I do not remember why I originally picked up Suprised by Oxford. It was probably a book I chose to review. But in the decade since it came out, I have read it three times, I believe. I have given away several copies, and I have recommended it to many. I think I will read pretty much anything that Carolyn Weber writes. She is a writer of both skill and insight.
Sex and the City of God is a follow up to both the love story with God and TDH (Tall, Dark, and Hansome.) If you are reading this as a follow up to Surprised by Oxford, which I recommend, you know that they are going to get married eventually. That lack of suspense did not impact my reading or my enjoyment of the story.
Like Suprised by Oxford, there are plenty of references and allusions. As you might expect from the title, Augustine is a particular conversation partner. Weber balances the story of her relationship with her now-husband with the relationship with her creator. This is intentional throughout because she wants to parallel how marriage is like our relationship with God. I do like the spiritual exploration in real life metaphors. It is part of how I like to think about both religious life and how I want to ‘seek God in all things.’ Christianity Today had a positive review but had a few reservations because the reviewer thought that at times there was a tension between the story and seeking God in that story.
That tension is part of what life is about though. It is always hard to accurately see where God is at any point in time, and even in reflection, we are still only ‘seeing darkly’ as we seek to piece together how God has been at work in our lives. As I am studying an Ignatian form of spiritual direction, the practice of the Prayer of Examen is a vital part. The Prayer of Examen, when done traditionally, is a practice there one or more times a day we stop and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we review our day, seeking out where God was with us, where we need to seek forgiveness for sin, and seek God for guidance and wisdom on how to proceed in the future (both in the guidance of the Spirit and with the intention to avoid sin or act justly.) In some sense, memoirs like this, ones that seek to trace not only God’s work in our lives but the ways that God often works in the lives of many Christians that are in similar situations, is like a type of examen.
There are almost no books that I can’t find some area where I would write things differently because I am not the author, and I have different biases and perspectives. Two small points I wish were handled slightly differently. First, I am, because of the large number of single people in my life, always aware of how Christians tend to talk about marriage as the maturity making institution. Marriage is a maturity making institution, but certainly not the only one. Singleness is, in its way, a different type of maturity making institution. I do not think that Weber is attempting to make marriage the only method, but a few more caveats I think would help.
Another point where I wish there was some more discussion is the reality of sex after marriage when there has been sex before marriage. Maybe I am reading into the text too much. Still, it seems to me that there is a strong hint that in the early scene where Weber’s ex-fiance stops by for her birthday, and they go to her grandmother’s cabin, and he tries to initiate sex, this is not the first time that he would have been initiating sex. Throughout the book, despite the Sex and the City play on words in the title, the discussion of sex is very restrained (which I appreciate). But what I wish more Christians would talk about, especially in a case like this, where there is a conversion and an attempt to live according to traditional Christian ethics after conversion that the potentially hinted at sex before conversion is not something that will permanently scar a marriage. Just by the numbers, many currently existing Christian marriages have one or both partners where one or both spouses were sexually active before the wedding. I do not want to advocate for a too nicely placed bow (it was all perfect because of Christ) or too many intimate details. But some reassurance that even in less than ideal circumstances, God can still work, is always helpful.