living with questions (a review of living the questions by david felten and jeff procter-murphy).

In my early 20s, I reveled in books and songs about the questions of faith. One book in particular that I loved was called Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends. (I was a hard-core Carolyn Arends fan, you guys. I quoted her in my valedictorian speech. Of course I bought her book.) At that time, it felt to me that being a person of faith meant that you had to have a lot of answers, so her warm and friendly book about a messy faith that includes questions was a balm to my soul.

Except for the end. Because at the end of the book, she quoted her husband saying that maybe none of these questions will matter when we get to heaven, because all we will be doing is singing Holy holy holy. I don’t know if that’s what Carolyn Arends really believes or whether the publisher made her have a nicer ending all tied up in a bow, but it was a deep blow to my heart. Apparently you can wrestle and create art from your questions, but the answer is always the same: God is awesome, God is in control, God’s ways are not our ways, God is outside of our understanding.

I pulled that book off the shelf the other day (oh, yes, I still have my copy), and it seems apparent to me that it’s about her journey living with questions, which is a little bit different. We do all have to make space in our hearts for the realization that we are not going to understand everything. I’m not here to argue with anyone who finds that a reasonably helpful answer. I’m glad it worked out for you, but I found it limiting and disempowering. It made me feel as if there was nothing I could do to be more a part of my faith. I just had to passively accept what was going on around me.

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It’s been a long time since I read that book, and (despite the ending) I think it did for me what Rachel Held Evans’s Evolving in Monkeytown did for a lot of other people, making it much less lonely to engage my faith. In the years since then, I have embraced the idea that a life of faith has much less to do with having all the right beliefs and much more to do with the way that those beliefs are lived out. That’s one reason I enjoyed this other very different book with the same title, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy. Instead of being about internal wrestling, this is a book about action. It presents a progressive approach to topics as varied as the rapture, compassion, and atonement and then offers a discussion of how those beliefs might affect the ways that we choose to live. There are a lot of topics, and it’s definitely not an in-depth approach, but there’s a good bibliography if you are looking to expand on any one chapter in particular. The strength of the book is clearly in the ways that it pulls together material from many different authors, making it a book with quotes I wanted to write down on almost every page.

For a long time, I thought that I just had to figure out the right answers and then I would be set for life as a person of strong faith and belief. Thank God that we are given the gift of an understanding and expression of faith that changes and grows over time. Thank God we are given space to ask questions, to live with them, and to live them out with purpose.

I got a free copy of Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity from Speakeasy and I was not required to write anything nice about it. My church did part of the video series this summer and I didn’t go, but I heard positive things. The book, also, is perfect for a Sunday School or small group to discuss.

I paid for my copy of Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends way back in the days when I worked for a Christian bookstore and I used my employee discount. I’m not friends with Carolyn Arends but how cool would that be?! (Call me, Carolyn Arends!)

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