The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

05 December 2012

Book review: Does this church make me look fat?

This book has the best combination of ingredients for a biography: humour and insight. Even better: that humour and insight relates her transformation from sceptical academic to fully surrendered Christian. The period of time Rhoda Janzen recounts in this book includes a sudden and dramatic diagnosis of breast cancer. Lest you foresee a gloomy 253 page treatise on the necessity of grim acceptance of the crosses God gives to us, let me assure you the author is genetically indisposed to grimness.

Throughout the book, whether describing how she came to understand and appreciate the principle of tithing, or accepting the fact that she, a passionate runner, would no longer be able to run because of the cancer treatments, Janzen maintains such a positive and humorous outlook it is infectious and inspiring. While 'Does this church make me look fat' is a journey of faith, the primary lesson I take away from this book is that we decide our attitude; we choose how we cope with the stuff of life; we determine whether we will be long suffering or joyful.

A professor of English and creative writing, the author, Rhoda Janzen,  is clearly in her element wrangling words into story. As in all cases of a gifted writer, her craftsmanship is such that the reader is unaware of the mechanics and structure of her work and focuses instead on the message. (With less adept writers, their wordsmithing gets in the way of what it is they want to say.)

Janzen speaks often of her "church of origin" which was Mennonite.  Her new-found adult faith culminates in the Pentecostal church, so I, as a Catholic didn't read this book for theological instruction.  There are principles we all hold in common as Christians, however, and they make this a worthwhile book for all to read, regardless of religious affiliation. To read a book in which the author addresses honouring our elders, the goodness of tithing, the final understanding of the relationship between abstinence and true intimacy is edifying as well as entertaining.

Here aree a few passages from the book I wrote into my journal:

Overinvestment in the life of the mind had brought me neither peace nor joy. I was ready to try something else. I decided to sit very still and see what God would do with this new circumstance. - this passage describes her transition from sceptical academic to surrendered believer.

Now that I knew Bernie wasn't developmentally delayed, I liked him even more. Imagine the chops it takes to live from a place of simplicity when the mind longs for complexity! - this from a section in which she describes the transformation of her attitude toward tithing.  She went on to say that Bernie, even with a low paying crossing guard job tithed with joy.

We each had our different priorities. If you held them lightly and used a plastic spoon, they were nothing to get stuck on. - Concludes a chapter showing it isn't necessarily what we have in common with our spouse that makes our relationship strong.

When something is taken away, you begin to focus on what remains. We have only two choices when an important thing disappears from our lives: either we resent what is missing or we accept the loss. [...] The choice is ours. [...] It wasn't until I tried abstinence that I arrived at a useful conclusion. Sex should enhance intimacy, not replace it. This is because sex is a pretty pale substitute for intimacy  even when you're crazy hot for your lover. Abstinent  Mitch and I were forced not only to build real relational intimacy, but to understand how very much we had underestimated the potential and richness of sex.

Does this church make me look fat? : a Mennonite finds faith, meets Mr. Right, and solves her lady problems. By Rhoda Janzen. Grand Central Publishing, 2012.


  1. Sounds like an interesting read! It is always fantastic when you are able to find a well-written book with a wonderful story/lesson. I am actually reading (well just started reading) "Surrender" by Fr. Larry Richards, which is a thoughtful book on surrendering to God's will for your life... a bit of a tough read sometimes due to content, but clearly written.

    God bless,

  2. Hi Frances,
    I love finding a new (to me) author. I'm looking forward to reading another book written by Rhoda Janzen. Based on what this one was like, I don't think I'll be disappointed!