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Book review: How We Learn to be Brave: Decisive moments in life and faith by Mariann Edgar Budde

08 September 2023

Jennie Hogan reviews a book about courage

MANY will remember the bizarre sight of a disgruntled Donald Trump holding a Bible upside down in front of a church in Washington, DC, when he failed to win the election. Shortly after this bizarre event, the Episcopalian Bishop of Washington, Mariann Edgar Budde, gave an interview on CNN news. She calmly named this act as a “charade” and a misuse of power. The male interviewer, clearly moved, thanked her for being a leader.

“This book is about decisive moments when we are called to act with courage,” Edgar Budde states clearly, not ignoring her act of bravery on live television. Here, in writing, she hopes to encourage readers to recognise the courage and strengths that already lie within. A significant element of recognising one’s strengths, she suggests, relates to the capacity to accept weaknesses. This is explored throughout in ways that are insightful, warm, and honest. She admirably expresses her vulnerability from the outset, vividly telling personal stories of failures and false steps, most especially in her ministry as parish priest and bishop.

Many of her insights call into question not only what kind of leader we all might be, but also who we are. Such clear-eyed vision will make this enlightening for many clergy. She reveals some uncomfortable truths about her struggles with her parishes, clergy colleagues, and authority within the Church with which many will arguably identify. Her admissions of boredom and depression are sensitive and, indeed, brave. It is refreshing to have such confessions from someone in high office.

The personal and emotional experience and cost of leadership in general, not only within a religious context, is a central theme. Throughout, she places in the foreground the need for acceptance of difficulties as signs of strength rather than weakness Throughout, we learn that perseverance can be all at once powerful and painful.

She skilfully tells compelling stories — not only her own — very well and reveals a fascinating and unswerving focus on and passion for racial justice in the United States. She also offers inspiring reflections on courageous decisive moments born out of struggles and suffering, movingly recounting Martin Luther King’s final acts of solidarity days before he died.

While discovering how she and many others discussed here boldly stepped up to the plate, one might easily begin to feel somewhat insignificant. The emphasis throughout, however, is that bravery is required in the face of everyday disappointments, bereavements, and, indeed, death. At the heart of her call for courage is the insight that brave decisions do not come ex nihilo. Rather, bold acts are the fruit of faithful daily reflection. Wisely, the author prays that inevitable inadequacies and gaps will be filled by Christ.

The Revd Jennie Hogan is a priest and psychotherapist.


How We Learn to be Brave: Decisive moments in life and faith
Mariann Edgar Budde
Authentic Media £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69

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