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Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future, by Elizabeth Esther, is so good and so powerful, that in addition to crying and laughing I also feel a little bit ill.
Elizabeth’s story of growing up in The Assembly, as the granddaughter of church founders, George and Betty Geftakys, is harrowing. Preaching on street corners by age nine, ingrained with the belief she would be Left Behind at any moment, taught that the natural curves of her body were to blame for tempting all men into sin, and spanked every day in the methods of Michael Pearl; no wonder this mom of five has PTSD. Reading about so much awfulness made me start shaking.
Gracefully, Elizabeth lightens her memoir with bits of this-is-so-messed-up-I-can’t-believe-it humor. For example, when Elizabeth is finally permitted to attend public school, it’s only because her parents commissioned Elizabeth to bring her high school to Jesus.
The most stomach churning moments in this book have to do with child abuse. On page 41 she describes “obedience tests” aka “mat-training” or “blanket training”. Children were placed on mats and then spanked every time they reach off the matt. Elizabeth describes how some mothers would intentionally tempt their children by placing candy all around the mats, and then spank them when they reached for the candy. Pardon my French, but “What the fudge?”
There’s another section in the book where Elizabeth’s father tells her its God’s will (because Dad said so) that she give up her hard-earned position on the school newspaper–that had me in tears.
Thankfully, Elizabeth Ester has found healing. Part of her new life comes from the Catholic church. What I found so interesting about the last chapter of the book, is that Elizabeth is describing what Methodists like me call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It’s when we base our faith in God on four things: scripture, church tradition, reason, and our own experience. It took a lot of courage for Elizabeth and her husband Matt to lean on reason and experience, when they had been so spiritually abused by the other two.
Girl at the End of the World is a fabulous, fabulous, fabulous book. It’s a cautionary tale to all Christians. If we believe the Bible is the living word of God, then we need to let the Bible live and breathe. We need to stop letting people use the Bible as a weapon. If we believe God gave us free will, then we need to exercise our own opinions and stop wiping our wills clean. If we believe Christ died for us so that we may have eternal live, then we need to live.
Live well, Elizabeth Esther. You deserve it!
P.S. You can find more about Elizabeth Esther by reading her blog. Thank you to Convergent publishers for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and review.