Customer Reviews: Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
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on June 15, 2006
Truth tellers are rare, especially if they are telling hard truths from deep love. Taylor's deep love for the church and for the God worshiped there provide the basis for her faithful and critical truth telling. Her truths -- which others whisper -- include the ways in which churches wound their leaders, overly limit the laity's ability to engage God and one another theologically, and need new visions of God and the people of God in these hard days. As ever, Taylor writes beautifully as well as truthfully. This isn't by any means a "Dear John" letter to the church -- it's a love letter demanding the best of what each person can bring to and receive from communities of faith.
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on February 15, 2007
In the opening quotation to her book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor shares these words from William Faulkner, "The only thing worth writing about is the human heart, in conflict with itself." With those prescient words, Taylor invites us to a deeply personal and moving story of her own journey of the heart, in particular her journey as a person of faith, called to minister in Christ's church. While the title may suggest a volume filled with anger or hostility toward the church, instead the reader is treated to a Valentine for faith, complete with the twists and turns of every powerful love story. For Barbara Brown Taylor is like so many of us in her relationship with the church -- one that is both deeply satisfying and life-giving and also taxing and draining at the same time. What makes her different is her ability to articulate the nuanced relationships of life and faith in God in ways most of us cannot.

From her childhood experiences of the divine through her years as one of America's most celebrated preachers, Ms. Taylor shares the inner world of a person seeking to be faithful to God's call while also seeking to live fully and authentically in God's dynamic creation. The prose is delightful and the emotion rings as sincere and deeply human.

Whether you find yourself at a crossroads of faith or simply hoping to gain compassion for those who are, this is a book to cherish. I forced myself to read it slowly, a chapter at a time, in order that it would last longer and feed me more slowly. In the last section of the book, Ms. Taylor observes this, "I may have left the house, but I have not left the relationship. After twenty years of serving Mother Church at the altar, I have pitched my tent in the yard, using much of what she taught me to make a way in the world."

Asked to speak to a church group on one occasion, the host asked Rev. Taylor, "Tell us what is saving your life now." She goes on to answer, pointing out that the beauty and depth of the question resonates with both a knowing and the recognition that we are changing all the time, as is our relationship with God and God's creation.

If you enjoy wonderful writing and themes of living in the tension of faith, you will simply love this book!

Bill Roseen, Atlanta GA

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on June 6, 2006
For all of us who have changed faith communities, traditions, or contemplated how churches help and hinder our growth in adult faith, there is a great deal to think about both for those who seek the holy having left their tradition, and those seeking to find their place within an established church.

Her honesty is refreshing and helpful. The realizations that come to her from looking in from the outside and the changes in her "status" when she sheds the visual signs of her calling help see our church leaders in a new way just as she sees the laity with new eyes.

I just finished reading this but will be contemplating her experience for a long time. There are lots of clues as to how churches might be better communicators of God's love if they are willing to look beyond their walls.

Barbara Brown Taylor gives us a rare view into the soul of a pastor who dries up from the inside for lack of spiritual nourishment - something caring laity might think of ways to address while those who do not receive the sustenence they need from church will find permission if needed to recognize God in new places.
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VINE VOICEon March 26, 2007
Nearly 18,000 pastors leave ministry each year in the United States. This is the story of one. Barbara Brown Taylor does a magnificent job of telling her story. She is a gifted writer. Any pastor who has struggled with the "pastoral call" will relate to portions of this book. I do have one word of caution to add. Taylor writes from a specific theological perspective. Those whose frame of reference is from another perspective might begin to tune out when confronted with the differences. Please, do not do so. This story goes beyond doctrinal distinctives.

Barbara Brown Taylor is an adjunct professor of Christian spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary. She is an editor-at-large and columnist for THE CHRISTIAN CENTURY. She has written several books. She was named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University. Her story is worth reading.
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on November 27, 2011
The memoir 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.
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on October 14, 2006
I have been nourished in my faith by Barbara Brown Taylor's writings and presentations over the years. This book is no different. Once I began reading it, I was engrossed in her images and descriptions and connections, as she described her spiritual and professional journey. In many passages, she writes moving descriptions of the grace that happens in congregational life. I highly recommend this as an example of intellectually honest and deeply rooted faith. I have been thinking about it a great deal in the months since I read it.

I give the book four stars, though, because of frustrations I felt while reading it! I have been a Lutheran parish pastor for 27 years, which is an experience very similar to being an Episcopal parish priest. I was frustrated to read Barbara Brown Taylor describing her over-functioning, which led to her burn-out in both congregations she served. I was frustrated to read passages in which she recognized instances of grace in congregational life only in retrospect, after leaving parish ministry. What a shame! If a pastor/priest insists on overfunctioning, congregation members will let him/her! But, in any healthy congregation, members are ready to help the pastor/priest set and maintain boundaries, so that, for instance, s/he is not overwhelmed by the few in the congregation who are neurotically needy, so that s/he is not consumed by draining administrative duties. Members of a congregation want their clergy person to be nourished by prayer and study. That is extremely time-consuming. But, in that time, God gives great energy to the pastor/priest, and increases his/her compassion and the depth of his/her preaching and teaching. That's what congregation members look for. I think that's what Barbara Brown Taylor was also looking for! My frustration is that she did not have to leave the parish ministry to find it.

Perhaps the book does deserve five stars because it is so provocative! Indeed, it would serve as a fine study for clergy and parishioners who are open to talking about these issues of congregational life.
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on July 3, 2006
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Taylor is breathtakingly vulnerable and honest, which is a fresh breeze in the world of church and religion. She is self aware enough to name her own ego and power, while inviting us to see her raw humanity. If only everyone could communicate with such honesty and imagination! If you are burned out with church and think you are the only one, you're wrong. And if you love church deeply and madly and think you are the only one, you're wrong too. Taylor gives us back the gift of REAL, and I haven't read a better take on this since The Velveteen Rabbit. Prepare to enjoy!
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on January 17, 2007
Most Christians devoted to parish ministry like Barbara Brown Taylor discover at some point in their lives the perilous interface between one's personal identity and the professional institution of the church which they serve. Often this interface brings a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, but at other times it becomes a flash point for crisis. In the words of the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister, given the grace of experiencing the faults and failures of both myself and the church, how do I remain a "loyal member of a dysfunctional family?"

After ministering for nine years on the staff of a large Episcopal church in urban Atlanta, where she had lived half of her adult life, Taylor moved to Clarkesville in northeast Georgia, a town of 1,500 people and two stoplights. The prospect of serving Grace-Calvary Episcopal with its tiny sanctuary that seated 85 people was a dream come true for her, or so she thought. Her passion and competence spelled success, and after five years the church had expanded to four Sunday services. In the process she nearly lost her soul, and so she resigned, left church, and took an endowed chair of religion at nearby Piedmont College.

Taylor's memoir reads like an account of classic burnout--an exaggerated sense of self-importance, her "staggering" sense of ownership, a deep need to help others, a relentless work ethic, self-pity, a "heroic image of myself [and] a huge appetite for approval." All these led to a meltdown of bitterness, loneliness, uncontrollable tears, and resentment. "My role and my soul were eating each other alive," she writes. In addition to describing her personal issues that contributed to her crisis, Taylor also reflects on the church as an institution. Here too we discover familiar if frustrating experiences. While Jesus prayed for a kingdom of God, what we got was an imperfect church. The church guards its "center" and often persecutes those on the "edges." Rigid belief enforced by "jurists" marginalizes the "poets" who would rather "behold."

Taylor structures her narrative around the themes of finding, losing, and keeping. She discovered that what she really wanted was to become merely but fully human. She lost her parish job but gained Sabbath rest. She lost her professional identity but gained a far broader and deeper identification with all of humanity. Most important of all, she discovered a spirituality of imperfection in which "spiritual poverty is central to the Christ path." As this is what she calls a "love story" and a "memoir of faith," her candid narrative reminded me of the wise words of Erasmus who, after failing at rapprochement with Luther, returned to the Catholic church with all its imperfections. "I will put up with this church until it becomes a better church," said Erasmus, "and it must put up with me until I become a better person."
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on August 29, 2006
Barbara Brown Taylor concludes her well written book by stating, "I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well." Several pages later she goes on to say, "I will keep faith - in God, in God's faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help me see the world as God sees it - so that together we may find a way to realize the divine vision." I find it interesting that Ms. Taylor believes that one comes to see the world as God sees it by joining a community of like-minded, ec-centric (that is, off center) individuals. Is this not unlike conservative Christians who believe that they will only come to see the world as God sees it by embracing a faith that is true to the Bible, in spite of the fact that such a faith will certainly be offensive to the world in which they live? On the one hand, we have Ms. Taylor and her eccentric companions cobbling together a faith of their own making, while on the other hand, we have an equally dedicated community of believers seeking to embrace a faith grounded in what they believe to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God. In spite of Ms. Taylor's words to the contrary, she has done a very good job of explaining herself. I simply don't agree with her liberal-leaning (if not, liberal) conclusions. Just as, I'm sure, she would not agree with my conservative conclusions. However, Ms. Taylor gives us a glimpse of her heart for dialogue and mutual understanding with the following words, "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." As one who "sees things otherwise", I appreciate Ms. Taylor's painfully honest portrait of her journey thus far and I can only hope that those who do not share her theology will receive the gift that this eccentric saint has to offer rather than running to the center of their faith community for shelter.
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on August 9, 2007
This is my first BTB book. I've been reading articles by her for a long time, but was intrigued with this title. Frankly, I find "religious" books tiresome and boring much of the time. But, Brown has captured so many of the struggles I have had with the institutional church with such grace and gentleness, that I found myself welling up many times while reading. Her phrasing and descriptive passages about the meaning of the collar and the vestments of ministry was particularly poignant to me. I found myself feeling deeply her experience of serving the elements of the Eucharist. I, too, feel the sacredness of that moment, even though I serve in a less liturgical tradition.

Would that all of us who long to "leave church" could find another satisfying answer to God's inexorable call on our lives. I found myself wondering, still, after the book was finished, how she was able to leave the pastoral ministry. Sometime I hope that I might get a chance to sit on a porch, rocking, with her and have her explain it to me. Each time I even think of "leaving Church" I feel the relentless call of God pulling me back to serve in the place that I, in many ways, find after these 20 years, I don't want to be.

Even though the book was wonderful, and has taken its place on my shelf along with LaMotte and other female authors I highly value, she didn't answer the "Why I left Church" question for me.
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