I talked about some time back about doing a blog series about the research I'm doing for my doctorate. I've been incredibly busy these past few months with it, but I'll try to sum up what I'm doing in a few posts or so - until the actual thesis is done, I won't share as much.
So, flash back to January 2021.
I was recovering from the worst of 2020's COVID waves. During COVID, I was a pastor in a tiny community of 35 people, I managed a nonprofit, was an on-call hospital chaplain, and I was a doctoral student. To say I was exhausted and processing trauma would be an understatement.
I was sitting alone in my office listening to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, and I remembered how Bob Dylan wrote the album as a way to process a divorce. It made me reflect on how much creativity used to help me process life. So, I called a writing coach and started writing again.
Over the next few months, I found myself loving life again. While most of my (broadly speaking) ministry peers were dropping out of pastoral ministry with the Great Resignation, I was finding personal success and growth. I knew there was something odd about this picture. I wasn't any better, or worse, than my peers, but I was finding stability and health in my life. Universally speaking, clergy, health workers, and nonprofit folks, experienced massive trauma trying to care for people in crisis. For all that I experienced, I should've been part of the Great Resignation that I saw in my friends and family.
I realized a year later that the factor that helped me grow was creative writing - that the only reason I was still a pastor, with the grace of God, was because I dropped my guard and started writing fiction. Over two hundred studies confirm that there is a link between healing trauma and writing. One study showed that 35% of participants who qualified for a DSM-V diagnosis of clinical depression before the writing study no longer fit the criteria after they processed their feelings and memories. (source)
In twelve step groups, a major step to healing involves writing down every wrong or bad thing they've done - as well as the harm done to them. Twelve step folks then have to share those traumas with a sponsor and group, revealing their deepest wounds and fears. There is something healing about writing down our deepest wounds and fears, confronting them, and then releasing them through writing.
There is actually a whole measuring tool behind this called the Posttraumatic Growth Scale. Researchers found, paradoxically, that people who experienced, and processed, trauma can develop deeper appreciation of life than those who haven't been traumatized. In the Journal of Traumatic Stress, R.G. Tedeschi and L.G. Calhoun developed a scale to measure this phenomenon (which can be found here.) Among the qualities of experiencing post-traumatic growth are improved relationships, higher sense of spirituality, connection, and greater appreciation for life than before the trauma.
This then brings me to my doctorate, which will be in Christian Community Development. Under-resourced communities tend to have limited access to mental health resources. Depending on the community's culture, therapy may be viewed with suspicion as well. For churches and nonprofits starting off in these communities, there are very little resources to draw from.
Poverty is traumatic, as well as systemic racism issues that are common in these communities. While the thesis is working primarily with college students at first (since they are the most traumatized group right now in the country), the overall bigger picture will be for this to be a resource for these communities to use for free to cheap. I have no interest in profiting off of this in any way, shape, or form. I consider it a part of my own living repentance and reparations for the negative impact the American church has had on the country the past few years.
A part of shalom, and peacemaking, is admitting where we have gone wrong - and then moving forward to address these wrongs in a productive way. If folks can experience the same kind of healing and growth that I experienced through this program, then that will be all the difference for me too.
I will update this blog as things pop up, but I'm very excited for what's next - and I hope the program is as impactful as I imagine it to be.
"The Journal of Mary Gurney" has been selected for re-publication in Black Sheep: Unique Tales of Terror and Wonder. It will be published October 1, 2023, and will be available on Kindle and in paperback, as well as being available in major bookstores everywhere. Wanna be a cool cat? Buy a copy.
For more information, click here.
Exciting times! Look at us go, Scooby gang. We're doing it.
Write the weird thing. You have my blessing. Nobody can stop you. The literary establishment doesn't have cops.
If you've been keeping up with my fiction thus far - you probably have noticed a consistent theme of redemption. Characters who face incredible traumas are able to find beauty in the chaos. Every single one of those stories has a special place in my heart.
And then there's this one story that imagines a universe with a cold, angry God.
I have a Master's in Quaker Studies, and a graduate certificate in Anabaptist Studies, and one of the most overwhelmingly glaring issues in reading theology from the colonial era is how bonkers it comes across. The Puritans believed in the existence of werewolves, for instance. They executed and hung Quakers (and others) based on accusations of heresy and witchcraft. If we took the God of that era of theology and believed it to a lot of its natural conclusions, then God looks nothing like what is seen in Jesus. The point is, I don't think it's a good idea to be glorifying theology from that era.
I read colonial-era theology, and thought to myself: "What if the craziest thing I read about God in these early journals and sermons was right? What would the world actually look like?"
About two or three years later, I wrote down the journal section of "The Journal of Mary Gurney." And then, when I grew in skill more, I wrote in the rest of the story. I took Quaker ideas about a God of love and justice, and then blended it together with angry Puritan ideas about how God punishes people - just to show readers perhaps a glimpse into what it would actually look like if God was as cruel as he was taught back then.
All of that being said... the fiction market truly is a wonderful, unpredictable place. I thought this story was unmarketable.
For context, I've been submitting a piece around about an adult child of an addict processing the sudden violent death of his drug dealing father. My writing coach called it my "breakout piece." It's made three people cry who have read it. I cried while writing it and I didn't even live the story. As of this writing, it has been rejected fourteen times.
The horror market also has toned down over the years. They're no longer into violence, profanity, etc... which was a challenge for me because the early Quakers were absolutely persecuted and tortured for their testimonies. While I wasn't graphic, I wanted to accurately paint a picture of what it was like for the early Friends in the colonies as they went against the status quo of the day. According to at least half of the horror market, this story wouldn't pass. This is a big ol' frowny face.
So I made two versions of the story - one that was very toned down and one that didn't hold back, or some scenes changed outright. I submitted it around... and it was only rejected three times. And the version that was accepted? It was the version that I didn't expect to get accepted.
I've accepted powerlessness over what's published and what's not. In that acceptance, I see that I don't know what I'm doing and that's what makes it fun.
It was fun writing this story. Not going to lie. It has so many elements from movies and shows I enjoyed as a kid, and continue to enjoy. There's something about the horror genre that still speaks to people, and I hope, if nothing else, that folks enjoy the weirdness of it all.
Give it a read here if you're into horror stuff... and I won't be the least bit offended if you skip this one.
Hey friends -
I wrote a spooky story about Quaker colonies and death cults. If you're here because of my devotionals, this might not be your thing. But I'm so, so proud of this piece because I ventured into territory I haven't done before. The story and inspirsation behind it are fascinating too - will share more later. :) Give it a read here.
Blessings on your week, friends.