Becoming Gertude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, by Janice Peterson
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by the Tyndale Blog Network. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Without having a particularly fond view of the author herself, I found the subject matter and approach of this book to be immensely worthwhile. As a reader with a rather dim view of the sort of politically leftist social Gospel views that the author has and which peek through on occasion in these pages, there was certainly material here that I did not appreciate particularly greatly. That said, to the writer’s credit she does not dwell on such divisive matters but instead chooses to focus on the importance of spiritual friendships that help build up and encourage the believer from her own life as the wife of a Presbyterian pastor who happens to be a prolific author (perhaps best known as the translator of the Message Bible) . So, while I would not want to be Janice Peterson, this book does encourage us all on how to become Gertude, a friend and neighbor she had as a young person who helped encourage her in her faith.
This is a short book of a bit more than 100 pages when its lengthy introduction is included, and the work is divided into five chapters about different aspects of spiritual friendship that readers can cultivate in their lives. Each of these chapters closes with questions that the reader can answer to reflect upon their own spiritual lives and friendships with others as well. The author begins with a discussion on caring, and our choice to see others, which the author demonstrates through an account of her bleeding heart activist ways that predictably led to conflict with others (1). After that there is a discussion of acceptance in receiving what is offered (2), an area of life that we must all learn to be more gracious in, as it is easier to give than to receive in Christian culture. The author talks about service, showing some thoughtfulness in how it is that people give of themselves through their God-given talents and abilities (3). She then proceeds to discuss hospitality on how we reach out and bring in others to our lives (4), which includes a poignant story of how for a time she and her husband helped take care for three motherless children in need. Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of the vital aspect of encouragement in building others up (5), after which there is an epilogue and a thoughtful afterward by the author’s husband.
A large part of the reason this book comes off relatively well despite the antipathy I have for the author’s activism and political worldview is because she does not portray herself as someone who has it all together but instead as someone who has obvious human flaws. She also points to her own reluctance to serve, her own tendency to be distracted by shiny things (like a beautiful desk) rather than useful things (like a dryer), which makes sense given her worldview faults. The fact that the author points to others as being great examples of friendship to her, including an ex-priest who laicized and married in the aftermath of Vatican II and an unmarried engineer with a genuine fondness for children, gives this book a great deal of goodwill. In all likelihood, I would have been very savage and unsympathetic to the views of the author had she been writing a feminist critique of capitalism or a discussion of her political activism, but there is a great deal I agree with in this book on spiritual friendship, and I can confidently say that I aspire to be and seek to have the sort of spiritual friendships discussed in this book, no matter how isolated my existence may be. Likely other readers will feel the same way.
 He also wrote this classic: