Blessed Are the Nones

Mixed-Faith Marriage and My Search for Spiritual Community

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Pub Date 08 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 08 Oct 2020

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Can the Christian life be lived alone? When her husband left Christianity several years into their marriage, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook was left "spiritually single"—struggling to live the Christian life on her own, taking her kids to church by herself, and wrestling with her own questions and doubts. In this memoir, Kielsmeier-Cook tells the story of her mixed-faith marriage and how she found community in an unexpected place: an order of Catholic nuns in her neighborhood. As she spent time with them and learned about female Catholic saints, she began to see that she was not "spiritually single" after all—and that no one really is.

Can the Christian life be lived alone? When her husband left Christianity several years into their marriage, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook was left "spiritually single"—struggling to live the Christian life...

Advance Praise

"This is a necessary book, poignant and true."

-Jon M. Sweeney, Catholic author and rabbi spouse, author of James Martin, SJ: In the Company of Jesus 

"Blessed Are the Nones turns 'unequally yoked' on its head. There is no sense of winners and losers, lost and found, broken and born-again. Rather, Blessed is an invitation: How do we dive deeply when confronted with inevitable changes in relationships and faith? Kielsmeier-Cook is an eager cartographer; she maps the path of two faith-full people facing crises—and how they travel together, not apart. With visceral vulnerability, her powerful narratives stir and inform. She is our steady companion in the uncharted territory of those of us who loved—and lived—the evangelical movement of the late twentieth century. Utilizing nuns and nones, mystics and saints as her fulcrum, Kielsmeier-Cook provides equally eager guides for our own journeys of questions, change, wrestling, and doubt, equipping us with resources for our ultimate calling: love."

-J. Dana Trent, professor of religion and author of Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk 

"In our world in which change happens at breakneck speeds, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook's memoir, Blessed Are the Nones, tells a timely story of learning to grieve and to make our peace with the people and institutions around us as they inevitably change. Her story reminds us that the blessed community that God is crafting on earth is a diverse one, and she paints for us a compelling picture of belonging to one another without uniformity of thought or belief."

-C. Christopher Smith, founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books and author of How the Body of Christ Talks 

"In a time when the idea of a 'mixed marriage' increasingly means marriage between people of faith and the seekers, doubters, and religious wayfarers they find themselves partnered with, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook cracks open her own marriage in order to show us that these can be spiritual unions of great depth. And she also allows us a glimpse into the new kinds of religious communities that are forming all around us in a time when postinstitutional religion becomes a reality for many. Sensitive, observant, and wise, this is a book that brims over with compassion and care for the spiritually adrift."

-Kaya Oakes, author of The Nones Are Alright 

"For the many who find themselves evolving in their spirituality in a different way than those they love, it can be a scary, disorienting, isolating experience. Stina's book is a lyrical, honest, moving portrayal of marriage in the time of divergent deconversion and deconstruction. Hopeful without being simplistic, loving without being sentimental, theologically rich without being an answer book, Blessed Are the Nones will be a gift to those reorienting their lives and marriages."

-Sarah Bessey, author of Miracles and Other Reasonable Things and Jesus Feminist 

"I've been waiting years for this book and will be pressing it into the hands of so many people who are trying to figure out what faithfulness to God and each other looks like as their beliefs and relationships shift. Stina is a wise guide and trustworthy companion in the dark woods of the midfaith crisis, and this book is an absolute gift to the church."

-Amy Peterson, author of Where Goodness Still Grows and Dangerous Territory 

"Some people have the impression that both faith and marriage are supposed to be static and changeless. In reality, marriage is a constant negotiation of what it looks like to be married. And to have faith is to daily waiver between some amount of doubt and some amount of belief and to decide which aspects of your faith you have to let go of and which aspects you need to keep. In Blessed Are the Nones, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook beautifully shares her own experience of negotiation and wavering in the most vulnerable and honest terms."

-Shane Blackshear, host of Seminary Dropout podcast 

"A book about doubt is really a book about faith—faith in a God who is present and watching, who is able to withstand our questions and concerns. In this incredibly important and timely book, Stina Kielsmeier-Cook makes space for those on the journey of loving people who are losing their faith—a blend of bracing honesty about our reality and the gorgeous flashes of hope that true religion sows."

-D. L. Mayfield, activist and author of The Myth of the American Dream 

"This memoir you hold in your hand is true, not only because it explores Stina Kielsmeier-Cook's wrestling with her loving husband's deconversion and her own doubts—an important part of her life—but because she doesn't cover up or sugarcoat. That is high praise! With Stina I got to know the nuns, the saints, the nones, and new church communities. She sucked me right in. I felt as if I were standing right beside her in her thoughts, encounters, and jaunts in her neighborhood. That is craft. Among the things I loved most is that she doesn't caricature people. Her story reminds me that people are not one-dimensional. I also love how she models being with God and others in the reality of our lives, especially when the reality of things is most definitely not what we wanted or expected. But it is in reality, in the present, where we meet God and find community. Reality is the only place we can live. This is a book for the now."

-Marlena Graves, author of The Way Up Is Down: Finding Yourself by Forgetting Yourself 

"Stina Kielsmeier-Cook's memoir of navigating a newly mixed-faith marriage after her husband's deconversion from Christianity is a story of unexpected hopefulness. Kielsmeier-Cook writes about 'spiritual singleness' with an uncommon generosity of spirit toward everyone involved—her agnostic husband, his worried parents, and herself—as she wrestles with letting go of the image of the tidy Christian family she always expected she would have, and finds peace and wisdom in unexpected new places. This is not just a story of faith lost but of faith expanded and deepened."

-Ruth Graham, staff writer at Slate

"This is a necessary book, poignant and true."

-Jon M. Sweeney, Catholic author and rabbi spouse, author of James Martin, SJ: In the Company of Jesus 

"Blessed Are the Nones turns 'unequally yoked'...

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Featured Reviews

This is both a beautifully written book and a hard story to read. Stina Keilsmeier-Cook is unflinchingly candid about the struggle she finds herself in when her beloved husband admits that he no longer believes in God. She's a brilliant writer - her accounts of wrangling their two children into coats and boots and out through the Minneapolis snow to church on Sundays, all on her own as a "spiritual single," are so vivid, you feel like you're right there with her, longing for another set of hands to help. And yet I found myself longing for more of what her connection to God was like in that season of feeling alone. At times it seemed like her search was more about finding people to talk with about God, more than it was about God. I don't mean that as a criticism, just an observation. The longing for community is palpable, and it's difficult not to be frustrated with her husband for all his decision cost his wife. The book includes very little of what led to his loss of faith, and that's okay. I appreciate how well she guards his privacy and makes this about her journey, not his. There is one helpful scene in which he tells her about what faith was like for him before: how he could never please God, never do enough, was always striving and failing. Even she admitted he was probably better off without that kind of faith. Figuring out her own way forward, she discovers a nearby convent. And while she shares very little about the experience of faith internally (I wondered if some of that isn't the sheer exhaustion of raising toddler-age children), it's clear that what she's really looking for is friendship - people willing to seek faith together and talk about spiritual things, now that she can't have these conversations with her husband. I think this book will be tremendously helpful to anyone struggling with maintaining relationships in the face of faith differences, especially when they're unexpected. Keilsmeier-Cook is a gifted writer, and I hope she'll share more of this story as it unfolds. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Beautifully written, this spiritual memoir is one of the most brutally honest books on faith I've ever read. The author is of the millenial generation and has dabbled in many faith traditions - Mennonite, Baptist, Episcopal, Anglican, and Catholicism. She is serious about her faith and graduated from evangelical stronghold Wheaton College. So did her husband, until he lost his faith. The author struggles to hold on to her faith and gamely attempts church attendance by herself and with two small children in tow. It doesn't go well. I appreciated and identified with her struggles to even get the kids dressed on a Sunday morning, along with dealing with potty breaks and misbehavior during church services. She also attempts faith rituals at home, but everybody in the family tunes out. Finally finding a place for herself in a community of Catholic nuns, the author explores the concept of "spiritual singleness." This concept will likely resonate with many women who attend church alone or without support from their husbands or other family members. Many of us read to know that we are not alone, and this excellent book will reassure those of us standing around awkwardly at the church coffee hour, sitting in the pews distracted by our bored children, or torn between spending Sunday mornings with our husband or attending church. Highly recommended for anyone who cares about where the church is going in the twenty-first century.

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