Johnny Cash once stated that he had been everywhere.1 Renee Altson has also been everywhere. She has been in the land of abuse, humiliation, shame, guilt, anger, and deep sorrow. This is a road very few people will ever travel. Stumbling toward faith is a profound and depressing read. It hurts and it stings; it is personal. To be sexually abused by your father, while he prays the Lord’s Prayer or sings the hymnody of the church is the most perturbing and despicable form of abuse. When anyone would lose their sanity over such atrocity, Renee fights; she fights for her sanity and for her humanity.
This book is the story of a woman who has tried all religious means to find refuge from her pain and, as a result, it deepened her agony and led her to even further disparity. The church, the house of God, the abode of comfort, the haven of rest, became the abusive ecclesiastical house in the life of Renee. She sought a place to belong and found that people wanted to control her instead of loving her. She sought love and found abuse; different forms of abuse. She experienced abuse unfathomable to most of our modern minds.
Renee’s story is the story of how fundamentalism can ruin the lives of people. It is the story of how man-made law can lead a person away from the very God they seek to worship. But Renee’s story is more than that; it is a powerful, though, implicit, critique of the evangelical world; a critique of those who have made God after their own image.
My first impression of this book was one of skepticism. Any book using different fonts, two-word sentences, and lower case style, strikes me as another emergent attempt to demoralize the catholic church; but this book caught me off guard. It truly spoke to me as a man; as a Christian; as a churchman. I love the church. It is my mother and I cherish its ideas and dogmas, but I am well aware of its sinful tendencies. After all, if it were not sinful Christ would have no business in sanctifying His bride.
I was struck by the simple poems and I was even struck by the verses she referenced. It was open and honest. The book runs like a series of journal entries. It appears to have no connection, but everything in it connects when one realizes it is the story of a woman who has been stripped of every form of human dignity and now finds herself trying to put the broken pieces of glass together to reconstitute her broken soul.
Theological and Practical Observation
In page 61 Renee writes:
In my journey toward god, one of the greatest things I have learned is that there is much I do not know.
Renee Altson offers a uniquely post-modern perspective into our modern world. I am not one to dismiss the positive elements of modernism, but I am certain that this post-modern observation ((Though Sinclair Ferguson has stated that there is no such thing as post-modernism)) bears a striking resemblance to the early church. In my Presbyterian tradition, a man named Gordon Clark asserted that only a rational Christianity makes sense of reality. For Clark, rationality was the climax of Christian existence. He even insisted that unless someone has the right propositions, he shall not enter the kingdom of God. When asked once about James’ statement that even the demons know there is One God, he stated: “The problem with the demons is that they did not know the other Christian propositions.” Van Til, on the other hand, opposed this form of thinking and spoke much about the idea of an “apparent contradiction.” For Van Til, mystery is a property of the Christian religion. We should cherish mysteries, for in mysteries we know that we cannot exhaust the mind of God.
Renee Altson, did not intend to make a theological proposition though this comment strikes at the heart of the Christian religion. She understands that to diminish the greatness of God into little slogans and catch-phrases are injurious to the faith and practice of the Christian faith.
Tragedies are a part of the Christian faith and for some, tragedies can draw them forever away from the Christian faith. Altson lived with the sense of being constantly suffocated by her father, her world, and her life. She could never reach forgiveness no matter how much she prayed or walked an isle. She was dismembered and God’s solution was to tear her apart a little more. As the title makes clear, this is the evil that God allowed. He could have stopped it; He could have sent a fire from heaven to consume her father, but He chose not to do so. Why? Only in His wise and infinite plan. My only prayer is that God would grant me a spirit of love and give me words that cannot be found in bumper stickers.
I recommend this book to any man seeking the pastorate and those who will seek to touch the lives of others with similar background. What Renee has done is awaken my (our) selfish eyes to the inexplicable needs of those around us.
- From his great hit: “I’ve been everywhere man!” [↩ back]