Something Other Than God – A Book Review

Thanks for stopping by to read my first ever book review!  I’m so excited to share my thoughts on this great book.  Enjoy the review… and grab a copy of the book for yourself when you’re done! 🙂 The review does include affiliate links.  Thanks for your support!

You may be familiar with Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog, Conversion Diary.  I adore her self-deprecating sense of humor, and was thrilled when I was finally able to read her memoire, Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It.

The book is the story of Jennifer’s Fulwiler’s journey toward Christ.  Having grown up with a strongly atheist dad and a mother who didn’t discuss religious beliefs, Jennifer followed in her father’s footsteps.  As a tender fifth grader, placed under duress by a rabidly Christian camp counselor, Jennifer assigned a label to herself: atheist.  For the next several years, she endured the pain of being ostracized from her Texas school’s social scene because she hadn’t been “saved” and “born again,” and wouldn’t participate in their Bible studies.

Jennifer learned from her father that “[b]elief in gods and angels and stuff like that is a comfort to some people,” but clearly not for her.  She ascribed to a scientific world view, devoid of any divine hand or direction. The first notch in the armor of this “logical” thinking appeared when Jennifer was only eleven years old, searching for fossils with her dad.  Upon finding an ammonite embedded within the rock wall, Jennifer was faced with the brevity of her human life and the fact that, according to her belief structure, her “fate was no different” than that of the ammonite.  In ten million years, she would not exist, not even in the fossilized form of the ancient mollusk she had found.

After this dose of “reality”, Jennifer was filled with a desolation which was only relieved by fleeting moments of happiness, and Jennifer spent the next decade desperately trying to capture those elusive moments of joy.  It was only after the birth of her first son left her in a deep depression, filled with the sure knowledge that her child’s fate was no different than her own – a finite life on earth, followed by an empty void of nothingness – that Jennifer began to question her views on divinity.  Surely atheism could not explain the love she felt for her husband and son.  “There was more to human life than the atoms that made up our bodies – I was sure of it.”

Initially filled with questions and doubts, Jennifer methodically sought out answers, and shares this process with her readers in this humorous and endearing memoire.  With her husband, Joe, Jennifer traced the roots of Christianity to find where Truth really lies, including an excellent exploration of her last hold-out on joining the Catholic Church, her battle to maintain her pro-choice views.

For those of you familiar with Scott Hahn, I have referred to Something Other Than God as “the new Rome Sweet Home, for “real” people.  While being extremely informative, the book is also entertaining, and a delightful read.  I would recommend this to any non-Christian seeking to understand Christianity, any Christian seeking to understand Catholicism, and any Catholic seeking to better understand their own faith.

The Big Move, Explained

Many people have asked what led to our decision to move to another parish and school, so I’m going to take a moment to try to sum it all up.  First, let me say that we have been very blessed to be a part of our previous school and church community and that it is comprised of an amazing group of people whom I will miss dearly, looking always forward to when I get to come for a visit. (Which will be often, I hope, since we’re only moving twenty minutes away!)

  1. First and foremost, both of my sisters – and their boys – are now going to the “new church and school.”  I love the idea of having all of us in one place.  Not to mention the fact that poor Dude was feeling extremely left out, since his cousins were sharing many things that he couldn’t be a part of.  I felt that, in fairness to him, we needed to at least consider this move. This alone would never have been enough to actually go forward with the change, but it was a vital consideration.
  2. You all know that I’ve been a “bit” involved in the anti-Common Core effort.  I toured the one classical Catholic school in our area last fall, and I fell in love.  Sadly, what would have been a fit for me and some of my children would not have been a fit for Ray and others of my children.  The Dude, in particular, would have been miserable. While our new school does not offer a classical education (and honestly some of its curriculum components are inferior to those we are leaving), its religion education is much more classical than our old school, and the attitude that the children are taught in Mass and in the classroom more closely mimics a classical environment.  And, while there seems to be absolutely no chance of transitioning to a more classical education at our old school, the possibility does appear to exist at the new school.  So, yes, a bit of this is being done on “a hope and a prayer.”
  3. The “attitude” that I mentioned above is a big part… reverence and respect are something that are difficult for a mom to teach without a community to back her up.  If the kids look around and see a bunch of people acting in one way, they wonder why they have to act in a different way.  At our old church, an awful lot of people leave Mass early, talk during communion, and dress like they’re going to a football game.  The children don’t do that during school Mass, of course, but I noticed when visiting the new church that the parishioners at Sunday Mass were dressed in their Sunday best, didn’t leave early, and respected the celebration.  Visiting the school, I saw this general respect and reverence evidenced in the classrooms and in the halls, and I liked that.
  4. I’ve always wanted to live in the area we’ll be moving to.  Shallow?  Maybe. 
    Houses in Woodruff Place (not the exact 'hood we're looking in, but close enough)
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  5. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that there were some errors being taught through the actions of a few, and I felt it best to remove my children from their influence.
  6. The old school doesn’t have any male teachers or administrators, and I’d like my boys to have the influence of great male teachers in their lives.  In addition, the priest at the new school is exceedingly involved in the school, and the kids adore him – an added bonus.
  7. Finally, the altar servers.  Oh! The altar servers!  I can’t describe it.  They’ve got 150 altar servers, and those boys show a reverence and respect (there are those words again!) for the Mass, the Word of God, and the Eucharist that I’ve rarely seen in young men.  They love to serve, and the priest reports that he frequentlyy has boys show up before Mass, unassigned, asking if they can serve.  Every Mass has ten or more servers!  There’s incense, bells, and the Gospel is escorted with candles.  It’s a breeding ground for vocations, I believe, and an environment I hope my sons will choose to participate in.  Whether they are called to the priesthood or not, developing such love for the Mass will serve all of those boys well.

Zdzisław Jasiński Palm Sunday 1891
“Palm Sunday mass” by Zdzisław Jsiński Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The above is an incomplete list and I must emphasize that I LOVE many, many things about our old parish, and am very sad to leave those things behind.  I have been incredibly blessed by our mom’s group, which must be among the most generous, loving, faith-filled group of women known to mankind.  I have also been blessed by the willingness of the priest and parish staff to do anything suggested which would build the faith life of the parish – so long as someone was willing to lead the effort – and there are many, many parishioners leading efforts to do many great things.  Lots of Bible studies, Mary’s Way dinners, retreats, etc.  It is a vibrant faith community.

Every family is different, and the reasons which make the new school and church a better fit for our family apply only to our family.  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the presence at the new school of my sisters and my children’s cousins, plus my search for a less “Common Core Saturated” environment, we never would have even considered this move in the first place.

The grass is always greener on the other side, and I’ve spent enough time with my sisters to know that no school, and no church, is perfect.  Perhaps I’ll be disappointed, but after much prayer and consideration, I felt that this was the best decision for our family.  Fortunately, Ray agreed, for reasons of his own, some of which match mine, others which differ.  Regardless, the papers are signed, expectations are set, and we are moving forward with “The Big Move”!

 

Seven Quick Takes – Catching Up

After such a long hiatus from blogging, I thought I’d better use today’s quick takes for a quick catch up on the happenings in the Engelman family.

— 1 —

I am a terrible mother for not having written about this with huge fanfare, but on April 27th, Bonita received her First Communion.  What a joyful experience.  Bonita has always possessed a strong faith… or, at least, stronger than other children with whom I’m closely acquainted.  And so, this was a special day that she looked forward to with great anticipation.  Not because she got to get dressed up, be the center of attention, and receive lots of presents – though those things were also highly anticipated! – but because she finally got to partake of the Body and Blood of our Lord.  What a blessing to have played a role in that, to have been her catechist from the day she was born, and to look forward to watching her continue to grow in the faith in the years to come.

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— 2 —

The date of Bonita’s First Communion was extremely significant.  It was also the day that Ray and I bought our first home, and, two years later, sold that home, while closing on the next home – in Colorado – that same day.  A year after that – to the day – we got married.  (Cart before horse? Who, me?  Remember, I have not always been a woman of faith!)  One year after that, I started my new job back in Indy.  Five years after that, Bear was baptized, along with my nephew and Godson, Joe.  Another four years and the same day would see my other nephew and Godson, John Paul, receive his First Communion.

Needless to say, the date of our wedding anniversary is one we will not forget.  Sadly, on the actual day, the celebration of said anniversary is generally… forgotten.

— 3 —

 Shortly after this time of celebration, the dog nearly died.  I mean, we’re talking his fur was soaked by my tears of farewell after I texted Ray to come home to help me take him to the vet for that final shot nearly died.  And then he rallied.  And then he took a turn for the worse and we were ready to call it again.  And then he rallied.  And then… well, you get the picture.

It all started when he ate something he shouldn’t have.  That messed his system all up, and he didn’t do what dogs need to “do” for several days.  Even when he did do the do, he still didn’t get better.  We took him to the vet, gave him massive amounts of laxative, which made him violently, horribly ill… (so bad I nearly sat vigil with him all night.  But then I came to my senses, went to bed, and he had to suffer alone.)  After nearly killing him in and of itself, the laxative finally worked, but then he didn’t eat for five days and could hardly be coaxed to walk 30 feet.  I kept him going with sugar water, and he lost an immense amount of weight.  Finally, I gave him an anti-inflammatory tincture, he started eating again, and within a couple of days was back to normal, although he’s still skin and bones, nearly a month later.

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Keyser wanted to be outside while he was at his worst, and even spent many nights outside.

— 4 —

Once the dog came back to life, baseball season was in full swing.  The Dude has decided that it’s his favorite sport, which I find a great relief over his prior devotion to football.  His team this year is very good – for a nice change – and they’ve won most of their games.  He got to pitch one inning and did a great job once he’d warmed up.  Sadly, things have stagnated since then and he’s been stuck on second base or, worse, in the outfield.  His league here is extremely competitive, and numerous sources have led us to believe that an average player in his current league will be the star of his new league.  We’re rather looking forward to next year.

Zach pitching
Zach pitching

— 5 —

And then there was the end of the school year.  Why is it always so crazy?  I’m really not sure, but I can’t begin to say how thrilled I am by the prospect of not having to sort through any school papers for the next two months.

— 6 —

This was an emotional end to the school year, since we will be switching schools next year (and have already, technically, switched churches).  The Dude was fine, since his new school boasts his cousins, who also happen to be among his best friends.  Bear didn’t say much, but comments occasionally that he wants to stay at his old school.  Bonita refused to discuss the impending end to the school year, and hugged the toilet briefly on the morning of the last day, saying that she felt physically ill.  Poor thing. 🙁

— 7 —

With the impending change of schools comes a change of address as well.  First, though, we must get our house ready to sell.  We’ve lived here for nearly eleven years.  We painted most rooms shortly after we moved in, and haven’t touched it since.  The finger prints no longer wipe off, and many projectiles have dented the walls.  We’ve made good progress in the last few months- I’ve trimmed plants outside, painted the kids’ bathroom, touched up the living room, and am about five square feet from finishing the two story entry, upstairs hall, and loft (Hear me roar!).  Ray’s laid wood laminate floors, installed a new kitchen faucet, and pressure washed the deck.  My wonderful electrical engineer dad wrapped up some lose electrical ends from our basement construction.  Still, though, we have a long way to go!  I’m beating this horse as hard as I can, allowing the kids to watch more tv and play more video games than they should, trying to get this puppy on the market so we can enjoy the rest of our summer.  And so that I can write consistently again.  In the meantime, if you don’t hear from me, assume I’m working on the house.  Feel free to stop by and grab a paint brush!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!