The Invention of Wings and the ‘Inventor’

I just finished the new book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Invention of Wings.  I recently spoke at a book club and told those attending that it had been quite awhile since I had read a “great” book.  The Invention of Wings is a great book, by a great author.  (Kidd also wrote The Secret Life of Bees.)  I bought The Invention of Wings the day it came out because I knew it would be well written literature, and because I pray for the author.

I was first introduced to Sue Monk Kidd in Guideposts Christian magazine.  She became a freelance editor for them and her articles were always thoughtful and well written.  I read The Secret Life of Bees in one day because I could not put the book down.  I remember it was a Saturday because I showed the book to my Sunday school class the next day and told them they all needed to read it.   When a person reads a great book it is impossible not to suggest it to others.

That is how I feel about Sue Monk Kidd’s new novel, The Invention of Wings.  This story is inspired by the true story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their lives as early voices in the abolitionist and feminist movements.  While the book is based on some historical facts, the story and characters are born from Kidd’s imagination.  The book bears witness to the way people lived during the early 1800’s and also functions to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of every generation.  

For me, the strongest theme in the book is the desire for freedom.  The slaves were free to think, but not free to act on their thoughts.  Slaves were considered property and were abused physically as well as emotionally.  The women of the era were limited to activities and ambitions considered proper and acceptable for southern society.  Sue Monk Kidd grew up in a small town in the Deep South.  She was in high school during the 1960’s when integration was introduced.  She graduated from Texas Christian University with a nursing degree because that was a degree women pursued in those days.  This book isn’t just about the early 1800’s.

I am not writing the blog post to simply recommend a great book.  I respect Sue Monk Kidd’s ability to create characters and stories that, like all great literature, function on many different levels.  Few people have the ability to write with that kind of depth.  I am writing this post because I don’t think very many people will talk about or even notice the way Sue Monk Kidd describes the role of the institutional church in the novel.  It is a theme that runs throughout the book, and the church is depicted as one of the ways people are “enslaved” and hindered from achieving their “wings.”

I mentioned earlier that I pray for Sue Monk Kidd.  I have read her books, and reading between the lines of those books, I have seen her struggle and then abandon the faith she once had in God.  She would call herself “enlightened” but I would use the word “disillusioned.”  Why did Sue Monk Kidd abandon her spiritual foundations to search for something else?  Why should we care?

Sue Monk Kidd married her husband, Sandy, a Baptist minister and theologian in the 1970’s.  They served in the ministry during those early years and Kidd’s first book was titled, God’s Joyful Surprise: Finding Yourself Loved.  This book is about her Christian faith and her personal relationship with God through Christ.  Eight years later Kidd wrote a book titled, Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  What happened in those years that caused her desire to break away from her roots?

I hope I get the chance to ask her that question someday and I hope she will give me a straightforward, honest answer.  Until then, I can only speculate.   Kidd’s husband worked at a small liberal arts college in Anderson, SC.  I think it was probably the small Baptist college there.  An awful lot happened with the Baptists in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The issue then was conservative – vs – liberal, or Fundamentalist – vs – Moderate.  In the end most of us, regardless of the side we took, ended up acting ungodly during the fight.   I think Sue Monk Kidd’s husband, and therefore her family, were a casualty of that war.  That is why I pray for her.

I read The Invention of Wings and couldn’t help but notice the anger, frustration and even malice that was directed toward the church and its teachings.  One of the reasons Sue Monk Kidd is an excellent author is because she does her research.  The church, from almost day one, has been known to contribute in some ways to the problems in the culture.  The stance some churches took in the early 1800’s about slavery, the stance some churches took in the 1960’s about integration, and the politics of the Baptist churches in the 1980’s were often harmful to the cause of Christ.  But, I pray Sue Monk Kidd will one day recognize the real enemy.  Satan has always attacked the church and has often been a victor.  He doesn’t care which side of an issue we sin on – just that we sin.

The Invention of Wings is a beautiful piece of literature by a talented author who values freedom: freedom of thinking and freedom for women to pursue whatever their dream is for their lives.  I share many of her values but I disagree with her view of the Christian faith and the role of the church.  Freedom isn’t found in abandoning the church, it is found in living faithfully as the Church.  

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18).  I hope someday Sue will turn back to the One who has never abandoned her.  Eternal freedom isn’t something we have to fight for  – it is a gift people need to receive.  I hope she will open her heart and mind and joyfully return to the God who loves his “dissident daughter.”

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