If You Go

What: Boulder author Michelle Theall reads from and discusses her new memoir, "Teaching the Cat to Sit"

When: 7:30 p.m. March 4

Where: Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl St., Boulder

Tickets: Vouchers to attend are $5, which are good for $5 off the author's featured book or a purchase the day of the event

Info: 303-447-2074 or nichelletheall.com

Many non-Catholics view history's original Christian church as a mysterious monolith, a faith at once exotic, peculiar and uniform. Catholics know better.

The Pope and official church doctrine might say one thing, but around the world, nuns, monks, priests and laypeople aren't necessarily obedient. Nuns in Third World countries advocate for birth control. Pedophile priests are rare, but there are more gay clergy than many imagine. There are even liberal parishes.

Former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput torpedoed it years ago, but for decades, Boulder boasted a proudly progressive congregation — accepting of gay people, hosting abortion forums, fiercely defending the poor.

But changing the official, doctrinal church is a task beyond most humans.

Boulder's Michelle Theall, author of the new memoir, "Teaching the Cat to Sit," is a cradle Catholic who spent much of her life tilting like Don Quixote at the mighty windmill of the church, even after she understood she was gay, even after Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder shuffled her adopted son's baptism into the shadows, even after the church's preschool — on Chaput's orders — kicked out small children whose parents happened to be gay.

(Simon & Schuster / Courtesy image)

Throughout this excellent, deeply personal story, Theall loves her church. Yet, she wants to be who she is. Consequently, she finds it difficult to heed the advice of those who love her the most — and even herself: "Why am I fighting so hard for (her son) Connor to join a church where he isn't even welcome?"

The memoir deftly alternates between the author's sometimes traumatic childhood — she was sexually assaulted by a neighbor man when she was just 11 — the dawning recognition of her orientation, her tempestuous relationship with a mother who, if anything, loves her church even more than her daughter, and the more contemporary story of Sacred Heart's dubious decisions regarding innocent children of gay parents.

Despite many dark moments, Theall's story of growing up Catholic, her college running career and her gradual blossoming into her identity is done with considerable charm and humor. The portrayal of her family and its dynamics is refreshingly honest.

Her adult struggles are often painful, but no less honestly told. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and her parents, while not exactly enthusiastic, still love and try to accept their daughter. But that doesn't stop her mother from telling friends that Theall is a "single mother" and omitting all reference to her partner, Jill, in family communications.

At regular intervals, voices of compassion and reason fail to persuade Theall of her quixotic quest for total acceptance.

"Stop apologizing for who you are and using all your energy to change their minds," advises her tough-minded college running coach.

Even her mother, who can be loving one moment and harshly judgmental the next, tells her, "I think you just need to seek out branches of the Catholic Church that are more accepting of this lifestyle" (though that last word is an indicator of how far she has to go).

It's testament to the power of a Catholic upbringing that Theall soldiers on, clinging to the church even as she rages against it. "Teaching the Cat to Sit" is engaging, moving and nothing if not honest about some of life's trickier subjects: love, motherhood, faith and being true to oneself.