Freud observed, “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.” Ronna Russell in her book The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, embodies the kind of selflove that enables one to share the most intimate and challenging details of life without fear. Though her memoir is in some places emotionally difficult to read, I found her book strangely cathartic. I qualify my response because although I also grew up in The United Pentecostal Church, our experiences are very different. However, as Ronna points out, “No one escapes fundamentalism unscathed,” and I imagine that much of what I did not share with Ronna’s experience was because I was male and wasn’t under the microscope of a high-profile ministry like her family. The United Pentecostal Church for many cultivates a zeitgeist of fear and control, and it very nearly crushed Ronna’s life.
Ronna’s story is one of survival, and her intimate confession is a gift of self-disclosure that is often reserved for only the closest of friends. In this way, Ronna befriends us all. A fair warning is in order, Ronna describes her sexual encounters in explicit detail. And given my conservative southern upbringing, I often blushed at the candid nature of Ronna’s writing. However, I appreciate Ronna’s courage in withholding nothing as she describes her transformative journey. And an empathetic reading of the cloistered nature of Ronna’s tightly controlled childhood, along with her marital depravations, provide understanding and context to Ronna’ sexual explorations.
Ronna’s recollections of her sexual trysts don’t strike me as the ramblings of a person simply pursuing sexual dalliance, but should be understood as akin to a certain impropriety displayed by starving inmates liberated from prison camps. We would not dismiss hungry people for a lack of manners, and Ronna’s experiences shouldn’t be dismissed for moralistic transgressions given the context of her trauma. This was Ronna’s reality in both her childhood and early adult life. A life from which she liberated herself through a sheer determination to survive.
Ronna’s story is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, one that inspires even those of us who still hold dear the hope of the Christian faith. A faith that Ronna, understandably so, now seems to reject. I qualify my assertion with the word seems, because after reading Ronna’s book in its entirety, I can’t be sure of where she lands on matters of faith and spirituality. Throughout her confessions she peppers her testimonies with religious overtones. On many occasions she cites dreams and epiphanies as sources of direction and clarity, this is the language of faith. Specifically, it the distinctive language of Pentecostalism. Perhaps a Freudian holdover from the abuse she endured? Or perhaps a residual enchantment of childhood that an abusive family and church took from her, that now seeks to flourish in maturity and reality. At the very least this is my desire for Ronna.
But whatever the current status of Ronna’s faith, it is clear that Ronna’s soul occupies a much safer and freer space now that she is liberated from an abusive and misguided belief system that kept her bound for so long. And perhaps her story will serve as a source of healing for others as well.