2017 Book Reading Challenge 13: Post Traumatic Church Syndrome

TitlePost Traumatic Church Syndrome: One woman’s desperate, funny, and healing journey to explore 30 religions by her 30th birthday

Author: Reba Riley

Publisher: Howard Books

Location of publisher: New York

Year of publication: 2016

Number of pages: 368

Fiction or nonfiction: Nonfiction

Have I read this book before? No

Date I finished reading it: 2 March 2017

Genres: Memoir, autobiography, religion, illness, Pentecostalism

Personal reflections upon reading this text:

This book rather surprised me with how engaging, funny, entertaining and thoughtful it was. I had heard a lot about it but it wasn’t until recently that I finally got around to reading it.

I half expected it to be a little shallow – but I think the author actually does a decent job trying to see beyond the surface level of the different religious groups she visited. I also sort of thought it would result in some thin, pick-and-mix spirituality, but again I got the sense of a deep respect for the different religious (and one Atheist) group Reba Riley visits in the course of her 30th year of life.

All the while she is battling a set of mystery illnesses that are terrifyingly relatable, while trying to overcome the baggage of leaving a controlling Pentecostal church. Those aspects of the book shocked – even disturbed me. I almost think it needed a trigger warning for PTSD related to suffering a long, protracted mystery illness that turned out to be severe allergy problems combined with mental illness ( that was in my own case… you’ll have to read the book to learn what Reba Riley’s struggles turned out to be). It didn’t help that at the time I read it I was experiencing some of the worst allergy symptoms I’ve had in almost eight years.

I was also profoundly surprised at how much her descriptions of her childhood sounded almost identical to my husband’s retelling of his childhood. I found myself repeatedly reading out lines of the book to The Husband – interrupting his work, of course – and telling him (as if he didn’t notice) that those sections sounded like they could’ve been lifted from his own autobiography… that is, if he’d written an autobiography, and if he’d grown up an American woman and not as an Australian man.

I really, genuinely enjoyed this book. I couldn’t put it down – I read it cover-to-cover in a single day, despite all the other real life priorities vying for my attention. I like that she even found redemptive aspects to religions I would’ve been too afraid to explore. I admire her immense bravery in pursuing this personal challenge, in the midst of personal health crisis, family pressures, and a demanding job. I don’t know how she did it – but that’s what the quest for answers can be like, I guess. Calculated risk-taking seems to be necessary on the spiritual path.