Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A few brief thoughts on “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”

“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”
This repeated line in Leonard Cohen’s Anthem has struck a cord in the collective consciousness; I hear it regularly, in contexts far removed from its source, generally. What is it about this odd metaphor that catches the imagination? I wonder.

The admission of light is, of course, appealing. Physically, it rescues us from darkness . . . or blindness. Metaphorically, it suggests epiphany, insight or understanding. Are we really beholden to brokenness as a precondition for understanding? Sounds like a topic for an adult Sunday School class, possibly, the question being something like: Are suffering, pain, brokenness—cracks—necessary for the gaining of wisdom, of understanding?

It’s fair to say, I think, that until we’ve experienced illness, we don’t fully appreciate health. Similarly, the death of a loved one can make us wiser about the astounding fact that we’ve been gifted with life, consciousness, love, hope in the first place.

Leonard Cohen expressed the world he knew poetically; musing on the act of making poetry, he wrote:

I wonder how many people in this city
live in furnished rooms.
Late at night when i look out at the buildings
I swear I see a face in every window
looking back at me
and when I turn away
I wonder how many go back to their desks
and write this down.


Probably none but you, Leonard. (On the other hand, I had some thoughts on cracks that let in light . . . and wrote this down, although I am no poet.)

I would love to sit down over coffee with Leonard Cohen and just talk about where light came from for him, but, alas, he’s dead. I would tell him that through his poetry and songs, he gave me more light than I deserved. I remember teaching a Literature class in Thompson, Manitoba and discovering Cohen’s amazing “crack” on the subject of what it means to be Jewish after the Holocaust:

(From “The Genius.”)
For you
I will be a Broadway jew
and cry in theatres
for my mother
and sell bargain goods
beneath the counter

I despair when I hear people misusing, even abusing, Cohen’s Hallelujah, most often as a consequence of “hallelujah” being primarily a religious word. In the song, the shout of triumph, the “hallelujah” applies first of all to the triumphant climax of love, but later becomes the triumph of disappointment, of indifference, even violence and conquest: a cold and broken hallelujah. Cohen has said that the gestation period for the song was about five years, and that he wrote many verses, those he would sing most recently being the few he picked out of the lot to most closely make a coherent whole.

I like the interview Adrienne Clarkson did with a young Leonard Cohen, a conversation revealing much about the man and what he would become. I like particularly his reference to the “horizontal integrity” of art: it’s object should be to illuminate the world in which we live now, not to create a monument to last forever.

Maybe light does only come through our cracks?


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Women Talking - Miriam Toews. A Review


Toews, Miriam, Women Talking. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, Canada, 2018

A successful novel doesn’t hatch like an egg, pecking it’s way through a shell and emerging while your back is turned. I can hardly imagine the complexity of decisions Toews dealt with before putting pen to paper for Women Talking. Obviously, both subject and audience influence style, diction, narrator, format, even font, no matter what fictional writing is being visualized, created and published. But as with other novels by Toews, additional considerations come into play because an ethno/religious minority is being mined for the subject material and a reading audience with roots in the appropriated minority will quite naturally challenge such a novel on the basis of verisimilitude.

Women Talking jumps sideward in imagination from a criminal case in a conservative Mennonite colony in Bolivia. Eight men in the colony were found guilty and are serving long prison sentences for anesthetizing sleeping women with a Belladonna derivative and raping them. While awaiting their trial in remand (in the novel) the leadership have gone to Santa Cruz to arrange bail for the charged men, and that’s when some of the affected women meet clandestinely in a barn to decide whether or not to flee the colony permanently or to stay and attempt a reconciliation and the setting of a new direction for the colony.

I find the commissioning of the male teacher to take minutes of the proceedings of the women’s meetings . . . in English . . . puzzling. A narrator is needed, of course, but for me this choice created unnecessary problems that opting for an omniscient, third-person narrator might have eased. Even a woman involved in the meeting serving the novel as first-person narrator could have worked well. Who narrates the story is entirely the author’s choice, of course, but this choice is crucial and in order to render August Epp a believable narrator, a convoluted story of banishment, a time in a British prison for stealing a policeman’s horse, permission to return to the colony and veiled reference to his infatuation with a pregnant victim of the rapes is all a “bridge too far” for this reader. 

And then there’s the language/culture bridge that needed to be constructed first. The narrator in Women Talking is a decently educated, English-proficient character and is written by Toews as able to render the low-German conversation of the women believably, both in tone and content. Considering that the female characters are all illiterate and uneducated, have been treated as chattels by authoritarian men their whole lives, understand only the Low-German language--which is long on domestic vocabulary and short on almost every other application--the novel loses verisimilitude for knowledgeable Mennonite readers. I am a Low-German speaker, grew up in a nearly-homogenous, comparatively-liberal Mennonite community, remember well from my parents and grandparents how Mennonite women once functioned in a patriarchal Mennonite culture and find Toews’ meeting-scenarios as foreign as if her women were rabbits in Watership Down. Granted, I’ve no on-the-ground experience of the colonies of conservative Mennonites in Bolivia, but through my historical interests, have come to know their origins, their agricultural practices, how church is conducted, etc. (Interestingly, my roots and the roots of the colony Toews is portraying thread back to the same colony in Ukrainian Russia: Chortitza. Her choice of Chortitza—the original ‘Old Colony’—and Molotschna as Bolivian colony names could certainly have benefited from more historical research.)

But, to be fair, a novel establishes its own parameters; it’s a branch of what’s called “poetic license.” In a skilfully devised novel (like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or George Orwell’s 1984, or Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness) the scenario in which the plot happens is devised to allow readers a “suspension of disbelief” about the author’s sometimes-fantastic inventions and to read and enjoy the story by walking with the author into an imaginary world. It’s possible that readers who are not Mennonites, are not knowledgeable about Mennonites, might read Women Talking as occurring inside a believable, imaginary world where men are predominantly authoritarian and often violent; women and girls are universally treated as chattels and knowledge and education are threatening and therefore forbidden. To make this determination, a different reviewer is needed. 

(In the book, three pages of reviews of Toews’ work are all effusive in their praise and most display the standard vagueness and hyperbole that smacks of a fraternity, a mutual-adoration society of authors, publishers and reviewers hoping to sell books and reputations. Such fluff in any publication shouldn’t be confused with serious commentary; most such accolades are easily composed by people without even having read the book they’re praising.)

I won’t go here into the question of cultural appropriation, at least not in any depth. Toews has been accused of fostering—either by intention or design—a stereotype, in this case of the dysfunctional backwardness in the world of “Mennonite,” and in the process omitting an essential rider, namely that the name “Mennonite” embraces highly differentiated cultures scattered worldwide and  the scenarios represented in a few of her novels are outliers.

On the other hand, perhaps all those who identify as Mennonite have good reason to examine and re-examine their faith and culture and to deal with the fact that under a common rubric with Mennonites around the world, eight men are serving time for raping their co-religionist sisters. And when I crossed into Mexico some years ago, suspicions focused on me because of my Mennoniteness in consideration, I assumed, of colony Mennonites involvement in drug smuggling.* If such a purpose is served, then Women Talking may someday sit proudly side by side with Peace Shall Destroy Many on any Mennonite or non-Mennonite bookshelf. 

* You might well wonder how Mexican border guards would recognize my Mennoniteness. As in Ashkenazi Jewry, Europe-rooted Mennonite ethnicity is intertwined with certain surnames: Epp, Friesen, Klassen, Dueck, Toews, etc. These names are typical of South and Central American and Mexican colonies as they are of Mennonite-settlement communities in Southern Manitoba and the Saskatchewan Valley, for instance.  

P.S.: As far as I know, the narrator, August Epp, and I, George Epp, are not related.





Saturday, March 16, 2019

Novel Interruptus


Novel Interruptus or Writer's Block
I’ve written a story about school days in Saskatchewan. It took me about two-hundred hours to write it down, another twenty hours to edit it, and I paid a professional editor two dollars a page to edit my final draft. Then I spent another twenty hours making changes the editor suggested. How much would you pay me for a chance to read it?”

I’ve painted a 24 X 18 canvas depicting the town we were both born in ca. 1905. I’ve won two awards for it and I’ve made ten reproductions. How much would you pay me for the original? For a reproduction?" 

The Wife, with Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce, is a 2017 movie based on Meg Wolitzer’s 2004 novel with the same name. This is not a review. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, but intend to, you might not want to read this. The ending is a “surprise,” except that to most viewers—I’m guessing—it’s not that big a surprise at all.

The Wife opens a window on book publishing in the ‘50s, a window that probably hits at today’s authors’ dilemma as well. As the movie illustrates, competence, even brilliance in the art of fiction may never see the light of day given the fact that book publishing, movie making are businesses in the hands of non-artists who weigh name-recognition and book-buyer whims-of-the-day against the likelihood of profitability or loss. It’s an art-in-the-marketplace conundrum, and we all know that the marketplace is subject to psychological manipulation, crass advertising and all the rest of those tricks of Mammon.

Because, as the movie script makes clear, readership is a partner to creative writing and writers want to be read, sculptors need to be displayed, movies need viewers but there are any number of ways in which mediocre art can be flogged to dizzying heights while genius remains locked in the cellar.

In this case, the blocking of genius is gender-based; publishers assume that women writers will be harder to sell than male writers, and so their manuscripts are shuffled to the bottom of the review pile, if they’re to be read at all. So if you happened at that time to be a female with great creative talent, wouldn’t you consider—as Mary Ann Evans already did in the mid 19th Century—to write under the name of, say, George Eliot? In The Wife, Joseph Castleman becomes the conduit and the name for the genius of wife Joan Castleman with the complication that Joseph wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Sorry, I gave away a significant plot component, if you hadn’t already guessed.)

Art as commodity raises a number of issues not conducive to pure artistry. A chainsaw is a commodity but with a chainsaw, an owner can produce other commodities so that in a capitalist/market world, a chainsaw has multiplier possibilities and therefor capital worth. Even things like chairs, because they consistently provide comfort and ease, can convince consumers on their own merits to pay a fair price. Not so with art, which has no obvious utility beyond the aesthetic, no marketplace multiplier effect and so in the eyes of crass economics, may be seen as having dubious intrinsic value. Furthermore, why buy a book when you can read it for free at your subsidized library? Why pay admission to a movie theatre when you can access a pirated version for free on your wide-screen TV? Why put money into the donation box at a museum when paying to enjoy the work of artists is optional?

How did “starving artists” become a “thing” unless art itself is seen to be of dubious value on its face?

I could go on here to defend the value that’s been added to our various cultures by artists, echoing perhaps Shakespeare's contention in Hamlet that the dramatic arts—in that case— “hold, as it were, the mirror up to nature, etc” (Ham. III,ii,17-24). In an age where the apple-cart is being regularly upset (what with streaming video, self-publishing, audio books, art as speculative investment, smart-phone photography, etc.) the value of art—fiction, in this case—is again in question. 

To build a house and to be paid, possibly praised, accrues to the satisfaction of the builder and motivates him/her to further creation. The Wife illustrates through an almost-believable scenario what might theoretically happen when an artist’s work goes unrecognized, unrewarded or unacknowledged.

How the Castlemans Nobel-Prize-to-him-and-not-her dénouement unravels, I’ll leave to be discovered, a small surprise.

Sorry. I never asked you for a book about school days in Saskatchewan and who has time to read in any case? So, no thanks.”

I just bought a huge picture with a deer and a stream at Walmart for over the couch. It cost me eighteen-fifty on sale. I’ll give you the same for your original but I don’t know where I’d put it.”

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Art Job


Bookshelf
Artistic “work.” What is it? Novelists talk about years labouring over a manuscript, normally alone in a room with a computer, typewriter or pen and paper. The scientific definition of work doesn’t apply: “Application of a force to move a mass through a distance” or “transfer of energy from one mass to another.” However, less and less work of this latter kind is required as we harness fossil fuels, the sun, winds, and tides to do our heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, piling. 

But to legitimize what artists do as work, I like a definition less mechanical, something like “the expenditure of talent, skill and time in pursuit of an enlightening, pleasing or inspiring entity or event.” Someone else might protest that he/she too sits at a computer most of the time, but in the interest of business, and isn’t that work? Well, yes. I guess it is. Possibly whatever consumes our time, energy and resources in pursuit of any objective (or payment?) is legitimately work, but then, haven’t we broadened the meaning of the word to the point of . . . well, meaninglessness?

But for now, let’s call what artists do, work.

Probably the bulk of work going into a novel, painting, sculpture or poem happens before the artist picks up a pen, a brush or a chisel. Between the concept and the completed object or event lies technique, mastery of the technicalities on which the medium relies. I think many of us are naive about the amount of work required for mastery—or even competency—in a given field of creativity; I think many of us believe we could paint like Rembrandt or write like Yann Martel if we just put our minds to it; the volume of naive art, of uninspiring writing would attest to the prevalence of aspirations-to-artistry minus the most critical work involved: the painstaking development of technique.

This is not to set artists aside as special. Technique, or lack of it, separates the successful from the mediocre in business, agriculture, education, medicine, etc. in much the same way, except that there aren’t many who would think being a surgeon requires only commitment, for instance.
My focus is writing. My career has revolved around technique: basic grammar, style, structure, etc., always with a view to two objectives, maximum clarity and aesthetic appeal. Broad categories these, and consisting of many parts: active voice vs passive, present tense or past, viewpoint of the narrator, tone, audience . . . and on-and-on. But whether I think back to creative writing classes or to drawing and watercolour courses I’ve been in, I can’t remember a time that the discovery and practice of technique wasn’t exciting and pleasurable. To finally write the perfect sentence, draw a still life with perfect perspective is work, but only because one has to be there, must expend time and have a view of an objective that’s new and, dare I say, lofty.

The completion of a work—a crafted quilt, a bin of clean grain, a dozen jars of canned peas, a vintage car restored—is its own reward, not dependent on pecuniary possibilities. Artistic work is no exception. Artists are some of the poorest, neediest persons among us in the category we call, “making a living.” Not unlike priests, nuns, monks of old, the artist commits to the art, not to what it will buy. Here the scientific definition often comes to apply; the application of a force to move a mass through a distance might well manifest in the moving of a pile of dirty dishes from table to sink in a restaurant while a half-written novel is busily not-writing-itself on a computer at home.

Take the novel, When we all get to Heaven, which I’ve worked on for about five years and may discard. In it are bits that give me satisfaction as finished, pretty-good artistic achievements. Here’s one . . . you be the judge. I might have to work on it some more:

Blanche says nothing. She has a notepad on her knee but she’s clearly doodling, not taking notes. Her left leg is crossed over her right knee, she drops and recovers the back of a red, high-heeled shoe rhythmically as she doodles. I can tell she’s in a mood. The bell at the front door tinkles and she leaves the room, comes back almost immediately: “The furniture’s arrived. Do you want me to tell them to bring it in?”
    “No,” he says. “I want to show them where to set it up.” He stands.
    “I could have done that,” she says.



Wednesday, March 13, 2019

EAT, PRAY, LOVE, CREATE




Before the Beginning
I guess we all have some inkling as to where our strengths lie. But for assessing strengths and weaknesses, we always need to make reference to scale: where do I lie on the patient/impatient continuum, for instance; am I more logical or more intuitive; maybe even, do my strengths lie toward leadership or “followship?” Am I creative, or its opposite?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love did a TED talk recently on the foundations of creativity. That her novel would vault her into what are dizzying heights in literary achievement was as much a surprise to her as to everyone else, she said. She went on to talk about the act of writing fiction (in her case), the frustrations (many) and the triumphs (not so many), but what interested me was her delving into possible sources of that strength or inclination we call “creativity:” where it comes from, how it does or doesn’t ignite the fervour, fuel the energy that leads to great paintings, great sculptures, great poetry, great fiction.

She talked about the loneliness of the creative endeavour, how we place all the credits and debits of a work of art on the artist-person. There was a time in Greece and Rome when creativity was seen as an endowment from an outside source, like a muse or genii inspiring a selected person for a given purpose in, for instance, the sculpting of David or the writing of Virgil’s Aeneid. 

I immediately thought about the prevailing theology surrounding the origins of our Bible, i.e. God as the inspiration energizing certain people for the writing of specific volumes. Given this paradigm, the human with the pen or the chisel or the wheel is a partner in a creative process, a conduit for inspiration originating elsewhere.

Inspiration. Literally “a breathing in.” The choice of that word to connect art with its practitioners seems fitting. If you’re a Christian doing Christian work with fervour and conviction, it’s probable that your conviction and fervour came from “breathing in” the New Testament and the spiritual “air” that permeates your church. The idea fits: wander off to breathe in alien air and that “inspiration” is bound to lead you down a different pathway. I would contend that most artists “breathed in” art well before they picked up their tools of choice. The genii or muse, in that case, being very human; creative inspiration handed down generation to generation, built upon and adapted by each.

The work that creativity requires was probably touched upon less than I’d hoped in Gilbert’s talk. An exercise I’d do with students who were asked to write but hadn’t a clue how to get started was to have them jot down one word selected at random, “grass,” for instance. Next we’d add an adjective, like “green,” or “spikey.” Next, we’d add a verb, “waving,” possibly, and as we built on our start, an image would begin to take on a life of its own. “In Grandpa’s pasture on a summer day, the green, spikey grass would wave to me in the heat of the afternoon, and I would go out to greet it.” It begins with work, even if it’s just the writing of a single word, and then a bit more work, and a bit more and suddenly, even a little work begins to “inspire,” we breathe in the joy of having begun, and with each new inspiration, the air becomes richer, the breathing easier, the energy rises. 

Maybe that’s what makes even the most skeptical of us capable of creative greatness. Maybe that’s all that creativity really is. What do you think? Maybe un-creativity is simply a hesitancy or refusal to write down that first word, pick up that lump of clay, dip that brush into the red ochre and make a tentative but bold mark on the canvas.

Or maybe we’re hooped unless a genii creeps out from under the wallpaper and . . . does what?

P.S. We can hardly talk about work without mention of technique. No good starting a sculpture until you’ve practiced chisel behaviour; better to know a bit about sentence structure and tenses before committing a great story to print. Next post on Readwit will be about that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian



Alexie, Sherman with Forney, Ellen. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little Brown & Company, 2007

A National Book Award Winner and a New York Times Bestseller, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is as funky as its title promises. Illustrated with always-delightful, sometimes sardonic cartoons of Ellen Forney, it traces a year in the life of a Washington State indigenous high school person who chooses to go to a school off-reserve, hence the “Part-time Indian.” Although the reservations in the USA and the reserves in Canada and the people who live in each are not identical by any means, Part-time Indian will resonate with readers north of the border, especially with both indigenous and settler persons living in what we used to call “The Kamsack Situation,” a case of sometimes-troubled interaction between a settler town and an adjacent reserve.

Arnold Spirit (Junior) “is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend, leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed (Book cover blurb).”

Part-time Indian will probably be found in the Juvenile Fiction section in most libraries, and certainly the vocabulary, the straightforward simplicity of the plot suggest a juvenile audience. But in this age of reconsidering residential schools and Truth and Reconciliation in Canada particularly, I would caution that the novel could reinforce stereotypes rather than clarify; it lacks the historic background that’s badly needed to help us understand why an indigenous author in a juvenile fiction would write:

“Gordy gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy, who wrote: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Well I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn’t know Indians. And he didn’t know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze.”

Fictional Arnold has good reason to be bitter, particularly after a succession of tragedies—all involving alcohol—beset his family. It’s a repeated motif: having scarcely enough money for mounting a celebratory Christmas, his father takes it all and goes on a ten day binge. Get drunk, do something stupid or tragic, repent sorrowfully, repeat, repeat.

It was probably in the sixties/seventies that we began to talk about alcoholism as an illness. That “epiphany” probably opened the door to better addiction treatment, but it didn’t simplify much except that the diagnosis was now obvious. Illness implies a cause and an effect, and in the case of the high level of alcoholism on reserves, it’s the grappling with the germ, the virus, the cause that needs consideration. Illness, after all, also cries for remedy; remedy, to be successful, addresses the cause, not just the symptoms. Part-time Indian doesn’t address this; as a work of art—and not a piece of propaganda or medical analysis—it probably shouldn’t. But if it were to lead young readers to a greater understanding that Arnold’s dilemma has precursors, it might well work to contribute to the search for ways to tackle causes.

In Canada, that search is called Truth and Reconciliation.

Part-time Indian introduces readers to the concept of the apple-indian, i.e. “red on the outside, white on the inside.” People who are born into and live their lives in a majority culture can never fully comprehend this aspect of visible-minority life. African-Americans have their oreo cookies; the tensions on both sides of such an “are you in or are you out” reality are central to Part-time Indian, and the Discussion Guide appended to the novel should help in introducing the implications of this vital divide to readers. In Arnold Spirit’s world, pursuing aspirations for achievement rests completely on risking the “traitor” label and its consequences.

Rowdy is the nickname of Arnold’s doppelganger, a childhood friend who remains in school on the reservation and personifies the red exterior of the “apple,” what Arnold might have been. Their love/hate, off/on relationship is beautifully captured in a one-on-one basketball encounter that goes on for hours—without keeping score.

Those of us who spend appreciable amounts of time reading do so for various reasons. If the primary purpose is diversion, amusement, then a novel's possible insights into our personal realities may not even register. For others, the search for “truth” may well include the study of fiction for clues and insights. Writer Tim O’Brien has put it like this: Fiction is the lie [invention, story] that helps us understand the truth.”  

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, scores on both counts; I was diverted, amused, and what insights I felt I already had into the part-time Indian issue were sharpened, given a new slant.

Stars seem inappropriate since their assigning implies a comparison to other novels. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is unique; comparisons are therefor meaningless. Suffice it to say that I read all of it; I don’t stick with published material that lacks quality—in my biased, snooty, English-teacher opinion, that is.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

ARE YOU SURE YOU'VE GOT IT RIGHT?

ARE YOU SURE YOU'VE GOT IT RIGHT?

A review of Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires our Trust more than our “Correct” Beliefs. New York: Harper One (an Imprint of Harper Collins), 2016
“Faith crisis,” “loss of faith,” “beset by doubt.” I'm sure most of us have heard the expressions that signal a divide between what one has been taught as essential belief and what is experienced in life. Something as simple as the horror of losing a daughter to a senseless car accident and attempting to sing along in church the words, “God will take care of you,Through ev'ry day, O’er all the way . . .”  
In The Sin of Certainty, Peter Enns explores the dark chapters in a Christian's life that can be psychologically devastating or, more drastically, can lead to the abandonment of all faith. Enns uses his own experiences as the springboard for arguing that certainty as regards belief is not only dangerous to our trust in God, but is not Biblically mandated. To support the latter, he draws primarily on the agonies of abandonment and doubt evident in the writings of Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes.
Readers can probably be forgiven for some puzzlement over the vocabulary. What's the difference between belief in God and faith in God, for instance? Is it reasonable to make believing in God and trusting in God alternative choices, or are we talking about distinctions without real differences? We protestants, at least, have a history of calling ourselves believers and the packet of what shall be believed if one is a Mennonite, for instance, has been enunciated from time to time in faith confessions with weighty significance. These are the things we collectively and individually hold to be true, what we believe. Not whom or what we trust or put our confidence in, but what we hold to be non-negotiable truth. What we believe.
They're not primarily faith confessions, though, they're belief pronouncements. Enns doesn't write about confessions much: “I'm not against creeds or talking about what I believe. But as it's used in the Bible, believing doesn't focus on what someone believes in, but in whom one places his or her trust. (p.93)” Even belief as we've come to use it can't be legislated (creedified?) since experience renders it fluid. But trust can be nurtured into a solid foundation not dependent on belief or faith, or even the bright or dark experiences of life. Enns' sub-title reads: “Why God Desires Our Trust more than our 'Correct' Beliefs.”
I attend and participate in a Mennonite congregation. In this congregation, beliefs vary, especially on emerging questions like assisted death, abortion, same-gender marriage, etc. On the ancient beliefs regarding the nature of God (person or force), the majority express their understanding of God as person. That's not my concept of the Biblical entity called God, but I've found that although the belief about God's nature varies, the worship and work that follow from either belief can be the same—give or take. It's a clear illustration of the principle that if preserving unity is important—that we all must hang our hats on the same peg to achieve it—it better be Trust in God, not belief in a catalog of prescribed items.
But there is a puzzle there that Enns' book doesn't seem to appreciate fully: how does one trust God if one comes to doubt that God exists? And by the same token, how does one trust fully an entity whose existence one no longer fully believes in? Using my earlier example of untimely family tragedy, how does one sing, “God will take care of you,” after concluding that God does not reach down and prevent vehicles bearing our children from leaving the road and crashing? But Enns is right in pointing out that crises of faith—of believing—are common to everyone, and that the pressure to keep singing, “God will take care of you,” whether you believe it literally, figuratively or not at all, is powerful.

So hold it in and muddle through your life, keeping it all quiet, trying not to think about the lost faith you now mourn, and hoping nobody brings it up. Or, after you have tried to hold it in for a while, it may reach a point where the pressure is too much and explodes into a full-on crisis. We need to talk about this.” (emphasis mine) p-9.

I've experienced personally the repercussions that can follow from admitting in a church setting the loss of even one assumed, hitherto-common belief. The reaction follows less from the loss itself, but more from the exposing of such a loss to the air where it must be acknowledged and talked about, or pointedly denied and its author resented for creating waves with which nobody is prepared to deal. Who hasn't bottled up a personal dilemma out of the fear of this consequence? As Hamlet puts it in Shakespeare's play—on another subject: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of thought . . . (III,i)”
The Sin of Certainty could serve as a discussion starter, perhaps, if a group could be found with the courage to discuss the subject frankly. You'll find plenty of criticism of the “trust over belief” message on line; it's not hard to locate the push-back. Controlling the canon of belief is, after all, the controlling of the membership and denominations are loathe as is any government to give it up.
There are problems with The Sin of Certainty I would have pointed out, were I its editor, beginning with the word Sin in the title. My suggestion might have been, The Hazards of Certainty; my reasoning would have been that even an unwavering trust in God must lean on a kind of certainty, making the title self-defeating. Secondly, I know that to publish hard cover, adult books, a certain number of pages are expected (generally upwards of 200 or so) and The Sin of Certainty has the feel of being padded to reach a number; the argument could have been made well—maybe even better—in, say, a twenty-page essay. Thirdly, the style of writing seeks to be too contemporary, too hep, too informal for the subject at hand. But that may be my bias talking.
Michael Hakmin Lee writing in Christianity Today puts the conundrum of certainty and doubt rather well, in my opinion. I conclude with a portion of his article:

“The reality of intra-Christian theological disagreements has led some to conclude that there is something inherently wrong with the Christian faith itself. On the other hand, I do not think the solution is to downplay the place of confidence or even certainty in faith. While I believe there is commonly within evangelicalism an undercurrent of misplaced optimism in our ability to objectively understand truth in an unfiltered way which needs to be challenged, more than the pursuit of certainty itself, it is what we choose to place our confidence in that is the issue. Let me share a few examples:
  • We should be confident that God exists, but more tentative in our incomplete and inevitably distorted claims of what God is like, which tends to portray God in our culturally informed image.
  • We should have the highest confidence that God will accomplish what God has set out to do in the course of history, just more tentative in how this will unfold.
  • We should be certain that God has spoken to us through the prophets, apostles, and ultimately through Jesus, and that Scripture captures these divine revelations, but we should be more tentative in what we affirm about the
    Bible itself and what we discern its meanings to be.

The key is not the total suspension of confidence or even 
certainty, but rather the judicious placement of 
confidence and trust.”

That—in an eggshell—is what The Sin of Certainty is all about.