- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 8, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307455548
- ISBN-13: 978-0307455543
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,003,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Faith, Interrupted: A Spiritual Journey Paperback – March 8, 2011
The Amazon Book Review
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Questions for Eric Lax on Faith, Interrupted
Q: Amid the current battles over faith and religion, there appears to be a silent majority of people who don’t align themselves either with the fundamentalists or the atheists, who don’t know quite what to believe about their faith. Your book gives a reasoned and passionate voice to this group; was that your intention?
A: It certainly was my hope. So many books about faith--and many written by really intelligent people--take a single line: “You’re crazy if you have faith” or, “You’re crazy if you don’t have faith.” I marvel at their surety. I’ve always experienced faith as a mystery, when I had it, and now that I don’t. But I have no assurance that I’m right in my thinking or that I’m even close to an answer about belief. I just know in retrospect how wonderful it was to have faith, and that I can’t fake having it when it’s not there. I suspect there are many people with my dilemma, and I hope that my experience will be useful to them as they struggle with their own changing faith, or its loss. And I hope as well that people of faith who read this will be understanding of friends who grapple with belief.
Q: You are perhaps best known for your books on film stars like Woody Allen and Humphrey Bogart. What made you want to write your own story? And why now?
A: I’ve also written about life on a bone marrow transplantation ward, and the development of penicillin, so I like a lot of different topics. I’ve been thinking about this book for at least 10 years. I’ve long been curious about how people come to faith, how they keep it or lose it, and how they use it for good or ill. An omnibus book about faith didn’t appeal to me (nor do I have the scholarship to write one). As I thought more about the subject, I realized that my own story, intertwined with those of my father, an Episcopal priest, and my college roommate George Packard, whose youthful faith mirrored my own, might be a way to examine the subject in a way that would be enjoyable for me to write and also draw readers into a story that would prompt them to consider their own faith as well. As for why write it now, I’m at a point in life--my mid-sixties--where if you aren’t thinking about God and faith and what happens next, you’re not paying attention. As there are no definite answers to these questions, I knew the book had to be short.
Q: As you mentioned, there are two men whose stories are closely tied to your own faith journey, the first being your father. What kind of influence did your father have on you when you were growing up?
A: My father was a monumental influence on me. He was very funny, not the first thing you associate with a priest, and he had a great understanding of and sympathy for human nature. So although he was very devoted in his faith, he was not rigid. That doesn’t mean he didn’t strictly adhere to the teachings of the Church, but he understood and practiced forgiveness, and held love as the central tenet of Christianity. I was an acolyte from age 6 and was as comfortable in church as I was at home; being in church with my dad was like visiting him in his office. I learned my practice of faith by his example, just as I learned the value and enjoyment of humor through his jokes, puns, and shaggy dog stories.
Q: You write that you started losing your connection with religion after your father’s death. How do you think he would have reacted to your “interruption” of faith?
A: I like to think he would have accepted and perhaps even admired the honesty of it--and then would have prayed very hard that I find my way back to the Church.
Q: The other man whose life you chronicle is your friend George Packard or “Skip.” Why did the direction his life took become so important to you?
A: Skip and I were much alike in our faith as college students. We both were acolytes from an early age and we both were active in the college chapel. Then Skip’s army experiences--many officers considered him the best leader of an ambush and patrol platoon--and mine in the Peace Corps were so dissimilar that our lives were no longer parallel. After the army Skip entered seminary and in the years following, his faith grew in ways much different and deeper than my own. But because we started at more or less the same place, he has been a natural touchstone for me, and the direction his life in faith has taken is what for a long time I thought mine might be.
Q: What was the most important thing that you learned about yourself through the writing of this book?
A: In tracing the path of my spiritual progress (or regression), I was able to understand how I’ve come to where I am in a way I did not know before. One of the biggest questions most people have to answer is where we stand in our faith. Whatever the degree to which we believe or disbelieve, we have to honestly face our deepest feelings, reservations, and doubts. I think only then can we find our way to meaningful faith, or accept that we have none. And in that self-examination I came to realize that the foundation of the faith I had, articulated again and again by my father--that the heart of it is to love one another--has not disappeared, even if that foundation no longer is “religious.”
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“An intelligent, elegantly composed and open-hearted memoir. . . . Valuable, even instructive. . . . [Lax] is a writer of gentle precision and clarity.” —Los Angeles Times
“Lax has written a steady, quiet love letter to a faith he has lost. . . . Sympathetic and engrossing.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A poignant, sensitive and thoughtful memoir that illuminates the complexity of the phenomenon that we call faith.” —Karen Armstrong, author of The Case for God
“Candid and heartful. . . . Faith, Interrupted resonates because Lax confronts questions common to believers everywhere, and he does it without pomposity, self-righteousness, or condescension.” —America
“A gentle, rueful book . . . Lax’s polished writing style and lack of assurance that he has all the answers are . . . definite pluses.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Heartfelt. . . . An honest and affecting memoir.” —Boston Globe
“Lax is a good storyteller, careful with words and reflective of the many ways in which he has had to ponder the eternal questions. This is not a book that ends with faith restored, God in God’s heaven and everything right with the world. But it is a book in which faith is taken seriously and, in the end, respected, even if the author cannot count himself among the faithful.” —Faith Matters
“Insightful. . . . Although this book is as much about a fascinating life as it is about religion, it will appeal to a wide audience both for its engaging subject matter and first-rate writing.” —National Catholic Reporter
“Vietnam . . . was at the core of the experience [Lax] recounts as part of his spiritual journey. . . . This book brings back with warmth, compassion and riveting detail what those days were like. . . . [A] deeply touching and personal meditation.” —The Globe and Mail
“Spiritual memoirs rarely command the same interest to others as they do for their authors, but Lax’s ability as a writer . . . makes his memoir an exception. . . . Lax’s journey, told with a fine sense of narrative shape, is a kind of paradigm of the spiritual struggles of the first wave of the Baby Boom and will speak eloquently to that generation.” —Library Journal
“Eric Lax’s moving and riveting memoir reflects a Christian boy’s struggle with faith and doubt, tradition and discovery. His encounters with other beliefs reflect as well his sense of empathy for, and solidity with, victims of destiny.” —Elie Wiesel
“Jesus said that he who would save his life must lose it. Does that go for faith, too? Do you have to lose it to save it? If there is any single question that Eric Lax’s luminously honest loss-of-faith memoir most clearly raises, this would be it. We live in two faith cultures. One culture only wants to hear how you lost your faith, the other only how you found it. But some of us have a foot in both cultures: dubious as plain believers, equally dubious as plain unbelievers. Eric Lax’s unfinished, interrupted story is a good one for us, and for better or worse our name is Legion.” —Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography
“In an age when it’s so fashionable to mock religious belief, Eric Lax gives us a quiet, very moving meditation on his own spiritual trials and turns.” —Paul Hendrickson, author, The Living and the Dead
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Top customer reviews
I was glad to learn about the author's father, a priest, and mother. Much of the book focuses on Lax's long relationship with his best friend, Skip. Skip's war service and faith life are a strong contrast to the author's. Lax's rich description of Skip's Vietnam service is worthy of an entire book.
The final chapters of the book covering more recent time lack the nuance and depth of the middle chapters. I wish Lax could speak about his current faith struggles with more clarity, using more specific examples. I am not sure I know why or how his faith was interrupted. Maybe sharing more about his family would help? Though we pick up bits along the way about past girlfriends, we don't know how he met his socially-prominent wife and his children are barely mentioned -- more space is given to describing a rain storm during his Peace Corp experience.
Page 250 has a nice listing of the reasons that he stands behind his dismissal of Christianity but waiting until page 250? Really? This book is 85% personal memoir and 15% discussion of why a person might reject Christianity. If you are looking for any Harris or Dawkins type of discussion, or an explanation of how a person who has fallen off the bandwagon now leads their life, you really won't find it here.
This guy has fallen off the bandwagon and sounds like he wishes he could get back on.
Readers making it past this first quarter in the hope that Lax evolves will be disappointed. This is not a story of a seeker, exploring and internalizing faith through prayer, serving the poor, studying the Bible, or discovering the Divine in life experience. Rather than enter the noble struggle of doubt essential for true faith, Lax replaces his father with his college roommate, heaping the onus of explaining faith on to a surrogate. The vacuum of ownership for participating in his own faith journey is heightened by the fact that the roommate is a Vietnam combat veteran while Lax is a C.O. who spends the war years in a tropical paradise.
The division defining the boomer generation couldn't me made clearer. Is it the "me generation" as embodied by Lax waiting for someone to gift him with a boy's notion of faith? Or is this generation defined by the over 9 million who served in Vietnam, the reality of warfare affecting exponentially families and friends, work, health, and yes - faith - through the dark night of the soul? This is part of the national psyche, a rending that doesn't belong to Eric Lax alone. Yet he seems to be unaffected by the anguish around him. The book is about Lax asking "Where's MY faith?" He should have remembered from his childhood that the creed begins with "we" not "I".
As he sits at the feet of his former roommate, George Packard, waiting to get fed, you can't help but question the authenticity of a friendship in which one friend is locked into being the father figure, the next keeper. Putting Packard on a pedestal, making him two-dimensional, reiterating the childish nickname "Skip" trivializes a man whose complexity comes through despite Lax's lack of curiosity and compassion. After all, the journalist Christ Hedges, has profiled Packard with more insight in Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America. Lax's primary relationships remain unexamined. His wife makes a cameo appearance, and there is little mention of his own fatherhood or parenting; the latter potentially leading to a personal, ultimately healing maturation of his father's faith. He sits at his father's deathbed, meets a woman to love, has a baby and can't find God? Come on!
Instead he burdens his former roommate with the chore. No matter how sound the choice to conscientiously object, Lax gets to enjoy the role of virtuous questioner forever. The stuff of cocktail party conversation. Packard's story doesn't get shared around the canapés. He gets stuck with the grunts, bushwhacking his way through the inevitable trauma locked in every combat veteran, forced to reflection, while Lax waits for the road to be paved...and then doesn't set foot on it. The guy's got to carry the faith for Lax as well as the darkest side of the national character. Hasn't "Skip" been through enough already? Lax's claim that he misses his faith at the end of the book rings out with a disingenuous clang. You don't find faith skating through life in Beverly Hills.
A decent writer, Lax could produce an honest and potentially provocative book about faith if he was willing to explore the complexity and humanity of his father, friends, family, and self. The faith Lax claims he misses so centers not on the precision of a parish priest's rites or information meted out in cherry picked spiritual fortune cookies from a college roommate, but on an itinerant rabbi from hicksville, the companion of sinners, and a man emblematic of self-sacrificial love. The "interrupted" in the title leaves room for a sequel and - hopefully for Eric Lax - redemption.