|Jen and I lunching together. Clearly.|
Jen was actually in New York as part of a book tour and my friend Nona managed to get Jen and the Ignatius Press publicity people to fit us into the schedule. Cardinal Dolan's office apparently tried to set up a meeting between the Cardinal and Jen, but our luncheon had already been planned. "So he got bumped for you," Jen joked. I was shocked that the Cardinal and Jen weren't already, you know, drinking buddies or something, but Jen explained that the Cardinal's endorsement of her book was handled through assistants. (So that's how it works!)
Jen's next stop after lunch was the Pauline Bookstore in mid-town Manhattan and then on to a talk the next day at the office of First Things, a highly influential journal of religion and public life. Jen expressed some nervousness about whether New York City was really her target audience, musing that she might get a better reception in the suburbs. As if the conversion story she relates in her book, which has been compared to St. Augustine's Confessions, would only be of interest to suburban housewives. Not surprisingly, every single book that Jen brought to her speech at First Things was sold out.
Although Catholic readers are of course her base, Jen strongly wanted to reach outside the Catholic bubble with her book. A conversion story, after all, should convince people to convert, and that won't happen unless non-believers read it. So Jen hired a very secular-minded Jew as her editor to make sure that every anecdote was accessible to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And atheists are definitely interested in Jen's story of how an atheist found God -- on a day that her personal blog was featured on Reddit.com, which has attracted a large number of young, atheist followers, Jen's blog received over 150,000 hits.
Jen said that she rarely meets Catholics outside of Mass and parish events, and that she wondered how missionaries managed centuries ago while they were surrounded by people ignorant of and even hostile to faith in a Christian God. Sounded like a great idea for a follow-up book to me, but Jen insisted that she was staying focused on her current book and on her husband's new business venture. She definitely won't stop networking, though. She's planning on setting up conferences for Catholic women, first in her home state of Texas and then elsewhere, but she's looking for more mingling than meditation. Catholics, particularly those who are well versed in their faith, have a real need to connect with each other on a personal level, Jen has found. "Like this lunch," she grinned.
Forming these close personal connections helps us realize how many different faces Catholicism can wear. Every Catholic can witness their faith to the world just by remaining totally themselves and totally Catholic. Jen abhors the negative stereotype of a "good Catholic" as being an unappealing and hopelessly out-of-touch woman in a floor-length skirt with bib overalls. "I thought about that when I started to convert, and I realized I just can't do that!" At nearly six feet tall with long red hair and a glamour-girl smile, Jen clearly won't be succumbing to the bib overall look any time soon. But, God willing, she'll be attracting a lot of people to Catholicism with the story of her conversion and her beautiful personal witness.