Redemptive Whores, Grease 2 Adams, & The Gospel According to Schwartz & Dio: J.M. Blaine Talks to Rapture Practice Author Aaron HartzlerBy TNB Nonfiction
June 12, 2013
So your Baptist preaching Bible College professor father totally flips out over your purchase of the soundtrack to Pretty Woman.
How old were you then?
Both Old and New Testaments feature favorable stories of prostitutes. Rahab even makes the Hebrews 11 Faith Hall of Fame. You knew your Bible pretty well. Wasn’t there room for debate?
Isn’t Pretty Woman basically a parable about forgiveness and redemption and grace?
My father would say it’s one thing to hear a lesson about a prostitute from the Old Testament and another to watch a story from people who aren’t coming from a Christ-centered world view and who are glorifying sin. The New Testament then tells us that whatever things are pure and of good report, if there be any virtue and any praise – we think upon these things. Pretty Woman certainly did not fall into that category. Also, you’d be seeing Julia Roberts naked. And who knows what havoc that could wreak upon your thought life?
Sounds like you still know your Bible.
Have your parents read Rapture Practice?
I think so? I received a text from my mom saying: Congratulations, you are an excellent writer. I sent one back asking if she had read my book but there was no response. We don’t discuss it. I guess they are not ready.
How difficult was coming out to your parents?
Well, after high school I enrolled at the Bible college where my father taught but then I was kicked out and –
Kicked out of Bible College? For what?
Ironically enough, sleeping with my girlfriend. But then there was an affair with a soccer player and… the plot just got thicker.
I hoped there was a sequel coming.
There’s definitely another book there. I’d love to write it, I just need to see if a publisher is interested. Either way, I was nineteen when I came out to my parents. It was terrible. But I’ve had to come out again and again. My younger brother is also gay.
I love that part near the end where you kept wishing your dad would accept you for who you are – and then you realized you needed to flip it around and begin to accept him for who he is as well.
Thank you. Thank you for saying that. You know, I got to a point where I had to let my parents off the hook for my unhappiness. I’ve chosen to remain close to them and keep a relationship. I told my dad recently, “I love you and there’s room in my world for you and everything you believe. And what I’m asking is that you make room in your worldview for me and my beliefs.”
That’s why I wrote this book towards a teen audience. There’s this notion of “It gets better.” The sixteen-year old in me says, how? Everything doesn’t tie up in a nice, neat bow. It’s messy and complicated and there aren’t really any easy answers. So I talk to teenagers about how to build a community around yourself when you can’t depend on your parents for unconditional love and support. The thing about unconditional love is that if I am asking to be loved unconditionally, I have to be willing to love unconditionally. A lot of people who grew up the way I did completely cut their parents off. That hasn’t been my choice. But just because I don’t shut that door doesn’t mean I let my parents run over me with their dogma either. You have to use boundaries and take care of yourself too. That’s not always the easiest thing to do, but its gotten easier as I’ve learned to be more loving in my approach.
You did become a preacher. That’s the Gospel.
You know, when I was a kid, I remember my dad saying, “Aaron, You’ve been given the spiritual gift of communication, of teaching and God is going to use you to change hearts and minds.”
Amen. It happened.
It did! That’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s just that our lexicons are a little different.
I have several author friends who came out of the evangelical world and we all have conversations about how there’s something about that experience we can’t quite articulate – but that we miss terribly sometimes.
Oh, I agree. Let’s be honest, it’s a very secure way to live. Everything is black and white. You know exactly what to do in every situation. You know all the answers. So yeah, leaving a community where we all believed the same things was difficult and scary at times. I understand why it’s attractive to have a building to go to and celebrate community and life events. I get that. My brother and I talk a lot about the comradery of those who have survived a fundamentalist upbringing.
The music gets to me. “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Jesus Loves Me” – those old hymns break my heart most every time.
The music gets to me too. Have you heard Children of Eden?
No, no. The Broadway play based on Genesis. Steven Schwartz. I can hear some of those songs and just weep because the message is still so beautiful. Adrian Zmed is, like, the best Adam ever.
Adrian Zmed from Grease 2?!
Yes. Adrian Zmed. From Grease 2. Either way, Schwartz did Godspell too and there’s a lyric that very much describes where I’m at right now.
When your faith is all but shattered
When your faith is all but killed
You can give up, bitter and battered
Or you can slowly start to build
(JMB note: Oddly enough, coming out of Fundamentalism, it was Dio lyrics that lit the way. I started reading the Old Testament existential classic Ecclesiastes and listening to Dio-era Sabbath like this: )
Well, if it seems to be real, it’s illusion
for every moment of truth, there’s confusion in life
Love can be seen as the answer
but nobody bleeds for the dancer
& it’s on and on and on
Heaven & Hell
So where are you now as far as church, believer, agnostic, atheist…?
I like to consider myself a naturalist. I think that the true mystery of the universe around us is in the big questions of: Why are we here and what does all this mean? I feel like a lot of Fundamentalism cheapens the true mystery that the church claims to represent. Virgin births and water into wine pale in comparison. I like to say that I was raised with the ‘pat answers to the world’s unanswerable questions.’ And the older I’ve gotten the less I know and the happier I am for it.
Aaron Hartzler grew up the eldest of five in Kansas City, MO. In RAPTURE PRACTICE, a funny and heartfelt coming-of-age memoir, he recalls his teenage journey to find the person he is without losing the family that loves him. Ultimately a story about finding your own truth while accepting your family for who they are, RAPTURE PRACTICE will speak to anyone who has ever questioned religion, sexuality, or one’s path in life. Aaron currently lives with his dogs and partner in Palm Springs, California, where he writes and acts.