I found out that I was pregnant with my first child in a Walmart bathroom, three days before presiding at my first Christmas. I still remembering standing in the stall, having driven the four miles to the store (the closest to my house) and not having peed yet. I did not know what to do next. So, when Jordan Sykes goes to POAS (pee on a stick) right before presiding at a church service, I thought, “Don’t do it! Wait two more hours!”
Yes, reader, I did judge her for her timing, but I did not judge her for her sexuality. And I don’t judge our sister in Christ, Amber Belldene, who wrote Not a Mistake– the story of Jordan, her unexpected pregnancy, and the navigation of deciding how her life will proceed in love and work and parenthood from that (poorly timed) moment in the sacristy when she finds out that she’s expecting.
Amber Belldene wrote an excellent essay in There’s a Woman in the Pulpit about the intersection of being a priest and writing romance:
Sexual pleasure is a divine gift. It’s a radical message, especially to people who expect the church to be either silent or damning on the subject. Mature romantic love is not saccharine or simple, but a discipline that leads us to transcendence. (“Saint Paul versus Danielle Steele”)
I can wholeheartedly commend Belldene’s novels to you as well-written, neatly plotted, wholly charactered, and steamy! The editorial trope of looking down on romance novels as unworthy of being read by “real” readers is so cliched, it makes the fight over whether Revelation is literal or metaphorical fresh, interesting, and dynamic. However, I have noticed another trend in a variety of areas of life in which readers express disdain for fiction in general. It usually goes, “I don’t have time for fiction. There’s too much real stuff to learn. How hard can it be to make something up?” (*Sigh of support for all authors*)
I asked Amber to answer this question: “Why does fiction matter, especially for people in helping professions?”
What an interesting question, and I don’t think it has a single or simple answer. It’s easier for me to say why I think fiction matters for people of faith. When I was in seminary, I found I really needed to make time to read for pleasure, especially fanciful, out-there literature. I was a better preacher when I did: more creative and imaginative. And this makes theological sense–if God is ultimately mystery, beyond our vision or our complete comprehension, then our imagination is crucial for knowing God. It makes relationship and intimacy possible; it opens our mind to possibilities beyond our small habits of mind. Prayer, listening for God’s still, small voice and seeing God in others’ being and actions all require imagination.
This is even true for relationship with other people. Inside everyone is mystery, that part of ourselves we don’t reveal to others. What else is empathy but an act of imagination–the mental exercise of putting ourselves in the situation of another? Consequently, I’m pretty sure reading fiction nourishes compassion, and that gets me back to your original question. Fiction helps sustain us and our ability to care for others.
But personally, I don’t read angsty literature or gruesome thrillers. I see plenty of suffering, unnecessary drama, and violence in my life. I read and write romance, because it’s full of passion, emotion, and heroic characters striving toward a happy ending. I embrace the fundamentally optimistic nature of the genre, that doesn’t deny suffering and honors the emotional lives of women, but always demands the author and reader imagine the happy ending that is possible.
To me, this is profoundly faithful and hopeful–to celebrate how love (romantic, erotic, divine) helps human beings heal and overcome our flaws so that we can become our best selves (heroine-material!). We can train our imagination to grow in our compassion for others, and also to find the possibility for transformation and joy in even our darkest moments. This is a useful skill, one that helps us participate in how God is redeeming the world.
What I loved about Not a Mistake was the intertwining of the faith life of the characters with their sexuality and their history and their mixed emotions. The absence of real faith practice in non-“inspirational” romance is very frustrating to me. In all these small towns, no one goes to church other than on Christmas Eve (sometimes)? No pastor expects premarital counseling. No one has discussions of their own understandings about God?
I’m not expecting second date throwdowns about The Institutes of the Christian Religion. However, in Not a Mistake, Belldene provided nuanced conversation about mixed opinions on birth control, Christian Ethics, premarital counseling tools, human sexuality, and life in the Christian community.
Again, YES PLEASE MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!
I’d love to see us discuss in the comments romance, general fiction, and the way the church and church leaders can be real about life and all its messiness, and if you already read Not a Mistake and loved it too!