On July 10, Sacred Signposts: Words, Water, and Other Acts of Resistance officially came out and pre-ordered copies started arriving. It’s a book about the central “holy possessions” of Christianity–the Word, baptism, eucharist, confession and absolution, ministry, worship, and the cross–and what they do in an increasingly “secular” world. From the introduction:
They offer a kind of freedom and an experience of solidarity and an expression of hope that none of our pinched and gloomy ideologies can explain, much less offer. And they do this because they are not other-worldly or even “spiritual” at all, but because they are brutally worldly and literal. They are not ideals, but real things that anyone can take hold of, and that can change anyone who does.
I’ve blogged before about why I wrote this particular book and about the unique sensation of holding the review copies in my hand. Now it’s out there for others to read and do with as they please. It has, of course, been gratifying to read positive early reactions, which I will helpfully collect here:
Bromleigh McCleneghan, author of Good Christian Sex:
“With each artfully composed sentence and intriguing theological insight, Dueholm instructs on Christian practices in ways which will surely speak to the lifelong faithful, Christianity’s cultured despisers, and everyone in between. In this first book, Dueholm earns what should be a wide hearing; his voice — measured, funny and wise — is needed in the church and culture, now more than ever. “
Katherine Willis Pershey, author of Very Married and Any Day a Beautiful Change:
“Benjamin Dueholm is more than a writer of breathtakingly beautiful prose, more than a wunderkind possessed of a rare – yet never rarified – theological genius. In Sacred Signposts, Dueholm is the consummate pastor, interpreting text and context with humility and empathy. One senses, in these pages, that Benjamin Dueholm is both heartbroken by a relentlessly falling world, and restored to hope by a relentlessly gracious Word. Sacred Signposts invites readers to take up their own hope and heartbreak as they follow Christ in these strange days.”
Kaya Oakes, author of The Nones are Alright and Radical Reinvention:
“Why do we believe what we believe, and even more urgently for Christians today, what do we do with our belief? In Sacred Signposts, Benjamin Dueholm elegantly and thoughtfully moves us through a Christianity of resistance to our own torpor and into a Christianity of embodiment. Bold and necessary, Dueholm’s sacred signposts are the signs of our time.”
Amy Zeittlow, author of Homeward Bound:
“Sacred Signposts is both vinegar and honey to the life of faith: sharply clarifying and deeply fortifying. Dueholm writes with the mind of a theologian, the heart of a pastor, and the courage of a prophet–a trustworthy guide to renewed engagement with the church’s holy possessions.”
Dorothy Fortenberry, writer and producer for The Handmaid’s Tale:
“A warm and bracing look at why Christians do the things we do and why they might matter. By focusing on the ordinary habits of the church, Sacred Signposts guides us to understand how absurd and profound they — and by extension — we can be. In a world where we are pushed constantly to buy things, have opinions, and have opinions about things we just bought, this book points to another, more dangerous, more difficult, and more daring form of human interaction. What if, instead, we went to church? What might we find there? If we’re lucky, it might be a pastor like Benjamin Dueholm.”
Some early blog reviews were gratifying as well.
Christians have tried different ways to shore up our position in this post-Christian age. We’ve tried slick management techniques, cultural isolationism, cultural capitulation, moral and theological polemics, and enlisting the coercive arm of the state. Dueholm is asking Christians to trust in the grace of the Holy Spirit and the gifts she’s already given to the church. This isn’t exactly a recipe, in worldly terms, for institutional success! But Dueholm (and Luther) would be the first to point out that, in this case, faithfulness matters more than success. Ultimately, the word and practices of grace are all the church has, but they might be the one thing the world really needs.
If Christianity is to endure, not as one clan among many but as a living witness to the works of God in Christ, it will likely have to suffer much disorder. Yet it the particular genius of Christianity that failure is, not merely an option, but a prerequisite. Sacred Signposts is an excellent account of how that genius can be manifested in these difficult times.
Dueholm has the stylistic creativity to term the clergy “expatriates from the kingdom of usefulness” or Scripture “the archive of the inconsequential.” He concerns himself with “brutally ordinary things” in an “economy of giving a damn.” These are more than stylistic flourishes: Scripture and the liturgy themselves teach us that good words, carefully crafted words, have power. Saying “The Lord be with you” rather than “Hi, everybody” matters. Dueholm’s ability to name Christian practices with fresh and memorable language is thus a valuable gift—these phrases are already sticking with me, enriching my thinking.
I collect these comments for my own benefit as much as to persuade anyone else to buy and/or read my book (though you should–it’s good and I’m proud of it). Being a writer without any formal credentials, institutional affiliation, or prominent personal platform is a disorienting vocation. I’ve taken every opportunity that’s been given me by friends and colleagues, worked up a few of my own, and relied a great deal on friends for advice and counsel. But I’ve never been very intentional about any of it. Part of the reason I started this site was to pull together pieces that sprawl across the internet like sheep without a shepherd. For ten years (not counting the years of pointlessly prolific blogging before that) I’ve been sending them out and seeing what happens to them before moving on to the next story, review, exegetical essay, or argument.
A book is of course different, especially when the content is about the other side of your vocation. One can become a bit wraithlike in the process of making it and following it through the world. I don’t mean to overstate either my work or its importance, even to me–I kept up a normal life during the three years since I sent off the proposal, frenzies of late-night writing and revising notwithstanding. But I’ve certainly never done anything like it. So I do want to hear what readers have to say about it, good and bad, and to overhear and participate in whatever conversations result. I’m not much for creating the writerly impression of intimacy that marks the success of bloggers-turned-authors, but I love my readers just as much. Really and truly. While my body of work is haphazard and incidental, I’ve done it all out of genuine regard and good will for the people who will stumble upon it. That may be the only distinctive gift of combining ministry and writing. Whatever else happens with this or anything I’ve written, I hope to do that gift some little justice. Thanks for reading.