Sometimes when I finish reading a book the ideas in it haunt me — the narrator’s voice echoes inside my head. I wish that I hadn’t finished it because it has been such good company and everything else I have to read doesn’t feel as satisfying. I have just had that experience on finishing this book.
So why my enthusiasm? It’s not the title — although the by-line, ‘An English professor’s journey into Christian faith’, appeals to me. It’s not its slick presentation or that it has a clear target audience — in fact I’m not sure who the target audience is because it ranges across and through so many themes. The title actually describes it well — ‘secret thoughts’ — and the reader is taken into the mind of a perceptive and articulate woman who loves God, but her journey has been anything but conventional.
The book opens with this declaration: ‘When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest Women’s Studies Departments in the nation’.
She considered Christians bad thinkers and anti-intellectual, but they also scared her: ‘Here is one of the deepest ways Christians scared me: the lesbian community was home and home felt safe and secure; the people that I knew best and cared about were in that community; and finally, the lesbian community was accepting and welcoming while the Christian community appeared (and too often is) exclusive, judgmental, scornful, and afraid of diversity’.
Like a train wreck
This book shows how God brought her to himself through the loving and gentle friendship of a pastor and her devouring of the Bible. It was not an easy transition; she refers to her conversion like experiencing a train wreck, as she moved from radical feminism to being married to a pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian Church (unaccompanied psalm singing). Yet this book is so much more than the story of her conversion, albeit a powerful witness to the way God transforms the most unexpected people. It looks at issues of sexuality and witness to the gay community, but it is not a book primarily about the gay issue, although it is worth reading for that alone.
This book shows a person working out their theology having come to church as a total outsider for whom everything must be questioned and grappled with. It looks at what it means to be part of a church, relationships in church, the value of worship, hospitality, and serving others. She examines the principles of Christian marriage, and is a passionate advocate of adoption, fostering and home-schooling. She discusses Bible reading, hermeneutics, worldviews and education. Her perceptions are sharp, witty and thought provoking, I don’t agree with all of her conclusions (if I did I would be in a psalm-singing church), but she makes poignant and pertinent observations.
‘I loved (and love) the Bible, gorging on huge chunks at a time. But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich context, were just sitting there on placards, naked and rude.’
‘Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralise and not to dialogue.’
‘I came to believe that my job was not to critique and “receive” a sermon, but to dig into it, to seize its power, to participate with its message, and to steal its fruit.’
‘We in the church tend to be more fearful of the [perceived] sin in the world than of the sin in our own heart. Why is that?’
Finding a friend
I could quote on and on. Reading this book felt like finding a friend. Like all good friends there is room for disagreement, but, like the best friends we have, there is much to learn. Rosaria defies easy categorisation but I believe this book, despite its American context, has much to teach us — and not least how to share the gospel with our gay friends.
Karen Soole, Chair of The Northern Women’s Convention;
blogs at http://karensdesk.co.uk
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)