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Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again [Kindle Edition]

Preston Yancey
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description


... will appeal to young adult readers, especially those who are questioning their beliefs after being raised in Christian homes. Publishers Weekly Well-written, engaging, and authentic... CBA Retailers + Resources

Product Description

In Tables in the Wilderness, Preston Yancey arrived at Baylor University in the autumn of 2008 with his life figured out: he was Southern Baptist, conservative, had a beautiful girlfriend he would soon propose to, had spent the summer living in southeast Asia as a missionary, and planned to study political science.

Then God slowly allowed Preston’s secure world to fall apart until every piece of what he thought was true was lost: his church, his life of study, his political leanings, his girlfriend, his best friend . . . and his God. 

It was the loss of God in the midst of all the godly things that changed Preston forever. One day he felt he heard God say, “It’s going to be about trust with you,” and then God was silent—and he still hasn’t spoken. At least, not in the ways Preston used to think were the only ways God spoke. No pillars of fire, no clouds, just a bit of whisper in wind.

Now, Preston is a patchwork of Anglican spirituality and Baptist sensibility, with a mother who has been in chronic neurological pain for thirteen years and father still devoted to Southern Baptist ministry who reads saints’ lives on the side. He now shares his story of coming to terms with a God who is bigger than the one he thought he was worshiping—the God of a common faith, the God who makes tables in the wilderness, the God who is found in cathedrals and in forests and in the Eucharist, the God who speaks in fire and in wind, the God who is bigger than narrow understandings of his will, his desire, his plan—the God who is so big, that everything must be his.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1018 KB
  • Print Length: 235 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0310338824
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 5 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Zondervan (30 Sep 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00H6XM3EA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #427,824 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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3.0 out of 5 stars Christianity as Repetition 28 Oct 2014
(This review first appeared on Transpositions, the official blog of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts, St Mary's College, University of St Andrews, 3 October 2014.)

This book’s back cover bio begins: “Preston Yancey is a lifelong Texan-raised Southern Baptist who fell in love with reading saints, crossing himself, and high church spirituality.”

This is, in many ways, nothing new.

Robert Webber wrote Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church in 1985. Since then, we’ve seen the same story told in a variety of books, Colleen Carroll’s sociological take in The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (2003), for instance. Or more recently, a spate of titles in the CBA market: Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy (2008), Todd D. Hunter’s The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church (2010) and Robert L. Plummer’s (ed.) Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism (2012) to name but three examples. Less well known, perhaps, but no less relevant here are two volumes of essays from Cross and Thompson, eds., Baptist Sacramentalism (2003) and Baptist Sacramentalism 2 (2009), and then more recently still, Melanie C. Ross’s Evangelical versus Liturgical?: Defying a Dichotomy (2014).

We might also remember those stories unwritten. Austin Farrer’s father was a Baptist minister. Raised Baptist, Farrer later converted to Anglicanism. My own background is similar. The child of Baptist missionaries, I attended a Baptist college and two Baptist seminaries.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mystical, Contemplative, and Beautifully Written Spiritual Memoir 21 July 2014
By O. Brown - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a mystical, contemplative, and beautifully written spiritual memoir of an intellectual young man who searches with his whole heart after God, first as an undergraduate, and then in graduate school. It is the story of what happened in Preston Yancey's journey of trusting God after God told him that He would be silent. The author is raw and honest with himself and bares his soul about dry times and self-delusion. It is in some ways a sad book, yet still it grabbed me and then wouldn't let go until the end.

The author has keen insight into what the dark night of the soul felt like to him and how it came about. Here is a quote to show you his style of writing about his time with friends pursuing their spirituality at one point: "We were the Israelites trying to take too much manna for one day, but we did not recognize it had not kept and were still eating from it, though it starved us." I really enjoyed his writing style. If you also do, and you enjoy non-fiction with a theological bent, you'll enjoy this; it is not a quick read nor an easy read, especially emotionally, but it's a good read. It is a very atypical book about a Christian journey and I cannot compare it to any other memoir I've read before, as it is unique to my experience.

Highly recommended.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An evangelical Christian comes of age 16 July 2014
By N. B. Kennedy - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
O, the sturm and drang of youth! Especially of evangelical Christian youth. Preston Yancey writes of the spiritual crisis of his college years at Baylor University, which, if I'm counting correctly, ended a mere three years ago. Overzealousness and disappointment, inflated and crushed egos, rifts between friends, and girls, girls, girls. His is a pretty recognizable experience.

If you like the writing of Donald Miller or Rob Bell, this is your kind of book. The writing is a stream of consciousness style bouncing back and forth between past and present tense, with strings of one-word sentences and one-sentence paragraphs, every word imparted in a tone of hushed urgency. Mr. Yancey wants you to feel his experience more than make sense of it.

What really characterizes a book like this to me is its emphasis on broad-brush emotional scene-setting in place of a strongly crafted narrative with forward momentum. As much as I try to follow an author like this, it always feels to me like a couple in a ballroom dance, one partner doing whatever steps he wants, the other scrambling to follow his whims instead of the dance steps they've learned together. I find it a frustrating experience. Lead me and I will follow! Do your own thing, and I'm apt to drift over to the side and look for another partner.

But readers questioning the spiritual tradition in which they were raised and whether it fits their adult lives might be perfectly happy to be led down Mr. Yancey's winding path. He departs from the Southern Baptist tradition of his childhood and eventually lands in the Anglican church. Along the way, he tries out a number of mainstream denominations, although it's best not to try to figure out which. Early in his search, he speaks of a seminal moment in a church, "one of the only churches in the area I could find with an Easter Vigil service in the later evening." Characteristically, he doesn't say what church that was. I would have liked to know.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book 10 July 2014
By amazon customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I really enjoyed this book. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. In many ways it's a sad book, but then again it's a hopeful book and exquisitely honest. Anyone who has had their world fall apart; has had doubts about faith creep in with feelings of both loss and emptiness; anyone who has felt that lack of joy in their life...will relate. And I truly believe that at differing times in our lives, that is all of us.

Highly recommended if you want a different, non-evangelical, non rah-rah for God kind of book; if you're sick of hearing that if your story doesn't bubble over with enthusiasm and wonder you are doing the kingdom a grave disservice....then this is the book for you. Because enthusiasm for God comes to us in many different ways, waxing and waning over the years, even when we truly know God is with us. That is the honesty of this book: acknowledging our fragile humanity. So beautifully written - some parts like poetry.

Highly, highly recommended.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Spiritual Memoir, Needed More Editing 14 Aug 2014
By Reader from Washington, DC - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Tables in the Wilderness" is a Millennial generation spiritual memoir in the tradition of Lauren Winner's "Girl Meets God."

Like Winner's memoir, it describes a college student's search for God during the turmoil of undergraduate school. It would be very useful to Episcopalian and Anglican churches seeking to attract young members, as it minutely describes the author's journey from fundamentalist Baptist to Episcopalian to Anglican while attending Baylor University in Texas -- a university heavily influenced by its Baptist founders -- and St. Andrews University in Scotland.

The book might also appeal to some Millennials dealing with spiritual conflicts.

The memoir has strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include the author's evident passion for Christian theology, history and art, and long struggle to communicate with a God who had suddenly fallen silent.

The book is extremely interesting in both of those areas -- the author's in-depth knowledge of Christian theology, history and art illuminates many of his points. His struggle to reconnect with God -- including buying dozens of prayer books when his own prayers dried up -- is both self-deprecatingly humorous and serious.

The weaknesses include a need to have the memoir edited more because the memoir kept losing flow -- the author starts the book with recent events and then circles back in time to his early years -- the chronology felt unstable and made it difficult to follow his spiritual changes and shifts.

Probably because the author is still very close in time to his years as a student, large parts of the memoir are standard undergraduate stories -- dating, break-ups, friendships, ending friendships, classes, professors, etc., all narrated in great detail.

These accounts of his friendships are not irrelevant to the book's theme -- unlike many universities, God is a common topic of discussion at Baylor, and many of the author's friends share his passionate interests in theology -- but they did sometimes disrupt the narrative flow.

The author also shares virtually every book, artwork, and other religious object he studies, sees or thinks about, which will fascinate readers interested in those cultural artifacts, but this habit also slows the flow of the book sometimes.

When I finished Lauren Winner's book, "Girl Meets God," I found it fascinating, but too spare -- I wished that she had shared more of her reasons for converting from her Jewish father's faith to the Christianity of her mother's heritage.

In Preston Yancy's case, I felt he tried to share everything -- every detail that could possibly interest the reader about his spiritual struggles -- and the book might be made stronger if it was edited down a bit when it goes into a second edition.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book To Savor 20 Oct 2014
By Joshua Ryan Butler - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like a fine meal, this is a book to savor. So rest weary traveler, take a seat at the table, and enjoy. Preston wields words and weaves them like spices and ingredients into visualized rhythms and layered associations until you enter an aesthetic space greater than the sum of its parts.

In a world where we so often feel abandoned by God and haunted by the silence, Preston invites us to a table he has found prepared in the wilderness, a table we do not need to prepare for ourselves in our striving, for it has been prepared by God and we are invited simply to feast and rest.

Preston has encountered God powerfully in the liturgical tradition, and invites us into the encounter with him. The invitation comes not so much through his successes as his failures, and the encounter with God in their midst. For those suspicious of high church, fear not: Preston once was too, and the meal laid out for you here is not an argument for liturgy so much as it is an experience of liturgy.

What I mean by this is that each chapter seamlessly blends holy rhythms with ordinary experiences, liturgical ritual with everyday routine, through the details of Preston's own story. The craft is artfully subtle here, but theologically intentional. For example, in one chapter Preston dumps a bottle of wine into the sink in an act of vengeful spite and replaces it with water (I'll let you read the chapter to get the context). Later in the chapter, under different circumstances and without warning, we come across Remigius, a medieval theologian, suggesting that water be added to communion to symbolize Christ joining the wine of his divinity with the water of our humanity.

The detail is subtle enough that, if read too quickly like a fast food meal, it would be easy to miss. But when we slow down to savor the spices of interwoven stories in combination, we recognize: the water of Preston's humanity has encountered the wine of the living God. The Eucharist confronts Preston here, revealing divinity as more than an abstract concept but an encounter with the grace of the living God, discovered in the humanity of our petty vengeances and vindictive conceits.

This is one of countless examples in "Tables" that invite us to pay attention--to the God who is often missed in the mountain-top striving and discovered in the Tuesday morning details; to liturgy as training us towards a new way of seeing the world. It is not only what Preston writes, but the way he writes that carries within it the seeds of attentiveness, to a God who needs not so much to be found as received. To a God who often seems quietly absent to our religious performances, but through the rhythms and rituals and traditions of his Church is revealed as presently inviting us to slow down and see and savor.

So pay attention while reading to the sacraments of God's people, the feast days of the calendar, the common prayers and stories of the saints--as they are interwoven with Preston's story, they invite us to pay attention and discover that the God we are baptized into is the God who saturates the world into which we're raised. That the Jesus encountered in the bread and the wine is the Jesus who holds the richness of the earth together in himself and invites us to feast. That the Spirit whose presence indwells the Church, draws us into encountering his presence afresh in the world.

A final thought: we often tell our stories in such a way as to make ourselves the hero. Ours are the courageous acts, the heroic deeds; we are exemplars of fortitude and courage. Yet Preston delightfully turns this custom on its head. He is vulnerable with his pride, his acts of hypocrisy, his moments of seeking-to-use-Jesus-to-be-better-than-others. And in so doing, he lets us in on grace, to Jesus being the hero of the story, to reveling in the God who encounters us in the unexpected moments, in the places where our striving has come to naught, encountered not in our trophies but in our scars.

Because the years Preston thought God was silent in the wilderness, is the time we learn God was teaching him to pay attention to the table that had already been prepared.

So go get this book. Take a bite. Take your time. And for those with teeth to chew and tongues to taste, savor and see that the Lord is good.
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