This is not a book review; I'm only a few dozen pages into the book. I have to confess to being slightly put off by its slapdash writing and virtually-nonexistent copyediting (though I suppose a small Christian publisher like Butterfield's doesn't have much of an editing budget), but the book is both more complex and more honest than most conversion narratives I've read. What interests me most, though, is what Butterfield, after her conversion, did with her past. After becoming a Christian, she felt constrained to jettison not only her career, but also her friends, and she writes: "I felt like a vampire -- possessing no reflection in mirrors. I realize now that this is what it means to be washed clean, to be truly made new again. The past really is gone. The shadow of what was remains, but the substance is truly taken away." But is it really?
One of the things that stood out for me in the early pages of Butterfield's book was her description of hospitality in the gay community. She describes how "[on] Thursday nights, I had a regular tradition: I made a big dinner and opened my home for anyone in the gay and lesbian community to come and eat and talk about issues and needs." Wow, I thought; it sounds so beautiful. It reminded me of Christ, after the Resurrection, cooking breakfast for his friends on the beach and calling them to come and eat. Why can't we have that? Why can't we do that? Or is such friendship and camaraderie, such openheartedness, the special province of the marginalized and oppressed? I felt myself filled with longing for the community that Butterfield describes -- the community from which (thought I haven't read far enough to ascertain this) I am assuming she later cut herself off completely.
The book jacket states that Butterfield now lives in North Carolina with her husband and children, and I suppose that this kind of fragmentation of a formerly sprawling community into a nuclear family is not only the (hetero-)norm, but also the gold standard for a Christian family, but it made me wonder nevertheless how well such a narrowing and siphoning off of a once outwardly-directed hospitality would work. After many years of commitment not only to a sexual identity, but also to what sounds like sincere friendship and generosity within a community of the like-minded, what would it feel like to become someone else, someone suddenly rootless? Does the new community of believers who are strangers successfully take the place of the old community of hardened sinners who are beloved friends?
And then there's marriage and home life. If you marry young, when you're still becoming who you are, you and your spouse grow together in mutual recognition and come to share a certain language, a particular lexicon of references. But if you marry later, when you are already essentially who you are -- as I have done, and as Butterfield must have done -- I think there's a certain area in which you must always be a stranger to your spouse, and a certain degree to which you will have to attempt to translate the understanding of the world at which you arrived in the past, as if it were in a foreign language. If Butterfield's former friends are now strangers, she must now be engaged in the work of turning strangers, including those in her own home, into friends. Does this work?
The person that I believe myself essentially to be -- a lover of beauty, an associater of the workaday and the pedestrian with transformative aesthetic experience -- seems distant now from the person who performs the actions of my everyday life. When I think about my old life, I feel a sense of profound dislocation from its suchness, which was mainly concerned with finding meaning and beauty in the mundane. Now, perhaps like Butterfield, my life is primarily taken up with attempts to get through the day, to fulfill my commitments, and to make friends of the strangers with whom I live.
And I received my conversion. And eventually I got married and had a family and then moved away in space as well as in time from the site of my old self and my former understanding. Am I like a vampire? Am I washed clean? I don't know; but I do know that, when I walk through my new neighborhood at twilight, I sometimes wish for my old life. I sometimes wish for one of my old, far-flung friends to be there, one who would understand perfectly the lexicon of this particular darkening cloud, of that particular warm light illuminating a room in a house and pouring onto the grass outside, of the scent of this particular mock-orange tree, and would say, "Oh yes -- that." I do not know yet if Rosaria Champagne Butterfield wishes for these things too. I have to keep reading.