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Book review

Called Again  Called Again: in and beyond the deserts of faith

                   By Alan Jameison. Philip Garside Publishing Ltd, Wellington; 2004


I stopped going to church a few years ago because I no longer found God at church. I realized that I had to leave to rediscover God. As I read Called Again, I felt that Alan Jamieson had mapped the milestones of my journey away from church and towards God. Called Again describes people's honest and authentic encounters with God, and raises issues about the future of the church. I think it should be read both by people within and outside church.

Five years ago, Jamieson wrote A Churchless Faith as a result of his PhD in Sociology researching why people leave their churches, and how their journeys of faith have continued outside the church. Called Again revisits some of these people, discussing how their faiths have deepened, changed, and developed since their first conversations with Jamieson.

Jamieson's respect for divergent faith journeys is refreshing. Instead of labeling as ‘backsliders' those whose ideas about God and faith diverge from mainstream church, he intelligently and thoughtfully considers how ‘desert times' can lead people to both different insights into God's character, and alternative ways to follow God.

Called Again
discusses many different aspects of what Jamieson describes as ‘deserts of faith'. The chapters of the book tackle issues like the desert experience and how we might come to appreciate it, the dark night of the soul and how we might face that, honouring the questions and learning new ways of exploring them rather than just looking for the easy answers, appreciating the truths out of myth, the language of prayer beyond words, embracing failure as a necessary part of growth, Christian belonging and more. Each of these chapters can be read individually as an essay on the particular issue; they also make up an integrated whole which sensitively describes faith journeys outside the church.

Throughout the book, Jamieson creatively explores many metaphors that help to paint a picture of the experiences people can have in and beyond the deserts of faith. In the chapter ‘Seeing in and beyond the dark', he  investigates  the  metaphor  of  darkness and
light, and illustrates how being in darkness can feel, both positively and negatively. Jamieson describes how stars seem so much brighter in the night sky in the darkness of the country, rather than in the bright lights of the city.

It is the same with the dark nights of the Christian faith. Only in entering the darkness further, in embracing the darkness rather than running from it can we see the light that shines in the darkness.” (Called Again, p 45)

Jamieson further illuminates deserts of faith by looking at the experiences of different people who have struggled with God. In the chapter ‘Questions in and beyond answers', Jamieson examines Job's experience of feeling distant from God. Throughout Called Again, Jamieson's interviewees are quoted, painfully and honestly describing the desolation and loss they have encountered while questioning God and their faith. The experiences of both the biblical characters and the people Jamieson has interviewed help to validate and celebrate deserts of faith which are often devalued by many Christians.

Called Again
, published by Philip Garside Publishing, has also been published by SPCK in the UK as Journeying in Faith. The Philip Garside Publishing version could have benefited from more rigorous copy editing – unfortunately the repeated grammatical and punctuation mistakes detract slightly from the message of the text.

In describing alternative faith journeys, Jamieson weaves together the thought of great theologians, the experiences and thoughts of the people he has interviewed, biblical stories, analysis of faith stages, and metaphor to create a diverse and rich tapestry. This tapestry portrays pain, struggle, joy, beauty, authenticity and growth.                             

Amy Austin

[Amy is in her mid-twenties and is part of a young adult Spirited Exchanges group. She is a primary school teacher in Wellington.]

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