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Showing posts from 2015

Book Review--Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

I downloaded Leah Remini's tell-all book, Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology, onto my Kindle the day it was published. I made short work of it, reading it in just a couple of days. It's a fascinating inside look into an insular religion that is closely linked to Hollywood.

Remini actually grew up in the church. Her mother joined when Leah was just 8, and she and her sister were soon spending all their time after school at the church. She and her sister both eventually joined the Sea Organization, which is Scientology's version of the clergy. To join, they both had to sign billion-year contracts. The church believes in reincarnation, and they expect members to rejoin the Sea Org in every lifetime.

From the time she joined Sea Org and her mother moved the family to the church's compound in Clearwater, FL, Remini's formal schooling was done. She and her sister worked on the compound all day doing manual labor, and all night they had to study the precept…

We Didn't Sing Music Like This at the COC

The choir season at my church kicked off just a couple of weeks ago. We are rehearsing Maurice Durufle's requiem to sing at the All Saints service on November 1. Durufle was inspired by Gabriel Faure's requiem, which we sang last year, and it's equally beautiful and inspiring. If you have the time, I highly recommend that you listen to the Durufle requiem. There are some parts that send chills up my spine. The soprano part is challenging, but I'm very excited to sing it.

I certainly never felt this way about the songs we sang at the Church of Christ. Some of the songs were pretty and I enjoyed them, but most of them were not terribly interesting or inspiring. We used the Sacred Selections songbook (only denominations call them "hymnals") and I don't think there were any songs in there written after the 1960s. Most of them were frontier-era songs with simple harmonies and repetitive lyrics, written with shape notes, and intended for people who had no music…

Book Review: Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

A friend of mine who is a Disciples of Christ minister recommended that I read "Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint" by Nadia Bolz-Weber because Bolz-Weber also grew up in the church of Christ. She is now a Lutheran pastor in Denver at a congregation she founded, the House for All Sinners and Saints.

Bolz-Weber was baptized at age 12 but left the church of Christ at age 17 and was a Wiccan for a while, a period she refers to as "hanging out with God's Aunt." She said it was helpful for getting past the toxic, patriarchal image of God that she had been taught in the CoC.

She was a stand-up comedian for a while and struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. Eventually, she got sober, met her husband, who was a Lutheran seminary student, and converted to the Lutheran church herself. About 4 years into her sobriety, a good friend killed himself. Some mutual friends asked Bolz-Weber to conduct the memorial service because she was the only r…

The Church of Christ and Violence

My brother and I have talked on several occasions about how growing up in the CoC was like being Neo in the first Matrix movie: you can sense that something is off, but you can't quite put your finger on what it is and you certainly have no language to describe it. You just know in your gut that things aren't what they seem and something is very wrong.

I remember even as a very small child feeling uncomfortable and uneasy in that church, and I never felt that I fit in. I always felt like an interloper, an observer, not a true participant. I'm still not entirely sure why I felt that way, but now that I've done some research on fundamentalist churches and have talked with other people who grew up in the CoC and similar churches, I do think I've identified at least one of the factors that made me so uneasy as a child: the ever-present threat of physical, verbal, and spiritual violence.

Physical violence: I've long thought that people in the CoC have an 18th-century…

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Episodes 9-13

SPOILERS AHEAD: In the final 5 episodes, Kimmy celebrates her 30th birthday. The party ends up being a disaster when her boyfriend Logan and her friend from GED class, Dong, get into a fight over her, and Dong admits to her that he wants to be more than just friends. At first, Kimmy decides to stick with Logan, but when he reports Dong to the immigration authorities to get him out of the way, Kimmy realizes that Logan is not the nice guy she thinks he is and she dumps him in favor of Dong. Before she and Dong can explore their new relationship, however, she is called back to Indiana to testify in the trial against her former captor and abuser, Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne.

The trial doesn't go well at first, partly because the prosecutors are incompetent, partly because one of the Mole Women, Gretchen, refuses to testify because she is still brainwashed by the reverend, and partly because another of the women, Donna Maria, pretends that she can't speak English, and no one in…

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Episodes 5-8

I think the theme song to this show is permanently lodged in my brain. For a show with such a dark premise, the theme song is relentlessly upbeat: "Unbreakable! They alive, dammit, it's a miracle/Unbreakable! They alive dammit, 'cause females are strong as hell." This may become my new personal theme song.

Anyway, SPOILERS AHEAD: So in episodes 5-8, Kimmy kisses a boy (her co-worker), receives a visit from her fellow Indiana Mole Woman Cyndee, goes to school (a GED review class taught by a teacher who gave up years ago and doesn't care whether they fail), goes to a party at her boss's house, and gets one of her fellow GED students to tutor her in math. By the end of episode 8, it's clear that her fellow student has a crush on her, even though she's dating one of her boss's wealthy friends whom she met at that party. Kimmy also finally admits to her boss Jaqueline who she is in an effort to get Jaqueline to be brave enough to divorce her unfaithful…

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Episodes 1-4

SPOILERS AHEAD: When I heard the premise of Tina Fey's new show on Netflix, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," I knew I could not miss it. It's about a woman who was held prisoner in an underground bunker in rural Indiana for 15 years by a cult leader who told her and the other women that the rest of humanity had been destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse.

The women are rescued and go to New York City to appear on the Today show. Kimmy decides to stay in New York and make her life there, and we get to watch her adventures as she finds a roommate, gets a job, and tries to navigate a world that is very different from the one she last experienced over a decade ago.

Obviously, I didn't grow up in a bunker (or even a cult, for that matter, although the church of Christ has some cultish tendencies), but I can relate to that feeling of disorientation that occurs when you step outside a restrictive religious group and try to make your way in the world on your own terms. It's b…

Discovering the Joys of Singing in Church

If I haven't mentioned it already, the Church of Christ believes in acapella congregational singing only. This means that there are no musical instruments or choirs allowed. Everyone must sing, no matter what their abilities, and there is no piano or organ to help keep everyone in tune and on the beat. Most congregations do have a man designated to be the song leader. He chooses the songs and stands in front of the congregation and starts the songs, sometimes keeping the beat with his hand. Some song leaders will use a pitch pipe to get the correct starting note, but the more conservative congregations even frown on those because they consider them to be musical instruments, so your starting note at the beginning of each song is going to be anybody's guess.


In a very small congregation of only 40-50 people (which is the size of the churches I attended growing up), acapella singing could be either wonderful or terrible depending on who showed up that day. Most of th…