on October 31, 2002
Lauren Winner is not your typical evangelical Christian (if there is such a thing as "typical" anyway). For one thing, the path that brought her to evangelical Christianity passes directly through orthodox Judaism. Therefore, her insights in comparing and contrasting Christianity and Judaism are extremely enlightening. Scholars have debated over the years about whether Christianity is a continuation (or "progression") of Judaism or whether it is a clean break, a radical departure, if you will. Lauren's experience indicates, in a sense, that it's both: to convert to Christianity she had to "divorce" herself from Judaism, yet her Jewish background vigorously informs her Christianity. For this reason, she chose to join the Episcopal church, since it's liturgy seemed to be more on the same wavelength as Jewish ritual. I found this aspect of the book to be the most educational, and hopefully Lauren will someday publish a scholarly evaluation of the Jewish/Christian dichotomy.
The fact that she is a scholar, operating in the heady world of esoteric academia, and swam against the skeptical tide that seems to challenge faith at every turn, is quite admirable, almost remarkable in this day and age. Yet instrumental in her conversion was Jan Karon's unpretentious Mitford series, which helps bring Lauren's testimony within reach of the most humble seeker. (Just because I personally found the Mitford books unremittingly dull doesn't mean I don't appreciate the way the Spirit uses them to bring people to faith).
Another way Lauren breaks the mold is the almost shocking openness with which she puts her life on display. That's not a unique thing among Christian authors (such as Anne Lamott), but it's rare if not unique among self-identified evangelicals. The personal quirks that may be off-putting to some (like her tattoos or her unshaven legs!) are endearing to others, and she's not afraid to share failures reluctantly whispered in a confessional with her readership, including the taboo area of sex. But part of the reward of reading a brutally honest spiritual autobiography is the feeling that you really get to know the author in a personal manner, even having never met her, which is why I continually refer to her in this review by her first name. I almost feel like a Lauren's personal friend and confidant, although we will probably never meet face-to-face.
Lauren indeed breaks the mold, and there is enough here to offend almost everybody: Jew, Christian, conservative and liberal alike. But it is those who break the mold (C.S. Lewis, Simone Weil, and Thomas Merton, for just three examples) who have the most impact that lasts even beyond their lifetimes. This book is, hopefully, only the beginning volume in Lauren's spiritual autobiography. The world will hear a lot more from Lauren Winner in the future.
on July 16, 2008
I found this book to be genuinely captivating, insightful, intelligent, and nicely-written. Ms. Winner is obviously extremely intelligent and well-read, and isn't a shabby writer at all. She's also very honest and emotional about her life and religious experiences, even when it could be argued that some of these details aren't relevant (for example, who really needs to know she wears fishnets and doesn't shave her legs?). My issues with the book lie elsewhere.
As she goes through the calendar year (mostly) according to Christian holidays and seasons in her newfound Episcopal Church, Ms. Winner weaves a nonlinear narrative of her religious upbringing (she was raised in a Southern Reform shul and Jewish by patrilineal descent), her growing level of observance as she became a young woman, her conversion to Orthodox Judaism to (as she saw it) make her Jewish identity legit in the eyes of everyone, her days as an undergrad at Columbia, the pull she felt towards Christianity only a couple of years after becoming officially Orthodox, her transition to the Episcopal faith while in Cambridge, and how she tries to make peace with her religious past and present without disrespecting either one. This story in itself could have been so much better had she chosen to write more about her second conversion. While there was ample material on her Jewish upbringing, her pull towards Orthodoxy, her first conversion, and the Orthodox life she lived in her late teens and early twenties, I was left wondering why exactly she decided to convert to Christianity, and why she chose Anglicanism/Episcopalianism in particular. Having a strange dream about mermaids and a Jesus who looks like Daniel Day-Lewis, and feeling drawn to the Christian art in a local museum, seem rather silly and shallow reasons for altering one's religious life so radically. Her attachment to her latest religion seems very sincere, but I wanted to know more about what exactly led her to it, why she decided to cross the point of no return.
Ms. Winner's reasons for leaving Judaism, the faith she had known her entire life, also seem rather shallow, unless there were some much deeper reasons she chose not to delve into. She says she felt like she'd never fully belong because she was a convert, but she also writes about all of the wonderful people who took her into their homes, hearts, and lives, holding her as surrogate family. Surely they should have mattered more to her than some snobby girls on campus and some guys who didn't want to date her because half of her family wasn't Jewish! She also says that the status of women in Orthodoxy grew to really bother her, so instead of deciding to leave for a more progressive denomination or to find a liberal Modern Orthodox shul which has such things as women-led prayer groups, she packs up and leaves the religion entirely? I really didn't like the prevailing attitude that set Orthodoxy up as the only valid denomination. Those of us who choose not to be Orthodox find such attitudes extremely offensive and hurtful. Additionally, Ms. Winner was extremely young when she converted. Had she stayed and engaged her doubts and crisis of faith, she might have emerged stronger when she was a little older. Instead she chose not to tell anyone she was having second thoughts after only a couple of years, people who might have been able to help her to regain her faith and find new energy (it's normal for the convert's zeal to wear off, but it doesn't mean it's time to quit the religion). It's kind of hypocritical how she writes about taking such great pains to avoid anyone from her former life, then writes an entire book talking about how she jumped ship.
It's clear, from her writing, that she misses a lot about her Orthodox life, like her friends, the food, the holidays (she even has one of those "Christian seders" with some friends of hers, and has a Pentecost equivalent of a laila tikkun, the all-night studying marathon on Shavuot), the community, the books, and the prayers. One later chapter talks about how she had to rebuild her Jewish library some years after she gave almost all of her Jewish books away when she left the fold. I can't help but feel that had she been older than just in her early twenties, she might have had more maturity and foresight to think through all of the consequences of her actions. Like many others, I also question why she chose to write this book while still a young woman. For all anyone knows, she might eventually grow tired of Christianity too and go back to Judaism or convert to a third religion someday. Ultimately, a lot of her actions just struck me as those of someone who's very young, naïve, impulsive, and spiritually promiscuous, bopping from one religion to another without taking much time in between to fix what's wrong in her current spiritual life before doing something so drastic.
on April 6, 2003
This a spiritual autobiography in which the author, Lauren F. Winner, a very well-read and erudite young woman, has many profoundly revealing things to say about how both Judaism and Christianity can hold special places in the heart and soul of a person who strives to be closer to God. I fully expected "Girl Meets God" to be one of those books that compels me to spend time contemplating words of wisdom between every chapter; instead, I read the whole thing in two sittings. It's that good.
I have to admit that I'm as impressed with the author as I am with her story, which involves converting to Orthodox Judaism and then leaving this for a deep and abiding Christianity. "Girl Meets God" reads like a conversation rather than a sermon. Although she's as clever as she is intelligent, Ms. Winner doesn't talk down to the reader, so you won't have to worry about feeling guilt or shame as a result of religious ambivalence or spiritual shortcomings. Instead of myriad revelations, she's just telling her story, and she's happy to have you listen in.
If you've ever "felt funny" about praying, there's a chapter you can relate to. Don't get as much out of worship services as you expected? She's been there. Surely, there are many far more formidable hurdles in the spiritual path. In the chapter called "Holy Week," a roadblock appears in Ms. Winner's realization that many Jews hated Christ and were responsible for His death. At this point she's a Christian who can have no malice toward Jews. Her reconciliation of her faith(s) comes later in a chapter entitled "Pentecost" which contains some rather profound words about spiritual lessons.
Ms. Winner's journey through Judaism to Christianity will be particularly interesting to those who find both beliefs palatable. I happen to believe that God upholds a virtually identical set of morals and ethical values for both Jews and Christians, so it's easy for me to learn about both. Of course, the two hold some divergent precepts; however, Ms. Winner goes beyond calling them out. She studies various angles of interpretation, works her way through the Jewish and Christian history and writings (her knowledge of biblical language is extensive), finds common ground, and seems to be truly grateful for the realization that God speaks forcefully to two different sets of believers. I'm just grateful for a little understanding and a lot more to consider . . . and for the fact that she saved me from spending years in the library trying to sort this stuff out. This book is truly a gem.
on March 10, 2003
Sure, I guess you ought to read this, if the topic interests you - it's honest, engaging, and fairly well written, even if the title is silly and has nothing to do with the book. The Jewish-Christian material is probably more useful than I, a Gentile, can comprehend. The non-linear movement is attractive (to me). And I do appreciate the messiness and the genuineness, which I suppose is what has inspired invocations of Lamott (although Lamott is miles beyond Winner in both prose skill and spiritual depth).
"Girl Meets God" has a few serious flaws. The first is that Winner simply does not have enough distance on her experience to choose how it will be best presented. Some key spiritual moments are related in a coy way or skimmed over, so that you can't tell from the prose how and why they were transformative. Then on the other hand, it's hard to understand why certain other moments were included and how she thinks they contribute to the story -- this is, probably, what prompts the common criticism of self-indulgent writing. I suspect actual self-indulgence isn't the problem; I just don't think she's learned how to make meaning through judicious cuts yet.
Second, though Winner clearly is spiritually serious and a person of great intelligence, she is early enough in her life as a Christian that she has an annoying habit of relating fairly common personal insights as if they were unusual. Several of her narratives (I think particularly of her tongues story and her conversation with a priest about how Christ is present in the Eucharist) reach so far to wrest A Moment Of Siginficant Insight out of a fairly ordinary occurrence in the Christian life that they are almost embarrassing to read. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they were genuine for her at the time she lived them, but the level of narrative cliche is high.
And she does the same thing with her writing per se -- she's ending a passage, and you can just see her stretch for A Clever Turn of Phrase.
I enjoyed reading the book, and I would certainly recommend it as a pretty-well-written personal reflection by a voice who will, I'm sure, make significant contributions to Christian writing over the next decades. However, to suggest that this transiently interesting book will take a place next to autobiographical works by writers like Lamott, Merton, Weil, or Lewis is far, far overblown.
on May 20, 2015
God help me I love divas. For the last 20 years I have happily allowed myself to be pulled into the orbit of one hyper-intelligent, wild, artistic, spiritual, passionate, emotionally sensitive, independent, fierce and, ultimately solipsistic woman after another. Therapy has finally helped me to resist the pull, to embody moderately the traits I loved in these best friends with whom I had to break up with more painfully than any romantic partner. To adore these traits in my children, with whom a lopsided care dynamic is appropriate and fulfilling. I think this therapy-wrought freedom explains my lackluster response to the persona Lauren Winner presents in Girl Meets God. Mostly, she just exhausts me. All that reading! While I am somewhat jealous of a spiritual practice that seems to be composed entirely of study and sacraments, it makes her religious experience more removed from my own (community and social justice) than Judaism is from Christianity.
But as I kept reading, I realized that her story could very well be that of one of my own interfaith children. My partner and I are immersing them in both traditions with the understanding that they will discover their religious identity for themselves when they are older. With this realization, I began to read more kindly. I began to appreciate her thoughtfulness, her candor and her resistance to telling a pat tale of ignorance to enlightenment. She does not denigrate what she left behind to validate her new faith. Her conflict is evident in considering what she has lost and whether she abandoned it to easily, which makes her conviction to follow Jesus believable, at least from my perspective as a Christian. However, she does not spend much time with apologetics, so despite well-described symptoms of Christian faith, a stranger to it might not see how it infected her initially. This actually makes the book better because I never sensed a proselytizing agenda, which would have been annoying. In the end, I appreciate the authentic expression of self and experience.
In "Girl Meets God," Lauren Winner takes the reader through her two conversions: first to Orthodox Judaism, then to Christianity. Although some of her ideas and stories on her faith journey are interesting, her stories are overloaded and overwrought, and she tries too hard and is too self-consciously witty for this to be a good read. (Who cares if she wears fishnet stockings?) I felt as if she needed to document everything that had to do with her faith life, whether of interest to the reader or not, which made the book "cluttered", as least for me.
Her discomfort with the two labels of "Christian" and "liberal" shines through, as does her evident pain of the exile she now feels from her Orthodox community. I really wanted to hear more about why she became a Christian, what drew her to Christianity, why she felt the need to leave Judaism - was she feeling these doubts all along? If so, why not engage them *before* converting to Judaism? Part of me wonders if any faith community will ever be enough for Ms. Winner, especially since the ending was somewhat open. I think she has some interesting ideas and thoughts, but wished she'd waited to write this book until she'd matured a little more.
Lauren Winner, a graduate student in her late twenties, comes from a mixed religious background. The book follows her on a spiritual roller-coaster ride through two major conversions. First, although she always considered herself Jewish, she must go through a long and difficult process to "convert" to Orthodox Judaism. And yet, even as she is working this out, she is being drawn to Jesus, and her second conversion, ending up as an Anglican Christian. And then she must struggle to sort out what she has gained and lost, rebuild relationships, and integrate the two streams of her heritage.
As the book ends, she has not finished this hard work by any means, but she has begun going back to her Jewish roots to understand her Christian life more deeply.
Author Lauren Winner is an intelligent, witty, intellectual young woman, someone you would like to spend hours with, just chatting, talking about spiritual things, sharing favorite books--yes, I loved the Mitford books, too. She writes in a lucid, conversational style, with a sparkling sense of humor. By the end of the book I felt I knew her well.
The book is not perfect. It leaves far too much unexplained, and, as other reviewers have noted, she is perhaps a little early in the process to be writing this memoir. Still, I enjoyed it immensely. As someone who has walked a similar path, I felt privileged to share in hers. I recommend this book highly! Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
on January 27, 2016
If you are Christian who wants to know more about your Jewish roots this is one way to explore that. However you'll have to wade through the very self centered author's views. I am very interested in this topic, but found Winner's OCD search for religious meaning ponderous and most of the members of a church book group agreed.
In fairness there were some great observations and some humorous anecdotes. On balance though not worth the dig.
on April 21, 2016
I think this read highlights some OCD behaviors by the writer, Sprinkled with some overly self preoccupation. The details of extensive reading book after book to quantify what at some point must be "a leap of faith" prove exhausting for the reader. Ms Winner's compulsion to find clarity with accuracy of scriptures coupled by comparisons to Christianity and Judaism go beyond reasonable lengths to satisfy. If you want to learn about their differences and biblical passages then this could be the read for you. By the last chapters I was speed reading it became too tedious. I don't think the author lives up to the title. It's more Girl Cross examines God. I didn't feel by the end of book that she was settled with her conversion. I agree with another reviewer, Lauren made this decision when she was too young. It seems the Jewish defined rules of "convert" (unless the maternal side is Jewish then offspring aren't) provoked her to search an authentic self in Christianity.
on March 27, 2003
As a daughter of a Jewish father and a Lutheran mother, I related to Winner's experiences. As a Christian, I struggle now with much of the evangelical world, which can be based upon consumerism and emotions. Winner puts into perfect description the inner turmoil many have gone through during the conversion experience. As I read her novel, it was as if she were writing my story.
... at times I was lost as to who she was speaking of, seeing as the time we were introduced to a character was many pages earlier. But, her non linear style was refreshing in the Christian work of writing.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has converted, whether to or from Christianity. I would also recommend this book to anyone who experiences difficulty connecting with Christ. Winner, and her icons, gave me a new perspective and drive to pursue holiness. Thank you, Lauren Winner, for your vulnerability and openness. Your book will be aclaimed by many for years to come.