Earning Enough Grace, Part 2

TheFellowship We are continuing our conversation about spiritual abuse with Sara Roberts Jones. Click here to read Part One.

 

What do you most want readers to come away with after finishing your book?

I wrote for two audiences:

  1. Those who went through an authoritarian Christian system. I wanted to validate what we went through, to show why we feel torn up and broken even though it’s hard for others to see it.
  2. Those who just see the shiny outside and don’t understand what it’s like to live in a highly restrictive, demanding system like this. They shake their heads when survivors are angry, reactive, and often leave the faith altogether. Outsiders shake their heads and say, “They shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Just take the good and leave the bad!” I hope my novel shows what is going on under the surface.

I did not write it for people still caught in the system. Even if they want to “get out,” my book will just put them on the defensive. The humor is too snarky and I focus heavily on women’s empowerment (which the patriarchal world considers a major threat to their system). While I tried to write each character sympathetically, I am not at all sympathetic to a Christian authoritarian/patriarchal worldview and didn’t pull my punches.

I love how you ended your novel with hope and recovery but it was not a tidy ending. All wrongs were not righted. Do you have any resources or suggestions for other people who may have experienced spiritual abuse themselves?

Find a good counselor—someone who understands spiritual abuse. My counselor was a Christian, but someone who understood not to say to me, “You should get into God’s Word and seek Him!” or “Follow these steps to recovery.” It was very healing to be able to talk to someone who was trained to listen, and who never took my words as evidence that I was sinning.

I share a list of books that have helped those struggling with spiritual abuse over on my blog. It can be found here.

What have you learned about God's love and grace that you didn't know when you were part of ATI?

Grace is not some “power to obey” that God hands out to people who are good enough. Grace is God himself—covering our sins, healing us, carrying us when we’re too tired to go on. It’s what kept me from walking away from him altogether. It’s a major theme of my novel: Grace means you don’t have to be good enough.

What are some of your favorite novels, or what are you reading currently?

I confess I haven’t read much at all during the three years it took me to write and publish this novel.

My husband recommended I read Wearing God by Lauren Winner. I’m going through it very, very slowly. She’s not my style at all, plus it’s basically a devotional book which I’m allergic to. But I gave myself permission to read it in small portions, and skim when I think she gets too wordy. It discusses less-noticed ways the Bible describes God—I’m reading about “God as clothing” right now. A refreshingly different approach to knowing God.

When I do read for fun, I’m a big Young Adult fan. I enjoy Diana Wynn Jones, Patricia Wrede, and Mary Hoffman (her “Stravaganza” series).

This blog post lists some of the books that directly influenced The Fellowship.

I’m always glad to pick up Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, Dave Barry, and Patrick McManus.

P8Where can we find you online?

SaraRobertsJones.com

I’ve got several articles on RecoveringGrace.org.

I blog for Home School Legal Defense Association.

On Facebook, Sara Roberts Jones Author.

And you can purchase The Fellowship on Amazon.

Earning Enough Grace, Part 1

TheFellowshipI first met Sara Roberts Jones when we were housemates with three other girls for six months during an internship in the Northern Virginia area. She had a southern accent, loved sweet tea, and introduced me to the Sense and Sensibility soundtrack. We have been friends ever since. Sara loved to write even then, and was working on a fantasy novel when we lived together. So it was an honor to get to peer read her novel, The Fellowship, prior to publication! I must admit I was a little nervous. I knew she was a great writer, but when you're reading the work of a friend who has put a lot of time into their project, you really want to like it!

I didn't need to worry, because I quickly become engrossed in the plot and was soon reading it--not as a favor for a friend--but because I sincerely wanted to find out what happened to the main character, twenty-year-old Bekah.

It’s not easy for twenty-year-old Bekah to return to the Fellowship of True Christian Churches. Church authorities dictate what she wears, who her friends are, how she falls in love, and what she can do with her life.

But Bekah hopes to show the “Fellowship girls” a bigger future to live for, while staying safe within the boundaries of the church.

Then Bekah learns of a long-buried secret that left an abuser unpunished and free to prey on more victims.

She’s always been told that if they all remain faithful, the Fellowship will protect them from the world. But who will protect them from the Fellowship?

Sara's novel tackles a heavy topic: spiritual abuse. However, Sara is so witty and sarcastic both in person and in her writing that she balances this dark topic out with humor and grace. Excited to be able to welcome Sara to the blog today!

Can you introduce us to yourself and your family?

I’m 39, a Mississippi native now living in Virginia. I attended public school until I was 14, and then was homeschooled for high school using Bill Gothard’s ATI program.

Darren and I have been married for 15 years. We’ve got four children (two girls, two boys) ranging in age from 14 to 6. We homeschool all of them, and I do mean “we.” When I began writing my novel, Darren took over the school planning, about half the instruction… and all of the laundry.

This is your first published novel, but you’ve been writing for a long time. Can you share a bit of your writing background and how the idea for The Fellowship came about?

I wrote my first novel when I was 17. It was about a princess who had to go into hiding when rebels took over the country. The heroine was passive, the hero overly gallant, the villain annoying, and the plot… well, there wasn’t really a plot. It was a terrible novel. I adored it.

When I was 21, a former public school teacher got me a job at the local newspaper. I was completely out of my depth, writing about city council meetings, county supervisor meetings, doing interviews, typing up local news. But I learned as I went.

During the baby/toddler years, I kept a blog just to be able to write something. Then I got my nerve up and contacted the editor of a local parenting magazine with an idea for an article. She liked my article, liked my blog, and I freelanced for that magazine for five or six years.

So when life settled down enough that I could seriously look at starting a novel, I was already primed and ready to write.

You tackle a weighty issue—spiritual abuse—in an engaging and even exciting way. How do you think your novel might have a unique perspective on this topic?

Most novels that deal with spiritual abuse and cult-like societies are usually bleak and hopeless in tone. There’s a lot of angst, anger, and horror. Very little warmth or humor. The society is weird and harsh. It doesn’t look anything like our normal everyday life. The protagonist is almost always someone who lives in the system but wants to break free.

The books are good to read in the sense of understanding what some people have to endure—but the world they create is alien. It’s not one that your ordinary American Christian can relate to at all.

I told my story from a different angle.

First of all, like many “cults,” the Fellowship doesn’t really look like one at first. It’s a fairly boring, if slightly odd, church. Even its theology sounds pretty good on the surface. (It’s that “complete obedience” that’s the kicker. No matter what a group looks like on the outside, if there’s authority without accountability, you’ve probably got a cult.)

Secondly, life in the Fellowship isn’t all gray gloom and horror. The family and friendship ties are very strong. There’s also a warm sense of belonging. Humor helps people cope with the high demands of an abusive system, and there’s a lot of it—mockery and sarcasm being the most subversive.

And thirdly, I was intrigued with the challenge of showing why someone would go back into the system. That’s what my heroine, Bekah, does.

Of course, she goes in thinking she can fix some of the problems that she sees. She doesn’t realize that as soon as someone points out problems, that person becomes the problem. The Fellowship doesn’t change; it merely grinds down its opponents.

But my own story is one of recovery and hope, so that’s the story I told in my novel, too.

Can you share a bit of your own personal experience and how that played into how you developed your story?

When my parents decided to homeschool me at age 14, they chose Bill Gothard’s ATI program. It looked great and promised great results—Godly young people who obeyed their authorities and changed the world.

I learned quickly not to question anything, because questioning authority led directly to God’s punishment. The God I learned through ATI was angry and vengeful; the only way to avoid his “correction” was to make commitments to high standards. Obviously I never could keep all of these commitments perfectly, so I lived in constant fear of God’s wrath.

Even when I got married and walked away from it all, these ideas lived on in my head. Then I reconnected with other former ATI students on Facebook and found out that our stories all had the same elements in them. I desperately wanted to tell our stories of brokenness, legalism, and hope for recovery.

(And a small part of me really wanted to explain to my many longsuffering friends why I was so darn weird during those years.)

 

We are going to continue our conversation with Sara tomorrow. Hope you'll come back to join us!

 

P8Where can we find you online?

SaraRobertsJones.com

I’ve got several articles on RecoveringGrace.org.

I blog for Home School Legal Defense Association.

On Facebook, Sara Roberts Jones Author.

And you can purchase The Fellowship on Amazon.

Easter Books for Children

EasterBooks For a bookish family such as ours, celebrating a holiday means reading about a holiday. Christmas has many literary traditions attached to it: think A Christmas Carol, the Christmas scene in Little Women, The Night Before Christmas.

Easter, not so much.

However, I’ve discovered some wonderful faith-based picture books that share the story of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection, with young children. Some are retellings from Scripture, others are legends, fiction, or explain the history of the Easter symbols. The following is a list of books that I either own or I check out from our local library every year to help us celebrate the Easter holiday.

The Colt and the King by Marni McGee

On that Easter Morning by Mary Joslin

Simon and the Easter Miracle by Mary Joslin and Anna Luraschi 

What is Easter? Lillie James

The Legend of the Easter Egg by Lori Walbury

Petook: An Easter Story by Caryll Houselander

God Gave Us Easter by Lisa Tawn Bergren

The Easter Story by Brian Wildsmith

The Story of Easter by Aileen Fisher 

Sunrise Hill by Kathleen Long Bostrom

The Easter Story for Children by Lucado, Frazee, and Hill

The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale Retold by Angela Elwell Hunt

Do you have a favorite Easter-themed picture book to share?

Learning to Love Like Jesus

 

As Holy Week begins I've done a lot of thinking about how Jesus showed radical love to his disciples during his final hours. How he symbolized the soul-cleaning he was about to accomplish on the cross. And yet he was incredibly practical too, shocking his friends by doing a slavish and unclean task. He was teaching them--and me--how to love.

***

Jesus does the unthinkable.

He picks up a towel, ties it around his waist, and pours water into a basin. Then, he approaches his friends.

He takes their stinky, dirt-encrusted, calloused feet in his own hands—hands that within hours would show their love again by having Roman nails driven into them—and washes those feet clean. He wipes away the grime and makes them spotless, symbolizing what the cross will soon accomplish not just for their bodies, but their very souls.

To appreciate Peter’s shock and horror at this scenario, we must realize this foot washing was the task of a slave. Not just any slave, but it was typically reserved for Gentile slaves. Someone the Jews would have seen as being fundamentally and ceremonial unclean. And Jesus takes on this unclean role to show us how we are to love each other. We are to serve each other as Christ demonstrated by reaching down and bathing dusty dirty feet in clean water. It is a metaphor for how we are to live out Christ-love.

Join me over at For the Family to finish reading . . .