Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: Radical Reinvention

Every so often I read a book that I can't put down. Every so often I read a book and say to myself, "Oh my God, I can't believe they just wrote that." Every so often I read a book and want to tell all my friends about it. Radical Reinvention is such a book. After you read this review go order a copy, trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Kaya Oakes' new book, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012) is a story of leaving and finding, of searching and finding and of faithlessness and hope. While reading Oakes memoir I kept on thinking of Mary Karr's Lit or Nora Gallagher's Resurrection both which deal with similar themes and issues, and both of whom are extremely honest about the Church.

While reading Radical Reinvention we learn that Oakes, like thousands if not millions of people is a "lapsed Catholic." As a pastor I have met many lapsed Catholics, Orthodox, Methodists, and on and on and on. It's really not that uncommon these days for apples to fall from the tree and roll down the hill, and if lucky, to maybe roll back closer to the tree again. Oakes was raised in a Oakland in an Irish Catholic family. Her family of origin sounds very colorful to say the least and while reading I wish she included more of her mother's and father's background and personality. However when writing memoir authors must navigate between the personal and the private.

Yet late in life, during her adult years Oakes finds her way back to the Church. She finds that running away from God can be a difficult thing, just read the book of Jonah or the beginning of Jeremiah if you want some insight! Needless to say she returns to a Church which is unlike her Church of origins. With the reforms of Vatican II and some very pastoral priests she finds her home again. Not only does she join the RCIA group in her parish but she also goes on a short Ignatian Spiritual retreat as well as make a pilgrimage to Italy. She even joins a "pray and bitch" group at Church, all women who spend time in prayer, fellowship, and bitching. I've heard of stitch and bitch groups before but not this type of group.

Oakes has a great writing style. She speaks to the average Joe or Jane, taking time to explain theological terms like creed, confession, retreats, communion, and so forth. Her self-deprecating humor is hillarious and I caught myself laughing out loud in my office especially the stories about her father and grandfather's "theological cursing" --- I'll leave it at that and let the reader find out later!

I was also saddened though because Oakes is very truthful and honest about her return, not is all wonderful. While on the one hand her parish priest is open and welcoming and warm and she meets some hospitable parishioners and even joins a 5am Food Bank outreach program, she also finds a Church that is still in the 19th or even 17th century to say the least. She includes thoughts about ordained ministry, bishops, and gender issues along the way. Yet somehow her faith transcends those issues and she still realizes that the Church is bigger than her. That Jesus called her back home.

I am glad that Oakes wrote this book, although I must say I was mad that I didn't find it sooner! I hope that other "lapsed anybody" will, as St. Augustine heard from the heavens, "take and read" Radical Reinvention. You won't be disappointed. I also hope that clergy read this book too. Some may have a knee-jerk reaction and want to throw it away perhaps, but her insight into the younger generation (Generation Xer's and Millenials) and their thoughts about theology, parish life, and the Church is important. If anything it will make a priest stop and think for a while, which of course is a good thing!

For more information about Radical Reinvention click here 

To visit Kaya's website click here