Susan Campbell is the author of Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl. Her writing has been recognized by the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors; National Women's Political Caucus; the Sunday Magazine Editors Association, and the Connecticut chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. She was also a member of the Courant's 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning team for breaking news. This post originally appeared at her Dating Jesus blog.
So, I gave a speech the other night, and I gave a speech the night before that, too, and both were about Jesus, naturally. One was in a little white Congregational church (New England's lousy with 'em, the straight white steeple, the skinny doors) in a town not far from the town where I lived with my family for 16 years.
And there were familiar faces, and some new ones. I spoke, people asked interesting questions, and then I signed books. Standing in line were two young women, one with those large holes in her ears, and unusual-colored hair. They'd bought a book between them. The unusual-colored hair teenager said she’d once attended the Congregational church, and now she and her friend go to a Bible church in a town nearby. My ears tingled, and I asked, “Do they treat the women well?” and they said yes, absolutely. I told them I appreciated that even at their tender age, they're making their own way through theology, and they moved on.
Down the line was a young woman (14) and her mother. They bought a book but the young woman (her name was Annie) had called the book first so when they left, she had “Dating Jesus” clutched to her chest.
I don't know if you write or produce some kind of something, but I do so without thinking about it actually being consumed. I wrote a book, I talk about the book, but I don't think about people reading the book. I've had people come up to me at these talks and ask about my brother, the boy preacher, and I always startle a bit and think, "How do they know him?" before I remember I wrote a book and he's in it. (He is also — and I've said this before — the author of all the book's best lines.)
Still: There was something about those young women — all three of them in very different places spiritually, I bet — that gave me hope. At 14 (or 16 or 26) I was mired in a muddled theology that told me Jesus didn’t much love me, and to have a shot at heaven, I would need to subjugate myself. I would need to be a help-meet, a good Christian woman with all the attendant baggage. I could shine, but not too much, and only in predestined fields of endeavor.
To see young women standing straight, looking you in the eye, and talking about themselves as if they really matter — not in a rude way, or in a self-centered way, but in a self-aware way that says they don’t have a thing to apologize for, well: It gives me hope, that's all. I told one that when she ran for President, she should remember me so that she could let me come sleep at the White House. I intend to hold her to that.