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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems - Rhoda Janzen
A spiritual journey from Mennonite (preacher's daughter) to humanist (scholar with PhD) to Pentecostal (with a bit of skepticism). An unlikely journey but nevertheless that's what this book is about. The switch to Pentecostalism coincided with a new romantic relationship and a bout with cancer. The author admits her spiritual transformation was sufficiently bizarre to cause her friends to ask, "Has the cancer affected your frontal lobe?" The cancer probably did concentrate her mind while she pondered her mortality. But it didn't hinder her ability to write creatively about her experiences in an upbeat humorous style while scattering little vignettes of spiritual insight.
"Like most people when they first approach God, all I wanted was help. I was hoping that God would swoop in and do the work for me. He didn't do that. But he did show me how to do the work myself. … I had spent a lifetime blaming other people for my own stuff. The sheer force of this revelation took my breath away. It changed everything. All of a sudden I saw that holding a grudge was a way to avoid confronting my own stuff. And so for the last two years the idea of prayer had been slowly gathering heft. At the time of my diagnosis I saw faith in God not as belief in a real external entity but as a useful cause and effect strategy for managing heartbreak, anxiety and blame."
Comments such as the above show surprising maturity. I'm surprised because the author didn't have this kind of sober self evaluation in her first book, “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress .” The author's writing style is entertaining to read, even when she's describing the most mundane subjects. I'm convinced she could maintain the reader's interest even when describing paint drying.

We may be witnessing the development of a new subgenre of Mennonite memoir. First there was Rhoda Janzen’s first book, “Mennonite in a Little Black Dress ” which made it to #1 on the NY Times bestseller list. Then came Rhonda Langley's reply in the form of her book, “ Mennonite in Blue Jeans: a Lenten Journey ” which didn’t make it to the NY Times list, but was more popular with most Mennonites because the author had remained within the Mennonite community. Now Rhoda Janzen’s second book (the subject of this review) is published telling of her current situation. I've just learned that Rhonda Langley has also published a second memoir, titled The Year of 42, that also updates happenings in the life of her and her family. Link to Rhonda's blog

What’s coming next? I’ve been following Shirley Showalter’s blog for several years. (She’s former president of Goshen College.) She has written her memoir, handed it into the publisher and it’s scheduled to be published in September, 2013. I’m looking forward to reading it.