I talk to myself. I always have. I also read voraciously, and that contributes to the inner chattiness. The opinions of my past and current selves have to duke it out at times; authors’ ideas intermingle with conversations I’ve had with friends and family; the words of Scripture and my whispering desires compete for my attention and headspace. Discerning a path forward through this lively, inner round-table discussion is difficult. Life is full of divergent pathways, each requiring decisive action, yet rarely receiving a unanimous vote from my inner committee. I’m accustomed to feeling around on the inside of questions, wishing that God’s word would shine just a little brighter on one side or the other of a fork in the road. If only the necessity of choosing could be, well, less of a choice and more of a simple yes sir. Sometimes it is, but not always. My inner chorus is loudest at the crossroads.
Carolyn Weber, author of Sex and the City of God: A Memoir of Love and Longing (InterVarsity Press, 2020), knows well this profusion of voices, and how complicated decision-making can be. Carolyn’s book takes us back to the early days of her conversion to Christianity, when she was studying literature at Oxford and trying to discern what this new life in Christ meant for her relationships. Sex and the City of God weaves the wisdom of St. Augustine into the story of her blossoming faith and her romantic forays as a new believer. The book is structured around this theme of the crossroads leading to two ultimate destinations: the City of God, whose residents seek eternal righteousness and love for God and neighbor, and the City of Man, whose residents seek their own temporal interests and desires. Carolyn grew up immersed in the way of the world, and old habits die hard. “How much easier it would be not to be a Christian!” she muses, “Not to be, well… good.”
Each chapter brims with dialogue, as she talks to non-believers, to other Christians, to God, and to her old “City-of-Man self.” Despite her questions (perhaps through her questions), she stumbles forward into the light and begins to recognize which voices resonate with the Holy Spirit and which are siren songs.
Her legitimate questions arise out of conscience, hope, and mystery, while others are merely excuses to linger at the crossroads, providing more time to caress the forbidden fruit, and simultaneously less time to think clearly or pray. The unbelieving voices of her potential and former flames meld with that subtle, minimizing voice of the old Carolyn who looks longingly back toward the City of Man she left behind:
“Who will know? Surely this breaks no commandment? We aren’t married to other people, after all, and we obviously still care for each other.… Come on in, the water’s fine…. Are you sure you’re still a Christian, then? This is how you want to live the rest of your life? So many rules and regulations, such self-denial? How can you be sure about what you believe? What if you’re wrong? What if you die and find out the entire thing has been a cruel joke, or worse yet, there’s… nothing?”
Each time Carolyn ventures into a tête-à-tête with a non-Christian man, her faith and conscience solidify “like a pebble in my shoe, a small sore irritant at the base of my being whenever I [try] to take a step forward with men.” She paints these scenes with the skill of a romance novelist: we feel with her the heady churn of attraction, and likewise the startling interruptions of grace that break the spell—a sudden knock on the door, a timely text from a friend, a Scripture verse emerging from her memory unbidden (and momentarily unwelcome) to cut through deception.
Sex and the City of God is encouraging, bracing, humorous, and richly literate. Carolyn Weber shows us the merciful (yet painful) process of Christ re-ordering her loves and directing her paths, from her dating days up through her present married life with four children. Through blunders, near-misses, surprises, and Christian friendship, she continues to find Jesus not only in the pebble in her shoe, but at the pinnacle of her heart.
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