Memoir chronicles author’s battle between religion, sexual preferences

Lawrence writer Kelly Barth details a struggle between fundamentalist Christianity and the alternative sexuality it abhors in her memoir, “My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus.”

She knows the battle well. It took place within her, as well as in church and relationships.

Barth, growing up in Raytown, Mo., in the 1970s and ’80s, craved the energy and certainty of fundamentalist Christianity.

From her first glimmers of sexuality as a child, Barth also knew she was attracted to females.

Barth writes about the conflict with humor.

“I look back with affection and a sense of irony,” she says. “I see a sweet but bungling comedy of errors. At my healthiest, I’ve always seen the world that way.”

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Kelly Barth

Book launch

“My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus” will be available from publisher Arktoi Books, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and the Raven Book Store, 6 E. Seventh St. in Lawrence. The Raven will host a launch party, open to the public, at 7 p.m. Friday.

One of Barth’s earliest memories, she writes, is her family telling her that “Jesus is everywhere.”

She recalls as a 3- or 4-year-old, searching the house for Jesus, imagining she might find him “like a lost dime, cloaked and sandaled, tiny as a foil-covered chocolate Easter egg forgotten in a lampshade ruffle.

“I thought that if I were very still and actually did see my tiny Imaginary Jesus, he might crawl onto my hand and let me pet him.”

As Barth grew up, this imaginary but in some ways real-to-her figure helped her navigate the conflicting influences.

The desire to write also pulled on her.

“As a girl, I watched “The Waltons.” John Boy, the writer, fascinated me,” says Barth, who earned her bachelor’s degree in creative writing and journalism from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

She recalls her first attempt at an autobiography at 10 years old, clacking away on her dad’s old Underwood typewriter.

“I wrote two lines, then decided it might be better to wait,” Barth says laughing.

From high school creative writing classes to becoming a fiction fellow in the creative writing program at the University of Montana, Missoula, Barth says writing has always given her the most pleasure.

“I knew from an early age it was what I would like to do,” she says.

Since then, Barth has honed her craft with stories in literary journals and anthologies, and has been awarded fellowships from the Missouri Arts Council and Kansas Arts Commission.

She writes freelance, including for Go! in Monday editions of the Lawrence Journal-World. She’s worked as a technical writer and editor for engineering firms, and as a graduate teaching assistant at KU and the University of Missouri, among other writing and teaching jobs.

Barth settled in Lawrence in late 1992, after completing the writing program in Missoula.

Meantime, she says, the story of her struggle and the real-but-imaginary Jesus who helped her through it longed to get out. Barth worked on the memoir on and off for 10 years. Her first draft counted a ponderous 600 pages.

The finished product, which was released Saturday, is a slim paperback of 248 pages. Advance notices from other authors have called “My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus” funny, beautiful, poignant and heartbreaking.

Barth says she faced many fears and demons in the effort to get it written.

“It’s told straight from my own perspective,” she says. “Let the chips fall where they may.”

Comments

Scott Morgan 9 years, 11 months ago

Maybe I just found the right places and folks to hang out with over the past 6 decades. My memories especially early on was the church at my university, after graduation, and even today is a haven for Gay people.

Yet around here I constantly here how poorly treated alternate lifestyle folks are treated by religion, especially Christianity. Yes we have the aberration in Topeka. A small family 99.999 percent of our population views are KOO_KOO.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 9 years, 11 months ago

Over my last 68 years I have come to an unalterable conclusion.

Most all churches are social clubs. They are held together by filmy relitious "beliefs" that serve the purpose of exclusivity. "My God can kick the ass of your God" is the underlying attitude of many of these fabricated (by human beings) religions. The prejudice and bigotry against gay people is a simple "majority rules" notion of the allegedly "religious" crowd. Too bad that this incredibly indefensible attitude holds so much sway over seemingly intelligent people.

Paul R Getto 9 years, 11 months ago

Yes they are social clubs. You are too harsh I fear. Religion done well is a great good. Please do not paint with too broad a brush. Crazies use religion. They would probably be crazy anyway.

UltimateGrownup 9 years, 11 months ago

The battle between doing right and sin is nothing new. This book features one of those, with the latter being the winner. How could such a book be published? And what's next, the story of the 1975 Cleveland Browns? They finished 3-11.

JustNoticed 9 years, 11 months ago

And how could such a thought as yours be thought? A pre-modern, superstitious, magic-thinking brain is required, that's for certain. If you really want to be a Grownup, try catching up to the Enlightenment at least.

Paul R Getto 9 years, 11 months ago

The struggles between our light and dark sides precede religion. The Enlightenment led to separation of state and church. It did not overcome magical thinking.

George_Braziller 9 years, 11 months ago

I'm gay. Grew up in and attended an extremely conservative Methodist church in a small town and even sang in the choir every Sunday. Dumped that one and went to the Congregational church for a bit and sang in the choir there as well.

I finally just dumped it all 35 years ago when I was a senior in high school and have never been back into a church except for a wedding or a funeral. The only reason I went was for the small town social activities.

I kept looking for something that wasn't there for me. Every Sunday was like sitting in 5th grade math class during in a pop test -- oh, please when will this be over.

The entire God/Jesus thing never computed with me.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 9 years, 11 months ago

George, other than the fact that I am not gay, we are soul mates. I was wondering if I was the only one who felt this way. I have never really adopted all the stuff that "Christians" have been claiming for many years now. This does not mean I am opposed to it or want to see it gone, just that I do not buy the guy with a long beard sitting on a cloud passing out blessings and thunderbolts. I do believe that there is some power (perhaps "divine") in the universe, all that we see in the universe is simply not understood by us humans, We have formulated the "big band" theory. It is as good an explanation as any, but in the final assessment, we really do not know how it all came about.

Prayer has always been a curious issues, I know that very good and kind people believe devoutely in this, but it has never been on my list of things to do. The Lutherans tried to tell me all the stuff about how we are all born sinners, and I roundly do not believe that. We are born fresh, new and totally unprepared to enter the world of today. Christ supposedly said (if you like to believe the 1611 King James Bible) that "I am the way and the light". I do not have any problem with following the teachings of Christ, I believe that the truth that is presented here is far more ligitimate as a truth of our humanity.

Today's organized religion has a habit of fabricating things that no one who wrote or translated the scriptures in the Bible had any intention of advocating, but the Religious Reich running for Republican offices has a field day bashing and trashing those of us who do not buy into their religious fraud.

I like you, have tried a number of different churches, and used to work in a profession that had me in contact with many different church denominations. But I like you, am still a "doubting Thomas". Sorry JC.

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