Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez
Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist by Anthony B. Pinn
Prometheus Books, $18.95, 241 pages
Your second home is a grand one.
It’s much bigger than the house you live in during the week. No, your second home has huge windows to let in the light, fine linens, and it’s usually filled with music. The furniture might be sparse, the chairs hard and the temperature uncomfortable, but there’s always joy there.
Church is like that for many people. But, as you’ll see in Writing God’s Obituary by Anthony B. Pinn, church is just a building to others.
Anthony Pinn was a “miracle baby.”
Doctors had warned his mother not to have another child. She’d already lost one son and was sickly herself (as was Pinn’s father), but Pinn was healthy when he was born into their Buffalo , New York family.
Growing up in a mostly blue-collar neighborhood, Pinn went to church every Sunday with his mother. Her father was a deacon in a small Baptist church, and he made sure Pinn behaved during service and knew God. The church was a comfort to Pinn—so much so, that at around age 12, he told his minister that he wanted to be a preacher, too.
His church leaders seized that childhood wish, and began to teach the boy to preach and minister to a congregation. One of them became somewhat of a mentor and father figure to Pinn, whose own father had left the family. Though Pinn “didn’t enjoy going to Sunday school” and he didn’t like school in general, he says he loved his church and he embraced his future role in its leadership.
And yet, there were things he didn’t like about it: the “fine art of… shunning,” for instance, sexism, and homophobia. That bothered him, and his faith began to crack.
Still, he stuck with it. He matriculated from high school and entered college to study sociology and religion. He learned about other religious traditions and that “The Bible didn’t matter in the same way” at college that it did in high school. He began to listen to worldly music, and started to “unlearn” his fear of life.
“We are screwed-up animals, self-aware, communicative, and evolving,” he says, which didn’t mesh with the wrathful God of his childhood. And so, while studying divinity at Harvard University , he kept asking one question: “Does God exist?”
For author and humanist Anthony B. Pinn, the answer is personally “no” and in this controversial-but-thought-provoking memoir, he explains how he came to that conclusion.
But “Writing God’s Obituary” isn’t just about religion. Pinn recalls his parents and grandparents with warmth and love, telling their stories and savoring the things they taught him. Those reflections make his journey all the more poignant; we can sense pain here sometimes, and an emptiness for what was never experienced and what might have been.
I liked this book, but beware before you pick it up. It may make you fearful, it might make you angry or prayerful, but if you’ve ever wrestled with issues of faith, “Writing God’s Obituary” may be a book to bring home.
Pee-Shy: A Memoir by Frank Spinelli
Kensington, $15.00, 353 pages
Sometimes, you wish you had a better memory.
You would never, for instance, forget appointments. You could tell better jokes, win more arguments, save more money. You’d remember faces of the people you met and events that happened when you were too small for it to matter.
Then again, as you’ll see in the new book Pee-Shy: A Memoir by Frank Spinelli, some things you’ll wish you could forget.
When he just an 8-year-old, Frank Spinelli received a toy medical kit as a gift, and decided on the spot that he wanted to be a doctor someday. It was a surprise, therefore, years later, when he flunked out of college, his scholarship gone with his dreams.
Taking the advice of a friend, Spinelli began therapy to explore the reasons for his dark life and med-school failure. The answer, as it turned out, was easy…
It started when Spinelli was just 11 years old, overweight, bullied, sports-hating, and a frustration to his Italian parents, who pushed their son into Scouting.
Spinelli hated Scouting, but he admired the area’s Scoutmaster. He liked Bill, and he knew that Bill liked him. Bill took Spinelli out for ice cream, and to do errands. He invited Spinelli over to his house for what Bill called “boy bonding.” When Spinelli eventually told his parents about this molestation, very little was done and even less was said.
Fast forward: back on track, Spinelli achieved his dream of becoming a doctor. He opened his own practice in New York and grew his clientele. He seemed like a successful, happy gay man, but old issues still plagued him: sometimes, he couldn’t empty his bladder. Configurations of bathrooms mattered. Other occupants mattered. Urinals were mostly off-limits. It was a remnant of his abuse, and he’d learned to deal with it.
And then, old memories began to float forward. Small reminders nagged at Spinelli. He found a book written about Bill, and learned that Bill had adopted a son. That opened a floodgate of images and questions.
So Spinnelli picked up the phone and called the man…
Is your jaw on the floor yet? I know mine was as I followed author Frank Spinelli on his incredible journey in Pee-Shy.
With steady strength and a rare kind of candor, Spinelli writes of a childhood filled with bullying, embarrassment, and curiosity for forbidden (girl’s) things. It’s almost a relief as this formerly-outcast kid lets us see him become a successful adult, and yet, it’s a mixed bag, since we’re then privy to his falling apart, his self-doubts, and frustrations that his body reacts as it does, now that it’s safe. None of this is easy to read—it’s a squirmy book, for sure—but what makes it worthwhile is the sense of courage and closure that the ending allows.
Be aware that there are some explicit bits to this book, but it’s appropriate and not gratuitous. If you can handle that, though, then Pee-Shy: A Memoir is a book that’ll surely stick in your memory.