A Conversation, Lightly Edited

Beta Reader, male:  I hope you and yours are well. I just was curious, how is your book coming? I really enjoyed reading the chapters you sent. Have a wonderful day. 

Me:  My rough draft is done!  I am in revisions now.  Hoping to be ready for a publisher by the end of the year.  Are you interested in reading more?  I always need input!  Thanks for checking in. 

Beta Reader, male:  Yes, I would love to read more!

(Sound of chapters zooming through space)

Beta Reader, male:

Me:  Did you get the chapters I sent?  Just checking, no hurry!

Beta Reader, male:   Hi! I did and read it with great pleasure. I can tell you’ve spent some time tightening up the characters and developing them in more detail.  I found the detail of your relationship with (redacted) interesting. May I ask about the choice to include such erotic detail? Not judging, just curious. I certainly think those details are fascinating and stimulating, just sincerely curious about sharing the details.  I don’t think it is necessarily a bad choice, but it will be interesting when your grandchildren read it.  Who else besides the grandchildren of celebrities and rock stars know the sex life details of their grandparents? Because of my sexual repression earlier in life I probably now tend to have an unhealthy obsession with all things sexual.  To most reading your story it’s probably not a big deal. 

 I want to commend you on your bravery in writing. I grew up in the same religious context as you, although I didn’t nearly suffer as much. I’m sorry you had to endure that. I suspect because I am male and my dad did not attend church I escaped a lot of what many of my peers have endured at the hands of Pentecostals. But in some ways I envy you. I’ve always been a rule keeper of sorts and you knew a certain freedom of rebellion at an early age. I did all the typical teenager things but never had any of the adventures you describe in tantalizing detail. And now I’m at an age where the “What if’s” start to flood the mind. I wish I would have made some different choices earlier in life. But you did and now you are writing about them. Kudos. I want to read more!! Keep me posted. 

(Me, looking in mirror: GRANDCHILDREN?  Shit, I do look old.)

Me:  I appreciate your kind words.  You bring up some interesting points that have me thinking and refining my themes,.  Please allow me to think out loud here…

Regarding explicit detail and why I write it:

Sex and eroticism is and has always been a focus of mine, so I love writing about sex.  Also, everybody knows sex sells and I want to sell some books.  To that end, I also want to pull in male readers because I have something to say to them.  Men rarely read memoirs by women.

This brings me to what I want to say to men.  I am interested in their experience of sex and sexual interaction.  I also deeply believe that rape culture and the end of female oppression comes not only from women rising up but from “good men” listening and giving a shit about the effects of their disinterest.  People in power aren’t going to give it up voluntarily, but all men have a mother and most have sisters, female friends, daughters, etc.  It is important to understand our experience.

Which leads me to our experience.  Most women know what it feels like to be a sex recipient if you know what I mean.  A faceless receptacle.  I am fascinated that you find my experiences erotic as opposed to simply explicit.  They are descriptions of trauma.  Not rape.  Not non-consensual, but a search for belonging and love.  The narrator was not a free spirit out having a good time, but a damaged, sad, lonely girl.  Female readers get this.  I want male readers to get it, too, and I think they will when I’m done with the story, but I have to get them to pick it up first.

Also, no one gets out of fundamentalism without sexual damage, male or female.  You mentioned your own repression and the what-ifs that are coming around now.  I can’t help but notice that there is an assumption of shame associated with sexual experience in your response.  Sex is the best part of life.   People literally die of loneliness.  Lots of people are trapped in sexless marriages.  Many of the mass murderers we see in the news have a history of sexual rejection.  I think it is a worthy talking point.  Who decided sex should be associated with shame and guilt?  There is probably a provable answer to that question.  I am betting it is rooted in controlling women’s sexual behavior, which became a popular thing to do when humans started owning property:

Sex At Dawn

Do you mind if I use your response as part of a blog post?  Anonymously, of course.

Beta Reader, male:  Thank you for the thoughtful response. I suppose I did reveal my ignorance. I agree there shouldn’t be any shame associated with sex, I apologize for missing the point in your expressions of your experience. I was wrong to interpret them so. I confess that I’m still learning and not being a woman or someone who has suffered as you have I’m limited in my ability to fully understand. I’m sincerely sorry if my observations came across insensitively. Not if, they did. Thank you for confronting me on that point. If my ignorance will help inform others feel free to publish it.

ME:  Oh geez.  There’s really no need to apologize.  I appreciate your forthrightness.  You’re helping me form my thoughts on this subject in a very real way.
We are all dealing with this subject from different angles. Thanks for letting me use your thoughts to further the conversation.  I really do have a point to make with the explicitness of my writing and I want to make it thoughtfully and well.

And you know, if readers get turned on, so much the better!

 

Fiance:  If you want male readers to understand why the sex is traumatic you will have to beat them over the head with the point.

Writing Coach:  I agree.  Do it.

 

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Isolation

I’m thinking about isolation.  Not what you do on a Sunday morning? Just me?

Several recent conversations with my sisters and my mother have reminded me how isolated we all were from each other in years past.  The stage was set within our family for absolute obedience and we were a perfect storm of noncommunication.

Firstly, the cult of Pentecostalism required isolation from the world in general, effectively taking away any context for normality.  Intrinsic to that religious culture is the submission of women to men.  Women cannot hold positions of power or have a public voice.  Their submission must be evident in behavior and appearance.

But you know that.

Add in an ambitious, power-hungry, sexually frustrated narcissist on a mission from God with a public persona to protect and we have a family of women who were not allowed to talk to each other.  Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were forbidden and didn’t know how.

When crises came around, we were already in a state of silence.  By the time my teenage fallopian tube exploded (see Close Call for the story) and I was near death, we were all perfectly trained. All Dad had to say was do not speak and we didn’t.  Our silence went far beyond lying to church people who would judge him for having a wayward daughter.  He didn’t have to tell me not to speak.  I hadn’t spoken out loud in my family for years and was not about to start.

Mom knew I was sick but was not allowed to visit me in the hospital, nor to comfort me afterward.  Dad told my sister that Mom didn’t know what happened to me and not to tell her, so she didn’t.  My sister was the only person who spoke to me during my six weeks of recovery following surgery.  I sat home alone with no one to blame but myself. My other sister was told nothing at all.

Silence filled our home, the air too thick to breathe. Not one word was spoken between mother and daughters nor sister to sister about the fact that one of us had a tragic, terrifying, near-death experience.

Thirty-ish years later, with the threat of Dad’s wrath long gone, we talk.  Now we know what we were forced to deny.  Now we say the words.  Now we are free to love each other.  And breathe.

Dear Neglected Blog…

My book, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, is coming along, slowly but surely.  Turns out I had to learn how to write a book first.  Thanks to Cami Ostman and the writers of Memory to Memoir I have gained  invaluable support and feedback on this strange trip.

The recent surge of online truth telling, specifically the #MeToo, #ChurchToo, #RaptureAnxiety and #EmptythePews threads on Twitter have astounded me.  There are so many of us.  PTSD, anxiety and depression abound in the ex-evangelical community.  Seems like a good time to tell my story, even if it’s just another voice in the crowd.

If you have one, please tell yours, too.  One thing I have learned is to give myself permission to write it all down.  Edit later.  But get it out.  There isn’t anything that can’t be faced on the page.  Trauma, like evil, loses its power in the light.

Joy, Love, Peace and Merry Christmas,

Ronna

Tony says…

Public Service Announcement

A reader kindly sent me the link below.  If you think you or someone you love might be involved in a cult, this website will break it down for you.  It lists, in plain English and straightforward detail, the warning signs of both leadership and followers.  As an added bonus, there is also a list of healthy leadership indicators.

Warning Signs

If I encounter any good advice for extricating a loved one, I will pass it on.  If you need extricating, there is help available.  Unfortunately, you will need to be prepared for the abuse and ostracism that will come.  Please feel free to contact me if you need resources or click on Resources in the menu.

Faith Healing, Chickenshit and Bears

Well, this is weird.  It seems I have created a blog for my own personal use that I now handle with care.  In the beginning, this was a place to write my stories and get out my rants; my assumption was no one would ever read them, so I did not bother to filter.  I was wrong, so now I get nervous.  A profanity-laced version of this post was published on a secret site, so as not to offend, like the chickenshit that I am.

Some readers here, perhaps most, are showing up for the gossip factor.  Even Christians skip to the sex scenes.  Some understand the oppression of growing up fundie and appreciate the “me, too” feeling. Some are closeted unbelievers and are struggling with the reality that in order to be their own true fully actualized selves they have to come out to their families.  This is terrifying, because, as all of us who have been through it know, you risk losing everything: your family, your community and social life, your identity.  Your people will likely turn on you in a multitude of ways (disappointment, anger, fear for your soul, pray for, pity or condemn you) for your self-discovery.  Rarely are they accepting or curious about your evolution.  Rarely are there no emotional repercussions.  All of us who have walked away know this.  We have all experienced it in one form or another, the condescension and rejection.  There is a network of ex-Christians who have escaped fundamentalism and survived or are trying to escape and hoping to survive.  Some keep their non-beliefs secret from their families to avoid dealing with the drama. Many suffer from the aftermath of cognitive dissonance, PTSD and suicidal thoughts; leftover irrational fears that won’t quiet.   The beleaguered mental health community is not up to speed on the effects of fundamentalism.   My voice is one of many.  I thought I could walk away and pretend none of it ever happened, but that’s not how life works.  Here I am, decades later, finally speaking up.  I can’t say it isn’t still frightening, the risk of offending.

A recent Facebook post pushed me over the edge, as will happen.  A sad, sick woman with a debilitating disease wrote to an evangelical TV show asking why her prayers for healing had not been answered.  The response was a clip of Pat Robertson blaming demons or some such bullshit.  (Nut Job Here)  It really flipped my switch, not just because Pat Robertson is a douchebag, but because there was a sick, vulnerable, desperate person in need of help and comfort who was emotionally manipulated in a deeply sadistic way.   Not only was she dealing with the reality of her illness, she was also wounded, confused and fearful that the god she loved and depended on was ignoring her pleas.   It was a double whammy of pain.

Here’s the thing, I’ve got nothing against prayer.  As a matter of fact, sometimes that’s all you can do. When a worry is too big to bear, you have to let it go or be consumed. When life takes a turn, thoughtful folks say “I’m praying for you” or “thoughts and prayers” and post sweet emojis, they are saying they care and hope things get better. It’s nice. This isn’t about that. What follows is a request directed to those who are strident believers in faith healing; an appeal for consideration.  Please hear me out.

When a person with an incurable disease is told their condition can be whisked away by a prayer, it disregards their daily reality.  Every day contains struggles unknown to the rest of us, both physical and emotional.

To profess to have access to a magical cure insults the sick in a way that faith healing believers do not seem to understand.  The underlying emotion might be love for the afflicted and a desire for their wellness, but disregarding the daily reality of living with illness, the limitations of medical science and the personal beliefs of others comes across as an ego-driven, manipulative power trip.  Such disregard is rude at best, but also cruel and misinformed and can be emotionally damaging to those not good at critical thinking.

This might seem to be an overreaction to anyone who hasn’t been steamrolled by religiosity, but I have a sick kid who experiences this.  She, being a better person than me and not having experienced the steamroller, rolls her eyes and takes the good intentions. Or yells a little bit and lets it go.  Not me.

I see, at least a little bit, what she goes through; her fears and symptoms and side effects and endless appointments and medications.  The disappointment and discouragement when yet another treatment fails.  I see her absolute determination to stay as healthy and fit and positive as she possibly can despite her fatigue.  I see her siblings’ worry and fear and unwavering, astounding love.  If there is such a thing as a holy spirit, it lives in their support of each other.  I know what I go through, not just because I am heartbroken for her and would take the disease myself if it would save her from it, but working multiple jobs to pay the bills, staying in a job I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to for the medical benefits and watching my daughter ask strangers on the internet for money because I have no way of paying the deductible, despite the long hours.  I also see the resources and attention that go to this one kid, when I have others who need me, as well.  The endless fatigue and stress on us all.  If there was a god that could prevent this or take it away, and it doesn’t automatically do so, then it is evil.

I do not believe there is a being with the power to allow or disallow sickness; to cure or not cure based on variable criteria.  I understand that others do.

My problem lies with the manipulation of false hope. On the receiving end, it seems arrogant and selfish to tell a sick person that if they say the right words, they MIGHT be healed.  It feels like a head trip, a game.  Also ignorant.  If there were a kind and loving god with these capabilities, there would be no sickness.  The fact of sickness remains; therefore god is either not loving or kind, perhaps does not have those powers or simply does not exist. I assume believers have another explanation, but nothing else makes sense to me.

I prefer to rest my hopes in science; like that crazy kid from up the street who grew up to be a medical research scientist, spending his days conducting meticulous experiments in order to find another treatment or even a cure.  Do I believe my daughter’s life is worth more than those of the countless rodents under his knife? Yes.  Yes, I do.  The mice might disagree.

When my daughter was diagnosed, an acquaintance remarked that perhaps god allowed it to happen in order to get my attention.  I felt it was a remarkably unkind thing to say.  Were it true, then a nasty manipulation from a petty creature with too much power.   Since I don’t believe it to be true, I’ll go with the former, which brings me to my point. Fervid beliefs allow outrageously offensive things to be said under the guise of caring.  If I had indisputable proof that a god had made my daughter sick in order to turn me into a follower, then I would kill that creature, if possible. It most certainly would not be the recipient of my devotion but of the wrath of Mama Bear, complete with skin-ripping claws, saliva dripped fangs and a bladder evacuating roar.

My quest here is to ask those of you who read this blog and are believers in faith healing to consider another perspective. Consider that your beliefs are not factual.  You are absolutely entitled to them. No one can stop you from sharing them, either, but please consider how it feels to be on the receiving end. The idea that a person or their family member is somehow responsible for, or can effect their illness, either by disbelief or lack of proper prayer or by any other measure, is indefensible.  In response to a much more vitriolic version of this post, I heard stories from others:  someone who, when their own healing didn’t come, was told they were not right with God (they’re still sick because they’re SICK, goddammit); an elderly parent on their death bed was told to pray for healing (they died clinging to misplaced hope instead of spending their final moments in peace); another was told chronic illness plagued them because they had changed their address and cut loose toxic friends.  Another, when offered prayer for sickness, requested family members donate to stem cell research, instead and got blank looks all around.   For a person struggling with incurable illness and pain or facing death to be told they need to fix it themselves is cruel. Those words coming from a loved one twist the knife.

I realize there is likely nothing I can say, no matter how careful or loving or angry or direct or clear, to throw a faith-healing believer off the scent or knock them off their high horse.  Zealotry does that to people, however, if you are interested in not alienating loved ones who do not share your beliefs, please consider the following suggestions:

Recognize the difference between FACT and BELIEF.  Words have meanings and these things are not the same.    Fact is truth.  Facts are true whether you believe them or not. Beliefs are yours, they belong to you.  Facts belong to us all. We all have “personal truths,” based on our desires, perspectives, and experiences.  These are something less than factual and should be wielded with great care and understanding that what is true for you may not be true for others.

 

 

Fat White Royal Wally

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sleep much last night.  More dead black men killed by police officers.  Children traumatized for life.   Five dead police officers.  Our beloved America feels like a dark, somber, hopeless place.  Now that these killings are on social media, no one can deny the problem.  Systemic racism is not new.  Overuse of deadly force against black men is not new.  The killing of police officers is not new, either.  Now we watch it happen.

While I do not begrudge anyone their personal faith, believe it or not, praying for peace is not enough.  Thoughts and prayers are not enough; not while people bleed to death on sidewalks.  Praying for peace serves one purpose:  to make yourself feel better and there is nothing wrong with that.  We would probably all like to feel better right now.  Send thoughts and prayers; by all means, do that.  And then get off your fat, white, royal wally and do something about it, because we have no right to relax.  I am speaking to myself here as much as anyone.  I have not lifted a finger to involve myself in this struggle beyond sharing stuff I didn’t write on Facebook, aka lip service.  I mean, I hardly ever even see black people in my white corner of town.  I see cops; they park outside the coffee shop in the park where I run and I feel safe and protected in case a seagull tries to snatch my hat.  Let’s be clear:  racism is a WHITE problem and will not change until white people like myself give enough of a crap to put down our phones and get to work in our communities.  It means getting uncomfortable.  It means getting political.  It means doing something.

As Trevor Noah so succinctly put it, we can, indeed we MUST, be both pro-law enforcement AND pro-black people.    It is not the job of black people to stop racism.  It is the job of white people.  In the same way that rape culture will never disappear without the direct involvement of men, racism will never be squelched without the direct involvement of white people.  It is not the job of the black community to tell us how, either, yet someone has graciously done so.   So what’s a sheltered fat-assed white woman to do?

What You Can Do Right Now About Police Brutality

15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality

I am still working my way through these.  Let’s get to work because I read somewhere that faith without works is dead.

Bob has no food.

Ode to Broken Commitments

I came across this blog post on good ol’ Facebook and it stopped me in my tracks.  So many of my own experiences and those I grew up around are piercingly described here, as is the truth their effect on young lives.  Please take a few minutes to follow the link below and read.

http://stuffapostolicslike.blogspot.com/2015/08/285-nayc2015-ode-to-broken-commitments.html