What does it mean to give church a try when you haven’t really tried since you were twelve? At the end of her bestselling memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen had reconnected with her family and her roots, though her future felt uncertain. But when she starts dating a churchgoer, this skeptic begins a surprising journey to faith and love.
Rhoda doesn’t slide back into the dignified simplicity of the Mennonite church. Instead she finds herself hanging with the Pentecostals, who really know how to get down with sparkler pom-poms. Amid the hand waving and hallelujahs Rhoda finds a faith richly practical for life–just in time for some impressive lady problems, an unexpected romance, and a quirky new family.
Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? is for people who have a problem with organized religion, but can’t quite dismiss the notion of God, and for those who secretly sing hymns in their cars, but prefer a nice mimosa brunch to church. This is the story of what it means to find joy in love, comfort in prayer, and–incredibly, surprisingly–faith in a big-hearted God.
What inspired you to write a second memoir?
After I wrote Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, I was inundated with reader requests to keep writing. People overwhelmingly welcomed the idea of reframing difficult life experiences with humor and gratitude. And my life has changed so extraordinarily since then! I had much more to share.
Glad to see your family is still such a strong part of your life, even when you’re not living with your parents! How has your family grown with this new marriage? Were you surprised by your new role as daughter-in-law and stepparent?
Oh, my family continues to crack me up. Who wouldn’t love cheapo senior parents who agree to housesit for a stranger on Craigslist in order to get a free coastal vacation? I asked my mom how it was and, always upbeat, she said, “Well, there was a friendly cat!”
The new family is fabulous. My eighty-one-year-old father-in-law treats his lady friends to Sunday dinner in the local hospital cafeteria because they have a nice pot roast for $6.99. And nothing keeps you flexible like a son who plays the ukulele and a daughter with inexplicable ink. One of her tattoos features a realistic wolf en profile in the middle of a Spirograph design. Do I get it? No! Can I get behind it? All the way!
Do you believe your Mennonite upbringing instilled your sense of faith? What have you learned from the new Pentecostal community?
Ah, who can know what forces collude to pull us toward the divine? I do know that over the years my parents prayed for me, and I have come to believe in the power of prayer.
My new community has taught me many practical things. One of the best is the role of joyful praise. Outside, looking in, an observer might go, “Why are those folks so happy all the time?” But Pentecostal praise doesn’t come from the emotions. It’s a decision, an act of will, and as such it dramatically changes your notion of what it means to bless and be blessed.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve heard shouted in church?
First let me say that in my church of origin I never heard a peep, not a single “Amen!” Congregants sat in respectful silence, or, in my case, doodled in the bulletin. So I was delighted to find that Pentecostals will shout out anything at all, in noisy solidarity and goodwill.
Once my pastor was talking about “cultural overchoice.” To make his point, he brought in a box of breakfast cereal. He said, “I stood there in the cereal aisle, surrounded by option after option: Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes, Wheaties—”
“I LIKE ME SOME WHEATIES!!!” shouted Sister Fannie.
I clapped hard for Fannie. Pentecostals also feel free to applaud, see.
Are there any other memoirs about faith you’d like to recommend?
Sure. I read two provocative faith memoirs this year, Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2 and Donna Johnson’s Holy Ghost Girl. Speaking as one who will happily curl up in a hammock with the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, I think spiritual themes are pretty dang compelling. But Richard and Johnson actually have the edge on Ignatius. They really know how to move the story along.