Tag Archives: book review

Taking The Pulpit

When I was in my teens, a minor revolution occurred in our small town when our Methodist Church got a female minister. Her name was Judy, and she was the first minister I would know by her first name, separate from the words Reverend and a last name. I, being an angry feminist from my earliest years, was enthusiastic about the change. It was about time a woman came in and showed everyone that we were just as capable getting this job done as the men. Judy surprised me by being earthy and well, a little weird. She laughed a lot and comported herself  differently than the ministers I’d been used to, who had always seemed to be kind of big on the issue of dignity. She also had some kind of unique ideas about worship and God. If I found Judy to be a little unconventional, I can’t even imagine the uproar she caused among the adult congregation, although I did hear a few conversations between my parents on the subject. I don’t remember what they said, just that I was surprised that “the preacher” was a topic. Like most Methodist pastors of that time and place, Judy was with our church for a few years, then transferred elsewhere. Change is hard on a congregation, and maybe the frequent changes of leadership is part of what makes them hold so tightly to a certain way of doing things as a way to cement identity.

Through Goodreads, I became interested in a book entitled Sea Level, by Nancy Kilgore. Kilgore writes of a woman, Brigid, taking the pulpit of a Methodist church in a small Virginia coastal community. It is her first appointment as a pastor and their first experience with a woman in the role. What ensues is the good, the bad and the ugly on every level imaginable. Kilgore explores the sometimes hair-raising politics and cultural attitudes from the perspectives of various members of the congregation and the minister and her family. There is also a plotline involving  Mary, an artist more attuned to ideas of the Goddess, born and raised in the community but long ago fled to New York City, who returns to connect with her roots and to try to integrate them with her free-thinking and independent way of life. Mary and Brigid become friends and allies in a place where many demand both of them sit down and shut up. There are some differences, but I strongly suspect that Judy would have recognized Sea Level as a variation of her story of church leadership, ostracism, changing times and hopefully, support in my hometown. One of the biggest lessons I take from Sea Level is that being right and feeling certain don’t always come as a package.  In the book, as in life, there are no tidy endings, but there is a sense of assurance that persistence pays off, that living right and trying hard will, most of the time, see you through.

See Goodreads for my full review of Sea Level. Sea Level is available from Amazon.com or from your local bookstore (may need to order it,) and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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The Story Awaits

It is 4:18 a.m. Forty-five minutes ago my cat, bored and perhaps a bit underfed, woke me with a leap and a brrrowp! Demanding food and attention, he instead received exile to the basement. Adrenaline from the ambush and thirst kept me up while my mind slowly churned into wakefulness, despite my better sense that cried out “No! Stop it! Sleep now, think later!” Too late, in so many ways. Dark-of-night true confession: my writing is bugging me. My unfinished article for this month judges me from my desktop. The grim grind of begging to get Hollywood University noticed, of laying it out there for rejection is almost harder than I can bear, though with only ten queries down I’ve barely started. My unfinished novel, on the other hand, is past the charming precociousness of youth and is entering awkward adolescence. I want to nurture it to maturity and beauty but it just seems to be glaring at me with that “you don’t get me,” kind of attitude. I think of the grim grind and wonder, what is the point? Maybe the naysayer, the practical one who points out for my own good that my manuscripts will probably never be published is right. I keep telling myself that naysayer is speaking of statistical probability, and not making editorial judgments, but it is impossible to shrug off the suspicion that I suck. Especially at this time of the morning.

But here’s the thing. Stories are powerful. I remember that when I read books like Imaginings of Sand by André Brink. I admit, I had trouble with it at the beginning. Firstly it is an intensely feminine story written by a man, and at the start I was annoyed by how masculine the main character, Kristien Müller, seemed to be. By masculine I mean lacking in emotional intimacy and unconcerned about the feelings of others. Sue me. As the story goes on it becomes clear that these qualities are important facets of Kristien, who returns to South Africa after a self-imposed exile to attend to her dying grandmother, the one person with whom she seems connected. While the country around them is heating up for the first post-apartheid elections, Ouma (grandmother) fills Kristien with shocking, rambling legends of family “herstory.” (I hate that word, but is accurate-tales of the unremembered women ancestors, who are carried forward both in the stories and in the bodies of Ouma, Kristien, and her sister Anna.) There are dichotomies here: male and female, black and white, but the divisions break down as the individuals are revealed in their complexities. Brink strings together flawed characters, the history and culture of South Africa, and gender and racial justice, and if that sounds dry to you, I ask you to trust me, it is far from that. The writing is vivid, the tension builds palpably and most importantly, perceptions of reality and status quo are challenged. After finishing this book today, I am looking at my own past and present with new eyes, and that alters my vision of the future. Like I said, stories are powerful.

So I will carry on. Morning approaches, though the October dawn is still a ways off. Today is another opportunity to get patient Hollywood University into the right hands, to finish my article and to nudge Sleepers a few steps closer to completion. The cat, the naysayer, and the grim grind are all only parts of the whole; the story itself is much bigger and it awaits.