Thursday, May 08, 2014

Book Review: Something Other Than God

So I'm a week late. I had to sneak a copy off the bookstore "New Release" table after hours to read Jennifer Fulwiler's long-awaited spiritual autobiography, "Something Other Than God." Here you go!

Some years ago, I discovered the “mommy blog” genre of online writing. The Catholic mommy bloggers especially offered me a real-life picture of faith in a 21st century family setting. I began to notice how many of these women whose writing I really admired were not only living the Catholic faith, but still discovering it: They were converts. One of the most outstanding of these writers was Jennifer Fulwiler, of Brought up an only child, she is raising more children than she had ever seen in one place growing up. Educated to be a convinced and assured atheist, she thought she had all the answers, except for that one nagging issue: Why does life have to be so beautiful—when it is so meaningless?

In Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2014) Fulwiler traces the unlikely path of Providence from her childhood experiences of alienation from anything that might bear the name “Christian” to her realization that the Catholic baptism she had received as an infant (for the sake of the grandparents) had actually accomplished something very real in her life.

On the surface, Fulwiler would not have seemed destined for Catholic Mom of the Year the year before her conversion began in earnest: She had an exciting job in computers, was married to a genial overachiever, enjoyed friends, music and parties (lots of those), and had every reason to believe that her husband's goal of his “first million” was very much within reach. It was the birth of a son that cemented in her the overflowing conviction that life and joy and love were not merely chemical reactions in a material brain: they were evidence that needed to be taken into consideration.

While Something Other Than God is the story of a serious search for the meaning of life, you will find yourself laughing out loud over some of the episodes. (Fulwiler is a worthy heir to Erma Bombeck in that regard.) She has an eye for the incongruous detail that is the secret of humor writing, and a heart for the quirky poignancy of human life. (How many people do you know are consoled by the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory because it means they can pray for the soul of a violent rapper who met a violent end?)

Last year the RCIA director of a cathedral parish in the midwest commented that more and more of the people coming into the Catholic Church seem to be agnostics who began to doubt their unbelief. Look around you: these are your neighbors, co-workers, business associates. I would highly recommend Fulwiler's memoir to people who are beginning to ask their Catholic neighbors questions about faith in God, belief in Jesus, the role of the Pope and where the Bible came from, and to people like the pre-conversion Jennifer who have a perfect life, but can't help asking why life isn't perfect. I might even leave it in the office bathroom so people who are not ready to “come out” in terms of their interest in religion can read it in private, the way Fulwiler read her books about Jesus.

Here's a post about my interview with Jennifer during the 2012 Catholic New Media Conference in her home state. Download to audio file to listen to the interview with Fulwiler.

You might also enjoy Catholic by Choice: Why I Embraced the Faith, Joined the Church, and Embarked on the Adventure of a Lifetime (Loyola Press, Chicago, 2014) by Richard Cole, an Austinite (and a wordsmith) like Fulwiler.

No comments: