Monday, May 16, 2016


Ruined is an upcoming memoir from Tyndale House, written by the pastor who preceded me at my sweet little church.   A pre-publication galley of the manuscript was provided to me for the purposes of this review.

Ruth has a wonderful gift with language, which I knew from her blogging and her prior writing on the strange dynamics of pilgrimage.  This book only reinforces that conviction.  Ruined is, in turns, wrenching and funny and earthy, horrific and sublime.

It's what Ruth bluntly calls a "rape-memoir."   She offers us the story of her youth in a sheltered, earnestly conservative Christian community, and how the self-understanding that rose from that life was shattered when she and her college housemates were systematically raped by two assailants during a home invasion.

Though it's engaging and artfully wrought, it can make for rough reading.   Ruth casts an unflinching light on both the night of the assault and the significant furrows that violent trauma cut into the her psyche.  Ruined explores the impacts of rape on her capacity to trust, her ability to develop and sustain healthy relationships, and how losing a sense of self--even one falsely grounded--can shatter a soul.  Here, Ruth rightly challenges the "purity ethic" that casts a pall over survivors of sexual violence, and the socially-mediated shame that can stand between victims and their restoration.

Ruined also explores the peculiar dynamics of race and trauma.  The young men who assaulted her and her housemates were black, and even though she'd been raised in a household with liberal attitudes towards race, she is open about the unwanted, irrational fears that created in her.  That "black" was Other in the almost entirely white community in which she'd been raised had an impact on that reaction.  Her soul-struggles to overcome the race-tinged trauma-response to her assault are significant and relevant in a time of increased cultural anxiety about race.

One of the great strengths of the book may be a challenge for some readers.  Her story is deeply interwoven with her journey of faith.  As a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, this is my language, and part of my story.  Her insights into the impact of violence on our encounter with God are valuable, but may be so steeped in my faith that some outside of our circle might struggle with her discussions of theology.  That's her journey, though, and it wouldn't be real if she didn't tell it as it was.  For Christian readers, particularly those who have encountered significant life trauma, Ruined is filled with thoughtful, hard won wisdom.

If you're interested in the impacts of violent trauma on faith, and how faith can help our healing after trauma, you'll find much of value in Ruined.