What made you want to write this book?
There’s a struggle within me to want to get my Christian faith right, to accentuate my gifts and to somehow reach some kind of perfection. What I realised is that God has no interest in my spiritual perfection project. That’s not God’s interest at all. So I wanted to write a book where I could explore the darker elements of human life. I don’t think the Church has done a good job in helping people know how to hold the confusing side or the difficult side of human life. Churches have become an unsafe place for people to confess who they really are. Why do you think that’s happened? We don’t share those sides of us in church because we’re afraid we’re going to be judged. We’re afraid that if I tell you I’m bipolar, or if I tell you I’m going through divorce, or if I haven’t had an experience of God in ten years and I don’t even know if God exists, then I’ll be rejected. So we hide them and there’s a kind of pretending that happens instead.
What can we do to change that culture?
I think it’s actually simple. Here’s a practical thing you can try. Get out of the church building. Have a good meal at someone’s house, and ask a question like, “Tell me a time you fell in love when you were a teenager”, “Tell me what your dad was like”, “Tell me a moment when someone showed compassion to you”. You just ask questions like this around a dinner table and stories will show up. As those stories show up they’ll begin to touch on all aspects of human life, including moments of shame and loss as well as moments of bravery and courage. People become real and if you keep meeting, over time, reality starts to show up and through that a different experience of God begins to pervade the room.
"Churches have become an unsafe place for people to confess who they really are"
You live in America but recently spent some time in Wales. How did that come about? I led a series of prayer retreats across the diocese of St Asaph. I really connected with the people there. After I left, the bishop said, “Come back, we’ll give you free reign. Do whatever you want; say whatever you want to help us be a catalyst for new things.” And he was true to his word. I’ve never felt so trusted by the Church. I was in a cathedral filled with all the hierarchy and he would have me stand up and [he would] say, “Tell us what we need to hear.” And I would say the hard things like, “The Church has died and you’re all grieving and you’re all bitter and you’re tired because you’re serving a dead Church and that’s hard.” They were encouraging me to say the things that they didn’t want to hear; that they needed to hear. I wish more churches would do that. So I actually think something new might come out of North Wales. I may be wrong, but there’s a bravery there that I haven’t experienced in many other places in the UK.
Mark Yaconelli, Disappointments, Doubts and Other Spiritual Gifts: reflections on life and ministry (SPCK) is out now.