We all know the Venus and Mars stereotypes. Women are complex multitasking nurturers, men are singularly-focused aggressive hunter/providers.
Woman with the flu, a cramping, hemorrhaging uterus and a baby attached to her boob pushes through her daily myriad of responsibilities to take care of the family vs. male devastated by Man Cold.
Generalizations? Sure. It’s that spectrum thing again. There’s a wide range of expression of gender roles and no real “supposed to be’s.” There just IS for each of us what IS based on our unique makeup. What IS, generally speaking for the cisgender male, is a testosterone-driven drive to accomplish and conquer in order to find satisfaction and self-worth.
This is neither good nor bad, to be neither admired nor mocked (though I’ve totally indulged in misandry along with every other woman by doing just that). It’s biology and psychology. It just IS. The writers of Genesis recognized it in Adam’s curse.
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
The Woman’s complexity of curses are tied to the flesh from which she came. The Man’s curse is associated with the dirt from which he was God breathed. The curse of Man is the futility of his work. He has to toil very, very hard his entire life, be frustrated every step of the way, and then die and return to dirt as if he never existed.
Damn. So much for satisfaction. Honestly, I don’t envy a man his curse at all. It may be singular but it’s very, VERY heavy. From my observation it also makes him more vulnerable (not weak). Vulnerable to what? Despair. A Woman’s complexity and connections are her strength. When one pillar falls, there are others to compensate. When a man’s focus of satisfaction and self-worth disintegrates it more often than not turns him to denial, distraction, and destruction and a desperate grasp for control – anything but facing this reality that his desires and drives are going to be continually frustrated and in the end…utterly insignificant.
A theory I’m working on, but this might be why a lot of men keep such a tight lid on open expression of sadness and fear and are often dismissive of a women’s frequency and freer expression of the “difficult” emotions. For a man, it’s a sign of the despair and failure he’s trying so hard to outrun, so he does what he can to shut that shit DOWN. Just a theory.
Males also have a typically strong and aggressive sex drive that demands regular satisfaction. Biology. It just IS. So it is no mystery nor shock nor anything new under the sun when every single male on the planet frequently satisfies themselves in the most efficient ways without “toil” or risk of frustration or rejection in coordinating with an equally-willing Woman by taking it into their own hands, so to speak, with the help of readily available visual aids. But there is also taking it by force and through deception/coercion. Survey a group of 20 women and 19 of us can tell you the first time we were groped, harassed, or sexually violated. All of us can tell you the constant pressure we feel to be enough to satisfy a man along with everything else we’ve got going on with our bodies and brains.
Long story short – humans are ALL sexually frustrated and incredibly insecure. Being a truly satisfied human – mind, body, and soul – isn’t easy and only we as individuals are responsible for it, but most of us give up trying and settle for an endless string of cheap fixes outside ourselves to get us by, especially when life gets overwhelming. Add the handicap of having the body/brain hijacked as a child (which is the tragic case for SO many) and…well, it’s a jungle out there and there’s a lot of carnage that perpetuates with each generation. We are, as humans, truly cursed.
If my mind wasn’t hardwired for satisfaction through intimacy and connection with an actual person (one in particular after all these years) and I could be stimulated that easily with externally accessible equipment less than an arm’s length away at all times, I’d be every guy too. I honestly wish it were that simple for me. It would make my current (and possibly permanent) situation a lot easier to come to terms with.
Y’all know where I’m going with this and the only reason I am is to take away the stigma and power once and for all. There is nothing that has happened that is truly any earth shattering thing. As a matter of psychology (not morality) my husband took it farther than some and I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s where most men wish they could and plenty already are and they are your neighbor, your boss, your pastor, your brother, your son and your husband.
Everybody has done the math by now, and math was one of the reasons why I felt I had no other option than to go public. Care and provision for the family were being compromised. Because of the psychology involved (as explained in the previous post), there has been no private rational discussion possible. I’ve been desperately trying for over a year now. All he can do with me is deflect and dismiss and spin. He could barely ever talk about very minor things he’d done that hurt me, so expand that out to our current situation and…there is just no way. It is too much. He is not going to pull out of this any other way. But I have faith he can, at least to some extent, if he has nowhere left to run and no reason to. He has always been able to turn on a dime and switch out an addiction when it stops serving him. I’ve done what amounts to an intervention to make that the case. He doesn’t want to be that man, and now that it’s out of the shadows, he won’t.
This isn’t about sex. This isn’t about betrayal or a moral failure. It is about a Man, like any other, crushed under the weight of despair…except he’s not just any other man, he’s the love of my life and the father of my children and by far the most influential person in terms of shaping my spiritual life. There is no me without him. He surfaced enough the last time I saw him to be able to say the same – that there is no him without me. We are one flesh and one life. Nothing he has done or will ever do can nullify that.
I have no idea what we’re capable of being next, but I do know I’ve got to crush the Snake’s head NOW to stop the hissing lies of fear so that the Man can at least have a shot at living and we can eventually come back together as…something good, whatever that looks like, anywhere on the spectrum of possibility.
As I said before, he was there for me when I had my mental/emotional breakdown at the beginning of our journey with Four Creeks. Now I’ve got to be there for him as he broke at the end, and this, believe it or not, is what it has to look like. It’s because I’ve done the work to understand us (with professional help) that I’ve been able to figure out his language, learn not to be afraid when the most horrific things come out of him, and recognize they are a spotlight on what he feels the worst about himself that he cannot handle and therefore HAS to project on me. It is all he can do when he is consumed by fear and failure. The Curse of Man crushed him hard. As I said previously, no one could survive what we’ve been through without breaking. No one could be as isolated and vulnerable as he is right now without being utterly terrified and at rock bottom. We may process and express our humanity in vastly different ways, but I know that desperate place all too well and I cannot and will not abandon him there.
The only way to end this is to simply say out loud what is real and then let him see that the worst that is going to happen is that there are a whole lot of people who love us and nothing otherwise has changed. He has lost nothing, he will lose nothing, and he is free from here to do whatever he can and will with all pressure off from me.
There is nothing more for anyone to fear. Nothing more for anyone to hide and no reason to. There is no shame. There is no condemnation. There is only love. This is why I must finish the story and be done so we can all be free to love.
What Jimmy and I are experiencing is universally common to humanity AND ALSO personally devastating. And you know what? I GET TO TALK ABOUT MY OWN LIFE as the whole person I AM now using my own discretion alone to decide what is wise, what is good, what is beneficial, and what is love. I am a Woman who thinks, feels and now speaks without any fear. The truth has set me free and now I’m using that freedom to set other captives free. I picked up my own cross, shared in the sufferings of Jesus with countless agonized tears, kicked over a few tables in the temple because YES, I WAS ANGRY, I went all the way to that humiliating and torturous death alone, and I rise now to new life having conquered sin and death – AKA what it means to be a fucking Christian.
I lived it out in front of you, gave everything to all, went all the way into death and now I’m ascending outa here. Stop standing around looking forlorn up at the sky waiting for us to come back and do some more feel-good miracles for ya. You’ve got everything you need. Get off your ass and walk the path yourself, set yourself free…or don’t. As for me and my house – we are on to life abundant.
If you are reading this you are obviously human, and as such, dear human, I have some wonderful horrible news for you – You are cursed.
The wonderful part is that none are alone in our cursedness, and through this universal suffering we are connected to all humanity in all space and time. Our curses are inherent in biology, psychology and personal experience. There is nothing new under the sun.
There are many flavors and degrees, but the truth of being human remains – we all come into this world stocked with a unique set of genetic and family-of-origin dysfunctions that constantly entice us away from loving ourselves and therefore each other.
As I said before, I’ve read and understood the bible for myself since early childhood. I’m going to unpack symbolism from the Genesis account of the creation and The Fall of Man that I’ve seen for a very long time as well as things I’m just now understanding that have great personal significance.
Here’s the base of where I’m coming from:
Here’s the bible study I was never going to get in my former tribe that I’ve had a hankering to do for a very long time –
But for Adam no suitable *MATE WITH STRENGTH TO SAVE HIM* was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g] and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Jesus would later be attributed to saying, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.” I take great issue with how my evangelical tribe has twisted this to mean divorce is a sin over which God is most pissed. Jesus simply stated the reality of natural consequences – violating and splitting the sacred Oneness results in SELF-imposed isolation from each other and God, and it is devastating. That is what shame IS. We humans do it to ourselves, and because we’re wired to intimately bond, everyone suffers from the betrayal and rejection of love and connection. Jesus made it clear – we have a choice. We always have a choice to maintain the connections of love over our own self-imposed and inflicted isolated shame. There is no shame or condemnation in Whatever God There Is that Jesus was talking about. Shame and disconnection is all man-made. WE have to sever the bonds of the reality of love and walk away into selfish delusion. WE have to refuse and deny reconciliation and the redemption of love. There is an ever-present Great Deceiver and Accuser within ourselves, determined to undermine reality and convince us to trade the truth for a lie – to abandon love and connection and embrace shame and isolation and entitlement to self gratification at the expense of others.
In order to sabotage the Oneness of God/Man/Woman, why did the Snake target and appeal to the mind of Eve rather than Adam (who was right there with her)? Patriarchal religious tradition has maintained it is because of Woman’s inherent weakness and depravity, to which I call epic bullshit. She was targeted because of her strength and power, and the Deceiver knew exactly who it had to undermine and get through first. There are few things as formidable and fierce as an awake and aware Woman embracing her identity as Ezer; therefore, to deceive and numb Her instincts first (and to keep her that way) is imperative. The Deceiver/Accuser/Snake knew exactly what it was doing.
Bada bing, bada boom, the humans partook of the one thing they don’t have the capacity to handle yet are irresistibly drawn to in an attempt to achieve equality with God – the knowledge and power to judge good and evil themselves. Gender-specific curses ensued and the Sacred Oneness fractured for the now shame-filled Woman and Man.
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
Goddammit, a woman can’t even go to the bathroom herself much less be left alone to her own curse. She doesn’t even have the luxury of dealing with just one either. Hers are MULTIPLE and connected to everyone else’s – the snake, her children, and her husband – through her flesh.
Of course Woman herself ain’t above lying and manipulating, but have you noticed how severe a reaction you typically get from a woman who’s been betrayed and lied to? “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” an English Bro Dude poet once observed. It’s because you don’t just lie to and betray HER. You threaten EVERYTHING SHE’S CONNECTED TO.
This is a 3-part series, the second dedicated specifically to the female curse of Desire that entices Woman to hand over and deny her power and strength to be ruled over and used by Man. The final installment focuses on the brutally heavy Curse of Man that crushes the ego and the resultant toxic fallout. Both are in the context of my own marriage and are intensely personal.
I share out of my experience as a human. I share out of my experience as a Woman. I share to work out and untangle and make sense of life. I share knowing full well it is way too much and never enough and there is no shortage of people ready to tell me just how far off their mark I am at all times, and this is exceedingly valuable. I share because vulnerability does not allow me the delusion of an achievable “rightness” of thought or action one can own or impose, which is the essence of that Original Sin; making criticism, no matter how well or poorly intentioned and executed, crucial in the untangling process as I muster up the discipline to tamper down my pride to embrace the discomfort. I share because within that mess of working it out I find deeply fulfilling points of connection with others and restoration to the Great Truth of love. I share in order to identify and purge the lies and shame within myself that sabotage love and connection. I share in order to forgive myself and others. I share for anyone to take or leave whatever they can or will using whatever labels work.
Whichever labels you feel most comfortable using and wherever you fall on the sacred spectrum of humanity, thank you for sharing your time and care to read this and connect with me.
Happy, Happy new year and a warm and massive cyber hug to all as we enter 2017. I’ll take and freely give all the hugs and love and kindness possible wherever they are found.
I’m going to use my first post of the new year to introduce myself as the new me that has actually always been. There are some things about me you should know to put everything I write going forward into some context. There was a time in my old life when I would have written separate blog posts for each of these things, explaining them in detail in the hopes of persuading people to at least respect what I see instead of shitting on me for it.
Life has radically changed for me, and ain’t nobody got time for that in the new life that is. So much shit has rained down on me that I now dance in it and make art rather than try to outrun it or hide, or worse, deny its existence or try to pretty it up to be something it’s not (LIE).
The old life was 25 years of marriage, 22 of those spent in evangelical christian ministry together, the last 5 of which we (Love of My Life and I) embarked on an exodus out of Church World to plant a funky little honest church ourselves that was doomed to “fail” from the start because it was one where any human of any persuasion, any belief or lack thereof, was welcome to participate, love and be loved as is. We gave up everything and ultimately ended up losing more than we’d ever imagined possible – our very lives together – though isn’t that exactly what Jesus said was the price to be considered? Anyhooo, that truly is for a separate blog post.
So, in the new life (whatever that’s now totally free to be), here’s a quick summation of my current (and fluid) theology/psychology/ideology/methodology around which everything I say and do emerges, and I care not one whit what anyone thinks of it. If you follow my writing for whatever reason, even if only as a vulture to feast on the carcass of my family to poop out as gossipy judgment (why would you stop now after the last 5 years of pecking away at our flesh before we were even fully dead?), knowing the following will at least put things in perspective:
The above picture is me at age 7 (AKA the real Princess Leia), the last time I was the most me as I AM that I can remember before learning, as we all do, to shove the truth of my divine self down deep, believing that was the only way to be worthy of human love. I’ve missed that sweet nerd so much. Almost 40 years later, she’s back. She’s awake. She has surfaced, and she’s gunna rock the world.
The hardest part is not the darkness. No. You can still imagine things to look much better than you feel them to be in the shadows; imagine things to be what you wish them to be, need them to be, want them to be.
It is the light that is devastatingly hard and why most avoid all but selective exposure. One cannot pretend in the light for their own comfort or false notions of safety or perfection.
I brought (have been bringing) my entire self into the light for a while now. I was not in any way prepared for the very last things to come out, which in actuality were THE thing it’s all been leading up to. I guess it would be more accurate to say I was finally ready to see BECAUSE of all I’ve been through – to have to acknowlege just how dependent I’ve been on “love” in the shadows – the idea of something I wanted it to be verses the reality of what it actually is.
My physical circumstances have more or less been the same for quite a while and will not be radically changing. I’ve been sleeping (when I’m lucky) and crying alone in bed and have been carrying the bulk of child raising for years.
But what is the thing that terrifies and crushes me? It’s the exposure of an idea that I’ve clung to my whole life as false that causes the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. What a strange thing to admit…to be violently detoxing from the loss of an idea like it was heroin. But that’s exactly what it feels like. I’ve needed someone to be something they could never be and I numbed and sabotaged and stole from myself, denied my instincts and my true knowing and handed over my power in order to get and keep the fix I thought I couldn’t live without – to believe he was what he was not and could not be – to place an impossible burden on him. It’s what we’re all conditioned to do to each other. He and I are, and have always been, extreme cases. We don’t do subtle…ever.
In the light, there is only love most real for whole persons (myself first) separate from any selfishly projected ideas or expectations of them. It is a brutal, brutal detox to let go of my desires and let it all be whatever it will while resisting the urge to counter spin in my favor as every fiber of my being screams for resolution and relief!! But the light is no fix. It is the abrupt and harsh exposure of what truly IS.
I have to let whatever IS – BE…hands off…free to be and do and be seen for what it is by whoever can and will.
The darkness will kill ya, but damn do I miss how good it felt even at its worst compared to this. The light feels every bit like torture and death right now.
I have moments of unprecedented clarity and calmness that punctuate the baseline aching void of despair that at times swells so intensely that I feel like I could literally drown in the feeling of loss and fear and “I DON’T WANT THIS!”
God, please have mercy and get me through this withdrawal to a place of peace, wholeness and love in myself. 45 years worth is a lot to work out of my system to get clean.
The only way out is through and there is no going back or unseeing. Woe to those who have seen and known the light and then reject and deny it, because that is the blackest self-imposed darkness rooted in a self-loathing lie that will kill all ability to genuinely love or accept love fast and permanent.
I exposed the love of my life who is a part of me to the light he once used to guide me to, and then I let go as a final (and first, really) act of unselfish love for him. To do so meant the death of my addiction and codependency and sent me reeling into this tortuous detox. There is nothing but pain for me in it. He has kicked and screamed and spat and spun violently all the way, directed just at me, because he knows I will not and cannot hide anything anymore. It all comes into the light, but I cannot keep him with me there.
Whether in light or darkness, he is who he is and I AM who I AM.
Into the fire we all must go, one way or the other, and we all must go alone. All I can do is be my own light and to do so I must burn.
I’ve only attended church twice as a nonprofessional in the last few years, and both times were in Nashville. Just about this time last year, I made a trip out to see my oldest kids and used the opportunity to meet my blogging brother, John Pavlovitz, as he was speaking at an LGBTQ-affirming church in Franklin. John and I already had a legit friendship/kinship established and had a blast finally meeting in person.
The next day, my daughter Kathryn and I made our way to church to hear John speak. It was in that service during the worship time (church-speak translation: music concert/congregational karaoke) that I had quite the jarring epiphany.
I knew it was time to pull the plug on Four Creeks.
That in and of itself wasn’t the thing. We’d been coming to the end of everything for a while; people, money, sanity…will to live. Jimmy and I had set out to have Four Creeks be a church community where absolutely anyone of any persuasion, background, identity, ethnicity was valued and welcome to participate in absolutely every facet of church life. We did exactly that. It just turns out there wasn’t a market for it where we were, at least not one we were capable of tapping into by ourselves without resources and support. We had zero of either after the church that originally sent us out yanked everything out from under us very early on. We knew from the start we were dead walking. It was just a matter of time.
As I looked around the sanctuary at the beautiful diversity of humans worshiping together and the genuine love and enthusiastic community all the congregants shared, I welled up with thankfulness and awe that it did exist somewhere and that I was there to witness it. That Sunday last October, seeing the dream in vivacious reality in Nashville in stark contrast to our terminally ill child at home, I knew the time had come.
There was only a relieved resignation in that thought. It was the next one that I had never prepared myself to consider. If Four Creeks ceased to be, if our 20 years as professional Christians truly was coming to an end, what now? What kind of church would we want to join and in what capacity? Then came the epiphany.
This was the exact moment I allowed myself to BE what I’d already been inside for a decade in Church World – DONE.
As glad as I was that this church existed and that so many people were being loved, valued and finding value in it, all I could think as I was immersed in the familiarity of a typical worship service that just about anyone else from my evangelical tribe would find familiar and appealing (except for worshiping along side a married gay couple or 20) was, “I don’t need this. I don’t want this for myself.”
Having been on the production end of church my entire adult life and living behind the veil working with pastors and church boards as employers (dear, wise friends when we were lucky; dangerously insecure and immature mega jerks when we weren’t), I’m basically ruined for the entire church machine. I can’t just sit back and enjoy the show. I haven’t had the luxury of finding value in church from that side of things since I was a child.
I get other people finding value in the routine, their preferred music (whether it be modern praise band, hymns or liturgy) or looking to their favorite pastor to inspire them. I just don’t. Having been raised in that world with a view behind the curtain, my oldest children don’t either. My youngest have zero concept of it as all they know of church is Four Creeks, which by both design and fate had no programming or any traditions to speak of other than simply meeting, breaking bread together and studying scripture and its practical applications with integrity. Kathryn and Ryan have since expressed just how relieved they are that their younger siblings won’t be raised in the church culture they were (before Four Creeks). I am too.
I’ve heard a lot of people admit that even if they themselves don’t really want to go to church, they feel they should for the sake of their children. I’m just weird, I guess. I told my therapist that it is for the sake of my children that I don’t want to go to church ever again.
That was last Thursday. Three days later I went to church with my children…because I wanted to…and it was profoundly healing and wonderful.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
It might sound a little bragish, but I think our marriage is exceptionally great. There isn’t a single couple I’ve ever envied and thought, “Gosh, I wish our relationship was like theirs.” Not that I haven’t been miserable and desperate for change in my own at times, but I have always considered the one I have worth fighting and even dying for.
We’re also more than a little ridiculous together and we’ve accumulated a whole lot of NOT EASY in our 25 years of being hitched, but this is precisely what makes us so great together. We’ve managed to navigate some insanely treacherous territory as the perfectly dysfunctional hot mess we are. As I write this, we are bracing ourselves for yet another trip through the wringer, this one likely to stretch us beyond recognition into something quite different.
Painful as that sounds (and is), it’s more or less been our normal every few years. Several years ago I documented the first traumatic rodeo we experienced as newlyweds (Jimmy and Jennifer – A Beautiful Rowdy Love Story) and I was blown away at the response it received. Turns out when you dare to expose yourself with that degree of raw vulnerability, a lot of people feel relieved and free to say “Me too! I thought I was the only freak who couldn’t get their shit together!” I also understand it can be rather unsettling for those not ready to release their tightly-clenched turds or admit they even have any.
But for those who are up for another installment of the shit show that is Jimmy + Jennifer, come gather ’round the fire and snuggle up to your significant other as I recount more of our ancient history and what has become the great metaphor of our marriage…
It was spring break 1993, just a few months before I would graduate from college and all hell would break loose in our fledgling marriage. All I knew at that point as a grossly naive 22-year-old with 18 months of matrimony under my belt was that I hardly ever saw my husband, had no social life, and was very unhappy. So when Jimmy suggested we get away together for a couple days of camping in the Mojave desert where he grew up (and where we’d fallen in love 3 spring breaks before), I was thrilled.
Day 1: Trusting Jimmy that he knew what he was doing being on his home turf, we drove to the top of a mountain that overlooked a desolate valley and the Colorado River in the distance. The plan was to hike down the mountain and camp by the river, so we stuffed our backpacks with as much bottled water as we could carry, leaving more behind in the car. I asked Jimmy if he thought we had enough. He assured me that even if we ran out we could refill at the river. I wasn’t OK with the thought of drinking river water, even boiled, but Jimmy assured me we’d be fine.
As we peered down the mountain, one side had a relatively smooth, direct trail leading from a transmission tower at the top down to the base. The other was covered in large boulders. We headed down the side without the trail because – OF COURSE WE DID.
By the time we reached the bottom after an hour of slowly lowering ourselves rock by rock, fully loaded with gear on our backs, our thighs were absolutely destroyed, but as young seemingly indestructible 20-somethings we laughed it off and started hobbling in the direction of the river…at least as far as we could tell since we couldn’t see it once we were on the valley floor.
I asked Jimmy how we would know we were staying on track. He told me we’d find one of the many washes once we got closer and follow it down to the river. I thought a compass would have been a safer bet, but hey, I’d trust the guy who grew up running around in this dirt.
We spent the rest of the afternoon happily walking and talking and exploring, Jimmy reminiscing about growing up a desert rat. As it started to get late with no river in sight, we decided to set up camp for the night and hopefully reach it the next morning and spend that day and next night by the water. Though it wasn’t blistering hot (yet), April was still plenty toasty weather, and a refreshing dip in the river and resting my super sore legs for the day sounded mighty fine to me.
That night under a blanket of stars, and nothing else, just as Jimmy and I were getting down to romantical business, a large fleet of Apache helicopters descended low and began thundering across the valley directly over our heads before we could do much of anything to cover up. I’m sure if there were any young Marines who noticed us they enjoyed the show.
Day 2: We set out early eager to find the river and have a day of play and rest from hiking. Jimmy suggested we descend into and follow the nearest wash which would surely lead us there quickly. An hour passed…two…three…four. Our water was running low. I increasingly kept suggesting we give up on the river entirely, but Jimmy was insistent. We had to be almost there. We finally stumbled onto a road and another hiker who was able to tell us the river was still a good 5 miles away and our path had been running parallel to it.
Jimmy’s reaction: Great! We’ll follow this road and be there in a few more hours.
Jimmy: Fine. You stay here, I’ll RUN to the river and bring back water.
After unleashing another steady stream of expletives and screeching he’d do no such thing, I sat down in the dirt and refused to move. I was taking over this operation. We were going to stop, set up camp for the night, ration our water and head straight back for the mountain first thing.
Night 2, instead of romantical shenanigans, there was only seething silence and restless tossing and turning, trying hard not to think about the 10-mile hike back that awaited us the next morning or the 2 remaining 16 ounce water bottles that were going to have to be enough to get us through.
Day 3: We started out as early as we could to get as much walking in the cool of the day as possible, waiting as long as we could in between tiny sips of water. The only positive was being able to clearly see the mountain we were headed to and knowing an oasis awaited us at the top. By the time we finally reached the base of the mountain, we’d long since run out of water and were dangerously thirsty. We slowly began the tortuous ascent up the long, steep trail on the opposite side from which we’d initially come down.
Even though my legs and throat were screaming, I got a sudden boost of energy and moved briskly. The end was in sight, dammit, but Jimmy was failing. At about the half way point, he lay down unable to go any farther, dangerously dehydrated and risking heat stroke. It was up to me to make it to the top and get the water.
What followed was probably the longest 15 minutes of my life. I’d never experienced such desperate thirst, and I hope to never do so again. About 2/3 of the way someone’s old Big Gulp cup tossed on the side of the trail cruelly mocked me.
As I approached the summit with relief just a few more yards away, a horrible thought struck me. What if for some reason the car wasn’t there? What if someone had stolen or confiscated it? Suddenly the hope that had been giving me almost superhuman endurance was sucked right out of me and replaced by terror.
As I rounded the last bit of the hill full of dread and the summit came into view, I was startled to see the entire mountaintop crawling with Marines. The Boys had used our mountain to set up operations for their desert training drills. And there was our car, right where we’d left it, except now surrounded by military vehicles buzzing about. As I stumbled through the surreal scene toward the car, a cute guy in desert camouflage gave me a cheerful, “hello ma’am” and continued on his way. I tore open the trunk and inhaled at least 3 bottles of water, letting the relief wash into and over me. It felt like heaven to finally sit down and take my time with bottle number 4.
But crap! Jimmy was still half way down the hill. I suppose I could have asked a Marine to help me go get him. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask the cute one. I did actually contemplate rolling some bottles down the hill rather than have to go back down there. After a very deeeeeeep sigh, I put my backpack in the trunk, tucked a few bottles of water under my arm and reluctantly headed back down the hill, my thighs loudly protesting being forced to do the downhill thing again.
Once Jimmy got a bit of hydration, he perked up enough to walk to the top, but I had to carry his pack. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking on that second climb, but I imagine it was something along the lines of,”‘Let’s go camping’ he said. ‘It’ll be fun’ he said…grumble, grumble…City Slicker wife had to save Mr. Desert Expert Sissy la-la Pants.”
I then drove us down the mountain to the nearest town where we stopped and eagerly consumed a bunch of Carl’s Jr. cheeseburgers in stunned silence, until Jimmy piped up, “That was a great trip.”
Sigh…was it too late to go back for that Marine?
We learned some things about ourselves and each other on that camping trip and have watched them play out time and again in our relationship over the years.
Jimmy values the big picture, not so much the details. We went camping, we came back. It was an adventure. That’s a win in his book and the experience itself is the reward and totally worth it.
The details are where I live so that we CAN live. They matter to me, and it’s good that they do. But I can lose sight of the big picture quite easily and without his adventurous yin to my play-it-safe yang, I’d miss out on much of the richness of the human experience if left to my own devices.
I never would have initiated going camping. Never would have seen the breathtaking view from the top of the mountain. Never would have made love under the stars. Never would have learned what a complete badass I can be when pushed to the brink.
Being extremely intuitive, Jimmy is a brilliant dreamer and a fantastic implementer but rarely has any kind of exit strategy.
I’m horrible at planning or initiating, and I’ll commit loyally (to a fault) to his plans and often marvel at his genius, but it usually falls on me to recognize when we’ve hit the end of the road and I simply can’t and won’t go any farther. Then, and only then, do I assert myself and pull the plug.
We do our fair share of butting heads along the way, me fixated on the details, him with an eye on the big picture. To carry the camping trip metaphor into what we are facing right now, we’ve been in the thick of it for the last year.
I went into our latest big adventure of planting and pastoring Four Creeks Church with Jimmy with my whole heart and soul, fully trusting in his plan, and its conception and implementation were truly brilliant. But no amount of good intentions or brilliant planning could save us after we were abandoned by the church that sent us out, left in the desert to fend for ourselves with very little water. We eeked out an existence for as long as we could, but our resources eventually dwindled down to nothing. We kept walking thinking surely the river was right around the bend…but no. Relief just wasn’t going to materialize no matter what we did.
Jimmy and I are ridiculously stressed and have been for an extended period of time. We’re butting heads dealing with it the only way we can…as ourselves. True to form I pulled the plug on Four Creeks. I pushed through so much for so long until I simply could not take another step. I also realized I could not continue to live in this town, this desert, where we’ve been utterly despised and rejected. I need my family, my children, my parents – my oasis – and I have to get to them to live.
It’s me this time who’s stalled out half way there and it’s Jimmy who’s going to do more than just climb the mountain for me – he’s gunna sacrifice himself and move the damn thing. He’s masterminding and financing my exit strategy and rebirth.
I’m relocating to Nashville in a few short months with our 2 youngest to be near our 2 oldest college kids. I’m going to be living right around the corner from my parents when I’ve never before lived within driving distance of them my entire adult life.
Jimmy is going to stay behind in California to work and recover financially from the last few years – in the desert alone without the comfort and affection of his family. We don’t know for how long…at least a year, probably 2.
And once I get out there, I’m going to have to get in touch with my inner badass once again. I’m going to have to figure out how to do things on my own I never felt capable of or allowed myself to do before without my yin and Jimmy without his yang, but for the first time ever I’m going to have abundant resources and support to figure it out.
I suppose most couples go on a cruise or something for their 25th anniversary. We’ll be spending ours 2000 miles apart, ’cause that’s just how the shit show that is our life seems to roll.
Even so…I don’t regret a minute with this man. Not a one. The big picture, the views from the mountain I’ve experienced together with him are breathtaking, as is making love to him under the stars. Every aching muscle, every scarcity, sacrifice and near-death experience is more than worth it for this adventure.
“‘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 until…or 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.
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.