I kinda can’t believe this is happening. My book is available on Amazon!
Everything I have been thinking about lately is contained int his dynamic mind-blowing conversation: the institution of church as a tool of patriarchy, how white women and women of color can create sisterhood and work together against institutionalized sexism. How feminism can embrace faith. How to recognize privilege without debasing yourself. How do we feel love when we are all just so mad. How to talk to each other about this stuff.
Fortunately, we have Brené Brown to articulate and lead. If you have an hour to spare, this conversation can only make your day better. If you don’t, jump to 18:45 and listen for a few minutes.
*picture taken from TNQ.com. Used without permission-hopefully they won’t mind.
Thomas Fudge’s book, Heretics and Politics: Theology, Power, and Perception in the Last Days of CBC, was the inspiration for The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid. I doubt I ever would have had the impetus to publish if he had not gone first. They are very different books, of course, but Dr. Fudge’s review brought me to tears of gratitude. Read it on Goodreads or…
The most uncomfortable aspects of Ronna Russell’s book are threefold: It hits so close to home for so many who have experienced near-fatal suffocation by religious power brokers; it involves men and women of considerable reputation and their dirty laundry (usually kept secret); and it reveals truths too seldom named. This is a memoir of fear but also of faith and the development of a life that began as most do in innocence followed by a terrible journey from hell to hope. I am reminded of something Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Put simply, we often cannot help what happens to us, but we can choose how to respond to it. Ronna’s response has been astonishingly brave and she encapsulates the best virtues of Frankl’s core philosophy that saved his life. The United Pentecostal Church is no better or worse than any number of other religious groups ranging from the Catholic Church to the Latter Day Saints. Claims about absolute truth, divine power in one’s life, and assertions about eternal guarantees are generally weighed in the balances and found wanting. Ronna Russell found most of her religious upbringing pious hogwash. So many of the values abortively inculcated in her were not even remotely Christian. Borrowing from Frankl again, Ronna has chosen her own attitude and her own way and in so doing has saved her own life from terminal misery.
The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid pulls no punches, takes no hostages, is intentionally iconoclastic, but speaks from the heart. It is a brutally honest narrative that will shock, provoke, anger, and inspire. The half dozen pages about explicit sex and the occasional F-bomb throughout the narrative will offend some. Get over it. That’s life. Don’t miss the core of the story. Using frail excuses to avoid reading suggests other serious issues including refusal to hear the truth about our idols. The book talks about sex in the back seat of a car and uses four-letter words… So?! UPC ministers have engaged in both before and after bellowing pulpit-pounding sermons about truth revealing that behind every legalist there is lawlessness. Touch not mine anointed, they thunder! Get serious!! This is not gloating about fallen human nature but exposing egregious hypocrisy. Ronna is a woman who spent years enduring terrible experiences as a girl lost in a spiraling search for meaning amid isolation, numbing loneliness and appalling neglect, to say nothing of insipid theology and spiritual abuse, both of which deny Christ. It is a wonder she did not become an alcoholic, drug addict, suicide, or wind up in a mental hospital. Initially I thought she deserved a medal for survival but upon reflection (reading the book a second time aloud to a friend who identified in so many ways) I reconsidered and decided that Ronna deserved all the love and acceptance she could handle for the next 40 years and that she, at long last, be recognized in her full humanity, finally free to be with the hope of becoming everything she can be. Happily for her, she did not need any holy-rolling, One-God, apostolic, tongue-talking, Holy Ghost-sanctified, water-baptized-in-Jesus-name-Pentecostals, or infantile rules about her hair and sartorial tastes to find wholeness. Thank God for travelling mercies. As St. Teresa of Avila noted almost 500 years ago: “from silly prayers and sour-faced Christians, deliver us, O Lord.” Those who knew Ronna in her early religious life need to read this book. I was among her father’s last students. He was a man I learned much good from. I still think of him as a significant and positive influence. That said, he failed his daughter (and others besides) and was, unhappily, another hero with feet of clay who, having preached to others, suffered shipwreck. These Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid suggests Ronna is a better woman than her Dad was as a man.
The book caused me to reflect on how many others have walked similar pathways within the shadows of the UPC, how many have escaped terminal spiritual bondage (some by the skin of their teeth), how many have been saved (so as by fire), and (sadly) how many have been lost? Writing this book required great courage in overcoming massive adversity in order to put pen to paper, finding the strength to write the story of her life, recounting her journey from tragedy to triumph, and finding love, the strongest force in the universe. The whispers of hope from Sacré-Coeur remind us all there is a place called home. I imagine this book will help others find strength, courage and determination they never knew possible. Uncomfortable? Yes! But so what? It’s how we learn, it’s how we grow, it’s how we move from falsehood to authenticity. Ronna Russell is a wonderful example of that.
Thomas A. Fudge
I had a conversation with Scot Loyd today. He is an insightful educator, writer, and interviewer. Please watch!
And follow Scot’s blog, too.
Hey, I did another interview! This time with writing coach, Suzette Mullen, of Your Story Finder. Suzette and I met at Hippocamp 2018 and never stopped talking. She asked me some questions about my publication process for The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid.
If you are a writer and want to publish, this conversation is for you!
Check out Suzette’s business, Your Story Finder, if you need a writing group and a coach! She is located in Lancaster, PA.
New podcast interview on Recovery From Religion! Big thanks to the hosts, Tim and Bill, for being so thoughtful and welcoming. We had a wonderful conversation about my memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid! I deeply appreciate the opportunity to talk about the journey out and love questions that urge me to think deeper about the subject. Please join us at the link below for a listen.
Recovery From Religion is an invaluable resource for those who are extricating themselves from any religion. They have EXCELLENT PODCAST interviews:), books and videos, as well as connections to mental health services and a hotline number when you need help right now:
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS HUGE SPOILERS AND INCIDENTS OF ALL CAPS.
Seriously, this is a review for people who have already read this book. And you should definitely read this book.
Several friends suggested I read City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert-one went so far as to come to my house and hand me their copy. I found City of Girls, a refreshing story of female autonomy, engrossing from page one. It’s amazing, fantastic even, and I couldn’t put it down, but I do have some bones to pick.
The main character’s voice jumped off the page into my ear and I rooted for her every step of the way, even when she was being awful. Vivian is helped by being tall, skinny, and beautiful and for having the foresight to get really good at sewing in her youth. Looking like a supermodel and having superior skills in fashion design isn’t a bad set-up for life in the big city. The vibrant setting-New York City showbiz in the 1940s-makes you want to visit that time and place, in fact, I almost felt as though I had. Gilbert seamlessly weaves real-life events and people into the story, which enriches the historical context.
City of Girls explores nontraditional ways to live a woman’s life by showing how other women did it when alternatives were not readily available, and it is glorious. We see the benefits of hard work, natural talent, good looks, and learned courage. We see what a woman’s life looks like when she chooses self-determination and abandons norms: fulfillment of sexual desire on her own terms, loss of family connections, missteps that cause real pain to other people, freedom.
My issues with the story are as follows:
Young Vivian is the third party in a sexual threesome comprised of her best friend and the husband of a famous theater star. She is kinda coerced and kinda dumb and also really drunk when the tryst occurs. Unfortunately, the make-out session that led up to the encounter happened on the street and was photographed. Long story short, Vivian learns not to have sex with married men, but still spends the rest of her life sleeping around at will. That, of course, is not my problem. My problem is that even though she vows to never sleep with another married man, she picks up men in bars and beds them whenever she feels like it. I have bad news for Vivian and Elizabeth Gilbert-those men were probably ALL MARRIED. Men in bars who jump into bed with you ARE MARRIED, even in the 1940s. This seems like a significant oversight to me, especially since sisterhood is a main theme.
The star whose husband cheated dumps Vivian, but keeps the husband and the whole thing unfolds like Bill and Hillary. This dynamic goes unexplored, but it shouldn’t. IT SHOULDN’T, damn it. I don’t believe that unfaithfulness must automatically lead to divorce. How great would it be to spend some time mulling over how and why some couples stay together? And why the star forgave her husband, but not her friend?
And another thing, Vivian develops a long-term, secret friendship with a married man that can only be described as an emotional affair. How is that any better than having sex with him? Hell, its worse. This also goes unaddressed. The man and his wife lead separate lives and he is incapable of sex, so that makes it ok. Then why is it secret? Its secret because that goes to the main plot structure of the entire book. There, I have just about completely wrecked it for you.
All of my gripes aside, I loved this book because it’s about female desire, resilience, and how we can be when we decide to live the way want to. It shows the power of sisterhood while, perhaps inadvertently, admitting it’s shortcomings. Gilbert is a trailblazing voice for autonomy, not only in her writing, but by her willingness to share the details of her own life and loves. And I love her for it.
You know when a review starts with a quote by Freud it’s gonna get into the details…
“Freud observed, “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.” Ronna Russell in her book The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, embodies the kind of selflove that enables one to share the most intimate and challenging details of life without fear.”
Scot Loyd’s review of The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid:
I am so honored and frankly stoked to share this review. It is a rare gift for a reader to connect and understand my story on various levels and with such pertinent insight.
Thank you, Scot.