“I myself can never get enough of other people’s personal essays and memoirs. I think we’re all hungry for stories, hungry to make sense of the world, hungry to know we’re not alone. And we’re all really, really hungry to laugh. Not that every memoir has to be funny, but if you look hard enough at any human life, it’s a mixture of the lowest tragedy and the highest comedy. That’s why when you find a person who can tell his or her story with self-deprecation, insight and humor, you know you’re really onto something.”
That quote from Heather King aptly describes why I enjoy reading other people’s stories. That includes her own spiritual memoir, Redeemed: Stumbling toward God, Sanity, and the Peace that Passes All Understanding.
One reviewer said Redeemed “deserves to be as popular as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.” I’ve only seen the movie version of EPL, but I’m not sure that’s the right comparison. Redeemed is more thematic than chronological. The gory details of her private holocaust as an alcoholic are found in King’s first memoir, Parched. Here she picks up the story as she comes to believe in God and then follow Jesus.
As King begins to grow in her faith, she faces the challenge of dealing with the leftover damage from her former life. Through episodes and events in her life [divorce, cancer, the death of a parent], she chronicles the power of Christ to take a person out of the mud and mire and set them on a rock solid foundation that can weather the harshest storms. But she doesn’t describe her transformation with a sense of personal triumph, rather with a hard-won obedience to the One who knows better than she does. She seeks to take God at His word instead of sliding into a self-help gospel [what John Ortberg calls the Moral Therapeutic Dream**] even when this brings her discomfort. She joins the Catholic church and lest you think it is more socially acceptable these days to be a Catholic Christian than an Evangelical Christian, she tells how she was mocked at a meeting of artists when she identifies herself as a Catholic.
You could think of her as a Catholic Anne Lamott, only she doesn’t come across as snarky.** Although she’s now feasting at her Father’s table, she hasn’t forgotten the pathos of eating eat with the pigs or crawling home for forgiveness. She manages to write about her former lifestyle with what I can best describe as a wise and compassionate humility, holding on to truth and love at the same time.
King deals with her past as a self-described “broken-down alcoholic, drug-addicted, sex-and love-obsessed depressive” just as a priest friend of hers, Father Terry, described how to handle someone who’s difficult:
“…you’ll find that the person is generally trying to force you into one of two positions: into either being a doormat or into assuming an adversarial position—it’s as if the person wants to get you to teach him or her a lesson, to get you to return his or her psychological violence with your own. And he [Father Terry] said there’s a middle way—the way of Christ—which is to stand tall and hold the other person accountable, but with total love: not by accusing, or pointing the finger, or laying out your case, but by refusing to pretend that you don’t see what you see or smell what you smell.”
It’s that attitude that enables her to give a compelling account about why life with the pigs isn’t as fulfilling or rewarding or enjoyable as proponents of secular moral freedom would like us to believe. “How can I abort my own child, then purport to abhor the mind that would plan 9/11? It’s not the same thing, but it is the same principle: I’m more valuable than you; you’re in the way; one of us has to go.”
King takes the same thoughtful stance when she describes her journey to move her attention off of herself and focus instead on the praiseworthy Shepherd of her soul:
What if I quit feeling guilty and ashamed; what if I believed I really had been forgiven? What unimaginable freedom might I enjoy if I ceased thinking of myself as congenitally damaged and defective?…what if my emotional fragility was ‘just a manifestation of my oh-so-inflated ego? What if I’d just been protecting myself: from taking risks, yielding control, having some fun? What if I could just pick up my mat, like the paralytic Jesus cured—and walk?
[On the other hand]I can’t ‘put on the new man’ by an effort of will. I don’t have to try harder, I have to resist less. I have to be willing to try a new way and to let the old way go.
Here is a wise guide worth reading, a prodigal daughter who has returned home and is honestly struggling to learn what it means to be beloved.
**The basic beliefs of Moral Therapeutic Deism
Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, says the primary expression of faith in our day is Moral Therapeutic Deism. This religion is characterized by five beliefs:
“–There is a God who created earth and watches over it
–God wants people to be nice, fair and good (as it taught in the Bible and most other religions)
–The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself
–God doesn’t need to be involved in your life except when there’s a problem that needs Celestial Performance Enhancement
–Good people go to heaven when they die.”