Monday, May 05, 2014

Book Review: Something Other Than God

I am one of the many bloggers who bought this book.
I bought it at the time I did 
actually so I could get the e-book she wrote on creativity and family;
I read it in just over a 24 hour period. 
I thought I would do a short review here,
as I find myself still thinking about this book.
If you want to read this book know that I am going to discuss some of it
at length and could be viewed as a 'spoiler'. 
It is, as Jennifer F. hopes, a good read.
It is well written and the work she put into it and the editorial 
staff that is at this press is very good.
There was only 1 page towards the beginning of the book
that I at all found slightly forced in the way that a Christian
trying to explain a conversion could be forced.
That's pretty impressive actually, as it is really hard
not to sound 'preachy' when a new convert to Christianity and perhaps to
Of course I can't speak on the latter part, 
but I do know, as someone who converted to the 
Eastern Orthodox church almost 10 years ago,
that the early years of a convert are often full of zeal and 
sometimes can mistakenly turn off others.
It's pretty big to grow up atheist and convert to 
being a Catholic, have a difficult at times life-threatening disease
and thus also difficult pregnancies,
as she writes about.
I really appreciated her writing on contraception and 
the role of women and how 
pro-choice is not honouring to a woman and her body
or helpful for the healing and health of a society.
This part was very well written, thoughtful and needed.
I had met someone in the last months who I wish I would of had
Jennifer F.'s insights on this when conversing with her.
Her narration of her meeting her husband, marrying,
becoming a mother was all very well done;
the book carries well and one wants to read to the end!
There is one (slight) weakness I found in the book,
that is not dealt with in a way that is fully helpful to me as 
an outsider to many of the details of Catholicism.
It's on a very painful and serious subject,
that of people dying outside the Church
and perhaps outside of Christianity.
While it is really good that Jennifer brought it up,
it made me feel or wonder if
Catholic's view of purgatory was more universalist that I suspected.
So much so that I had to ask Mr. Husband about it.
He simply said Catholics view that 
if one was journeying towards God than they can be 
in purgatory and after perhaps a long time of purification
can go to heaven.
But if one was not journeying towards God, 
then hell is where they will be.
Now keep in mind that I know that this is a very hard and difficult topic.
Actually the one Catholic funeral that I was at was
when I was not quite a young adult and
the mother of the woman who died,
towards the end of the very nice sermon about the woman
who died a very sad death....
when the priest mentioned heaven this Mother/Grandmother cried out such a
painful heart wrenching cry; she had to be carried out in the end,
she had totally collapsed.
It was one of the hardest moments of my life 
because I knew it was because the mother did not believe
her daughter who had died tragically was in heaven.
It was so very sad...
I talked to a monastic years later about this woman who died,
and who I had always been impressed with as the most
accepting person I had ever met.
I was told that one never knows what virtue God saw in her broken life
and I have this departed woman on my prayer list,
and keep hoping in the mercy of Christ for her, as I do for myself.
But I still feel like this most difficult topic of 
people dying and purgatory was not fully helpful to me,
as hell as a possible end place was simply not mentioned as
an option, which is why I call this a (slight) weakness Jennifer's book.
Hell is something that Orthodox believe, just like Heaven, as something
that starts here on earth and that everyone has free will
to choose where they want to be and with whom.
It's not an easy topic at all and I firmly believe that no one can judge 
and must NOT judge a person living or dead;
I appreciated Flannery O'Connor
saying in one of her letters in the book
habit of being that a former priest, who was being considered for 
canonization, was dropped after it was learned that he had
judged someone who had died as being in hell.
I am really glad that I can trust in the mercy of God;
I don't know fully how to resolve how one's 
posture should be towards this topic,
other than to say that the Orthodox church, from all I've read,
believes that prayers for the dead help everyone
but that hell is real; heaven is real; the gate is narrow
and we all need to continue to ask the Lord for mercy.
The only other thing that would at all be a weakness is really
not a weakness as much as the nature of the book's time frame.
It ends beautifully with a continued well-written and contained story.
Her writing on her first confession and the impact it had was very well done.
Her bringing things full-circle on many levels and resolving many themes
and narrating the true difference in her and her husband's lives because of 
Christ and the Catholic church is well done and finished well.
The only weakness I find in it is that life is not done yet.
What was not here is simply the next ten years of her life, which 
I would guess are also awakenings to the fact 
that being a Christian is hard. 
That one can struggle with one's own brokenness and feel 
fainthearted at the lack of progress one sees in one's self,
after going to confession for years about certain things.
That there is a lot of mercy of God in life,
deep deep mercy,
but that there is also a lot of struggle and that 
it is really hard to be a Christian and grow as one.
The book ends beautifully and resolves the main issues of the book,
not just Jennifer and her husband Joe's conversion,
but some of the big struggles, like the desperation she felt and 
the haunted-by-poverty that Joe felt.
This was all very good and very well written.
But the fact that conversion to Christ is a lifelong struggle,
because of the book's structure and narration of the resolution of things,
simply is not mentioned.  
So, ending while the ending is beautiful it wraps things up
a bit neater than I know life to be.
I think this is why I like (and re-read) books by Kathleen Norris
she deals with the issues that so many of us struggle with,
like acedia for instance. 
But to be fair, this book is about why and how she 
became a Christian, not how she stays a Christian and struggles.
So all in all, 
Jennifer's book was a good read, it was not, to me anyway,
overtly preachy, it narrated her journey and story well.
It was really helpful in her writing about women, choice, 
contraception and how she struggled with Christianity and
in the end became one herself.
She clearly helps and influences many people and is clearly
loved and appreciated by many, and I can see why.


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I will look out for this book - thank you for the informative review!

October Rose said...

The Kathleen Norris book on acedia has been on my to-read list for a while, but I'd mostly forgotten about it! I think I should make an effort to read it sooner rather than later as I recall from the description it sounds like it would be a very helpful book!

Reinventing Mother said...

I am currently reading Jennifer's book. Having red her blog for a while, I am pretty aware of now the book is going to go.
Hell is an issue that I think many stay away from. I am a Catholic convert as well and find that we do not hear this as much as we should from the pulpit.
But the teaching of the Church is that we all have free will.... Choice. And up until the moment of death we can exercise that choice. Believe in the mercy of God or not. Heaven or Hell. It is our choice. God has extended the hand of grace and mercy to us and if we do not accept then He'll is the destination.

It is why I feel it so important to be that light to the world. Evangelization ... being salt and light to bring souls to Christ.

Christie R said...

Good review! I'm glad you don't shy away from pointing out weaknesses, and it is a little curious to have a conversion story written and published so soon after (comparatively) the conversion. Thing tying up neatly that we, as Christians, know that it takes years, lifetimes, to resolve--and that we will always be working toward until the day we die. But I think her main audience is not so much the poetic, aesthetic people like us, who are ready and willing to take on the darkness as well as the light, for God is there as well.

Catholics do believe in hell, and I think not mentioning it could be a weakness. But keeping in mind her audience, as one coming from no belief to an abundance of belief, and aiming the book toward the same, hell may be one of those topics that is best to mention as one becomes more invested, so that he or she is not scared away. But we know that the saints had visions of people in hell, and I believe Julian of Norwich forfeited canonization by her controversial insinuation that there will be no one in Hell. So Catholics believe as Orthodox do, that Hell is a reality, and just because we don't like it, doesn't mean it isn't real.