My experience with writing nonfiction has not been what I expected. I never expected to be a nonfiction author, particularly a nonfiction religious author, but writing about religion is when I am most authentic. I would not have nearly the same number of blog and Twitter followers I do if not for my willingness to admit “I don’t know” when writing about theology. Some of my favorite religious writers are people who dare to ask the questions I’m afraid to acknowledge even in my own head. I like to imagine that’s what attracts new readers, and keeps old ones coming back to my blog and my first book, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter.
|Photo by pedrojperez at morguefile.com|
At any rate, the person you are when you publish a memoir becomes frozen in time. I’m not that person anymore.
This book is my response to Christians who condemn or otherwise fear the word “skepticism.” It’s a book for anyone, not just converted Jews, who embraced a new tradition as an adult, but cannot for the life of them fit in with the surrounding cultural norms of that new faith. It’s a book for anyone who grapples with doubt on a regular basis.
My story of wading through evangelical waters has been, and continues to be, a fish-out-of-water experience. In Evangelical World, I have met some truly amazing people, but have also experienced a lot of damage, which I think my Jewish upbringing made me particularly vulnerable to.
This is a book about questioning faith and fighting to keep it. This book doesn’t offer any answers, but it has been therapeutic for me to write. I have a love/hate relationship with my unusual testimony, but I don’t think it’s so “out there” that no “cradle Christian” can possibly relate. I come from a tradition that is known for asking questions, and I want this book to be encouraging for Christians bred with the idea that questions are not okay.
Much has changed since the first edition of Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter was published. For starters, I got married. My father died of cancer. The honeymoon phase of my relationship with Jesus has long faded. Restlessness has moved in. Frustration and irreconcilable differences are daily battles.
At the time I started writing Prodigal Daughter’s first draft, I was an opinion columnist for my college newspaper. I wanted the job because I was tired of the pervasive liberal attitudes that permeated the editorial section. It didn’t take long for me to develop a reputation as “that Christian columnist,” only the title was not used favorably. I can see now that my tone was obnoxious in many of my columns. I was writing as someone who thought she had found indisputable Truth. But the biggest mistake I made as a columnist was adopting the assumption that I was disliked by so many because I happened to be Christian, which could not have been further from the truth. As a Jew raised in a small, conservative Christian town, shouldn’t I have known better than to play the persecution card? Why would I have done that?
I know why now, though I wouldn’t have admitted it then. It’s very much a cultural Christian trend to take on a persecution complex, no matter how outrageous it seems compared to Christians across the world being jailed or losing their lives for their faith. More than anything, I just wanted to be included. I wanted to know what being part of the religious in-crowd felt like. If that meant pretending that the obvious Christian majority was actually in danger of extinction, so be it.
Thankfully, the mindset didn’t last. I could only pretend for so long that being the odd Jew out (an actual minority) for most of my life wouldn’t catch up to me at some point. Sure enough, during my year-long stint at a Christian seminary after college, it did.
Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic is the story of what happened to my faith when I confronted my inner Jew, who was buried for a time but never actually went away. Perhaps she was never meant to.
Sarahbeth Caplin has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University, and is currently at work on a master’s degree in creative nonfiction at Colorado State. Her memoir, Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, is set to release this spring. Her work has appeared in xoJane, Feminine Collective, The Stigma Fighters Anthology, and Christians for Biblical Equality. Follow her blog at www.sbethcaplin.com or on Twitter @SbethCaplin.
For the first time since converting to Christianity several years ago, I was forced to reconsider what Judaism meant to me after my failed attempt at seminary, and after my father died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. This is not a story about finding God, but about what happens when doubt threatens to break the faith of your own choosing – and how one seeker chooses to confront questions that don’t have easy answers, if any answers at all.
I feel safer by living on the fringes of faith, where grace and humility are clearer to me than ever before. For now, this is the safest place to be. It’s messy, it’s sloppy, it’s anything but organized. But I’m learning to make it a home.
Where have you felt like an outsider? Have you ever written from an "at the margins" perspective?