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Garret Keizer

Going My Way

Barbara Brown Taylor's "memoir of faith".

I struck the board, and cry'd, No more," begins George Herbert's famous poem on religious rebellion, "The Collar" (1633). The title does not refer to clerical collars, which were not in use in the 17th century, though it has often been taken that way and perhaps might as well be since the trials of Herbert's own priesthood are probably what inspired the poem. At its close, after the speaker tells how he "rav'd and grew more fierce and wilde," he hears a voice calling, "Child!" and he replies, "My Lord."

Herbert served a parish for all of three years and died at the age of 39. Had he lived longer, or had he lived in our century instead of his, he might not have been subdued so easily. He might have lived to tell a different tale. It could not have been much lovelier, more revealing, or more poignant than Barbara Brown Taylor's latest book, Leaving Church.

Her "memoir of faith," as it is subtitled, focuses on the fifteen-plus years she spent in ordained ministry and especially on her decision to leave the church in Georgia where she served as rector for the final five and a half. It recounts how she did "everything I knew how to do to draw as near to the heart of God as I could, only to find myself out of gas on a lonely road, filled with bitterness and self-pity," and how she has "never found a church where I felt at home again." We're a long way from Mitford.

But never in the Slough of Despond. Leaving Church is also about Taylor's new ministry as a college teacher and her developing sense that "the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human." Not least of all, it is about what Taylor has managed to preserve and rediscover in her vocation and religious tradition. Appropriately, the book's three sections are called "Finding," "Losing," and "Keeping"—one kept thing being a deep respect for what Jesus had to say about the relationship between those three.

Notable among the many strengths of this book is Taylor's refusal to load her story. Hers is ...

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