No Freedom Without Love, No Love Without Pain

pain

I firmly believe this. All addiction to hate and control (the mechanics of narcissism and addictive behavior in general) is deferred and projected personal pain. This awareness allows me to forgive and have compassion for those who despise and harm me, but it doesn’t mean I have to offer myself up to take it. For almost 3 decades in marriage and ministry I took it like a good girl – literally a thousand other people’s projected insecurities and pain – and almost died (as did my oldest 2 children). I take no one’s deferred shit ever again. I will embrace and deal with my own pain and failures and exorcise my demons out in the open and out loud as I’ve always done. It’s the only way for me to avoid drowning and being assimilated into a culture of callous dehumanization (and not want to kill roughly half the population of America that seems intent and content to kill and silence me and my loved ones).

I’ve discovered my superpower – An insanely high pain tolerance and compulsion to run straight at that bitch – name it, dissect it from every angle, and own it until it manifests as love.

No Freedom
Take it by your silence
That I’m free to walk out the door
By the look in your eyes I can tell
You don’t think I’ll be back for more
Try to think of the world
Where you could stay and these safe hands could go
Take your heart above the water
Wherever I choose to go
No love without freedom
No love without freedom
No love without freedom
No freedom without love
Even when you don’t see me
Even when you don’t hear
I’ll be flying low below the sun
And you’ll feel it all out here
No love without freedom
No love without freedom
No love without freedom
No freedom without love
No love without freedom
No love
———————————————–
No freedom without love, no love without acknowledging and embracing the pain of our unique-to-every-individual human damage.

Killing Liberty Grace

Everything I wrote about coming out of church world was/is a prophetic direct parallel to coming out of my abusive marriage, none more so than this one from 2 years ago this day. I now know at the time of this writing he’d already dove hard and I was walking dead. Today I sing “Fuck This Shit I’m Out” as a beautiful, rowdy benediction. Won’t you stand and join me?

Cage-Free Christian

Meet my big-thinker Mini Me, Liberty Grace. I’ve never been so in love with a name…almost as much as the girl. As much as I laud reason and practicality in my expressions of faith, there’s always been a significant vein of mysticism and natural contemplative spirituality winding through me too. I truly consider my daughter’s name to be prophetic. It was while I was pregnant with her that the first rumblings began…a stirring within me that God was up to something new for us, something powerful and free. God was indeed going to fulfill my lifelong yearning to experience Them in fullness and abundance, but there was going to be an extreme price to pay. Was I willing?


THE SPIRIT OF LIBERTY GRACE

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

I’d ached and prayed for this since I was 16, but now…

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Living Above the Curse (Part 3 – The Curse of Man)

We all know the Venus and Mars stereotypes. Women are complex multitasking nurturers, men are singularly-focused aggressive hunter/providers.

Woman with the flu, a cramping, hemorrhaging uterus and a baby attached to her boob pushes through her daily myriad of responsibilities to take care of the family vs. male devastated by Man Cold.

Generalizations? Sure. It’s that spectrum thing again. There’s a wide range of expression of gender roles and no real “supposed to be’s.” There just IS for each of us what IS based on our unique makeup. What IS, generally speaking for the cisgender male, is a testosterone-driven drive to accomplish and conquer in order to find satisfaction and self-worth.

This is neither good nor bad, to be neither admired nor mocked (though I’ve totally indulged in misandry along with every other woman by doing just that). It’s biology and psychology. It just IS. The writers of Genesis recognized it in Adam’s curse.

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

The Woman’s complexity of curses are tied to the flesh from which she came. The Man’s curse is associated with the dirt from which he was God breathed. The curse of Man is the futility of his work. He has to toil very, very hard his entire life, be frustrated every step of the way, and then die and return to dirt as if he never existed.

Damn. So much for satisfaction. Honestly, I don’t envy a man his curse at all. It may be singular but it’s very, VERY heavy. From my observation it also makes him more vulnerable (not weak). Vulnerable to what? Despair. A Woman’s complexity and connections are her strength. When one pillar falls, there are others to compensate. When a man’s focus of satisfaction and self-worth disintegrates it more often than not turns him to denial, distraction, and destruction and a desperate grasp for control – anything but facing this reality that his desires and drives are going to be continually frustrated and in the end…utterly insignificant.

A theory I’m working on, but this might be why a lot of men keep such a tight lid on open expression of sadness and fear and are often dismissive of a women’s frequency and freer expression of the “difficult” emotions. For a man, it’s a sign of the despair and failure he’s trying so hard to outrun, so he does what he can to shut that shit DOWN. Just a theory.

Males also have a typically strong and aggressive sex drive that demands regular satisfaction. Biology. It just IS. So it is no mystery nor shock nor anything new under the sun when every single male on the planet frequently satisfies themselves in the most efficient ways without “toil” or risk of frustration or rejection in coordinating with an equally-willing Woman by taking it into their own hands, so to speak, with the help of readily available visual aids. But there is also taking it by force and through deception/coercion. Survey a group of 20 women and 19 of us can tell you the first time we were groped, harassed, or sexually violated. All of us can tell you the constant pressure we feel to be enough to satisfy a man along with everything else we’ve got going on with our bodies and brains.

Long story short – humans are ALL sexually frustrated and incredibly insecure. Being a truly satisfied human – mind, body, and soul – isn’t easy and only we as individuals are responsible for it, but most of us give up trying and settle for an endless string of cheap fixes outside ourselves to get us by, especially when life gets overwhelming. Add the handicap of having the body/brain hijacked as a child (which is the tragic case for SO many) and…well, it’s a jungle out there and there’s a lot of carnage that perpetuates with each generation. We are, as humans, truly cursed.

If my mind wasn’t hardwired for satisfaction through intimacy and connection with an actual person (one in particular after all these years) and I could be stimulated that easily with externally accessible equipment less than an arm’s length away at all times, I’d be every guy too. I honestly wish it were that simple for me. It would make my current (and possibly permanent) situation a lot easier to come to terms with.

Y’all know where I’m going with this and the only reason I am is to take away the stigma and power once and for all. There is nothing that has happened that is truly any earth shattering thing. As a matter of psychology (not morality) my husband took it farther than some and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s where most men wish they could and plenty already are and they are your neighbor, your boss, your pastor, your brother, your son and your husband.

Everybody has done the math by now, and math was one of the reasons why I felt I had no other option than to go public. Care and provision for the family were being compromised. Because of the psychology involved (as explained in the previous post), there has been no private rational discussion possible. I’ve been desperately trying for over a year now. All he can do with me is deflect and dismiss and spin. He could barely ever talk about very minor things he’d done that hurt me, so expand that out to our current situation and…there is just no way. It is too much. He is not going to pull out of this any other way. But I have faith he can, at least to some extent, if he has nowhere left to run and no reason to. He has always been able to turn on a dime and switch out an addiction when it stops serving him. I’ve done what amounts to an intervention to make that the case. He doesn’t want to be that man, and now that it’s out of the shadows, he won’t.

This isn’t about sex. This isn’t about betrayal or a moral failure. It is about a Man, like any other, crushed under the weight of despair…except he’s not just any other man, he’s the love of my life and the father of my children and by far the most influential person in terms of shaping my spiritual life. There is no me without him. He surfaced enough the last time I saw him to be able to say the same – that there is no him without me. We are one flesh and one life. Nothing he has done or will ever do can nullify that.

I have no idea what we’re capable of being next, but I do know I’ve got to crush the Snake’s head NOW to stop the hissing lies of fear so that the Man can at least have a shot at living and we can eventually come back together as…something good, whatever that looks like, anywhere on the spectrum of possibility.

As I said before, he was there for me when I had my mental/emotional breakdown at the beginning of our journey with Four Creeks. Now I’ve got to be there for him as he broke at the end, and this, believe it or not, is what it has to look like. It’s because I’ve done the work to understand us (with professional help) that I’ve been able to figure out his language, learn not to be afraid when the most horrific things come out of him, and recognize they are a spotlight on what he feels the worst about himself that he cannot handle and therefore HAS to project on me. It is all he can do when he is consumed by fear and failure. The Curse of Man crushed him hard. As I said previously, no one could survive what we’ve been through without breaking. No one could be as isolated and vulnerable as he is right now without being utterly terrified and at rock bottom. We may process and express our humanity in vastly different ways, but I know that desperate place all too well and I cannot and will not abandon him there.

The only way to end this is to simply say out loud what is real and then let him see that the worst that is going to happen is that there are a whole lot of people who love us and nothing otherwise has changed. He has lost nothing, he will lose nothing, and he is free from here to do whatever he can and will with all pressure off from me.

There is nothing more for anyone to fear. Nothing more for anyone to hide and no reason to. There is no shame. There is no condemnation. There is only love. This is why I must finish the story and be done so we can all be free to love.

Reality IS Redemption

What Jimmy and I are experiencing is universally common to humanity AND ALSO personally devastating. And you know what? I GET TO TALK ABOUT MY OWN LIFE as the whole person I AM now using my own discretion alone to decide what is wise, what is good, what is beneficial, and what is love. I am a Woman who thinks, feels and now speaks without any fear. The truth has set me free and now I’m using that freedom to set other captives free. I picked up my own cross, shared in the sufferings of Jesus with countless agonized tears, kicked over a few tables in the temple because YES, I WAS ANGRY, I went all the way to that humiliating and torturous death alone, and I rise now to new life having conquered sin and death – AKA what it means to be a fucking Christian.

I lived it out in front of you, gave everything to all, went all the way into death and now I’m ascending outa here. Stop standing around looking forlorn up at the sky waiting for us to come back and do some more feel-good miracles for ya. You’ve got everything you need. Get off your ass and walk the path yourself, set yourself free…or don’t. As for me and my house – we are on to life abundant.

 

 

The Day I Officially Came Out as a “Done”

 

October

I’ve only attended church twice as a nonprofessional in the last few years, and both times were in Nashville. Just about this time last year, I made a trip out to see my oldest kids and used the opportunity to meet my blogging brother, John Pavlovitz, as he was speaking at an LGBTQ-affirming church in Franklin. John and I already had a legit friendship/kinship established and had a blast finally meeting in person.

john

The next day, my daughter Kathryn and I made our way to church to hear John speak. It was in that service during the worship time (church-speak translation: music concert/congregational karaoke) that I had quite the jarring epiphany.

I knew it was time to pull the plug on Four Creeks.

That in and of itself wasn’t the thing. We’d been coming to the end of everything for a while; people, money, sanity…will to live. Jimmy and I had set out to have Four Creeks be a church community where absolutely anyone of any persuasion, background, identity, ethnicity was valued and welcome to participate in absolutely every facet of church life. We did exactly that. It just turns out there wasn’t a market for it where we were, at least not one we were capable of tapping into by ourselves without resources and support. We had zero of either after the church that originally sent us out yanked everything out from under us very early on. We knew from the start we were dead walking. It was just a matter of time.

As I looked around the sanctuary at the beautiful diversity of humans worshiping together and the genuine love and enthusiastic community all the congregants shared, I welled up with thankfulness and awe that it did exist somewhere and that I was there to witness it. That Sunday last October, seeing the dream in vivacious reality in Nashville in stark contrast to our terminally ill child at home, I knew the time had come.

There was only a relieved resignation in that thought. It was the next one that I had never prepared myself to consider. If Four Creeks ceased to be, if our 20 years as professional Christians truly was coming to an end, what now? What kind of church would we want to join and in what capacity? Then came the epiphany.

None.

This was the exact moment I allowed myself to BE what I’d already been inside for a decade in Church World – DONE.

As glad as I was that this church existed and that so many people were being loved, valued and finding value in it, all I could think as I was immersed in the familiarity of a typical worship service that just about anyone else from my evangelical tribe would find familiar and appealing (except for worshiping along side a married gay couple or 20) was, “I don’t need this. I don’t want this for myself.”

Having been on the production end of church my entire adult life and living behind the veil working with pastors and church boards as employers (dear, wise friends when we were lucky; dangerously insecure and immature mega jerks when we weren’t), I’m basically ruined for the entire church machine. I can’t just sit back and enjoy the show. I haven’t had the luxury of finding value in church from that side of things since I was a child.

I get other people finding value in the routine, their preferred music (whether it be modern praise band, hymns or liturgy) or looking to their favorite pastor to inspire them. I just don’t. Having been raised in that world with a view behind the curtain, my oldest children don’t either. My youngest have zero concept of it as all they know of church is Four Creeks, which by both design and fate had no programming or any traditions to speak of other than simply meeting, breaking bread together and studying scripture and its practical applications with integrity. Kathryn and Ryan have since expressed just how relieved they are that their younger siblings won’t be raised in the church culture they were (before Four Creeks). I am too.

I’ve heard a lot of people admit that even if they themselves don’t really want to go to church, they feel they should for the sake of their children. I’m just weird, I guess. I told my therapist that it is for the sake of my children that I don’t want to go to church ever again.

That was last Thursday. Three days later I went to church with my children…because I wanted to…and it was profoundly healing and wonderful.

 

Journaling That Doesn’t Suck – 8/24/2016

Good advice. Not everybody has profound personal spiritual experiences. No one can experience what I experience and vice versa. Ultimately, whatever experience we do or don’t have is between the individual and whatever God there is alone. Whatever we can say or paint or sing or write about transient and transcendent spiritual experiences comes down to art. Our God talk will never = truth that we should impose on anyone else. Yup, ignostic I definitely am.

Note to self –

  1. Never shit on someone else’s art.
  2. Be a prolific artist yourself. If anyone else relates, appreciates and finds value in it, that’s extra gravy. Maybe you’ll inspire a few artists to beautify the world. Maybe those few will multiply exponentially. I’ll find out on the other side, but that’s not my concern here and now. As long as I’m drawing breath on this side, pay attention, be inspired, and express freely and honestly, with or without an audience.

20160824_135900

What Do You Do When You Know You’re Too Much?

I’m a severely introverted and reserved person. These days, in person, I’m unlikely to impress you. I don’t emote much. Whatever I’m feeling (and I feel the full spectrum of emotion with deep intensity) this is probably all you’re going to get.

 

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This is my excited face

My randomly selected combination of genes allows me the luxury of attaining the label of “attractive” female from others if I put just a bit of effort into my outward appearance. Truth is, I’m much more comfortable downplaying any outward attractiveness to the point I’ll even deliberately sabotage it when I feel the real me – my passion – my soul – who I really am, think and feel is being dismissed because it’s just too much for someone else to handle – which is most of my life, most of the time, and all my relationships at some point or another.

12643015_10208826555127077_1727118579843219199_n

Exhibit A: Flaunting the Frump

Free Willy

Spiritually and emotionally, I’ve been Shamu my entire adult life in Church World – a creature designed to travel and hunt in vast open expanses of ocean in community with my own kind, artificially isolated and enclosed in a kiddie pool as a commodity, my only value being the ability to perform for the entertainment of others. What choice did I have as long as my keepers were the ones holding and doling out all the dead fish?

P4nObYw (1)

I’ve been in a horrible and weird state of limbo for 4 years now. We stopped performing and started acting out of our true nature with full integrity as Four Creeks Church. The first chance they got, the powers that be, the very ones who had given us their full blessing in front of the crowd, shut us into the tiniest holding pool in the back, out of sight, and withheld all fish…and then got very testy when I didn’t just quietly submit to that fate. Me being seen and heard was very bad for business.

I could have gone Tilikum on them. Lord knows I was screwed up and traumatized enough to convince myself I was justified in inflicting harm back.

And I so totally could have…on multiple occasions. I could have used my words to bring the whole joint crashing down on itself. Easily.

Instead, I used my words to bare my soul and let anyone who would listen see just how deep I go. The underlying message in all my writing has always been, “Help me, please. I’m dying here in these shallows” while exercising restraint to withhold the details as to what specifically was going on and who was doing it in the hopeless hope that some kind of reconciliation might be possible – that someone, anyone involved would turn and see and acknowledge this wrong and make it right.

That hope has died. Way too much artificial sea water under the bridge. Too much, too much, too much. I am too much for just about everyone and everything in this place…even myself.

I’m going to be swimming out to sea very soon and that hope has been the only thing keeping me alive. But my present reality is this – I’m still here, right now in the tank out back, severely malnourished, atrophied and covered in sores and I’ve got a couple more months to go here. I still, right now, am desperate for connection and relief; a kind word, hell…just basic recognition and “I see you” is really all I need.

Or is that still too much to ask of the “men of God” holding all the dead fish?

Why I’m Equal Parts Horrified and Happy That Trump is the GOP Front Runner

I can’t help but shake my head and chuckle a bit seeing most of my very politically vocal conservative Christian friends tripping over themselves to denounce Donald Trump in the last few weeks when, from where I stand, it surely seems they paved the way for his ridiculous rise to prominence and influence.

The leaders of the tribe in which I was raised and served my entire adult life declared last summer (via text of all things) that I am not one of them, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. When they definitively pulled the plug on 20 years of ministry relationship, a gorgeous freedom washed over me, pushing me over the final hump to begin to explore with full integrity what I truly believe and to start living fully in that truth.

I’m a goddamn bleeding heart liberal.

Well, at least part of me is. I’m actually a die-hard pragmatist – a conservatively liberal libertarian socialist. I go with what works and makes sense in any given circumstance, and there are elements of each that fit the bill.

I really, really like having free public education for my children, safe drinking water and well maintained roads (SOCIALISM)! I’d gladly welcome smart socialized healthcare but also consider Obamacare to be a suckass cluster-f*ck.  I despise the heightened emphasis on standardized testing (which started with Bush’s No Child Left Behind way before Common Core).  I don’t see securing our borders and upholding our great American tradition of welcoming immigrants as mutually exclusive. I think well-regulated capitalism is fabulous. I absolutely 100% think separation of church and state – freedom OF and FROM religion – is essential. I’m a Christian who does not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and thinks the demonization and opposition to Planned Parenthood is misguided and harmful to lives.

That should be enough to piss absolutely everyone off.

I think our potential as humans when we humble ourselves and cooperate is magnificent and downright divine!

I also think our ability to deny our self-interest in order to achieve it is historically exceedingly rare. Certainty, self-justification in our own “rightness” and unwillingness to compromise and power lust are just too tempting and strong a pull.

In leaving (being rejected by) my evangelical christian tribe, I also gladly leave behind the political bullying, shame and intimidation that, though of course not representative of all, was very much systemic.

“Christian” was synonymous with conservative Republican or Tea Party Libertarian but NEVER Democrat. “Liberal” was a dirty word. I wish I could unsee the use of the slang “libtard” on social media by supposed “christians.”  Gross disrespect and complete lack of objectivity toward President Obama  was encouraged and celebrated – in the name of God no less (ditto wishing to unsee the prolific use of “Obummer” and the like).

I’ve experienced first hand the disdain for intellectual integrity and scholarship, biblical and otherwise, from my own pastors from the pulpit and on social media (and that insane text) together with an insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories and blatantly dishonest journalism to feed a raging false persecution complex.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t have much sympathy for my former tribe as it tries to distance itself from the monster it’s been feeding.  Breeding and catering to the tyrants is the norm in the churches from which I come. Calling church leadership out on this is what earned us the boot. The Dysfunctional 100 Acre Wood

But why would I have reason to be happy about Donald Trump being the GOP front runner and the subsequent back tracking and panic of the conservative Christian Republican base?

Cause maybe – just maybe – it’s enough of an outrageously ridiculous predicament to get my former tribe to take a long hard look in the mirror enough to do some soul searching and to find the reflection of Jesus there again.

I dunno. I honestly don’t really even care. With my new-found freedom from intimidation and tribe-less existence I’ve changed my political affiliation to Democrat and am Feeling the Bern, even despite my uber Libertarian husband’s raised eyebrows. He cheers me on to vote my conscience even when it leads me to different conclusions than his own. I cheer everyone on to do the same – vote your conscience, that is, without fear or intimidation. Just make sure you’ve really searched it deeply and with full integrity.

Anything less and eventually we’re going to have to deal with the dragons we create.

I Am Vain

Gospel of Snark blog post from this time last year. The tally of complete emotional/spiritual unravelings in the process of planting, nurturing and then letting go of Four Creeks Church stands at 3. I felt during each one that I was going to die. I was right. Over the last year my laziness and vanity were finally starved into oblivion. Jimmy and I are so very, very relieved to be on the other side among the dead-living and immune to the bites of the living-dead.


 

In preparation for facilitating a new round of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I’m going through the little twice-daily devotional book Day by Day (formerly The Daily Office) for the third time. This morning I came across one of my favorite quotes that I strongly related to the first time I read it 3 years ago.

“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself –– and to all who will notice — that I am important…I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.” – Eugene Peterson

Scazzero, Peter (2013-03-26). Daily Office (Kindle Locations 346-347).  Kindle Edition.

I AM LAZY

My entire adult life in church in ministry has been miserable and drowning in busyness and physical and spiritual exhaustion because I am a lazy ass. We’re talking pathological here. I’m extremely passive as a result of equally heavy doses of nature and nurture. I was raised in a culture with a double whammy of indoctrination from both family and church that the “right” (and only) way to live was to abdicate “the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals” and to let authority (parents/church) do it for me.  For the most part, having a naturally passive personality, I was happy to let others dictate life for me because it was easier, because…I am lazy.

My laziness is rooted in fear – fear of facing the discomfort of conflict. It’s much easier for me to conform and play by the rules in a system I have no responsibility in making than to take responsibility for my own, because…what if I get it wrong? What if someone doesn’t like it?

Rejection and criticism wreak havoc in the life of a comfort junky. It is deeply, desperately ingrained in me never to be/act/think wrong. It’s the worst. I feel the worst. I am the worst when others think I’m wrong. It’s not that I have a need to convince anyone that I’m right…no, no, no. I just want to avoid at all cost the risk of anyone thinking or believing I am wrong…because in the system I come from, the wrong person is not respected; the wrong person is not worthy of love; the wrong person must be stopped, condemned, corrected and made right immediately or forever rejected because – THOU SHALT NOT BE WRONG.

I am lazy mostly out of fear of being wrong.

Comfort and safety are my #1 inherited family idols that I was taught to hold up as supreme and noble motivation. Over time, they insidiously morphed into a lazy, dishonest, hot mess of an inner life while I feverishly expended energy maintaining a squeaky clean, socially acceptable, respectable outward life. I became grossly church busy for 18 years as the wife of a minister at the expense of my family, my health and my sanity because…I am lazy.

I repressed and denied my true thoughts and feelings and allowed people to direct me down soul-sucking paths I didn’t want to go because I have tremendous safety lust and…I am lazy.

It’s taken me every bit of the 3 years I’ve been working in EHS “going back in order to go forward” in order to identify and unpack this baggage. To no longer be conformed to the pattern of my world and be transformed by the renewal of my mind is an intense and prolonged process – a gnarly, epic wrestling match.

My entire Church World experience had sold me on an alter call, some tears, and a one-and-done prayer and doubling down on the rules as the answer to all Christian struggles. God loved me enough to utterly break me before I was ready to get over myself and my laziness in order to stop buying (and selling) the shit substitutes. But wow did that love feel like death…because it is; death of SELF in order to live as Christ.

THE SCARLET “W”

The planting of Four Creeks Church saw my worst fears realized and magnified on a personally horrifying scale. We stepped out of the established church system in which we’d worked and served faithfully our entire adult lives and set aside it’s comfortable human traditions and secure structure to embark on a grand experiment to see if a church that preached and taught and modeled Jesus alone and the exclusive inclusiveness of his Gospel of Grace could fly.

Starting out, we honestly thought we had the full support and partnership of our home church. If anyone had told me we’d end up completely rejected and unsupported just 9 months in, I never in a million years would have been on board to sacrifice so much or take such a personal risk for myself and my family – absolutely not my M.O. as a comfort junky and safety slut.

And why were we rejected and dropped like we were hot from the fires of hell? Because we were wrong in the eyes of a few influential and very vocal church people. Our teachings on prayer, worship, love, how to be the church and do life were all wrong. It didn’t matter if they were all taken straight from Jesus’ own words and example – it challenged the long established system, which, in Church World, is the ultimate in WRONG.

Rather than be associated with anyone or anything that had a reputation for being wrong, even the nicest and more sane personalities in leadership distanced themselves from us and let us go, out of sight and out of mind, to fend for ourselves so they could try to get back to safe and established business as usual without being sullied or inconvenienced by our scarlet “W” of wrongness.

WAKING UP ANGRY

I’ve heard it said anger is a secondary emotion and that it’s really an expression of underlying fear or hurt. In my case it was a massive sucker punch of both. I’ve also heard it said, “Jennifer seems angry in a lot of what she writes and shares on Facebook.”

Um…yeah…and DUH.

You don’t open up the flood gates of a lifetime of repression and resentment and get a gentle trickle. When my eyes were pried open and I saw things clearly for the first time, I woke up angry, terrified and in a tremendous amount of pain, and very, very much on my own with God alone to figure out how to deal with it. What intimacy and reality in relationship with my Father I have found there.

Pardon my French (or don’t…I truly, honestly no longer care), but since one of the first things that earned us the scarlet “W” was me using the wrong words, I’ve freed myself up to use all the words that best express my frustrations and to try to get across just how much of a cluster mind fuck this experience has been to have everything I thought I knew, every system I’d ever trusted, every rule, every certainty utterly and completely destroyed in order to build new and completely different…in faith.

I AM VAIN

The laziness, the repression, the grief, the bitterness are all quite familiar traveling companions to me at this point. I’ve worked very hard to honestly identify, embrace and submit them over the last 3-4 years. But, as EHS has a way of doing, a brand spankin’ new layer of dysfunction was brought to the surface and made visible to me this morning.

I have had such a hard time with bitterness because I am vain. I am most vain when you mess with or challenge…

My family
“I can’t believe those gossip-mongering, power-playing church biddies said such things about my husband and actively campaigned to put us into financial crisis. Could they really not see how amazingly good my own children are and what obviously fabulous parents we are to think we could possibly be a bad influence on anyone? How could anyone in their right mind with any compassion in them whatsoever justify doing that to any family, much less one so *perfect* as mine?!”

Oooh girl, that’s some hardcore bitterness coming from someone so *perfect*

My work ethic
“None of you understand how I’ve worked my ass off apart from church as a corporate peon, full time for 13 years; working holidays, even weekends and then exhausting myself 3 services on Sundays plus rehearsals, all with my family in tow. I never got away on weekends for family fun time. Why did I do that for so many years only to be rejected the second we stopped entertaining you? Not only did you not appreciate my sacrifice, you went above and beyond to treat us like shit. Ungrateful assholes.”

Oh so much bitter…even if I alone am responsible for making myself the lamest martyr on the planet fueled by my own dysfunction. It’s a lot easier and even feels kind of good to resent church people rather than myself. Ick, it’s a lazy and vain combo. That’s unattractive and thoroughly anti-Christ. Way to be Jen.

My intellectual integrity – 
“Oh no they didn’t! They did not just haul out the most tired and ratty scripture sound bite out of context to try and shut me down and shut me up.”

I suffer from the delusion that if I just explain myself clearly enough, citing sound evidence and reason about how I got to a certain view of scripture, that people will accept it (and me). I’m so very cool if you hold a different view…just don’t ever, EVER, denounce me as wrong for holding mine unless you want a deluge of scripture references explaining their context and blog links to help make my point and justify myself. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that hardly anybody appreciates that the way I do, and that hurts and then starts the whole sick bitterness merry-go-round spinning again. I’m getting better about not buying a ticket for that ride, no matter how tempting it is to justify myself, but vanity is a true beast in this scene. It just can’t handle people accusing me of being wrong in the name of God on the internet.

THE PERFECT VULNERABLE STORM

All of my weakness and vulnerability is tied up and on display at Four Creeks, not the least of which my laziness and vanity. I had what amounted to round two of an emotional breakdown last month. Thankfully, it wasn’t anywhere as debilitating as round one had been right after we launched Easter 2012, but alarming enough for Jimmy to panic a little and text the older children, “Mom is losing it again guys…help?” Poor guy is just not okay when I’m not okay. I love him so.

Here we are almost three years in and in more dire straights financially than ever. We had some people leave. It was a long time in coming and it needed to happen, but it was still very, very scary. For the first time in all this I entertained the possibility that we just might be forced to fold this thing and quit at a time when the few faithful people we do have are beginning to really catch on and run with us. Oh how the bitterness welled up fresh out of me as I wrestled with that thought. I love these people and what we are doing together so, SO much. The thought of having to quit now after enduring so much was too much. Then the thought…what on earth would my life be like not being in ministry, not even going to church for that matter. I just couldn’t see myself going back into a traditional evangelical church setting ever again as a free person. That was mind blowing to consider.

I spent a few sleepless nights and a lot of tears trying to wrap my head around those possibilities. A lot of crying out to God these words, “What more do you want from me here? I’ve done everything I know to do, said everything I know to say and now slammed up against yet another wall. Seriously God, WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Silence.

Then the bitterness welled up in me more fierce than ever. “It shouldn’t have to be this hard. None of them see. None of them care.”  Jimmy was off driving for Uber in those awful wee hours. I was truly feeling tormented and utterly alone and unseen. In those toughest moments of panic came a whisper…

“I see you. Until that alone is enough for you, you’ll stay stuck.” 

The fog of fear lifted a few weeks ago, but it all made sense this morning when I realized it is my vanity that keeps God alone from being enough; His provision from being enough; His acceptance and love for me being enough. Vanity feeds off people providing those things, and my vanity, having been brutally kicked in the crotch, spawned quite the formidable bitterness monster. The only way to kill that nasty beast of SELF?

Faith.

Laziness and vanity have a hard time putting down roots in a life of faith. Faith perseveres and strains and sacrifices without need or desire for human recognition or approval. Faith is aiming for a much farther and grander target than instant gratification. And as my two biggest and oldest vices starve and wither the deeper in faith I dare to go, the more familiar I’m getting with the bravery and humility that are my new traveling companions.

I’m Right Here

I’m here. I’m here. I’m right here…and I am not well

 

Squatting in the ashes, scraping festering sores

And there you are…right there

Cold eyes deliberately unseeing

Cadaverous hearts, pickled and pristine

 

I would cherish any of you to sit with me where I am

Even as Job’s friends, whether mute or fumbling

To try and make sense of failure and despair

But no…you will not acknowledge me here

 

Denying my family – YOUR FAMILY – so much as a scrap

The affection and resources you lavish on dogs

Days became months turned to years spent right here

Silently screaming, staring at your backs turned…right there

 

I’m here. I’m here. I’m right here…and I am not well

 

 

Waking Up Outside the Cage

Although I have spent a lot of my life in jobs that require me to speak for God, I am still reluctant to do it for all kinds of reasons. In the first place, I have discovered that people who want to speak to me about God generally have an agenda. However well-intentioned they may be, their speech tends to serve as a means to their own ends. They have a clear idea about how I should respond to what they are saying. They have a clear destination in mind for me, and nine times out of ten it is not some place I want to go.

In the second place, too much speech about God strikes me as disrespectful. In the Upanishads, God is described as “Thou Before Whom All Words Recoil.” This sounds right to me. Anything I say about God will be inadequate. No matter how hard I try to say something true about God, the reality of God will eclipse my best words. The only reality I can describe with any accuracy is my own limited experience of what I think may be God: the More, the Really Real, the Luminous Web That Holds Everything in Place.

Even then, there is a good chance that my words will serve as an impediment for those who hear them. If “the Really Real” makes no sense to you, then you will have to find some way around that phrase before you can get on with your own description, which means that my speech about God has just done more to block your way than to open it. The only reason to accept such a risk is because most of us need to hear what other people say before we decide what to say about those same things ourselves.

From An Altar in the World; The Practice of Waking Up to God by Barbara Brown Taylor