Book Review: Wearing God by Lauren Winner

The pages I've marked.
The pages I’ve marked.

I read most of Lauren Winner’s new book while traveling by plane, when I didn’t have post-it notes or even a pen handy, so I unashamedly dog-eared the pages to be able to find sections I wanted to quote in this review. As you can see from the picture, there are many. I came to Winner’s work when she offered to share copies of her last book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, with members of RevGalBlogPals. Through her generosity, literally hundreds of clergywomen received free copies of the book. I knew of her only by reputation – in other words, at that time, I knew she was a writer and somehow famous, but I didn’t know why or what her other books had been about except for having a vague sense that she might be evangelical or at least in some way affiliated with Christianity Today magazine. I’ve since learned more about her journey from Judaism to Christianity, her writings on celibacy and the period of reflection following her divorce.

Those biographical and literary facts are only a part of Winner’s story. She is a scholar, a teacher, a priest and a lover of scripture, all characteristics that inform her beautiful new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. Winner brings both a depth of research and an imaginative mind to her exploration of images we tend to forget in worship and devotions.

Clothing ~ Are we clothed in Christ? It’s an old idea, but a challenging one. It means a change in our inner appearance, a change in who we are. And what does it mean when she teaches a class to incarcerated women in green uniforms sitting alongside Duke students in sweater sets? Sometimes we forget what our outer garments say about whose we are.

Smell ~ I found the story of her friend Maisie (beginning on p. 81) particularly – well, what is the olfactory version of resonant? Aromatic? I found the story aromatic. Maisie wore the shirts of her late husband for many months because they held his smell. Having held onto the t-shirt of a long-distance love, I knew exactly what she meant. In scripture, God perceives sacrificial odors as good, and Jesus himself is a sweet smelling offering to God. I find the latter a strange challenge to my discomfort with atonement theology, but I’m fascinated by the ideas Winner collects.

Bread and Vine ~ Here’s where I began dog-earing in earnest. All these spoke to me: the image (p. 108) of an exhausted God “hand(ing) a can of SpaghettiOs to the saints,” the sacrament of box lunches packed for African-Americans traveling outside safe territory, Jesus himself as manna, as “journeying bread” (pp. 111-112), the writings of Mechthild (p. 116) as a reverse Communion image in which we place our difficulties like bread crumbs into God’s hand, the making of rosilio, an eccentric liqueur (well, eccentric to me) as a counterpoint to excess (p. 126), and the idea of being intoxicated by God, something that as a childhood Baptist is a stretch for me, and yet something I understand quite well in other ways.

There is so much more, sections on God as laboring woman and laughter  (Sarah is transformed by it! p. 186) and flame, and a beautiful if admittedly incomplete reflection on violent, even abusive, images of God as found in scripture. Winer intersperses both classical and contemporary quotes and prayers, many of them jewels, but I sometimes found their placement to be a distraction from her writing. I identified with Winner’s identification of her biases of interpretation and the challenge she offers the reader to see with different eyes, and frankly with her nerdy highbrow tendencies as well. While this is a book you could easily read one section at a time, I did not want to put it down.

I hope I’ve provided enough fragrant crumbs to make you yearn for a copy.


Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Wearing God from the publisher, but there was no requirement to offer a favorable review in return.

#amwriting, Books, Ministry, RevGalBlogPals

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

RevGals book coverI’m excited to announce the publication in April of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It was a joy to edit this collection of stories and prayers written by me and over 50 of my colleagues who are members of RevGalBlogPals. We represent 14 denominations, 5 countries, and more than a dozen seminaries. Our stories will bring both laughter and tears as well as a unique perspective on the number and kind of plates clergywomen keep spinning in amazing fashion.

“In ministry, we constantly balance the sacred and the ordinary, juggling the two as expertly as we manage a chalice and a [baby] bottle. Even as we do things as simple as light the candles, set the table, break the bread and pour the wine, we invite people into a holy moment…. The women [in this book] not only have a wellspring of deep wisdom, but they also have the ability to dish out their knowledge with side-aching humor…. I am thrilled that their great wisdom and intelligence will be bound into the pages that I can turn to, lend and appreciate for years to come.”

—from the Foreword by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

Intended for laypeople, women hearing a call to ministry and clergy of all denominations, these stories and prayers will resonate with, challenge, encourage and amuse anyone who has a passion for their work and faith. A group reading guide will be available on the SkyLight Paths Publishing website – consider choosing it for your book group!


Reading is FUNdamental

I hate to admit it, but since the fall program year began, I have not finished reading a book. Please don't take this as one of those "I'm so busy and important I can't read a book!!!" boasts. I'm actually puzzled and a bit ashamed at my fall off the reading rainbow.

At the beginning of 2008 I decided to take on Beso Mami's reading challenge. I've always been a reader, but there's no question that in recent years I let other things take the place of books, and because I spend so much time multi-tasking it can be hard to find the focused time to disappear between the pages and let the words work on me.

I made it easy on myself and started by re-reading some favorites, just as when I returned to knitting after a long gap, I began with a simple pattern. When I developed RA that same spring, Pure Luck bought the Kindle for me as a piece of adaptive equipment. It's sitting on my bedside table, loaded with books I'm not reading right now, some I've started but not finished ("A Passage to India," "A People's History of Christianity") and others entirely unread and seemingly unappealing.

I'm interested to know how other busy people, and especially pastors, find the time to start and finish books. There's no question that my schedule now is more demanding than in my other ministry jobs, but I don't want that to be my excuse for reading nothing more challenging than the Huffington Post! There are books that would be helpful, fruitful, even needful. There are books that might even be fun.

Maybe I need a happy novel, a little more Precious Ramotswe–or maybe a mystery.

But first I need a block of time to get started. And I guess the only way to get that is to give it to myself.