Sunday, December 30, 2012

I pretend to be an adult all day, but when I get home I’m the same person I’ve always been.

We’re in that nebulous time of year known simply as “the holidays.” Aside from the effort I put into reminding people that the season leading up to Christmas is Advent and that December 25 is the first day of Christmas, this doesn’t make too much difference in my day to day life just now. I am house-sitting in Durham, and working my feminist-writer-theologian butt off trying to get ready for my next residency at Queens. When I feel like my brain might explode, and remember that theoretically there’s this thing called “vacation” that people usually take this time of year, I turn to guilty pleasure television. Lately that means old episodes of Sex and the City.

Now you may be thinking, “The Femmonite watches Sex and the City? How can this be?” I got into it while I was in grad school at Duke, in truth, because I was fascinated by its popularity. I wanted to analyze it. But of course, before the first disc was over, I was hooked on the characters and the storylines. “Guilty pleasure” is not even an accurate term for it, at this point. I feel no guilt.

So I watch Sex and the City. I spend the rest of my time reading books most people would only use as doorstops. I’ve got nothing to prove.

In one of the episodes I watched last week the main character Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend Aidan moves in with her. Drama ensues. As she tries to adjust, Carrie dishes about the transition with her girlfriends at their favorite coffee shop. The trouble, she says, is that there are are certain things she likes to do that she would never want a man to see. That, and she just likes a little silence when she gets home.

As she and her friends discuss what Carries calls their “Secret Single Behaviors,” I couldn’t help but wonder (to borrow the phrase Bradshaw uses in every single column she writes for the New York Star) about my own. I realized, though, that while I share Carrie’s desire for silence, the things on my list aren’t things I particularly care about men seeing.

As a new year approaches I’m contemplating age, and the things that do and don’t change with the passage of time. What I’ve noticed is that, after playing adult all day, I like to come home and stop trying.

I wear pajamas with monkeys on them. I eat nachos for dinner. I make chocolate chip cookie dough for the sole purpose of eating it uncooked. And yes, that is my baby blanket on the futon over there.

I’m not sure that this says anything profound about me -- I value comfort, I like nachos and cookie dough, and my blanket has held up well over the years. But every time I find myself doing something like eating cheese and crackers for dinner without even bothering to use a plate, I shake my head and wonder if adulthood is all it’s cracked up to be. Oh, sure, I’m a relatively put-together gal most of the time. A gainfully employed vegetarian yogini and nonprofit board member who keeps her apartment clean and pays her bills on time. But here I am, in graduate school again, living in a studio apartment with a mini fridge. If you come over for dinner you may have to sit on my bed. My twin bed.

Anyway, I don’t have any Secret Single Behaviors, or if I do, they’re only secret by accident. I don’t think I’d mind being caught having nachos for dinner. Who doesn’t like nachos? You can join me if you’d like. I’ll even let you sit on my bed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This week I reviewed Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives, by Connie Jakab, for the Englewood Review of Books. You can read my review here.

Also, in case you missed it, back in October I reviewed Does this Church Make Me Look Fat? by Rhoda Janzen. I have been a fan of Janzen's writing since I read her first work of creative nonfiction, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, and she teaches at my alma mater, Hope College. I hope you'll check out that review, also.

I've been looking at my creative nonfiction shelf (which won't be a single shelf much longer) and contemplating teaching a course on women and memoir in the future. I know who my "must read" authors are, but I want to hear yours. Who are your favorite nonfiction writers? Who would you want to have students read in such a course, and why?

Leave a comment below. And support women writers, because it's a crazy world out there.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Breaking Up With God

I intended to write a review of Sarah Sentilles’ memoir, Breaking Up With God.

That was before I read it.

I admit, though I’d read some of Sentilles’ writing on the internet and liked it a lot I was a little nervous when I cracked the cover of Breaking Up With God. Romantic relationship metaphors for God make me nervous. They remind me too much of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" type songs and books I was surrounded by growing up, the masculine image of God I’ve worked so hard to leave behind. I suspended judgment though, trusting based on Sentilles’ other work (and her Harvard education) that she would employ the relationship metaphor well.

In the prologue, she writes:

I hesitate to call what happened to my faith a breakup. I’m not completely comfortable portraying it as a love affair gone wrong. Figuring it as a romance seemed simultaneously so medieval-mystic, so patriarchal, so oedipal that it makes me cringe. Even worse, calling it a breakup means I have to come out: I have to admit to myself and to the rest of the world the kind of God I loved -- namely, a man. I’m a feminist theologian. Saying out loud I believed in a male God is like a yoga teacher smoking a pack of cigarettes every day between classes behind the studio.

She had me at oedipal. In this paragraph Sentilles gets at the gap between the God I study -- the God I want to believe in -- and the God I can’t quite quit (though I’m working on it). And so, I don’t want to write a review. Instead I want to say thank you. I want to say that in the middle of chapter five I burst into tears and had to put the book down for a while and just weep. I want to say that I am grateful for the way Sentilles weaves theology into her narrative, as both a theologian and an artist. I want to say that the story of her own spiritual and theological development, and her ultimate decision not to become a priest, helped crystallize something I’ve long struggled to put words to in my own life.

I’m not now, nor have I ever been on an "ordination track," yet that has hovered in the background for nearly a decade. People ask me about it often enough that I know I’m not the only one to wonder whether I might be called down that path. I’ve insisted, for a while now, that I’m not -- or at least not right now.

When Sentilles’ describes the end of her journey toward the priesthood -- her breakup -- I found myself in tears because I think that is what I am afraid of. I am afraid that if I go down that path, my fragile relationship with God -- and with the church -- will break. I won’t be able to hold the tensions in balance anymore, I won’t be able to carry on this lover’s quarrel with the church, to continue loving her even though I experience much that breaks my heart and makes me want to leave. To keep with the metaphor, if I were to betrothed myself to the church, I wonder how long it would take before I broke it off completely.

Our stories are very different, but when Sentilles describes the gap between the God she fell in love with and the God she came to know in her studies at Harvard, I think I understand. Or, more accurately perhaps, she helps me understand something about myself. The God I grew up with has long since ceased to be God for me, yet even as I devote much of my life to studying and teaching about God in new ways I know how deeply all of my conceptions of God have been shaped by that image I try to distance myself from now. I try to pray not to that image, but to God, but am never quite sure what I am doing, or where those words I offer up are really going. I simply do not know what I am doing when I pray.

Throughout the book, as Sentilles traces the development of her faith and her theology, she inserts short reflections such as "A Sunday School’s God," or "James Cone’s God," or "Mary Daly’s God." As she wrestles with her own conception of God -- the one she ultimately breaks up with -- Sentilles’ words reminded me of the first time I picked up Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk. I often reference this experience when talking about my faith journey, as well as my theological development, because it was that book that shattered my existing image of God, and gave me the theological tools to begin wondering what God might actually look like, if the image I’d carried in my head for so long was wrong. So many different teachers, preachers, theologians try to tell me who and what God is -- and still, deep down, has the God I pray to really changed? I don’t know.

What I do know is that the presence of women theologians like Sentilles, and stories like this, give me strength for the journey. They tell me that I am not alone. That whether I break it off, or keep pressing forward, I am going to be okay. That there are spaces of safety, of love, where I will always be welcomed.

And maybe that kind of freedom is what enables me to keep this fragile relationship intact. Maybe it is an instance of God breaking in to let me know I am loved even when I struggle to love back. Maybe it's God's way of saying to me that I am simply called to stay.