Skirting at edges of faith

I love to read stories about real people.

Even better, stories about people who hit rock bottom and find their way out of the pit appeal to me.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram had just such a story over the weekend — filled with color, emotion and drama, not to mention s-e-x.

The top of the 1,200-word feature:

COLLEYVILLE — Lynn Kiselstein seemingly had it all — a big house, slick car, expensive clothes and a country club membership.

A stripper at clubs in Fort Worth and Dallas, she was rolling in cash.

“At first it was fun,” she said. “I was making money hand over fist, bought a Corvette, built a house and had the wedding of my dreams.”

But the job that afforded her luxuries also led her down a path of self-destruction, causing her to lose her home, marriage, possessions and self-worth.

Now 42, Kiselstein is working in a resale store in Irving and studying for her GED certificate thanks to help from We Are Cherished, a nonprofit that helps women get out of the sex industry by providing encouragement and resources.

Now, I have written a few stories along these lines in my career. In 2002, I did a profile for The Oklahoman on a former stripper’s bumpy road to ministry. In 2006, I did a feature for The Christian Chronicle on a minister’s escape from sexual addiction. In each case, the F-word — faith — played a starring role in the person’s transformation.

As I read the Star-Telegram story, my immediate suspicion was that religion was — or should be — a key element of this piece, too.

Sure enough, we find out pretty quickly that there’s a religious tie to the “nonprofit”:

She was released from jail in February and through a friend was led to the faith-based organization that is headquartered in the Cherished House in Colleyville. The house was donated by First Baptist Church Colleyville, which also provides financial support to the organization.

“We had dinner; they greeted us with gift bags. It was amazing,” said Kiselstein, who plans to eventually attend culinary school. “From the moment I walked in, it literally felt like arms were around me, but no one was standing next to me.”

The ministry is the brainchild of Polly Wright, 38, who is a member of the church.

So, we’ve got a faith-based organization. There’s a church involved. The dancer felt like “arms were around” her. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a spiritual reference.

Nevertheless, this story — purposely or not — skirts at the far edges of faith, its religion ghosts exposed for all the world to see.

We read about one of the ministry co-founders “selling her soul” to earn a ton of money dancing. We see a reference to “emptiness in her life” but never learn precisely how she filled it. She “became a Christian.” A “God thing” led her to meet the ministry’s co-founder. But it’s all very vague and antiseptic — as if really getting religion might make the story too real.

I love to read stories about real people.

But please enlighten me on what really makes them tick, even if it’s religion.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    I’m not sure I’d characterize the problem with the story as a ghost but think there’s another problem. I first skimmed the story and got confused because it appeared to be about one person but then it also included two others. So I had to go back and carefully read the story to follow it. Certainly we should always carefully read stories, but often I don’t.

    So I then decided to read your two stories and found them compelling. And that was the difference to me. Your two stories were focused on the subject of the story. They made real the struggles of the people between God’s invitation to walk the path of Light and the downward pull into sexual obsession. I could easily relate the struggles of the protagonists in your stories to my own struggles to live up to my highest understanding.

    The story you reviewed by contrast did not have that central focus and suffered accordingly. And that would be my #1 critique rather than insufficient religious content.

  • Bobby

    I agree, Jerry, that the story was a bit disjointed. I am one who believes that if you’re going to use someone in the lede as an anecdote to exemplify your subject/trend/organization, that person should make more than a cameo appearance. And preferably, that person might even reappear at the end.

    But I still think the big missing part is the faith angle.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. :-)

  • Tyson K

    I was actually going to say the same exact thing as Jerry. The story really threw me for a loop with that. I actually thought the story of the woman featured in the lede, from the hints we got, sounded more compelling than the one we got about the woman who founded the organization.