Featured Reviews, VOLUME 8

Jamie Arpin-Ricci – Vulnerable Faith [Feature Review]

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    But to imagine Patrick, sitting in a metal folding chair and drinking a bitter cup of coffee, confessing to a life-long compulsion of addiction, asking for help and solidarity, squarely seating himself with the rest of the tired and broken humanity around him—it does not quite compute. I struggle still with this dichotomy. I want to be Patrick after his conversion. I do not want to experience the years of isolation and suffering, the loneliness and fear and self-hatred constantly being addressed and dredged up, the constant need to forgive oneself and others. I do not want to admit that I need help, is the problem. But it is precisely Patrick’s struggles–being forced to come to terms with the depths of depravity in himself– that led to his later spectacular ministry of grace and forgiveness. .

  Arpin-Ricci points to his own Christian upbringing and the similar struggles he has had to embrace the chaos and sin in his own life. As he writes: “Do we honestly believe that the best witness we can have as christians before a watching world is to show moral perfection? While that might convince some, our odds of pulling it off seem less than slim. In truth, the most compelling witness to our faith can be a willingness to humbly accept responsibility for our failings and seek to restore relationships at any cost. “ (110). What has helped him has also proven valuable for me: committing to living life with other believers also on the path of discipleship, and being in constant relationship with those whom we refer to as The Other. By positioning ourselves in places of community and hospitality, we are forced to admit our shortcomings to each other and to ourselves.

 I have always loved a good sobriety memoir, drawn towards the searing truth-telling usually found within. But I have always conveniently distanced myself from these narratives, since I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex. But as I continue on in my path to be like Christ, as I constantly face the cross of my own true self, an entirely new set of addictions and compulsions have come into play: my moralism (acting correctly in order to receive the love of God and others), my lack of forgiveness for those who have wronged me and those I love, putting my own needs of safety and security first and therefore eschewing Christian hospitality. In the end, Vulnerable Faith reminds us that we are all just one drink, one cutting remark, one shred of resentment, one slip into aggravated isolation away from relapse. And in fact, we know that to a certain extent we will never attain perfect Christian discipleship in the here and now. We will never look exactly like Christ, and nor will our neighbors. But we have the chance to experience the grace of community, and to walk the long road of intentional Christian living together, to live like the redeemed addicts that we are.

D. L. Mayfield lives in the exotic Midwest with her husband and daughter. Recently they joined a Christian order among the poor, where they are currently seeking life in the upside kingdom. Mayfield has written for McSweeneys, Geez, the Curator, and Conspire! among others. You can find her on Twitter at @d_l_mayfield or on her blog http://dlmayfield.wordpress.com.


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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