Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A book review

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A book review August 31, 2015

It seems nearly every week we hear another report about the demise of the church. Just Google the term “leaving church” and you’ll get about 169,000,000 search results. For real, go try it. Posts range from why are people leaving, how to leave well, why not to leave, to to win members back and why those who have left aren’t missing anything and have no interest in returning – ever.

What many of these posts boil down to is that the church has hurt a lot of people who just can’t stomach anything remotely related to what has become the industry of getting and keeping asses in pews. This is especially true for those who have been wounded by the cultish version of church manifested as “fundamentalism” that is anything but based on the fundamental teachings of Jesus, but I digress.

Being on the other side of this process, it can be painful to watch the all-consuming force it has on those in the midst of the disillusionment with all that previously grounded them. Without language to understand what they are experiencing, the church-wounded often flounder to find a way forward.

Enter Reba Riley‘s new book, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome. Here’s a summary lifted straight off the author’s website:

Reba Riley’s twenty-ninth year was a terrible time to undertake a spiritual quest. But when untreatable chronic illness forced her to her metaphorical (and physical) derriere on her birthday, Reba realized that even if she couldn’t fix her body, she might be able to heal her injured spirit. And so began a yearlong journey to recover from her whopping case of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome by visiting thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday.
During her spiritual sojourn, Reba:

* Was interrogated by Amish grandmothers about her sex life
* Danced the disco in a Buddhist temple
* Went to church in virtual reality, a movie theater, a drive-in bar, and a basement
* Fasted for thirty days without food—or wine
* Washed her lady parts in a mosque bathroom
* Was audited by Scientologists
* Learned to meditate with an urban monk, sucked mud in a sweat lodge with a suburban shaman, and snuck into Yom Kippur with a fake grandpa in tow
* Discovered she didn’t have to choose religion to choose God—or good

For anyone who has ever longed for transformation of body, mind, or soul, but didn’t know where to start, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome reminds us that sometimes we have to get lost to get found.

post-traumatic-church-syndromeRiley’s book is a fun and easy read that immediately draws the reader into her journey. She courageously reveals a painful process of searching for, and ultimately finding, her way back to a faith that is deeper and more expansive than can be ever be eviscerated by the machinations of man-made religiosity.

Now to be honest, at times the book reads, or me, more like a novel than a memoir. Some of the scenes described feel hyper-real, embellished for an exciting read, yet when I made the internal move to read it more as a work of fiction I was able to connect with her profound journey and message.

Here is my take-away. Riley has made concrete and accessible some critical concepts for millions, especially the post-evangelical crowd.

  • The cult of American Churchianity, replete with “Christianese,” specious theology and strict indoctrination is deeply wounding A LOT of people.
  • There are tangible symptoms experienced by those who have been traumatized by the festering boil (okay, those are my words) of fundamentalist American Christianity.
  • Knowing that other people have, and are suffering from, PTCS and are in the process of recovery can be a life-changing step toward healing.
  • When people have the freedom to ask questions and explore faith beyond human construct of the religion of their upbringing, a glittering disco ball of spiritual truths might appear and open the door for reconnecting one with the Divine and ultimately life.

Riley conveys all this with humor, vulnerability and a perfect penchant for the dramatic. If you are of the post-evangelical set and think you might be suffering from PTCS, pick up this book. If you looking for a deeper understanding of why so many people are leaving the church, pick up this book. If you are part of the problem that fosters religiosity that is devastating so many, please pick up this book.


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