Messy & Foolish: Matthew Warner’s Evangelization Manifesto

Messy-Foolish-evangelization“I want a mess. I want trouble in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out into the streets! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, installation, comfortableness, clericalism, being shut in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions exist to go out!” Pope Francis, 2013 World Youth Day

“Pope Francis was right. It’s time to make a mess. It’s time to change the world. And we are just the fools to do it.” Matthew Warner

Matthew Warner’s new book Messy & Foolish: How to Make a Mess, Be a Fool, and Evangelize the World is a manifesto.

It’s a passionate call to arms exhorting Catholics to begin a new era of evangelization and set the world aflame with the Gospel.

How do we do that? First it involves making a mess.

Good Messes

I usually think of a mess as a bad thing.

Usually messes are bad things. But some messes are only temporarily bad because they lead to something good…something new and exciting and fresh that makes your life better.

That’s the kind of mess Matthew Warner is talking about.

The whole “messy & foolish” metaphor made sense to me when he told a story about his wife cleaning out their mudroom. She had taken everything out of the drawers and bins and strewn it everywhere. It was a mess.

But after all the culling, organizing, rearranging, and then replacing, the room never looked better. Sometimes you have to make a mess of the existing structure before great change can take place. That’s Warner’s goal.

At first it seems foolish, a lot of extra work. But in the end, it’s better and faster to first make a mess.

Sometimes we don’t mind messes

Warner makes the point that there are lots of messes we’re happy about…now that we’re on the other side.

No one is upset that Henry Ford ruined the horse and buggy industry with cars. Or, that the Information Age caused an upheaval in how we share information and communicate. That’s because these disruptive messes improved our lives.

Perhaps Jesus caused the greatest disruption in history when he came on the scene 2,000 years ago. God revealed himself and turned the world order upside down. It seems that mess has yet to be completely resolved, which is the focus of this book.

The same is true for all of us. We’re holiness projects in progress…on our way but not quite there. And, in the process, our lives are a mess.

I guess uprooting old sinful habits is an upheaval of a different kind. I know I often feel like a mess in my incompleteness.

Stress in the middle of the mess

My first reaction to this idea was…I would rather not.

I think most of us seek to stay in a comfortable balance, equilibrium that holds the majority of chaos at bay. The mess is stressful. It’s unsafe and unpredictable.

There are plenty of things I’d like to change, but it seems better to have clean transitions. Being in the mess is not pleasant, which is why people avoid it…and why the status quo stays in place even though it’s not working.

As I think about it more, I believe Warner is right. Incremental change is possible, and less stressful, but sooner or later, the structures that hold back progress have to fall…or be dismantled.  There are just some old things that can’t coexist if there’s going to be a new order.

I write a lot about the failings of the current religious education system and how it doesn’t meet the needs of the Church. Another one of my big topics is how parents can enhance that system by taking their place as a vital part of the faith formation process.

While I still believe this is key, I’m also thinking that sooner or later there has to be substantial shift in the system before lasting change can happen.

Quotable Quotes from Messy & Foolish

I’ve been a fan of Matthew Warner’s writing for many years. He honestly knows how to turn a phrase. Here are a couple of gems:

“My parent’s generation left the Church without leaving the pews. And now they wonder why their kids find it silly to stand in the pews of a church they never really understood professing creeds they never really believed.” p. 43

“Instead of lecturing people about going to church on Sunday, let’s inspire them to want to go. Instead of telling them to dress more appropriately for Mass, let’s give them something worth dressing up for. Instead of telling them not the sleep around, let’s fascinate them with the pursuit of purity…”

“Sometimes we act like being orthodox…making sure–with radical zealotry–that everyone else is following the rules. Meanwhile, we embrace the same for ourselves with an enthusiasm more akin to a child eating broccoli.” p. 44

“Saints spread the faith like wildfire because they are willing to catch themselves on fire first.” p. 50

And, here he’s speaking my language regarding raising strong Catholic kids:

“We’re not just equipping them to become faithful cogs in the industrial machine, safely navigating life’s pitfalls. We’re not just helping them to survive this life or even ultimately to ‘succeed.’ We are here to teach our children to see the world differently–to discover a loving God who made us all to live big, beautiful, meaningful lives.” p. 15-16.

A perfect evangelization primer

I highly recommend Messy & Foolish. Matthew Warner has written a concise, readable, and rousing guide filled with practical wisdom.

It’s a perfect primer for understanding what the Catholic Church, and Catholics, must do to move forward.

Messy & Foolish will inspire you to clean out the spiritual clutter and rearrange your life to serve God. Then you too can make a mess, be a fool, and evangelize the world.

Also, check out Matthew’s book site where you can get additional resources, expert interviews, and other useful content.


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  1. The make a mess quote always reminds me of Ronny Cammareri’s line, “Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us!”

    And re messes, that’s pretty much my catechism class. It works.

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