Featured Reviews, VOLUME 3

Featured: RELUCTANT PILGRIM by Enuma Okoro [Vol. 3, #37]

“Vulnerable Honesty

A Review of

Reluctant Pilgrim:
A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s
Search for Spiritual Community
By Enuma Okoro.

Reviewed by Jasmine Wilson.

Reluctant Pilgrim:
A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s
Search for Spiritual Community
By Enuma Okoro.

Paperback: Fresh Air Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

RELUCTANT PILGRIM - Enuma OkoroNever in my life did I expect to read about Brazilian wax jobs from a Christian writer, especially in a chapter about a friend being diagnosed with cancer.

But that’s the type of writing that Enuma Okoro offers in Reluctant Pilgrim.

If I was writing this review for Focus on the Family, they would probably want me to count how many swear words appeared in the book. In fact, Focus on the Family would probably be appalled that swear words appeared in a Christian book at all.  Most Christian literature is well-packaged and clean, unwilling to be honest about how the world is sometimes a shitty place. Okoro, however, is unafraid of being vulnerable and honest about what she’s feeling, experiencing, or what she and her girlfriends talk about. She finds God and his grace in all areas of life, including the mundane, awkward, and sometimes shitty.

Okoro knows in her head that God works through the church and that the church is an important part of being a Christian. Yet she suffers from an interesting dilemma: she doesn’t like going to church. She says, “[This book] is about my rocky on-again, mostly off-again, love affair with the idea of church.” She admits she prefers drinking coffee and reading the New York Times instead of going to church, and for many years made excuses for herself so she didn’t have to go.  Despite her self-admitted failings at not being very Christ-like most of the time, she still longed for the church and didn’t give up on it because she trusted God’s promise that he would show up, even when it didn’t seem like he did.

What one finds through Okoro’s intimate narration, is that throughout all the hardships she goes through—her friend getting cancer, the deaths of her father and her dear friend Michael—she still had friends gracefully showing up to be with her through it all, always willing to listen, showing up in “a white lab coat, fashionable dress shoes and a tank of oxygen so [she] could perhaps start to breathe again.”

We are invited to be one of Okoro’s friends during this book as she has gracefully decided to be intimate and honest with us about herself—her messy, imperfect, unexpectedly sinful self. And yet, we relate to her because we are messy and sinful too. Her struggle with loving the church is perhaps not something we all struggle with, but we can relate with her in the honest telling of the struggle. And the discrepancy between what the church often is and what it should be is a charge for all of us: “I can’t remember the last time I heard a sermon that threatened me with endless grace, no matter my circumstances…” We get glimpses of those circumstances through the variety of church experiences she’s had throughout her life.

Yet her story ends with hope. Eventually she found a church that she was guilted into attending because her friend was the pastor. In the new members’ class they took a spiritual gifts test, and even though Okoro checked “seldom” for most of the boxes, she still realized that this church was going to expect something from her, expect her to offer her gifts, whatever they were, to the ecclesial table and to the community beyond.

It is clear that her work as a writer is done in service to the church, and her vulnerable honesty and insights about the world are a gift of grace to all those who happen to read it.

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

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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