In 2021, I was given the diagnosis of religious trauma. I grew up in a Fellowship Baptist church and went to two different bible colleges. Since the diagnosis, I have begun the healing journey, and as part of that journey, I am writing a memoir. I have thought a lot about my past, and what was my inciting incident to change, because as you know, every book needs an inciting incident. I think there were a few of them with me – small incidents for small changes that built up to a complete rebirth. This blog highlights some books that were my inciting incident.
Books Were My Refuge
Perhaps it was the books that were the first step away from religion. I had read just about all the books I had cared to read from my church library. It wasn’t a large library, just a small afterthought of a room that housed Christian fiction, non-fiction, young adult, and children’s books.
I wasn’t interested in the non-fiction books. I was already bored of listening to sermons; I certainly didn’t want to read them too.
I had read and re-read historical fiction and some contemporary fiction but I wanted more. I craved more. My fingers itched to touch pages. My eyes ached for new words, new sentences.
Books, while somewhat sacred, were under watch in the house. When I was younger, secular books were censored, and some pages had blacked out words. Nancy Drew was safe because the first titles were written in a bygone era of modesty.
If I wanted to go beyond the safety of Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon, I needed to do it outside the home. Luckily, spending the day at the library was never something that was questioned.
I started with Sweet Valley High and moved on from there. In high school, I was exposed to the sensuous writing of Anne Rice when a peer saw I was reading An Interview with a Vampire and enthused about a certain passage. She took the book from my hands, flipped to the passage she was looking for, and read it out loud, her husky voice alive with enjoyment.
I nodded at her, acknowledging her love for the book, but not disclosing how I felt. I didn’t particularly like the book. It was just forbidden.
I was still drawn to Christian historical fiction, because they were comfortable. I would skip all the come to Jesus moments, which seemed to be a prerequisite for such books, and I would mourn the endings. The women got the man, but then she got married and then she got pregnant. What happened to them then, I wondered. Is that all they wanted? A marriage and children? How unrealized.
It wasn’t until after college that the selection of books really started opening up, thanks to a job at Chapters and a discount.
The Mists of Avalon* made me see just how destructive Christianity and mission work was. The missionaries didn’t care who they destroyed. They didn’t care about the culture they obliterated. They just wanted their way. It was disgusting. How could I have missed that for so long?
The Birth House made me realize that I didn’t need marriage to be complete. I could enjoy the pleasures of the flesh without feeling locked in, without feeling I had to be everything for someone. The destinies of all those women in all the books I had read growing up didn’t have to be mine. I could have more.
The Red Tent made me realize the people mentioned in the Bible didn’t exist in a vacuum. The culture they were a part of was far richer than the Bible gave them credit for. There were nuances, there were shades of grey, there were lives that gravitated around the so-called heroes who were affected by the choices.
Books were a well constructed bridge between ignorance and truth. The more I travelled that bridge, the stronger it got, the more my life changed.
*I recognize the author of TMOA was a horrible being. It is difficult to reconcile the art which changed me and the artist who was so destructive to the people in her care.