Review of “Faith Shift – Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart”
Talk about a book whose time has come! Here’s a treasure of a resource for the many thousands (or millions) of us who have had a major shift of our faith… or may be in the midst of one.
Author Kathy Escobar brings several powerful perspectives to the book. Two key ones are that she has lived it herself and she lives and ministers among many in transition or on the fringes of faith.
In a sense, faith is always shifting in every growing person. But here we are talking about shifts major enough to cause disruption and turmoil. Right now is a period of great movement within churches and people of faith. Many churches and denominations are losing members, some splitting, some closing, a few aggressively growing… and on it goes. We read about the numbers. Occasionally we hear someone’s story of “losing faith”, losing and re-finding it, or leaving church in one condition or another. But rarely do we get to hear one story after another, after another.
And it really works how Kathy weaves snippets of people’s stories throughout the book as they relate to her chapter themes. If you have any interest, either personal or intellectual, in issues of spirituality, church community, beliefs, relationships within religion, etc., this book will engage you. But especially if you are one of the “shifters”, past or present, you will relate to it and benefit from Kathy’s acquired wisdom. Her honesty, practicality and warm support will be healing for you if you are still in the rawness of either interpersonal or internal conflicts of faith.
Having just mirrored (hopefully) a bit of Kathy’s compassion and practical support, let me now turn a bit more descriptive … to talk about what all the book covers.
Kathy uses a very helpful device to help structure the concepts: a diagram of the common stages of a faith shift. This unfolds as the book progresses:
- Returning (potentially)
- Severing (potentially)
Each of these rings true to me. Both from a personal and an academic standpoint. I went through a major faith shift a number of years ago that I feel incorporated these stages largely as she describes them. Fortunately, I already had a large store of good psychology and theology (not merely the “fused” kind) plus emotional stability beneath me…. Many are not so lucky!
I appreciate that Kathy repeatedly reminds us that each journey is individual and unique. The circumstances and details vary widely. Yet there is a remarkably consistent process for most of us. Just as there are generally universal stages of child and adult “life development”, so are there of “faith development” (she acknowledges the ground-breaking work of James Fowler in this regard… a real favorite of mine).
The book has a broad potential audience. Obviously, it is for shifters themselves. But it is also an important book for those who are close to anyone experiencing a “crisis” of faith, serious doubts, conflicts with church leaders, or any significant shifting of religious beliefs or places of affiliation. One of the things I infer (which Kathy does not state) from her coverage of the issues is that churches or religious schools tend to follow the principles of institutions or mere “organizations” more than of true communities… especially communities of love. All of us involved in churches of any type should be reflecting on many of her points… on how much we are a community expressing love in ways called forth by Jesus. Or are we binding people (creating “fusion”) more than loosing, healing, supporting them? Doing it in order to remain “orthodox”, or keeping to right belief, is not an adequate explanation. Does not every thinking person believe theirs is “right belief”?
If we are in leadership positions, all the higher our responsibility; but every member shares some responsibility to see clearly how everyone is being served and given opportunity (without pressure) to serve wherever their gifts and calling may lead. So much of the book is, under the surface, about bumping up against the drive and need to be in control – by others around us and within ourselves. This leaders often justify as “doing God’s will” or “saving souls”, etc. But who is being “thrown under the bus” or otherwise ground up in order to keep a proper outward image and the “wheels of ministry” turning? Kathy shares her personal story in this regard, briefly and appropriately… and similar stories of many others.
Along with so much that is healing and wisely directing, I hear Faith Shift crying out, “Folks, let’s be real!” (Real as in honest, humble, transparent, caring…. And reality is that churches tend to work against being real, so we do have to work at it.)
There’s something truly remarkable in how Kathy handles the touchy subject of theology or belief changes in the process of faith shifts. She deftly avoids most specifics! In doing so she keeps the focus on what is happening inside and around the individual… the place of adjustment and process of regaining a “center” or a new positive identity. As I’m using it here, “belief” refers to both specific theological points and an overall orientation to the Bible and major issues like church authority.
For example (and something I don’t recall Kathy saying much about), faith shifts very often involve becoming less literal in the way one interprets Scripture; often less accepting of traditional views within the shifter’s church or denomination also. But she’s not just talking about something ephemeral such as getting mad at God over some disappointment. She’s dealing with deep-seated, long-term re-examination and adjustments that so many people go through.
Often triggered by dysfunction around us (or our own), it’s part of the natural process of growth. As one encounters more variation – personal exposure is one way – one’s viewpoints tend to broaden. Another way is deeper study of the Bible, comparing authors and texts. But what about the people around us?
Often they are not dealing with the same issues at the same time we are. This is much of what makes a major crisis or shift of faith so difficult – it stresses our relationships. And very often the shifter feels alone, confused, guilty. Not after reading this book, however! At least there is plenty here to support and help guide a person along, including a helpful resource section at the back, and the knowledge that Kathy’s own faith community, The Refuge in the Denver area (where she co-pastors), is at least one place where traumas and transitions of faith are well understood and such pilgrims are welcome.
Your thoughts and experiences along these lines? If you’ve read the book, please share your impressions, how it impacted you.