Finding Voice: A Review of The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

“Yeah, I guess I’ve never gotten into Sue Monk Kidd’s books because nobody gets murdered in them,” my friend explained when I was talking with her about The Book of Longings. “Well,” I responded, “spoiler alert: someone does get murdered in this one. Jesus.”

Reading Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel alongside non-canonical scripture

The Book of Longings is Kidd’s long-awaited new novel. I heard about it on NPR and listened to other clergy talk about it excitedly. I was not interested, but between the extra reading I was doing to survive the pandemic and my desire to always be on the lookout for church-related summer reading book club books, I picked it up. Though I’m not a big murder mystery reader, my friend’s desire for something fast paced and exciting was exactly why I was not interested in the book. Frankly, Jesus fiction is boring. As a pastor and creative writer, I have tried to weave together my work subject matter and my love for fiction and it never works. Jesus in my work and others I’ve read is always too nice. A serene, ethereal bore with a great smile. I even thought Christopher Moore’s Jesus in Lamb is a little bland, and Moore did not care about offending Christians!

Kidd does better than most in writing Jesus, perhaps because of her desire to focus on Jesus’ humanity. Kidd’s Jesus is sensual, thoughtful, frustrated, empathetic. Though she doesn’t depict sex scenes, Jesus makes love to his wife. We see scenes where he gets angry, where he questions, where he works long hard days. However, Kidd still writes him as a little too much of a good guy like in other Jesus fiction: he looms charismatically for his wife in parts of the story where it would seem more real for there to be a rift, like when he leaves her to follow John the Immerser. Toward the end of the book, his wife’s devotion to him seems to make less sense to me, as though Kidd was unconsciously relying on us to just think of Jesus as always wonderful instead of showing us what of him was so lodged in his wife’s heart even when they were separated.

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Board Books: What We’re Reading

BeachReadPastors, by nature of their calling, are word-lovers. We are story-tellers, readers, and writers. We spend time with our noses buried books, but it’s a great mistake to think that we only read the Bible or books about church and religion.

Fidelia’s Sisters asked the current members of the Young Clergy Woman Project’s board what they’ve been reading this summer. There’s got to be something in this list that will fit your needs for the last few weeks of August, whether you need to study up on church leadership before the fall program year kicks in, or are blessed with the need for one more beach read.

Caroline East Berardi: I’ve been re-reading the Ender Wiggin series, which holds a special place in my heart. I’ve also  just finished the book Crazy, by Pete Earley, his family’s experience of the criminalizing of the mentally ill.

Diana Carroll: I’m reading the first book from our Chalice Press imprint: Bless Her Heart, by Ashley-Anne Masters and Stacy Smith. It’s been out since 2011, but I hadn’t picked up a copy until this year’s conference. I highly recommend it for any young clergy woman (and anyone trying to understand us and our lives better). The stories and reflections are a powerful reminder that we are not alone. It would make a great ordination gift, too!

Christine Davies:  I’m reading The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison. The author served as a medical actor and wrote about those experiences and how they crossed with her own medical issues. It’s a take on how we demonstrate and experience empathy, which, as a CPE nut, I’m always interested in learning about.

Kelsey Grissom: I’m reading Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier, about an ancient languages professor uprooting his settled life to track down a long-dead author. The jury’s still out on this one.

Jessica Harren: I’m in the middle of When Not to Build: An Architect’s Unconventional Wisdom for the Growing Church, by Ray Bowman, Eddy Hall, and Charles Arn.  This book has been very helpful in preventing my church from taking out too much debt, but using our space well.

Molly Field James:  I just finished Crazy Christians, a collection of sermons by Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry. He is a dynamic preacher (more Baptist than Episcopalian in style) whose style comes through even in the written text. It is inspiring to read the sermons of someone whose style is so different than mine and who is excited about the future of the church.

Meg Jenista: I just finished Slow Church, by Christopher Smith and John Pattison, which riffs off the Slow Food movement to present an alternative to the Church Industrial Complex. Slow Churches are aware of their location, organically cultivated, hospitable, patient and spend *a lot* of time gathered at table, sharing life and food together.

Julie Jensen: I loved my college literature class called Americans in Paris in the 1920s. It was all about Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, and the artists who were in France with them. I am currently reading The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, a fictionalized account of the experiences of Hadley Hemingway, and I’m really enjoying it.

Brenda Lovick: I’m (still) reading One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, which is really good. I’m pretty sure it’s a Zondervan book, and is a similar genre to Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey.

Amy Loving: I just finished reading Iscariot, by Tosca Lee. It is a fascinating novel that presents Judas as a complex, passionate character, forcing the reader to re-evaluate the assumptions that so many of us make about this disciple. It would make a great book for any book club or study group.

Sarah Moore: I’m reading Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search For Identity, by Andrew Solomon. He explores how children and parents process the experience of a child being very different from their parents in such a way that it impacts on children and parents having a different horizontal identity to their parents, e.g. children who are Deaf, have Downs Syndrome or Autism. The author is a gay man who puts homosexual identity into this mix, too. The book examines how wider society has a tendency to medicalize these experiences and see them as something to be cured rather than being integral who someone is.

Lesley Ratcliff: I’m reading God’s Long Summer, by Charles Marsh. This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1964, which was the peak of turmoil in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. We have a book group reading it at church.

Erica Schemper: I had so much fun watching the World Cup and cheering for the Netherlands that I’m reading a book called Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer, by David Winner. I’m not a huge sports fan, and I know next to nothing about soccer, but this book is fascinating. Winner picks apart the Dutch style of play called “Total Football” and explains it in the context of Dutch post-war history, culture, and art. I love peeking into a culture and topic that I know almost nothing about…it’s a like a vacation for my mind!

Kelly Shriver: For fun, I’ve really enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s mystery novels, Cuckoo’s Calling and  The Silkworm, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.  They’ve reminded me how much I enjoy a thoughtful, flawed detective, and a twisty story. With that reminder, I’ve  just reread my all-time favorite, The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin, another excellent mystery. It’s a bit campy, totally doesn’t hold up in a world of modern technology, and wonderful.