The Next Question

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.

The TNQ Show – The Next Question

*picture taken from TNQ.com. Used without permission-hopefully they won’t mind.

Thomas Fudge’s Review of The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

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…

right here:

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

Interview with Suzette Mullen, wherein we chat about the publication process

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!

Interview With Suzette

Check out Suzette’s business, Your Story Finder, if you need a writing group and a coach! She is located in Lancaster, PA.

Also, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid can be purchased on Amazon.

 

 

Recovery From Religion Podcast interview drops!

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.

Listen here: Recovery From Religion Podcast

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:

Need To Talk To Someone On The Phone? Call

Purchase The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid here.

Party Train to Hippocamp

The road to Hippocamp Writers’ Conference is dark with no bathrooms and requires driving for hours through torrential rain, tunnels and construction zones, and being blocked in by eighteen wheelers. Holding my pee, I eased through the EZ pass gate where I took a wrong turn last year, nervous to get it right in 2019. I glanced at the map on my phone, but there were flashing lights all around and too many choices, so I took another wrong turn, but a different one this time, so not even the wrong surroundings were familiar. It was a brand new wrong turn, and now I’m in a detour lane with no shoulders or exits.

PROCEED TO THE ROUTE my British male Siri barks, clearly annoyed.

At this moment, from the bowels of my iTunes library, came the sound of an oncoming train-ch-ch-ch-ch WOOOOOOOOT WOOOOOOOOT ALL ABOOOOAAAARDParty Train by The Gap Band circa 1983 thumps out of my stereo speakers. PROCEED TO THE ROUTE British male Siri insists urgently. Every all aboard Anybody want to take this ride the funky beat surges louder.

My churning gut emits a fetid belch and I catch a whiff of nervous sweat blossoming in my armpits. PROCEED TO THE ROUTE PROCEED TO THE ROUTE British male Siri screams, as if somehow I can comply. I cannot PROCEED TO THE fucking ROUTE because I’m in a fucking detour lane in bumper to bumper traffic, flying through the darkening dark with orange and white striped barrels on one side and a solid barrier with angry reflectors on the other. Our reluctant trio flies on through the night, The Gap Band, British male Siri, and I.

Suddenly the highway widens into two lanes and traffic spans out.

Get down, get down, get down tonight We’re gonna party, gonna party on the train tonight…

Jesus Christ, can I take my hand off the wheel to turn off that goddamn song now?

The car directly to my left rear-ends the car in front of it with a screech and bang.

Nope.

Damp fingers grip the wheel until a blessed exit sign appeared. I silence British male Siri and an iTunes library in need of serious updating, and enter Lancaster, PA through side door.

P.S. Hippocamp19 was AWESOME and I am so glad I went. Next year I am flying.

gap band rear

Write It Yourself…

Memoirists often write for understanding, as I did. There is something about seeing your own words on the page that offers tangibility and perspective to experiences. When Dr. Thomas Fudge wrote Heretics and Politics, a book about the history of the United Pentecostal Church and a story that heavily involved my father, I was thrilled to be interviewed. Being asked questions about how I experienced life as his daughter was a first. No one had ever asked before. Why would they? I was long gone from the scene. A footnote.

I read Heretics and Politics avidly when it was released only to discover I was still little more than a footnote and felt unreasonably crushed. What was I expecting? To have my life explained to me or perhaps to have my father explained to me? How could anyone, even the estimable Dr. Fudge, do such a thing?

And then I remembered Toni Morrison’s words:

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

And so I did. Thank you, Ms. Morrison, for your words of truth and beauty, and the sharp nudge. Rest in peace.

Do you have a story to tell?

The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid

Who Loves Cheese?

What is that one thing you always come back to? That one thing you can never not adore? For me, it’s cheese. Cheeeeeese.

I came up with this while playing around with poetry as short-form memoir during Creative Writing class.

Only Love Remains

How did we begin, my one true love? My passion for you endures unabated. I remember in the early days, a hastily ripped cardboard box, frantically searching for the indented foil seam and ripping back the shiny slick casing. Carefully fingering you onto my tongue as that first mouthful dissolved into creamy liquid that slid slowly down my throat. The melting plasticity of Velveeta cheese food product will always take me back to our first time. As Mom swirled Velveeta into hot elbow macaroni noodles in her blackened bottom pot, the liquid gold slithered through the curved tube creating a heavenly goo so runny it had to be eaten with a spoon.

Changing circumstances took their toll on our relationship over the years. An absent father with dark secrets coincided with subtle shifts in refrigerator contents. Slabs of dense government cheese-American, of course, Ronald Reagan’s gift to the Dairy Farmers of America, filled cheap bread several meals a day. My abandoned, anxiety-ridden mother despised my gluttony, hated me fat, but couldn’t stop me from eating. She had enough on her plate. Dad showed up long enough to forbid her from taking charity and then there was no cheese at all.

How I missed you.

Then, the joys of marriage and two modest incomes provided several packages a week where we could hide the knowledge that we had made a colossal mistake. What better way to fill the holes of missing pieces than with grated four cheese Mexican flavored topping.

Inevitably, backlash came in the form of self-imposed hungry years. Fat-free feta and scant sprinklings of parmesan marked by long periods of abstinence. I shunned you, please forgive me.

And now, now that we have reconnected, slim slices of Manchego and pungent veiny Amish bleu, artfully arranged with seasonal fruit and paired with a crisp Rosé fill my palate with undertones of bourgeoisie as we stroll into the sunset. I will never leave you again.

cheese