The Rotisserie Chicken Gospel
Susan Isaacs is done equating success in life with God's favor—or equating her failures with him just being a stingy sugar daddy. After discovering Monty Python in high school, Isaacs, who grew up in a conservative Lutheran home in Orange County, California, delved into the world of acting, playing minor roles while living in L.A. and New York City. Meanwhile, she dabbled in all varieties of American Protestantism, from a huge Pentecostal church to an "Orthopraxy, Dude" church led by a former drug addict to a Bel Air church where the praise band wore Abercrombie and flip flops. After several near-breakthroughs in the acting world and some painful romantic breakups, at age 40 Isaacs went through what she calls a "middle-class white girl's Dark Night of the Soul."
Despite her self-deprecation, Isaacs's story Angry Conversations with God has hit a nerve with a brand of evangelical that favors authenticity over authority and messy narrative over formulas for success. In September she will be touring with Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and the forthcoming A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. CT assistant editor Katelyn Beaty spoke with Isaacs about her new book.
A major theme of Angry Conversations with God is facing disappointments—having roles in Hollywood that ended up falling through, going to churches where the congregants were unsupportive. What made you want to write such an unhappy book?
What was important in writing the book was going through the anger and disappointment, and God loving me through the process—God showing me my part in things, grieving the parts that were genuine losses, and still being able say, "Even if the fig tree doesn't bloom and there are no cattle in the stalls," I'm still going to rejoice in God my Savior, because he's enabled me to climb mountains.
Anyone who thinks that you're not allowed to get angry with God has never read Jeremiah or Lamentations or a lot of the Psalms, where there is plenty of anger and heartbreak aimed at God. I wasn't doing myself or God any good by hiding it.
Is this why you chose the couples therapy motif to narrate how your view of God shifted from a negligent abuser to a loving husband?
I think it was a fun motif to use. I wrote this comedy sketch for a comedy group in New York in which I took God to counseling. A lot of the people at the show knew about The Sacred Romance [by John Eldredge] and the "Jesus is your husband" stuff that especially single Christians go through. The sketch was turning that known idea on its head. It had God saying, "You don't give me enough quality time," and me saying, "You don't give me what you want," and people, even non-Christians, loved that sketch. And then, because the husband motif and therapy motif were recognizable, I thought it would be interesting to give God the opportunity to answer back. I knew that God doesn't change, but clearly my idea of God was wrong, and that character needed to change, that we needed to see her understanding of God change over time.
Did you think that putting words in the mouth of the living God would be irreverent?
If you look in the Bible, there are a lot of funny moments of sarcasm, and God has his own wit and sense of humor, and I wanted that playful, funny, snarky side of God to come out.
Also, there are a lot of people who are disgruntled, who grew up watching SNL and Monty Python—who's going to speak to them? They're not going to read A. W. Tozer or Max Lucado and feel like it pulls on them. My thoughts were more on the people for whom irreverence and snark were a common language, people who are already there and already closed off to God. I wanted to say, "Yes I know, and, this is my story."