Kara K. Root
Fortress Press, 308 pages
“It’s a beautiful thing to see a good pastor at work,” writes Craig Dykstra in his seminal essay, “Pastoral and Ecclesial Imagination.” In The Deepest Belonging: A Story about Discovering Where God Meets Us, we see Kara Root at work with pastoral energy, intelligence, imagination and love — and it is indeed a beautiful thing.
The story begins as a church member named Marty bursts into her office. He’s got cancer; the prognosis is not promising; he needs to talk. The Deepest Belonging chronicles Marty’s living with cancer as the congregation commissions him to the unique “ministry of dying.” Along the way, Root listens deeply to her own life. She describes her faith formation with as much discernment and insight as Frederick Buechner did for us 40 years ago. The difference, however, is that Root is a working pastor. We see how her struggles, vulnerabilities and life lessons directly connect to Marty and others in her congregation.
With sadness, we attend Marty’s dying and his funeral service. We grieve with the congregation while also celebrating their remarkable journey of community, courage and hope. It’s a terrific narrative!
The Deepest Belonging is punctuated with compelling scriptural and doctrinal snippets of the Christian faith, including creation, being fully human, sin, Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection, salvation, what it means to be the church, hope and consummation. I most appreciated Root’s theological reflections; her lively pastoral imagination is poignant and moving, helping us see a real God at work in the real world ministering to real people in a real congregation.
“God is first minister,” writes Root. She joins her spouse, prolific author and professor Andrew Root, in affirming that one of the most significant ways God relates to us is as minister who, “enters into our experiences and bears them with us in order to heal us, to bring us peace and joy, to return us to our true identity as beloved.”
This metaphor, God as minister, is the one aspect of The Deepest Belonging that does not resonate with my pastoral imagination. While I celebrate the actions of God as minister, I worry that when the noun “minister” is applied, God is too closely identified with members of the professional clergy. I wonder if there might be a better noun to name God’s actions?
This book lives up to its name, with chapter titles that describe where God meets us: “When We Come Together,” “When We Lose Guarantees,” “In the In-Between” etc. The Deepest Belonging is an exciting and gripping affirmation of Romans 14:8 and the first sentence of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Brief Statement of Faith, “In life and in death, we belong to God.”
Here’s my advice to pastors and other church leaders: purchase The Deepest Belonging, take a full day, go off by yourself, silence your phone and read this book slowly. Use your highlighter. Take copious notes. Let the narrative, language and, especially, the theology get inside of you. I suspect that, when you finish, you too will appreciate more profoundly your own sense of deep belonging. It’s a beautiful thing!
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Philip J. Reed is pastor of Grosse Ile Presbyterian Church in Michigan and loves living on the Great Lakes where he’s learning to sail.