Sunday, July 17, 2022

Q&A with Brian Rush McDonald



Brian Rush McDonald is the author of the new memoir The Long Surrender: A Memoir about Losing My Religion. A former minister, missionary, and pastor, he is a psychotherapist based in Alexandria, Virginia.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir?


A: For a long time I regretted the years I was involved as a minister, missionary, and pastor. As my beliefs evolved and I realized I no longer believed much of what had started me on this journey as an adolescent I wondered what my life might have been had I taken a different path.


It is difficult to explain to people who ask about the nearly 30 years I devoted to this calling. I preferred that people not know so I avoided talking about it.


I wanted to understand more for myself why my life had taken this direction and why I was never fully content with it. I devoted my Ph.D. research (completed in 2004) to understanding how a person might change in terms of faith outlook and understanding, what factors contribute to this.


After leaving the ministry I periodically perused my personal journal entries from my days as missionary and pastor, hoping to understand what I was thinking during periods of difficulty. I thought this would help me understand for myself how my faith understanding had changed.


In 2017-18 I decided to put my story into a narrative form that I could share with my wife and adult children, and perhaps a few friends. My family accompanied me everywhere I served, including in a foreign country and my choices had impacted their lives.


When I showed my writing to my family members, they encouraged me to consider putting it in book form that could be appreciated by a larger audience.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: A hymn that I often heard growing up and during my years in ministry was “I Surrender All.”  This is frequently used during the period of a church service when individuals are asked to give themselves to God. As a child and adolescent I surrendered to what I thought was God’s calling. I became a minister and missionary.


As the years went by, I began to realize that I must surrender to another voice, the voice within me that could not accept the dogma that I had pledged to preach. Because being a minister was my career, this change could not be immediate. It was a long surrender.

Q: How would you describe your relationship with religion today?


A: Today, my wife and I are involved in a religious body, a church, that recognizes that there are many avenues and faith frameworks that help a person feel connected to something beyond themselves. Our church celebrates the value and dignity of every person. I consider myself a person of faith and I still follow the teachings of Jesus.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?


A: I’m pretty sure that there are many people like myself who struggle with what their particular religious heritage teaches, but who are reluctant to question it. They may have been told that doubting such teaching is a denial of their faith.


I hope such people will find some comfort from my candid discussion of my own misgivings about religion. I want them to know that questioning is human and is healthy. If they are troubled by their beliefs, perhaps my book can help them find the freedom that I have found.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on rewriting the findings of my dissertation research regarding the faith evolution of members of the clergy. I hope that people who have chosen a religious vocation will have a source to help them make sense of their own journey and to understand why they may no longer view their faith in the way they did when they embarked on their vocation.


My goal is to write it in a readable form with real-life anecdotes that clergy, their family members and parishioners can relate to.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My book also delves into the issue of mental illness, with which I have struggled, as did my father before me. I have tried to be forthcoming regarding my own difficulties in this area.


Mental and emotional difficulties, not unlike doubts and questions regarding religion, are areas where many people suffer alone, afraid to disclose their struggles. I hope my book offers them hope.


Though I once regretted having entered into a life in religious work, the writing of this book has helped me accept my journey; it is who I am and I now embrace it. Despite the struggles I have had, I had a wonderful childhood and an interesting and exciting life in so many ways. I have known so many wonderful and dedicated people.


I have endeavored to fill the book with the stories from my life that are not only informative and inspiring, but also, I hope, amusing. There is much about religion that is worthy of criticism or anger...but I'm not mad at anybody.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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