Saturday’s “Beliefs” section in the New York Times features a story on Bethany Patchin, a wonderful friend of mine from Nashville.
As the Times story relates, Bethany began her writing career as a fierce but winsome teenage advocate for conservative Christian sexual values. Her first piece (at Boundless, the youth website for Focus on the Family), was a proud promise that she intended to save her virgin lips for her wedding day. One young man was so impressed with that article he started writing to her — and in time, became both the fortunate recipient of her first kiss and, not at all coincidentally, her husband.
Bethany and Sam Torode had four children and a book: Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception. Young, attractive, articulate and counter-cultural, the Torodes found themselves darlings of the religious right, which is how I first heard about them. Their book came out when I was in the brief throes of a flirtation with evangelicalism, and my rave review of Open Embrace represents a set of views that I’ve long since repudiated. (The internet preserves our intellectual embarrassments forever. It’s much worse than a topless picture in a bathroom mirror.)
After I checked out Open Embrace, I started reading her earlier work, and was so impressed (but not entirely convinced) by Bethany’s writing that I started assigning some of her Boundless pieces in my women’s studies class. Her work was grist for some tremendous discussions and debates.
Bethany and I started corresponding in late 2002. Though she’s fourteen years my junior, she was one of inspirations to start blogging, and the first person to whom I sent a draft of an article for a pre-pitch review. We stayed in touch for the next several years, even as we each started taking separate paths away from evangelical positions on faith and sexuality. We wrote more frequently as her marriage to Sam came to an end. Where she had once given me advice about books and articles, I was able to return the kindness about divorce and related topics.
I count Bethany as one of my favorite people in the whole world whom I’ve never met in real life. The same web that archives our indiscretions for posterity gives us the opportunity to make and sustain true friendship across vast distances. That’s a happy thing.
She’s got a powerful story to tell. (Agents and editors, take note.) And do check out the Times piece.