In English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith, Andrea Lucado, a born and bread Texan and preacher’s daughter, rehashes a year’s experience studying at Oxford-Brookes for her Master’s degree. As I’ve been living in England for the past few years, I appreciated her take on being an American juxtaposed against the British despite both cultures being western and English speaking.
In particular, early on in her memoir she writes, “ … I feel out of place here a lot. I feel like I try too hard, with British people especially. I feel like I’m too much or something. Like too loud. And I’m not. Where I come from, people consider me pretty quiet and reserved.” As soon as I read this sentence, I knew Lucado was going to do a brilliant job of capturing what it feels like to be an American in Britain and a Bible believing one at that.
An exploration of uncertainty and doubt in the faith she grew up on
Lucado’s memoir explores uncertainty and doubt in her Protestant faith that she’s never entertained before as she’s far away from her family and friends. Church was the sun in which most of her life’s happenings revolved around as she grew up, for better or worse. Lucado was forced to face her uncertainty and questions in Oxford as this was the first time she’d stepped away from the way of life that influenced her faith.
I didn’t grow up near the Bible belt as a preacher’s daughter like Lucado, but I can relate to her grappling with the struggle of doubting or having questions about the faith she was raised up on.
Growing up, I had my share of bugbears about being raised in the Catholic church including the never ending catechism lessons, the thousand-year long parade called “the Stations of the Cross,” and autopilated recitations of Hail Marys and Our Father’s. Lucado’s memoir is refreshing in that it’s a simple look, from the perspective of a 22 year old, at the questions we all have at some point in our faith walk if we’ve grown up in the faith.
There were a couple faith-related sections that I’d enjoyed a lot, including the section, “If I Forget You, O Jerusalem,” wherein she points out that as Christian creatives we’re always trying to distinguish between the Christian and non-Christian. But, she goes on to explain, we should be concerned with distinguishing what portrays Truth and what hides Truth. Art can’t be Christian, only the art maker. And the art maker should do their best to portray Truth.
What it’s really like for an American girl abroad
However, the struggle with Lucado’s faith isn’t what kept me reading. As I mentioned before, she does a great job of putting into words what it’s really like to live in a foreign, English speaking country as a brash American.
I remember when I first came to England and had to grapple with different phrases, words, and slang. I remember feeling terrified that I was going to say something that would come across as rude, because apparently “I don’t care” is rude and you should always say “I don’t mind” if you’re easy about something. I also remember feeling that England was a fantastical, magical land where phrases like “I accidentally stepped on the back of my pants” become “I accidentally tread on the edge of my trousers” or “pet peeves” become “bugbears.”
Also, she talks (and this is arguably my favorite section) about the importance of coffee to her addicted soul. She writes, “I began to learn that if I showed up somewhere and the hostess offered me coffee, she might be referring to hot water with a powdery brown substance that tastes bad and is not caffeinated to my standards.”
If you’re a coffee lover, you will have to repeatedly fend for your right to freshly brewed, French press coffee in England. She continues (reciting the words of my very soul), “If you get nothing else from this book, please hear this: instant coffee is not coffee.” Preach.
For some reason, as shocking as it is, England is not as big on coffee as America is. They have kettles for pouring boiling water into mugs with brown powder as their go-to form of coffee. It’s a disgrace. And, if they prefer real coffee, they use a French press.
I was thinking about this actually; the best way to make coffee is with your classic, American coffee maker. Keurigs aren’t ideal as they make a single cup and the pods aren’t recyclable for the most part. A french press is a bit of a faff and doesn’t keep your coffee warm until you’re ready for your second cup. And instant coffee isn’t even real coffee. So, the first thing I’m buying when Stuart and I move back to the States is a standard coffee maker pot and some Dunkin Donuts brew.
In summary, my thoughts about “English Lessons” by Andrea Lucado
Overall, as you can tell by the random ideas of my favorite bits of Lucado’s memoir, it was a bit choppy. She’d pulled in metaphors, childhood memories, and stories from across the board to create an engaging, light-hearted, and charming read. Her style of writing was honest and evocative; she didn’t hide even the toughest feelings and thoughts and she put into words eloquently so many things I’ve felt living in England as an American myself.
Considering the nature of the book, I struggled to pull a “big idea” but I’m not entirely sure that was the point of her memoir. I didn’t come away from this book feeling like her questions were answered or that there was a theme apart from her first time doubts, her struggle to be openly Christian with the non-believing friends she’d made, and the friendships/almost relationships she had with a few boys.
English Lessons was very much a personal reflection of a year abroad; if you go into this book with that frame of mind, you’ll enjoy it. It’s a quick read, too. But I definitely wouldn’t go into this book expecting a big idea or a cohesive, theological, or apologetic thought process that leads you to an “aha!” moment. I don’t feel that this lack of a big idea took away from the entertainment of the book, though.