I reviewed this novel on 07/08/19 in another blog, now defunct.
For as long as Eric Davis can remember, the name of that distinct carpenter from the bible (“that J name”) has caused him to have severe panic attacks. Living on a religion-free road with his wife, Brooke, and his two children, Fiona and Mitchell, avoidance has done the trick. But things change, as they tend to do. On the day his wife comes home from church (wait, church?) to deliver her life-changing news, Eric is given a peek behind the curtain for his aversion. Dark stairs leading down into a far darker place, long shadows reaching up the walls, reaching for him.
In a last effort to save his marriage and his sanity, he seeks answers to his aversion. The more he discovers about the why, the more he wishes he could close the curtain for good. But he’s already gone too far. To stop now would leave him worse off than before. What waits at the end of his journey is darkness unimaginable and a past that was better buried in the deepest parts of his mind.
Perspective by Peter:
I was asked by the author to review this novel before its publication date. I found the premise of this novella to be one unique concept. A man who finds he cannot say the name of Jesus! Yet, those who do not believe in Jesus as we see and hear every day, take His name in vain many times!
I wondered what would cause a person to have this aversion. My first thought was that this would have to be of demonic oppression or possession. Was Allen going down this path? In one sense I would not be surprised as it would make for a great plot and fit into the emerging genre of Christian horror (yes, it does exist and has been created in novels successfully based on the Bible, and it is one of my favourite genres! Go here and here for a perspective on this). But after progressing through the novel, it is not in this vein, as in demon possession, but I feel it borders on such. Allen confirmed this.
I feel this novel will touch a nerve in many Christians. It did with me and it did with the author, that is why he wrote this! It was the author's past personal experience with a crisis of faith in the face of adverse circumstances that formed the basis of this novel. For me, it was not so much this, but the depiction of spiritual abuse from a church member and the church not doing anything about it. But maybe that is because the Church Pastor and Leadership did not know about it. But Allen does not mention this in this novella, this is implied by the absence of a Pastor or Leadership Team being included in this novella. My experience is not like Eric's in the novel. I had a stable and loving family and upbringing, but where I can relate to spiritual abuse is what I experienced about 10 years ago from the church I was attending at the time. However, what I experienced was dissimilar to what Allen has depicted concerning Eric, but I can relate to some of the stress and emotions that he experienced. It did evoke in me some of the stress, the anxiety and despair that Eric experienced. Like Eric, I did stand up to this abuse and the abuser. It is the only way to resolve this and heal from such an ordeal.
Allen has depicted the emotions and mindset of one who is spiritually abused in a way that I believe will resonate not only in those who have experienced this but to those who have not as well. It will give them a good view of what one goes through in this situation. But there is more to Eric's situation than just spiritual abuse, Allen has depicted him in an abandonment scenario. In this case, he suffered rejection, abandonment as a child (at 4 years of age) as punishment for not measuring up to his mother's criteria for pleasing Jesus due to her warped, distorted theology. This is more than the icing on the cake for spiritual abuse, this takes it to the next level. This places the person in the "I am insignificant, I am worthless, unloveable" category, especially for a child of this age. It also keeps the person at the age they experienced the abuse. In Eric's case, as an adult, deep down he remains as a 4-year-old, hungry and thirsty for validation of his existence, his worth as a person, learning about himself and who he is. Instead, he was thrown away, discarded and rejected as if he was nothing of worth and denied at that stage of his life, the love of parents that every child needs and longs for. Allen has Eric describe his behaviour (abuse) to his own 4-year-old,
"...When daddy was little, he got a bad cut......a cut on the inside.....like when you get your feelings hurt......you know what happens when you don't treat a cut properly."
"It doesn't get better." "Daddy got his feeling hurt when he was four years old too.... but nobody made him feel better."
It is because Allen has constructed this novel based on his personal crisis of faith and the healing he has received that forms a solid base of this novella. Eric's emotions, fear and reactions to his childhood and spiritual abuse is very convincing. So is the attitudes and behaviour of his biological parents who are the main perpetrators of both of his abuses. I found myself reliving some of my spiritual abuse but I also became angry at the perpetrators for the reasons they acted as they did. But it was not just that but the fact that for them, they did not suffer as much of the ill effects of this mentality. As usual, it is the victims of abuse that suffer the most compared to their perpetrators. For Eric's parents, the reasons for their abuse or what influenced them to behave in such a way has overtaken them and ended up defining them, especially his mother.
It would not surprise me if the quest for the root cause of Eric's inability to say the name of Jesus is based on Allen's own experience with poetic licence added. In the Author's Note, he describes his own journey of faith since his father died. Eric's quest for answers and a relationship with God sparks a determination to keep going. Allen has the same attitude as he describes in his Author's Note. I can relate to that as well from my experience.
I was very disturbed by the spiritual abuse that Allen has thoroughly depicted with more than enough detail. Even though spiritual abuse does not take the same form as he has depicted, it shows the destructive effects on the victims and the perpetrators. This abuse serves to cause both parties to deviate from who they are and what they could be in Christ. Reading the accounts of Eric's mother and the spiritual abuse she metered out to Eric and to all her other "victims" I was struck with the thought that she could well have some form of mental illness that led to her manipulation and misinterpretation of the Bible and its tenets on salvation and being in a righteousness relationship with God. This type of scenario also is ripe for satan or his minions to then reinforce this and use this to reinforce this behaviour and if goes unchecked, leads to eternal damnation in Hell.
It is for these reasons that the Church needs to not hide or sweep this insidious cancer under the carpet or justify it. Spiritual abuse sets apart the mission of the Church and is in direct opposition to everything the Church is built on, the Bible and especially the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He came to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. Spiritual abuse does the opposite, it binds us to sin and destroys any spiritual freedom and right relationship with Christ. No wonder, satan uses every opportunity to his advantage.
The Epilogue has Eric 5 years on from exposing his parents for the abuse he suffered and in a new position of a trained counsellor in child therapy. There is an implication that he is in a right relationship with God but his healing is a work in progress, but he is at peace with himself and with God. I can see some Christians having an issue with this as their belief is that this healing should not take time but be instant upon accepting Jesus at conversion. But that is them putting God in a box and dictating how He should act. God is not manipulated like this by His created. God knows us and what we need, so depending on the severity of the effects on the abuse on the individual, it may take a longer time for them to work through this but the Spirit of God is always patient and encouraging. I guess this is where the free will comes into play, He wants us to decide to accept Him so He knows the time and events that we need to make that decision and prepares it for us. This even applies to issues like spiritual abuse. Even Allen in his Author's Note attests to this. My experience is the same.
I pray that this novel will minister to those who have suffered child abandonment and spiritual abuse. The Spirit of God can, will and does use all things, including fiction, to minister to those in need. I have experienced this myself. And Allen does as well, as evidenced by the content in his Author's Note.
This is an enjoyable read but a hard one to read for the most part. Just as Allen portrays in Eric's life, the healing he desperately needed, he has experienced this himself and maybe still experiencing it. So am I. But the reader needs to reflect on Allen's words from his Author's note,
I was hurt but that doesn't mean He isn't a beautiful Saviour, that doesn't mean He still isn't a perfect and sovereign God-just like Eric discovers by the end, time reveals the purpose of our pain. And I believe my purpose is to write stories that don't follow popular trends, stories that have no real concern with what currently sells, and instead write exactly what God has put in my heart.
Aversion offers no easy solutions because nothing about this life is easy, including a relationship with Jesus. But that doesn't mean He isn't worth it every single day. He is WORTHY. ALWAYS.
I am glad to have read this new offering from Allen. It might have just further aided in the healing of my "cut".
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