The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens our Faith - AJ Swoboda


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"Preaching Jesus is best done behind the pulpit of our broken lives." 

This was one of those books that, right from the start, you know is going to reach into the deepest parts of you and stir things up. AJ is a pastor, professor, and writer here in Portland. I've met him a couple of times, and we have some mutual friends, so when he asked me if I wanted to read an early copy of his book and write a review, I jumped on the chance. He's written a handful of other books that are quite good (head to amazon and check them out) but this one, for me, was the one that meant the most. 

As Christians, specifically Christians who find themselves in a position of leadership, we're the ones who have it all together. We have the answers. Pastors (and I feel like I can say this, as a former youth pastor) tend to be thought of as the ones with all the answers, right? After all, they're the ones paid to study and figure this stuff out. Whether it's right or wrong, they're seen, in most churches, as the "professional Christians." 

I remember coming to a fork in the road in my faith journey while I was a pastor. I was teaching upwards of 50 teenagers every week. I was leading camps, retreats, and eating untold amounts of Taco Bell with them, and they were opening up to me with all sorts of questions about Jesus, faith, life, and everything else. I remember hitting a point where I would teach, hang out, play Xbox, then lock up the church and drive home, wondering if there was any truth to any of the things I'd told them. Was any of it legit? Did God really exists? Did he really love them? Did he really answer prayers? I wasn't so sure. 

And that terrified me.

There was no safe place to talk about it, and oh how I wish AJ had written this book 12 years ago when I was dealing with all of this. How I wish someone had come along side of me and gently whispered in my ear, "It's okay to wander. This is not the death of your faith." 

Because for so many leaders, wandering feels like a signal that they've been defeated. By doubt, by intellectualism, or whatever. 

I won't take all the time to quote AJ's book here, because I'm fairly sure I highlighted and underlined about 70% of the book. Nuggets that I wanted (needed) to remember. Lines that felt like someone putting their arm around my shoulder and saying, "I know this feels like defeat. I know it feels like you've lost. You haven't."

AJ is brilliant. He's got a PhD, and often times writes like it. This isn't a bad thing, but for me, this book was more academic than the previous two of his that I read. Both were brilliant, but in their own way. For me, the academic nature of this particular book was part of the journey. It fit right along with the notion that, in order to find what is truly important to us, sometimes we have to roll our pant legs up and wade into stuff that might be deep, thick, and uncomfortable. 

Maybe you're in leadership at your church. Maybe you're a pastor, maybe you run a small ministry, or maybe you work at Starbucks (though this is Portland. Stumptown. Maybe you work at Sumptown.) As a disciple of Jesus, it often feels like we need to have all the answers, and when we don't, or even worse, when we may not believe the answers we have, it feels like drowning. It feels like you've wandered so far off the path that you'll never find your way back home, and if you can't find your way home, how will you ever show anybody else the way home? 

But you will. You will find your way back home, and if you'll let it, maybe the journey there can teach you more than you ever dreamed possible. 


*Disclaimer: Though I was given a free copy of AJ's book for this review, the opinions are completely mine.*