Friday, February 24, 2017

Book Review: Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt

Carol Howard Merritt's latest book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church (HarperOne) hit the shelves almost three weeks ago, which is almost an eternity in the reviewing world, but in my defense: it took me a long time to read through the entire manuscript because every few pages I had to put the book down in order to honor and process everything that was being said to me from a place of sheer vulnerability and honesty. And then I would pick the book back up again and re-read the words I had just pored over. It's that good, and that profound.

Carol has built her reputation as a Christian writer and speaker off of the systematically-laid out vision for a new church that first came through in her debut work Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation, but Healing Spiritual Wounds is a bit more organic and much more introspective. Recognizing the Jonah-esque internal turmoil that is increasingly commonplace for people raised in the faith and feeling the need to then leave it, Healing Spiritual Wounds is part-how-to guide, part-testimony, and part-apologia for the church's own complicity in the emotional scars that so many people bear today.

Given that subject matter, you might expect such a book to be a genuine emotional drag, or at least a slog to get through. And while yes, at times the words on the page *are* difficult to read, it is often because they are supposed to be difficult to read. If there is a common denominator to be had across Carol's body of work, it is that she is a pastor and writer unconcerned with what I have come to term as the "Church of Be Nice and Chew With Your Mouth Closed." Not that there isn't virtue to chewing with your mouth closed--there is--but that such virtue is dwarfed by the far more soul-sized virtues that Jesus enumerates in Matthew 23 as the "weightier matters:" justice, mercy, and faith.

In these virtues, it is imperative to recognize that the church has at times failed both its adherents and its communities--a case that Carol makes not with wrathful fire or blithe indifference, but with carefully chosen words of care and compassion for both the church and the people whom it has hurt, people of whom Carol recounts throughout the book as realizing that the presence of the church in their lives was akin to a poison which required an antidote.

If it is painful to hear of the body of Christ seen, and likened to, a poison, it should be: realizing the harm done in the name of Christ by profoundly flawed people is a painful process. And it would be easy for a book on such a topic to simply be an exercise in pain, but that is emphatically not the case in Healing Spiritual Wounds, as Carol presents a blueprint of sorts for the healing that must take place--healing not only for individuals hurt by abusive churches and communities, but healing for the church itself as a living, breathing entity still very much capable of the sort of kingdom-building to which it was commissioned in by the Risen Christ in the Gospels. This blueprint centers around her fundamental belief in the love of God and its radically deep, inclusive, and lifechanging nature, and it serves as the good news of a book that may otherwise bear a foreboding title for many.

And from this good news we get a sense of the depths of Carol's hopes in and for the church. There is a great deal of work to do in building the body back up after the waves of sex and financial scandals, the use and endorsement of conversion therapy, and now after the 2016 elections the selling-out of previously strongly-held principles concerning modesty, humility, and sexuality in order to elect Donald Trump as president.

But we are a resilient people, and with the tools that Carol proffers to us in this book, we can stand to be even more so going into the future. Because God knows, seeing the pain and violence taking place already in 2017, we shall surely need those tools, and her words. If you are interested in learning more about how people have come to heal with their church-inflicted injuries, or if you yourself are struggling with the pain of past church experiences, you very likely will not regret the time and money you sink into reading this book.

Vancouver, Washington
February 24, 2017

Disclaimer: I have maintained a friendship with Carol for several years ever since inviting her to speak at a regional church conference. However, I was not materially or financially compensated in any way for my review, and all opinions in this review are mine, and mine alone.

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