The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places

The Briarpatch Gospel    Shayne Wheeler was my youth pastor before he left to plant All Souls Fellowship in Decatur, GA—a church which I joined a few years later my freshman year of college. After a collective 10 (?) years, I am no stranger to his stories and teachings. And yet, despite the familiarity, The Briarpatch Gospel’s woven words brought true conviction, and a reminder of the deep affection of God. The message is clear, If we claim to follow Jesus, our path leads straight into the midst of the shadows and prickly places of our lives and the lives of others. Of course, we are not alone, though it may be terribly difficult not to feel like that sometimes. Going into the “briarpatch” would be devastating and impossible, except it comes with Christ. It comes with his strength, with his promises, and his love. The Briarpatch Gospel walks right up to those issues that are complicated and painful for the Church, her congregants, those outside and those unsure. It walks into them with rolled up sleeves and a soapy rag called Jesus.
You could get through the book quickly. It is very readable, filled with humor, anecdotes and layman’s language, but I wouldn’t suggest flying through it. Let it challenge you. Let it change your lifestyle and your worldview. Let it encourage you because “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

Losing

I tried to run my first half marathon last week. I made it just shy of 12 miles (out of 13.1). I had just made it to the top of a very long hill. I paused, and realized my body couldn’t make it another step. I lost. I had been losing the whole time. From the start I realized everyone’s pace was faster to mine. Then, at 8 km, an intestinal torment required a detour in the course. Not to mention the nausea and 3rd-to-last place positioning that caused doubts and questions and exhaustion for the following 11km. I have enough blog fodder from just those two hours that I no longer have an excuse not to have a post every week (of course material has never really been the issue). In fact, I think, minus some book reviews, the next month or so will be just that. And why on earth would I write again and again about such a humiliating experience? In truth, I am partly inspired by Pat Conroy’s autobiography, My Losing Season. I read it a while back and wrote a brief report on it for work. Here is an excerpt:

“Conroy is sharing the lesson one can glean from those gut-wrenching times in life when we cannot win, despite our grandest effort or most desperate plea to the muses that control our fortunes…[It] explicitly conveys the importance of recognizing the impact loss can make in your life. Dealing with pain is allowing the furnace to reshape you, take out impurities and make you into something that is unique and beautiful.”

Americans are a society of winners. We hail the champion, the underdog who made it, and I love that about our culture. I love that we are optimists and happy-ending addicts. But there has to be space for our “losing seasons”, and without sounding whiny, this is mine. Not just the race – the learning curve of the past months has kicked my butt, and I am putting along in last place here with doubts and questions and exhaustion. And so I will write because that is a way of working things out. And it’s funny and sad and hard, but so is every story…any one worth reading at least…So if you will bear with me I’m fairly certain this ends very well though that can hardly be seen now (but it will-one day it will).