Book Review: Tables in the Wilderness
Author: Preston Yancey
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310338826
I appreciated reading Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness. I also respect his articulation of his spiritual journey. There are certainly differences in interpretation and experience of encountering God…and I didn’t expect his journey to necessarily align with my own. It was with this openness and acceptance to listen that I “listened and heard” Yancey’s story.
Tables in the Wilderness is the story of a “package” unraveled and then reassembled. So many people who have a Christian belief system assume to have God figured out along with all the nuanced postures, rites, and religious doo-dahs in place to function as a member of their specific Jesus tribe. Yancey proceeds to share his systems, the worlds that formed them…and the worlds that were their undoing, and ultimately when they were deconstructed, how his understanding and experience of God started to be reconstructed.
I don’t understand some of the negative reviews of this book. Yancey seems to write from a very bare and vulnerable place. It is difficult for me to accept the harsh criticism of some of the more insensitive reviews concerning details of Yancey’s Christian views in his memoir, especially when the subject of this book is a “personal experience” and confession of sorts…and not a theological treatise. Every Christian’s journey is going to be a personal experience, often born out of corporate interactions, but personal nonetheless and this is what Yancey reveals in his memoir. Some of what is written is “heady” and perhaps comes across as being over-thought, but this is the personality of the writer being revealed. I very much appreciated the authenticity.
It is possible the fond connections I have to Yancey’s story are the similarities I found with my own story. I understood precisely what he was trying to convey when he was confronted with his false self and judgmental views of other Christian pilgrims when I read the following words:
“It happens slowly, the way it becomes about us and not about God. It happens when we change our email signatures to include that we are pastors, when we sit a little straighter in our chairs when we talk about the Bible, when we look at people like they should defer to us because we are the ones who know. We aren’t a Family anymore. We are two people and those other people. We are us and they are them. It happens before you realize it has happened. It happens the moment you believe that your spirituality has surpassed that of someone else, that you can be their Holy Spirit.” (pg. 85).
Similarly, as Yancey begins opening himself to the undoing of the false self and allows God the Holy Spirit to transform his own mind and heart, his perspective of others begins to be a revelation of grace, compassion, patience, and love. I connected with this maturing grace and Christian love when I read the following:
“If we get tripped up by the words about God, we miss God in the process. It took me a long time, but I eventually gave up the need to always call the Eucharist the Eucharist and instead use the words Communion, Lord’s Supper, and Eucharist with an interchangeable grace. I let circumstance dictate my word choice, I let context determine my response. Because there was a time there where I and The Church of the Windowless Resurrection were essentially one and the same. We were both fighting, clawing, thrashing to prove who we were not.” (pg. 225).
This is a book about grace. This is a book about self-knowing. This is a book about seeking and searching. It is not systematic theology and it is not about articles of faith. It is the soul of one man baring a personal experience and inner conversations with the Triune Godhead. If Tables in the Wilderness is read from this perspective, it is likely you will find connections with your own journey and even more likely, you will enjoy the conversation as you get to know Preston Yancey.