Community is Difficult

Sometimes I think I’m too fickle for church or community or whatever. But I know that’s not really true. I think the struggle I have with community involves the need to form deep, personal relationships with those I commune with. I want to be best friends…okay, not really. But I do like talking regularly. And by talking, I mean texting, because phones are for people who don’t mind awkward pauses and anxiety-ridden, unedited comments. I want more than a once a week “hi, how are you?” Because seriously, who actually asks that with genuine interest anymore? No one really wants the answer. They would rather check Facebook on their phones and avoid eye contact. (#Guilty)

I recently started participating in a new “church” community. I say “church” because it’s more a group of people who sit around, sometimes sing, talk about God or Jesus or life, and drink beer. And talk about all the beer and how wondrous it is. Unless, of course, it’s Michelob or Bud Light. That’s not beer. It’s an insult to beer. And your liver. I digress. This church has been really beautiful and helpful as I recover from previous-church trauma. But in the last few weeks, my interest in it has waned. (And I’m about to dish out a whole lot of selfishness…so just bear with me and understand that in writing this, I’m also processing how I feel…word by word.)

A few weeks ago, one of the “leaders” approached me that a new girl was going to attend “church” and the leader thought I would get along with this girl because of similar interests observed online. No big deal, right? Sunday rolled around and New Girl showed up as promised. As it turns out, this girl is so hot it makes my soul hurt. And my jealousy rage. And even more ironically, she and my husband have a mutual connection. Dagger meet heart. On that fateful Sunday, I sat around and watched as everyone was enthralled by her. Only a few months prior, I was sort of the new toy and everyone wanted to talk to me and get to know me…I felt like I was finally forming relationships I’d longed for for years. And then it just dropped off…almost entirely. And now, everywhere I look online, they are doting on Hot Girl. She’s the new toy. (And seriously, this girl is great, she’s par for the course. She has good taste in music and people.) I think her entire presence sort of reinforced the fact that I’ve been wanting to (and trying to) make deeper connections with this group and it just hasn’t happened. The four leaders of the church have been friends for years and they possess a bond that I share with other close friends. These bonds are almost impenetrable, I get it. And I’m not asking to be their new best friend or even be #3 on their speed dial (do we even do speed dial anymore?), I just want more of a connection…otherwise, it’s going to be really easy for me to stay at home. Sleeping in on Sundays is like a morphine addiction. Fucking amazing.

I feel wretched for even having these thoughts. It’s not the church’s fault…because I haven’t openly said (until now), “I need more.” Because everyone has busy schedules, lives, and obligations and I don’t want to be another item on their to-do list…especially if they don’t feel the desire to reciprocate a friendship. In all of my previous communities, I was able to make a steady connection…build a friendship with someone where I felt like I could invest. And it’s astounding that I’m even considering seeking MORE from these people…cause church is fucking difficult (see previous posts). Community is difficult. Perhaps the church members sense my distrust and that’s why they hold back…they don’t want to overwhelm me. I’m not sure. And I don’t want them to read this and feel bad, like they’ve let me down or something.

I didn’t realize how much I needed that connection to stay invested. Before, the relationships just happened and they occurred organically and sometimes hastily after I got involved. I’ve been so damn lonely…for a very long time, lacking that intimacy of a good friendship. I have best friends and they live hundreds of miles away. I don’t have people to visit during the week or converse with after a long day (other than my husband). I don’t have anyone present, tangible, that I can access weekly that will hang out with or talk to me. I see online that some church people are hanging out together because that’s what they do and have done for years. Because they’re friends. How does one flat out ask…”Hey, can I come?” without looking like the dorky afterthought? I don’t want to push myself on people. And I’m shit at asking people to do things…but maybe I should try. I can’t expect that they will always seek me out.

It’s the worst possible feeling to need community and be absolutely terrified of it. Because I know the more I invest, the more I risk. But I’m tired of denying the fact that I need people in my life. I don’t need them constantly, I just need to know they’ll be there if I ask. And in turn, I’ll be there for them. That’s what friends are supposed to do.

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Truth is Damaging

We should never meet our heroes.

Yes, I realize it’s a pessimistic way to start a blog post, but who am I trying to impress? I mean, let’s be real. I have trust issues. Deep ones. Heroes, notwithstanding, people can be shitty. Selfish liars, manipulative tools. Douche canoes.

And I don’t know that there’s anyone who I trust implicitly. Not even my husband. And that’s a frightening thing to admit because I love him more than anyone else on this planet. And it’s a terrible thing to admit because I’m sure he would be hurt by my confession…particularly because he’s done so much to prove his trustworthiness over the last four years of our relationship. But it’s just the way I feel…

I wish people were who they should be (honest, compassionate, loving, selfless). I wish they were honest or at least had the decency to not be assholes. And perhaps my greatest fear is that the people I cherish the most are going to hurt me. Truthfully, the only person who has the power to destroy me is my husband because I’ve given him the power to do so. And when I think about that, I want to pull away to protect myself. But I won’t. Because he’s a miracle for my broken heart.

All of this is sort of a preamble to a point that’s honestly still frustrating the hell out of me. I recently found out that some ministerial leaders/emergent authors (people I admired for years) are being abusive, heinous trolls and I don’t understand how the individuals who are aware of this deceit continue to perpetuate a fraud. The depths of the betrayal seem to know no end. I wish I didn’t know…I wish I could erase the knowledge of what these men and women have done because I liked believing the lie. The lie was safe.

The truth is often damaging…before it’s healing.

Perhaps that’s why so few people ever tell the truth. But I really wish they would.

 

“A heart is a fragile thing, that’s why we protect them so vigorously, give them away so rarely, and why it means so much when we do.” –The Little Prince

Beer Church

I highly recommend reinventing yourself. I’ve done it probably a hundred times. It somehow manages to strip away the bullshit of the past. At least for a little while. Each time I went through a break up with a boyfriend, I cut my hair in some chaotic way. The hairstyle was usually an effort to communicate that I wanted to be left alone. Don’t talk to me, don’t flirt with me. Just walk away. See the ‘fuck off’ on my forehead? That’s for you. In reality, I was heartbroken and just wanted someone to really, authentically love me.

I’ve started over so frequently that I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually evolving or if I’m the same or a mixture of both.

Part of the reason for the reboot….public humiliation. Almost five years ago, my (ex) husband and I went to a tiny church and met some really cool people. They were all tattoos, piercings, and cuss words and I felt absolutely at home. Pass the bourbon, take communion, and recite the Celtic prayers. I loved it. About a month in, my ex started having an affair with one of the church members. Our church consisted of about 12 people. So I’d met the woman. We’d had conversations. I’d been to her house. Five years later, I still don’t fully understand what makes people behave in such a cruel way.

I left the church almost immediately. I couldn’t sit in the same room, share the same space they did…all the while smirking at each other in their adulterous triumph. Everyone knew what was happening. The wife is almost always the last to know…especially if the husband is a gifted liar. I parted with one congregation and entered another. I went by my maiden name and it was perfect. No one knew my business. No one knew the shame I felt as a result of my ex’s infidelity. My business wasn’t plastered in their frontal lobes. I was just H…this young, single adult female who wanted to help out. My identity stayed hidden for about 3-4 months and then gradually I let people know who I was and where I’d come from. The beautiful part was that they accepted me. I wasn’t ostracized for getting divorced at 26. I was welcomed for who I was in that moment. Who I’d become in the aftermath.

Fast forward a year of bliss. I’d developed some of the closest relationships of my life. The church members became my extended family. I was particularly fond of the pastor and his wife and children. He was my mentor, my second father. We talked about beer, golf, and god. He taught me many things and helped me recover from the devastating loss of my dignity. I took care of his children, stayed at his house when they went out of town. It was humbling to be so loved by people I respected.

And then it fell apart. Again.

A man and woman whom the pastor trusted, came in and tried to destroy this sanctuary with lies and dissension. They started rumors…fostered bitterness between church members, and everything began to dissolve. I was falsely accused of having an affair with the pastor, my friend…who I cherished. But even before that rumor, there were others. Gun shy, I stepped away from my responsibilities at the church to get some space and clarity. I tried to determine who my friends were…and understand my enemies. And then my pastor died unexpectedly. No goodbyes. No absolution. No closure. He was just gone. My friend. My mentor. Gone. The air was thick with grief and despair and I couldn’t breathe. For months.

So I left. Because it was the only way I knew to survive. And I stayed away for 3 years.

And then I went to beer church. It’s fucking terrifying how much I want to love this small group of people. I do love them…I don’t want to. Bad things tend to happen when I love people. They leave…or they betray me. They shred me. I entered the group with a fortress built around me. Don’t come close. Stay away. I’m intrigued but I’m frightened. But in their genuine love and compassion, they disassembled my wall brick by brick. And now they know a bit more about who I am. I’m no longer anonymous. I’m vulnerable…standing in the open and petrified that the 3rd attempt at community is going to be my undoing. I don’t know how many more times I can reinvent myself before I run out of ideas. And I hate that I want to risk it again. Jesus Christ. I mean, I look at these people and I want to say, “in our next life…please find me so I can spend as much of my time with you as possible.”

That’s beer church. It’s people, sitting around drinking good booze and talking about life. It’s love. It’s the talking, the loving, the caring….that creeps into the shattered fragments of my heart and heals it.

Starting Over

Yesterday I visited a church. Of my own volition. I haven’t done that in four years. I haven’t wanted to. I’ve been at peace with enjoying my Sundays at home since I stopped attending church in 2011. I’ve experienced enough trauma in church over the last 30 years, I should have PTSD…but I don’t. If anything, I’m just bitter and skeptical.

But yesterday, I decided to try again. The decision to cross that threshold is much more difficult than I wish it was. I wanted to talk but I also wanted to be invisible. I hid in the corner by myself like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I thought maybe if I didn’t make eye contact, I’d go unnoticed…but I didn’t. This particular community remembered me from a visit last month, when I met the lovely/kick ass artist, Frank Schaeffer. Granted, when I went to hear Frank speak, I didn’t know I was joining a small group of people holding church at the World of Beer. As I waited for my turn to talk to Frank, I conversed with a few of the church members. I met one of the “pastors” who was intrigued by my Fuck Cancer shirt and flip flops. He said he can always tell a lot about people by the shirts and shoes they wear. He said that by the way I was dressed, I wanted to be casual and not give a shit but was still a bit too afraid. Astute assessment, but this guy is also a top attorney in the area. He probably knows how to read people. In any event, I saw some potential in his little flock and decided to put my fear in the Fuck It Bucket and scope out the scene again when I was ready.

Sometimes I feel bad for declining an invitation to join a group. Yesterday, several church members asked me to move out of my corner and into the open to join the circus of conversation. Each time, I said no…preferring to stay out of sight. The collective dialogue was about the metamorphosis of church and how it’s become a cumbersome entity that hates gays and persecutes anyone who looks or behaves contrary to some arbitrary set of rules. And yet the religious assholes wonder why the church is dying.

In church, I’ve seen pastors cheat on their wives, verbally abuse members with racist/misogynist ideologies; witnessed people being accosted for having an abortion or for being gay; watched marriages dissolve from infidelity between church members (including my own); seen people falsely accused of heinous acts (including myself); and wondered what the fuck is wrong with people. So why in the hell would I ever choose to pursue this endeavor again?

I guess I keep trying because as much as I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve also managed to have it healed in the company of people who actually believe in love and act on it. The last two churches I participated in, I was nearly destroyed…but there were specific individuals who picked me up out of the ashes and spoke compassion into my bruised soul. And I’m kind of hoping that I’ll find some measure of what church is supposed to be while participating in this new community. I know there will never be a perfectly safe place because we’re imperfect people. But I’m starting over with a new awareness of who I am and what I know to be true about others. I hope this is the beginning of something great but I know I’ll be okay if it’s not.

Sound and Fury

Yesterday, I met Frank Schaeffer.

Frank. Schaeffer.

Friends, you probably don’t know the significance of this moment (give me time, I’ll elaborate). Many of you may not even recognize his name and that’s okay. In the art world, he’s…magnificent. If you like texture and color, reminiscent of VanGogh (a personal favorite), check out Frank’s work (www.frankschaefferart.com). Truly extraordinary. He’s the most famous person I’ve ever met. But more than that, he’s human. He’s just like the rest of us. Knowing of the tormented emotional and mental backgrounds of many of history’s famous artists, I wonder what motivates Frank’s brush to move across the canvas in the manner it does. Why does he choose those colors or the specific designs? What’s the meaning? What thoughts are coursing through his brain, down his arm, and out the tip of his paintbrush?

What you also may not know about Frank Schaeffer is that he’s a New York Times best-selling author for both fiction and non-fiction publications. Another element I believe many artists share…the constant need to move the thoughts from the confines of our craniums out into the universe. Whether that’s through a painting, a blog post, or a novel, etc. The words have to come out. The feelings must evacuate us, lest we become consumed by them. Perhaps my ruminations are simply projections of my own need to create, but that’s a deeper discussion for another time.

Yesterday, Frank spoke at a church I attended at The World of Beer (the only worthy church location). Church scares the shit out of me. I went because a friend of mine told me I should meet Frank because Frank was “my kind of people.” By “my kind of people,” my friend means that Frank doesn’t bullshit, likes beer, participates in deep conversations, and gives a damn about the people in his life. My friend’s assessment was accurate. The moment Frank started to speak, I was captivated. I felt like he stepped inside my brain and walked around for a while. It was the most soothing, most invigorating speech I’d heard in years.

After he concluded, the group of us migrated outdoors for beer and more conversation. I kept feeling the need to talk to Frank directly but like a good introvert, I found an excuse to avoid it. He’s talking to someone else, he’s eating, he’s busy. I’ll just sit here and read his latest book and pine for the moment when I can sit in his proximity. If you’ve never met Frank, you’re missing out. This man looks you in the eyes, holds your hand, hugs you, and talks to you like you matter. He exudes such compassionate energy.

A moment presented itself (thanks to an opening provided by my friend) and I began discussing art with Frank. I’m a painter…and for me, “art is not a thing, it is a way.” Frank and I sat together for over half an hour discussing art. He poured buckets and buckets of encouragement into my mind and soul and rendered me quite speechless. In fact, the entire drive home from the event, I could hardly concentrate on anything else.

I’ve been reading his book (“Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God“) off and on since yesterday and in it, he quotes Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing
.”

Frank has his own reasons for including the text and it carries a specific meaning relevant to the book’s content. But when I read those lines of Shakespeare, I reflected on part of Frank’s talk (in front of 15 people at a random bar church in Arlington, Texas) yesterday. We’re sucking the creativity out of life. We’re stressing out about all the bullshit…the career, the bills, the mediocrity, and we’re losing touch with ourselves, with who we’re supposed to be. We neglect our souls, we discard our families…and for what? The sound a fury of a society who expects us to think and behave like a bunch of fucking robots.

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Life is so much more than sound and fury… Life is “giving love, creating beauty, and finding peace.”

Never Settle for the Easy Answer

Sometimes I really hate church. I hate the stupid songs. I hate the forced greeting time (introvert nightmare). And I hate going when I’m not sure what I believe in. The best thing aging has done for me is being able to CHOOSE whether to go to church. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church…I was every stereotype imaginable. My family was at church every Sunday (for BOTH AM/PM services) and Wednesday. My dad managed the audio/visual systems, my mom cleaned the building, and both parents occasionally taught Sunday School classes. All of the church holiday celebrations were held at my house. The pastor drove me to school for first through fourth grade. In the summer, I sat in the wooden chairs, memorized Bible verses, put on cheesy musicals…I did it all. Even the lame-ass, punitive purity retreats (none of those purity balls though…that’s a special level of fucked up). I also have a BS in Christian Studies that I haven’t used since I graduated in 2007.

When you’re young, you don’t know much about theology beyond the salvation mantra and the debate of right/wrong. You learn about sin and forgiveness. But there’s so much more to Christianity and the Bible that no one tells you…and what’s worse, you’re not encouraged to question anything. You’re just supposed to accept it as absolute truth. To question is to doubt and doubt is almost always viewed as a sin…and therefore wrong. 

When I went through my divorce, I sort of cast myself out of everything related to church… After all, it was CHRISTIANS who told me I was being disobedient by wanting to divorce my ex-husband…and then told me to go back to him after he committed adultery…which is A SIN. Seriously, does the Bible exist for you to pick and choose who to screw over? The message of love has been replaced by a message of manipulation. There’s actually a song that says, “they will know we are Christians by our love…” and when I hear it now, I laugh. The media portrays Christians as these hate-spewing, assholes and some are, but not all. I have tons and tons of friends who are pastors, church leaders, church attenders, and all out (non-asshole) Jesus freaks. Sometimes I feel lonely or left out because I’ve moved on and now focus my time on other things. I skip over articles or Facebook posts related to church or God, especially those chain letter types that say “Share if you love Jesus” (cause if you don’t, you’ll burn in hell with bottles of whiskey and all the members of Pantera). I literally flee from church talk, or anything related to Christian spirituality. It’s like I have an aversion that runs deep into my soul. I don’t know if I’ll always feel like this but the separation from church and all things (bullshit) Christianity have given me a renewed perspective. I don’t feel guilty about my lack of participation. In fact, it’s a divorce I support, knowing I’ve come out stronger on the other side.

I digress.

I have spent the last four years doubting and questioning everything. I can choose church or religion without fear of the wrath of God. I can think for myself and decide what’s worth believing in, investing in, or dismissing. Rest assured, I never, ever settle for the easy answer. For me, the freedom from church is an opportunity to seek new avenues of worship, love, and hope…something I feel I’ve lost in the ruckus of mainstream religion. Sometimes you just need to walk away to find out where you belong. 

 

Give a Damn, Yo

I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a painter. I view writing as artistic expression as much as a painting, sketch, or a sculpture. Anything that communicates emotion, thought, or beauty. I started this blog a few years ago to talk about art and the way it moves and challenges me to think differently; but it morphed into a place to talk about life, love, and the pursuit of whatever counts as happiness. I’ve discussed grief and how powerful and all-consuming it is and even written letters to my dead pastor because it’s the only thing that kept the memory of his voice alive in my head. I’ve talked about my dad’s journey with Parkinson’s Disease and the shitty reality we face knowing his quality of life is not what we hoped for. Lately, my focus has been on compassion and equality because I feel it’s something much of the world lacks.

We need more love. We need to give a bigger damn about people. Giving a damn goes a long way. It opens people’s hearts, saves lives, and moves us towards a brighter, stronger future.

Giving a damn takes courage. It means stepping out in faith knowing that the person you’re trying to help may reject you…but you give a damn anyway. Giving a damn isn’t about you, it’s about others. It’s putting other people before yourself. Acknowledging that someone else is more important, even if only for a moment.

Giving a damn, moving in the direction of love, seems almost revolutionary. In an individualist society, it’s nearly a foreign concept to exhibit a collectivist love…one love for all. One community with one goal–to give a damn about each other. To be compassionate, helpful, hopeful, encouraging, and passionate with one another. No matter who you are, you are loved.

It’s time to give a damn, yo.

Art and God

I’ve been creating art for half of my life. It started with a fascination with VanGogh’s Starry Night. It’s such a popular painting, it’s on coffee mugs, t-shirts, calendars, ugly Christmas sweaters. But to me it was transforming. It was taking all of those elementary art classes and culminating them into a masterpiece of color and texture. The first piece I tried to paint was a remake of the moon in Starry Night. I was captivated by the contrast of the moon against the sky and the sleeping blue town below. That was the beginning of the transformation.

Art was this activity I gravitated towards to challenge myself. I drew the faces of famous people, painted scenes for contests, and began to feel a deep, personal connection to every piece I crafted.

It was as magical as it was painful.

I never imagined that by simply picking up a paintbrush, I would be changed from the inside out. Painting was nothing but moving colors around on paper or canvas or whatever surface I happened to have at the moment. It was never supposed to be anything more. It was never supposed to make me feel emotions buried so deep…but it did. And amid the colors, I discovered the greatest truths about myself.

1) Art is not a thing, it is a way. It is a movement. It is what compels beauty throughout the world. It is not a thing, it is who we are.

2) Art is an act of love. It is the expression of emotions, fears, adoration, all the little phrases we’re too afraid to say with words. It is affection poured out in colorful streams of love.

3) Art is worship. I grew up in a conservative religion. Worship felt like a scripted encounter with God. Pray, sing songs, repeat. I don’t remember when art infiltrated my relationship with God, but over the last 15 years, it became the way I commune with God. It’s where I have my most intimate conversations with the Creator. Art has given me a unique connection with God.

4) I will avoid art if I believe I might feel some emotion I’m not ready to experience. Creating art makes me vulnerable, my defenses are down and I can’t fight off the waves of the past, present, and future. Sometimes I look at my paintbrushes and walk away. Save it for another day.

5) Art is as messy as life. Embrace it.

 

 

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Who’s Who in the Religious Hunger Games

I remember when I loved church…the socialization, the potlucks, and holiday celebrations. I even loved reading the Bible from time to time, absorbing it as this miraculous storybook, full of wonder. Oh and lest I forget the felt board. No Sunday School class was complete without it, the little wooden chairs, and a Bible verse painted awkwardly along the wall. It held value and priority in my life. It gave me importance and purpose.

It also punished the hell out of me, made me feel guilty, and cornered me into a nervous breakdown about 10 years ago.

Now? I don’t know what to believe. Endless references to the inaccuracies of the Bible, whether it’s taken too literally or translated improperly…the gaps of truth are farther apart than Shannon Doherty’s front teeth (seriously, woman, fix that shit). I’m saddened by the loss of confident belief. When it was simple to just believe what I was told. I hate debate and yet I loathe ignorance but I’m too tired to read the same arguments over and over and over.

What would Jesus do? What does God want for us? Is God male or female or both…Does hell exist? Will the world end by zombies? Meteors? Or giant ass horsemen and the largest disappearing act since Heaven’s Gate found their “mother ship”?

I’ve watched Christians spend hours, wasting their lives in order to prove their philosophy/doctrine/theology is the “right” one. Do they want Jesus to high five them? Give them a cookie? A glass of…kool-aid? Does God really give a shit about the logistics, politics, and traditions? How do we even know what God wants from us?

It’s like The Hunger Games…what was once righteous and selfless martyrdom is now murder for sport. I am ashamed to have ever belonged to that form of Christianity.

Seeing Dead People

Dear PJ,

I know this will sound slightly crazy…but my kid (the one I teach) can see ghosts. Dead people. Yes, go ahead, laugh…damn you, Bruce Willis and your overplayed sci-fi film. Anyway, for the last four years, I’ve known that he could see a bit beyond my limited parameters. He saw the spirit or angel of his dead teacher at her funeral…knew she died before his parents told him and he was 8 years old and barely verbal at the time.

The other night he was awake at 3:30AM because he was hearing advice from his grandfather who has been gone for nearly 6 years. He was communicating messages from his grandfather to his dad. He was hearing stories about his dad’s best friend who died when they were in high school…someone the kid had never heard of or met. He confessed his great-grandmother comes to school and tells him jokes…perhaps that’s why he’s a bit giggly at times and refuses to focus on Language Arts.

Sometimes I wonder…if he knew you, if he would see you around. There are days when it feels like you’re sitting right beside me and I can almost sense it. I wish that he could see you…that he could be my special medium so that I know you’re okay…that you don’t mind being apart from us.

I HATE church without you. The new pastor said you were too rogue and he has to reconstruct the church. I call bullshit on his diagnosis. You were just rogue enough. I go to church for your wife. I love her. Through this…loss…we’ve become friends.

Whether or not you agree with me, I’m rather pissed at God. I’d make a thousand wishes, rub every genie’s lamp between here and Bangladesh just to have one more conversation with you; to walk down the hall at church and hear you practicing your sermon. I don’t want to hear that your death was God’s will or any other trite cliche that Christians dish out as a means of comfort. None of their “comfort” brings you back to this planet in a form that I can SEE. God took you and gave us this substitute…

So Sunday, when my bitter soul darkens the church’s back row…know that I’m saving you a seat.

I want a beer. If you’re in the mood and in the neighborhood, stop by.