Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

One Woman's Desperate, Funny, and Healing Journey to Explore 30 Religions by Her 30th Birthday

About The Book

Written with humor and personality, this debut memoir recounts a woman’s spiritual quest of experiencing thirty religions before her thirtieth birthday. Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is for questioners, doubters, misfits, and seekers of all faiths, and tackles the universal struggle to heal what life has broken.

On her twenty-ninth birthday, while guests were arriving downstairs, Reba Riley was supposedly upstairs getting dressed. In actuality, she was slumped on the floor sobbing about everything from the meaning of life to the pile of dirty laundry on the floor.

Life without God was crashing in on her. And she was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. She uttered a desperate prayer, and then the idea came to her—thirty by thirty. And thus she embarked on a year-long quest to experience thirty religions by her thirtieth birthday. During her spiritual sojourn, Riley:

-Was interrogated about her sex life by Amish grandmothers

-Disco danced in a Buddhist temple

-Fasted for thirty days without food—or wine

-Washed her lady parts in a mosque bathroom

-Was audited by Scientologists

-Learned to meditate with an urban monk

-Snuck into a Yom Kippur service with a fake grandpa in tow

-And finally discovered she didn’t have to choose a religion to choose God

In a debut memoir that is funny and earnest, Riley invites questioners, doubters, misfits, and curious believers to participate in the universal search to heal what life has broken. Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome takes you by the hand and reminds you that sometimes you first have to be lost in order to be found.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome includes discussion questions and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 

 

Questions for Discussion

1. What were the messages you received about God in your childhood? Were your parents religious like Reba’s (complete with Jesus-themed paper products), or more relaxed?

2. People try all kinds of strategies to make religion more entertaining, from drive-in church to movies to motivational speakers. “If Jesus had to be dressed up so much,” Reba asks, “how would you recognize him if he walked in quietly through the back door?” Do efforts at entertainment help you feel closer to the Godiverse? If not, what does make you feel more spiritual?

3. When Reba was a child, a visiting evangelist told her she would one day be a healer—a prophecy that was echoed by a psychic when Reba was an adult. Has anyone ever told you something prophetic about your life and calling? What was it, and has it come true?

4. On Diwali, Reba finds a monument to an invisible God, one who is too vast to be contained. Do you think that any religion is capable of fully understanding God?

5. Several times when Reba is about to quit her project, something almost supernatural happens to keep her going. Have you had these inexplicable “kisses from the Godiverse” in your life when you’ve felt ready to give up?

6. Reba discovers that her hero the Urban Monk has feet of clay. How  have you reacted when people you greatly admire turn out to be all too human? Does Reba’s reaction—to look past the questionable history and to all the good work the monk is doing in the city—ring true to you?

7. To Reba, God is symbolized by a Divine Disco Ball, reflecting untold light from all human beings, shimmering in commonality. What does this image conjure for you? What symbols do you have for God?

8. Reba learns that the Amish feel that whatever they give up in their lifestyle is outweighed by the freedom they have to focus on faith and family. What, if anything, do you admire or envy about the Amish?

9. Does the idea of the “Peacock Rising” like a phoenix from the ashes remind you of events in your own life? If you had your own spirit animal, what would it be and why?

10. Which was your favorite site visit and why? Would you ever want to visit that religion and see for yourself what is special about it?

11. Reba introduces several new terms in this book, among them “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” “Godiverse,” and “déjà-forward.” Which of these phrases resonated with you, and why?

12. Reba experiences a remarkable number of “coincidences” throughout the year that almost seem like guideposts, pointing her in the right direction. Do you think she is a special case, or do you believe the Godiverse speaks to everyone?

13. The last line of the book is “Impossible things are far more possible than you know.” Do you agree or disagree? Did this book inspire you to tackle something you previously thought impossible?

 

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The Urban Monk tells Reba, “Meditation is where God separates truth from illusion.” Have your book club try a group meditation. Has anyone in the group ever tried meditation? What was the overall experience like? Was it hard to keep everyone’s mind focused or did the mediation practice come easily?

2. Does the idea of the “peacock rising” like a phoenix from the ashes remind you of events in your own life? If you had your own spirit animal, what would it be and why? Discuss with your group.

3. Discuss which religion was everyone’s favorite to visit and why. Plan an outing with your group to experience a new church or religion. How was that religion different and special from religions or churches your group members believe in or attend?

4. Throughout Reba’s journey she learns she is courageous, even though she had trouble seeing it. Share with your groups ways are you more courageous than you realize. Tell the others in your group how brave and amazing they seem to you. 

About The Author

Photograph © Kelly St. James Photography

Reba Riley is an author, speaker, former Evangelical Poster Child, and lover of all things sparkly. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she plans to write more books...once she recovers from Post-Traumatic Memoir Syndrome. She blogs about spiritual health and healing for Patheos.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (August 18, 2015)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501124044

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Raves and Reviews

"Hilarious, courageous, provocative, profound ... Reba Riley brings the light for seekers of all paths, reminding us that every journey of transformation begins exactly where we are. If the 'Pray' in Eat, Pray, Love had a gutsy, wise, funny little sister who'd never been to India, it would be Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome."

– Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things

"Whatever your beliefs or lack thereof, whether you pay heed to a savior or a spirit animal, you should read this moving, funny, thoughtful book. Reba Riley has traveled the unlikely mystic's path and come back with an enormously entertaining, immensely hopeful report."

– A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically and My Life as an Experiment

"PTCS is a brilliant, emotional and audacious rampage through religious sensibility, an exploration I recommend without hesitation. Enjoy!"

– Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack and Cross Roads

"Riley's debut gently offers...a powerful love that is greater than any single religious expression."

– Publishers Weekly

"Reba Riley is a natural-born storyteller and writer who I expect to be reading for many years to come."

– Brian D. McLaren, author/speaker at brianmclaren.net

“If your soul has ever doubted, if your feet have ever lost their way, if your halo's always just a little askew, or if your heart has been wounded by a faith community, Reba Riley's humorous, honest memoir about exploring the ‘Godiverse’ is just the thing for you.”

– Sarah Thebarge, author of The Invisible Girls

"Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is real. Been there done that. If you have been there too, this book is going to let you know you are not alone. Prepare to be encouraged to leave outright abuse of spiritual power and dogma of the kind that kills the soul. Prepare to survive. Courageous and wonderful, Reba Riley to the rescue!"

– Frank Schaeffer, author of Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God

“Riley’s book is so compelling; beautifully written, exceedingly funny, and refreshingly honest. As she described her journey of spiritual and physical healing, I rooted for her with every page. Riley’s story is also compelling because it is our story, our journey. We can identify with her spiritual pain, her questions, her prejudices, her fears. Her experience proves that if we are willing to open ourselves up and listen, we too can find God everywhere and know the Love that is for us all. It is a book of profound hope.”

– Kristen Vincent, author of A Bead and a Prayer

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is a literary and philosophical triumph. Reba Riley reveals the strength of spirit through the vulnerability of flesh with tears, laughter and soul-stirring moments of profound revelation. Her first book—certainly not her last—is so much more than a memoir about faith; it’s a celebration of all that defines the human condition.”

– Christian Piatt, author of postChristian and Pregmancy

“Written with beckoning eloquence and humor, Reba Riley describes an amazing interfaith journey through the depth of her broken humanity in a quest for healing and the face of God. Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is a most valuable and inspirational guide to those on a path toward enlightenment, and especially to those seeking healing from spiritual abuse. It should be on the shelves of every counseling center and divinity school.”

– Franklyn Schaefer, author of Defrocked and a United Methodist minister

"Moments of laughing and tears. It provided much needed closure for me in many ways. I love Reba Riley and her heart and work. I'm honored to be her teacher and also, through her book, her student. (Deep bow of respect.) Namaste."

– Bushi Yamato Damashii, Roshi/Zen monk at Daishin Buddhist Temple & Mindfulness Center, Thomasville, NC

"Honest, witty, and reflective... Reba is real when it comes to 'religion' and what it takes to unpack that word in our culture today. This is a book for anyone who has fumbled, wondered, fallen away, or wanted something bigger to hold them close at night. She doesn't claim to have all the answers, but Reba, undoubtedly, is asking all the right questions."

– Hannah Brencher, author of If You Find This Letter

"Whether you're spiritual, religious, or neither, Reba Riley's grace, wit, charm, and profound insight will make you laugh and think. She is an author to watch!"

– Jen Lancaster, New York Times best-selling author of I Regret Nothing

"In this humorous, self-deprecating memoir, Riley turns pain and suffering into an (almost) fun journey of self-discovery and personal enlightenment."

– Booklist

Resources and Downloads

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