More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
240 pp., $25.00
Andrea Palpant Dilley
The result is that Hustad hides behind her parents' story, positions herself more as a reactor and less as an actor, and offers very little access into her own spiritual life. She reckons not with faith itself or the tenets of faith but with a mediated version represented, on the one hand, by her bewildered parents and, on the other, by her secular acquaintances who cling to clichéd arguments against theism and conceive of God as "the enemy of all pleasure and independent thinking." She's too smart for their cynicism. She pushes back. But she's not wise enough—not yet, at least—to see herself for what she is: always a devil's advocate, never a disciple. She hovers above, descends only to fight against straw men and stereotypes (on both sides), and then retreats again to her place of hiding. Her one allegiance is to the vague beneficence of contemporary spirituality: "The energy that produced the world knows us. Wants us … likes us."
One passage in particular, midway through the book, reveals her choice to reject community and commitment in favor of independence:
My people never found groups we wanted to remain in …. We had a knack for sullen independence. This sullen independence got us to the margins, and we felt most alive there. Wherever we belonged, we wanted out.
Hustad's "sullen independence" (clearly savored) defines both her story and her style as a writer. Only briefly, in the last pages, does she invite us past the opaque exterior and into a vulnerable space where she talks about her struggle to discern God's presence. "How can we know this God exists?" she asks. "We cannot. Only that sometimes, some days, some of us feel his absence. It stings the eyes, we blink." Her longing is in a peculiar way its own apologetic: her desire for God might be evidence of God. Even the darkness reveals the sacred to her. "Walking from the Canal Street subway station to my apartment late at night feels holy," she writes.
Maybe that will be the subject of a book still to come. Here and now, though, Hustad gives us neither a homecoming nor a departure. As a reader who's gone through a similar crisis of faith, I want to say: take me somewhere. Hustad the restless pilgrim keeps herself always on the move and, with all her traveling, passes by the place that matters most—the country of the heart.
Andrea Palpant Dilley grew up in Kenya as the daughter of Quaker missionaries and spent the rest of her childhood in the Pacific Northwest. She is the author of Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt (Zondervan).
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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