Mar. 9th, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
I have been struggling for the past few days to write a review of Sarah Arthur & Erin Wasinger’s The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, because I really liked the book - enough that I am thinking of getting a paper copy, even though I’ve already got it on my Kindle from Netgalley - but I can’t seem to find the right approach to get started.

Partly this is because there’s just so much here that one could talk about. Do I start with the idea of New Monasticism, which I had never heard of before this book, and which so intrigued me that I’ve cribbed a list of further reading from The Year of Small Things?

Or how about the critique of self-help, and not just self-help but self-reliance as a concept? The idea that we should be able to help ourselves, all on our own, with no help from the outside but a paperback, only digs us deeper into the kind of self-centered isolation that is often the problem we need help with in the first place. We try to help ourselves and wonder why it doesn’t work when we’re tackling the wrong problem - because the right one is the lack of community, which by definition we can’t change on our own.

Have you shared with anyone your hopes, your longings? Could you be so vulnerable? Because in being this boldly honest, we’re moving beyond ‘support’ as a euphemism for benign interest and into physically feeling the weight of burdens and the weightlessness of one another’s joys - truly supporting each other.

The book has two authors precisely to underscore this point: both families are interested in shaping their lives around the ideas of radical faith, and they make a covenant of mutual aid for this endeavor because they know that trying to go it alone will almost inevitably lead to backsliding. Radical faith is demanding.

One of the subthemes of the book, in fact, is the concern that radical faith is a sort of luxury good - it’s a demanding doctrine that attracts healthy young childless white people, who almost inevitably slip away from it as they grow older and get spouses and children and health problems and aging parents to care for etc. etc. etc. Is it possible to follow it while parenting small children (as both Arthur and Wasinger do) or having depression (as Wasinger does)?

Wasinger’s depression comes up throughout the book, and has a chapter largely devoted to it, which is refreshing: in self-help books (Christian and secular) that aren’t specifically about mental illness, often you can practically hear the tires screeching as the authors speed away from the topic. (This is especially funny because lots of self-help books give advice that would fit right into a CBT book. There’s really only so much good advice to go around in this world, I suppose.)

Wasinger made a comment about her depression that resonated with me:

When I’m at the worst of my depression, I’m alone, and I want to be left alone, but then, not.

I have the book on Kindle so I could not draw little stars in the margin and write THAT’S IT, but, nonetheless. THAT’S IT.

It strikes me that I’ve never seen loneliness or feelings of isolation on a list of depression symptoms. Maybe it’s not that common? Or maybe “feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness” are supposed to cover it.

Or another passage that stuck out to me:

Being transparent about our struggles makes us vulnerable. We’re humbled. We’re on level ground with those with whom we share life. We cannot afford to be self-reliant; we cannot pretend to be anyone’s savior. We cannot pretend to be in control; we’re ever at the mercy of God (see Ps. 37). Perhaps our broken minds or bodies are leveling grounds where those whom we are tempted to ‘serve’ instead become people with whom we see eye to eye.

The identification of service as a temptation - a disguise for the sin of pride; a thinly veiled way of proving to oneself that one is better than everyone else. That struck me.


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