I received a rather interesting book called Confessions of an Amateur Believer which I appropriately started reading coincidentally on the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In some ways her book is a basic conversion story though quite different in other parts. She was raised in a Catholic family and later became an atheist in college and spent many years as one until her conversion into Protestantism and an Evangelical nondenominational Church.
She talks about the faith she had as a child and speaks positively of her time in Catholic schools and the nuns who taught her. This was in the sixties and she notes that her whole religious education was along the lines of God is love without much of a deeper theological foundation. She also mentions one of the few Catholic Masses she attended at the start of her college and it was one of those everybody sit down on the floor and pass around the Blood of Christ in a plastic champagne glass. Before leaving for school her family experience problems with her ailing mother and subsequent divorce. These combinations of a weakly taught faith and family problems along with leaving home and going to school have been an infamous breeding ground for a loss of faith.
I was curious as I was reading this book whether she would become one of the bitter ex-Catholics turned Protestants, but the book is pretty free of any kind of anti-Catholicism. Obviously throughout the book there are doctrinal disagreements with the Church such as the Eucharist, but that should come of no surprise. Being a long time atheist myself I was most looking forward to reading what lead her from atheism back to Christ. In her case there was no grand epiphany or St. Paul style conversion and of course it is really hard to map out grace in your life. There was the example of her sister who became a born-again Christian and who had been taking care of their mother. There was also the example of her travels around the world leaving in such places as Germany, China, and other countries and gravitating towards ex-patriot communities. Where mainly she found desperation and very little hope until she finally decided to return home.
What makes this book really interesting and a good read is her writing about her struggles as a new believer and her relationship with her husband (who was already a Christian when they married) and their daughters. Patty Kirk currently teaches English at a private Evangelical college in Arkansas and she really is a talented writer. Her later chapters are all really reflections and one the one she wrote on shame was quite good with the insights they contained. Most of them are reflections on what she has learned trying to live the faith and the interactions between those in her family and those at work. Her writing is very honest and she obviously does not exaggerate her own faith life, but lays it out truthfully warts and all.
Being Catholic there were points in the book where I would have liked to either argue with her or to give her the Catholic perspective on something she has struggled with. Many of her friends are of different Protestant persuasions and so she received a lot of conflicting advice on some doctrinal issues. During this octave of prayer of Christian unity this book was a good reminder to me of how God works in other churches and the continual graces that he gives. Though there is also a sadness at this lack of union and how what I have taken for granted in the Catholic Church can be totally missing from these other churches. Growing up I can remember how my father at times would say he wished he could put my brother and I into a blender so that we could both have the positive attributes of the other. I was the shy book reading science geek, while my brother was the athletic popular gregarious type. I can say the same things about the Catholic Church and Protestantism. Patty Kirk and her husband were invited to a church by a neighbor at a point in her life where she was more likely to accept such an invitation. As Catholics just how often do we invite somebody to Mass or talk about are faith at work? What was the last time, if ever, you answered the doorbell not to find JWs or Evangelicals at your door inviting you to a Church, but Catholics doing the same?