From the outside, Tom Tilley’s childhood seemed ordinary. The first son of a pastor, he grew up in a beautiful country town where life revolved around football, his loving family and their Pentecostal faith. But behind church doors, a strictly enforced set of rules included a looming ultimatum: if Tom didn’t speak in tongues, he’d go to hell and be outcast from his close-knit, devout community.
The older Tom became, the more he questioned the teachings of the church, especially around speaking in tongues. And the more he heard about his parents’ adventurous lives before they found God, the more he wanted the freedom to make those ‘mistakes’ that the church forbade. Eventually, after years of suppressing his doubts in silence, Tom spoke up. Having the courage to do so came at a huge personal cost, leading to a decision that would take his family to breaking point. What happened next is surprising, and Tom’s journey to independence will inspire readers to ask what’s true in their own lives and who they really are.
Told with empathy and searing honesty, Speaking in Tongues is a powerful coming-of-age story about questioning the life created for you and building your true self, one recycled brick at a time.
This is one of those times when you know a name, only to realise that there is a whole backstory that you are unaware of. In Speaking with Tongues, Tilley recounts his experience in the Revival Centres International and his subsequent life afterwards following his passions by going into media.
What I found interesting is the discussion of connection and community throughout. Although his church connections seem to shrivel up instantly when he was asked to leave the church, his connection to Mudgee is something that seems to stay constant throughout. This is as much to do with place as it is to the people he grew up with.
Overall, what I enjoyed the most about Tilley’s memoir is how honest it is throughout.
Bridget Delaney provides a useful summary of the book in her piece for The Guardian, while Tilley also spoke about the book with Sarah Kanowski on ABC’s Conversations podcast.