This is Rhoda Janzen’s sequel to her first memoir, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, and continues the story of the author’s return to faith (first to the Mennonite church of her childhood, then to a Pentecostal church when she begins dating and eventually marries a born-again charismatic.) This story also includes a harrowing bout with breast cancer, about which Janzen said less than I wanted to know. Her trademark style is light, funny and breezy, even when discussing very serious issues — usually this worked for me, but there were times when I wanted a little more depth.
A recurring theme in this book is the need to lay aside intellectual analysis to accept things on faith — whether that be accepting a relationship with a man you love who seems like he’s your polar opposite in every way, accepting that prayer and the laying-on of hands might actually bring healing, or accepting that abstaining from sex before marriage could make your relationship stronger. I appreciated seeing issues of faith — especially conservative Christian faith — being treated with such respect in a mainstream memoir (i.e. not one published by a Christian publisher or targeted at a Christian readership). However, one of the places I wished Janzen would “go deeper” was in exploring the limitations of this attitude. Like Janzen (who is a university English professor) I struggle a lot with reconciling faith and intellect. When she confronts the issue of joining a church that takes Paul’s words about not allowing women to teach or hold authority literally, Janzen’s husband suggests that maybe she is being called to learn rather than teach at this point in her life, and she latches on to that as a wonderful example of how she needs to stop analyzing everything and take things on faith. I couldn’t help wanting to yell at her: “You’re effectively marrying not just this man but his church,” (she gets re-baptized in her husband’s Pentecostal church) “–is this always going to be a good enough answer for you? Accepting things on faith doesn’t mean shutting down your intellect, after all!” I’m sure Rhoda Janzen’s very well aware of that, but it was one of many places in the book where I found her answers a little too easy.
Still, this was an entertaining and in some places thought-provoking memoir, and as I said, I’m very glad to see a story like this on mainstream bookstore shelves rather than confined to the Christian bookstore ghetto.