"Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith"
When the sexton and I discovered about 18" of water in the basement later this afternoon, the cat's behavior was suddenly comprehensible. Now I have to wonder what she thought of me when I had sniffed the musty air like a total dolt, murmuring "Gee, what's that damp smell?" I'm sure I'll find the little kitty-cat sized evacuation rowboat around here someday.
Anyway, that's how I came to read Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith this afternoon: I couldn't very well study for exams or write my newsletter column or make phone calls while the plummer was here and intermittently chatting with me, could I?
I really love Barbara Brown Taylor's writing, but here's the thing: she has always irked me as she thrilled me. Know why? Because she always seemed so damned holy I wanted to pinch her. No matter how much I loved the ministry, she loved it more, and in more exquisitely articulate terms. No matter how much I loved God, Barbara Brown Taylor had a much sexier, more intimate thing going with God. No matter how many insights I gained from the Bible, I could never be nearly as insightful about it as Barbara Brown Taylor was. No matter how deep my encounters with parishioners, she always had much more death-defying, tears-inducing stories to relate.
Remember in "The Brady Bunch" when Jan has that little middle child fit and says, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!!" Remember that?
I began to have that middle child tantrum in my mind every time I read something of Barbara Brown Taylor's:
"Barbara, Barbara, Barbara!"
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, the story of Taylor's total burn-out from the parish ministry was therefore somewhat of a strange relief, and I don't mean that in an unkind way. I mean that I somehow knew it was coming. As holy as she seemed to be, and as gorgeous her prose, Barbara Brown Taylor never seemed to have any real fun with her work, and that spelled doom to me.
This is a beautifully written book, but as dressed up as it is with deep insights and memorable phrases, it's still just a book about extreme clergy burn-out. It seems to me that she almost could have left this topic well enough alone. I sense a contrived quality to her writing here that is totally absent in her other books and articles, suggesting to me that this was not the book Taylor so much wanted and needed to write, but felt she owed her readers by way of explanation.
You didn't owe us that, Barbara.
I am no longer jealous of Barbara Brown Taylor. It is clear to me that her perfection as a writer had a clear parallel in her perfectionism as a parish priest, and no one can bear the burden of such perfectionism and stay juicy and vital enough to do the work. Parish ministers, read this book and let it be a cautionary tale against taking yourself and your work too seriously, trying to be holy rather than whole, and allowing your collar to strangle you.