Wednesday, August 12, 2020

"Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home" - Barbara Brown Taylor

In a landmark survey of clergy by Baylor University, Barbara Brown Taylor was named one of the twelve most effective preachers.I'm not sure you would realize such a lofty recognition while immersing yourself in Taylor's "Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home," not because it's not written with Taylor's usual ample doses of wisdom and spiritual insight but because Taylor manages to come off as both incredibly intelligent and, quite simply, one of us.

I am not as intelligent as Barbara Brown Taylor, of this I have no doubt despite my having attended seminary and despite my having spoken from my share of pulpits.

The simple truth is that Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest who left parish ministry years ago, weaves together biblical exegesis and application expertly while making spiritual truths accessible to both lifelong students of the Gospel and those getting their feet wet, or perhaps washed, for the very first time.

"Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home" is a collection of 31 messages, presented here as chapters, delivered by Taylor in her now present role as a frequent guest preacher along with her ongoing roles as professor, author, and theologian. While she is Episcopalian by background, the messages here represent Taylor's presence across a wide array of denominations and spiritual paths including churches, conferences, and seminaries. In fact, it would seem those wonderful Presbyterians are particularly fond of Taylor, while Taylor time and again presents with a wonderful ability to, well, tailor her messages to her particular audience.

"Always a Guest," while not a lengthy book, is not a quick read. "Always a Guest" is a collection that practically demands patience and the moving of Spirit amidst the words. You can practically feel Taylor's presence and you can practically hear Taylor's words as you read, her language undeniably that of a seminary-trained pastor yet her presence undeniably that of someone whose life has been irrevocably changed by that seminary training and a life lived in service to God and to God's people.

I found myself reading "Always a Guest" most nights before drifting off to sleep, 30-60 minutes of Barbara Brown Taylor feeling like the kind of church experience to which we all should aspire. Each night, I would slowly immerse myself in 2-3 messages, a surprisingly slow pace for an unusually fast reader but a pace that felt necessary and which seemed to honor the intent of this life-giving and faith-celebrating collection.

As is true of nearly every sermon ever delivered, some will resonate more deeply than others There will be times you'll be be-bopping along with Taylor's distinct preaching rhythms, while there may be other times you'll find yourself thoughtful, maybe even resistant, as her words can challenge and charge and command with spiritual authority. There may be times you disagree, I certainly did, but her words will still leave you informed, inspired, and motivated to keep learning and keep seeking understanding.

While inspiration is present throughout "Always a Guest," Taylor's messages are quite often real world messages with applicability to daily life, social justice, global issues, and even politics. Episcopalians aren't Episcopalians if they're timid and, trust me, Barbara Brown Taylor is far from timid. These are the words and the messages of a pastor and theologian lived and learned and who continues to do the hard work of trying to love the world as God so loved the world.

"Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home" is a "must have" collection for fans of Barbara Brown Taylor and for preachers, seminarians, professors, everyday theologians, and for those who simply seek to find church between the pages of her written words.

"Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far From Home" will be released by Westminster John Knox Press on October 20, 2020.

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