by Sarah Griffith Lund
Chalice Press, St. Louis. 112 pages
REVIEWED BY LAURA CUNNINGHAM
The title of Sarah Griffith Lund’s spiritual autobiography, testimony and powerful theological insight about mental illness was enough to earn it a spot on my download list. I’m not sure what I expected, but her personal, pastoral and theological description of what she calls “crazy in the blood” moved this book to a permanent place on my pastoral shelf.
Lund was ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is a graduate of two Presbyterian seminaries. The first gathering of the Young Clergy Women Project encouraged her to share her testimony of living with a father, brother and cousin who each suffer from bipolar disorder. She calls it “crazy in the blood,” the shame and pain of having mental illness in her family, as she shares the faith-filled insights that come in the process of holding on to God in the midst of suffering.
The power of her work emerges from both its prose and her process. While the genre may be the next generation of Frederick Buechner’s sacred journey stories, Lund makes no pretentions to the same kind of literary flourish or personal myth. Instead, she offers images, vignettes and occasionally humiliating accounts in language that is direct and unvarnished without being sensational. Contrary to a “you can’t handle the truth” mode of storytelling, we, the readers, can bear her truth, even accounts of physical abuse or a loved one at the end of death row, because her writing is grounded in faith, hope and compassion.
In the Barbara Brown Taylor approach to memoir, Lund uses personal experience alongside other disciplines as a source for theological reflection, yet she lets her story speak for itself. The chapters are organized relationally: one for her father, one for her brother and one for her cousin. While the lack of chronology can be confusing, this approach allows her final two chapters of theological work and pastoral implications to resonate deeply. Her compelling stories emphasize her claim that faith does not guarantee happiness, her challenge to those who say God doesn’t give more than we can handle and her conclusion that “crazy in the blood” runs deep in the church — clergy, leaders, members, saints and sinners — just as it ran deep in the ministry of Jesus.
Ultimately, this gifted pastor and writer shared her stories of mental illness because she was convinced of their power to heal and bring hope. Lund’s conviction grows out of the power of the Christian story and faith in God who loves broken people to the point of offering God’s own self. She offers her testimony so that we who read might learn to offer our own. Her website offers a small group guide to go along with the book, but “Blessed Are the Crazy” stands on its own in its invitation to readers to offer their own testimony, to seek God in their own experience of mental illness or personal suffering, and to become a church that knows how live with crazy in the blood.
LAURA CUNNINGHAM is pastor of the Nauraushaun Presbyterian Church in Pearl River, New York.