[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”1498231535″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/51zPVNDEnLL.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”216″]To Reflect, To Breathe, To Unravel
A Review of
Earning Innocence: A Novel
Paperback: Resource Publications, 2015
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Reviewed by James Compton
Do you remember when you were in elementary school if you saw your third grade teacher at the grocery store or the bank or the shopping center it was just the strangest thing ever? Teachers aren’t supposed to be normal people. They’re supposed to live at school and only care about homework, right? Not exactly. Just like pastors don’t live at the church. But sometimes it can come to seem that way, which is why Andrew Taylor-Troutman’s novel Earning Innocence is so helpful in learning the real life struggles and joys that come with being a pastor.
Taylor-Troutman states, “So much of prayer is a calling to mind,” and in his novel he delivers the road map to navigate a pastor’s mind, a path that is not without roadblocks nor detours. However such obstacles can be overcome with active prayer, with a calling to mind the presence of our everyday situations. As the story dives into the mind of Reverend James Wheeler, we learn about the life of a pastor as one who not only prepares to give sermons on Sundays, but also one who makes home visits, who delivers funeral services, who is a husband and a father.
What makes this novel unique is how personally it connects to the reader. The reader must not be a pastor to understand Wheeler’s mind, but rather be open to appreciating the vulnerability that Taylor-Troutman portrays through Wheeler. The sensitivity to which Wheeler approaches his relationship with other characters in the novel assists the reader in relating the characters to people in his or her own life. And as Wheeler explains how prayer is a calling to mind, the reader begins to call to mind similar relationships or experiences to those of Wheeler. With those connection made, the reader can realize that prayer does not always mean kneeling at the foot of the bed at night, but rather prayer is being present in the moment to appreciate the gifts of others.
Furthermore, Taylor-Troutman does a wonderful job of putting his own personality into the novel, which allows the reader effortlessly follow along with each passing day that Wheeler experiences. The reader may not have heard Taylor-Troutman preach before, but will feel as if he or she has set through one of his sermons after reading Earning Innocence. Just like Taylor-Troutman’s sermons, the novel has the gift of allowing the reader to reflect, to breathe, to unravel and process the information swimming through Wheeler’s head. However, one must keep in mind that this novel is not always presented in a literal fashion. The novel provides a snapshot of one week of Wheeler’s journey, and the only straightforward detail that Taylor-Troutman provides is the date of each day. Everything else about Wheeler’s days are open to a personal understanding that requires interpretation, so the reader must approach the novel with an open mind, willing and prepared to interpret what it means to earn innocence.
So then, what does Earning Innocence really mean? How is innocence something that can be earned? Once again, think back to those elementary school days, when everything seemed simpler, where everything seemed more peaceful. Take that feeling and become immersed in Taylor-Troutman’s novel to discover how a pastor grasps his faith and devotes it to his prayers of being present in his relationship with others. Then call to mind the innocence that can be achieved in that moment.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com