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.

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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.”

Alice in the Real World

Ann B. Davis, who played Alice on The Brady Bunch, passed away over the weekend. I was reading an article about her and was moved by her words: “I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole.” Davis was part of an Episcopalian community. I feel as though we are spiritual creatures in many ways. I also think this is applicable whether you believe in God or another spiritual deity. Sometimes we find ourselves the most complete when the spiritual space inside of us is filled with something beautiful.

More than ever, I see how Buddha, Mohammed, the Holy Saints, Pope Francis, Tupac, Mother Theresa, Johnny Cash, and other philanthropists have served to guide people in their quest for beauty, peace, and wholeness. I have Buddhas, rosaries, saints and other memorabilia all around my house in respect to the great leaders of this life…and the next.

We all have a deeper sense of self, an essence that desires to be integrated with a world much larger than ourselves. And I know what it feels like to have a spiritual void. It’s unnerving and lonely. We are relational creatures and our ability to empathize extends beyond conversations, birthday parties, and picnics in the park. It’s the exchange of spiritual energies while drowning in grief or when giving birth to a child. It’s soul connection. It doesn’t necessarily matter who or what we connect with, as long as we’re engaging in a collaborative relationship where we feel complete. The fulfillment is beautiful.

 

Thanks for all the great lessons, Alice.

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. 

 

Free Hugs

I’m currently sitting in my recliner under a blanket with my trusty laptop across my legs. Not that the description matters, but perhaps it will allow you to step into the space I’m in as you read the words I’m thinking, saying, and typing. I’m also writing a research paper…which is the universe’s way of taking every profound notion I have and making it tedious as hell, to the point I’m willing to give up all future aspirations of brilliance. I’d rather be boring than have to cultivate a 15-page paper on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. And we wonder why procrastination exists. 

My research paper (because I know you, dear reader, are so interested) is over the use of mandalas in psychotherapy. At least I’m not analyzing Freud…that’s the only upside after days of research and writing. God help me when I have to initiate the thesis project. I’m getting off topic… One of the books I read was about art and spirituality. The two have always been mutually exclusive for me. When I create art, I connect with the divine… One particular chapter was called “Loving Body is Embracing Spirit.” I haven’t read the chapter so everything I’m about to say may in fact be redundant. I was too distracted by the title to peruse its contents. That, friends, is what’s known as a “disclaimer.”

Anyway, in reading the title, I started thinking about what it means to love one’s body and embrace spirit. For those who believe that there is a Divine Spirit in this world, in the heavens, and everywhere in between, there’s also the knowledge of the Divine Spirit within us. I wondered what that looks like, the Spirit rolling around inside me with all my quirky traits, horrible thoughts, and last night’s Firefly Vodka. Even beyond that, I wondered if all of the talents and gifts I possess are empowered by this Spirit dwelling within. There are so many elements about myself that I love and hate, or at the very least, wish were better. But in “hating” these elements, am I rejecting this Spirit? Do I dismiss this Spirit when I dismiss the beauty of my body because it doesn’t meet the standards of anorexic Calvin Klein models or that dipshit CEO from Abercrombie & Bitch?

Loving oneself doesn’t mean you have to walk around wearing a shirt that says “I kick ass” unless of course, you want to. It just means accepting who you are, in your entirety. If you do believe that there’s some divine essence dwelling around you and in you, and if you believe that this same entity has imbued you with certain traits…in loving yourself, you embrace the spirit. 

Kind of makes me want to give myself a hug. Or at the very least, walk around hugging people I know (and don’t know), for the sake of accepting others and their inner spirit.  

Oh and if you’re interested, the book I referenced is called “Spirituality and Art Therapy” by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen (Ed.)

Before They’re Gone

I tend to grieve things before I lose them. Family, friends, even my cat. Call it self-preservation or preparing for the inevitable or morbid or whatever. It’s just something I do. I find myself almost obsessing over the fact that everything dies. Animal, vegetable, mineral..well, maybe not mineral. It’s my greatest fear and sadness and I rarely ever talk about it. I’m afraid if I say the words, it will happen and I don’t know what or who I would become if it did.

I dread aging because I know in turn my parents and grandparents will also age and the proof of human frailty will become even more evident. These great relationships I’ve experienced, they add up to who I am on the inside. Will I still be the same without them? We trust and put faith in the fact that heaven exists, but can we really know for sure? Are the people we love really absent from this life or are they dancing around us, watching us move on without them? Are they happy? Were they ready to and okay with dying when they did? Are they as angry about it as we are?

Every time someone I know dies, I wonder about my own timeline. Sometimes I wish life was like that movie In Time, where you could physically see and know what your life looks like, when you’re supposed to…expire. For some, the not knowing serves as a catalyst to embrace every moment with abandon. For others, like me, it’s a reason to be paralyzed in fear. Panicking about being in the car or any unfamiliar pain in my body. It’s overwhelming. 

I grow weary pondering the moments my loved ones leave this planet and ascend into whatever comes next. I cherish and hold every second I spend with them before they’re gone.

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.

Metta Meditation

Two weeks ago I started attending a meditation group. It’s facilitated by a Buddhist teacher and each week, he opens new pathways to connect our outer self with our inner self. 

I suck at meditation. The great thing about mindful meditation: No judgment. So, according to said principle, I don’t suck at meditation. Meditation is like A.D.D. hell. Sit still for 30 minutes and concentrate on breathing. 

Breath 1, breath 2, air conditioner, cold, jacket, hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, hungry.

That’s my brain on meditation. If I’m tired, hungry, or just plain bitchy, concentration is as fleeting as my interest in sitting idly.

Last Saturday I was having a particularly difficult time staying focused. I was distracted by some other circumstances: 1) Poor sleep 2) My husband was awaiting a massage by some tart after a 3 week labor intensive business trip 3) I can’t focus on ANYTHING when I’m tired and I know someone other than me is going to have their hands on my man. Note to self: Study deep tissue massage therapy skills and grow some damn muscles. After the standard 30 minute meditation, the group discussed our ability or inability to maintain awareness.

Then something magical happened. The facilitator introduced Metta Meditation. It’s a loving-kindness or compassion meditative practice. It works like ripples in a pond. You begin with yourself. You show compassion towards yourself, then to your family, then your friends, neutral people, and even people you don’t like. You repeat a phrase in your mind over and over, beginning with yourself and then expanding.

The phrase we were given: “May I be well, happy, and peaceful.” We recite the phrase 4 or 5 times and then move on…

“May my family be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May neutral people be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May [person/people I don’t like] be well, happy, and peaceful.”

I did fine until I got to the last phrase. When I visually imagined the difficult person in my life, I actually made a face of disgust. To say it takes energy to wish a malicious bastard wellness, happiness, and peace is an understatement. But I needed to do it. I think the action was proactive and positive and removed some of the weight hanging around my neck. It’s the closest I think I’ll ever get to loving my enemies. I hope that by repeating this phrase, I’ll become a catalyst for change in my own heart and in the hearts and minds of others.

After the session, I was driving home and was cut off by a rude driver in a very large SUV. I had to stop my car to keep from hitting road barrels. I flipped the driver off then laughed and shouted, “May the shitty driver be well, happy, and peaceful!”

Hey, it’s a start.

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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