Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Accidental Jesus Freak NBtM

In 1973, Linda was a flute player and music major at a California community college, until she met and fell madly in love with a charismatic piano player, plunging into his world of music-making and drug-fueled parties. When, just three weeks after their wedding, he reveals that he's been "born again," Linda makes the spontaneous decision to follow him into his new religion and, unwittingly, into a life of communal living, male domination, and magical thinking.

With unflinching candor, Amber Starfire chronicles her journey as Linda Carr into the evangelical church culture, where she gives up everything for her husband and their music ministry. But in the process, she loses her most valuable assets: her identity and sense of self-worth. It is only when Linda returns to live with her birth family and faces her complicated relationship with her mother that she finds new purpose and the courage to begin to extricating herself from the limiting beliefs of her past.

Accidental Jesus Freak is the story of one woman, one marriage, and one kind of fundamentalism, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible when we are true to ourselves. Both a cautionary tale and celebration of personal empowerment, Accidental Jesus Freak is a powerful reminder for anyone who seeks to live a life authentic to who they truly are.

By spring we were behind on rent and utility payments and were running out of food. Paul was deep into one of his depressions, so the Beulah Band wasn’t practicing or performing. Without the focus provided by our music and without Paul’s guidance, the commune began to erode at the edges, crumbling into the sea of reality. One by one, people drifted away, most moving back to Portland to take up residence with family or friends. Soon there was just a core of us left: three families, including Paul and Barney’s, two married couples without children, and a few young bachelors.

I remember quite distinctly the day we gave up. The group had exactly $20 remaining in our coffers—not enough to pay any of our bills. Not even enough to buy food for dinner. So, in typical throw-it-to-the-wind fashion, we traipsed up the street to the local Dairy Queen and bought $20 worth of banana splits to share. It felt reckless and fitting to celebrate the demise of our grand communal experiment in this fashion.

I have a polaroid taken that day outside the Dairy Queen. Fourteen adults and five children smile and squint into the sun like one big happy family. Eric and I stand at the back of the group, round-faced in our youth, his hand placed protectively on my arm. I remember feeling both relieved and sad. I was tired of the strain of trying to keep food on the table, tired of the squabbling, the lack of privacy, and feeling shut out by the men. I was ready to live like a normal married couple, just Eric and me on our own. Yet there was a bitter-sweetness to those banana splits.

Why I Wrote Accidental Jesus Freak

I believe that all life events have meaning, and that sharing our stories helps to uncover the value of our experiences. We — you, me, all humans — are engaged in a constant search for meaning, for our own lives as well as for our families, communities, and cultures.

This is why we read. And, in particular, this is why stories of struggle and triumph, loss and recovery inspire us. Through stories like these, we gain comfort and the courage to survive our own life journeys. When we read about others’ courage to confront their dark secrets, we gain courage to confront our own darkness, break destructive cycles, and find healing.

And no matter how different our lives are, we recognize something of ourselves in others’ coming of age struggles and victories. And that very struggle is at the core of my story.

In 1973, I was a music major at a community college, young and free during a time when women were gaining unprecedented social freedom and legal rights. Then I met, fell in love with, and married a charismatic young man — also a musician — who drew me into a tightly controlled fundamentalist religious group.

At the time, I was only a part of a huge wave of young people flocking to various religions. This was the Jesus Movement of the early 70s, which ended — at least in the public eye — with the Jonestown massacre in 1978.

Many of these religious groups began as sincere and innocent attempts to live “Christ-like” lives, but became corrupt over time, serving the egos of strong, magnetic leaders. Sects like these used brainwashing techniques to gain control over their people. These techniques include attacking your sense of personal identity, laying on guilt, encouraging you to cut off communication from family and non-believing friends, making you question your own interpretation of reality, and then, just when you’re at your most confused state — your breaking point — offering kindness instead of punishment.

Gradually, I gave up my personal freedom. I lived in communes with no privacy and where women were expected to be seen and not heard. For years, I hid my authentic self and submitted to a religious dogma that required I make myself invisible in order to be acceptable — in order to be “saved.”

Then, my family — my husband, two small children, and myself — sold our home and moved to Amsterdam to be part of an evangelical missionary group. To save the world, we thought. But the missionary organization was not what we expected. Instead, we lost everything — our friends, our church, our savings, and our sense of unity. At the time, I could not understand what was happening to us, nor why it was happening. Fortunately, through my struggles to understand, I was able to wake up and make my way out of the fundamentalist mindset, though it took some years to free myself.

You might ask, “Why would an otherwise smart young woman allow herself to be drawn into and live for years in such a situation?”

Why is any woman drawn into, and then stay in, a destructive relationship — whether that relationship is with one person or a religious sect? And what are the factors that prevent young women from trusting their own internal guidance to rely on the guidance of others?

These are the questions that motivated me to write Accidental Jesus Freak. I wrote to explore and unravel the tangled thread of my life experiences and examine the influences that led me into — and, eventually, out of — that tightly controlled life.

Through sharing my story and what I have learned I hope that others like me will gain the courage to come out of hiding, accept and love themselves as they are, and live an authentic life.

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Don’t forget to visit the other stops on the tour.

Author Bio and Links:
Amber Lea Starfire MA, MFA, is an author, editor, and creative writing coach whose passion is helping others tell their stories. She has published two memoirs: Accidental Jesus Freak: One Woman’s Journey from Fundamentalism to Freedom (2017) and Not the Mother I Remember: A Memoir — finalist for both the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the 2013-2014 Sarton Women’s Literary Awards. She has also published several books of non-fiction, including Journaling the Chakras: Eight Weeks to Self-Discovery, and Week by Week: A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts & Meditations. Amber is co-editor of the award-winning anthology, Times They Were A-Changing: Women Remember the '60s & '70s. Her creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals.

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Buy Links:
Amazon     |     Barnes and Noble


  1. Thank you for sharing news of my memoir and my blog post with your readers.

  2. I enjoy reading the Blurb and excerpt! Congrats on your tour! Thank you!

  3. What a cogent explanation of why you wrote this book, Amber. You're inspiring.

    1. Thanks, everyone for your kind words and encouragement! (Not sure why my picture isn't showing up today.)

  4. This sounds interesting, thanks for sharing :)

  5. Shared on G+ to help spread the word, good luck with the book tour! 🦋