Kelly Barth, like many American kids, went to Sunday school, sang songs about Zaccheas, and was tucked in with bedtime prayers. A typical Christian kid, that is, until she developed a searingly deep crush on another little girl playing afterhours in church, and more importantly, until Jesus—a tiny, imaginary Jesus, one that stays “safely tucked behind the baseboard or the petals of a peony”—became her invisible friend and constant companion. ...
Kelly Barth, like many American kids, went to Sunday school, sang songs about Zaccheas, and was tucked in with bedtime prayers. A typical Christian kid, that is, until she developed a searingly deep crush on another little girl playing afterhours in church, and more importantly, until Jesus—a tiny, imaginary Jesus, one that stays “safely tucked behind the baseboard or the petals of a peony”—became her invisible friend and constant companion. Heartbreakingly honest and hilarious, My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus shows just how easy it can be to fall headlong into fundamentalism, venturing into the very heart of enemy territory and the church’s false promises of altar calls and sexual cures. In the spirit of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, this debut memoir is plainspoken, speaking with candor and insight. Barth particularly addresses the disconnect between the radical and very human Jesus of history and the church’s supernatural savior. She asks the question to all in the closet—both closet Christians and closet homosexuals: Which is more difficult, admitting to being Christian or admitting to being gay? An answer is found in her own hard-won journey, a hopeful answer that is an “attempt to leave a record of the early signs of the turning and softening of a collective heart.” Giving voice to many who have searched for sanctuary in a church that has largely rejected them, this story pauses at the threshold of one of a growing number of churches which, in opening the door to her and other homosexuals, welcome Jesus back inside as well.
This charming memoir, Barth's first book, is an exemplary coming-out story as well as a wholesale indictment of the hypocrisy and false promises of many archconservative Christian congregations about sexuality—that love, when it happens between two members of the same sex, is a manifestation of broken "machinery in need of parts and service." Barth's recovery from self-loathing and anxiety is a very near thing, but this witty volume leaves her happily partnered and churched. VERDICT A lovely volume for readers who can't get enough Anne Lamott or Mary Karr, Barth's book is both revelatory and amusing.
Learning how to be gay and Christian. From an early age, Barth knew she was different than other girls, and she knew she had to keep this difference a secret. Raised in the Midwest in an old-fashioned Presbyterian home, the author was trained to view homosexuality as deviant and sinful. As such, she could not accept her sexuality and certainly could not reconcile it with her faith. As Barth grew to more fully recognize her attraction to her own gender, she reacted by shutting herself off as much as possible from that very attraction, pretending to be straight. Eventually, she found herself diving into Christian fundamentalism as a way out of her dilemma, going so far as to take part in a class designed to change her sexual preference. Throughout, she was accompanied on and off by an "imaginary Jesus." Barth's concept of her imaginary Jesus may be difficult to grasp for many readers. He is an imaginary friend, an inner voice, someone for her to cry out to in times of desperation, but he is certainly not the divine Jesus Christ of organized Christianity. Barth recalls her youth and young adulthood with vivid detail and imagery. Though much of the book centers on her faith or life amid various faith traditions, she also weaves detailed stories about her relationships with others, including the woman she would go on to marry. At times, the narrative becomes dull as Barth veers down paths few readers will find of interest--e.g., a discussion of her good credit report when she applied for a home loan. Apart from such divergences, however, the author provides an intriguing life story.
Kelly Barth was a fiction fellow in the University of Montana’s creative writing program and has received fellowships from the Missouri Arts Council and the Kansas Arts Commission. Her work has been published in anthologies and literary journals, most recently Coal City Review and Muse & Stone. She lives in a very small house with her partner Lisa Grossman in Lawrence, Kansas. My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus is her first book.