Nick Owchar reviews Sarah Sentilles' Breaking Up With God: A Love Story:
"I believed in a male God," she writes, early in the book. "I loved him. I needed him. Sometimes he was gentle and kind. Sometimes he frightened me."
Like many, she started with a child's Sunday-school version of God — the kindly man watching our lives through a hole in the clouds. "Breaking Up With God" describes her childhood in New Jersey and Texas, her beginnings as a Catholic and her quest to shed that juvenile version of God during years of academic achievement and distinction at Yale and Harvard, and explores her loneliness and self-esteem issues. She also spends time in Southern California as a teacher in Compton in the Teach for America program (see her 2005 book "Taught by America") and as a member of All Saints Church in Pasadena, where she discovers a loving, welcoming community. They treat her like a little sister or a daughter, showing her love in the smallest of gestures:
"People knew what was going on in my life. They prayed for me, prayed for my students, let me cry, brought me soup when I had the flu, sent me home with hot toddies after night meetings when I had a sore throat… I belonged.… When the priest dismissed the congregation at the end of a church service one Sunday she said, 'We are home,' and I knew it was true."
They're also the ones who tell her that she has spiritual gifts and should consider entering the Episcopal priesthood. She does.
"Other twenty-three-year-olds I knew didn't want to be priests, and that was, at least in part, why I chose the vocation," she says with brutal honesty. "Wanting to be a priest marked me as different, and being different felt like being chosen."
But it doesn't work out. Sentilles struggles too much with the judgment in so many people's attitudes toward faith and God, especially self-proclaimed God-fearing people who use religion to attack other people's sexuality and lifestyles. As an apprentice pastor she learns that no one wants to hear provocative political talk from the pulpit even though, she says, "faith and politics weren't separate for me … I went to divinity school … because I thought churches could help make the world more just and life-giving for everyone." After struggling with an Episcopalian discernment committee helping her make a decision about her vocation, she calls it quits.