Kaya Oakes resides in my pantheon of literary alterna-goddesses. She is an award-winning poet (Telegraph
), author of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture
and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She was the co-founder and senior editor of Kitchen Sink magazine ---a wickedly hip publication that ran from 2002 – 2007 which featured saucy essays, interviews, reviews and noodlings on media, art and culture.
In her latest book, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church
, Oakes chronicles how a punk rock-loving, third wave feminist finds a spiritual home in a monolithic institution whose politics she opposes.
Oakes grew up in Oakland, California, where she bounced back and forth between Catholic and public schools in the 1970’s and 80’s. Her adolescent perception of the Catholic Church --- formed while doing a lot of eye-rolling --- was shaped by humorless nuns, the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar
, and the Church services her family attended which featured Vatican II reforms such as, “folk Mass,” liturgical dance, and occasional "reflections" by female parishioners.
As a preteen she viewed the Church as “clunky and dorky,” but secretly enjoyed the late night Masses served in candlelight. When she was a senior in high school, Oakes took a trip to Spain with her classmates. In Ávila, surrounded by medieval churches and baroque cathedrals, the only thing Oakes felt about her Catholic heritage was shame.
After high school, Oakes pursued creative writing and steeped herself in indie culture and leftist politics. Suffering from a “generational propensity for snark and cynicism” Oakes assumed that she was an atheist. But when she busted herself praying and making the sign of the cross whenever she saw a dead animal on the side of the road, she began to question her unbelief and realized she’d been faking atheism.
Oakes starting sneaking into Catholic Mass services where she found a measure of peace she couldn’t find anywhere else. When she finally confessed to her shrink that she believes in “The Catholic God” she felt like she had just blurted out that she believes in leprechauns.
Tired of pretending she doesn’t believe in God, Oakes decides to fully confront the Church she left behind. She begins attending weekly catechism meetings at a liberal-leaning parish, gets confirmed, grits her teeth at the Vatican, hashes out her issues with Jesus, re-discovers some kick-ass women saints to pray to, helps her church feed the homeless, meets a group of progressive lesbians and ex-nuns who are fighting the Church from within, joins their “pray and bitch” group, researches original Hebrew texts, cracks open the essence of the gospel, is asked to give gospel reflections in the Church, becomes a budding theologian, and fights like hell for LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom and radical inclusion.
This book made my heart leap, YESYESOHGODYES!