Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure

Maggie Jackson’s celebration of uncertainty can free church leaders from defensiveness, inviting us to ponder and question — Amy Pagliarella

Maggie Jackson
Prometheus, 344 pages
Published November 7, 2023

I once served as a volunteer leader in an organization experiencing huge growth and change. Nerves frayed, tempers flared and factions formed as we tried to discern the next steps; it was rough.

Thanks to “Ted Lasso,” I decided to be “curious, not judgmental.” I entered each conversation assuming I didn’t know the answer, confident that curious questioning would lead the group to the best solutions. It worked. Well, not perfectly, but better. I discovered that I love this liminal space of wondering and questioning; in Uncertain, I now have a worthy guide.

Author and journalist Maggie Jackson brings scientific concepts to a mass audience, inviting us to live into the discomfort of uncertainty, because that’s where we learn, grow and flourish. She believes that the “starting point to expanding our knowledge” is the unexpected — through stories (from medicine, business, family life and more), she helps us understand the psychology behind our problem-solving.

Our first instinct is often to start with what we know, often moving us too quickly to a sub-optimal solution. “Creating a full picture of the situation demands that you hold in mind and gradually refine hidden and even conflicting possibilities into nuanced understanding…” Jackson writes. In a crisis, “adaptive experts” will generate alternative theories and test them, whether in the operating room or in wartime intelligence.

How can Jackson’s book guide us in our faith and work? Church leaders know we’re in a new world, yet we often revert to old patterns. Jackson’s celebration of uncertainty can free us from defensiveness and “the way things have always been done,” inviting us to ponder and question. This just might lead us into creative solutions and a new future.

Perhaps a generous uncertainty could even allow us see God at work in new ways. If I allow myself to be less sure, more open, can I simply wonder where God might show up next? The possibilities of Uncertain are wide open.

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