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.

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

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

 

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This is my excited face

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

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Exhibit A: Flaunting the Frump

Free Willy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Any Which Way But Jesus – Live From Israel

So first things first – TECHNOLOGY!! I don’t know ’bout the rest of ya’ll, but I’m old enough to remember life without the internet. As a kid I remember thinking how cool it would be if we could talk to people remotely with video screens like they did on the Jetsons (and pretty much anything set in the future). I’m ready for teleportation now, please…that and I want to go back and experience college with internet, cellphones, apps and laptops.
As my oldest two children have been off rockin’ their first years of college out in Nashville, I’ve talked to them more regularly (and intimately) and have literally seen more of what goes on in their lives than when we were all under the same roof thanks to texting, Snapchat, Instagram and video chat. We even have our own private family Facebook group on which they occasionally post to humor their old mom and dad.So you can imagine my delight yesterday morning being able to video chat with my daughter who is half way around the world studying abroad in Israel, Turkey and Greece.I knew she was headed for a monumental broadening of her perception, and I was even pretty sure at what point it would happen. What I didn’t expect was the gift of being right there with her in it as it happened. Thank you, technology, for allowing me to be with my girl as she processed an intense spiritual/life epiphany…and thank you, God, for a daughter who wanted/needed her mother to be with her in that moment.

Us Dickensons are weird like that. We dig the profound and personal and often turn to each other when the rest of life seems determined to stay solidly entrenched in the cheap and artificial. That’s how we’ve always functioned and survived as a family of faith in ministry.

WALKING IN JESUS’ FOOTSTEPS…MAYBE

When my daugher’s lovely face magically appeared on the device I held in my hand (seriously people, where is my flying car?), it was instantly obvious to me as her mother; she was diving deep into something that was going to take some work to be able to articulate.

“So…*sigh*” our conversation began, “we’re on what…day 5 of this trip? It feels like it’s been 5 weeks.”

Kathryn went on to say how much she loved her new friends and traveling companions, the leaders and the tour guides and what a great time she was having…but…she was realizing an accelerated shift in her understanding was happening and she would never again be the same from this point going forward.

“Aaaaaand…I have to somehow write my experience down in this.” she said as she held up the daily journal the students are required to write in for the course. I smiled and nodded and gave her the space to try and verbalize it.

The first few days had been spent hitting all the main touristy “holy” sites. Though it’s absolutely impossible to say with any certainty, here’s where Jesus may have actually walked. Here’s the spot where St. Peter may have lived. Here’s the spot where Jesus may have performed such and such a miracle. Here is the traditional spot where it’s said the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary. What is certain is that there are ornate churches and gift shops built on each and every one of those traditional sites that are a source of major tourism revenue for the country. You can eat what Jesus probably ate, buy souvenirs made from the wood from the types of trees Jesus talked about and vials of Jordan river water and anointing oils to bring back home and pour over the heads of the devout as a special blessing (i.e. God will surely answer our prayers because we’re using authentic Holy Land bling). Jesus, the tourist attraction, is very, very popular and lucrative.

It was while visiting the Jordan River that Kathryn really wrestled. There’s a traditional baptismal site complete with steps and guardrails where annually thousands of Christian pilgrims go to be immersed in the same waters in which Jesus was baptized. Though many of her companions took the plunge, Kathryn ultimately opted not to.  She did post this pic though which clued me in to what she was thinking and feeling even before she called to talk to me.

Look Mom, I’m standing in the Jordan River

“Everywhere we’ve gone has been historically fascinating, but not particularly spiritually significant for me. At all these traditional holy sites, the group seems to be having these emotionally-charged, spiritually cathartic moments…or maybe everybody’s pretending…I don’t know…I just know I’m not.”

*fist pump*      THAT’S OUR GIRL!
Where she did find spiritual and even a physical connection to Jesus via her 5 senses was away from the crowds and the tradition in a quiet and pristine spot on the banks of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum.

In all likelihood, Kathryn was indeed seeing what Jesus saw as she participated in his regular practice of retreating in silence and solitude in an area where he was known to have spent a lot of time building significant relationships.

WWJS?

I think the most significant question we could possibly ask ourselves in terms of what it means to be like Christ is –

What would Jesus see?…or more accurately, but doing away with the WWJ (and can we agree that just needs to die anyway?) – HOW would Jesus see the world, my world, my experiences, my life right now?

What would his take be on the relationships in my family? What would his attitude be towards the myriad of interconnected and clashing cultures and their politics today? What would his attitude be toward my neighbor? What would his attitude be toward my enemy? Who would he see as “the least of these” today? What would Jesus think about the booming tourism business bearing his name? What would Jesus think about the church and modern religious traditions also bearing his name? How would Jesus see the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

Kathryn was fully aware she’d been born and raised within an American Christianity bubble, and she knew it was going to burst in cataclysmic fashion on this trip. I not only knew it would happen, but upon looking at the trip itinerary, I knew exactly when – day 5, when they would cross the security border into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Oh sure, there was yet another “traditional” site to visit in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, that was absolutely not maybe the exact location of Jesus’ birth. Ornate church – check. Gift shop with an assortment of Virgin Mary and sweet baby Jesus tchotchkes –check. 

But that certainly wasn’t the part of day 5 that rocked my girl’s world into another dimension. No. All it took was to simply cross the checkpoint. Once you cross over to the other side of the wall, all the preconceived notions and indoctrination from your American Evangelical Christian culture about “those people” and what they believe and represent evaporates as does whatever narrative you’ve been led to believe from the American media.

Well, I suppose it doesn’t for everybody…but for those with eyes to see…and my girl has always had gorgeous eyes, sharply focused on lovely and mysterious things.  She saw very clearly for the first time in her 20 years what life looked like outside the tarnished bubble, and it was –

Gut wrenchingly beautiful, heartbreaking, joyful, impossible, inspiring, frustrating beyond all description, hopeful beyond all description.

What was being birthed in her that day was unadulterated and unencumbered compassion…she was seeing exactly as Jesus does. This was a baptism of Spirit that a dunk in the Jordan couldn’t have begun to touch.

“Mom, I knew I was going to be changed on this trip. I knew being exposed to other cultures and seeing things for myself outside of books and what others have told me was going to expand my perceptions…but…but…”  She trailed off not being able to find adequate words.

And what exactly was responsible for such radical transformation and epiphany? Seeing and hearing people and their reality and touching it for herself. That’s entirely it. Their stories, their experiences, their families, their hopes, their dreams, their despair, their fears, their anger, their joy, their culture and individual expression.

Holy crap! (surely that too must be for sale, if you find it, Kafafrin, you know I want need). Contrary to everything she’d been led to believe, Kathryn found Jesus hanging out on the Palestinian side of the graffiti-plastered barrier.  Who woulda thunk it? (well, besides me…I totally called it).

“I mean, I know that discrimination, distrust and dehumanizing exists everywhere, but it’s so concentrated in this place.”

Oh it most certainly is…every bit as much as when Jesus walked in all those places where you are now.  You, my girl, are truly seeing. Now to start walking into those undesirable places where you see love leads…into messy lives, holding nothing of yourself back, with no personal agenda or expectation…only open invitation.  Love leads you to simply BE Jesus in the moment in connection with other broken humans, shedding the indoctrination and tradition in order to see them (and very much yourself) as Jesus sees.

I thought I couldn’t be any more proud of this woman or marvel any deeper that I had anything to do with her being in this world. Now I know better. I will never cease to be amazed, inspired, and encouraged by her. The only thing I will ever want for any of my children is for them to have eyes to see and ears to hear and the courage to follow where love leads. Falling on my face tonight in tears and awe that I got to “see” her baptism live from Israel.

Dropping Keys for the Beautiful Rowdy Prisoners

Hello, and welcome to the very first installment of Cage-Free Christian!

aIf you’ve followed me over from The Gospel of Snark, a double welcome and thank you! That anyone reads anything I blog barf is astounding to me. I originally began blogging strictly as personal therapy, having been plunged into an emotional/spiritual undoing that stripped 40+ years worth of everything I thought I knew down to a bare foundation.

In many ways the GOS was a documentary of the death of me…and it wasn’t pretty or sanitized or safe. I let you see it all.  Raw vulnerability is a piercing sword that divides and disrupts. My story was simultaneously the stench of fear and doom to some and a sweet aroma of life and freedom for others.

Just like my parable-preaching Jesus, I luvs me some word picture metaphor. The metaphor theme for Cage-Free Christian comes from a decidedly un-Christian source – the 14th century Persian poet Hafez, who, according to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, “lauded the joys of love and wine but also targeted religious hypocrisy.” My kinda guy.

The small man builds cages for everyone he knows

While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low

Keeps dropping keys all night long for the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners

cf0f8-heartThe cage in which I was born and raised has been institutionalized church culture; not the institution itself or any individual persons, but the enforcement of the idea that God can be explained and understood and caged within the “right” human traditions and doctrines. Those keys might very well have been genuine implements of freedom and revolution in certain points of history and revelation, but we have a way of turning them into museum display pieces to be revered, not used for their purpose in opening doors to get us moving out and onward in step and in intimate communion with whatever God there is and Their workings in the world.

There will always be misguided museum curators/gatekeepers/jailers who honestly believe their service to God is to protect specific “right” keys for display purposes only, never to be handled by individuals or god forbid used  to see if in reality they actually fit. Because the concept of God lives exclusively within a particular cage of understanding and tradition, everything on the outside is suspect – dangerous – a threat to caged certainty. Anyone who dares request access to the keys or so much as presses up against the bars to view what lies outside will be harshly shamed and knuckle slapped back into submission. keys

We’re all born into cages of cultural “right” thinking and behaving, not all of them religious. Some of us escape from one only to be recruited into another advertising as the keeper of absolute rightness. There are many who are quite content there, or at least completely sold on the age-old notion that the highest calling in life is to be an aggressive defender of your cage.

But there are a few who are uneasy in their discontent, even a little rowdy, constantly sneaking glimpses of the outside with a secret longing. Those are my Peeps.

Alone-Boy-Sad-Girl-Sitting-In-Farm-HD-Desktop-WallpapersMy transition from beautiful rowdy prisoner to free-roaming sage was wild and messy. It was noisy. It was awkward. I lived through my greatest fear in standing up to and tussling with the gatekeepers (something I’d desperately avoided my entire life). I was left wounded, angry and depleted. New life outside the cage, completely on my own and away from everything I’d ever known and depended on, was even harder. I sat paralyzed just outside the door of my lifelong prison for a long time, afraid to move…not having any clue what to do next or where to go.

Then came the sages – beautiful, strong, free, healers who bore the exact same scars as me. Those scars from which they so generously led and taught were road maps of trails they’d blazed and traveling tips and encouragement. They showed me that I myself had keys that fit, keys that work, keys that unlock various doors to freedom that are formed within those very wounds of experience and struggle.

As I began to work out my feeble legs and explore farther out from the cage, I found traveling companions and fellow former rowdy prisoners walking the same roads. We’re having an absolute blast together and are always on the lookout for whoever can and will to join us as we run and jump and roam, taste, see and smell – experience abundant life and freedom and love – the reality outside the cage.

kids-playing-1

I decided it was time for a fundamental shift in focus when I realized I was truly free from all cages and the influence of gatekeepers. Cage-Free Christian is my life after death and resurrection. I’m sure you still recognize my voice, my sarcasm and dry humor. I’m still me, but my purpose in speaking has changed. I’m no longer fighting to break out. I’m certainly not trying to replace one cage of definitive understanding for another.

Dancing-in-the-NightI lived my great escape out loud and I’m dancing free out in the open like a total dork if you care to look. I’m not confronting any gatekeepers or trying to destroy cages, but I will continue to visit the ones with which I am all too familiar to drop keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners who somehow instinctively know  the cage is not life, the cage is not God.

The lock turns from the inside, Peeps. It’s up to you. Me and a host of other sages are waiting just outside for you to join us. I’m particularly skilled at helping those who need a lot of time and encouragement to figure out how to take those first few tentative steps out into the open. I was just there and know exactly how hard it is. I’d love nothing more than to train and walk with you on those first trails of freedom and discovery.

There’s nowhere you can escape from the love of God. It’s there in the cage of certainty too. But I gotta tell ya, Whatever God There Is is roaming everywhere outside. You really should come see for yourself and hit some trails with us.

aa