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.

I AM

Happy, Happy new year and a warm and massive cyber hug to all as we enter 2017. I’ll take and freely give all the hugs and love and kindness possible wherever they are found.

I’m going to use my first post of the new year to introduce myself as the new me that has actually always been. There are some things about me you should know to put everything I write going forward into some context. There was a time in my old life when I would have written separate blog posts for each of these things, explaining them in detail in the hopes of persuading people to at least respect what I see instead of shitting on me for it.

Life has radically changed for me, and ain’t nobody got time for that in the new life that is. So much shit has rained down on me that I now dance in it and make art rather than try to outrun it or hide, or worse, deny its existence or try to pretty it up to be something it’s not (LIE).

The old life was 25 years of marriage, 22 of those spent in evangelical christian ministry together, the last 5 of which we (Love of My Life and I) embarked on an exodus out of Church World to plant a funky little honest church ourselves that was doomed to “fail” from the start because it was one where any human of any persuasion, any belief or lack thereof, was welcome to participate, love and be loved as is. We gave up everything and ultimately ended up losing more than we’d ever imagined possible – our very lives together – though isn’t that exactly what Jesus said was the price to be considered? Anyhooo, that truly is for a separate blog post.

So, in the new life (whatever that’s now totally free to be), here’s a quick summation of my current (and fluid) theology/psychology/ideology/methodology around which everything I say and do emerges, and I care not one whit what anyone thinks of it. If you follow my writing for whatever reason, even if only as a vulture to feast on the carcass of my family to poop out as gossipy judgment (why would you stop now after the last 5 years of pecking away at our flesh before we were even fully dead?), knowing the following will at least put things in perspective:

  • All God talk is human talk. All we have are human ideas about God. The only experience we have of Whatever God There Is happens in the gray matter between our ears, individually. The second anyone tries to enforce any idea of God as absolute certainty is the second I smile politely and disengage. The second anyone does harm to others with their god-in-their-own-twisted-image certainty is the second I go into verbal smack down mode. I have no pride, shame or fear left in me to cause me to either shrink back or have any further need to self preserve, defend or explain myself. I’ve never been more confident and peacefully assured in my faith and absolute uncertainty than I AM now.
  • I have always had an awareness of and communed with Something Other both wholly outside myself and wholly inside myself that I learned to call God since my earliest memories, around age 3 or 4. It was always plural – a They – and there was a definite female component. I never thought to question it as it fit perfectly into my Tribe’s doctrines of the Trinity, with the exception of the female part. I’ve always gone against the grain of my tradition and personified the Holy Spirit as female, though also knew very early on to keep that shit to myself if I wanted the belonging and acceptance (which was THE most important thing to me) of my Tribe.
  • I AM is the identifier God gave Moses. Jesus invoked I AM for himself, and that’s good enough for me. I simply AM. What is, IS. God is existence. God is reality. To be who I AM with full integrity and to let everyone and everything BE what it IS without inserting my own desires and agenda for any of it is, to me, to engage, participate in, and BE the divinity that is inherent in being human.
  • I’ve always read and understood the bible for myself for what it is since childhood – and loved it. I never really found value in taking any of it literally, though I forced myself to suppress my true instincts and knowing in order, again, to be accepted by my Tribe. To question the “inerrant” literal truth of the bible meant brutal and immediate rejection. To do it as a girl at any age? Forget it. More shit I absolutely knew to keep to myself – even from myself until recent years.
  • Whatever meaning or “truth” to be found in life is in metaphor, patterns, echos, cycles, seasons…and the bible is my endlessly rich base source for the poetic language I use to tell my own story and I will continue to dive into and mine scripture in order to do so, now more than ever. But I am not bound or restricted by it. Sacred metaphor is absolutely everywhere and I call it when I see it, however, wherever it presents itself. “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” is echoed throughout all cultures, eras, ancients and contemporaries, poets, artists, children, old women, heathens and holy men alike – and I pay attention to them all. If I had life to do over, I’d be a professor of anthropology and religious studies. As a profession it’s not practical at this point, but the studying and going wherever my fascination takes me is just getting started. It is an exciting time to awaken and go after my own life.
  • I AM a Christian, an identifier I’ve decided to keep for myself alone and to myself alone without any further need to justify or explain my right or reason for doing so ever again. I identify my entire story, my entire life with Jesus and the birth/life/death/resurrection metaphor of his and the sharing in his sufferings of rejection and humiliation that I’ve gone all the way and lived out and will continue to cycle through until my last breath. Salvation and redemption are to be lived out HERE – NOW.

The above picture is me at age 7 (AKA the real Princess Leia), the last time I was the most me as I AM that I can remember before learning, as we all do, to shove the truth of my divine self down deep, believing that was the only way to be worthy of human love. I’ve missed that sweet nerd so much. Almost 40 years later, she’s back. She’s awake. She has surfaced, and she’s gunna rock the world.

My Life in Pictures

I held a funeral for my life, our life, in pictures yesterday. It was an odd but necessary few hours of letting go; odd in that I was the only one in attendance and, unlike most funerals where photos are brought out and displayed, I was permanently putting away and deleting.

One by one our smiling faces, snuggling bodies, tender stances of 25 years from the beginning to the end removed from digital memory and social media documentation. The “perfect” couple, the “perfect” family no longer on display. Some still exist as hard copies buried in boxes in the home where we built a life together and loved two more lives into existence. Some adorn the walls. They are yours now. Most have been deleted into nothingness, never to be seen again except in my mind’s eye where they can never be erased. It is where they belong and will forever remain as they were only ever truly mine to begin with  – my reality that I loved sharing with the world – until that world disintegrated.

I was happy in each one, a genuine permeating fullness kind of happy that I only feel when I’m close to you. Each and every picture of the two of us elicited dozens of glowing comments from friends and family.

Now, they are just mine. My mental timeline. My history. My reality. My truth. It was real. I was not pretending. That has never been who I am. I may miss the mark in mind boggling fashion much of the time…but I am inherently sincere, even in my greatest delusion and confusion.

No amount of evidence, pictures, words of truth written or spoken seem to make any difference in what you’ve made up your mind to believe, and you’ve never believed I was happy with you or ever could be. Yet you always liked our pictures together, telling me how beautiful I am when I’m happy. Well, you giant idiot, who was I with in the pictures being my most beautiful?

We woke up this morning at 3 a.m. to the first day of our new life having shed every last remnant of the old. We’re each free, Babe; free to create and present our lives as we wish going forward. If you want to take some new pictures of us together to have for yourself, all you ever have to do is ask…and I’ll be happy to be beautiful next to you. I’m going to be my own happy and my own beautiful regardless, but I’ll always want to be that with you. Always.

Coming Out

Hello from the other side.

I’ve been away from blogging for a bit as I’ve been undergoing the final stages of a massive life overhaul, “massive” being a bit of an understatement.

Here’s a list of things that if you’d told me even a year ago I’d be doing now I’d have laughed in your face or possibly slapped it:

  1. Terminating 20+ years as a professional christian.
  2. No longer identifying as christian, except when I do (more on that later).
  3. Getting a tattoo.
  4. Relocating to Tennessee after 30 years as a California resident.
  5. Living separate from my husband for an indefinite number of years.
  6. Changing my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat with the intent to vote for Hillary Clinton.
  7. Learning to be happy, confident, healthy and whole – mind, body, and soul – for the first time in my life (despite the majority of people I know being unable or unwilling to accept any of that to be possible considering numbers 1-6).

The process of coming out has been exactly that – a process – spread out over the last decade, the final fiery refining crucible in the last year. The years leading up to this big one were all about wrestling with my comfort and security lust to be able to get to the place of being willing to die to everything in order to see what remained  – what held true – after all that was consumable and expendable was burned away.

To contextualize my life in biblical metaphor (which I’ve always instinctively done since childhood), the last 10 years were my garden of Gethsemane where I agonized over whether or not I was willing, or even able, to go all the way. The last year was Good Friday to Easter Sunday, actually doing it and seeing it through to the end.

My first post-resurrection blog is an attempt to reveal the pure mustard-seed-sized gold nugget that remains now that the flames have subsided. I totally just mixed my metaphors there, but you’re with me, right? That’s all I ask, friend…that you stay with me without fear or agenda. Hear me. See me. Me is all I can be anymore and all I can give. That said, here’s all of me that remains after dying.

Oh Hey, I’m Ignostic

I’m a personality profile, self-reflection junkie. I’m obnoxiously obsessed with it, really. Perhaps this is over compensation for my personal lifetime baggage of believing my true self was not to be trusted or respected. Figuring out the real me and then loving her by honoring and trusting her has been the single most important thing I’ve done in this process. Realizing the futility of looking to any other human for my self worth, be it my parents, church people (gah, such disaster there!), or even my husband, was the second most important discovery. Though it’s natural to do so, it is unfair to the other person(s) and doomed to result in bitter disappointment and distract from the real work that only I can do in myself.

That’s why I get super excited when I come across words or ideas that perfectly explain what it is I’ve been feeling but haven’t yet been able to put together cohesively in my own mind, much less able to explain to anyone else.

The concept of ignosticism or igtheism was one such “Oh, there I am!” liberating discovery.

Here’s a boring wiki explanation, should you care to read http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ignosticism, but this is my take on it –

You might be more familiar with agnosticism, which claims nothing can be known about god’s existence, so the agnostic claims neither faith nor disbelief in god.

As an ignostic, one may claim genuine faith and spirituality based on personal experience (as I definitely do) but considers all god talk to be stupid, and by stupid I mean wholly inadequate to explain or quantify whatever god there is (my way of saying the “One True God”).

This very much includes my former tribe’s canonized god talk, the bible.

I no longer see the bible (though it was demanded I must) as “God’s Word.” I do see it as 100% the word of humans, gloriously representative of the complex mix of ridiculous, horrible, lovely, noble and sacred that we all are.

Am I calling the bible stupid and without value? Absolutely not. As I showed you above, the biblical stories, metaphors, and traditions are intricately intertwined into the tapestry of my life, from which I could no more untangle myself than I could unravel my own DNA…nor do I wish to.

Whatever honest human expression we create in regard to a conception of god is not stupid. It is holy and god-breathed in as much as a human made in Their image is. But to declare any of it to be absolute truth and to justify dehumanizing those who disagree CANNOT be God, and no matter how great the external pressure may be to conform, I will have no part in it. I’ve lived through (or rather ended up dying because of) so much human arrogance in the name of God.

Ironically enough, I take great comfort as I read the bible and see this cycle being played out over and over throughout the ages. There is nothing new under the sun. We have a long history of slaughtering prophets who dare challenge their culture’s iron-clad and bejeweled God Box, culminating in Jesus himself.

Sooooo, with this new perspective, I no longer entertain any thoughts or discussion regarding absolutes of “God is…” or “God says…” or “God wants…” but if a person is willing to engage in discussion centered on “what God is like” based on Jesus’ words and example, then I’m more than happy to engage.

The only absolute god talk that has any value to me is –

Whatever God there is, IS (I AM). God is Love. 

The only practical application (religion) I’m left with then is –

I AM in God’s image as a human. The only way to experience God is through my humanity. To worship/commune with/experience God is to cherish and honor the divine I AM that I am and the divine humanness of my neighbor. 

The quickest way to get me to disengage is to get angry and aggressively defensive with this very personal conclusion, as it is the only thing that remains after the inferno as my mustard seed nugget of faith and hope. If the simplicity of this so unhinges you, then you cannot handle ME, nor will I give myself over to you to be handled.

Heaven, Hell, afterlife? I don’t the fuck know, and – this is important now – neither do you, your grandma, your pastor, any preacher or teacher (celebrity or otherwise), religious tradition or any human that has ever lived and died on this planet, not even and especially the ones who wrote/edited/compiled/translated the writings a fraction of us in time and space call the bible.

You can tribe up around whatever god talk in which you find value and I won’t try to talk you out of it or think less of or belittle you (THAT would be stupid), but the only way for me to be now, on the other side, is tribeless – cage free.

Which begs the question:

Am I a Christian?

Hmmm, it’s complicated. I guess it depends on who wants to know and why. I know for a fact that I’m disqualified from being considered a “true Christian” by my former evangelical tribe’s standards. I’m well acquainted with the parameters of that particular God Box, and I definitely don’t fit within its confines. I tried stretching my legs within that box, but the tribe would have none of it. Rather than even consider doing a little remodeling to accommodate natural growth, they shoved me out and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not accepted there, for which I’m exceedingly grateful.

I’d spent so many years contorting and distorting myself in order to fit within that God Box that I honestly thought that muted and mutilated version of myself WAS my true self. I don’t think anything less than being ejected from that world would have gotten me out in the open and free. I was disoriented and in tremendous pain at first, but now I’m hitting my stride. The possibilities are wide open before me and I’m free to roam. Every once in a while someone within the box tries to shame me back in. It’s getting easier to just smile and say, “Nah Bro, I’m good, peace out” then continue to explore freely rather than waste any energy arguing about boxes.

But do I identify as a Christian anymore? Sometimes. Sometimes not. The week before we moved, my youngest son came down with strep throat. In the emergency room at 2 a.m. the clerk taking down our information asked about religious preference/affiliation in the event of a hospital admission and need for a chaplain. I paused for a second and then did what would have been unthinkable at any point prior in my life. I declined to identify as Christian and answered “none”…and it felt so deliciously right.

It took me a second to realize I had a big stupid grin on my face and how weird that must have looked, but that’s just it; no one cared. Nothing happened. No lightening bolts from the sky. No one jumped from around the corner to revoke my christian membership card.

Instead, a peace that made no sense, especially considering I was in the ER in the wee hours with a sick child days before moving, washed over me as I just let it BE what it IS, which in that moment truly was none, nothing, nada. I’ll have to do a separate blog on this sweet revelation and release into nothing and how I’ve never felt more connected to Whatever God There Is there.

Believing Jesus

On the other hand, I’ve never been more grounded in my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, so in that respect I am solidly and wholeheartedly Christ-ian. Again, the irony is great, but it is the shedding of all doctrines requiring specific beliefs about Jesus as being necessary for a get-out-of-hell-free card that would have most Christians I know refuse to consider me one of them. That used to bother me…a lot. I got over it.

It’s much easier now that I’m living in a place where no one knows my story and no one filters my identity through the labels of “pastor” “church” or “christian.” I get to approach each new relationship on my own terms, revealing what I choose to reveal about myself organically, no longer imposed upon and controlled by a system that tells me who and how I must be.

I’m free to believe Jesus without restriction and in full integrity as fearfully-wonderfully-made divine human me; free to live in and act out of the Great Truth of who I AM while upholding the sacred worth of every human who crosses my path without judgment or defensiveness.

What’s in a Name?

At one point I seriously debated whether or not to rename this blog, dropping any trace of “christian.” I also considered whether or not I wanted to (or should) continue to be the administrator of a FB group I started, Beautiful Rowdy Christian Bloggers

When I died, my appetite to convince anyone with god talk died as well, and much of what was being posted didn’t jive with me anymore. I don’t fit in the Progressive Christian God Box either, though that one is roomier, constantly being redecorated, and usually worth visiting from time to time, but I won’t be taking up residence there. It was the posts from fellow beautiful, rowdy prisoners struggling to be free of all boxes and find their footing on the outside that convinced me to stay.

Ultimately, I decided to retain the label of Christian, however loosely, whether anyone else thinks I have the right to it or not. It is no longer the unbearable, ill-fitting burden it once was. It was necessary and good for me to drop it completely for a little while, and Jesus never once balked or told me to get back in the box.

No. This is who was waiting for me just on the other side of death (gunna leave ya with yet another metaphor based on Matt 11:30) –

“Hey Girl, been waiting for you out here. Give me that ill-fitting burden you’ve been carrying for so long. It was never meant for you. Rest now and recover. When you’re ready, I’ve got a custom-made pack that fits you just right and is light enough to run with.” 

Be sure to check out David Dietz’s blog about God in a Box here. It was a major “Oh, there I am!” epiphany for me when I knew I was ready to start running again.

Peace out, Peeps of All Persuasions. You’re inherently beautiful and worthy. Do whatever you have to do to stay rowdy and running free. You are not alone.


*Inconsistency in capitalization of “christian” and “god” throughout this writing is deliberate and not a whole lot of typos. If I feel it, I capitalize. If I don’t, I don’t, no matter what formality dictates I should. I’m letting whatever IS BE regarding all things personal god talk.

Jimmy & Jennifer, a Beautiful Rowdy Love Story 2.0 – The Camping Trip

It might sound a little bragish, but I think our marriage is exceptionally great. There isn’t a single couple I’ve ever envied and thought, “Gosh, I wish our relationship was like theirs.” Not that I haven’t been miserable and desperate for change in my own at times, but I have always considered the one I have worth fighting and even dying for.

We’re also more than a little ridiculous together and we’ve accumulated a whole lot of NOT EASY in our 25 years of being hitched, but this is precisely what makes us so great together.  We’ve managed to navigate some insanely treacherous territory as the perfectly dysfunctional hot mess we are. As I write this, we are bracing ourselves for yet another trip through the wringer, this one likely to stretch us beyond recognition into something quite different.

Painful as that sounds (and is), it’s more or less been our normal every few years. Several years ago I documented the first traumatic rodeo we experienced as newlyweds (Jimmy and Jennifer – A Beautiful Rowdy Love Story) and I was blown away at the response it received. Turns out when you dare to expose yourself with that degree of raw vulnerability, a lot of people feel relieved and free to say “Me too! I thought I was the only freak who couldn’t get their shit together!”  I also understand it can be rather unsettling for those not ready to release their tightly-clenched turds or admit they even have any.

But for those who are up for another installment of the shit show that is Jimmy + Jennifer, come gather ’round the fire and snuggle up to your significant other as I recount more of our ancient history and what has become the great metaphor of our marriage…

THE CAMPING TRIP

It was spring break 1993, just a few months before I would graduate from college and all hell would break loose in our fledgling marriage. All I knew at that point as a grossly naive 22-year-old with 18 months of matrimony under my belt was that I hardly ever saw my husband, had no social life, and was very unhappy. So when Jimmy suggested we get away together for a couple days of camping in the Mojave desert where he grew up (and where we’d fallen in love 3 spring breaks before), I was thrilled.

Day 1: Trusting Jimmy that he knew what he was doing being on his home turf, we drove to the top of a mountain that overlooked a desolate valley and the Colorado River in the distance. The plan was to hike down the mountain and camp by the river, so we stuffed our backpacks with as much bottled water as we could carry, leaving more behind in the car. I asked Jimmy if he thought we had enough. He assured me that even if we ran out we could refill at the river. I wasn’t OK with the thought of drinking river water, even boiled, but Jimmy assured me we’d be fine.

As we peered down the mountain, one side had a relatively smooth, direct trail leading from a transmission tower at the top down to the base. The other was covered in large boulders. We headed down the side without the trail because – OF COURSE WE DID.

By the time we reached the bottom after an hour of slowly lowering ourselves rock by rock, fully loaded with gear on our backs, our thighs were absolutely destroyed, but as young seemingly indestructible 20-somethings we laughed it off and started hobbling in the direction of the river…at least as far as we could tell since we couldn’t see it once we were on the valley floor.

I asked  Jimmy how we would know we were staying on track. He told me we’d find one of the many washes once we got closer and follow it down to the river. I thought a compass would have been a safer bet, but hey, I’d trust the guy who grew up running around in this dirt.

We spent the rest of the afternoon happily walking and talking and exploring, Jimmy reminiscing about growing up a desert rat. As it started to get late with no river in sight, we decided to set up camp for the night and hopefully reach it the next morning and spend that day and next night by the water. Though it wasn’t blistering hot (yet), April was still plenty toasty weather, and a refreshing dip in the river and resting my super sore legs for the day sounded mighty fine to me.

That night under a blanket of stars, and nothing else, just as Jimmy and I were getting down to romantical business, a large fleet of Apache helicopters descended low and began thundering across the valley directly over our heads before we could do much of anything to cover up. I’m sure if there were any young Marines who noticed us they enjoyed the show.

Day 2:  We set out early eager to find the river and have a day of play and rest from hiking. Jimmy suggested we descend into and follow the nearest wash which would surely lead us there quickly. An hour passed…two…three…four. Our water was running low. I increasingly kept suggesting we give up on the river entirely, but Jimmy was insistent. We had to be almost there. We finally stumbled onto a road and another hiker who was able to tell us the river was still a good 5 miles away and our path had been running parallel to it.

Jimmy’s reaction: Great! We’ll follow this road and be there in a few more hours.

Me: @*&#%?????

Jimmy: Fine. You stay here, I’ll RUN to the river and bring back water.

After unleashing another steady stream of expletives and screeching he’d do no such thing, I sat down in the dirt and refused to move. I was taking over this operation. We were going to stop, set up camp for the night, ration our water and head straight back for the mountain first thing.

Night 2, instead of romantical shenanigans, there was only seething silence and restless tossing and turning, trying hard not to think about the 10-mile hike back that awaited us the next morning or the 2 remaining 16 ounce water bottles that were going to have to be enough to get us through.

Day 3:  We started out as early as we could to get as much walking in the cool of the day as possible, waiting as long as we could in between tiny sips of water. The only positive was being able to clearly see the mountain we were headed to and knowing an oasis awaited us at the top. By the time we finally reached the base of the mountain, we’d long since run out of water and were dangerously thirsty. We slowly began the tortuous ascent up the long, steep trail on the opposite side from which we’d initially come down.

Even though my legs and throat were screaming, I got a sudden boost of energy and moved briskly.  The end was in sight, dammit, but Jimmy was failing. At about the half way point, he lay down unable to go any farther, dangerously dehydrated and risking heat stroke. It was up to me to make it to the top and get the water.

What followed was probably the longest 15 minutes of my life. I’d never experienced such desperate thirst, and I hope to never do so again. About 2/3 of the way someone’s old Big Gulp cup tossed on the side of the trail cruelly mocked me.

As I approached the summit with relief just a few more yards away, a horrible thought struck me. What if for some reason the car wasn’t there? What if someone had stolen or confiscated it? Suddenly the hope that had been giving me almost superhuman endurance was sucked right out of me and replaced by terror.

As I rounded the last bit of the hill full of dread and the summit came into view, I was startled to see the entire mountaintop crawling with Marines. The Boys had used our mountain to set up operations for their desert training drills.  And there was our car, right where we’d left it, except now surrounded by military vehicles buzzing about. As I stumbled through the surreal scene toward the car, a cute guy in desert camouflage gave me a cheerful, “hello ma’am” and continued on his way. I tore open the trunk and inhaled at least 3 bottles of water, letting the relief wash into and over me. It felt like heaven to finally sit down and take my time with bottle number 4.

But crap! Jimmy was still half way down the hill. I suppose I could have asked a Marine to help me go get him. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask the cute one. I did actually contemplate rolling some bottles down the hill rather than have to go back down there.  After a very deeeeeeep sigh, I put my backpack in the trunk, tucked a few bottles of water under my arm and reluctantly headed back down the hill, my thighs loudly protesting being forced to do the downhill thing again.

Once Jimmy got a bit of hydration, he perked up enough to walk to the top, but I had to carry his pack. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking on that second climb, but I imagine it was something along the lines of,”‘Let’s go camping’ he said. ‘It’ll be fun’ he said…grumble, grumble…City Slicker wife had to save Mr. Desert Expert Sissy la-la Pants.”

I then drove us down the mountain to the nearest town where we stopped and eagerly consumed a bunch of Carl’s Jr. cheeseburgers in stunned silence, until Jimmy piped up, “That was a great trip.”

Sigh…was it too late to go back for that Marine?

We Are Who We Are

We learned some things about ourselves and each other on that camping trip and have watched them play out time and again in our relationship over the years.

Jimmy values the big picture, not so much the details. We went camping, we came back. It was an adventure. That’s a win in his book and the experience itself is the reward and totally worth it.

The details are where I live so that we CAN live. They matter to me, and it’s good that they do. But I can lose sight of the big picture quite easily and without his adventurous yin to my play-it-safe yang, I’d miss out on much of the richness of the human experience if left to my own devices.

I never would have initiated going camping. Never would have seen the breathtaking view from the top of the mountain. Never would have made love under the stars. Never would have learned what a complete badass I can be when pushed to the brink.

Being extremely intuitive, Jimmy is a brilliant dreamer and a fantastic implementer but rarely has any kind of exit strategy.

I’m horrible at planning or initiating, and I’ll commit loyally (to a fault) to his plans and often marvel at his genius, but it usually falls on me to recognize when we’ve hit the end of the road and I simply can’t and won’t go any farther. Then, and only then, do I  assert myself and pull the plug.

We do our fair share of butting heads along the way, me fixated on the details, him with an eye on the big picture. To carry the camping trip metaphor into what we are facing right now, we’ve been in the thick of it for the last year.

I went into our latest big adventure of planting and pastoring Four Creeks Church with Jimmy with my whole heart and soul, fully trusting in his plan, and its conception and implementation were truly brilliant. But no amount of good intentions or brilliant planning could save us after we were abandoned by the church that sent us out, left in the desert to fend for ourselves with very little water. We eeked out an existence for as long as we could, but our resources eventually dwindled down to nothing. We kept walking thinking surely the river was right around the bend…but no. Relief just wasn’t going to materialize no matter what we did.

Jimmy and I are ridiculously stressed and have been for an extended period of time. We’re butting heads dealing with it the only way we can…as ourselves. True to form I pulled the plug on Four Creeks. I pushed through so much for so long until I simply could not take another step. I also realized I could not continue to live in this town, this desert, where we’ve been utterly despised and rejected. I need my family, my children, my parents – my oasis – and I have to get to them to live.

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It’s me this time who’s stalled out half way there and it’s Jimmy who’s going to do more than just climb the mountain for me – he’s gunna sacrifice himself and move the damn thing.  He’s masterminding and financing my exit strategy and rebirth.

I’m relocating to Nashville in a few short months with our 2 youngest to be near our 2 oldest college kids. I’m going to be living right around the corner from my parents when I’ve never before lived within driving distance of them my entire adult life.

Jimmy is going to stay behind in California to work and recover financially from the last few years – in the desert alone without the comfort and affection of his family. We don’t know for how long…at least a year, probably 2.

And once I get out there, I’m going to have to get in touch with my inner badass once again. I’m going to have to figure out how to do things on my own I never felt capable of or allowed myself to do before without my yin and Jimmy without his yang, but for the first time ever I’m going to have abundant resources and support to figure it out.

I suppose most couples go on a cruise or something for their 25th anniversary. We’ll be spending ours 2000 miles apart, ’cause that’s just how the shit show that is our life seems to roll.

Even so…I don’t regret a minute with this man. Not a one. The big picture, the views from the mountain I’ve experienced together with him are breathtaking, as is making love to him under the stars. Every aching muscle, every scarcity, sacrifice and near-death experience is more than worth it for this adventure.

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.

The Practice of Encountering Others

“We have just enough religion to make us hate one another” Jonathan Swift once observed, “but not enough to make us love one another.” Because we are human, which is to say essentially self-interested, we are always looking for ways to add a little more authority to our causes, to come up with better reasons to fight for what we want than “Because I want it, that’s why.” If we can convince ourselves that God wants it too–even if that means making God in our own image so we can deny the image of God in our enemies–then we are free to engage in combative piety. We are free to harm others not for our own reasons but in the name of God, which allows us to feel holy about doing it instead of just plain bad.

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What we have most in common is not religion but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get–in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing–which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery. The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.

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Excerpts from An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

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

Dying to Live and Love

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Boom. There it is. Plain words not shrouded in parable. Jesus gave the Pharisees what they asked for – a definitive “rule” to follow to be right with God.

I know, I know…we much prefer our Jesus as either a precious mute baby lying in a manger or as the silent slaughtered lamb on the cross, guaranteeing a ticket to heaven for those who will believe and confess just the right things about him. But there’s a lot of stuff he said and did in between that I’m just now seeing and hearing and allowing to infiltrate my being for the first time despite a lifetime in church world, half of that being spent in ministry and leadership myself. WTF have I been doing for the past 20 years and what bible have I NOT been actually reading to understand?


If Jesus is to be believed (which I suspect matters infinitely more than being believed in), loving God with my whole being is intrinsically linked to demonstrating love for my neighbor, and love for my neighbor, regardless if they look, live, or think like me (Luke 10:25-37), is defined by how I love myself.


I confess now to anyone who will listen how horribly I have failed in following this supreme two-fold commandment. It was not for lack of genuine desire to know and love God. It was not for lack of being raised by sincerely-motivated and exceedingly wonderful family (biologic and church) in a life centered around “right” worship of God.

What has been lacking is the ability to perceive the Great Truth – that I AM inherently loved, acceptable, whole, belonging and worthy. My ability to see and live in reality has been obscured and distorted by the Great Lie – that my default position is in no way lovable, acceptable, worthy or belonging untilor unless(fill in the blank with whatever “rule” or “fix” matches your particular brand of dysfunction).

In short, I’ve been duped into hating myself, berating myself, mutilating and debasing myself and trading the truth that God declares me Very Good for the lie that I am never, ever good enough and must exhaust myself to compensate for and mask my inadequacy.

Out of that self loathing comes all manner of resenting, judging, dismissing, degrading, and dehumanizing my neighbor, especially the ones who attempt to cover their shame in different ways than mine. Grape leaves? Psha! Everyone knows you’re supposed to use fig leaves. Cause BIBLE SAYS.

It’s been a hard, hard wean when you’ve been raised on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil while being told it was the Tree of Life. The girl who has depended on that fruit for her survival and justification and “rightness” must starve and DIE if she wants to truly live.

She’s almost there. Dying is an ugly, desperately lonely business fraught with discouragement and temptation to quit and resume the old life of comfy, shiny deception where there’s plenty of company.

The last few years as I’ve honed in on this eternal Great Truth that IS, and has always been, in plain sight, the Great Lie has shrieked and swirled menacingly in an attempt to intimidate and distract me from the invitation to taste and see that the Lord is Good. “Don’t touch! Don’t taste! Don’t move! You will surely DIE!” So loud and persuasive but ultimately powerless and impotent.

Shut up, Satan (whether you come at me as Peter did to discourage Jesus in the form of pastors, parents, best friend or an entire church community) of COURSE I’m gunna die. That’s the whole point. I’m certain that in most cases you actually do care for me the way you do yourself, but that’s kind of the problem right there. You only have in mind the things of man and not of God. Your “reasonable” ideas of self preservation and success are a stumbling block and a dangerous trap. If you yourself won’t go with me, I understand…but get behind me and let me get to it.

Going all the way – myself – is the only way. The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Whoever wants to follow Jesus must deny their own justification, take up their own cross, and follow him into death. If I want to find my life I have to lose it. Only then do I have the capacity to love myself, my neighbor, and therefore God, in reality with my whole being as a whole person.

The Greatest Commandment on which everything hangs starts with this – I must resist the Great Lie in order to love myself…and the backwards way through requires self sacrifice and suffering. Jesus led the way and walks it again in me now.

The Truth does set us free, but we’ve got to be willing to die to everything else that encompasses the Great Lie first.

After a long season of starvation and death, it’s time for me to nourish and live. Coming up next, a much needed Love Letter to Myself from the only voice that gets to tell me the truth of who I AM. The lies have been allowed to have their way in me for far too long, keeping me from loving others, and therefore God, well.  See ya on the other side.

Dreams of Rejection

My dearest silly little Love, why are you crying now that you are solidly on the path with Me with both feet? I was totally up front with you that this is the straight and narrow road so many ignore in favor of the wide and glitzy one. Why do you grieve and mourn that you were rejected and maligned and abandoned for pointing to and following Me? This has always been exactly the gig I call anyone who can and will to accept…and you did! I’m overjoyed and ridiculously proud of you.

Rejoice, you darling girl! Dance, sing, celebrate on this road together with Me! You are swimming in more gorgeous fruit and abundant life than you’ll ever know what to do with.

Dreams of Rejection