About Me

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I have discovered that walking a very narrow path leads to broad places of peace, contentment, and provision. I work as a freelance consultant in the areas of cultural heritage, public history and museums, From 2009-2016, I was the executive director of the Bolduc House Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, (now called New France - the OTHER Colonial America, an eighteenth century French colonial historic site and National Historic Landmark.) My PhD is from the University of Leicester's (United Kingdom) Department of Museum Studies. My research looked at the interpretation of diversity at the American Historic House Museum. I also developed and facilitate an inspirational program for Christian grandparents, Gathering Grandparents.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What do you notice when you walk into a church for the first time?

Last Saturday I went with some friends to hear a Christmas concert at a church because they had seen one of the soloists in a different performance context so when they heard a radio advertisement for this concert they thought it would be good. It was very good.

But as we pushed my friend's husband's wheelchair up the ramp that "could not have been designed for a handicapped person in mind because it is too steep" I remembered the crazy idea that became the novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife.

We were greeted nicely, not intrusively, at the door by a security guard and directed to the elevator to go DOWN to the sanctuary. After we got down we learned that the only restroom facilities are UP. So, I hung out in the large hall browsing the items on display tables and bulletin boards until my friends returned. We were escorted thanks to the wheelchair to a back row where we sat next to a woman who smiled nicely enough and had too much perfume on.

In the novel, Terry Soldan, the ex-wife of the abusive Pastor Ed, becomes an anonymous church critic. She travels incognito, disguised as a woman of color, to a different church each week. Then she writes her experience up as an article in the paper where she is the religion editor. Had Terry been at this concert she would not have been the only black woman there and she would also have enjoyed the mix of classical and jazz performance and the additional congregational worship led by an amazing musician from Malta.

The whole idea of an anonymous church critic came about when I decided that people looking for a church should be able to preview it before stepping inside. Other than the website or the service on local-access television or the radio, a potential visitor has to risk being hugged, snubbed, judged, cajoled, healed, saved, baptized, or bored once they decide to attend on a Sunday morning.

It's sad that walking into a church can be that threatening.

Last week's concert was excellent and the church looked like the "word of faith" church it promotes itself to be.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Glimpsing Jesus?

I got invited to return to Haiti next spring to attend and possibly speak at a Christian women's conference there. Why? Because, like my friend who shares a similar story of broken marriage and single mothering but who has remarried and travels the world with her missionary husband now, I have not always been perfect. Apparently that is a refreshing message for women in the churches around the world.

How tragic that we Christians have so twisted the message of redemption that we presume to be so perfect that we don't need a Savior anymore. How ridiculous that in our spiritual arrogance we miss the fact that many people just find us funny.

It is this sham along with the buy-in that is so prevalent among some of the most vocal and influential church leaders (like Pastor Ed and his congregation in the novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife) that makes so many people dismiss Christianity as worthless.

My hope is that by creating a fictional romp through the spectrum of American Protestantism today I have written a tragic-comedy that will perhaps provoke a reexamination of my readers' opinions.

Perhaps my readers will find themselves laughing in spite of pain and in the midst of cynicism.

Perhaps my readers can look up with fresh eyes, not yet seeing everything under his feet yet.

Perhaps - maybe for the first time, a few readers may glimpse


Friday, December 02, 2011


Sometimes things go terribly not the way you planned. Like today. I got to work early because a repairman was coming to fix the printer. He came. Then a few hours later when the paper smelled and looked like roasted marshmallows in the historic house built circa 1820 where our museum offices are located. In the meantime not much of what I had on my to do list was finished - it could have been if the printer had worked...Then the staffing fell apart for the weekend. Again, not my fault but my problem. Enough of these little things built up that by 2:30 I left work - no explanations - just "if you need me I'll come back." Granted, I am the director and I did work on both of my days off this week and now that the weekend staffing changed I'll put in at least a 20 hour one....so the dog and I went to the river where there were a large number of barges herded together at the bank chaperoned by one big river boat. But it was enough of a breather to somewhat calm my exasperation for a few minutes. Water does that - still waters....He leads me beside the still waters....

These are slight challenges compared to the pressure that builds in an abusive marriage over many decades sometimes. At some point someone just has had enough.

For the fictitious pastor's ex-wife in my novel, enough was when the last child graduated from high school and the still waters were at William's house, Terry's refuge from all of the church hurt that made everything that much more confusing because she couldn't untwist the lies about God enough to get a peek at His truth...pain does that.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Popcorn and Parmesan Cheese with Butter & Dillweed

A recipe to temporarily forestall loneliness and other sadness is fresh popped popcorn covered with real melted butter, dill weed, salt, and Parmesan cheese...it only works until the bowl is licked clean of the butter.

Only once did emotional discomfort stop me from eating altogether. It was when the last lie shattered everything and my heart broke like a shattered plate into a million little pieces on the floor. Thank God for the friend who forced me, a week or so later, to eat some cheese. The crisis had been faced but at that particular time, no solution seemed evident...

Terry Soldan, the fictitious ex-wife of Pastor Ed, had a similar experience. Her friend was William, whose reputation as a gourmet chef was as well known as his wonderful garden. You can read about their unusual relationship in the novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife - now available for sale as a Kindle e-book.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

once upon a time....

Christmas is over-rated. The current barrage of gift-driven commercials began the minute Santa Claus stepped off his sleigh at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last Thursday morning. Black Friday began before Friday started and then cyber Monday came and went. Both shopping days were disappointments according to my sources. I've never participated in either one.

Indeed, being a single mother of many children made Christmas worse especially because well-meaning individuals made assumptions that I could not afford to provide a "good" Christmas to the children so they stepped in unasked with lavish gifts that overpowered the simple ones I did wrap.

On the inside, jealousy wrestled with gratitude every year...even with grown children today I struggle with inadequacy - call me Scrooge if you must.

Christmas involved grief and cruelty for Terry Soldan too. She is the main character in my novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife. Christmas stung Terry because her ex-husband, Pastor Ed, used it as an attempt to assert his power against her, exacerbating his less than innocent ability to block her from her children and grandchildren.

If only we could each be delighted in the simple things that drop from on high feather-like unasked at our feet.

Once upon a time long ago and far away the best gift lay swaddled in a manger....I wonder....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Is it really necessary to be right?

A long-time Christian moved to a new town and for about a year attended a small church without becoming a member while making relationship and contributing to the life of the congregation. Largely because of the demands of a new but necessary job, she missed several Sundays in a row. Her friends told her that the pastor's wife wondered whether this woman had "fallen out of fellowship" and that the pastor was going to visit her to find out. No one called. No one bothered to ask her before the judgments, based on arrogant assumptions, flew like gossip throughout the congregation. The woman came to me extremely wounded asking advice about how to respond. Her first instinct was never to return to the church.

Unfortunately, I have encountered this situation far too many times - sometimes being the focus of the accusations (more than once).

It was this type of spiritual pride that Terry Soldan, the fictitious ex-wife of a pastor in my novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife (available on Amazon for the Kindle, btw), banked on when she left Pastor Ed and ran to her childhood bachelor friend's home. She correctly predicted that Ed and his board of elders and every other member of his congregation would immediately assume that she and William were having an affair and that, therefore, Ed had biblical grounds for a divorce. In addition, Terry would be ex-communicated, anathema, unless she confessed her sin and repented.

Some readers have asked whether it is really plausible for Terry to live in William's house without being sexually involved with him. Other readers will understand that it makes a great deal of sense because they will have lived Terry's life and resonate with her woundedness sharing her understandings.... Unfortunately for the church, William's genuine commitment and hospitality to his traumatized friend brought Terry more normalcy and healing than anything else.

Is it really so necessary to be right? Isn't our own righteousness nothing more than a used tampon according to Isaiah? It doesn't take too long for that to stink.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Loneliness among friends

This is the end of Thanksgiving weekend for 2011 - a time that often finds us surrounded by family retelling the shared stories that make up the fabric of our lives. I did see some family on Thursday at a nursing home where a man, my former father-in-law, whom I have loved for 35 years or more, is fading away - all his concentration was spent trying to move his food from his plate to his mouth...he missed all the stories and we missed the ones he relentlessly tells every year. Most likely I unwittingly started a new story when I made a serious mistake while knitting a Christmas stocking for my son's intended...Of course this happened when I was surrounded by the other women with whom I have spent hours knitting, chatting, and chasing children over the years...it's a tradition among us (we're four generations into it) to knit Christmas stockings for the new members of the family. Windy knit the same exact pattern for each of her grandchildren. Grandmommy continued the tradition - varying the pattern a bit - so each of my children has a stocking she created. Since I have never been able to discipline myself to repeat a recipe or a design without some variation, I changed everything - knitting in the design instead of embroidering it, etc. But every stocking still needs a heel turned, a foot added, and a toe. What did I do in such a public setting to inspire a new story? I knit the heel but forgot to turn it before I picked up all the stitches on the double pointed needles all the while ignoring the little voice inside that kept saying something just did not feel right. "So, you are knitting a tube sock stocking!" was the conclusion of my sister in law who was knitting on the seat next to me. Rather than try to fix my mistake while I was still embarrassed by it - even though it was pretty funny...I put the whole thing back in the bag and ate another piece of pie. Soon I returned home which took over an hour of driving and when I got here it was a lonely finish to a melancholic but meaningful day. I've spent quite a few holidays without family since my marriage failed but I have only been shunned by one or two individuals. Terry Soldan in Pastor's Ex-Wife faced the same loneliness among friends but she was overtly shunned even by her own children. Hopefully the humor I wove throughout that novel makes a good contrast to the pain it paints.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dead Butterfly Wings

My friend, Lisa and her husband, Gavin, were the first readers of Pastor's Ex-Wife. I emailed them a chapter every few days as soon as the first (but not the roughest first) draft was written. They responded with questions, things I needed to clarify, and they shared the emotions the story provoked in them. It made the writing process more real for me to have an audience whose questions often inspired the next chapter as it unfolded.

Oh, yes, I had an outline - really a plan, not an outline. I work best when I have determined certain requirements for each chapter - it had to move the plot forward, it had to include humor, it had to turn around a single unifying metaphor, it had to employ similes and a full range of sensory details....dialogue... an anecdote from my years teaching in an inner city school district, as well as a church building, a pastor, a congregation, a service and sermon.

I mixed and matched the church features like a crazy quilt - everything is based on reality but abstracted like a cubist painting to create a new fictional construct of a church that worked with the story.

I did not realize how important Lisa and Gavin had been to the writing process until last night.

I am working on a new novel (working title "Dead Butterfly Wings"). It is set in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, and is a murder mystery which also treats the theme I dedicate my adult fiction to explore: authentic faith within abusive families.

Lisa and Gavin were my first audience for this first novel - Pastor's Ex-Wife. Lisa shared the background of the protagonist and pastor's ex-wife, Terry Soldan, so her emotional reactions predicted to me whether the story felt real, authentic, plausible....

Until yesterday, I did not have an audience in mind for "Dead Butterfly Wings." Now I do - a person to whom the book just may be dedicated. It won't be the same. I won't be showing him the chapters as they get written but I am writing as if I were telling him the story as it unfolds on the page. I don't even know whether he will ever read it. But, I learned a tremendous thing about how I write just by realizing that I am writing FOR someone specific. It motivates me to put my heart on the page more fully.

Thank you, Lisa and Gavin.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

Offered Heart

I was admiring the hand-built ceramics made using Native American techniques and inspiration by the students at our museum yesterday (my day job is to direct the Bolduc House Museum in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri). One bowl was inspired by a Mississippi Mound Builder's sacrificial heart vessel. Its maker explained that the heart would be cut out of a sacrificial victim, placed in the bowl, the victim's corpse kicked away, and the heart lifted to the deity in the bowl.
The idea wounded my spirit.
Then I pondered it some more.
The essence of worship is just that: to offer one's whole heart up to the Lord.
The essence of spiritual abuse such as I portray coming from Pastor Ed towards his ex-wife, Terry Soldan, in the novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife, is to cut out and offer another person's heart up to God.
Terry's problem after she left her abusive pastor husband was to regain and reclaim her own heart. That accomplished, she may someday decide to yield it back without reservation to the Lord - perhaps the next story.....

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

God is blurry

The biggest loss that Terry Soldan suffered when she left her abusive husband, Pastor Ed, after decades of marriage was the rift her decision created between her and her two adult children. She did not explain the details of her reasoning to them - she did not have the luxury of an opportunity prior to leaving Ed. After she left, like many of the people in the congregation she had helped to lead for so many years, her children took Ed's side without even investigating hers. Ed successfully branded himself as God's man of faith and power who had been dealt a huge injustice by his unrepentant rebellious wife. His ego became inflated by a standard but not careful interpretation of a verse in Malachi that says that God hates divorce. Most people stop there. When you read the verse in its context it sharpens the meaning a lot and divorce appears to be a natural consequence of actions suffered within a marriage especially by a wife. Knowing ahead of time that this would be the message served up week after week from Ed's pulpit against her actions, Terry realized that her choice to walk away would be ever so costly. How much pain did that indicate was her daily marital dose?
Sadly, Terry is a fictional construct of the stories of many women in pain whose decisions cause even more pain - sometimes because of misplaced accusations that come against them; sometimes because of their own desperate but negative actions. Usually God is blurry and His image superimposed on the pain at the point of the deepest crisis. Let God arise for every Terry who needs His wisdom and courage!

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Then with my outside voice I said.....

One very honest friend vented about a difficult person she had dealt with during the day by detailing what she said - "I told her to take her pretty little skinny self and blankety blank blank...."

It surprised me to hear the diatribe because this friend never does or says anything mean or even remotely harsh to or about anyone.

Then she paused...."Then," she continued, "with my outside voice I....." said something much nicer indeed.

I laughed, delighted at the truth she had revealed through this clever device of humor.

We all have inside voices and sometimes they need to speak louder.

For Terry Soldan, the ex-wife of the abusive Pastor Ed, her inside voice was gagged for the entire time she was married to him mostly because she had a warped understanding of how a Christian wife is supposed to behave towards her husband. His power over her snapped and she broke free when that inside voice insisted that the outside voice stop pretending.

That caused the identity crisis that ended up being a crisis of faith and a leap of faith that took a whole lot of courage and caused a whole lot of pain.

Hopefully the readers of Pastor's Ex-Wife will find the humor as refreshing as I found my friend's.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Feliz Cumpleanos

My friend's daughter is turning 15 next week. I remember when the little baby arrived fresh from the adoption agency just a few days old, the joy at having a brown baby girl to round out the mixed family before the hidden abuses became too severe to hide anymore and the family ruptured irrevocably.

It was a shock that I was privy to long before it became public when the stigma grew so loud that none of the parties could safely remain associated to the church community that had nurtured them and vowed before God and these witnesses to pray for them and to hold them accountable to their own marriage vows. As if knowing God was enough to prevent adultery, incest, and abuse - think of King David as a single example of a man whose very public worship life didn't keep him from having to face all of those issues very publicly...

As a people of faith, don't we routinely violate the principles of the God we proclaim and doesn't that muddy the waters of every on-looker who is desperate to find answers, truth, justice, acceptance, forgiveness, healing and the space in which to be him or herself?

When I attend the celebration of this girl's birthday I will remember the first time I held her knowing that with very few exceptions, I am one person who connects to that painful time with love. I wonder whether she will remember her Creator with gratitude or whether her view of Him is distorted through the lens of her losses so that she has yet to sense His pleasure.

Terry Soldan, the fictitious Pastor's Ex-Wife, lived through the juxtaposition of authentic faith in a loving God and an abusive family, let the sham break into a million pieces and began again - limping with the help of some unlikely friends - towards a normal life. Her two children suffered too but have yet to bump head on into the fact that sin twists our perspectives and that abusive but forceful religiosity laces the twist with all kinds of poison dipped barbs. Maybe someday in some sequel they will have the courage to examine their mother's side of the story.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lie Dissectors

The last post I uploaded, "Have you been hurt by the church?" has triggered the most interest so far of any. For Terry, the pastor's ex-wife in the story, church and her ex-husband, Ed, were barely distinguishable from each other. At least that was true for a long time while she came to terms with who she was and how she wanted to live. Over and over again, for Terry, it meant drawing a separation between Ed and God and discovering that she had allowed Ed to become the lens through which she viewed God. I know I personally have been guilty of the same mind games - probably that is why I was able to portray Terry so. She doesn't quite know this about herself at the end of the book but she has also allowed the people of Ed's church to come to define THE church for her - even though they have not applied enough critical thinking either and basically function as Ed's abusive echo. Of course, idolizing the pastor, the elders, or a denomination leads to the kind of inflexibility and judgmental-ism that ostracized Terry without even considering that there might have been another way to evaluate the situation. How hurtful to learn that the basis of one's community, identity, and barometer of truth and morals has shut you out! How freeing truth inevitably is if we allow it to dissect us away from these lies. It reminds me of Job and that makes me confident that people like Terry really do get the chance to come face to face with the God who speaks out of the whirlwind in His own time and with His own set of challenging questions. 

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Have you been hurt by a church?

I was driving this afternoon listening to the radio not finding the store I was looking for when I heard Rickie Lee Jones interviewed on the Studio 360 program and enjoyed hearing her sing a few songs from her newest album. Two of the songs have titles that refer to biblical language so the interviewer asked if she was moving towards Christianity. While she said that she "likes Jesus" and likes what He said "but he didn't say very much" according to her, she does not "like" most Christians nor does she respect any "fundamentalist" religion where the adherents are expected to do a specific series of things just for believing in the guy who started it.

Lots of people are caught in this dilemma. They "like" Jesus but find a mismatch between what He seems to stand for and what His people represent. So they avoid Him along with the religion that has grown up around His various followers making little distinction between them. Probably this is a clue that should be interpreted to mean that they (the people who "like" but do not follow Jesus) have been severely wounded by the church in the name of Jesus - like what happened to our fictitious protagonist, Terry, when her ex-husband, Pastor Ed, accused her of all manner of theological anathema as a way to mask his own abusive behavior and the congregation, who idolized their member of the clergy as many have elevated a saint or pope in other religious contexts, bought the lie and rejected Terry who was actually the innocent used to be ingenue victim.

She, licking her own wounds while coming to grips with how long she had been the prisoner of an ego maniacal misogynist, could have ended up with Rickie Lee Jones' confession. However, largely due to her role as the Anonymous Church Critic for the local newspaper, she began to appreciate the many stripes of the American Protestant church and to become a discriminating consumer of what is demanded of the members of their congregations from the mostly men who occupy their various pulpits on Sunday mornings.

Have you suffered hurt at the hands of Christians, clergy, or the church? Perhaps, like many who have read the novel, Pastor's Ex-Wife, it will begin to lance the wound in your heart and start you laughing down a path towards and authentic faith that comes from gut-wrenching honesty met by NO pat-answers.....Besides, the book could also make a great mind-movie until someone decides to buy the movie rights to it from me and turn it into a block-buster. (I am not kidding, by the way.)

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Monday, May 23, 2011


The daily news stories - not just the tabloids- are replete with evidence of powerful men or men with power who forget that they will someday have to give an account for every word and deed who disregard the vows they swore in the presence of God and these witnesses to be faithful to the wives of their youth. Isn't it commonly said that power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely? This may be the explanation of the indiscretions of the recent governor of California; the horrible triple murder case where the head of security for a nationally known ministry killed his wife and two sons to keep his mistress without compromising his job; and the widespread clergy sex-abuse crisis in the American Catholic and Protestant churches. The reason I wrote "Pastor's Ex-Wife" was to expose this common abuse of power to the gullible women who suffer too long too often in secret thinking that they are to blame for their misery when probably they were made vulnerable by some earlier series of abuses or negligence that created in them a kind of black hole craving for the affection of any man who knew enough to groom his victim before revealing the inner monster....

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Andersonville, Georgia, is the location of one of the largest Civil War prison camps and now boasts a museum dedicated to American Prisoners of War.There is a fabulous movie where POWs from every American War comment on film or their journals are read aloud - each provides information on a variety of topics: deprivation, torture, capture, release, communication, food....The popular opinion of these POWs is that their fellow captives who gave in to self-pity and lost the hope of being restored to their families are the ones who did not survive the ordeal. I believe this holds true for women who find themselves victims of abuse AND once released from the captivity, the paradigm, focus, and imagination MUST shift to a new set of objectives, hopes, and futures.

Of course, there is also a period of transition that must be experienced and it is that - when a renewed and refocused identity emerges - that I have tried to illustrate in Terry's story. With the help of William, she gains perspective, courage, and purpose in her new life as the ex-wife of the pastor. It does not mean the end of her pain either.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pastor Ed failed servant school....

On April 21, 2011, Chuck Balsamo tweeted this: "A dictator is a leader who failed servant school but graduated anyway." This pretty much sums up the pastor in Pastor's Ex-Wife. I really think that abusers tend to exhibit a combination of a hyper-inflated ego with a personality which is terribly rule-bound and inflexible. Another friend of mine might call the way Pastor Ed managed his family "a sociopathic style of relationship." One of the most devastating factors in this kind of marriage is that they tend to look normal and even happy to people watching from outside the home.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

TAPF - Planning to write Pastor's Ex-Wife

When I taught elementary school students writing I helped them begin every project by filling out a form to identify a few standard parameters. It asked for the Topic, Audience, Purpose, and Format. You can't write a successful piece without knowing these from the beginning unless you are just journaling - Virginia Wolff style using stream of conscious free writing. I do that but I usually do not share that stuff with anyone kind of like my painter daughter keeps her sketchbooks very private.

I did not use the actual form but I did think through the parameters from the very beginning. The only thing that really shifted away from my original plan while I was writing Pastor's Ex-Wife was the format.

Originally I planned to write just a short story to get the idea to stop dominating my imagination because I did not want to summon the personal courage to actually work on it. Read the earlier blogs to see more of what I mean...

So here is how I would have filled out that simple 4th grade writing planner.
Topic:  the clergy abuse scandal/issue from the American Protestant side through the perspective of a wife of an abusive pastor
Audience: people who have been wounded by the American Protestant church and who are conflicted about their faith as a result - especially women who have been victimized or sexually violated by pastors
Purpose: expose the problem of clergy spouse and sexual abuse, show how it manifests in a variety of church and denominational contexts, help victims delineate between abusers who, like all humans, are deceitfully wicked, and God, who is good but who gets redefined through the lens of every authority figure
Format: fiction - this is the biggest problem for getting the book noticed by a publisher, since it does not fit nicely into any of the publishing categories not being a Christian book nor a romance nor any other readily definable anything except perhaps contemporary women's fiction. But I believe that the format, a novel,  is also the best way to reach the intended audience and fulfill its purpose effectively.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.     

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boxes and other symbols

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to structure the Pastor's Ex-Wife before I wrote the main part of the book. As I explained in an earlier blog, I spent a day merging two very different ideas for writing projects in a simple story basically to get the project out of my mind, not wanting to write a book that would require this much courage, chicken that I tend to be. The result turned out to be the first and last chapters in which Terry and William, in costume, of course, return to Ed's church so that Terry can use her observations in the next week's syndicated "Anonymous Church Critique" article. As William says, the purpose is to "close the door" on a very bad season of Terry's life as the abused wife of a pastor.

When I realized that the main part of the novel had to show the series of events that combined to provide Terry with the resolve, resiliency, and courage she needed to face and finish her past, next I had to structure the chapters.

Each chapter is written around a central metaphor. One metaphor is a door, another a box....Each chapter portrays a different church building peopled with another church's congregation and led by a third church's pastor. Each chapter contains a story based on something that actually happened in the inner city music classroom where I taught for real and each chapter moves the linear time-line forward while making sure that there is both flashback and foreshadowing in the pages. 

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.     

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Job's Erstwhile Comforters

I spoke this evening with a friend who has known me since before I was married. That makes our relationship stretch back to more than 35 years when we attended the same church - a good one, for the most part - then- although it was led by a bully pastor who ended up disgracing himself without room to recover from his demise since he killed himself. But as my friend and I reminisced over the various shared griefs and triumphs that make up the fabric of our relationship, I realized anew that we Christians have a terrible penchant for abusing each other in the name of love. In my friend's case, she had what many in her circle of friends considered too many children too close together beginning when she and her husband were too young and, probably even more problematic for most of them, she was a strong woman who contributed what many consider the man's role in the marriage. The critics' solution was to equate their criticism of my friend with God's. Unfortunately, like Job's erstwhile "comforters" they forgot to get God's opinion before presuming to articulate it. It reminds me of what happened in the story, Pastor's Ex-Wife, to Terry when the members of the congregation she had served for decades decided to agree with the authoritative but abusively twisted opinion of Pastor Ed. So she was discarded as a heretic, anathema. Unfortunately, I have suffered that treatment and witnessed it being served to numerous victims from more than one pastor endorsed by many more ignorant bystanders who unknowingly bought into the unfounded opinions of the same just because it was the opinion of the pastor.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.    

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Unique Horror/Common Terror

 Terry's story includes an anecdote about how her pastor ex-husband, Ed, became enraged when their teenage daughter dyed her hair. One pastor's ex-wife real-life friend of mine emailed me after reading this chapter to ask how I knew that this had happened to HER. I did not know it had happened to her but I find it remarkable that abusers share so many petty triggers to rage. I first discovered this when I worked in a shelter for battered women and their children in eastern Illinois in the early 1980s. Every victim of domestic violence told her personally horrific story upon arriving (usually late in the evening or the middle of the night, her children in disarray, distress, and pajamas) but each of us had already heard most of the details from slightly different angles hundreds of times. There is a community of victims each of whom is convinced that hers is a unique tale and situation. And so it is. Unique horror experienced behind closed doors generally without witnesses - perhaps including violence - but a common terror. Shame and fear combine to strengthen the silence. It takes a brave woman or a desperate one who, like Terry, has used up all her resilience over decades, to change the status quo.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.   

Friday, April 08, 2011

No Stretch to find Diversity

Multiculturalism is a big theme in education these days but when I was teaching in an inner city elementary school we did not have to stretch to find diversity. My students spoke 13 different languages and came from more countries. So, as you can imagine, the classroom anecdotes in the Pastor's Ex-Wife are totally based on what happened when I taught music and reading. The identities of the kids have been changed but the stories are all true.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.     

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Disappointed by surprise

It is amazing to me how politics work in the small town I live in now after growing up in New York City and living my adult life in other major metropolitan areas for the most part. Yesterday was election day. The alderman I hoped to re-elect is a man I know on a first name basis. He was outside the polling station when I arrived to vote- we chatted. He lost the race to a younger guy whom I have never met but whose platform seems out of touch - not that I am necessarily in touch. Already I have bumped into and given my regrets to the loser, alas.

But it is a similar emotion to what must have happened in William's living room election headquarters when he ran for the school board and lost in Pastor's Ex-Wife.

When I was teaching in an inner city school district which was impacted in a way somewhat parallel to the district in the novel, the principal who features as William's partial prototype did not run for the school board but the actual election was as lost to those of us who shared my perspective as my friend's unsuccessful re-election campaign for alderman.

It is interesting how the important passions we prioritize in our lives lead us to make big choices and sacrificial moves which sometimes end in disappointment.

For Terry, her biggest choice was to leave the abusive pastor-her ex-husband, Ed. It resulted in pain, of course. Loss, absolutely. Disappointment, yes, but not because of the failure of the marriage. The marriage had been a continual disappointment. It was a constant disruption of mis-placed but genuine hope. Disappointment came because, like when the constituents chose a different candidate, the consequences of other people's opinions about the choice itself cost our protagonist, Terry Soldan, surprising losses where none had been calculated.

The worst disappointments, in my opinion, are the ones that take us by surprise.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.     

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Layers of loss

Even when there is no viable alternative to a divorce and it improves one's ability to face every day with courage, divorce brings layers of loss. I rediscovered this tonight looking for some items that used to be very meaningful to me but stung the memories enough that I put them away. I guess I put them too far away because they are irretrievable now. And these are just things - small porcelain pieces - drek....One of the main issues that Terry Soldan, the pastor's ex-wife in my story, has to face is the loss. Of course loss is calculated in comparison to gain...like Paul said: "For me to live is Christ but to die is gain...."

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.    

Monday, April 04, 2011

A Link

A friend of mine tweeted the link to this blog by Kimberly Kinrade: http://lifarre.com/socialnetwork/pg/blog/read/1181/my-unbreakable-heart-why-we-stay. My fictional pastor's ex-wife would totally empathize.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.   

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wisdom from a failed marriage

Have I personally gained any wisdom through a failed marriage that can be passed on to my children, or other people who tend to ask me for advice? Yes, I think so.

First, for a marriage to work long-term, each partner has to make the other person more than he or she could be alone.

Second, marriage is for grown-ups who know who they are and what their commitments entail so that neither partner can get away with defining the other person's preferences, desires, or decisions absent an invitation from that person.

It is demeaning when the person who has vowed to love and protect you fiercely protests against what you have expressed as when one says, "you do not want/feel/believe/think such and so" after you have stated that you do want/feel/believe/think it passionately, in fact.

I attended a wedding yesterday. The couple wrote their own vows. They each stated something like: "You can never command me because I am a free person but I commit to serve you in every way possible...." This kind of mutual respect and preference was not even an inkling in the imagination of either Pastor Ed nor his soon to be ex-wife, Terry, even though, as I mention repeatedly, they are both fictional constructs. 

I don't think any abuser makes or tolerates free space for his or her victim. It does not matter what form the abuse takes, either. Respect, freedom, love, and honor don't really feature in these marriages no matter how loudly they may be touted or demanded.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.   

Friday, April 01, 2011

A Sane Man in a Mad World

In his book of essays, "Orthodoxy", G.K. Chesterton wrote: ...new novels die so quickly, and ...old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world...."

For women married to men who are religious bullies like the Pastor Ed to whom the fictional Terry Soldan was married, the very real torment is about sanity. It takes a faithful friend to look such a wounded woman in the eyes and declare that yes, she is sane. This healing word contradicts every message that her God-fraudulent husband has sent over the course of the whole premarital, nuptial, and marital unbliss. It probably also counters the default self-doubt, Christians must die (to themselves) thinking that has kept her in the marriage boistered by bunches of somewhat mis-applied but well-intended Bible verses that she has beaten herself with after being bloodied by the ones her husband levied against her first.

For women who are married to abusive clergymen, the "mad world" that Chesterton referenced is the church itself and the sane man is the God-less William who offers sanctuary, not asylum, to his childhood friend so she can heal.

Again, while the novel is not autobiographical, and while it most certainly is a fictional construct, I promise that I understand both G.K. Chesterton's allusions and Terry's choices.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.   

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wounded Women

Leaving the church and leaving her marriage to its pastor did not mean that Terry was choosing to abandon her relationship with God. It just got confusing since she had viewed God through a distorted lens. That is understandable too in that her husband-pastor, God-fraud that he was, still robed himself in the white cassock and pronounced absolution from a whole congregation's week's worth of sins. He even declared the word of the Lord posing as His mouthpiece multiple times each week. Of course, he was endorsed by a whole denomination besides the congregation and he believed in himself and extorted honor and obedience from his wife, so that she, like Vashti in the Book of Esther, would provide a pristine model of submission to her husband for all the women in his kingdom. And, like Vashti, Terry ultimately embarrassed him in public and thus was publicly rejected.  

As I have written previously, this is a book of fiction. Yes, my story touches that of Terry but far too many pastor's wives share hers as well. Fortunately for both me and Terry, while God is on record as "hating divorce," he did not reject, abandon, dismiss, or shame either me or Terry - God is faithful in both fact and fiction. It just takes a while for us wounded women to realize it.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Distortions of a God-fraud

How do you suppose innocent, educated, truly Christian women like the fictitious pastor's ex-wife, Terry Soldan, get themselves stuck in relationships and marriages to pastors like Ed? Probably, as is true for Terry, there is a distortion in their understanding of God's goodness combined with the suppression of some deep part of themselves (their soul, perhaps?) which could have identified the abuser for the God-fraud he was but that soul-part was hidden and relegated to silence. Why? For Terry it had a lot to do with the unaddressed abuse she suffered as a little girl in the house next door to William. But while William does recognize how seriously damaged Terry had been as a child, since a child himself, he had been unable to help her then, Terry, the adult, remained clueless. It took the desperation of many years of marriage to break her to the point at which she could no longer could remain resilient - when she left Ed and had to begin forming an identity anew in the sanctuary of William's house. That was where and when she began to untangle the lies that had nearly completely enclosed her as a fly wrapped in Ed's spider gossamer while paralyzed and stuck anesthetized to the fibers of his web. Too many women share Terry's story.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Please share your story

It does not have to be dark or funny or finished or resolved but if it is your story it is an important one. A big purpose of this project of blogging the back story of "Pastor's Ex-Wife" is to collect the stories of many women who have suffered too. Anonymous is ok. Identifying yourself is ok. What's your story?

I have to be gone on business from tomorrow, March 24 - March 29th, so look for my next post on March 30th. In the mean time, think about telling a piece of your story as a comment here. Since I set the blog to require comments to be monitored they will not post until I get back either.

Of course, you can purchase "Pastor's Ex-Wife" by Lesley Barker (that's me) on Amazon as a kindle e-book. Don't have a kindle? That's ok. If you have a computer or a smart phone you can download a kindle ap for either device.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Friends...imagine that

Friendship is a virtue which die-hard Evangelical American Protestants tend to infer is only possible among fellow Christians. Some congregations go even further restricting "fellowship" to only those Christians who affiliate with their denomination. Everyone else is suspect because as it says in the Bible, "bad company corrupts good morals."

I shared Terry's surprise at discovering true friends among non-Christians once I was branded a rebellious wife and an unrepentant sinner by my used-to-be Christian friends because of my refusal to be restored to a marriage that remained fatally flawed and unhealed no matter how much spiritual authority pressured me to ignore the unaddressed issues between us.

Many of the Christians whom I had counted my faithful friends made caustic accusations and uninformed judgments against me without even asking to hear my side of the matter. Some Christians whom I counted friends elected to walk through those dark times with me. They remain my closest friends today and there are not many of them.

Like Terry in Pastor's Ex-Wife I discovered that outside of the walls of a church people tend to care about other people irrespective of their theology. Imagine that.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

And Then....I got a divorce...

Remember that my own eclectic church background provided me with access to authentic details about a wide variety of churches, congregations, and pastors as I wrote "Pastor's Ex-Wife." My story really does frame the back story of "Pastor's Ex-Wife" but it - the novel- is absolutely a work of fiction which absolutely does tell the truth.

I should also mention that I had been intimately involved in several para-church ministries. I was the founding president of the local chapter of an international Christian ministry. Our outreach happened in an inner city laundromat where the status quo of its African America neighborhood was being interrupted by the immigration of many Muslim people from Eastern Europe.

As the administrator of another para-church organization I created a museum-like hands-on prayer center that was open 24-7.

And, as I said, then I got a divorce. However, the character of Terry Soldan in "Pastor's Ex-Wife" is not autobiographical. 

For Christians involved in leadership and ministry activities, divorce is a major taboo. It doesn't matter why the divorce occurs. But I got one anyway.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Here a Church There a Church

My personal story enabled the plot of Pastor's Ex-Wife to romp through the contemporary American Protestant church scene because I have participated in a wide variety of denominations, para-church organizations, and churches in urban, suburban, and rural settings. I've grown close to the people - and usually especially to the people in leadership- and I learned how to respect and grow from each brand of church.

I grew up in a small German Lutheran congregation in New York City, part of the Missouri Synod.

In college I attended a liberal Episcopalian church in a smaller but still urban part of St. Louis.

After a year I joined a Reformed Presbyterian newly planted church in a predominantly African American section of St. Louis.

Since this was in the early days of the Jesus Movement and the Charismatic Renewal, I also attended a weekly mega-church service in a large non-denominational church.

After marrying we moved to a very small non-denomination charismatic congregation with Lutheran roots that met in a cow pasture- not really- but goats and sheep often wandered through the sanctuary on very hot summer Sundays.

From there we moved to a Latter Rain (Pentecostal-like) congregation in a suburb of Los Angeles.

We migrated back to the mid-West we joined a Church of God (Anderson) congregation where no one approved of any charisma but the congregation had mastered love one for another in a way we had never before experienced.

After we moved back to Missouri we spent 15 years in a small independent congregation which had broken free from the Assemblies of God denomination.

Then I got divorced.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Orwell's Pigs

Discovering friendship, kindness, and sacrificial love outside of the four walls of the church was a complete  paradigm shatterer for Terry. The teachers at William's school accepted her without any kind of doctrinal litmus test just because she was nice back and because she had landed in the same inner city public school "war zone" as they had. The two men who were William's closest friends also made room for her to her great surprise WITHOUT crossing any sexual boundaries or expecting her to serve them. In fact, Terry had to allow her world view to shift and stretch because she met a few decent humans even though they don't believe in God. Didn't Jesus remind us that even a good man will sometimes give his life for his friends? Friendship and fellowship are not unique Christian commodities but some Christians who live in closed communities of like-minded individuals often become puffed up with the pride of their own spiritual exclusivity. They think that somehow their convictions make them more human than other people. George Orwell called those individuals "pigs." It is terribly similar to the untested prejudices of people who have never met people from another race. There is a culture shock that calls forth humility and Terry had a double dose of it after running away to William. Yes, those aspects of her story come from my personal experience.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Desperate people do desperate things, right?

Many churches are vibrant, healthy, relational communities formed around a mutual faith in a risen Lord. Some churches are unhealthy. Some of the worst unhealthy churches are led by pastors who are abusive to their wives but no one in the congregation has a clue. This is the kind of church that was pastored by Terry's ex-husband, Ed.

What? How could such a situation develop and persist?

Church membership in many American Protestant denominations and congregations is frequently based on a person's ability to subscribe to and publicly articulate a specific set of beliefs. Failure to do this restricts people not only from positions of leadership within the congregation, but also often prevents the development of authentic friendships among members of the congregation that are characterized by mutual respect.

Terry, our fictitious pastor's ex-wife, spent her entire adult life in such a closed church community, isolated. Her loneliness was exacerbated by the denomination's advice that pastors' wives should not seek to have  friends within the congregation for fear that the confidences they might share could undermine her husband's leadership.

Many pastors and their wives seem convinced that they have to portray a godliness for their parishioners to observe but that they can "be themselves" when they are in private or with other clergy couples. This is why Terry's only friend was Alice, the wife of one of her husband's seminary classmates. Alice, whose own pastor husband was not abusive, lived too far away to really observe the deterioration of her friend's situation. Alice towed the denominational line, backing the pastor over her friend, his wife.

The isolation and the exaggerated spirituality and authority attributed to the pastor husband can serve to provide him with a mental entitlement to exert power- spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, and sometimes sexual, over his wife- if he is tempted by power and suckered into thinking that he is "God's man of faith and power."

When an entire congregation backed by its denominational superstructure kowtows to the power-mongering egotistic and sometimes hidden socio-pathic personality of an abusive pastor who operates "in the name of God," who displays a spiritually charged pride from the pulpit but a monster's fury in the parsonage, what is the wife supposed to do?

After tolerating years of abuse without hinting that it happens, wives like Terry often lose perspective and start condemning themselves for some sin or lack of love instead of insisting that appropriate behavioral boundaries operate within their marriage. Even worse, they cannot reveal the horror at home to anyone without compromising and betraying their husband's spiritual vocation.

Women like Terry sometimes cannot confront their spouse's intolerable behavior without a triggering a personal faith crisis. After all, doesn't the Bible assert that their husband is supposed to be the "head" of the wife. The wife is commanded to "submit" to the husband, and God HATES divorce. But, since for her entire married life she has been isolated from accepting or befriending people who do not subscribe to the church's tenants, she has few options when she reaches the end of her rope.

Desperate people do desperate things, right?

I am looking for women like Terry to contribute their stories so that, like Terry, they will help other Terry's to find a strategy that starts a process of healing, restoration, and freedom from the lies that made them vulnerable to men like Ed in the first place and then increased with the on-going abuse to keep them stuck as victims in the relationship.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Public School Pathos, Levity, and Dimension

In my real life, I found myself the single parent of seven children - six were still minors when that season of my life began and suddenly, I needed to return to the work world because a significant amount of money was essential to keep everyone fed and clothed not counting the cost of the braces, broken arms, and the musical instruments everyone required.  (Thank God for plastic)

As a stop gap measure while I was focused on getting a corporate job somewhere in the our home town which was major urban area, I checked the possibility of subbing at the local public elementary school where the three youngest children attended. It was their second year in the school system. I had spent the past 17 years as a home-school educator and actually had served six families other than my own with specialty classes and as their surrogate home-school teacher.

I spoke to the principal - who became one of the models for William's character in Pastor's Ex-Wife. Three days later I had a full time contract with the district and a regular paycheck, insurance, and retirement benefits with a schedule that allowed me to be at home when the kids were.

I started teaching music and reading at this school where 90% of the students (including my three) qualified for free and reduced lunch. 60% of the students were African Americans bussed in from the area of our city where Domino's Pizza did not deliver because it was so violent. 30% of the students were new immigrants, speaking a total of 13 languages other than English newly arrived in our country from an assortment of war-torn mostly third world nations. 10% were middle class white Americans who lived within walking distance from the school.

I taught in that district for four years. In all I was assigned to three schools and William's school did relocate to a fourth school so that our building could have air conditioning installed.

Each chapter in Pastor's Ex-Wife contains an anecdote from the music classroom which adds levity, pathos, and a new dimension to the symbolic metaphor that serves as the chapter's driver.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Three Kinds of Culture Shock

As if taking on the clergy abuse scandal from the American Protestant side wasn't controversial enough, Pastor's Ex-Wife also concerns the issue of race relations in our country's inner cities and churches especially. That theme unfolds via two intertwining avenues.

Terry and William masquerade as people of color when they visit a different church each week so that Terry can write her syndicated anonymous church critique. Many people have heard the saying that the most segregated hour in America today is Sunday morning at church which is sad but too often true - usually not because the congregation is determined to keep it so but mostly, in my opinion, because there have been too few natural ways for people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds to become friends.

The second place that Terry encounters diversity and has to learn to function across cultural divides is in her classroom at the inner city public school where William is the principal. He is her mentor, having participated in the same predominantly African American school district where more than 90% of the students qualify to receive free or reduced lunches for a career spanning three decades.

In fact, you could view the entire novel as one woman's culture shock as she finds herself in three new cultural milieus: a secular community that is free from the petty judgments that so many closed (we know the truth better than anyone else and God will get them for not being as informed and convicted as we are) Christian communities express; an inner city community stressed by all the socio-economic inequities you can possibly list exacerbated by an influx of new immigrants from underdeveloped war-torn countries; and a household made up of men who know who they are and understand how to befriend each other in spite of their differences.

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Taboo, Anathema, and Reason to Shun Sinners

I did not always believe in God. In fact, I took pride in the fact that I did not believe in Him but that I knew about religion and thought it was only necessary for people who could not exist independently. However, I had read the Bible so I knew that if there was a God and if that God was the God revealed in the Bible, not to believe in Him carried eternal consequences so I had to find out if He was real. That is a different story, though, but it happened and for more than 35 years I have walked in His light with Him, knowing Him personally.

That other personal story convinced me that God is neither shocked nor infuriated by my authentic doubts, fears, and questions. Whenever one of my children struggled with issues of faith, I always suggested that they should ask all of the tough questions because they will find Him faithful to satisfy them with the answers eventually. In fact, one day God just might speak to them from the middle of a tornado like he spoke to Job out of the whirlwind. If that happens, He just might turn the tables and ask them impossible questions like whether they know how to release the thunder, store the snow, capture leviathan, or make the hinds go into labor.

Terry, the pastor's ex-wife, had to detach her understanding of God from her battered wife's view of her ex-husband, Ed, whose abusive weapon had always been a biblical "club" wielded against her in the name of God. Her flight from Pastor Ed was her first step towards experiencing a good God but it took a series of new sufferings to prompt her to demand answers from God to a series of new and personally threatening questions.

The novel depicts this fictional character in a familiar struggle between light and darkness, faith and failure,  confidence and depression. It is a book about healing, authentic faith, honesty, courage, and restoration...it doesn't fully happen - does it ever fully happen to any of us who continue to live and breathe on this earth?

The problem, as far as promoting the book goes, is that Terry's process avoids the cliches and the pat Christianese answers. Stepping away from a marriage - especially to a pastor- and ignoring the demands of the church's elders is taboo, anathema, and reason to shun the sinner. At least that is the opinion and experience and expectation of many American Christians and churches. But that response rarely helps and usually adds to the devastation.

So by making Terry's choices these anathemas, I risk offending many Christians. I also risk being labeled as a rebel - if the shoe fits....hmmm.... But hopefully her story offers hope through a courageous pursuit of God in spite of how much His reputation has been twisted.

Nevertheless, I did not want the story to offend Jesus Christ, my Lord, even if it horrified some church people. That's where my friend Gail helped. She is a very conservative Christian woman who attends church, teaches Sunday School, and gives lavishly to Christian causes and ministries. She is also one of my very few very good friends who walked with me through my non-fiction divorce without dismissing me as morbidly unrepentant and therefore too sullied by stubbornness and sin to stay her friend. She allowed me to read each chapter of Pastor's Ex-Wife aloud. I figured that if Gail assessed that the story overstepped boundaries and disrespected God, she would say so and I could rework it.

I had forgotten about Gail's own abuse history. She became so involved with the characters, so concerned for Terry, and so angry at Terry's adult children who took her ex-husband's side, that she pushed me to keep writing so she could find out what would happen next....Thank you, Gail....

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Typically and Predictably

It took a day to write the first draft of each chapter after planning it out using the rubric I set myself. While I wanted to have Terry speak with an authentic voice, I did not want to trespass by having her emote from places that were under or even un-healed in me. I wanted to be faithful to the friend who started the whole thing. And, I wanted to write a story about a person betrayed by the church who was struggling to differentiate between the church and its God without minimizing the struggle for and against faith in Him that Terry had to suffer. I also wanted to have someone take the responsibility to push me through the book so that I could produce the first draft in a timely manner. So, I involved that same friend and her new husband. Thank God for email- that nearly instant means of transmitting text across long distances and deep oceans. My friend and her husband dutifully read each chapter as it was drafted. More than once her follow-up phone call started with "How did you know about __________? I never told anyone that had happened to me." It goes to show how typically and predictably abusers act.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Now what?

Remember that none of this would have happened if:
1) I did not NEED stories to survive;
2) My friend had not made me promise to pray about writing her story of fleeing from an abusive pastor;
3) I did not care about keeping my word; and
4) If I had not decided to write a short story on a day when there did not seem much else better to do.

But all of this had happened and now I was convinced that here was an important story.

Now what?

Should I create a story board or a file folder for each character and plot the whole story out before I started writing or should I wing it?

No matter what anybody tells you, writing is as individual as dreaming or planting a garden - there are some things everyone has to do but then there are also the successful ecclectic Virginia Wolfs and e.e. cummings among us who manage to break the rules and still achieve fame.

I don't have any trouble breaking rules here and there. I am pretty organized AND/but I am not a linear thinker really.

So, how should I develop the story, keep track of all the details, move it forward, communicate this huge social issue in a way that would make an impact like Oprah Winfrey did today when 200 men stood up together on her show to break free of the shame and baggage they have carried after having been the childhood victims of sexual abuse including a pair of twins whose abuser was a priest? How would I insert humor, add dialogue, use metaphors and similes, and make the writing compelling? How would I make the story appeal to all the women whose hearts have been scarred and whose lives diminished because they have not been able to push into a new season with freedom and courage and at the same time not write something maudlin and depressing?

I created a basic time-line of events that would culminate in the first chapter which is really the end of the story so there is no need to start reading at the back of the book to find out what happens. The story is about how Terry gained the courage to be in the first chapter at all.

Next I made myself a basic plan sheet for each chapter. Each chapter concerned one of the main events in the timeline but also revolved around its own metaphor. So I had a basic plot outlined from the beginning of the writing process but I only worked one chapter at a time.

But there were more issues to weave into the story....like what really happens every day in an inner city public elementary school and how racial and ethnic issues effect us everyday no matter what we look like and where we come from....and of course, the story had to make us laugh too...

You can read Pastor's Ex-Wife by Lesley Barker on the Kindle. If you don't own a kindle, you can download the kindle ap for free to your computer desktop or smart phone and then you can buy the book in the Amazon Kindle Store here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

All because I washed a few dishes.....

So I wrote and rewrote for a few hours that turned into a few days and a tightly composed short story but it wasn't a story....that was clear

It was the first and last chapter of a novel. In the first chapter Terry returns to her pastor ex-husband's church in the disguise of an African American woman posing as a first time visitor but in fact observing as a journalist incognito to write her weekly syndicated church critique. The last chapter is the text of the article about that visit.

In between is the story of how Terry gained the courage to face being in that church service at all three years after she exited the marriage.

The first and last chapter function as bookends for the story which follows a more sequential time-line of emotionally packed events, flash-backs to things that happened when she was the pastor's wife, anecdotes about the children and colleagues at an inner city elementary school, and the saga of living in the home of her bachelor child-hood best friend, William, who was retiring from his position as an inner city elementary school principal while making a run to be elected as a school board member for the same district.

All this because I washed a few dishes and kept a flippant promise to my friend....

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Church collage

Before I could write the supposed to be SHORT story I had to decide how to describe the church so that it combined authenticity and truth without getting me sued for libel.

I have been to a lot of different American Protestant churches spanning the ethnic, urban, rural, denominational, and socio-economic spectrum so I decided to make a collage....

Ed's church (he is Terry's pastor ex-husband) included the sanctuary of one church, the denominational/litergical style of a second church, the congregation of a third church and his (the pastor's) personality and preaching style of yet another church.

I also made a list of composition requirements: dialogue, imagery, a central metaphor - in this case "shutting a door"- similes and of course, it had to move the plot forward to the conclusion.

Monday, March 07, 2011

What about William? Who's he?

So I decided to write my short story - to explore what might happen if the pastor's ex-wife became the author of the anonymous church critique column. It would be set in the ex-husband's church on a Sunday morning on the day that Terry (the ex-wife) summoned up enough courage to return to the congregation she had left three years earlier. I planned to show her observing the service incognito as well as the column she would write about it.

But I didn't want Terry to be having an internal monologue and, for sure, she could not engage anyone at her ex-husband's church in conversation and hope to remain anonymous so...

There had to be another character traveling with her, also incognito, another person of color so...

I invented William, the man (following my friend's template) to whom she refuged after running away from Ed, the abusive pastor ex-husband.

William is really a composite character based on three men - a principal I once worked for, my father, and a man whose real name is William - my childhood best friend who now is an ob-gyn doctor in a major metropolitan area. By the way, he read the first chapter of Pastor's Ex-Wife and thinks it is a lot of fun...He also said I could use his name. I won't tell you his last name but if you were in our class you will recognize some of the anecdotes and also the ceiling tile in the church basement pierced during confirmation class by the sharp nose of a paper airplane which should expose the ability of that pastor to keep his class engaged.....

William threw up on my desk in first grade and then went home sick with German measles. How we managed to become best friends is still a mystery to me....

Some readers of Pastor's Ex-Wife find it inconceivable that Terry and William could live together in the same house, in separate bedrooms, for three years without becoming romantically or physically involved. Let me just say that other people find it more than plausible when you consider how wounding Terry's marriage really had been....

....which is not to say there isn't sexual tension between them... That will probably develop in the sequel...

In the story it was really William's idea to create an anonymous church critic but that gets ahead of this back story blog. Remember, I was just writing a short story to get the whole thing OUT of my system on a day when I didn't have anything better to do. But that did not work out as planned.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


What if the pastor's ex-wife wrote a syndicated anonymous church critique? She would have a tremendous eye for the good, bad, ugly, artificial, or dangerous aspects of a congregation and its pastor, right? Of course, her observations would be biased and viewed through the lens of her own wounds but who better to be able to participate in just one service and come out with a sense of how a church really functions?

But what could enable the pastor's ex-wife to visit churches without being recognized? How could she (assuming she did not relocate far from the place where her ex-husband's church was) pass for someone nobody could identify?

In around 1980 I was the children's coordinator/crisis counselor and chief parenting expert at a shelter for battered women in Danville, Illinois. We decided to throw a Halloween party for our residents and for the clients who no longer lived at the shelter. Many volunteers were involved in planning and hosting the event what with games, crafts, food, pumpkin carving, apple bobbing and security, as you can imagine. I was frazzled  (just ask my current staff at the Bolduc House Museum what I am like the few hours before our board meetings today!) I had about 20 minutes to breathe before the guests were due to arrive, thankfully.

Didn't I?

Oh, NO!

Where was my costume? Everyone was expected to come in costume - it was a Halloween party- dah!. Ok, Lesley, don't panic. Think....What do you have here at the shelter to make a costume?

You have to realize that I had very long hair then and that my co-worker, Varence, had very dark black skin.

And, we had bedspreads galore.

"Varence, do you have any foundation make-up that I can use?"

She did. It turned my fair white skin quite brown very effectively. I covered my arms, neck, face, ears and every piece of skin that did not get covered in the green bedspread draped sari-like over my then thin body. I braided my long hair which everyone mistakenly called black but it was dark brown with red highlights (operational word here is "was") and I used red lipstick to place a dot in the middle of my forehead.

Just in time to grab the microphone and welcome the guests and volunteers, one of which was my now ex-husband.

He did not recognize me for fully twenty minutes.

I would make my fictional pastor's ex-wife anonymous church critic dress as a black woman.

The only problem was that she would have to really scrub the inside areas of her arms every time she got back from visiting a church incognito because black foundation makeup permeates deep into white skin and does not yield easily to soap and water.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Back Story - Part Three

Divorce is difficult for many conservative Protestant denominations because of the verse in Malachi that says "God hates divorce." Of course, there is a context in that manuscript as well as in the larger scriptural record but that takes critical thinking, honesty, nuance, humility, and a willingness to admit that we all only know in part. By the way, I am not advocating divorce nor suggesting that God likes it....

Having been divorced had already cost me a lot of reputation - at least among the people who had shared pews, small groups, weekend retreats, and agonized decisions about elders and pastors over more than 15 years. Some people call this "church hurt" - I had it bad. Then a similarly under-analyzed situation happened to me in another church where I had felt welcomed. Now what? Would I be able to summon the courage to start over in another congregation? Could I face yet another scrutiny by another elder board? Could my children handle another transition?

If only... I imagined....

If only there was a way to preview a church before visiting it.... like the New York Times' anonymous restaurant critic....how would that work, I wondered?

Could that turn into a local newspaper column? Could I pitch such an idea successfully to a newspaper editor when I had no such relationships? Would anyone pay me (or anyone) to write said column? How would this anonymous church critic organize her observations so that the data would be usable in a predictable way? I came up with a list of questions that every uninitiated church visitor should learn to ask before being hoodwinked (did I write that?) or honestly convinced to attend a particular church on a regular basis. But that is as far as that idea went.

Until the day I decided - on a whim- to merge the two ideas in one short story (FICTION) - to get the whole thing OUT of my proverbial "system".....

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Back Story - Part Two

I was minding my own business later that day washing a sink full of dishes alone in my tiny kitchen when all the kids were gone. "Lord," I said outloud. "I promised my friend that I would pray about writing her story. This is my official fulfillment of that promise. I do not plan to think about it again. That is....unless.... you put a strategy and an outline in my mind." 

In the time it took to rinse a plate and stand it in the drying rack, my fully engaged imagination took over. I was right. Just to write my friend's story would not be prudent. It was too controversial, too graphic, too connected to me emotionally....but....

...if I could collect and present the stories of 100 wives of abusive pastors, that would be a powerful accomplishment. I ruefully concluded that God was interested in the project and gulped at the amount of courage that I knew it would require.

Wiping my soapy wet hands on my jeans I headed down the stairs to my office and drafted an outline and a book proposal to pitch to some prospective publishers. These resulted in a series of rejection letters peppered with nice noises about how interesting such a book could be...

Meanwhile....I started researching clergy abuse from the Protestant side...

After all, I had a degree in sociology and I had worked in a battered woman's shelter for several years in the early 1980s. Indeed, my role had included collaborating with staff in each Illinois state-funded woman's shelter to start the process of standardizing services for children who had been displaced due to the domestic violence in their homes. I certainly was personally and professionally qualified to write my friend's story as one of many similar true stories.

That was many months before I considered articulating the stories as fiction....

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Back Story- Part One

It was not my idea at all to write Pastor's Ex-Wife. In fact, I tried to run away as fast as I could from the concept because of all the conflict and controversy I knew would ensue. After a difficult divorce from an ordained man who was not in full time ministry at the time but who had been, I had enough trouble single parenting but.... my friend had also been married to a clergyman - one whose name you might actually recognize if you run in the right non-denominational circles.  He was so abusive to her "in the name of God" that she ran to another man, and intentionally had an affair, believing that only to sully herself so abominably and unforgivably (at least that would be how he would take her unfaithfulness, she predicted correctly) could she free herself from him. Both of our divorces were more than five years old in around 2005 when she, now married to her lover and living abroad in his country, called me. "Lesley," she insisted. "You have to write my story. There are too many pastor's wives like me who don't know what to do or how to change the situation they live in every day." I balked. "There is no way I am going to touch that story - not with a 10 foot poll!" I replied. "Well," she didn't let me get away with that for more than about five seconds. "Will you at least promise me that you will pray about writing it?" she continued. "Yes," I agreed, to exit the conversation. "I'll promise to pray about it." I always keep my promises.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The story

Virginia has been picking my brain all evening about how to connect with the Pastor's Ex-Wife audience. I told her that I can't wait for people to write in their stories because they will form the fabric of the sequel where Terry's column in the paper will expand from weekly church reviews to an "Ask/tell Terry" feature as in the old "Dear Abbie." Virginia also talked about a writer friend who habitually envisioned three women reading what she wrote as she wrote. Then she asked who my audience is. You are. As we connect story to story you will learn that my heart is to provoke honest faith through fiction - as in Pastor's Ex-Wife - that typically portrays authentic faith in the context of difficult, meaning really, abusive, marriages. When knowing God is too hard, the story becomes the most poignant. There are no authentically honest pat answers - just stories that unfold until they reach the start of the next story. Do you agree with me? What is your story?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Now Available for Sale as a Kindle e-book

Here it is at last - read the story of Terry Soldan as the anonymous church critic and the ex-wife of an abusive pastor on your Kindle.

This has been posted for almost three years on Authonomy.com where it received many interesting comments from the readers there. Most of them are aspiring authors who compete for ratings in the hope that they will interest an editor in their books. I appreciate the feedback and have made some changes to the book itself based on it. I removed it recently from Authonomy because my goal is to sell this book.
Even more than that, my goal is to attract a readership of women whose stories resonate with Terry's. Hers is fictitious but it takes the reader on a romp through the spectrum of the contemporary American Protestant church scene. My hope is to provide a catalyst for a cultural conversation about authentic faith, abusive religiously empowered authorities, and wounded families. My fiction revolves around themes of authentic faith in abusive marriages. My goal is to provoke healing and honesty. Full disclosure may indicate that I admit to being a serious believer in the resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ - but the reader of Pastor's Ex-Wife won't be beat up by my doctrine. Hopefully, the readers will laugh while the tears flow because of the interconnecting truth and pathos of the book sprinkled with frequent dashes of humor. At least that is my hope.

If I ever write a sequel to Pastor's Ex-Wife, it will be based on the letters and emails from the readers recrafted as "Dear Terry" letters in her weekly religion column. Hence this blog. Pass it on. Thanks for reading.

Lesley Barker