Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr is the best book I have read in a decade, and I read a lot of books! Richard Rohr spoke to me on every page of this short volume. I had to read it slowly, only four or five pages a day. Any more would have been too much to digest. I write in my books. I underline what I like. I place a star beside what I really like. I talk back in the margins when I disagree. I am glad to get two or three outstanding insights out of any book I read. In Falling Upward, I suppose I have 50 or more stars, which mean “Yes!” and “Amen!” Examples:
“No Pope, Bible quote, psychological technique, religious formula, book or guru can do your journey for you.”
“Resistance to change is so common, in fact, that it is almost what we expect from religious people, who tend to love the past more than the future or the present.”
“When you are in the first half of life, you cannot see any kind of failing or dying as even possible, much less as necessary or good.”
Rohr, who is a Franciscan priest, has had a similar pilgrimage, it seems to me, within Roman Catholic circles, as I have had within Baptist circles. As a youngster, he bought the whole package, believing every word his religion taught him, as I did. But adult realities and the shibboleths of childhood did not always fit together easily.
He introduced me to the image of the “loyal soldier.” According to Rohr, when the Japanese military returned home after World War II, they were given permission, in a ceremony, to leave their soldiering behind. They had been loyal soldiers, and that had been good for their country during that period in their lives. Now their country needed them to move forward to the next step, to be farmers and merchants and craftsmen. Rohr contends that adult Christians need to be given permission to move toward mature faith, to fall upward, to be able to think for themselves and not merely to follow someone else’s orders as if they were still teenagers.
Another phrase of Rohr’s which I found helpful is “double belonger.” As teens and young adults, we work out our identities, so we claim certain tribes (I am a white, heterosexual, male evangelical Baptist Christian from South Carolina who is a Clemson graduate and who was a Young Republican in college. Other people are in different tribes. They are Hispanic or Catholic or pull for Georgia Tech or whatever…) As young adults, those categories are very important. As mature Christians, Rohr and I find them less and less valuable. We can be double-belongers! I am not required to choose sides. I can value insights from Republicans and Democrats. I would like for some of our politicians to read Rohr’s book. Being stuck in the world of either/or is not the role of a Christian. Do you really think God is either/or? Do you think God is limited to loving Baptists or Catholics, Christians or Jews or Muslims, conservatives or liberals? Teens can be forgiven such foolishness. Such bad theology from sixty-something’s is less understandable. More quotations:
“You learn how to recover from falling by falling!”
“The only real biblical promise is that unconditional love will have the last word!”
“Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God’s own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.”