Chris HAW. From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart. Rethinking my Love for Catholicism. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 2012. 234pp. Paperback ISBN 978-1-59471-292-0 Also eBook. Reviewed by Ana Lourdes SUAREZ, Catholic University of Argentina, Buenos Aires.
In this book Haw reflects on his becoming Catholic. A route that, on his own words “has not merely meant arriving as much as journeying – a process of becoming a participating member of an “open narrative”, a Church unfinished” (p. 151).
The book is arranged in two parts: Action (With Some Contemplation) and, Contemplation (With Some Action). The order follows the author’s conviction, through his own experience, that a sensible approach in doing what we see needs to be done, and, after running into questions (and failures) along the way, to cycle back to contemplation and begin anew (p. xviii).
In the first part, the author shares his story of growing up Catholic, then moving into the world of Protestant evangelicalism at Willow Creek, attending Eastern University, studying in the rainforest of Belize, protesting the war in Iraq, and finally forming what has been called a “new monastic” community in a dangerous and impoverished city in New Jersey. In vivid auto-biographical descriptions, Haw traces out his journey from being part of a large Mega-church to participating in a Catholic community. In the last chapter (“From War to Concrete Jungle”) Haw writes how he takes the decision of living in a poor neighborhood, where, still full of evangelical fervor, he started attending services in the Catholic parish right across his house. In his own words: “I began worshiping at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, first as a visitor, then as a friend, and finally as a committed Catholic” (p. xvi).
In the second part of the book Haw reflects on his transition from Protestantism to Catholicism. The tone is still auto-biographical, but he deeps more than in the first part into interesting theological reflections that derive from his increasing engagement with the Catholic parish. The author delves into questions regarding ritual, hierarchy, the Bible and tradition, corruption and opulence of the Church, and so on. Haw´s digging and reflection on theology is done through the fabric of his own story. He explains how sacraments, hierarchy, dogma, and tradition were all words that turned to make sense for him. Haw´s reflections on the Church as (a necessary, mediating) Sacrament, and his understanding of the value of the Eucharist are truly challenging.
Very interesting are Haw’s reflections on the value of tradition, therefore on the impossibility of non-denominationalism. He challenges the Protestant belief of skipping institutions and just getting back to Jesus and the Bible, showing the contradictory results of “Forget the Church, Follow Jesus” (p. 203). He argues that there is no Jesus outside traditions. He states that “there are reasons not to treat denominations like brands of cereal, choosing simply what satisfies us” (p. 205).
Haw concludes the book reflecting on his journey, and making an invitation. In his own word: “Joining the Catholic Church for me is not so much a destination as an open process. I opened myself up to all the challenges and questions of the Catholic Church. I especially hope that these stories invite my readers to their own journeys, to stretching themselves” (p. 203).
I personally find it interesting that the Catholic faith community’s commitment to love, justice, and solidarity with the poor had a strong effect in triggering Haw´s theological reflections and conversion to Catholicism. The intense spiritual experience that he went through was backed by a poor Church (a concrete parish) living for, and among the poor. Haw, while acknowledging this issue, does not related much his experience to Liberation Theology, but he stresses the poor as a Theological locus.