fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse. Published by Crown Publishing. Read in July, 2011. Advanced copy received through GoodReads Giveaways.
Lucia Greenhouse’s memoir is an engaging story about coming to terms with one’s parents when one does not share said parents’ integral belief system. Lucia was born to parents who became members of the Christian Science faith as adults; most of her extended family are not members of this faith, Christian Science is not to be mistaken for Scientology, which happens sometimes due to the shared “science.” It is a denomination of Christianity founded by Mary Baker Eddy. In addition to The Bible, members of this church also follow Ms. Eddy’s teachings, which she published in Science & Health With Key to the Scriptures. In short (from someone who has never experienced Christian Science), members of this faith believe that physical ailments are a symptom of a person’s lack of faith. Illnesses should not be treated with medicine; instead, one should be able to pray and receive healing. This goes for everything from a headache to cancer.
The first part of Lucia Greenhouse’s memoir details her childhood with the usual experiences: chicken pox, church services, camp, school friends of other faiths. Then things change. Her parents decide to leave Minnesota and move to London, where there are Christian Science boarding schools Lucia and her siblings can attend while her parents work on growing as Christian Science practitioners (sort of a faith healer). As Lucia grows up, she starts to question Christian Science. She experiences death of loved ones, which shakes her. Lucia’s parents are unhappy when she gets glasses to remedy her poor eyesight. Her faith in the founding ideas of Christian Science is on shaky ground.
The book moves forward in time. The reader finds Lucia out of college and working in New York City. She is called home to learn that her mother is ill. The rest of the memoir focuses on her mother’s illness and how is affects the family. Mother and father insist that she is getting better every day, despite the growing frailty. Her mother eventually goes to stay at a Christian Science care facility and Lucia is asked not to contact her mother for fear of impeding her improvement. Eventually, Lucia and her siblings intervene and call an ambulance to take their mother to the hospital. The conflict in the family grows as other family members come in to town and are horrified to see how sick Lucia’s mother was allowed to get.
Lucia struggles with guilt and blame, torn between the knowledge that her parents are adults who made their own choices and the idea that as a daughter, she is responsible for the love and care of her parents as they grow older. She questions the role her siblings and extended family played – or should have played – as time went on. All family members are forever changed, and some relationships are broken beyond repair by the end of the memoir.
Ms. Greenhouse has written a book that grabs your attention. It gets in your head and one cannot help but question where religious freedom and responsibility to the ones you love intersect and separate. Every few years, a story in the news surfaces about parents who “let” their child die as they practiced the Christian Science faith rather than visit a doctor, and this memoir gives the reader a window into one person’s experience in that situation. When, if ever, is it okay to ignore the advancements of modern medicine because it goes against faith? How does it affect relationships when you disagree with loved ones on such an important life issue?
I will definitely add this book to my high school’s collection. It is published as adult lit. I think this is a book that high school students in particular can relate to as they are figuring out who they are, separating their identity from their parents, and testing beliefs and boundaries.