this thing called life

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” ~ Prince, Let’s Go Crazy

Who knew life could be this beautiful and this terrible all at once?

No one ever told me love would feel like this. I guess it’s something you have to experience for yourself. It’s both learning how to breathe for the first time and forgetting to breathe because the world is suddenly making sense in the arms of the girl you love.

I don’t know a lot of things for sure. Maybe it’s too soon to call. But I do think I know this:

Love. It really does feel like safety and home. Like being cared for as a whole person.

It is being seen. Being seen for who you really are and the other person not running away but in fact, running towards you when you’re in danger and chasing the monsters away.

Even when PTSD sometimes steals those good moments for me–just knowing I’m not alone is a beautiful thing. To be loved–truly loved–is to be seen and accepted for who you are.

To be loved is to just…be. It’s existing…and being not only allowed to exist in this world. But to exist in this world as who you are and to thrive.

It is thriving and growing and smiling in the face of the hard times because you know.

You know everything is going to be ok because you don’t have to do this “thing called life” alone anymore. And maybe that love for you isn’t romantic or coming from just one person. Hopefully, you will know many kinds of love in your life. The kind of love that helps you thrive. I hope that you will–if you have not yet–one day know what it is like to be seen.

 

Disability and The Church

Today I’m excited to introduce a guest writer on the topic of disability and fundamentalism…she NOT ONLY has written a thoughtful post on the subject but also crochets amazing creations, has two amazing dogs, Bailey and Jelly, and is married to an awesome guy who makes great breakfast food. She also blogs at http://cooknhook.com/

Hey, everyone!  I’m Casey, official best friend of Holly, here with a guest post for you on her blog.  I, like Holly, am a writer, but have fallen down on the job as far as sharing my writing with other people.
 Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I seem to care too much what random strangers on the internet think of me, so I’m usually too terrified to put myself out there in vulnerable opinion pieces.  But here I am, because she gave me a topic and a deadline so I would actually get up off my ass and do something productive.
As most of you who are minorities will attest to, there’s a lot of intersection.  I can’t really separate all of the minorities of which I am a part because they are all a part of me.  So who am I?  Short introduction for you: I’m a 24-year-old bisexual autistic woman who was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist cult and am now a liberal, pacifist Christian.  Did you catch all that?  Yeah, me neither. It’s complicated.  So let’s just jump right in…
There’s starting to be a lot more conversation about what it means to be a woman, or a person of color, or a sexual minority, etc., and how that affects a person’s role in a church community.  And that’s amazing.  Where we’re not hearing a lot of conversation is how the disabled, and especially the neurodiverse, play an important role in the church.
I once told my husband that quite often I see churches with wheelchair ramp ministries – where people go all around the community and build ramps to make all sorts of places more accessible to the disabled community.  As an autistic person, my disability is for the most part invisible.  And the neurotypical world has no clue how to build mental “ramps” so that a church community can be more accessible to autistic people.  Or if they try… in my experience, autism ministries at most churches are patronizing and condescending because they are run by caretakers and not autistic people themselves.
In the foreword of a book I just started reading, Disabled Church – Disabled Society by John Gillibrand, Dr. Rowan Williams writes: “At the most fundamental level of all, the summons is to let go of the patronizing downward look at those who are different.”  Imagine what our churches would look like if we started making the kind of progress in ministering to the neurodiverse that we have made in ministering to other minorities.  Dr. Williams continues, “we jeopardize human dignity most when we try to bind it to the characteristics we can recognize and value and understand as mirroring only our own faces.  The harder labour is seeing ourselves in the person who is genuinely and painfully other.”
I challenge the church to see your autistic members. Value our contributions and take a step back so that we can lead as well.  We are different.  But we are all more human and more Christ-like when we can look at the “other-ness” in one another and recognize the diverse and beautiful nature of Christ in all of us.

A Long, Long Way Back to Nashville

(Content Warning for mentions of homophobia, transphobia, sexism, etc.)

(This post is gonna come with some song recommendations because this’ll be an intense post: https://open.spotify.com/user/1226783215/playlist/4GfdkGzK4U5xI0bhDclAL0 )

Alright, settle in my friends. First come the facts and then come the feelings. I’m going to attempt to write about the Nashville Statement. In case you’re wondering what that is or want some context for what I’ll be discussing, here’s the link to the statement: https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/

Here also are some links for statements that oppose the Nashville Statement that are amazing and affirming:

http://www.theliturgists.com/statement

http://www.christiansunitedstatement.org/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2017/08/the-denver-statement/

Anyway, now I’ve given you some reading. If you grew up in fundamentalism, you’re perhaps familiar with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. If you are, I am so sorry. The Nashville Statement was released just yesterday and yet already the impact of it has been felt amongst those of us who are LGBTQ+ Christians. We saw a lot of groups affirming us in our faith and humanity.

But we also saw the worst of evangelicalism as many leaders of the faith such as John Piper and Francis Chan signed a statement saying we did not belong in the Church. That we did not belong. I’m still mad as hell but trying to channel that in a positive direction towards affirming my queer siblings in the faith. Yes, you belong. Yes, you are children of God. Yes, you are loved and beloved and Jesus sees you and loves you as you are.

Not only did this statement tell me that I do not belong because I am gay they told me that my faith wasn’t real. That my gender identity wasn’t biblical. Or whatever the fuck that means.

You know what statements and creeds dictate who’s a part of the Christian faith? Not this one. This one was written by predominantly straight white cisgender men who see this as their assertion of doctrine and they couldn’t give a fuck about how destructive their position is. However, if you read the Nicene Creed or the Apostle’s Creed, you’ll see that there’s no mention of sexuality or gender identity as a stipulation for being a follower of Christ.

Being a follower and believer of Christ is what makes us a part of the Christian faith. That may look differently lived out for some, but ultimately, we’re Christians because ya know, that Jesus guy came to earth as God in the flesh–God with us–and walked among us. And loved the least of these, the outcasts, the outsiders. And told us we were loved and belong.

I’d be lying if I said this whole Nashville thing didn’t rattle me a bit. Even though I know this is bigotry on display publicly. Even though I know it shouldn’t matter because I know my faith is real, it still hurts.

I don’t really know what else to say. I But I have a lot of feelings. I want to protect and defend my LGBT siblings. I want to fight for y’all. And I will fight for y’all. You know how Jesus said to pray for your enemies? That’s where I’m at. Several men who signed this statement were my professors. One is the president of the seminary I attended.

Except…the enemies are also a part of the body of Christ. They were supposed to be family. But they’ve decided we don’t all belong in the family and are trying to kick us out. Again. We’re family. Except it feels more like they built a wall to keep us out. It’s not that they haven’t done this before. But it seems like they drew a line in the sand and closed the door to any hope of change (I know…too many metaphors; sorry). It feels like they’re declared war and have set themselves up as the good guys. And to them, we’re the bad guys.

Let me tell you what I know, in closing. God is for us. God. Is. For. You. Yes, you.

“So what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?

And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us–who was raised to life for us!–is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us…

Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing–nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable–absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” ~ Romans 8:31-39cropped-christmas-jeremiah-ethiopia-032.jpg

Go in peace knowing Jesus has embraced you and that nothing can separate you from God’s love.

 

 

The Taming of the Misconstrued (the series)

Content Note for misogyny and misogynistic slurs:

I didn’t know I was going to be introducing a new series tonight. But this is what happens when you listen to Taylor Swift on repeat, drink alcohol, and try to write a blog post at the same time after a long week of dealing with sensitive male egos. Sort of. I realized a while back that I’ve never explained the story behind the blog title! Not that I needed to, because if you read it long enough, I guess you figure it out?

But just for fun, if you’re unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, allow me to VERY quickly summarize it before continuing: Basically, it’s a story about a guy convinces a girl to be in a relationship with him and then marry him even though she’s reluctant and he works at “taming her” to become the ideal wife via psychological manipulation. It’s super fucked up, and I actually refuse to read all of it. But a good modern film adaption is 10 Things I Hate about You which surprisingly is a movie I love.

Flash forward to a couple years ago, and my brother-in-law was telling me about how HILARIOUS it was. Which made me realize that how fundamentalism re: the patriarchy views women and folks assigned female at birth (AFAB) is PRETTY MESSED UP. (Little does he know that conversation sparked the idea for title of this blog.)

Enter: Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off because y’all. This is not ok. Not only do men in fundamentalist circles think this is not a serious issue, they’ll often laugh at how women are treated in entertainment and at how women are treated in relationship to themselves. Like, we owe them something just because they’re men and we should all think they’re fabulous. But oh, if we reject them for someone else (or heaven forbid, a woman), we are a slut/pervert/ugly, etc.

WHAT’S WORSE is hearing this from your own father, brother, cousin, uncle. Maybe this is why certain passages of Scripture are interpreted with that bent. For instance, I Corinthians 6…you know that verse about our bodies not being our own but God’s? Apparently there’s something in the fine print: “and also your body belongs to men.” It’s not just this passage but mannnny like it that are interpreted this way for women to be subservient to men. And I used to think it made sense until I realized the folks telling me that’s “clearly what the bible said,” were all men. Our world has been dominated by men from the start. We have to respect our fathers, our husbands, and apparently all men. Or do we?

Is that really what God intended when he created humanity? That some of the humans create this hierarchy of power and control over others? I DON’T THINK SO. MAYBE I’M WRONG but I feel like humans use God as an excuse to do shitty things to each other. “God told me you would be the person I’d marry.” Or “I believe it is God’s will for us to date.” Or…”I don’t think God wants you to do…” You get the idea.

ANYWAY. It’s been a real messed up week dealing with the patriarchy in the form of the president, my dad, and an ex-boyfriend who randomly started talking to me again after a  break-up (his not mine; we broke up like 3 years ago). Turns out you don’t owe anyone your emotional labor and attention even when you’re conditioned to do so.

All my life I’ve been told I have to listen to men because God. Said. So. What if…what if the god we’ve been given isn’t actually the God who is. What if God and the Bible were never meant to be used as tools men could use to control us? What if the Bible was never meant to “tame” us but to help us love each other better? Maybe we should just love each other.

 

It Runs in the Family

Once upon a time, my grandaddy wanted to be a preacher. He grew up on a farm and he’s the youngest of thirteen children. He didn’t have a lot of money or education but he cared about people and was kind.

His pastor took him under his wing and began to mentor him when he was around 17 years old. My grandaddy trusted his pastor implicitly, respected him, and didn’t question his authority.

Until a scandal broke out and the pastor left suddenly. He ran away with the church organist and embezzled church funds. This was particularly damaging to my grandaddy who trusted this man as a spiritual leader and friend.

So, he went searching for the pastor…

When he found him, he beat the shit out of him and made him give back the money he’d stolen. After that, my grandfather stopped going to church for decades and became an alcoholic.

He still tried to provide for his family well but it wasn’t until I was in middle school that he came back to church. I tell you that story, because a few generations later, we’re not so different.

Spiritual trauma is passed down from generation to generation and is usually connected to other forms of abuse. My family knows first hand what spiritual abuse can do both in a church community and to the families that go to that church.

My dad pastored a small church for five years that split from a larger congregation. And they never really dealt with the issues that caused the split. So those wounds festered and the church was extremely fundamentalist and authoritarian. My dad became a pastor and was manipulated by a church that caused harm both to him and the rest of our family.

That’s a much longer story for another time, but my family ended up leaving that church and going back to the one I grew up in after I finished college. My parents still go to a church that pushed me out for being queer. They somehow still trust the leadership of the church.

I think part of that is that it’s all they know. They’re trapped in a cycle because they’ve been taught not to question the church leadership’s decisions regardless of the harm that may be caused in the name of “righteousness.” It’s hard to get out when your whole world revolves around your faith community.

If you leave, you may never find that sense of community again. Effectively, it’s isolating. It leaves folks stranded and causes damage that’s irreparable…even to the point of leaving many with symptoms of PTSD.

I lost many relationships with people I thought were my friends–people who I thought were my family. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I found a supportive church community to fall back on. At times, that doesn’t even feel real and I still don’t trust most people. But I want to.

How do you trust a space that tells you your love isn’t valid, that you can’t work with the children anymore, that you have to “repent” of a part of you that you know you can’t change? How do you feel safe again when a place that’s supposed to be safe destroys you? How do you feel safe?

There are a lot of us who are survivors of spiritual abuse who don’t know how to heal and have the psychological scars to prove it. I don’t know what healing looks like for us yet, but I want to help prevent other people from being hurt and help those who have been hurt move forward.

So, it seems weird to be in seminary and wanting to be a pastor. It feels like this should be the LAST thing I’d want to do. But I do it for people like my grandaddy. For my friends who have to go through therapy because of church. For my friends who aren’t sure they believe in God anymore because the only picture of God they see is an angry God who tells them they’re going to hell for being queer.

I guess…I want to be a pastor for those who have been hurt by pastors. I know I can’t fix the harm already caused, but I hope I can provide healing and love so that the wounds can become scars. And if anyone tries to hurt you again, they’ll have to deal with me.

here I am, breathing…

I got to spend some quality time outside for the first time in a while. Just being outside and away from people helps me breathe better. Lately, I’ve felt like my mind was on fire. And I couldn’t stop the pain from coming–nor could I get it to leave.

I am so tired. all. the. time. Maybe it’s the residual effect of finally being free of fundamentalism and less influenced by my parents.

Either way, I don’t know how to rest now that I’m safe. Why can’t the world stop for one second so I can catch my breath? And yet, it spins on–the news cycle continues to be exhausting, bad things keep happening.

But still, here I am, breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. In this moment, everything is ok. I am ok. And it’s ok when I’m not ok, too. Everything hurts, but for a moment, it doesn’t hurt quite as much.

I can hear traffic but it’s just background noise. A few moments ago, I heard church bells off in the distance and that was calming, too. Maybe because I’ve found God more in the middle of the woods than in a sanctuary.

I’m…not ok. Will I ever be ok? What does being ok look like? Doubt has wreaked havoc again in my soul. Am I…good enough? Am I…good? Does the God I believe in–does that God hear me? How can I pray for others and pastor others when I need those things myself?

Will people still love me when I’m like this? Everything hurts. Will it ever stop hurting?

Maybe if I stopped asking so many questions, I’d be better off…

My subconscious has been screaming out for everything to just stop. I find myself lying on the floor curled up in the fetal position crying for no reason. Or for every reason. How can I help others when I need help myself?

And it’s not like I don’t have really good friends helping me. But yet…I still feel like I have to hide the darker parts of my mental illnesses. Because maybe you wouldn’t understand. Or if you do understand, will you run the other way?

All I know is…I want to walk alongside you hand in hand. And I won’t let anyone hurt you. They’ll have to deal with me if they do. And I know…somehow I still know God is for us. You matter and you’re loved and worthy of love. And I’ll keep fighting to keep you safe. But yet, I doubt that you’d all do the same for me. Because…maybe I’m not good enough. And imposter syndrome is a thing.

Still. Here I am. Breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Just keep breathing. Just keep loving.

only a crack in this castle of glass

(Content Note for discussion of gender dysphoria, purity culture, and religious trauma)

It’s officially been a week since I moved out of my parents’ house. Into a space that I still can’t believe is my own. It’s both freeing and terrifying. I’m not used to taking up space that’s for me. I’m used to taking up someone else’s space and just being allowed to exist in that space other people occupied.

Now that the space is my own, I’ve been reflecting on why I’ve more often than not never felt like I could take up space–that I could never be comfortable in any physical space including my own body.

If you grew up in fundamentalist culture, you’re probably also familiar with purity culture which I’ve talked about several times here.

I am so used to feeling small. Feeling like I had to make myself small for others’ comfort. When you grow up being taught to be afraid of your body and its effects on men, that does a number on your psyche. Especially if you’re taught as I was that you’re responsible for how men view you.

Even as a little, pre-pubescent kid, I was keenly aware of how men perceived me. Comments were made like, “Isn’t she a pretty little thing? She’s gonna be a heartbreaker when she gets older.” or “Come here and give me a hug, sweetheart.” That last one was more of a command and was never an option to refuse. And as compliant as I was, I never did even when it made me uncomfortable (which was almost always).

Our bodies are over-sexualized and over-scrutinized before we can even name what’s wrong with that.

Purity culture aside, I grew up being very uncomfortable with my body anyway. I was aware that I was born a girl. But I was also aware that I liked boy things and sometimes didn’t feel like a girl or a boy. Rather I felt somewhere in between.

When I DID hit puberty, I wanted to hide my developing chest at all costs. I would wear baggy shirts until about 15 and before that, around age 10, I fought my mom a lot on having to wear bras. I hated my body and I hated how people looked at me when my body started changing.

And Joshua Harris DID NOT HELP. If you don’t know, and didn’t read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, god bless you. Dating is awkward when you’re not interested in boys. But you do want their clothes and their flat chests. If that sounds weird, welcome to my world. I swear, he “apologized,” but nothing can undo the damage.

Sometimes, I would pretend I didn’t have a body and that I was more of a shell. The real me was simply existing in a body that didn’t feel a part of me. There was a disconnect. I just felt like I was a “crack in this castle of glass” as the Linkin Park song goes. Being sexually abused as a child and later assaulted by a boyfriend made me hate my body even more. Like I was something wrong that caused men to do wrong things they couldn’t help. Even my dad would look at me a certain way sometimes that made me feel like maybe I only existed to “sit still and look pretty.”

Turns out–not much has changed. I’m working on loving myself and loving my body and seeing it as a part of me. That it’s not something to be ashamed of. That being non-binary is valid and still referring to myself as female is more of a default. I’m comfortable with it but being non-binary is also me.

 

It is painful to realize that your body and yourself cannot exist without changing to fit into spaces that were never meant for you. Clothes that were never meant for you. What IS meant for you is to take up some space, god damn it. You exist and you’re allowed to take up space. MORE THAN ALLOWED. It is ok and it is good to be who you are and love your body for what it is–a part of a whole person who is lovely and good. Now I need to remind myself of that. We are good and the kids will eventually be alright. We will be ok. We are lovely and good and we can and do take of space. Our bodies are good and holy even. We are good.