Wife Material blends religious abuse and sexual repression in a coming-of-age story about the modern Church of Christ denomination. The author grew up in the flagship Church of Christ college community, Harding University, in the heartland of the Protestant Restoration movement. Wife Material tells the story of Elizabeth Campbell, raised in a similar place and time. Elizabeth’s parents are violinists. Her father seems gay. Their church disallows musical instruments and homosexuality. Lizzie succumbs to the twisted violence in her family and the pressure for early marriage at Waltham University, where suicides abound. Then, she escapes fundamentalism through a series of liberating sins.
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MORE I need to write, but haven’t in a while. I got a little bogged down trying to create neat, unoffensive packages of psychotherapy. I sort of lost myself, and writing became a chore. But I’m writing my way back home, thanks to a little rest and time with writerly friends. Now, my true self wants to say something . . . more interesting, more hilarious, more gut-wrenching, more real . . . The stuff I’d want to read, that enlivens me and pushes me toward the edges of my comfort and into a new way to think. Stuff that makes me want to get up early and write it. For years, I’ve flirted with more candid writing, but reined it in, choosing a safer, more clinical voice. In the therapist’s chair, I listen to your stories, all the while knowing we’re alike in ways that blow my mind. Almost nothing truly separates us. More Honesty = Less Separation Between Us . . . and less separation sounds great to me. My last post, about dealing with a narcissistic mother, brought me closer to what’s real. It felt risky and imperative at the same time. Some of you said, “Oh myRead More »
I have shunned and been shunned. What leads me to turn my back? Repeated bullying or toxic behavior that takes a mental or physical toll. Abuse toward me or others, without acknowledgement of impact. It makes me sad, but out of self-preservation, I’ve sometimes hit the eject button. On an individual level, we need to, mindfully, cut people out when they seem unwilling to stop hurting us. But what happens when a person is dis-fellowshipped or ostracized by their church? Rejected by an entire faith community? What dynamics call for excommunication? And what’s the impact? I grew up in a fundamentalist church, the Church of Christ, that shunned or dis-fellowshipped people for a variety of perceived sins or doctrinal differences (disagreement meant heresy). The whole group refused to socialize with the person and they were officially “kicked out.” Most of the “sins” that got people thrown out of church were sexual in nature: divorce without the approval of the elders, an affair, sex outside marriage, being gay, and marrying after a divorce. The elders and deacons concerned themselves, in a big way, with our mating behavior, a big part of the story in my novel, Wife Material. Effects of Being ShunnedRead More »
Some in the 70s missed ERA and the end of Vietnam. Among them was Elizabeth Campbell, the heroine of Wife Material: A Novel of Misbehavior and Freedom. Cocooned from the larger world of feminism and anti-government rallies, Elizabeth was well-prepared for domestic rather than political action. Growing up in a small town and attending the church-related Waltham Academy and then the college, moving to Texas and through marriage, divorce and professional development, Elizabeth finds her way in life’s journey. Although drawn from one person’s experiences in the Church of Christ, Deborah Cox’s autobiographical fiction speaks to many who came of age in conservative communities and church life. Readers will come alive with remembrances of the familiar – or with shock at the strange. Whichever it may be, their feelings should also include gratitude that Cox has rendered an account which needed to be told, with all its unsettling surprises about family, school and church; authority, marriage and independence; curiosity, wounds and caring. In short, Wife Material is about what it means to be human and living in the midst of challenging, overbearing, and sometimes abusive relationships. Cox tells the tale with neither anger nor shame—just poignant insights. Brava! Etta Madden,Read More »
I Write to Grow Up I struggle to differentiate, as we all do. Leaving home is a lifelong process, as described by Murray Bowen, the father of family systems theory. But writing my novel, Wife Material, about the process of leaving home, catapulted me forward. That’s why I so recommend life-writing as part of trauma recovery. If I can create story around the invisible problems of fundamentalist Christian culture, I understand myself better and pull myself further out of that mindset. And it makes me wonder: why do fundamentalist Christians have such a hard time letting their children grow up and leave home? Take Christian home-schooling for example (I have numerous lovely friends who home-school their children, so please, if you’re one of them, I can imagine circumstances in which home-school makes sense). Take “Christian College” for example (and again, if your kid goes to Harding or Evangel or Liberty, read this with one eye closed). Some of this may be true of your family – but perhaps not. We are so complex. But to me, home-schooling and Christian college really show the gravitational pull of the fundamentalist family . . . the frightened family. Well-intentioned parents in fundie traditions fearRead More »
Julia Cameron says we all have the right to write, even if someone has told us we’re no good at it. Writing is a birthright that cannot be denied. It brings what’s inside to the outside, a very basic human need. I’m working on a sequel to Wife Material, the novel I published last fall. If you’ve not read it, it’s a story about escaping religious abuse – and it’s based on my earlier life. Ten years in the making, Wife Material deals with dangerous dogma. Dogma that separates people. Dogma that makes them scared to reveal their inner selves. Dogma that keeps them afraid of hell and each other’s judgment. The sequel (yet unnamed) has a handful of lifelong Church of Christ women emerging from deep and isolating emotional stupor and coming together to produce change. They discover the power of confession and truth-telling. They uncover secrets that have fostered the abuse of women and children for generations. They transform their relationships into more mutual, sustaining connections and they demand change. The women disobey. And as they disobey, they shine light on the path to healing for a whole community. This is the change I want to see inRead More »