|Note the PJ's, this is a bedtime reading photo|
'A Lot Like Eve' has been on my Amazon wish list since it came out a few months ago, that is until my dad arrived one day and presented me with a copy, just as I was going off for a study week. He said 'I thought this might be appropriate for you and the things you might come across', or something like that. I wasn't quite sure what he meant by that but I do bear some similarity to Joanna in that I'm a woman who's currently training for ordained ministry in the C of E. Unlike her I did not have faith thrust upon me, although my family were church-goers. But I still grew up with a lot of questions about faith that I don't think were really answered until my 30s, and of course there are plenty more still left unanswered.
Jepson opens with a paraphrased version of the creation of human beings from Genesis which sets the scene for the book. As a woman, I don't think you can be a Christian without questioning at some point the place of women, our role, and indeed words such as submission, headship and so on. Makes me wonder if there is an equivalent for men? Do men ever feel the need to question whether they should lay down their life for their wives? Or wonder whether God is in fact a woman? I'm going off point, but I love how Jepson confronts so many of the in-built fears and questions that Christian women grow up with.
She grew up with a facial deformity that affected her life enormously until she had surgery to correct it. I did not of course have the kind of deformity that Jepson did, and I don't wish to belittle it by comparing with my own more trivial issues of growing up. But, as a child I was the ginger kid, with freckles. I got called every name you can imagine, and it didn't help that my mum was a teacher at almost every school I attended. I grew up with self esteem issues and I'm pretty sure I didn't really know what friendship was until I was about 20... The way Jepson talks so openly and honestly about the comments she had hurled at her, the exclusion, the hurtful, hateful behaviour, I can, to some small extent relate to. As I'm sure can many women, because she writes in a way that makes you feel included, and not that she is 'the only one here suffering'.
She talks of the battle with fear, shame, blame, and relating to Eve within that. The need to cover up, the need to hide, to protect oneself, I recognise these in myself even now. Even as a confident adult, no longer the shy ginger kid, I still prefer to wear my hair down, almost like it's some kind of safety blanket.
Am I trying to 'claw my way back into Eden' too (her phrase) I ask myself? Am I trying to work my way in? Although to some extent that is exactly what we're all doing, waiting for Eden. Waiting for that moment of 'blissful mutuality' where we get to once again be with God, dwell with him, on his territory. But of course we don't need to claw our way, in the invitation is there for all of us...
The realisation that we are 'exiles from Eden' as Jepson phrases it, makes so much sense to me, I often feel like an exile, a fish out of water, like I don't quite belong. Gosh, don't get me wrong, I'm not going all 'woe is me' here, but it just kind of makes sense, this, earth, is a temporary home after all and that's sort of comforting. But it also makes me realise how alien that concept is to so many, where to them, this life is all that counts...
Of course I also identify with her journey to Ordination, and the ridiculous things people will say to you as: A WOMAN. Shock horror. There are those who would rather poke themselves in the eye than admit women might actually be suited for church leadership, or peddle the ridiculous 'truth' that women can only be saved through childbirth (as Jepson herself came across), or that women who ask questions are 'difficult' or 'challenging'. Well, I guess I must be both... Male theologians have a lot to answer for I tell you... Thankfully I've been protected from a lot of that by being in a church where women are welcomed and embraced in leadership and with a Vicar who is incredibly supportive. But those attitudes are still out there in force, and that worries me. What we are teaching our girls? It's not just about theology, it's about their future, their identity, their purpose, their God given talents.
I love that Jepson doesn't go off on a self pity party, she reveals her story (including the hideous surgery she underwent) with honesty and openness but without making the reader feel sorry for her. It's quite refreshing to read a story like hers without that whole sob story aspect. And clearly she went through some tough stuff, a sob story would have been quite understandable!
But hers is a story that is so much more than 'the ugly duckling becoming a swan', it's more than a coming of age story, or leaving home for uni; this is a story about a young woman finding her true place in God's eyes. Making sense of a God she wasn't sure she really knew, and the church that told such conflicting truths...
I loved this book and devoured it in 2 days. The church is full of people with 'real' stories, the truths behind the dog collar, behind the robes, or just behind the jeans (let's not go too far with that analogy). If only more people would tell their stories like Jepson, we'd be a better, more compassionate and understanding church.