What to do with a PhD in Religion and Society from Drew? At first I did the conventional thing and lectured in religious studies at the University of Stirling, Scotland. Then, I returned to local Church ministry in the United Methodist Church where I found I had to submerge most of what I had learned in order to prevent my sermons from becoming too unwieldy. (I discovered quickly that parishoners have limited tolerance for “on the one hand/on the other hand” kind of ponderings…) That season of ice berg academic teaching might have gone on forever, except that my beloved husband got a back ache, soon diagnosed as stage four cancer, which culminated in his early death. Our son was six, our daughter four.
To save my sanity I quit the local Church ministry, returned my ordination papers to the United Methodist Church, learned how to be a parent to grieving children, and started writing a story about Jesus. I went back to being a student at Drew. Which isn’t to say I returned to New Jersey; rather I returned imaginatively to the classroom of Dr. Karen McCarthy Brown and asked her how a participant observer with a feminist bent would write a gospel in the 21st century. I really didn’t know that this story would ever be read by others. I embarked upon the writing to keep myself engaged with Jesus and my own heart, soul, and mind during a season in which I thought I might die from the demands of life. I was desperate to stay alive for my children. In time I was desperate to stay alive for Esther, the character I created, too.
I don’t know if Karen Brown would approve of how I’ve applied what I learned in her classroom. I hope that she would. I have not watered down the sexual shaming, intimidation, or violence that would have been constants in the life of a young woman with no male protectors, nor have I discounted as mental illness the spiritual power and insights that come to those who have visions, hear voices, and dream prophetic dreams. I learned from Dr. Brown to take these seriously when submerging myself in another culture. She called them “the unseen powers that make sense of the data that doesn’t fit.” (Notes from a lecture she gave twenty years ago.)
Already advance reviews of my novel are predicting that The Alabaster Orphan: A Mystic Girl’s Journey with Jesus will be controversial. I know Dr. Brown would be pleased by that! She taught in every lecture, and with her life’s work, that great anthropology challenges the powers that be. History is written by the victors. Anthropology gives voice to the vanquished. That’s what I’ve attempted with my novel.—Mary Maaga has a PhD with distinction in Religion and Society from Drew and a Master of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. The Alabaster Orphan can be purchased through Dr. Maaga’s website www.thealabasterorphan.com To contact her directly, e-mail at email@example.com or become her friend on Facebook.