Drawing from Scripture, church history, and the author’s own ministry experiences among those who live on the margins, Vulnerable Faith bridges the often enormous gap between the conceptual ideal of faithfulness we talk about in church and a genuine, practical, radical obedience to Jesus.
Arpin-Ricci (The Cost of Community) combines the story of St. Patrick with Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-step program to illustrate what a life beyond pretense looks like. Humans, Arpin-Ricci says, normally live in fear not only of death but also of rejection and loss of control. It’s only as people have the courage to embrace vulnerability, as Patrick did on a path that inadvertently followed the trajectory of the 12 steps, that they can live as whole people. The idea of a 12-step/St. Patrick mash-up is intriguing, but the book soars highest when Arpin-Ricci writes about his true subject: the radical Jesus that animates both Patrick and AA. This Jesus transforms the world and emerges in community as people face fears and reach out to others. Social justice permeates Arpin-Ricci’s message: focus not on perfecting the self, but on seeking the other as Christ. For anyone yearning to find a more full-bodied Jesus than the version that only saves individuals from hell, this is a worthwhile read. —Publishers Weekly
"This book is an invitation to radical faithfulness found in willing vulnerability. Jamie Arpin- Ricci guides readers through a process of transformation, which exposes our pretense and promises new life through and beyond the cross of Christ." —Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking
"The urgency of the invitation to each of us in Vulnerable Faith cannot be ignored. In a world of terror and hatred, of protection and retaliation, it is a bold and important reminder to Christians of the radical nature of our witness as followers of Jesus. He is the Word made flesh, the vulnerable incarnation of God’s love for each and every one of us." —Jean Vanier, from the foreword
"In Vulnerable Faith the life of St. Patrick meets the spirituality of the Twelve Steps. It is a surprising, potent and challenging combination, one that Jamie Arpin-Ricci uses to profound effect in setting before us a vision of Christian community characterized by loving vulnerability, sacrificial generosity and a radical welcome of the stranger into the Shalom of God’s Kingdom. An inspiring and life-changing book." —Richard Beck, author Unclean and Slavery of Death
"If you are intrigued by the life of early Celtic leader St. Patrick, and if you see a need for transformation in your own life, Vulnerable Faith is your invitation to take some time to explore what greater faithfulness in the people of God might look like. Jamie juxtaposes the life of St. Patrick with lessons learned from AA’s Twelve Steps in a way that is refreshing and challenging. This is not for the faint-hearted but for those who want to take steps deeper into the love of God. I loved it, was inspired by it and recommend it to all who take their faith seriously." —Christine Sine, author of Return to Our Senses
"Using an array of examples that is both wide and deep, Jamie Arpin-Ricci draws us into a very deep place. This place of questions, trembling, fear, hope, faith, is at the heart of our vulnerability. It is in this very place that we most intimately find God and one another"—Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, Catholic blogger, contributed to Homilists for the Homeless
"Jamie is an expert storyteller who with compassion and imagination seamlessly weaves together the old and the new, the saint and the sinner, the practical wisdom of the 12 Steps with the timeless wisdom of the Scriptures. But his greatest feat in Vulnerable Faith is showing how transformative spirituality can be woven into the context of restorative community, where it belongs. Using the life of Saint Patrick as his guide, Jamie paves a way for all of us — on our own and in community — to approach a vulnerability worthy of our redemption. Vulnerable Faith is a primer on authentic community, a personal devotional book, and an insightful look into the human heart, all in one" —Amy Hollingsworth, author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers and Runaway Radical
"Jamie Arpin-Ricci knows only too well that spiritual growth and transformation are the result of God’s grace. In ’Vulnerable Faith’, he masterfully shows how the 12 Steps help facilitate an openness to God with the life of St. Patrick as our guiding example. I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in teaching that has stood the test of time."—Albert Haase, O.F.M., author of Catching Fire, Becoming Flame: A Guide for Spiritual Transformation
"In Vulnerable Faith, Jamie Arpin-Ricci has found a unique way to blend the life struggles of St Patrick to help us restore our own dilemma of neglected discipleship. Referencing the 12 Steps model, the reality of Patrick’s life and the need for Christ in our own lives slowly unfolds into an understanding of how Christ fulfills shalom in all the areas of our lives. We all need this book".—Randy Woodley, author of Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision
"Vulnerable Faith is a wonderfully creative exploration of missional life that draws from the story of St. Patrick as well as contemporary culture. The artful retelling of the story of St. Patrick is done with imagination and care. Each chapter’s installment of the story of the beloved saint is followed by theological reflection that probes and prods the reader toward holiness. This book is a fine resource for clergy, congregations, and missional communities."—Elaine Heath, author We Were the Least of These
"In this age of self-reliance and faux invincibility, the spiritual discipline of vulnerability is a rare thing indeed. Gently and yet provocatively, Jamie Arpin-Ricci uses the life and teaching of St Patrick to show us that it is only through accepting our common weakness, our brokenness and our unequivocal need for grace that we can find the opportunity for fullness of life and true freedom." —Michael Frost, author of Incarnate
"With creativity, skill, vulnerability, and insight Jamie Arpin-Ricci reintroduces readers to the risk of Christian faith, the hope of prophetic witness, and the true reward of costly grace for our time. St. Patrick and the tenets of the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous serve as new and inspiring companions as Arpin-Ricci guides us along the path toward renewing our commitment to be missionary disciples of Christ." —Daniel P. Horan OFM, author, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton
Vulnerable Faith by Jamie Arpin-Ricci is a fascinating look at how we cover our personal truths with pretense and in doing so we keep ourselves from full relationships with others, community, creation and God.
Using the life of St Patrick and the famous "12 Step Program" had no obvious logic to me at first, however the manner in which the author weaves a saint's life, a recovery program, vulnerability and faith together is both brilliant and unsettling. Brilliant in that it plainly outlines what is required for transformation through and beyond the cross of Christ, yet unsettling when we see the author's path to do so. A genuine inventory of our failings and brokenness brings with it the vulnerability we all so deeply fear, yet the case is solid for the need to do so if we are to find the salvation and authentic relationship with God that we seek.
This book did a wonderful job of exposing the ways in which so many people present themselves as they wish to be seen when that is not a true or genuine path. When emphasis is placed on moral and behavioral perfection as a demonstration of faith, people create the pretense of meeting that standard. As the author shows, however, "the most compelling witness to our faith can be a willingness to humbly accept responsibility for our failings and seek to restore relationships at any cost."
I found the writing to be both direct and kind. The author acknowledges that each of us has our wounds and shame that we so deeply fear being exposed, but shows us that those same fears can be our path out of fear and toward hope and resurrection. The emphasis on community shows us we are not alone in our relationship with Christ which goes far beyond individual devotion.
I found this book to be inspiring, humbling and above all thought provoking.
Patheos Book Club, March 2015
What a powerful work it is! The author, who is not Catholic, once again manages to build on the foundation of a saint to set his book in motion. (Arpin-Ricci's prior book, The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis, and Life in the Kingdom was published in 2011. I recommend it.) Artfully using St. Patrick's spirituality and the concepts of the 12 Steps, Arpin-Ricci leads us to an invitation into living in vulnerability as a path to freedom in Christ. And if you think about it, what other path to Christ is there, other surrendering to a vulnerable life?
The book begins with an introduction by none other than Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, and recent winner of The Templeton Prize 2015, himself no stranger to vulnerable living. His words set the stage for what it is to follow – an engaging excursion into releasing control and unwarranted fear and welcoming what happens when we take the risk to let go and let go and let go.
This quasi-review is short, but do not take that as a brush off. It is without reservation that I recommend this volume to you. If you really want to celebrate St. Patrick's day with wisdom instead of in a stupor, get this book today. You won't have a hangover and you will have a rich resource to support your faith journey. In fact, I'm guessing that you will like it enough to want to share it with friends and loved ones, and members of your worship community.
There Will Be Bread (Blog), March 2015
St. Patrick at first does not seem the poster child for addiction—what we commonly think of as wild and wicked behavior—at least, not how Jamie Arpin-Ricci introduces him. In his new book Vulnerable Faith: following in the way of St. Patrick, Arpin-Ricci introduces a Patrick who looks a lot more like me and everyone I grew up with: young, privileged, self-assured and secure in the knowledge that life will work out well for him in the end. But the genius of this small book on intentional Christian living and discipleship is that it focuses so much on how it is precisely those of us who so often distance ourselves from the Other—the poor, the addict, the unspeakably lost—who are caught in the throes of powerlessness. We are the ones scrounging up reputations and possessions, desperate to outrun both our fear of death and the chaos that we know lurks within. And, just like those who follow the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous know, the first step in recovering is admitting that our lives have become unmanageable—especially spiritually.
And the 12 steps turn out to be very important in this book. Arpin-Ricci weaves the backbone of AA curriculum throughout the narratives of St. Patrick and the wisdom he has gleaned from his own years of living in intentional Christian community with broken people. Contrasting the language of addicts with the story of a known saint is an intriguing way to help the reader frame a narrative where we are all invited to see ourselves as utterly dependent on God—and no different than the people we tend to distance ourselves from the most.
Our culture tends to prefer to dwell on the later life of Patrick—the priestly saint who went back to Ireland, who preached the gospel to his former captors. But Arpin-Ricci spends a careful amount of time on Patrick before he was the man we venerate now—when he was a young man unwilling or unable to grapple with the depths of sin in his own heart. For myself, I see a great connection: how my own fear of death leads to self-preservation and, how a fear of scarcity leads me to not willingly enter into relationships with the needy. I see how I, like Patrick and so many others, have created very safe and secure lives in a supposedly Christian culture, but inside we have become spiritually powerless. We are all addicts, indeed—but so many of us have become much too adept at hiding our powerlessness.
The central theme of the book is discipleship, and how true vulnerability must inform our life at every twist and turn. Arpin-Ricci points out that following the cross of Christ involves an embrace of chaos—something most of us spend our entire lives trying to outrun. The great sin of Patrick as Vulnerable Faith tells it was the sin of pretense—of taking comfort in human abilities to work hard and do well and scrape together a life lived for oneself. To truly follow Christ, however, involves the intricate destruction of pretense, and of accepting the truth that we are no different from another. This is no easy task. As Arpin-Ricci writes: "the chaos will feel much worse than the pretense we have emerged from. (70)"
For Patrick, his turning point came when he was captured by the Irish, forced on a slave ship, and made to live and work under miserable, spirit-breaking conditions. In the context of Vulnerable Faith, this is posited to be a complete and utter gift from God—the chance for Patrick to come to the end of himself, to surrender to God, and to start to build his life forward from there. But who would ever want this to be the crux of their story? We are much more comfortable thinking of Patrick as a saint, a superhuman man who found it within himself to forgive and forget, who picked himself up by his bootstraps, who willed himself to do the very hardest things for God.
But to imagine Patrick, sitting in a metal folding chair and drinking a bitter cup of coffee, confessing to a life-long compulsion of addiction, asking for help and solidarity, squarely seating himself with the rest of the tired and broken humanity around him—it does not quite compute. I struggle still with this dichotomy. I want to be Patrick after his conversion. I do not want to experience the years of isolation and suffering, the loneliness and fear and self-hatred constantly being addressed and dredged up, the constant need to forgive oneself and others. I do not want to admit that I need help, is the problem. But it is precisely Patrick's struggles–being forced to come to terms with the depths of depravity in himself– that led to his later spectacular ministry of grace and forgiveness. .
Arpin-Ricci points to his own Christian upbringing and the similar struggles he has had to embrace the chaos and sin in his own life. As he writes: "Do we honestly believe that the best witness we can have as christians before a watching world is to show moral perfection? While that might convince some, our odds of pulling it off seem less than slim. In truth, the most compelling witness to our faith can be a willingness to humbly accept responsibility for our failings and seek to restore relationships at any cost. " (110). What has helped him has also proven valuable for me: committing to living life with other believers also on the path of discipleship, and being in constant relationship with those whom we refer to as The Other. By positioning ourselves in places of community and hospitality, we are forced to admit our shortcomings to each other and to ourselves.
I have always loved a good sobriety memoir, drawn towards the searing truth-telling usually found within. But I have always conveniently distanced myself from these narratives, since I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex. But as I continue on in my path to be like Christ, as I constantly face the cross of my own true self, an entirely new set of addictions and compulsions have come into play: my moralism (acting correctly in order to receive the love of God and others), my lack of forgiveness for those who have wronged me and those I love, putting my own needs of safety and security first and therefore eschewing Christian hospitality. In the end, Vulnerable Faith reminds us that we are all just one drink, one cutting remark, one shred of resentment, one slip into aggravated isolation away from relapse. And in fact, we know that to a certain extent we will never attain perfect Christian discipleship in the here and now. We will never look exactly like Christ, and nor will our neighbors. But we have the chance to experience the grace of community, and to walk the long road of intentional Christian living together, to live like the redeemed addicts that we are.
Englewood Review of Books
In Vulnerable Faith Arpin-Ricci brings an upbeat, informative, and really fresh telling of the story of the early Celtic Christian leader, Saint Patrick. What transformation Patrick experienced as his own faith radicalized his lifestyle of mission and daily discipleship! There is good reason why so many are interested in Celtic spirituality, the legendary sort of piety that honors the Earth and cares for the poor and respects the cultures of others. This new book, which has at times a gentle, devotional tone, uses the life of Saint Patrick to show how we all can take deeper steps to be more faithful to Jesus -- in matters of being vulnerable, hospitable, nonviolent. He shows how to take faith seriously -- in ways that invite us to more authentic community, a more contemplative way of spiritual formation, and a more costly sort of servanthood and lived out ethics. I think this is valuable, too, because it has emerged from Jamie's own work (in part through a group called Bridgefolk) drawing together Mennonites and Catholics. I suspect most BookNotes readers are neither Mennonite nor Catholic but I also suspect that a number of us draw on the best insights of these profound faith traditions. This book brings some really good stuff to us all, maybe like some mash-up of Celtic and Mennonite radical discipleship in light of Bonhoeffer's Life Together. A warm and very special foreword is by Jean Vanier. Highly recommended
Hearts and Minds Books
I had the privilege, some time ago, of editing Jamie Arpin-Ricci's book The Cost of Community. I had been introduced to Jamie by my friend Adrianna Wright, and we had the opportunity to travel to Haiti together on a learning mission hosted by Haiti Partners and funded by InterVarsity Press, which had recently published another great book, Following Jesus Through the Eye of a Needle, by another good friend, Kent Annan. Publishing is not always so friendly, so familiar, but when it is, it's particularly rewarding. Jamie has remained a friend (at a distance, as he lives in community in Manitoba and doesn't venture out much), and so I was honored to be invited to review his latest book, Vulnerable Faith, this time published by Paraclete Press.
Jamie gets right to it in this book, challenging a common but distressing element of contemporary Christian faith: "cheap faithfulness."
Cheap faithfulness is taking the name of Christ as our identity without requiring the renunciation of self and selfish ends. It is seeking full intimacy with God yet giving little, if any, commitment. It is about negotiating terms with Jesus, as though we have anything at all to bring to the table. It is an abuse of love no better than trying to achieve the pleasures of intimacy by using another person for cheap sex. (Vulnerable Faith, p. 22)
Cheap faithfulness is only one manifestation of a larger crisis in the human condition, one that causes us to lean toward cheapness in all our relationships and away from the more risky, but more rewarding, relationships with God and others characterized by vulnerability and authenticity. Vulnerable Faith is, essentially, a conversation about the nature of truth and our essential distance from it at all times, thanks to our regrettable finiteness. A fear of death inspires in us a sense of self-preservation that puts us at odds with one another, at odds with God. The best we can hope for, as this sense of self-preservation lives in us, is what Scott Peck calls "pseudo-community," a kind of conspiracy of pretense underlying all our relationships, and ultimately a self-deception that renders us other even from ourselves. Jamie demonstrates this problem by looking at the life of none other than St. Patrick, the manliest of saints.
If you would put half as much effort into being who you could truly become, rather than trying to be who you think everyone else wants you to be, you could become a man people would follow. (Calpurnius, father of St. Patrick, to his son, aged sixteen, p. 36)
So few of us are our true selves; perhaps this is why so few of us are saints. To be a saint is to be other than what we are, in our striving, self-protection and self-deception. But in another sense, to be a saint is to be finally what we were created to be, what we are underneath our own fortresses of artifice and pretense. We have lost sight of ourselves; Only God can understand us now. Only God can save us. And how he saves us? We're not going to like it.
"The cross is an instrument of death" (pp. 29-30). Taking up the cross of Christ involves the emptying of our lives of all pretense to be replaced with the Truth. The embrace of truth is not a conceptual, intellectual thing, but an embrace of Jesus who is the truth and who gives his life for us and calls us into a daily martyrdom from which we are resurrected as better, humbler, more compassionate, saintlier versions of ourselves. Jamie calls this the "martyrological" life. "Because Jesus embraced this emptiness and because it glorifies God," Jamie assures us, "it is not a punitive emptying, but a meaningful and hopeful one, promising that something far greater will fill us" (p. 93): vulnerability, authenticity, humility, born of the grace and truth of Christ.
In this respect, the cross is not just an event - the salvific work of Jesus - it is also an ethic. We often think of dying to ourselves as living self-sacrificially, and that's a part of it. But as Jamie explores in this book, dying to ourselves is also more existential than that, more fundamental than that. After all, we can live self-sacrificially and still be incredibly pretentious, even violently judgmental. But dying to ourselves? This is the type of martyrological life uncovered in, of all things, the recovery movement. We die to ourselves by admitting our incapacity to kill it at life. We acknowledge the thing we love, cling to, the thing that is slowly killing us but that we have entrusted our security to. Alcohol, food, gambling, sex, sin, whatever, these are presenting problems of an underlying issue: our fear of our own mortality, our own vulnerability. We are on an undiverting path toward death and we can't handle it. We are contributing to our own demise and it's freaking us out.
By the grace of God we are delivered of this fear of death (as if we are ever delivered from the fear of death without first going through it), emptied of our pretensions and self-deceptions (as though we are ever rendered invulnerable to such things). On the far side of the cross we are no longer diverted from the mission of God, which has as its goal a world rightly ordered under the sovereignty of a good God of love, with all of creation demonstrating loving mutuality without pretense or self-protection. The poor among us are no longer "the poor" but brothers and sisters who need our help; the struggling among us are no longer objects of our impatient pity but those we struggle with. While most of Jamie's book is personalized, it is never individualized: indeed, he demonstrates very effectively that reconciliation between people is prior to reconciliation with God, according to the gospel of the Bible.
This isn't works-righteousness; it's the nature of our healing. Jamie tells the story of a husband who was confronted for flirting with another woman; his wife's cross to bear was neither to silently endure this indignity nor to cut ties and forge a new life - either of which is commonly prescribed in our highly transactional, hyper-individualized age. Her cross to bear was to leave her husband for a time, to endure the embarrassment and complication of separation, and to pray for her husband to die to himself. And she and her husband, though separated from each other, were accompanied in their cross-bearing by their supportive community. This was a communal challenge, and though in this instance it ended tragically, it still demonstrates the fundamentally plural nature of the Christian life. "The relationship," Jamie observes, borrowing from the sponsor relationship in Alcoholics Anonymous, "is not about positional authority but dynamic mutuality." To be Christian is, above all, to not be alone: we are led by a God who promises to never leave us or forsake us, but we are also bound to one another by our crosses.
Jamie's portrait of Patrick and his transformation, from spoiled child of privilege to patron saint of Ireland, is insightful and arresting. Not only is Patrick's story dramatic enough to bear telling, it's also existentially significant: there is more to his story than the facts--the people, the place, the things. Patrick is a saint, but he is also us. And this is both bad news and good: We are as vulnerable as was young Patrick, but we are also as capable of great things as he, as available to transformation as he. We are us, but we are also, somewhere in the DNA of us, saints.
David A, Goodreads Review
I have an alcoholic friend who has been sober for years now. Recently he said in jest, "It is too bad everybody isn't an alcoholic." With hard-won wisdom he added, "Alcoholics need to work through their issues. If I didn't I'd be drunk. If everybody else was alcoholic they'd need to work through their own issues and we'd all be healthier" My friend had been helped by AA's twelve steps. He acknowledged God, his powerlessness before addiction, and has worked through personal issues. Not everybody struggles with alcoholism but we all need make a similar journey if we are to move toward spiritual maturity.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci is the pastor of the Little Flowers Community in inner city Winnipeg. He too has observed the value of twelve-step wisdom for everyone, in helping us grow spiritually and live compelling, transformed lives. In Vulnerable Faith, Arpin-Ricci brings life, mission and church into conversation with A.A.'s twelve steps and the life of St. Patrick. Each of his seven chapters begins with a fictionalized retelling of Patrick's story, and reflections on that part of his journey.
When we meet Patrick, he is an entitled noble with more charisma than character. When marauding raiders take him captive to Ireland, he has to die to his past and take up a new identity–slave. It is in dying to himself, facing his selfishness and entitlement that he experiences new vitality and new freedom Christ offers. Eventually he is set free by God and returned to his family through a vision which shows him safe passage home. But the story doesn't end there. God gave him a missional vision of reconciliation. He returns to Ireland, and ministered to his former captors. His former masters become brothers.
In Arpin-Ricci's hands Patrick's story becomes a compelling picture of our spiritual journey. Patrick's context is different from our own and none of us longs for violence, oppression and slavery to shape our spiritual life, anymore than we long to be enslaved by addiction and alcoholism. By blending Patrick's story (and his own story) with twelve-step spirituality, Arpin-Ricci invites us to take our own journey of transformation, admitting our powerlessness, living in right orientation to God and others, making restitution for the places we have wronged others, and spread the good news we have experienced. This isn't just a description of super sainthood. This is not just a prescription for addictis. Saints and sinners both need to walk this road if we are to experience all that God has for us and our world.
I have read Patrick's Confessions several times and other books on Patrick's life. I've prayed his breastplate and am awed by his life and witness. I am Protestant, so wouldn't described myself as a devotee to the saint (maybe fan-boy?). However before reading Vulnerable Faith, I have never considered how Patrick's journey of spiritual transformation is a pattern for us all. Arpin-Ricci's book is spiritual insightful. I give this four stars and think that you will like it.
Notice of material connection: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.