Book Review: Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

Review by Jacqueline Thompson Graves


Leaving Church. Barbara Brown Taylor isn’t talking about pulling out of the church driveway, waving, “See y’all next week!” She means “outta here for good”. Leaving church might be some of the saddest words ever. I love church, meaning the services. I love The Church, meaning the people.


“A Memoir of Faith” proclaims the book’s subtitle. Taylor shares her journey as a teen seeking God, a college student seeking to major in theology, a woman priest seeking to serve the Church, an exhausted clergy seeking to move from a big city congregation to a sweet country parish. Ultimately she stood at the pinnacle of her career and chose to toss it over.


I understood Taylor’s angst as she struggled to leave the church. On January 15, 2012, I wrote these words in my journal:

I have often thought, if I were not a church-going person, I would enjoy a lazy Sunday morning routine. I would plan each Sunday’s indulgence to match my end of the week mood. Ever since I was a teen I have felt like Christians do a terrible job making Sunday a day of rest. It is crammed full of getting up early to scurry around, get dressed for Sunday School and church, then get some dinner, do dishes, often attend an afternoon meeting at church, then evening service or small groups. I’m exhausted on Sunday evening as I fall into bed, and I envy my non-churchgoing friends their leisurely Sunday breakfasts and their boat rides or their sitting and reading all day.


Perhaps the best way to share Leaving Church is to parrot Taylor’s own words.


“No matter how many new day planners I bought, none of them told me when I had done enough.”


“We were not God, but we spent so much time tending the God-place in people’s lives that it was easy to understand why someone might get us confused.”


“My context was so tightly focused that even my junk mail was Christian.”


“Freed from defending the faith, I began to revisit what faith really meant to me and found that much of the old center did not hold.”


“I met people of other faiths and of no faith at all who were doing more to do justice, to love kindness than many of us who know where to find that verse in the Bible.”


“Like many ambitious people, I had developed a dependence on adrenaline. I could get so much done when my anxiety was in the red zone that I learned to live right on the edge of panic, in the optimum zone between alarm and collapse.”


I believe many Christians leave church while sitting in the pew. They burn out and pull away, but keep coming to services because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Leaving Church may serve as a good warning to us inside the Church to tend to our relationship with God first, then serve mankind. If we try and do it backwards, we are like campfires run out of wood.


Taylor’s writing is clean and folksy, with vibrant images. Her country parish was Clarkesville, Georgia, so I get a thrill of recognition when she mentions Mt. Yonah or the Chattahoochee River.


Perhaps one reason Barbara struggled as a priest is because she is too honest. By the time I finished her book, I felt like she should come over for coffee. Instead, I’m inviting my neighbor over. She, too, read Leaving Church, and I think we should discuss the book, then strategize how to Stay in Church.


Leaving ChurchDisclosure: I borrowed this book from a friend (thanks, Camille). I did not receive any compensation for this review and all opinions are my own.


#LeavingChurch #BarbaraBrownTaylor #HarperCollinsPublishers #MemoirOfFaith #theBookBuffet #JacquelineinAtl #bookreview #inspirational #CompassionFatigue

alexanderWhen my kids were little we read Judith Viorst’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day about six million times. Every night. There was one evening when the kids said, “It’s ok, Mommy, we can read another book tonight. We had a good day” and I said to them, “I’m reading Alexander for ME tonight!”


I think I’m going to have to pull that book out of the mothballs today. Or maybe I’ll just pack one little suitcase and move to Australia.


You see, I ran my little toe into a chair last night and dislocated it. Then I “reduced it” myself. (That’s doctorese for shoving it back into the socket while screaming like a banshee.) Today it is throbbing and I can barely walk. The big toe side of my foot is sore from favoring it.


I’m not sick, but I might as well be. So here’s a question for all y’all (Southern for the plural you and way more fun).


What do you do when your body is laid up and can’t function, but your mind is fine? I am not good at sitting still, and I have already read FOUR books!



#BadDay #WhatToDoWhenYouAreLaidUp #IdeasForSickDays #MovingToAustraliaWithAlexander

After reading a 500-page nonfiction tome, I was ready for light-hearted entertainment. The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton delivered.

A magic ring is stolen, breaking the truce between humans and fairies, setting the stage for war. Very few humans even believe in fairies, let alone know about the truce, yet some fairies will kill humans to recover power and land previously lost.

Tiki, orphaned then forced to beg and steal, is swiping bread for her little family when the magic ring literally drops into her lap. At first she only wants to pawn it before hearing its story and becoming a player in the battle for the ring.

The Faerie Ring is a fun read with likeable characters. Even the “bad guys” do some good things, and we see why they line up on the other side. The book wraps up the story, but also leaves enough open threads to allow for a sequel.

Published as a “Tor Teen” imprint, you will enjoy it, no matter what age you are, if you believe in fairies.

*Required disclaimer: I received a free copy of The Faerie Ring from the author via GoodReads. I did not receive any monetary compensation for this review and all opinions are my own.


#TheFaerieRing #KikiHamilton #TomDohertyPublisher #TorTeen #JacquelineinAtl

#thebookbuffet #bookreview #YAbooks #fairies #fantasy #UKsetting #Londonfaerie ring

I am reading the saddest book I’ve think I’ve ever read in my whole life. It’s well written, well researched and fascinating, but heartbreaking.

After I finish this I am going to have to read something lighthearted, like the funny papers or something.

What are YOU reading right now?

Earth Weeping

#TheEarthIsWeeping #IndianWars #SettlingAmericanWest #PeterCozzens #NativeAmericanHistory #AmericanIndians #SaddestBookEver

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Do Over

Do Over by Jon Acuff

Review by Jacqueline Thompson Graves


I’m not sure why I waited so long to read this book. I ordered Do Over when Jon first offered it to readers of his blog. It came. I unwrapped it. Like a kindergartener, I flipped through the pages and looked at the pictures (a chimney, a boomerang, a table, a hammer, a shopping cart) and put it back on the shelf. Periodically I would read the subtitle, sigh out loud and reshelve Do Over. I really wanted to “rescue Monday, reinvent my work and never get stuck”, but I think I was afraid Jon would evaluate my entire life and ask me to go to the mission field or play professional sports. I am not athletic and I cannot go to the loo in the woods, so I figured a Do Over was pretty much out of the question for me.


Turns out Do Over doesn’t refer to your entire adult existence. Jon Acuff helps you navigate the mulligan process. I’ve read other books that tried to steer a person onto a new track, but Do Over helps a person figure out how to actually change course. This book is a map for where you wish you were going.


One of the first things Acuff says in Do Over hit me between the eyes. “We were taught to work jobs, not build careers.” Page nine. Bam! Most of us have no clue how to build a career. If we get somewhere good at work, it’s almost accidental – the right person retired or died or got pregnant or moved at the just the right time.


Acuff offers big picture and little picture ideas for building a career. Here’s one of his framework ideas: “In the long run, greed always costs you more than generosity.” Ouch! I have actually learned this lesson the hard way. Greed is despicable in other people, easy to ignore in our own lives.


One of the last lessons in Do Over is my favorite: “You wouldn’t learn some things you need to learn if all you did was win.” If a baseball pitcher threw a ninety-nine mile an hour fastball the first time he ever pitched, would he keep practicing? It’s the practice that gives him the ability to keep standing there on the mound during a game and throw one hundred pitches. Looking back at my life, I loved the good times, but I didn’t learn a whole lot when I poked around London for a week. I learned a heckuva lot when my husband was laid off work for 14 months while we had two house payments. Winning and success feel good, but most of our growth comes during our struggles.


Do Over is a tool anyone can use to evaluate a current path or plan out a totally different route. Jon Acuff worked in advertising for 20 years, so the book is a fun read even while it’s smacking you upside the head – kind of like sriracha sauce.


Stay tuned for another book review coming soon!

#thebookbuffet #bookreview #DoOver #JonAcuff #PenguinGroup #careeradvice #ReinventYourWork

Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips

Book Review by Jacqueline Thompson Graves



The subtitle of the book “A Racial Cleansing in America” sums it up. There have been countless racial cleansings throughout human history – one group of people attempting to wipe another off the pages of the books. Hitler’s campaign against the Jewish race was a copy of previous hate and a template for those afterwards. In the US we imported black slaves, fought a war to finally emancipate them, cooked up devious ways to deny them the rights they had on paper, and insisted they were lesser because their skin was “colored”.


While children all over the U.S. sang “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight” at their Christian Sunday Schools, their parents hated each other because their skins looked different, because their heritage differed. Us/Them was the language of the day in Jim Crow America. Our drinking fountain/Your drinking fountain. We potty in here/You potty over there. But one Southern town avoided all that. They sang the Sunday School song and loved all their neighbors. Because all their neighbors were white.


Patrick Phillips grew up in this town. He moved to Cumming, Georgia, as a young kid and heard the stories. They sounded invented, romanticized, too much like a movie or a Southern novel. But the whispers persisted. Phillips grew into a journalist and the inquisitive part of him kept itching to investigate his old home town. When the internet came alive with its treasure trove of ancient archives: articles, photos, journals, histories never previously published, Phillips dove into the secret past of Cumming. What he uncovered broke his heart. It wasn’t just Jim Crow era meanness and rudeness. It was racial cleansing. It was “get out of this town or we will bury you in it tonight”.


Over 1200 black residents, most of them in family units, many of them landowners, ran for their lives. Those who left early packed belongings and valuables. Later, the I’m-not-leaving-my-hard-earned-home ones were burned out and literally ran off with the clothes on their backs. Meanwhile Cumming billed itself as a nice little town, courting the railroads to build its line through the town with a depot stop.


Phillips’ book details a supposed rape of a white girl by a young black man, the lynchings, hangings, the taking over of deeded property abandoned by black owners, the sheriff charged with protecting jailed blacks who became leader of Cumming’s KKK, the eventual public exposure of Cumming’s sins by Hosea Williams and others who marched against the town. Phillips’ book presents good journalism, careful reporting, attention to facts and details, 32 pages of footnotes at the end of the book. He lays out the history of Cumming, Georgia. What you do with it is up to you.


This story was especially heartbreaking for me to read because I live here in the lovely little town of Cumming, Georgia, nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. We moved here about 11 years ago because the schools were good and housing affordable. When we first moved here there were not many people of color except the Hispanics who work at the town’s two poultry plants. Eventually I heard a story: Oprah filmed an episode here to show the world the prejudice in this county. But I didn’t know the backstory. I didn’t know anything Phillips writes.


Old family names mentioned in the book whip past my car on the street signs up and down Georgia state highway 20. Monied, respected, owners of vast amounts of valuable land, now I add “hatemongers and murderers” to my mental list. I know some of these people. I go to church with them. Did they grow up knowing what their great-grandfathers did? If they read this book, what would their response be? Would any of them give back the land their forefathers stole? Do they feel any familial responsibility or is it all just “crap in the past”?


As I read the book, my stomach hurt. I kept thinking, “Where did I bring my children?” “Was I seduced straight into the mouth of Hell itself for the sake of good schools?”


But the more I meditate, the more I believe those of us who move here, whose names are not on the street signs, who were not even part of the silent acquiescence, we are the hope of Cumming, Georgia. Because we came, with our attitudes of inclusion, we have two black families on my street. We have Indians in town and a mosque (and the residents threw a hissy fit over that). I go to Kroger and hear several languages, not just English and Spanish. Can we undo the past? Of course not. But Cumming, Georgia could finally learn from its past and choose a better road. MLK said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Would that the Cumming ship faced in the direction of Heaven, its residents living out love, fairness, kindness, inclusion, hope, sharing and all the principles Sunday School teaches. Would that, when we saw a black neighbor, or any color neighbor, they were, indeed, precious in our sight. Then the blood will not have been spilled in vain.


I checked the book out from my local library, so I don’t have a copy to give away this time. Visit your library or your local bookstore for yours.


#BookReview #BloodattheRoot #PatrickPhillips #racialcleansinginAmerica #CummingGA #blackhistory #JimCrowera #theBookBuffet #JacquelineinATL