Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Stumbling Toward Faith Interview

Here's what you'll find on the back cover of stumbling toward faith, the new book by author renee altson:

raped by her "christian" father, rejected by church leaders, abandoned by her addicted mother, author renee altson's story is difficult but essential reading.

this disturbing, beautiful narrative will unsettle your understanding and assumptions of what it means to live as a believer in christ. altson's heart wrenching reflections and insightful prose and poetry ask questions we rarely get to the bottom of:

why does god allow evil to exist?
where is justice?
where is healing?
what is the point of faith? of belief?

stumbling toward faith, my longing to heal from the evil that god allowed, is a remarkable glimpse into the heart of a person healed, and healing. Renee was kind enough to give us a little "innerview" about the book, the writing, and that little thing that we call love.

First of all I have to tell you that stumbling toward faith is a stunning book. It's not just the beauty of your craftsmanship that astounds me, but the book, and your story, is knock you down on your face, with your butt in the air on the altar good. Tell me what it was like to write it.
there were times when it was so difficult i didn't think i could doit. a couple of different times i was so triggered by the writing,that i finally asked a dear friend of mine to just "be there" when iwrote. i would write in the building, in one office, and he would be in another office, and we spent hours like that. it wasn't that i wanted the company, i just wanted the reassurance that if i fell down the abyss, somebody would be there to help get me back out. and i did fall -- a lot. sometimes i could only write a paragraph at a time.
when it was finished, i felt exhausted; like i had wrung myself out. some of the imagery that i had when i was writing was that i was a washcloth and my words were droplets falling from the twisting of thelife that was me. i also felt amazingly accomplished. my husband and i have 'celebrated'so much during this journey... every milestone was huge.
I saw my own story in your story, and no doubt countless others will also. Who is the reader you saw when you wrote?
me. i saw myself at different ages, depending on the part of the story. i never thought it was anyone else. and it wasn't really until westarted making my story more global that i saw it as something otherscould benefit from.
There are so many crushing blows from other Christians. What's your take on this whole idea of Christian love? How do we miss it? How do we get it right? If you could have chosen how to be loved when you were hurting most, what would you have chosen?
i think that a lot of what other christians (and my father) took awayfrom me was permission. i never felt like i was allowed to just Be. and i know that sounds really intangible, but it's almost the easiest thing in the world. no cliches, no pat answers, just acceptance. i am becoming more and more convinced that the best thing we can dofor people is simply to be present with them. i think of moses and howaaron and hur just held up his arms for him, and it brings me tears athow beautiful that is. they just held up his arms. i think that a lot of other religions really get 'christian love.' ithink part of it is the whole 'salvation by works' thing thatmotivates them -- but let me tell you, that's a massive incentive for somebody-- they treat other people really well. i have never felt as loved as when i was in the mormon church. inthose last days of escaping from my father, i ended up in apsychiatric ward because i had been suicidal. the doctors said that iwouldn't be released unless i found someplace else to live.
they wouldn't let me go back to my fathers. i didn't know what to do, or who to go to. i called the local mormons,and even though i hadn't ever met any of them, they set me up with anapartment, they filled my cupboards with groceries, they paid thedeposit and the first 2 months rent, they picked me up from thehospital and they gave me a place to go.i think that sometimes christians are so worried about being saved bygrace, we forget all about good works. i love that verse "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" -- i think we've lost that.i think we do it pretty well to non-christians. we have our methods of"lifestyle evangelism" -- but how do we love each other? how do weshow, through the little things, our love?
There are very painful things in stumbling toward faith. Having lived through all that you did, what is the best thing you know about God? What's the scariest?
the best thing i know about god is that god will wait with me. i don'thave a timetable to figure things out by.the scariest is that god will wait with me. i can't outlast god.
On page 150, there is a poem, o rauch elohim. It is a cry to the feminine Spirit of God. Girl, a whole lotta folks don't think there's any such thing. As for me, there was a dark time in my life when I *needed* a feminine God, and this was hidden from me in Evangelical Chrisitianity. How did you discover Mother God? What has She revealed about Herself to you?
the ruach elohim poem came out of my first realization of god as woman... i couldn't believe that hadn't been told to me in decades ofchurch-going.they'd done the "holy spirit is more personal/heartfelt" spiel butthey'd never said "feminine spirit of god" -- that just changedeverything for me!i actually found out about it through a comment in my blog. and istudied it and it was true -- almost too good to be, but it was!i think the image i have of mother god is one who strokes my hair.when i was being abused, i would curl into a ball, my primary thoughtswere 'protect the head, protect the head, protect the head'. i crave gentle touch on my head, stroking of my hair, and it takes a lot totrust someone enough to allow them to do that.so the idea that god is a woman that can stroke my hair, and take careof my head -- wow, that's just revolutionary. and very safe.
Phyllis Tickle, bless that woman for the Divine Hours, wrote your foreword, and gave Christians a major spanking on those few pages. I love it. How have other reacted, so far, to your honesty?
so far, it's been pretty good... there have been occasionally annoying comments on some folks' blogs, and i got one particularly clueless letter, but it's been very positive.(i'm actually rather shocked at how well-received its been.)
Where are you now, in this epic story that is your life?
if life was a spiral, i'd be circling back through the story again.(and again, and again)i think i am a much stronger person than when i started the book. i think i have made some peace with myself and my past. i think i'm healthier, and more able to share who i am with others. i'm still very guarded and suspicious, i still cry too easily, and i still carry the imprint of what happened to me. i think i always will,but i think i'm finally finding myself okay with that.
You wrote near the end of Stumbling Toward Faith: isn't it something that these stories matter? that my story and his story and your story intertwine and meet, and that god makes something lovely and beautiful and meaningful out of our wretched, halting words? That's the story of my life. Last question: How is the sharing of stories? I mean, by now, people must be writing, sharing their story with you. And here you are, in my little story world, sharing with me, this little communion of God tales. What's it like to be renee altson, in renee's story, which is also Ragamuffin Diva's story, and ultimately, the Creator of Stories Story? What's it like right at this moment?
sometimes it is mind-boogling, that i have this amazing opportunity,and this gift of hearing other people's stories, and i feel so inadequate, but so amazed at community, at connection, at grace, andsometimes i wake up in the middle of the night and think, "o! i have abook!" and sometimes i cry over letters of how much other people hurt, and sometimes i am so angry at how horrible people are to one anotheri can't swallow. i am honoured to have been the one to carry thesestories -- mine, yours, ours -- and terrified and encouraged.
How can readers contact you, or find out where to purchase your book?
you can write me at renee@stumblingtowardfaith.comyou can buy the book at the ys online store athttp://www.youthspecialties.com/store/stumbling/ -- ys is doing thiscool thing where they're donating a buck per purchase to becky'shouse, a local (san diego) home for victims of domestic violence andtheir children.
Thanks, renee. It's been a grace. Don't let this be your last book, for the sake of all of us, who love words, and stories.:)
confidentially, among your readers, i've already started the next one. :) :) it's a hard habit to break! thanks, my friend. love and peace to you.


grammarwitch said...


You are a woman of great courage and imagination. I think the idea of a virtual book tour is brilliant, and I hope it works well for you. Thank you, too, for the insights on Ruach Elohim, which has recently been a revelation for me as well. Take care.

bobbie said...

i'll say it again, each stop i learn more and more! thank you!

beautiful words and challenges!

great questions claudia!!