of Ben Makuh


Book Reviews


The Understory [a review]

Many American Evangelicals have found themselves reeling over the past decade as what used to feel like a relatively stable institution was swiftly ripped asunder. The 2016 election, the 2020 election, Covid, racial injustice, economic uncertainty, faith deconstruction, Christian Nationalism... sometimes it feels like we're living a lyric from Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. A few years ago it all still felt fresh and disorienting, and in some ways it still does. In other ways, though, it seems like the turning of time has led us to a new moment where we now must simply figure out how life works on the far side of the fracture.

In her latest book, The Understory: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor, Lore Ferguson Wilbert invites us to join her in her contemplative wanderings through the forest. Sometimes that's a literal forest, and she asks us to reflect on the ways that a fallen tree becomes a sort of "nursemaid" for new life to take root—and how that's a metaphor for our moment. Other times the forest is figurative; we wander together through the tangle of this past decade and process through the grief of lost friendships, politically-corrupted churches, and the possibility of faith on the other side of disillusionment.

There's a difference between a forest and a freeway; you get on the freeway because you're trying to get to a destination as quickly as you can, but you walk through the forest because you want to be in the forest. You want to see, to smell, to touch, to hear, even to taste the forest. So it is with Wilbert's latest: don't read it because you're looking for a quick fix for Evangelicalism, or because you're looking for someone to tightly and cogently explain how to navigate through the mess. That's not what this book is. At times I did find myself wishing that the book was less meandering, that there was a straighter through-line connecting all the dots, but at the end of the day it feels much like the kind of conversation you'd have with a friend where you're trying to process through it all together.

In the end, it's a beautifully written reflection on what this moment has been for so many of us, how Wilbert has processed through it herself, and suggestions for how to grow roots again after everything has been torn up and shaken.

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