I have been in the midst of my changing faith for a few years now. It all began with questioning long held doctrinal beliefs, church power structures, and evangelical politics. Those feelings turned into frustration with organized religion in general and my church/sect specifically. Over time I developed a gag reflex for the jargon, rhetoric and culture of my entire Christian faith. Eventually it all snowballed and my internal turmoil began to boil over.
I stepped down from the positions I served at church and soon found myself no longer even wanting to attend. When I did go, I found it impossible to hold my tongue. My questions, doubts, and frustrations made their way out during bible studies and polite conversation. This resulted in further isolation and disconnection from other church members. To make things worse I felt guilty about the confusion, chaos, and strained relationships all of this caused my family. I felt as if everything was spiraling out of control and I became more and more agitated.
During that time I started meeting with a counselor with the hope of getting help processing what was happening. I chose a non-faith based counselor to avoid language and methods that might trigger me. I think this was a good a decision even though my counselor was only able to advise me from a general perspective. I think my cynicism of Christian rhetoric and themes would have only served to hurt the process with a Christian counselor.
Then about a month ago I started hearing buzz about this book on social media and blogs. I was feeling somewhat lost in the midst of my own spiritual deconstruction, so I was eager to get a copy of it. Somewhere around that time I joined Blogging For Books and my an act of luck or divine providence they had a copies of this book waiting for review.
Often Christian books about difficult topics like doubt or depression pull a bait-and-switch maneuver. Readers are sold by a hopeful title or clever introduction and then get shame, guilt, and a bevy of bible verse bullet points. It’s frustrating because readers of those kinds of books are trusting the author with often fragile areas of their life. It was not like this with Faith Shift and Kathy Escobar.
The first chapter is entitled “You’re Not Crazy and You’re not Alone.” I appreciated the rawness and humor of that opening. It helped me to feel comfortable that she would be gentle and honor the vulnerability of the situation. The way she spoke and the things she resonated immediately with my own thoughts and feelings. Her ability to describe the conflicting emotions I had been experience assured me of her own firsthand experience.
The book is structured around six common phases of faith that the author has identified. Each chapter/section deals with one of the specific phases.
In this phase a person developing new beliefs. They are usually involved with a group of people who help them develop these new beliefs. The group also teaches and models the explicit and implicit expectations.. This phase is all about becoming part of a belief system or group and conforming to the patterns of that system or group.
In this phase some new knowledge or a life event causes a person to question their beliefs and/or the expectations and beliefs of their group. Often the old ways of relating to the belief system or group no longer work.
This phase describes when a person returns back to their previous belief system or group. This can be because there is resolution to the questions and experiences that cause the shift or because the uncertainty of shifting coupled with social consequences is too stressful. This phase does not always occur and many go straight to unraveling
This phase describes the deconstruction of beliefs, practices, and even ways that a person relates to God. Depending on the person this phase can be liberating, exhilarating and freeing or disorienting, painful, and unpredictable. The particularly related to the author’s description of this phase: coming undone.
In this phase a person usually cut ties with anything that looks or sounds like their old faith. It’s a clear break from everything that defined them in the past. Like the returning this phase also doesn’t always occur and some go straight to rebuilding.
This phase looks different for each person. It involves forging new territory and blazing new trails in a person’s spiritual life. A person’s spiritual may look different from anything they’ve had before. It may incorporate diverse beliefs and practices including atheism and agnosticism.
The book is filled with insights, examples, and stories who had experienced the various stages of a faith shift. This aspect really assured me that what I was experiencing was normal and not some sort of mental break down. I also appreciated the gentleness and humility of the author. It never felt like she was trying to tell me what to do or make empty, feel-good promise. Rather she gave me hope that, even though the road ahead was difficult and painful, I would come out the other side healthier, happier, and a better person.
Each chapter finishes with with questions for further reflection. These were helpful for slowing down to process the information of the chapter and apply it to my specific situation. While each “phase” got at least one chapter, Unraveling and Rebuilding spanned multiple chapters. I really appreciated this because I believe those phases are the most difficult and scary. The end of the book also contained a brief chapter to help answer some of the questions that family members and friends might have about your faith shift.
There is no shortage of bloggers and internet guru’s offering help for those shifting or unraveling. They create much needed space for questioning, discovering, venting, and raging against the machine. I’m grateful for the help I received in those forums and sites, unfortunately there is scant hope for moving past unraveling and shifting. They also lacked any practical help with being at peace with leaving the past behind. I think those shortcomings make it very easy for a person to become trapped in a sea of negativity and cynicism which can stunt progress.
I think Kathy’s approach in this book is what is missing for many people experiencing a faith shift. Faith Shift was one of the few resources that helped me be be open to seeing the positives of my “old faith.” Most importantly it also helped me to see the possibility of rebuilding rather than becoming endlessly cynical and frustrated. In short her book offered hope and perspective where many others were just echo chambers of my rage and frustration.
When I picked up this book I was coming undone from my belief and could see no end in sight. While I’m probably still in the unraveling stage, I feel closer to the end of the process and that gives me a great deal of peace. I joke that this book could have saved me hundreds in counseling bills and while I have always been grateful for the work of the counselors who have helped me throughout my life, counseling is not an option for everybody. This book should be a go to resource for those going through a faith shift. It’s honest, helpful, and ultimately hopeful.