Review: Something Other Than God, by Jennifer Fulwiler

Review: Something Other Than God, by Jennifer Fulwiler May 13, 2014

This review is for the handful of you out there who aren’t already aware of Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book, Something Other Than God, which is her conversion story: how, after having been raised an atheist, her relentless pursuit of something that would give meaning to her life, something that made sense, led her into the Catholic Church. The title comes from a well-known quote by C.S. Lewis, and is a description of her life before she met Christ:

All that we call human history…[is] the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

Except that while it is a terrible story for man, because at any given time there are so many people looking in the wrong places, it isn’t a terrible story of individuals—because God wants nothing more than to lead us to Him. And so it was for Jen Fulwiler.

Making up the sole deficit in the present book.

Jane and I first started reading Jen’s blog in the long long ago, in the days before feed readers when dinosaurs walked the earth, when it was called “Et Tu” and its author was known simply as “Jen”. We’d say, “Hey, did you read ‘Et Tu’ Jen’s latest post?” And lo, there were scorpions and it was very good.

And then Jen went public, and changed her blog’s name to Conversion Diary (which Jane persists in calling “Conversionary Diary”) and it remained good.

And then Jen started working on her book, and hove us all into the wilderness. It was a slow erosion at first, just a missed post here and there, but the trend was clear. And now, six years later, we’ve become accustomed to just seven little quick takes every week, all because of the durned book!

Which book is now available for you to read, which means, I hope, that there will be more blogging. (Are you listening to me, Jen? Blogging!) I greatly fear, however, that as there are no scorpions in this book another book will soon be put in train, and we shall have to continue wandering in the wilderness.

But I digress.

When our copy of Something Other Than God arrived in the mail, I let Jane read it first; that took her a couple of days, and then I sat down and read it straight through over one long evening. It’s an amazing story. Jen doesn’t use the word “socialite”, but in a way that’s what she was at one point. She and her husband Joe lived in a highrise in Austin right next to the state capital building, rubbing shoulders with Texas law makers and giving parties that were so popular that folks wrote to ask for invitations. Joe was on the fast track to being a real mover and shaker.

But the reasons for it were hollow, at least in Jen’s case. She tells the story of going to her grandparent’s place in the country as a young girl, and digging an ammonite fossil out of a bank by a stream. It was an exciting moment, and yet contemplating the fossil she was filled with existential despair. The ammonite had lived its day, and all that was left was this fossil. Her life would be the same: here today, gone tomorrow, fossilization if she was lucky, oblivion if not. Her chances for fossilization were not a comfort. Her description of that moment is chilling, and I’m glad I’ve never felt the same way.

Though she searched, she found nothing that would override that sense of dread and meaninglessness except an endless round of fun and excitement. By living in the moment, and keeping herself very busy, she could for a time forget the pointlessness of it all.

And this lasted until after her marriage with Joe. Those parties, and the fine dinners, and the wine tastings, they were all just ways of staving off despair.

And then something happened, and their lives took an abrupt left turn. The conversion process (a lengthy one, to be sure) had begun. You can read about that yourself.

I think my favorite moment in the book is when Jen and Joe visit a Catholic Church for mass for the first time. It was all very strange, and they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. But Joe was prepared. He’d been reading the Fathers of the Church, and had brought along printouts of texts by Justin Martyr and Hippolytus that described the worship of the Early Church. And as the mass proceeded, he followed along, and pointed out to Jen how the mass they were seeing and hearing was the same as that known to Justin Martyr and Hippolytus, right down to the responses. I had to laugh, both at the image of them huddling over their printouts and because Justin Martyr was instrumental in my return to the Church. The only difference was that I didn’t need to bring Justin to mass with me to compare; I was raised Catholic, and when I read him my memories of going to mass from my childhood through my mid-twenties were quite sufficient.

My own path to faith wasn’t much like Jen’s; she started in a different place, and had different challenges and different doubts. But I enjoyed her story thoroughly, and laughed quite a lot, and I expect it will be a helpful book for many others. Highly recommended.

photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc

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