Wednesday, May 7, 2014

WWRW: Something Other Than God

(Just FYI... I installed Intense Debate in the combox so, if there are any glitches, I apologize and I'll try to sort them out.)

We've been sick with a nasty little cold. It's taking everyone down two at a time. The Professor and I came down with it when Jennifer Fulwiler's book came out on Kindle so I basically spent all day in bed reading it. It was kind of an amazing experience. The book, not the cold.

 Most of what I thought, Jessie/Jessica already pointed out. #cradlecatholicproblems…hah! Jealousy rears it's ugly head here too when I listen to the big things God has done in someone else's life and it obscures my vision so I can't see the things He's done for me. Most Cradle Catholics I know have had big moments (for them) when things "clicked" and they took up their faith as their own, not just something handed to them. Some of them even call themselves "reverts" (as opposed to "converts"). Those moments are big moments, they just don't garner the same kind of attention even from ourselves and so we tend to forget about them… it's like everyone thinks of Lourdes and Fatima when they think of Marian apparitions but Our Lady of Knock is just as much The Blessed Virgin Mary. She didn't say anything, but she was still there. (OK… if that only made sense to me, I'm going to blame it on the gunk still in my head).

I've always felt like the Prodigal Son's older brother gets a bad rap. Maybe that's just because I identify with him more than the other son. That's embarrassing to admit, but true. A lot of Cradle Catholics identify with him. When I start wanting those big moments in my life, when I want to feel that cloak around my shoulders and that ring on my finger and have the fatted calf slaughtered for me, I usually play this song. (Hmmm... embedding wouldn't work so I just linked.) It helps to put things in perspective.

My husband has mentioned before that he thinks of Cradle Catholics like babies learning to walk. God is there, just like the perfect father He is, letting us hold onto his fingers as soon as we start to pull up, picking us up when we fall down, encouraging us until we reach the point that we can cruise on our own. Is He still there when we no longer feel Him? Of course He is. Maybe He doesn't think we need as much help now because we have been cruising on our own for quite a while. You wouldn't think to double check your teenager's walking abilities and ask if they need your help, would you? Well, maybe if they were exceptionally clumsy. We can't really remember when He was right there, helping us learn, it was so long ago but He was and still is there. All the time. Whether we feel Him or not.
I've been reading Jennifer's blog now for a while (and I couldn't agree with Jessica more about being confused about her name) but even having read her story as it unfolded, there is an insight to her in the book that you just don't get from her blog. (Just like I thought when reading her E-book.) Maybe it was the time that she took crafting this memoir, the time she took to reflect on it. Jennifer has mentioned often how many manuscripts were scrapped. I have to be honest and say that given all the difficulties Jennifer blogged about, I was worried that it would read like some piece of tough meat that you had to chew your way through. Instead, all of the advice and years of prayer and work tenderized this juicy tale. It flowed beautifully! I couldn't believe that this manuscript hadn't just breezed onto the page effortlessly. Nothing felt out of place or disjointed; everything made sense. And just like Cari's story, it gave you plenty of deep personal insight, but not so much information that it made you feel uncomfortable. (I'm not a fan of TMI memoirs.)

And while there is much to learn about Jennifer's personal mental workings (the C.S. Lewis/ Tupac connection is one that everyone is talking about) I found her relationships with her family to be some of the most interesting parts. Her humor in this book is subtle and catches you off guard unlike the hyperbole she tends to employ on her blog.
For years, I’d strongly suspected that other people’s belief in God was preventing me from climbing the elementary school social ladder. When my dad’s latest construction project management job took us to Dallas, just before I entered third grade, I’d been certain that this was the place where I would finally take my rightful place as the queen of popularity.
Even though I grew up as a Cradle Catholic, there were a few moments that I could relate to on a more personal level. The moment her thoughts first turned to death and human mortality. The affection she has for her grandparents and her connection with the history of her family. Her fondness for Mexican food (but not rap music… sorry. I just can't do rap. The Lewis/Tupac connection only made me want to read more Lewis, not listen to some Tupac).

But there were a few moments that absolutely blew me away… her Dad's letter, her mom's chapel veil, her baptismal candle, the thoughts about Lazarus' disappointment. One moment in particular that all of us could stand to ponder...
When I imagined that same scene with me shouting, “I can’t imagine why I haven’t had any experiences of the source of all goodness!” the problem became clearer. To get my spiritual “mirror” in the right condition, per Lewis’ advice, I had to seek goodness. I had to try to be good. And, as I had just learned in that horrible, airless room, doing whatever feels nice and labeling yourself “good” doesn’t cut it. To be truly good, you have to shut down the infinite human capacity to rationalize away evil. {emphasis mine}
Convicted. Shamed. Wow. Jennifer's response was to turn to the Catechism. As she put it "I’d come to see that the only way for people to shut down the power of rationalization is to adhere to an external moral code, one that they don’t have the power to change on the fly when it gets inconvenient." The challenge here is also for someone who has already embraced the moral code of the Church... because we all do it! Rationalize away evil. Rationalize away every uncomfortable thing. Excuse ourselves. Give ourselves every way out or rationalize ourselves into a corner so that we only have one course of action and of course, it's the course of action that we are most comfortable with. (Adding in here... of course, as a Cradle Catholic sometimes our challenge is making sure that we don't run so far in the other direction of scrupulosity. Isn't it such a delicate balance?)

So, my honest opinion (and I always give my honest opinion no matter who wrote the book, I promise) is that this is a story that will affect many people on different levels. I hope some non-believers take it up and rise to the challenge that Jennifer and Joe battled to really think about the bigger questions in life. I hope some believers see it as a means to grow stronger in their faith. Some of the questions that Jennifer wrestled with are questions that we could all stand to ponder.


  1. Wow. You must have underlined all the important parts I need to re-read. Your review is spot on, and I love your husband's commentary on God and cradle Catholics. So true. Clearly, that's something I need to reflect on more.

  2. I think I'm the only Catholic blogger who hasn't read it yet. And it's been on my Kindle a full week! I think I need to abandon my rules about not starting another book until I finish one. Or fake sick on Mother's Day and stay in bed! Good trick ;-)

  3. From Catherine (who commented through Intense Debate and then got deleted...sorry!):

    Great review! I also found her relationships with her family to be the most moving parts of the book. She treated each one of them with great respect, although their paths are different from hers.

  4. Looking forward to reading this. It's on my desk, but I am already juggling 3 books, so I better wait until I finish at least one! Thanks for the review!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts and yourself!