Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Jen Hatmaker's Of Mess & Moxie

When Jen Hatmaker wrote Of Mess and Moxie, I (a white male edging nearer to 50 than I am comfortable with) am not her target demographic. No, she did not write this book for me (and even says so in the book trailer - though not mentioning me by name - but saying that this one's for the girls, echoing one of her favorite songs by Martina McBride). So I go into her latest work with this in mind, just as I did her last, For The Love

I first encountered Jen Hatmaker when I read her book Interrupted, which came at just the right time because I, too, was at the place where she was in writing that book. I had been challenged deeply by Shane Caliborne's The Irresistible Revolution with its stressing the gospel of social justice. Since then, I have read her other works and have watched a shift in her focus. Her writing is hilarious, honest and inclusive with an "all is welcome to the table" approach. It's that last one that has upset many conservative Evangelicals who disagreed with her changing her stance on same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ community in the Church. 

Of Mess and Moxie is written in the same conversational, between-us-girls, tone that she blogs, posts on Facebook and wrote For the Love and has garnered her such a huge following on social media. She draws the reader in using the same style of two close friends sitting down to have an open, funny and honest dialogue with. It's the life is messy but let's get through this together attitude and it has won her both her admirers and her detractors (the latter often commenting on Hatmaker's using less biblical references and more on pop culture: such as binge watching shows on Netflix). It's unfair to review her latest with that mindset because she wasn't setting out to wrestle with theology so much as to encourage women of all ages that they've got this, that they can do it, and to exhort them while making them laugh and cry and come away wishing they were neighbors with her.

"I am not afraid of storms," Louisa May Alcott wrote in her classic Little Women, "for I am learning how to sail my ship." It's a wonderful and apropos quote for this book about navigating the day-to-day lives of family, friendships, and faith. 

The first essay entitled "Unbranded" tends to take a light-hearted dig at her earlier, more overly-earnest and religious books (including Interrupted and 7) and repeats the idea that "You don't have to be who you were." She deftly moves from a self-deprecating humor to encouragement, "You are far more than your worst day, your worst experience, your worst season, dear one. You are more than the sorriest decision you ever made, You are more than the darkest sorrow you've ever endured." It's not an easy transition to make but she manages to do so deftly. She is willing to write of her insecurities and issues and struggles without cynicism but with a generous spirit towards herself and others going through those same struggles.

Of Mess and Moxie about the shifting, shaping of self that goes on throughout all seasons of life and how those are bumpy, messy, frustrating, funny, and filled with both triumphs and tragedies. She connects because she writes of the tensions between caring about Syrian refugees and Gilmore Girls. It's not either or. One does not have to give up joy to balance community, church and the world Christ's called us to love. A person can enjoy pool parties and be concerned about human trafficking. She hits home with so many readers because she candidly talks about how demoralizing comparing ourselves to others can be, how she wrestles with enjoying the beauty God created along with reaching out to take care of the poor and the oppressed; that there are times for feast as well as fasting. 

Many of the essays that comprise this book are witty, honest and relatable. I would imagine it's the relatability of her her writing that has garnered such loyal followers and put Jen Hatmaker on the bestseller list (where I'm sure this book will also find itself). Yet it was the chapters where she lets her guard down and opens her heart that were the ones I responded the most to. One of my favorite chapters is also the most honest. In "We Live," Hatmaker writes of heartache and healing, of the importance of counseling. I love the line "nothing in your life is too dead for resurrection." As someone who has struggled with depression and knows first-hand the reality of the line from the Psalm 139:8, "Even if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are there," I get what she's writing about in this chapter. 

Another that impacted me most deeply was Chapter 12, entitled "Sanctuary." It's here that Jen Hatmaker writes of her struggles with the Church; but it's not an angry rant or a malicious, harshly-critical one, but one that springs from the heart of someone who deeply loves this flawed corporate body that's meant to reflect Christ to the world around her. The Church is to be a sanctuary and Jen takes the word at its very meaning: a sacred place where fugitives were entitled to immunity from arrest." This means a safe place for all: whether they be "the guilty, the outcast, the refugee, the criminal, the desperate." Christ was just such a safe place to all who came to him. It's clear from this chapter that Hatmaker wants a Church whose doors are open to everyone and that each person is welcome to the table. "... all are safe, equally valued, everyone ministered to and included." It's this last part that have caused many in the Church to accuse the author of abandoning orthodoxy in favor of what they consider to be political correctness or an embracing of the cultural and social norms over biblical truth. What I read, however, in her writing, is someone who loves and wants to love others as they are, where they are just as Jesus did. 

Jen Hatmaker wants to set up a bigger table. She asks, "Who is unseen? Who is left out? Who is marginalized? Whose voice is silenced? Whose story is outside the lines?" I love this because it makes me see Christ because those were the places where he was always found and it always, always upset the religious establishment who were more concerned about piety, purity and law than they were about love. Hatmaker's prose shines when she writes about a Church that is less homogeneous and more vibrant with the stories of all who are a part of it and where every voice is heard, including women in the pulpits. 

She promotes a Church that embodies Christ in his ability to listen to the heart-stories of others who had gone unseen and unheard, so that he could embrace them (no matter how far they were outside of Jewish culture and religion). A welcoming Church. But loving so openly, so unconditionally is not easy and will anger a great many. As Frederick Buechner wrote, "(Christ's) life speaks loud of how, in a world where there is little love, love is always lonely." I'm sure Jen Hatmaker got a taste of this loneliness for wanting to welcome the "banned" and make them see they are "God's beloved." 

In her poem "The Summer Day," Mary Oliver asked: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 

Jen Hatmaker seems to answer Oliver's question when she writes, "...this is your one life, and fear, approval, and self-preservation are terrible reasons to stay silent, stay put, stay sidelined." That is the message that underlies Of Mess and Moxie and, while this book may not have been written for me, I, for one, am glad that I ignored the book's focused marketing demographic and embraced the generous, open and loving heart of Jen Hatmaker.

Official book trailer:

Jen Hatmaker's official website:

1 comment:

  1. "No, she did not write this book for me (and even says so in the book trailer - though not mentioning me by name..." That's great! ("I just want Elliott to know this book is not for him." :-) )

    It's great that you reviewed a book that is probably going to have a 99% female readership. I have enjoyed everything I've read of Jen H's online, though I've never read any of her books. I enjoy those writers with big, fun personalities because they are so opposite from me! But I know there is a great deal of depth to her writing and that she has a lot to teach based on her own painful experiences in the church. I look forward to reading this.