6/16/2011 | Share this article:A novel by Russ Wilson ~
The Bible Belt Is Strangling Reed Hollington...and it only tightens its grip the harder he struggles against it. You know Reed-the fair-haired boy next door, middle child in the all-American family, good kid, straight-A student, football captain, high school senior with big plans, and former child preacher. Okay, maybe not that part. Growing up in a conservative small town, Reed never questioned the faith he was brought up in by his well-meaning parents, but neither did he fully buy into it-until tragedy struck as an early teen. Convinced that God spared his life for a special purpose, he was transformed into the "Golden Boy," a pious Gospel-preaching sensation that everyone loved. But, as Reed has gone through high school, his experiences have caused him to question what he once so fervently preached. Now he stands on the verge of abandoning all of it-and he could lose his friends, his family, and the approval of his entire hometown if he does. With his senior year fast approaching, Reed must decide if he will keep the faith or fight against it. And time is running out faster than he or anyone else realizes.
Bruising Reed is the story of a kid growing up in the small town of Chisholm, Texas, a place where religion and culture are so inseparable that unbelief, much less doubt, or even questioning, are unacceptable--a scenario that many of us are painfully familiar with, as many of us know both the tragedies and triumphs of an arduous struggle with faith. Reed’s journey begins benignly enough at church camp when he is ten years old, but what seems to be an innocent decision sets him down the wide, easy path that everyone else is following, the one that his parents and community expect him to never stray from. So, as he goes through his teen years, things start to not add up, and he asks questions that no one can seem to answer. The resistance is fierce, and it only pushes him away further.
This is not a Christian-bashing book, although I am sure that it will be thus interpreted by religious reactionaries who equate criticism with hatred. (I am also quite sure that many of those people will say such things without even reading the book.) Considering the hundreds and thousands of Christian books that label nonbelievers as evil, demonic, soulless, deserving of eternity in hell and unworthy of respect in this life, this does not even come close to creating balance, and neither is this story an attempt to “even the score”. I was once deeply entrenched in religion and have seen it from both sides, and I am guilty myself of shaming and persecuting kids like Reed with some of the same questionable things that are said and done to him. The unfortunate irony of evangelical Christianity, of course, is that the more well-meaning people are, the harder they try, and the harder they try, the worse it makes things. Eventually, they will tend to see one’s rejection of religion as a rejection of culture, family, and community, and ostracize the doubter. To many of us, this is not fiction at all.
The things that Reed experiences and endures are not too far-fetched, many of which happen every day in our small towns, all across the country. Look no further than the high school student in Texas this last week who didn’t want to be coerced to pray at his own graduation, and when a court overturned precedent and refused his complaint, the entire community rallied against him. (link)
Bruising Reed is simply the story of what can happen when it goes too far, and how one particular kid deals with it, told from his perspective. Reading other peoples’ stories at exchristian.net and places like it helped me through my own struggle with faith in recent years, and this is simply my best effort to offer such hope to those who are seeking it, especially young people.
Russ Wilson, author, Bruising Reed
Filed Under: Letters