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.

Talk To Me – A Book Review (and personal mantra)

As an introvert, the advent of social media has been huge for me, Facebook and blogging in particular. It’s where I’ve found my voice and strength, before which I was clueless that I possessed either. It’s also where I’ve found the best and most fulfilling social/spiritual connections.

Over the last 5 years, while my local church relationships have withered and died to almost nothing, my e-relationships have blossomed into a lush and vibrant garden where I thoroughly enjoy spending most of my time and energy tending to the souls of myself and others.

I recently had the opportunity to step out of the safety of my e-world to have coffee and a face-to-face chat with the one and only person on staff from Big Church willing to talk to me. Every other pastor and board member has long since chosen denial and silence after displaying severe and aggressive aversion to anything resembling humble and honest dialog.  But not Kristi.

She and I had never been friends in our years spent working in Big Church, which I regret quite a bit now having had the opportunity to finally see and hear and connect with one another just as I’m turning the last page on our life in Church World.  We spent a few very healing hours together simply being who we are and allowing each other the freedom to be honest about our experiences, struggles, dreams and aspirations. It was within that context that I managed to verbalize why I felt I had no choice but to fully disassociate from evangelical Christian doctrine and tradition.

I was experiencing the love of God and the freedom and encouragement to love my neighbor and myself everywhere BUT within this tribe, even as it aggressively insisted IT had the exclusive handle on God and all others were heretics and sinners – the “lost.”

It has been Mother Church itself that has insisted on persecuting and shunning those who actually attempt to live out what Jesus declared to be the greatest commandment that sums up the entirety of the law and the prophets, yet I see that law of love on full display in relationship with my LGBT (among whom are some of the best Christians I know), atheist, agnostic, Jewish, and Muslim friends. I have an intense desire to add even more diverse relationships to that list, but I’ve come to the realization that this is something Church World will never ever allow me to do.  So I’m officially and permanently severing those oppressive ties that bind in order to be free to go where the love is, wherever it is found.

FOUND IT, YA’LL!!

I spend a great deal of effort trying to keep my head above the putrid toxicity of political/religious rants and absurdly ignorant and arrogant memes that is often my Facebook newsfeed. With practice (and a great deal of epic failure), I’ve gotten a lot better at saying what I feel needs to be said with clarity and kindness. As a result, I’m instantly drawn like flies on poo to people I recognize are doing the exact same.

Qasim Rashid, an Ahmadi Muslim, is one such insta-beacon of light piercing the darkness of vitriolic dogma and hatred. I started following him on Facebook a couple months ago and was delighted and encouraged when my newsfeed started filling up with these gems –

  • Love for all, hatred for none.
  • Freedom of conscience for all people regardless of faith.
  • All people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or background, are children of God and all humanity should be cherished, nurtured, and elevated.
  • Recognizing the dire need for (and tragic scarcity of) humble servant leadership.
  • Crucial investment in support and education of children and protection of the oppressed.
  • Taking time to reflect on and learn from our past, especially our failures.
  • The importance of honest, respectful dialog and the sharing of our stories.

So when Qasim put out the call for bloggers interested in reviewing his new book Talk To Me; Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion, and Education, I jumped at the opportunity.

This book was entirely my jam because it consists of personal stories; about a third of them Qasim’s and the remainder from dozens of his friends and colleagues representing a veritable smorgasbord of religious and cultural backgrounds. I’ve always maintained that a personal story will eat doctrine and dogma for breakfast 100% of the time.

My absolute favorite example of this is from the Gospel of John where the religious leaders (the gatekeepers and witch hunters) interrogated the blind man Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. Rather than celebrating and marveling with a man blind since birth now blessed with sight, they ridiculously obsessed over Jesus’ heresy and “wrongness” of religion, picking apart every aspect of the miraculously healed man’s story until he blurted out, “Listen guys, I don’t know what to tell ya about this Jesus guy except once I was blind but now I see.”

I’d have to say I found the chapter of Qasim’s book written by an atheist advocating for the humanization of nonbelievers and the religious alike to be where all the narratives came together for me. I don’t care if someone credits Jesus (as I do), the Quran and the prophet Muhammad, Hinduism, Buddhism, humanism, any combination of or absolutely NO isms for their enlightenment. If the end result of any “ism” is the belief that the best we can do in this life is to do for others what we want for ourselves – THAT person shares my religion. THAT person is not only my brother/sister/mother/father, but THAT person is my partner and friend and someone I want to shoulder up with to move mountains (or at least a few piles of dirt) in whatever time I have left on this earth until I return back to it.

In an effort to move a tiny parcel of dirt, I’m asking each of my literally dozens of faithful readers to head on over to Amazon and buy a copy of Qasim’s book here  – Talk To Me; Changing the Narrative of Race, Religion and Education (and then read it, of course). Also please do me the favor of sharing this blog post on Facebook (sharing any of my blogs is like validation crack) and then do yourself a favor and follow Qasim on Facebook and Twitter @MuslimIQ.

Peeps of all persuasions, above all, whatever you do (or don’t do) double check your motivation and make sure it is love – never fear. That is the essence of our connection with each other and to whatever God there is.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love… No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – I John 4

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

 

 

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.

To Know Kindness

KINDNESS

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye – Palestinian-American poet

Purging

And again…you who remind me of my failures…please show me your consistent accomplishments that are my example to walk in.

Oh…what’s that? You just wanna show me my failures to pull me back into the bucket of do-nothing that you live in? Oh…sorry…I actually mistook your intention as something to bless…silly me. – Charissa Grace

I am consumed with this sentiment right now. My sister and litter mate knows this violent hemorrhaging intimately – death spilling out in waves as the darkest hidden places are finally exposed to light.

“Just keep letting the shit flow out…too long you ate it and harbored it in the name of serving Them and them…and now it needs to just get out.”

To which I replied, “Yes, I ate soooooooooo much…and it was never enough for them…never asked of me by Them. Purging, purging, purging…the shit I consumed for decades back into their do-nothing bucket. Here ya go people. Have it all.”

This is going to take a while, this phase. The worst and hardest part of a detox.

It’s a hell of a thing to break an addiction when pretty much everyone you’ve ever known is either a junky or a pusher/pimp with a vested interest in keeping you hooked and numb.

Reality (freedom) costs everything.

Friends

Livelihood

Reputation

Family

Comfort

Community

It’s the straight and narrow road so few are willing to acknowledge, much less travel – this death to everything, death to self and all its rights and judgments of wrongs.

It is the Way, the Truth and the Life. You want to know and commune with the ineffable? You must be ripped open and purged of everything that claims certainty and knowledge about anything concerning God. Absolutely everything. Consider the cost.

It’s really no mystery as to why we were so unpopular. That tends to happen when you focus exclusively on a Gospel that genuinely welcomes and pursues all the “wrong” people coupled with an invitation to follow Jesus into death in the most practical and applicable terms. Hardly anyone is up for that kind of disruption. It’s an absurd Good News to preach, and you will pay with your life if you do it with any kind of integrity.

I’m so envious of my friends who instinctively by nature know and engage the Goodness, if not necessarily the Name. It truly is a terrible thing to be chosen and elected, to see so clearly with no way to un-see, like Paul, who had no choice in the matter but to be a disciple of Jesus and pay the inherent cost.

But I do not envy those who know the Name, loudly praise the Name, aggressively defend the Name, arrogantly claim exclusive ownership of the Name yet callously trample Goodness underfoot.

You white washed tombs full of decaying corpses, you disgust and repulse me! I will not keep down the poison you force fed me for so long before beating and abandoning me. No, not for one second longer. I spew it all out now. Every drop. Wave after wave, it keeps coming up and out.

I spent my first official day of detox curled up on the floor behind my kitchen counter (not wanting my children to walk in on me) silently screaming and wailing and beating my forehead with my fist, “FUCK THEM ALL!”

Every one who plied us with vapid dishonest platitudes to our face but plotted our destruction behind the closed doors of the board room. FUCK YOU!

Every poison tongue who disparaged us and discouraged others from associating with us. FUCK YOU!

Every person who caused the weak and the vulnerable to suffer for their commitment to us, you who willfully and maliciously misled and planted seeds of confusion and doubt and guilt. FUCK YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than have to answer to God for what you’ve done to torment these little ones.

You with full knowledge of the burden put upon us; you who had the ultimate responsibility to care for us; you who had the power to stop it with one word; you who didn’t have the balls to do anything as the wolves encircled us and began tearing our flesh but somehow found some massive ones when I came crawling to you bleeding and begging for help – “Well, you brought this on yourselves. You must not have been praying enough.”

FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK YOU!

It’s a fine line between “fuck you” and “thank you.” The line was indistinguishable last night. Go ahead now and insert “thank you” for every “fuck you” above. (With the exception of tormenting and manipulating the vulnerable…gunna just leave that as a solid FU as Jesus seemed to think so too).

Tyrannical Church Biddies and Spineless Self-Preserving Duplicitous Figureheads, you have no idea what you’ve unleashed. The very thing you tried to silence and stamp out, whether directly or through neglect and starvation, is unstoppable now. Thank you, truly. I am free from decades of repression and destruction and lies. I am free to speak and to live and to love and there is absolutely nothing more you can do to me. It’s not like you can take anything else away from someone who’s been reduced to nothing. You can’t kill a dead person. And I’m ready, so ready to be dead to it all.

But first I must purge, forcing myself to feel every single thing as deep as it goes. Then up and out.

Thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul. Up and out. I will continue to purge until I am good and dead.  I can’t wait.

My Sister and all the right “wrong” people are waiting for me there.

The Future of JD