Gustav Shakefoot has explored the extremes of Christian orthodoxy. Born in Luxembourg, he was raised Roman Catholic and eventually entered a monastery. Later, after emigrating to Canada, he left his religious order – the book isn’t completely clear about whether or not he was asked to leave – then left Catholicism altogether.
Traversing the broad landscape of North American spirituality in search of a church where “people entered disabled and left healed,” he finally landed at a non-denominational evangelical church. With its four- and five-hours-long services three times a week, it, too, demanded a sort of asceticism, though it proffered a far different flavor of Holy Spirit than the monastery. But eventually, he left this church, too, in disappointment.
Here, Shakefoot weaves together stories from his youth and his life as a soldier, monk, and evangelical. Interspersed are his insights on such theological minefields as the necessity of baptism, homosexuality, the nature of the sacraments and the identity of the church.
To be sure, his theology is hard-shell Catholic. Readers with qualms about such dogma will find many of Shakefoot’s pronouncements simplistic at best, offensive at worst. (For example, “It is abnormal to be homosexual and those rights should never be granted to them, neither by any state nor by any church.”) Others more comfortable with a black-and-white approach to faith may find his convictions more tolerable.
The stories he tells vary in quality and, frankly, suitability for a book on spirituality. There’s an unfortunate tendency for his anecdotes to involve bathroom humor. By far the best part of the book involves his recollections of life at the monastery. Think Tom Sawyer in a monk’s habit.
Shakefoot says he writes “with the goal of helping people to live more fulfilling lives.” That may be his well-meaning aim, but this book simply doesn’t bring enough to the table to appeal to many outside of the author’s friends and family.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.