About This Blog

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Post-Traumatic Church syndrome" (Reba Riley)

TITLE: Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing
AUTHOR: Reba Riley
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Howard Books, 2015, (368 pages).

Disappointment with Church? Longing for an alternative to searching for "Godiverse"? According to author Reba Riley, she thinks that there is a God bigger than the one defined by her home Church, and that there is a bigger form of spirituality that does not leave her feeling "hollow inside" amid all the religious talk. The title, PTCS reflects her own need for spiritual recovery after getting disillusioned with "narrow religion." Her solution: Try 30 different religions or expressions of faith and spirituality before she turns 30. Feeling broken and exhausted, she takes on this spiritual project of hers and begins with Word Alive, a megachurch who has a new pastor change its name to "The Palms" which is known for its Pentecostalism fundamentalist practices. After experiencing the different physical expressions of verbal pronouncements and how people were "felled" by the Spirit, she feels more "Word Dead" than the former name of the Church. It even causes her to throw out her own list of "thirty by thirty." Her book club friend helps her to get back on track with a journal of repairing one's own spirituality: "Finding Your Own North Star." While it didn't exactly spring her back into a New Age spirituality, it did get her back on track to other spiritual expressions, including other forms of Christianity. She tries "Tenth Avenue Baptist," which really engages them in a warm and friendly fellowship.

Unfortunately, it only triggers her PTCS all over again. She tries Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. Yoga makes her feel like being in a class of people trying to recover from ADHD. Strangely, she finds many resemblance to Christianese like a good cop/bad cop teaching; words like "come and see" which reminds her of Jesus; and even bake sales to help the community. She visits a liberal "King Avenue Methodist Church" that not only has a church float during a gay parade, it even has various expressions of individualistic culture such as "Single serve Jesus" cups and "individually wrapped Christianity" made specially for people on the go. Scientology too teaches some strange kind of a straight line spirituality to move from confusion to clarity. She tries a "Christian Spiritualist Church" that combines some recognizable symbols of Christianity with a weird mix of witchcraft. She participates in the "Omnipresent Atheist Society" Tuesday meeting that happens to have a Catholic there who got her interested in Roman Catholicism. The atheists as expected cheered her on in her own Facebook post: "Team Reba vs Team Jesus." Guess which church she visits next? "Empty Tomb Church" which has a modern set of audio-visual special effects that are intimidating more than anything else. She flips to Hinduism with the introduction to the Diwali, which too frightens her a bit with the goddess Lakshmi. While she feels accepted when the host welcomes her dressing, she finds it a little unsettling, even a parallel between the Hindu religion's worship of many gods and her own quest of many ways to find her spiritual fulfillment. The memoir continues with both Christian denominations and various evangelical persuasions, plus a mix of Christian Science, Unitarian Universalism, Sikhism, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Islam, Judaism, and many others.

Riley is a graduate of Ohio State University and formerly works as a sales and marketing manager for a Fortune 500 company. A regular blogger for Patheos.com, she travels widely and speaks about chronic illness, healing, health, and courage. She is also a survivor of a decade long chronic illness and is convicted about the power of spiritual healing and caring for the undiagnosed patient.

This book is her diligent search for spiritual healing through religions and spirituality. Written honestly with humour and frankness, it contains the very motivation that Elizabeth Gilbert has when the latter wrote "Eat, Pray, Love." It reveals Riley's openness toward a kind of Christianity espoused by Rob Bell of "Love Wins" fame. It brings together people with similar disappointments about traditional Church without jettisoning Christianity altogether. This can be seen through Riley's persistent efforts to visit other Christian expressions of faith, feeling attracted to some but still disappointed by many. It can be a tricky read as Riley can be accused of letting her own inner feelings rule over faith. While true to some extent, it would do injustice to expect Riley to write against her true self. Church is imperfect. Period. Her negative experiences are just examples of how imperfect the Church form of Christianity is. Having said that, I find the memoir an eye-opener. I didn't know of some churches that literally practices the "Greet one another with a holy kiss" with light smooching on the lips. If there is one thing more necessary for such churches, it would be proper teaching. For others, it means simply showing more grace and tolerance for people who disagree with the weird practices. Another key word is acceptance that puts God's purposes and priorities over personal preferences. That would include Riley's personal preferences. Having said that, just like Barbara Brown Taylor's memoir of finding Church after a period of "Leaving Church," the author comes full circle, not having a new place of religion, but a greater sense of understanding who she is.

The book puts together a brave project that few of us would have dared to do. With the array of religions so mixed and bizarre, the whole experience can be downright exhausting and confusing. For those of you who have been disappointed with forms of Christianity but wanted to try something else, you can avoid having to plow through the potpurri of religious offerings out there which can be dizzy and mind-boggling. Let Riley do the running and the thinking for you. You may nod your head, shake your fist, or simply roll your eyes. You may even create your own list of religions to experience before you reach a certain age. In all of it, it would be helpful to know that Riley had a firm foundation of faith that anchors her search. It is one thing to search from a position of nothing. It is yet another to search from a position of something. The difference is that of building a house of faith either on sand or rock. Riley writes from the latter.


Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment