Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again
Preston Yancey grew up in Texas in a Southern Baptist parsonage. In 2008, he entered Baylor University, in Waco, as a freshman. Here’s the landscape: “If you are a student at Baylor, it is possible to go all four years of university and attend a different church every single Sunday.” Yancey didn’t make the rounds to the more than “a hundred Southern Baptist churches” in Waco, but he did head out on a search for a church home, looking for evidence of God’s presence, spoken truths, community and aesthetics. At one juncture, Yancey and a few friends started their own congregation.
In some ways, his collegiate search revived memories of my own --- also on a campus peopled with Christians, also running in the midst of a cadre of characters, the mix changing some from year to year. (Yancey could have cut the number of presented characters, but then this is a memoir, not a novel.) But our discussions didn’t focus on the demerits of infant baptism or the meaning of the Real Presence. On one level, this memoir is a Baptist’s journey to the Anglican tradition, with its liturgical service structure and calendar and lectionary, which annually walks through the Evangelists’ gospel story of Jesus’ life, and its propensity to baptize babies and celebrate Eucharist with a capital E.
"Yancey is a good writer, and so young that we’ll likely hear more from him. I hope so --- with a tempered, aging voice."
I hear that Yancey has a large blog following, though I haven’t read his postings. It feels as if a hunk of this book originated in blog posts, which might explain a very irritating switch between past and present tenses. He may have been trying to help a reader navigate his college-student perspective as distinct from his current, distanced musings (though they’re not that far removed; Yancey is still in his mid-20s). But I found the repeating pattern distracting. There must be a better way.
A minor thread gives insight into Yancey’s family, particularly his mother’s chronic, debilitating (20 years now) pain that son Yancey --- among others --- have prayed to be healed. Standing on the promises. “It does something to you, to have a chronically ill parent, a parent who does not die but clings on to life in spite of pain that pierces to bone. It does something to faith, rips it away or buries it deep,” he writes in an early chapter titled “Beginnings.” Toward the end of the book, having a new appreciation for a Lenten fast, he tentatively hopes for an Easter miracle, a dramatic “rise up and walk” for his mother. The hope remains…next year in Texas?
Yancey ends the book after leaving Waco, spending a year or so in Scotland, earning a master’s in theology, marrying a woman he’s met through their mutual blogging correspondence. He’s a bit more content with the God who whispers to those who have ears to hear.
Yancey is a good writer, and so young that we’ll likely hear more from him. I hope so --- with a tempered, aging voice.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on July 22, 2015