The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deeshan Philyaw is a scandalous collection of nine short stories. Each story gives an account of a lady or ladies struggling with their faith vis-a-vis personal freedom, longing, and sex.
As one who has grown up in the church, I related to many aspects of these stories. I saw myself in How to love a physicist? The struggle for personal freedom amidst the girdles of religion and masking up. The church is the place where we are supposed to bare it all but instead, it is the place where we come to show layers of perfection.
I saw myself in Daughter who was born a girl and was automatically marked for house duty 24/7 while her brothers went off and did whatever they wanted. Her life stopped so her mother’s life would continue. Growing up in Uganda, I believe many girls are trained for house duty from a tender age while the boys are left out thanks to the patriarchy. Growing up in Hoima district in Western Uganda, I never saw my uncles, brothers, father doing house work-ever. But we the girls, we cooked, cleaned the house, washed dishes, swept the compound, ensured the elders had hot water to shower and the list is endless. Doing housework is not a bad thing. I am glad that I was taught how to do it all; cook, clean, wash, serve. It has made living alone so much easier. The issue is boys and men being left out of house duty. They grow up expecting the women in their lives to always do it. House duty is a responsibility for all genders.
I saw myself in the opening story-Eula where this lady (Eula Books) is on the search for the Boaz. She is bombarded with questions from congregants: when are you getting married? When are you having kids? Have you found the one? Well-meaning questions that leave her with feelings of resentment for not achieving the Boaz goal. As a 30-year-old, I have been asked when I am settling down countless times. My sister, who follows me got married last year-and I was hounded with when is yours coming up? I have been accused of speaking too much English which chases the men away. I have also been told that I am assertive and so men fear me. All this to explain why I am still single.
All in all, this collection lays bare the turmoil in the church. The questions we grapple with in relation to our faith. Questions we cannot ask openly. But how do we navigate them in order to move forward? How do we learn to be happy without shoving marriage down people’s throats? How do we extend grace to people who ‘sin’ in bigger ways than we do? How do we live exemplary lives without using the bible to benefit and support our bad-mannered ways? Above all, how do we share Jesus with a hurting world?
I highly recommend this short story collection but tread carefully if you are a religious Christian. Some of these stories will have your heart racing ten times faster. The humour and sarcasm embodied are like mama’s peach cobbler that Rev liked-sweet to the last bite. (Inside joke, read the book to get it.)
I was happy to learn that The Secret Lives of Church ladies will be turned into an HBO series. I look forward to seeing it on screen. Don’t you just love when books are adapted into movies?
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