So much thanks to Chuck and Brady of The Life After podcast for the opportunity to do this interview. We talked about sex from every angle, laughed a lot, and discussed elements of my memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, that I don’t often have the chance to delve into. Click the link below to listen.
Cami Ostman is my hero, plain and simple. I signed up for Cami’s writing program, The Narrative Project, when I realized I was never going to finish my memoir without some help. A lot of help. She was my writing coach (English teacher, professional nudger, unofficial therapist, friend) for a year and a half and I am still realizing how much I learned from her and the process TNP offers.
We got together the other day on a Zoom call with some of her current clients to chat about my book, publishing process, and what’s next. My audio gave out toward the end but we got most of the call.
Here it is: Interview
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
These round cheeks overlook my desk, a constant reminder to relax, be free, and hang out once in awhile.
I’ll do those things later, but right now, in an effort to stay on task, I extend a sincere request for book reviews.
Would those of you who have read The Uncomfortable Confessions Of a Preacher’s Kid kindly leave an honest review on either Amazon or Goodreads?
I have nothing to offer but sincere gratitude and a view of my office wall.
The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid:
“This book was not an easy read. I grew up in a UPC church as well and at times it all hits too close to home. The author is so brave in her telling of her story! This is a wonderful read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the Christian denominations that exist on the fringe. The author’s vulnerability allows us into a world that many people never see filled with rapture anxiety, purity culture, and the pressure to be good enough. Beyond the church and the damage, it caused is a story of hope, self-acceptance, and self-love. She touches on religion, family, love, lost love, and finding and accepting oneself. I’m grateful she shared her happy ending because it gives hope to all of us raised in that atmosphere. I can’t wait to read what she writes next!”
Check out: Surviving Church and Childhood Blog
I received this message on Facebook and got permission to share. These notes come to me occasionally and remind me why it is so important to SPEAK. For years I would have given anything to know I wasn’t alone; my heart is full knowing that somebody out there needs to hear what I have to say.
“I received my book yesterday at work (the girls were excited for me) and devoured it when I got home last night. The girls at work want to borrow it but I told them to buy their own copy to support you. (Sometimes lent books don’t find their way back home too)
It was such a great read, so relatable. My heart broke for you and healed all in a matter of hours. Such strength, Ronna Thank you again for putting your story out there. Thank you again for being there on exchristian.net when I needed you years ago. You gave me the strength and validation to sort out my feelings and to realize that I’m a great person and that all spiritual shit fed to me was bullshit. Abuse. That it kept me questioning my good self for almost 5 decades. Whatever your reason was to write this book, will impact your readers on a healing and life changing level, I’m sure.
Thank you for being a puzzle piece in my life! Much love!”
Click the title to order The Uncomfortable Confessions Of a Preacher’s Kid from Amazon.
Reviews on Goodreads