Author: Katie Savage

Publisher: Howard Books (Simon & Schuster)

ISBN: 978-1-45168928-0 (PB)

The extraordinary thing about this book, subtitled “Instructions on Not Knowing Everything About God,” is the unexpected combination of subject and tone. The author brings to mind a “PK” (Preachers’ Kid), though she’s actually a “PW” (Preacher’s Wife), and she is, as one might expect, writing about her faith. In my time, the PK tag usually was associated with rebellion: PKs had to prove they were not wimps. Many shenanigans later, they became perfectly respectable and sometimes great citizens. Katie Savage is not rebelling, for she has embraced her faith. At the same time, she is far from being wimpy; she is smart and sassy. In the first few pages I thought she’d managed to reflect both Sarah Palin and Tina Fey, but even that doesn’t do her justice, as she is quite brainy, quoting experts, pundits, and the Classics, raising important questions, and she is funny in the sense of laughing at herself rather than at someone else. She shows compassion through identification, e.g., she knows a lot of readers (women in particular) probably feel incapable of living up to the challenge of Christian tenets. Try to be perfect? No way. She’s a lousy housekeeper, we learn. Confess her sins? There are far too many to remember from week to week. Spiritual? Well, there’s one whole chapter about allowing a strange man pay her $40 to pull her chin hair. Still, she always returns the reader to a higher level. Having begun a chapter on Advent by mentioning the indecisive Kansas prairie wind, she picks up the theme to tell us God is always whispering, and that the meaning of the biblical term “ruach” of God is “moving air,” or God’s presence.

This book of essays seems to have the purpose of reassuring doubters that Christianity is not all that restraining; it is illuminating. She uses the structure of the church calendar, more or less, but expands it by memoir. I was riveted as soon as I got to the page where she tells about her first pregnancy and wonders about the state of mind of the expectant Virgin Mary. Outrageous? Perhaps. Savage is not like the ministers’ wives of my youth – but that’s a hundred years ago. Things have changed for women – but also they haven’t. She writes of being unable to describe giving birth to a child – describing the indescribable. This is intimate.

Every page, she gave me a new way of looking at something: [on visiting a cathedral] “the melodically monotonous string of Latin was so quieting…” [regarding Christmas shopping] “The word ‘more’ is already a cultural disease…,” and [on being a high school teacher] “Her top pedagogical concern was getting through the day.” I loved her resistance to have all the answers. She says, for instance [on the subject of hell]: “If I were in charge, I would spend all my time vacillating among sending no one to hell; sending only murderers, rapists, and bad tippers to hell; and sending anyone who refuses to use their turn signal to hell. I would be an emotionally unstable drama queen of a decision maker – an Elizabeth Taylor of deities.”

She wades fearlessly into the unknowable, but her particular gift is to write well about things that are embarrassingly familiar and link them to understandings that are important. She is bright, generous, and open, bound to be a leader in the Christian women’s community and beyond.

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