Rhoda Janzen's MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS offered readers an exploration of her childhood in the Mennonite faith, her turning away from the church to become an academic, and her return as an observer open to reexamining her own roots and the place of faith in her life.
Her new book, DOES THIS CHURCH MAKE ME LOOK FAT?, finds Rhoda in a new, if not entirely surprising, place. Her earlier openness to rediscovering the role of faith and church life, her eventual healing from the painful end of her first marriage, and her desire for a departure from the life she's been living find her in a new relationship and with a new attitude. Her boyfriend Mitch (who eventually becomes her husband) is a plain-spoken, down-to-earth bear of a man, a passionate hunter who also cares deeply about his teenage son Leroy. He also is a passionate man of faith, a Pentecostal whose every decision answers to a higher power. At first, Rhoda has a difficult time negotiating her own beliefs --- particularly her feminism and her innate questioning of biblical literalism --- with the simple but powerful faith of her new love. Soon, however, she grows to appreciate, if not always agree with, the centrality of belief in their life and in their relationship, and she finds a surprising freedom in surrendering her skepticism enough to become not only part of Mitch's life but also part of his community of faith.
"DOES THIS CHURCH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? both extends Janzen's story that she told in her first book and broadens it, enriching readers' appreciation for what it means to make love, gratitude, faith and God the center of one's life."
The idea of surrender is a big one in Janzen's latest memoir, especially when this bok choy-chomping, long-distance-running overachiever receives a diagnosis of advanced stage breast cancer. Rhoda tries to plan a wedding and a future with Mitch even as her own future looks bleak and limited at best. However, surrendering her worry and resentment at her diagnosis in favor of an attitude of joy and gratitude enables her to tackle this task with grace and good humor. Janzen stops short of crediting faith rather than science with her cancer's eventual remission, but her memoir is full of places where acts of prayer and expressions of belief coincide with results that seem like divine blessings.
All this talk about faith and cancer might make it seem as if Janzen's new book is a serious one, meant only for those interested in deepening their own faith journeys or in exploring how one woman conquered cancer. Although both those things are true, Janzen's many fans will also be relieved to know that she always balances her theological and philosophical inquiries with real-world anecdotes and often hilarious stories, quips and one-liners. Her attitude of surrender and gracious cooperation surrounding the renovation of her new husband's thoroughly ugly house, for example, will elicit gales of laughter and groans of recognition among anyone who's gutted an eyesore or tried to join their life to someone else's.
DOES THIS CHURCH MAKE ME LOOK FAT? both extends Janzen's story that she told in her first book and broadens it, enriching readers' appreciation for what it means to make love, gratitude, faith and God the center of one's life.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 26, 2012