* In this follow-up to her acclaimed memoir Leaving Church, noted preacher and teacher Taylor reveals concrete ways to discover the sacred in the small things we do and see. Each chapter fleshes out a simple practice to increase your faith, including paying attention (reverence); encountering others (community); living with purpose (vocation); and saying no (Sabbath). 240 pages, softcover from HarperOne.
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Customer Reviews for An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
Review 1 for An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
From what I had heard of this author’s history, I had expected to like this book. She gave up being an Episcopal priest—good! It would be great if more of the Episcopal clergy and laity took a good look at the shallowness and emptiness of what they do—the silly rituals devoid of meaning, the “bric-a-brac” of incense, clergy robes, etc., the comical attempts to merge five-centuries-old practices with the goofy pronouncements of Political Correctness. (The Episcopalians’ Book of Common Prayer combines very uneasily with sermons on gun control and “eco-justice.”) The Episcopalians and other mainline denominations are losing members and shutting down churches, and given the pointlessness of all they do, this is no surprise.
However, the ex-priestess hasn’t separated as far from her church as she thinks. For one thing, her writing lacks any sort of spontaneity and vitality. Every sentence gives the impression that she labored over it for hours, as if she’s writing her own version of the Book of Common Prayer, something to be read aloud, ritually, in a public setting. As I struggled through the first chapters, I stopped to think of Paul’s famous “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13, and how that highly quotable chapter reads as if it just erupted from Paul’s hyperactive mind in just a few seconds. Still, her writing style does appeal to some people.
I detect a huge reservoir of narcissism in the writing. Early in the book she refers to a pastor as being the first adult who ever listened to her. First—really? Her parents never listened to her, ever? That would qualify as child abuse, yet elsewhere in the book she talks about how considerate her father was, so it’s highly unlikely this pastor was the first adult to ever listen to her. (One of the unfortunate results of feminism is the compulsion to present oneself as a victim.) I found myself reading a couple of paragraphs and enjoying the way she describes nature, but then she relapses into taking a microscopic view of her own emotions. She refers to numerous people she has encountered, yet the book gives the impression that they are nothing but supporting players in this Grand Drama of My Life, where every moment is worthy of being recorded for posterity.
Frankly, some of the writing is just plain silly. “Getting lost is both valuable and undervalued, at least by the North American culture most of us know best.” Did she stop to consider that NO ONE in any culture likes getting lost, so how are we spiritually insensitive North Americans so different? (When you hear an author bash her own country and praise the Third World, you know you’re in the Republic of Political Correctness.) She complains that we no longer have to fear getting lost thanks to GPS, but I find this kind of self-righteousness distasteful—readers who have no intention of unplugging their GPS will read this section of her book and congratulate themselves for being (like her) aware our dependence on technology, though they have no intention of living without that technology. (I don’t suppose it ever occurred to her to thank God for giving humans the ingenuity to create something that keeps us from getting lost.) At times her nature writing is inaccurate, as when she refers to the “buzz” of yellowjackets. (Bees buzz, yellowjackets don’t.)
This isn’t a terrible book, just a disappointing one. I know the “spiritual but not religious” types might find it somewhat inspiring, but frankly she takes a lot of pages to say something that could be compressed as: Enjoy life, both good and bad moments, wherever you happen to be.
As I finished this, I wondered: did any of the ex-churchgoers (like the author) ever really pay attention in church to the Bible passages and the words of the hymns? I can relate to people dropping out of church, but surely a spiritual seeker could find a lot of spiritual depth in the Bible and hymns that in these Kum Ba Yah books that are about as life-changing as a bubblebath.