I hope that’s an alternative title Brandan Robertson considered for his excellent first book, Nomad. Perhaps for many of you, Brandan needs no introduction. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Brandan is the Executive Director of Nomad Partnerships and is a frequent contributor to major outlets such as Patheos, Huffington Post, & speaks at various organizations around the world.
As a full disclosure before this review, I know Brandan personally. He and I have developed a great friendship in the last year. I say that because it would be disingenuous to assert that I don’t have a bit of a bias toward Brandan and his work. He is an exceptional leader, and one I believe many can continue to learn from through Nomad.
Back to that vulnerability thing. Nomad in many ways is autobiographical as Brandan invites us along his faith journey through early faith development, into a legitimate crisis of faith, and to the culmination of an understanding of life with God that makes Brandan such a capable and faithful leader. To those perhaps scoffing at what may seem like yet another cynical millennial complaining about organized religion, I would encourage you to put those presuppositions aside and give Nomad the fair chance it deserves.
The first few chapters of Nomad spend time examining the beauty and value of being a nomad. In contrast to the popular conception of evangelicalism and being “correct” and steadfast in one’s belief, Brandan reframes faith as a journey, or to use his language wandering. This is set in the narrative of the Gospels where Jesus “is always pushing his followers beyond their comfort zones. He led them into uncomfortable…situations. He caused them to have far more questions than answers. I believe the reason Jesus dd this was because he was far more interested in allowing his disciples to cultivate a relationship and trust with and in him than leading them to a place of ‘arrival’” (22). In a millennial-driven age of story-telling and narrative, Brandan seems to invite his readers to push past the complacency of belief to a place of engagement with the narrative of the Gospels that makes sense in our world.
In my view, Nomad finds its ground and focus in its third chapter, “Redeemed.” The first two chapters seem to lack a clear sense of direction and ultimately still serve as continued introductions and hopes for the book. “Redeemed” takes us through Brandan’s conversion to Christianity, and ends with a captivating account of how typical Christian redemption narratives leave many disappointed by the guarantees that churches tend to offer. Despite believing that God saved him, Brandan vividly invites us into his life circumstances that had not changed despite knowing God loved him. It resonated with me greatly, specifically as someone who has felt “duped” that life with God isn’t as grandiose as evangelicals often painted it during my adolescence. Brandan’s words made me face my continued journey of wrestling with God.
I will surmise that many millennials will gravitate towards Nomad’s contents about a journey with God that includes doubt and a loss of a more “traditional” understanding of Christianity. The emphasis on community set the tone of Nomad. Whereas so often religious conversation inherently contains an “us” versus “them” mentality which creates the image of numerous “others”, focus is placed on the diverse “we” that is cultivated, in Brandan’s view, through Love. This, in turn, brings “humanity back to the ‘other’ that we feel compelled to objective and marginalize” (39). This is modeled after the life of Christ who was with people and less concerned about our correctness in regards to belief and doctrine.
Perhaps my favorite chapter was “Grey”. While very clearly missing an opportunity for an obvious 50 Shades of Grey joke, “Grey” breaks down an easy life of black and white and brings Truth into its proper grey-like place. “When everything is black and white, you can go through life with relative ease. There is a great deal of confidence that comes from believing that you are on the correct side of a two-sided coin” (56). Sadly, this seems to be how much of the world, including many evangelical circles, operate. This perspective not only gives a false confidence that Brandan rightly articulates, but also a degree of pride of having the “right answers” on life’s most difficult topics. Brandan tells a story from his teenage youth days where a case of bad exegesis led to a “faith destruction.” Yet this also led to a discovery that many religious people need to realize: doubt is not bad. Questions are not bad. Perhaps the “come to Jesus” moment we need now more than ever is that coming to Jesus rarely involves answers, but questions.
The world is diverse, and that reflects a diverse God. There’s little room for black and white. For Brandan, like myself, the realization was scary. How was it that we, as Christians, didn’t have the cut and dry questions. How am I supposed to tell people their lives are wrong and need Jesus? Or something… But notice again that Jesus wasn’t one that concerned his seekers about correct beliefs or being right on the day’s hottest topics. Brandan helps us see that, and places greyness at the heart of being a nomad. “When we realize that the purpose of our life is not to find and comprehend absolute Truth but rather to explore the tension and mystery at the heart of all things, we are set free to go where no one has gone before (nice Star Trek reference!, expand our boundaries, and to discover the new things that God is doing all around us with joy and expectation instead of fear and apprehension” (67).
If you’re familiar with Brandan’s work outside of Nomad, you know that he is actively involved in conversations about religious inclusion for the LGBTQ community. Outside a few references in the introduction, Brandan does not make it explicitly known that he identifies as queer until “Fluid,” a chapter in the book’s latter half. Nomad is the narrative of faith of Brandan, not of, as he calls it, the narrative of “Brandan, the Queer Christian.” In a time where many in the LGBTQ community have their identity negated or reduced to their sexual orientation, Brandan beautifully crafts a self-portrait of who he is in Christ. That includes his sexual orientation. Those looking for a theological treatise for LGBTQ inclusion will be disappointed. That’s not what Nomad is about. Nomad is about wholeness in faith. That includes our sexual orientation, including the orientations that the Church has historically excluded from community and liberation.
I highly recommend Nomad to those struggling to navigate the confusing and often contentious religious environment. There’s life beyond the expectations and rules that seem to reduce God, and our personal faith, to benchmarks. Brandan realizes much of that, and he invites us along with him. “Life is about the journey. We’re all called to be nomads…it’s not about the destination” (134). There’s a renewal happening in faith communities, and we are amongst strong rising leaders like Brandan.