Sex and the City of God

A Memoir of Love and Longing

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Pub Date 25 Aug 2020 | Archive Date 24 Sep 2020

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When Carolyn Weber moved to Oxford University to study, she didn't expect to find God there. But she did. As she grappled with her newest and most important relationship, she also found that there was another invitation: to think bigger about love. In this book we follow Weber through courtship and into marriage and parenthood. Now a literature professor, Weber reflects on her relationship with a sometimes-absent father and how that has shaped her. Through her personal story, as well as spiritual, theological, and literary reflection, Sex and the City of God explores what life looks like when we choose to love God first.

When Carolyn Weber moved to Oxford University to study, she didn't expect to find God there. But she did. As she grappled with her newest and most important relationship, she also found that there...

Advance Praise

"Here is a modern woman's walk through life with Augustine's ancient wisdom as a guide. Yes, it is a love story, but it is no mere love story. It carries weight and wisdom. You will laugh and cry—sometimes simultaneously—and ponder the remarkable grace of God. Weber is a storyteller at heart. She keeps her reader in delightful suspense without neglecting the rich nourishment that strong stories supply."

-Ben Palpant, author of A Small Cup of Light and Sojourner Songs 

"Sex is in the title, but this book is surely and mostly about marriage—what comes before and what we receive afterward. It is about all the most important loves we have and how they grow softly and strong and sturdy over time. Weber also provides a rare and honest examination of female desire, sanctified. It is an honest, lyrically and beautifully written memoir from an accomplished writer from whom we expect great things, and Weber does not disappoint."

-Karen Stiller, author of The Minister's Wife

"Here is a modern woman's walk through life with Augustine's ancient wisdom as a guide. Yes, it is a love story, but it is no mere love story. It carries weight and wisdom. You will laugh and...

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Featured Reviews

I picked up this book because I was, admittedly, intrigued by the title and then the description. It was exactly the book I needed to read. After having consumed entirely too many romance novels lately, I felt the Holy Spirit showing me I have some recalibration to do. In Sex and the City of God, Carolyn Weber frequently recalibrates as she seeks to love Jesus more and to live a life of love and obedience, often referencing St. Augustine's "City of God." I'd point anyone to this book who is questioning the self-centered, short-sighted views of love and sex that permeate our culture and who wants to understand a deeper, better way (single or married), explained in a very approachable, heartfelt, non-preachy way. Weber didn't immediately launch into talk of romantic love as I expected, but I was immediately drawn into how she articulated her ideas and told her story. It was warm and inviting, intelligent and relatable. Plus, she is a literature professor who loves Jesus! My kind of person. As she works her way into her story, there are glimpses of her coming to faith while at Oxford (a whole other book of hers which is now on my to-read list), but the book mostly focuses on her early years of being a Christian, figuring out what that means for her, and then growing in that. As she matures in her faith, she begins to reorder her loves and priorities to put God ahead of her desires, and spoiler alert, begins to find it is the better way. In the realm of romantic love, that means crucifying some old ways and thought patterns. I really appreciated how honest Weber is, especially as she talks about the temptation to follow the natural inclination to act on attractions and later tough times in her relationship with her husband. Weber explores what it really means to love God and how God has created love and marriage as a foretaste of and preparation for eternity. It's not the rom-com view of wuv, but a much deeper, realistic, hopeful, and long-term perspective on love and sex, one that is not compatible with the zeitgeist. Sometimes books like this can seem all packaged and trite and holier than thou. This book never was. One thing I did want was more detail about Weber's father — his struggles with mental illness and ultimate conversion and then reconciliation with her, as that was mentioned frequently but not explored as fully as it might have been, though perhaps out of respect for her family...or maybe that's for another book.

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I was excited to begin this book by Carolyn Weber after reading her earlier book, Surprised By Oxford, earlier this year. Her writing swept me into her story from the beginning and I remember finishing that book wanting to know the rest of her story. Thankfully, this book takes up that story, walking the reader through the continuation of her developing relationship with God and one TDH. The quotes from Augustine throughout tie her story together and provide reflecting points on her relationships.

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A wonderful next installment in the life stories and musings by Carolyn Weber. I so enjoyed her book Surprised by Oxford and wasn’t disappointed by this one on the theme of love, commitment, the role of fathers, and how romantic love beds down and morphs into something longer lasting in a decades-long marriage. Her vocation as a literature professor informs the pages with her evocative literary allusions, but her prose is readable and memorable.

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As someone who identifies as a person of faith and knows that there are struggles to find God, I really appreciated this memoir. I found Carolyn's story to be inspirational and one I could relate to. I liked the writing and found myself very invested in the stroy.

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I do not remember why I originally picked up Suprised by Oxford. It was probably a book I chose to review. But in the decade since it came out, I have read it three times, I believe. I have given away several copies, and I have recommended it to many. I think I will read pretty much anything that Carolyn Weber writes. She is a writer of both skill and insight. Sex and the City of God is a follow up to both the love story with God and TDH (Tall, Dark, and Hansome.) If you are reading this as a follow up to Surprised by Oxford, which I recommend, you know that they are going to get married eventually. That lack of suspense did not impact my reading or my enjoyment of the story. Like Suprised by Oxford, there are plenty of references and allusions. As you might expect from the title, Augustine is a particular conversation partner. Weber balances the story of her relationship with her now-husband with the relationship with her creator. This is intentional throughout because she wants to parallel how marriage is like our relationship with God. I do like the spiritual exploration in real life metaphors. It is part of how I like to think about both religious life and how I want to 'seek God in all things.' Christianity Today had a positive review but had a few reservations because the reviewer thought that at times there was a tension between the story and seeking God in that story. That tension is part of what life is about though. It is always hard to accurately see where God is at any point in time, and even in reflection, we are still only 'seeing darkly' as we seek to piece together how God has been at work in our lives. As I am studying an Ignatian form of spiritual direction, the practice of the Prayer of Examen is a vital part. The Prayer of Examen, when done traditionally, is a practice there one or more times a day we stop and seek the Holy Spirit's guidance as we review our day, seeking out where God was with us, where we need to seek forgiveness for sin, and seek God for guidance and wisdom on how to proceed in the future (both in the guidance of the Spirit and with the intention to avoid sin or act justly.) In some sense, memoirs like this, ones that seek to trace not only God's work in our lives but the ways that God often works in the lives of many Christians that are in similar situations, is like a type of examen. There are almost no books that I can't find some area where I would write things differently because I am not the author, and I have different biases and perspectives. Two small points I wish were handled slightly differently. First, I am, because of the large number of single people in my life, always aware of how Christians tend to talk about marriage as the maturity making institution. Marriage is a maturity making institution, but certainly not the only one. Singleness is, in its way, a different type of maturity making institution. I do not think that Weber is attempting to make marriage the only method, but a few more caveats I think would help. Another point where I wish there was some more discussion is the reality of sex after marriage when there has been sex before marriage. Maybe I am reading into the text too much. Still, it seems to me that there is a strong hint that in the early scene where Weber's ex-fiance stops by for her birthday, and they go to her grandmother's cabin, and he tries to initiate sex, this is not the first time that he would have been initiating sex. Throughout the book, despite the Sex and the City play on words in the title, the discussion of sex is very restrained (which I appreciate). But what I wish more Christians would talk about, especially in a case like this, where there is a conversion and an attempt to live according to traditional Christian ethics after conversion that the potentially hinted at sex before conversion is not something that will permanently scar a marriage. Just by the numbers, many currently existing Christian marriages have one or both partners where one or both spouses were sexually active before the wedding. I do not want to advocate for a too nicely placed bow (it was all perfect because of Christ) or too many intimate details. But some reassurance that even in less than ideal circumstances, God can still work, is always helpful.

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