A View From The Back Pew
On the rare occasion that it might come up, I will tell people that I’m not a Christian, (in fact I have been known to describe myself with a smirk and no remorse, as a failed Jew) but I am a big fan of Jesus. And the Buddha, and Moses, or Eckhart Tolle, and/or Deepak Chopra or… I think I wrote somewhere before on this blog that I will take my wisdom where-ever I find it.
To many I might be seen a as some sort of sad lost soul, forever searching with the hope of finally finding some brilliant answer that will solve all of my problems, but the truth is that I just can’t stop asking questions. Questions sometimes lead to answers, but they always lead to more questions so it is one thing I am certain of is that there will always be more than enough of. Like Love, questions expand to fill any void if you let them. And they’re way more interesting than television.
Tim O’Donnell’s A View From The Back Pew: God, Religion & Our Personal Quest For Truth had me from the sub-title. It drew me in even further with the first two sentences:
“Questions. Beautiful, fantastic, enlightening, and exciting!”
I knew that I was in for a treat and I was not disappointed.
What I did not expect, was that Tim O’Donnell’s book would help me to regain the sense of connection that I have been missing for these past months.
I expected that reading an exploration of one man’s journey through Catholic grade-school, high-school, college and then adulthood to finding a home within his own personal spirituality would be interesting. I suspect that I unconsciously assumed that there wouldn’t be much for me to learn from this as I have long felt comfortable in my own answers to such questions. Learning about Theology fascinates me, and always leaves me wanting to learn more, though it generally confirms what I already believe I know.
This story, and it is a story, alternates episodes of the author’s life with his struggle between the teachings of the church he grew up in and his own personal experience. The end result is not a tidy conclusion of how to reach a place of divine wisdom, but a new way of understanding what Jesus was saying all along. It is an understanding that I think anyone could benefit from, regardless of personal faith.
Tim O’Donnell could have written a book that simply told the story of his own success. How he started out as a young adult determined to make it in the world of sales, becoming successful selling newspaper advertising, starting his own consulting company, moving on to his own newspaper. He then sold it at the age of 40 and built his own log-cabin in the woods. That would have been quite a story on it’s own.
Instead, I found myself laughing out loud reading his descriptions of grade-school taught by nuns. Children getting black eyes for asking questions at school shouldn’t be funny but Tim O’Donnell makes it so. Throw in a teen-aged road trip, College in Rome and finding God within himself and you have a book that is a little hard to put down. (For the record, I read quite a bit of it while on a 5 day trip to Las Vegas.)
Reading accounts of the history of the Church, the canonization of the books of the bible from this point of view broadened and confirmed my own understanding of the teachings of Jesus. I found myself reaching for my bible again, and again, reading the words with newly opened eyes.
Believing as I have for years that much of Christianity has missed the mark (the very definition of sin) when it comes to interpreting the teachings of Jesus, it was fascinating to read what someone who is much more knowledgeable than I had to say.
“The sense of duality, or separation from God, comes through in the language of the Church, supported by the dense verbiage of dogma, but not in the words of Jesus. On the contrary, he claims we are all sons and daughters of God. A prevalent motif in Church teaching is humanity’s unworthiness to commune directly with God. Did Jesus come to show us how to heal, or did he come to install an institution on earth as the only way for us to heal?”
I think that part of what I most loved about this book is that the author’s conclusions were not born out of a sense of anger or any rejection of the Church, in fact quite the opposite. It is hard to shake the feeling that all of this came from a deep sense of love and connection.
I think what fascinated me the most was the suggestion, backed by evidence that Jesus did not intend for us to see God as separate but that we find God by looking within. This is information that would not have benefited the Church, so texts that explicitly stated this and more, were left out of what we know as the bible today.
Adding the Gospels of Mary Magdalan and Thomas, has now made my reading list a lot longer than it was.
I would not recommended that you read this book if you are personally threatened by ideas that differ from what you already believe. A View From The Back Pew is among other things about spiritual evolution. It is a book that is for those who wish to question, explore and grow.
I would however recommended this book to anyone who does yearn to explore different points of view, regardless of personal faith. It most certainly opened my eyes in a way for which I am grateful. Expanding my own understanding of Catholicism and Christianity, has actually increased my respect, not diminished it.
I would like to thank Tim O’Donnell for inspiring me back towards my meditation chair, prayer, and my own sense of connection, and I would also like to thank TLC Book Tours for once again inviting me to participate in this virtual tour.