Conversion stories can be an intense brand of memoir. Usually dramatic, crazy things happen and the reader is left shocked and agog at how God can change a life around. But what about the majority of those around us who are good people but have no faith? What would that conversion story look like? I think it would look a lot like Jennifer Fulwiler's.
As most of us who read her blog know, Jennifer was a confirmed atheist since her childhood. Simply the idea of a God existing seemed utterly absurd to her. In searching for happiness and truth Jen comes to discover the reality of God and faith in his Church, a reality so far from what she thought possible in the days of her childhood. It's this intense intellectual pursuit of truth that drives Jennifer and her husband Joe deeper into the ideas, ethics, and dogmas of faith. While asking the questions we all ask about life, death, suffering, joy her journey takes her through acquaintances with other faiths then finally to the realization that Christianity reaches it's fullness in the Catholic Church.
It's this intellectual pursuit that I think most readers will find imminently relatable whether or not we're converts from atheism or cradle Catholics. We all ask the first questions about life: where did we come from, what is our purpose on earth, how do we live with each other, how do we judge goodness? Even those of us who have grown up with faith come to ask these questions ourselves at some point down the line. We may have always believed in God's existence, and experienced his love for us in different ways, but the questions our souls face about our life here on earth and it's meaning is something we discover personally.
Being a primarily intellectual journey into faith, Jennifer's story would at first glance seem like an uninteresting read. But the writing is cohesive, tight, and creates a fast pace of prose that carries you through Jennifer's life and the step by step discovery of faith. Not only does the writing bring you into her very personal story, but it becomes a very emotionally compelling one as well.
Jennifer perfectly lays out how coming to understand faith is built upon reason and logic. Faith, especially in the Catholic Church, is not something based on emotions, or a vague drawing towards a good life, or a blind obedience in the hope of eternal rewards. But as she gradually comes to believe in Jesus and his Church Jennifer is confronted with how challenging his teachings can be. Having to completely change her lifestyle in the process of conversion was no simple, easy, overnight decision and it's this humility and conviction to embrace the inconvenient for the sake of her newfound belief that is so inspiring.
Jennifer and Joe come up against the big teachings of the Church in very real ways. The Church's stance on abortion and birth control being some of the hardest to accept and practice for most of our society is perfectly illustrated throughout the book. It's not easy following the Church when it's inconvenient or difficult. Jennifer doesn't sugarcoat these difficulties but through honesty really brings to light how life changing the Church's teachings regarding Natural Family Planning and birth control are. I wondered as I was reading these passages how those outside the faith would take them, would they think Jennifer was putting herself through needless torture? I completely related to this aspect, and felt a kinship as she described how sacrificial it can be to live a life open to God's will. It requires every aspect of our life, and vast amounts of trust. Not being a convert myself, can I admit that it was refreshing to hear that a convert still deals with the struggles of living out the faith? It's disheartening at times to read a conversion story only to hear that once the person converted everything became easy and life was all rainbows and sunshine all the time!
Jennifer's humour, humility, honesty, and intelligence are everywhere throughout Something Other Than God. She makes you feel a part of her life, while never putting on the airs of some who write their own memoirs. I cried at the beautiful passages where she describes her prayer, how she becomes personally convicted in God and his working in her life. It is stirring to read how someone can come to God through being attentive to their own convictions, but also honestly seeking the truth no matter how inconvenient and life-changing it may be. I'm so happy this beautiful book has come to be, and I hope through many people reading it ripples of grace will appear in unlikely places.
Now onto the drink!
I thought I'd come up with a sangria recipe because when I think about this book, its ideas, and its author I think of a wonderful party of great people having a ball talking about everything under the sun, including scorpions or cosmic occurrences. I was also out of gin and tequila so my options were limited!
Something Other Than God Sangria
1 bottle decent tasting, yet not expensive red wine. (I used a Spanish table wine here.)
1/4 cup Cointreau or Triple Sec
1/4 cup brandy, preferably St. Remy
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1 pint raspberries
1 cup diced pineapple
1 orange, sliced
1 can orange San Pellegrino (All I had was lemon and although it still tasted good, I'd prefer the orange.)
Combine all ingredients, save the San Pellegrino, in a large pitcher and chill for a couple hours. Before serving, add the San Pellegrino, stir, fill wine glasses then, using a slotted spoon, top with plenty of fruit -- because wine-soaked fruit is the best fruit of all!
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