About Me

My photo
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, 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?