lord. And I've also seen people dwell, indeed wallow, in a period of questioning for yeeeaaarrrrs. As I reflect on their jumping from church to church, drastically changing beliefs and subsequently lifestyles. . .well, what you're saying resonates with my experience.

(Not to discount, of course, honest and sincere questioning WHICH LEADS TO GROWTH. And sorry for my long comment, lol)

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Two things strike me about this, both related to the zeitgeist:

1. It has become increasingly popular in Christian publishing circles to substitute touchy-feely poetic almost-thoughts for hard doctrine. I have no problem with poetry - I read plenty of poetry, and think that the arts can express what cannot be expressed in prose. This needs to be balanced, however, with clarity of thought.

2. Equally trendy is the "finding myself by divorce" memoir. See Exhibit A: Eat, Pray, Love. In our current culture, women commonly find themselves unhappy. What is the cure? Well, they can't exactly give their kids away. Let me think...oh. The long-suffering husband is the obstacle to their happiness. Of course!

Bluerose said...

Since I completely agree with you on Voskamp, I'll definitely pass on this one!

Cassandra said...

What Bluerose said. :)

I want meat, not milk. This book sounds like milk.

Stephanie Kay said...

Voskamp isn't my style either. I printed her Jesse Tree devotional to use this last Christmas with our family. By day 5 my husband hated reading it. He didn't like the way she jumped around in her thoughts. So, we'll be doing something else this year.

BerlinerinPoet said...

HOW DARE YOU QUESTIONS ANN VOSKAMP!! hahaha...Ok...I admit that was my first thought when I read this, but I was mildly assured when you said you weren't ready to write her off entirely. And I guess I can grudgingly admit we don't have to like the same stuff...all the time. I am kidding, I wasn't that up-dandered. I understand the uneasy feeling with Voskamp.

I would assume (without reading the Winner book so this isn't exactly fair) the difference would be that in Voskamp's book some answers ARE to be had. She doesn't just leave you with questions and there is some amount of doctrine that seems actually quite sound.

It just IS going to be harder to "pin down" anything didactic in poetry, but Voskamp's book does ultimately point you to God (in my opinion) while it seems this one leaves you, as you said, "wallowing in questions."

Annette Whipple said...

Your point about an ordained minister who is unfocused (my words, not yours) on God and instead is focused on self sounds very dangerous indeed.

I too, will pass.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Hmmm. . . well, I had to go back and re-read my review of this one to see what I said I thought about it. ;-). As I am probably about as far from Winner in terms of belief and practice as one can be and still be considered practitioners of the same religion (faith. . .you know what I mean), I never look to her works for their practical application in my own life. Instead, I read them because I enjoy the way she looks at things, including faith, through literary spectacles. She definitely doesn't give any answers (and only a hint of resolution), but I think I'm okay with that because I don't think it was the purpose of the book. Would I give this book to someone really, actually struggling or someone new in the faith? Not by a long shot. Do I agree with her? Not in many, many, many points. However, I do like Winner's style (even-dare I say it?- better than Ann V.'s, though I think A. V.'s message is definitely more clear-cut and True, and I admire her very much).

So, there you have it--my "defense" of liking this book. :-).

Barbara H. said...

From what I understand that seems to be the in thing among Emergent, "postmodern" professing believers: pondering questions and avoiding decisive answers.

You can't live very long as a Christian without questions popping up, even questions about who God is and what He is like, but I can't imagine wallowing there. He doesn't give us the answer to every little (or big) question in the Bible, but He gives us enough to know we can trust Him, and I'd much rather go to His Word and find what answers are there and be instructed and comforted and corrected and reassured.

I can't imagine becoming ordained to the ministry in such a state as this author is in.

Though AV's writing isn't my favorite style, and though I think that style can be lax doctrinally, there is underlying truth there most of the time.

bekahcubed said...

I read Girl Meets God and remember thinking, like Amy, that I enjoyed her story and her literary perspective. I definitely read it as a novel memoir, not as a Christian book, per se.

While I don't in any way approve of her course of action, I'm not really surprised to hear of Winner's divorce or that she is continuing to pursue ordination in the Episcopalian church. From her earlier writings, it seemed clear to me that she was definitely in a liberal branch of Christianity--with all that entails.

*carrie* said...

Was interested to read this review, as I really enjoyed Winner's first two books. I think I will try to find this one, too, out of curiosity.

Curious to hear a house update!

Kate Scott said...

I actually didn't read your post (I don't want to spoil anything), but I just received this book in the mail today and I can't wait to read it. I'm planning to read Winner's first memoir, Girl Meets God before reading this one. I bookmarked your review so I can come back and read it once I'm done!

Carrie said...

@Amy - Ah ha! I had marked your review to go and read after I wrote mine! That's on my To Do list!

@Barbara H. - Yes, I kept thinking this book had an Emergent feel to it.

@ All - I'm not SURPRISED by her positions, believes or style of communication/questions, etc. That's not what I intended to communicate. Rather, I'm sorry the book was published. Because publishing a book with a lot of questions without answers generally causes more harm than good. It is not bad or scary to question. But to wallow in it - or confuse others - is not a great idea.

Lisa Spence said...

Though Lauren and I would disagree on a doctrinal point or two (or perhaps three or four given your review here), I really liked Girl Meets God.

I too am uncomfortable with Ann V. I don't find her a heretic as her critics seem to accuse her of but neither do I love her writing as much as her fans do.

hopeinbrazil said...

Thank you for posting your review. I hadn't heard of this book, but appreciated your thoughts and the subsequent comments. Sounds like Winner could use a good dose of Dorothy Sayers or G.K. Chesterton to see that theology DOES matter.

Janet said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this one. I'd had it on hold for awhile at the library, but after reading a couple of reviews in recent weeks I cancelled the hold. It didn't sound like a book that would be very nourishing or worthwhile, and I don't rule out the possibility that it could be, partly for reasons you mention here, detrimental.

I've read Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath. I liked MH better. I liked GMG for the first half but grew weary of the literary pretentiousness and self-absorption. Though I agree with Amy in finding Ann Voskamp more anchored spiritually, I find her to be a bit self-absorbed too.

(Self absorption is an ironic thing for a blogger to be complaining about, I realize...)

The people we evangelicals identify as admirable or worth listening to can get pretty interesting sometimes.

Top  blogs