The Dam is Broken

There are two forms of courage in this world. One demands that we jump into action with our armor on. The other demands that we strip ourselves bare-naked and surrender. Bravery is a curious thing.

From “Spiritual Graffiti” by Jeff Brown

Open vulnerability has always been my natural flow. Boldly asserting myself, not so much. The result? A mighty river was dammed up and exploited to the point of stagnation and near death.

It’s been 15 years since I cried out in desperation to Whatever God There Is, asking Them if I’d ever experience true freedom and love in all fullness. They promised I would but that it would be at a terrible price and asked if I was willing. I said yes.

From that moment on, the river began to flow again, gradually increasing in strength and filling the massive reservoir behind the dam. I’ve waited in faith for Them to reveal when to blow up the man-made restraining barrier and reclaim my natural intuitive flow as everything I AM. That time is now.

Everyone who lived comfortably downstream at my expense has been given ample warning and freedom to move on into whatever life they want for themselves apart from me.

Mixed Messages

A composite of mixed messages I’ve received over my lifetime as a female.

BE PRETTY. No, be prettier. Whatever you have to do at all times to be prettier…unless we feel intimidated and want to justify indulging our own insecurities or we’re just not in the mood to exercise self-control or basic kindness. Then it’s on you for showing off too much pretty. Be just attractive enough to where you are effortlessly pleasing to look at and a fine prop to make US look and feel good.

BE SMART, but don’t you dare think. Always work to be smarter, but DO NOT show us just how smart you are, cuz ya know…that intimidation thing again. You want to be liked, don’t you?  Use your smarts to figure out how to show just enough smarts without being too smart and you’ll be fine. Don’t ever expect us to work to understand you. Dumb it down for us without making it look like you’re dumbing it down for us. Here, we’ll help you by putting you down. Then, as you’re scraping yourself off the floor, everyone can see you having to come up to our level. There’s a smart girl.

BE STRONG. Come on honey, don’t play the victim. Show us whatcha got…except when it challenges us in any way, then you’re a mean bitch.

BE HONEST. We applaud this wonderful virtue, but not when you expose parts of yourself that aren’t pretty or are (again) too smart or too vulnerable. Some of that spotlight might accidentally shine on the rest of us, threatening to expose our dark and messy places. We can’t have that, darlin’. Yes, be honest, but learn to recognize when that shit becomes an inconvenience and threat to our agenda, and then be a good girl and shut the fuck up.

WORK HARD. We’re perfectly happy to take every last drop of your soul. Just start pouring and don’t ever stop. We’ll dictate exactly what and how, and when we dump a shovelful of shit on your head, we expect you to smile and accept our criticism like a shower of rose petals. We’ll think you’re wonderful (if we think of you at all) as long as you remain that steady, quiet, compliant Good Girl and keep producing for us. But the minute you trip or fall or die and can’t anymore? Well, that’s on you, stupid girl. Shame on you for not being enough to meet our expectations or having what it takes to stand up under the weight of all we projected on you.

Make us uncomfortable in any way and we can instantly paint you into the insane, ugly, stupid, arrogant, ungrateful bitch we need you to be. One word. One second. That’s all we need. Remember that.

Now, go be the pretty, smart, courageous, industrious woman of integrity God intended you to be!

Or else.

Shut Up and Sing

Originally written and posted September 2016, a month before plunging into full awareness and the fight for my life and the lives of my children.

I made my bed, and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets, and I don’t mind saying
It’s a sad, sad story
When a mother will teach her daughter
That she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world
Can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Saying that I better
Shut up and sing
Or my life will be over? – Dixie Chicks

Once upon a time, we were offered 6 figures to climb the corporate church ladder and be entertainers in an even bigger and better church than we were already in. We turned it down. It’s quite a story from there.

The short of it, the second we stopped singing at the church we’d remained loyal to in order to minister with integrity, they broke every promise they’d given of support, disowned and ghosted us, leaving our family of 6 hanging with nothing.

We kept our baby church alive as best we could for 3 years right under the shadow of the Big Bro Church. I’ve really got to hand it to them. They were (and continue to be) absolutely amazing at pretending not only that we don’t exist, but that we never did.

Jimmy is still there. I couldn’t take it another second and fled to where the love is with my family.

So imagine, if you will, what it was like for us last summer, as we were making the tough decision to put our church baby on hospice, when my husband received a text from the former boss who’d wanted us so badly 5 years prior, demanding he silence his wife.

I was saying dangerous and heretical things.

Here I was thinking I was nothing to no one. Turns out I was a very Scary Girl.

Alright Bros of God…you only want to hear my voice if it’s singing?

Here ya go.

Scary Girl lyrics

First of a Thousand

“I WANT TO BE HEARD!” I roared, slamming my fists on the bed. It was November 2012 and we were pastors…or at least about to be. My then husband of 21 years and father of our 4 children had just asked me what I wanted. It was not the first time, and wouldn’t be the last, he would ask me this question, but it was the first time I’d ever responded with such force and raw honesty. It obviously shook him, which struck me as odd. He was always so fucking sure of himself and aggressively went after whatever HE wanted. How could it be that my daring to do the same was perceived as a threat, especially when all I wanted was to have a voice and a say in our future as a family? The fear in his eyes was unmistakable.

At the time, I suffered from the massive delusion that humans are mostly rational creatures (we are not) and that if I was able to clearly explain the reality of my experience, the powers that be within Church World would understand the harm they were causing my family and be motivated out of love to stop (they did not).

I have a thousand tales to tell of my rise out of a lifetime of exploitation and abuse within Evangelical Church World and my 25-year marriage to a malignant narcissist. Eight years ago, my conscience clawed its way to the surface and demanded to be heard. Today, it demands of me to speak out against the current plague of genocidal sociopathy terrorizing us all and to give voice to victims of domestic abuse – which, under the current fascist regime, is every American.

The biggest challenge for me over the last four years has been to wait in faith for Her (my intuition/Whatever God There Is) to give the green light as to when and how to begin to tell my story. “When” became clear upon the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “How” to unravel and share enough information to fill several books is to simply begin and say what happened.

I was born and raised within a system that insisted its ideas of God were absolute truth. I learned very early on as a child that to exercise autonomy or freedom of thought or expression brought out fear, anger and condemnation from those I loved and trusted most. This is the root of my super codependent skill of stuffing my honest self deep down so as not to make waves or cause anyone the slightest bit of inconvenience or discomfort.

As a teenager, I managed around this by compartmentalizing. I dutifully complied with home and church life with my parents, but school and my social life away from them was my own. I spoke as I pleased, engaged in relationships as I pleased, and found I preferred the company of *gasp* non-Christians. I was most happy and self-fulfilled then. But I would soon discover “the system” that considered my personal freedom of mind, body and soul to be a threat extended well beyond Church World and permeated everything and everyone.

My autonomous safe haven and all its gains were wiped out on my 18th birthday by a fledgling narcissist Lost Boy. It is the most important story I have to tell when the time is right, but for purposes of overview…

The Lost Boy was enraged when I dared to take a stab at being single and unattached to any boy, and he took it upon himself to make me pay with a gaslighting intimidation and triangulation assault that utterly crushed and disabled me. I was coerced into dating his sycophant buddy who I barely knew and had no interest in.

That boy was nice enough and not a monster himself, but he wasn’t good to me either and not at all what I wanted. The Lost Boy had me convinced that I was selfish and entitled and had been responsible for the conflict and that I would destroy this boy if I broke up with him. I saw no way out. I spent the last four months of my senior year of high school shut down and numb to my own reality, torn away and isolated from my true friends. I lost myself right under everyone’s noses and no one could see it.

The boy I never wanted to be with would die just a few months later. He fell asleep at the wheel returning to his college after a surprise (uninvited and unwanted) visit to see me at mine.

The trauma left me primed and ready for the next tag team of narcissist Lost Boys to descend like vultures on road kill. By very deliberate design, I couldn’t recognize them as such. I thought I was safe. I thought they were my saviors. I was at a Christian college and it was an older Christian boy who set my heart on fire.

As this particular brand of Monster is SO adept at doing, my shockingly-soon-to-be-husband along with his sidekick minion secured me with blinding speed. He proposed to me on the one-year anniversary of my previous boyfriend’s death. We secretly married in Vegas only four months after that on my 20th birthday. The red flags of his misbehavior waved furiously in the subsequent months between Vegas and our “official” very pretty, churchy church wedding. Had we not already been legally married, I probably would have had the courage to not go through with it. But, here I was again feeling like I had no choice and no way out.

The first two years of marriage while living on campus at our Christian school were marked by my husband’s meth-fueled frenzy of infidelity, neglect, and financial abuse right under my nose where I couldn’t see it. I will have much to say in later writings about what mind-fuck wizards these Monsters are at doing that.

The day I finally did see and knew I had to leave him, he hoovered me back in with the ultimate con. He “repented” and “left his life of sin” to become my hero and a Bro of God in Church World in his home town.

Fast forward four children and two decades of ministry together, and it unraveled exactly as it had begun but with infinitely more at stake. Substance abuse, infidelity (criminal in nature), financial and sexual abuse…brought into my house, triangulating and manipulating his own children and enabled by his network of minions – the Bros and Biddies of God – right under my nose where I couldn’t see it.

Except I DID…see it, know it, feel it every minute of every day since I lost myself at 18 years old. But I couldn’t afford to acknowledge or bring it to the surface until my children and I were safely 2000 miles away from him and the entire system of abuse that was backing him up. She (my intuition/Whatever God There Is) knew he would kill us all if I confronted and exposed him directly and there was no one who was going to believe me.

And so ends the first of a thousand stories I will tell.

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.

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.

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

All The Way

Go all the way…

That’s all They’ve given me – this Invitation to Die.

Be careful what you ask for in earnest, Child.

They will give you the desires of your heart. They’ve always made Good on Their Word.

Will I even recognize it?

Maybe the falling is all there is on this side of life.

What I mistook for arrival was a series of ledges.

Just enough time to catch my breath after having the wind knocked out of me.

Then…another free fall into intangible.

I’ve flinched and flailed in the darkness, losing my grip on ALL THE THINGS.

Now?

I anticipate nothing.

Done grasping.

Done fighting.

Done blaming.

Done explaining.

Done asking.

Done.

There is only nothing.

Falling.

Release.

There’s no way back, Child.

You crossed that threshold long ago when you asked for this.

Don’t try to resurrect yourself. You’ve come this far.

Now go all the way.