"Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" brings us a feistier Jen Hatmaker who manages to bring on the feisty without compromising many of the qualities that have made her one of America's most beloved Christian writers for women.
Hatmaker is one of a growing number of Christian writers writing from a place of what I refer to as a "wider net" theology, not so much progressive though that's a term often used, but simply a theology that allows for inclusion of diverse voices, including persons who are LGBT, into the Christian community. The difference with Hatmaker, or so it would seem, unlike a good number of these writers Hatmaker's feet were planted squarely within the evangelical community when, in 2016, she made a couple of statements based upon a significant period of prayer, searching, researching, and exploring theological discussion points before she and her husband reached their unified decisions. These statements led to a former publisher ending their relationship with her and reportedly led Christian retailer LifeWay to remove her books from their shelves.
Hatmaker spends a very brief few moments in "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" addressing this period in her life yet, I'd dare say, these few moments are among the best writing moments of Hatmaker's writing life. They are easily what take "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" from a strong 4-star reading experience to a 5-star reading experience and turn this collection into my favorite of Hatmaker's works yet. There's hurt. There's anger. There's clarity. There's conviction. There's sadness. There's simply so much in what amounts to probably being less than two pages of an over 200-page book. Yet, in these two pages Hatmaker claims her theological space and beliefs and declares them holy and good. She briefly explains her journey of research and study and exploring both the history and context of Scripture, things we're all called to do but so many of us like to simply plop our butts down in the pew and let someone tell us what to believe.
Hatmaker fiercely claims her faith, a reclaiming that frees her and adds fire to everything else that unfolds in this passionate, fun to read, relational, spirited, encouraging, and genuinely entertaining book that also feels like a book of transformation for Hatmaker. Quite honestly, if you've ever received one of Hatmaker's mom hugs you'll likely read these words and tearfully realize "She meant it. She really, really meant it."
95% of "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" is far more typical Hatmaker. Freed of the burden of theological expectations and firmly planted in her own well formulated, well expressed beliefs, Hatmaker's walk through the fires of judgment, at times equally from both evangelical and progressive "sides," seemingly fuels a sort of faith-based manifesto that is fearless and uncompromised. In one brief paragraph of "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire," Hatmaker does what can only be described as a monologue of self-worth that reminded me an awful lot of Edward Norton's mirror-fronting monologue from the Spike Lee film "25th Hour." "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" explores five self-reflective categories: 1) Who I am; 2) What I need; 3) What I want; 4) What I believe; and, 5) How I connect.
Using this basic framework, Hatmaker encourages women to explore the ways they pretend and offers up encouragement and strategies for becoming more consistently genuine. She encourages women to learn how to say both yes and no without guilt and, of course, again utilizes personal examples and tools to practice this often difficult skill. She passionately encourages women to learn how to verbalize their theological questions and convictions and, as well, to opt out of drama-based relationships in favor of healthier relationships. Hatmaker works hard to write as inclusively as possible, though she's certainly a writer whose primary target audience is women.
There are times she seems to write from a place of privilege, something I get the sense she intentionally tries to avoid but she always comes back to relating well because she remembers those years of financial struggle, literary rejection, and struggle before she broke through in 2004 with "7" and grew into one of the nation's most recognized Christian writers, speakers, podcasters, and all-around good folks. There are a couple times in "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" when I felt like Hatmaker could have broadened her perspective a bit more - so much of what she writes, especially in this book, is powerfully applicable to the disability community but there are really only two minor references to disability in the book and one involves a personal friend of Hatmaker's who dances. It just felt like a missed opportunity to lift up a community. Admittedly, as a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida who was literally sitting at home healing from a leg amputation I'm extraordinarily sensitive to this right now. However, even in some of the writing about the issue of need I found myself questioning how she'd address someone whose needs were chronic or for whom friendship might inherently be imbalanced (at least physically). However, these are truly minor quibbles for what is easily my favorite of Hatmaker's books.
"Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" is, indeed, a fierce piece of literature that brings to wondrous life a freer and more fiery and feisty Jen Hatmaker who has discovered a more glorious life for herself, her husband, her family, and her circle of life and she's applied those often difficult life lessons to this book in a way that is rich, honest, natural, and accessible. She brings forth mountains of encouragement, passionate enthusiasm, an abundance of research, and an approach that is far less prescriptive and far more communal in presentation.
I still remember the first time I read a Hatmaker book, "Interrupted" was my first, and feeling like she wrote with such a clear voice that I instantly looked up her podcast and looked up Youtube videos to see what she sounded like. I just laughed and laughed because that voice comes alive in her writing. Indeed, I could hear Jen Hatmaker's voice coming to life in "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You" and it brought an already wonderful book to life in an even more wonderful way. Hatmaker gives her readers and her book club members and her "community" the room to grow, to question, to show up "as is," the room to doubt, the room to simply not believe and, in turn, she creates a wonderful safe space for exploring spirituality, belief, Christ, and the journey of faith that never really ends. She brings this safe space, or maybe more appropriately it should be called a brave space, into the pages of "Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire" and inspires, empowers, and educates with both arms held wide open.