Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church

by | Apr 22, 2013 | Uncategorized

Author Kaya Oakes

Kaya Oakes

There’s something about conversion stories that grabs us.  Paul, Augustine, Merton and Day all deserve the honor they get for their accomplishments as actual members of the Church.  But isn’t it true that the stories of their entrances into the fold tend to garner the most enduring attention from the widest audience?  1

What gives their conversion stories such power, of course, is in their unlikelihood.  Let’s face it – what would the young Augustine’s poker friends have said had you suggested that their comrade would one day swim the Tiber?  You probably would’ve been laughed out of the tavern… by Augustine himself.

The less likely the conversion, the more we’re inclined to pay attention.  So when a book with a title like, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church crosses our desk at TJP, someone here is going to read it.  And read it we did.

Radical Reinvention

Kaya Oakes’ story indeed puts her in the “unlikely” category.  She grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, which is not exactly a mirror image of the Bible Belt.  She ran with punk bands and collected body art in her younger years.  Atheism made the most sense to her for a long while.  In sum, the Kaya of the 90s would probably have had a colorful comeback for someone who told her she was going to write a book like this.

But here it is.

What makes things even more interesting is that Kaya only reinvented herself so much when she became Catholic.  Hers is not a Merton-esque story of willful-rebel-turned-contemplative-nun.  In many ways, Kaya brought herself to the Church and found a place in it as she was.

Way back in February, I met Kaya in her office at the University of California here in Berkeley to talk about Radical Reinvention.  Since then, the raw files have been collecting e-dust in my DropBox.  Apologies, Kaya.

The first podcast is a collection of highlights.  Below it you’ll find the full interview in three parts.  (All are downloadable.)

As always, scroll down and let us know what you think!  2

Here are some highlights:

And here is the full interview in three parts:
Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:



  1. As for me, my copy of Augustine’s Confessions continues to collect new dog-ears and coffee stains.  Meanwhile, his De libero arbitrio has collected dust since I wrote on it back in ’05.
  2. And be sure to check out Kaya’s recent contributions to Commonweal Magazine and Killing the Buddha.