A Feature Review of
All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir
Reviewed by Michelle Van Loon
Though she was an intelligent and imaginative child, Elizabeth Green of Arkadelphia, Arkansas never could have dreamed where her life would take her. It wasn’t only the miles she’d traveled from her small-town beginning that has surprised her, but the way in which God guided her through circumstances that seemed to predict a very different kind of life than the one she’s lived so far: “Neither my pain nor my path could be reduced to mere consequences. Even the detours on this road were marked by Providence. The travel atlas was out on my Father’s table up north, a route I could not see was highlighted in green. In the words of the great apostle, God was, all along, finishing what was lacking in my faith.”
Elizabeth Green is known today far beyond the boundaries of Arkadelphia as Bible teacher Beth Moore. Her new memoir, All My Knotted-Up Life, situates her unfolding ministry journey in a personal narrative that captures a small-town childhood that contained sunny moments as well as being shadowed by her mother’s mental illness, her father’s serial infidelity and sexual abuse of young Beth, and the disorienting upheaval of relocation to big city Houston during her teens. She writes with deep affection about her college sweetheart, husband Keith, who has had an ongoing battle with mental illness throughout their long marriage. She notes that few would have imagined that a pairing with so many strikes against it could have survived, much less flourished.
But the cord that runs like a free-flowing river through her knotted-up life has been Jesus. After a profound encounter with the Holy Spirit in the bathroom of a Southern Baptist summer camp when she was eighteen, Moore reflected on the way in which not only the experience, but the counsel she received from an older, wiser woman marked the trajectory of her life from that point onward. “How easily she could have discounted my story or feared I was under charismatic influence and discouraged me from ever giving credence to anything vaguely experiential,” Moore writes. “I’m amazed that, even if she believed what had happened to me was real, she didn’t feel duty-bound to discourage me from making too much out of it.”
Instead, the woman affirmed that God had placed a calling into vocational ministry on Moore’s life. For the next several years, she finished college, married, gave birth to her first child, and taught Sunday School. She couldn’t fathom what a call to ministry would look like in her conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) denominational tradition, which had strict limits on what women could and couldn’t do in the church.
“If it’s true God often uses the body of Christ–by that I mean a community of fellow believers–to tell us what he wants from us, what he wanted from me in my early twenties was leg warmers,” Moore wrote. When a small group of women at her local church in the early 1980’s asked her to lead them in a Christian aerobics class, it marked the beginning of a trajectory that would lead first to speaking at women’s events, then leading a weekly Bible study that exploded in popularity. She took the responsibility with a deep sense of holy gravity and became a serious student of the Bible.
Her growing popularity during the next couple of decades was a double-edged sword. As women (and a good number of men) embraced her book and video studies and in-person stadium events sponsored by SBC publisher Lifeway, she began to realize that some of the denominational leaders she’d long admired didn’t reciprocate the feeling. At a convention, she stepped into a gathering of leaders, and enthusiastically began hugging them in greeting like they were long-lost cousins at a Green family reunion,
“…nothing says awkward like being fully committed to a hug–gravity forcefully, unstoppably throwing your body forward–and realizing the sentiment is unrequited. They didn’t want to hug.
A sick feeling went through me that I couldn’t shake for decades. They didn’t like me. Not together they didn’t. They might have liked me two on one, but all huddled up, it was clear they didn’t think we were one big happy family like I did.”
She noted she accepted the sexism she experienced from these male leaders because she believed they were being obedient to Scripture, just as she desired to be. But during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, after many SBC movers and shakers rallied around candidate Trump after the Access Hollywood tape revealed his vile, misogynistic boasts of sexual assault against women, something in Moore’s knotted-up life was loosed,
“In my estimation, this thing playing out in front of the world was about power. This was about control. This was about the boys’ club.
I bit those two words on my tongue until it nearly bled.
I believed you and you lied. I thought this was all about Scripture. All about pleasing God. This does not look God-pleasing to me…
The Baptist church had been my safe place. My sanctuary. These were my people. I loved them. But something was happening to us. Something bad. Maybe it had been happening all along and I was too blind to see it. Too busy in my own world. Too privileged. Too partial. Too immersed.”
As she used her voice to speak out about these issues on social media, she became an object of rage-fueled scorn among those she’d once admired and sought to serve. In 2019, when the Houston Chronicle released a series of articles that revealed decades of clergy sexual abuse and institutional coverup in SBC churches, it confirmed Moore’s worst fears. Something very bad had been happening in the denomination all along. The more Moore spoke out, the more she received trainloads of noxious social media bile, much of it unloaded on her by “conservatives” from within her own beloved SBC.
Many readers may be surprised to discover that while Moore was battling the effects of a horde of social media trolls online, she was also fighting a difficult battle at home. Her husband had contracted a rare marine-borne bacterial infection that would take months of intensive treatment and multiple hospitalizations to resolve. The treatment played havoc with his already-existing mental health issues. As Keith healed, the couple decided to leave the SBC in 2021. They’ve since found a refuge in a small Anglican church.
All My Knotted-Up Life is neither a scrubbed version of the past nor a scandalous tell-all. This memoir reveals enough raw detail of the difficult parts of her life to invite readers to examine the messes in their own lives through the lens of God’s amazing grace, while exploring with unflinching honesty questions of injustice and lack of repentance from those who abused or wounded her, all without seeking revenge. From the early chapters, which are thick with the effervescent voice of Moore’s small-town, deep-South childhood, to the final, sober chapters of the book, Moore tells her story with honesty about her own failings, liberal doses of self-depreciating humor, and a palpable sense of wonder that she’s carried all her knotted-up life.
Michelle Van Loon
Michelle Van Loon is the author of seven books, including Translating Your Past: Finding Meaning in Family Ancestry, Genetic Clues, and Generational Trauma (Herald Press). Michelle has a wide range of published work to her credit including articles, curriculum, devotionals, articles, and plays. She is a founding member of The Pelican Project, a women's theology organization, and the co-founder of ThePerennialGen.com, a website for midlife women and men. Learn more about her work at MichelleVanLoon.com
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