When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church and Loving Thy Neighbor

Something that always rubbed me the wrong way while I was involved with church was this idea that the church should only serve its community in order to “convert” non-believers or get people into the seats on Sunday morning. This always felt so gross and manipulative. Jesus freely gave to those in need and told us to do the same with no strings attached. He didn’t pitch them the next teaching series at Temple.

I am not great at volunteering my time, in general. I do so on occasion, but I usually donate money. We all play our parts, right? There are a few occasions I can remember wanting to organize some kind of event to serve our local community. I don’t remember what I wanted to do, exactly, but I do remember talking to the pastor about it.

He said something like, “Ok, great. What’s the end goal? Are we going to give them some literature or invite them to a specific service?”

I was surprised because I hadn’t even thought about that. I said, “Well, no. I thought we could just have this event and serve our community in this way.”

He pretty much said that the church wouldn’t sponsor an event without some kind of call to action. We had to talk to them about God, have some kind of alter call, offer to pray with them, or invite them to a service. I was so disappointed. It felt gross, honestly.

Why couldn’t we just serve and love our neighbors without proselytizing to them? Aren’t we supposed to show God’s love by our actions and not by how hard we try to sell them on it? Also, why are we assuming that people who are in need don’t already have a relationship with God? Do we inherently think that if you’re poor or have fallen on hard times, then you clearly don’t know Jesus because otherwise you wouldn’t be struggling?

These are some of the questions I had and still have. This is all so problematic. The more I learn about inherent bias, colonialism, and racism, the more problematic this all starts to look to me. I’ve always felt that if we are good at loving people, which is what we are commanded to do, then the fruit of our love will bring people to know Jesus better. Sales tactics, manipulation, coercion, and control do not produce good fruit. They never have – and today’s evangelical church is living proof of that.

I remember that we had a series that lasted several weeks just on how to invite people to church. We were encouraged (guilted? shamed?) and coached (indoctrinated?) on how to get people to come to church with us. As if the only way people will be able to experience God is within the walls of a church. And to be really clear, I didn’t go to a fundamentalist church like a Southern Baptist or Mormon/LDS church. I went to a non-denominational evangelical church. They play modern worship music and wear jeans and football jerseys on Sundays.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing? Some would say so. I think that until the Church takes full responsibility for the harm it’s done, this will remain true. The fruit will continue to be rotten. Until the Church owns its gross misrepresentation of God and Her true nature, it will continue to push people away from church. And maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. Burn it all down and rebuild something anchored in love for Her people.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church vs. the Other

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church vs. the Other
Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

*TW: Spiritual Abuse

This past weekend, I attended an online Sunday service, of sorts. It was put on by someone in the faith community whom I trust very much and it took place with a small group in his home. He’s familiar with the deconstructing process and has had to do quite a bit of deconstructing on his own. I’ve been able to follow his journey on social media, so I felt really safe observing.

The conversation was very open during this service. Anyone could chime in with thoughts or questions. It was very open and lovely. There was no “lesson” or agenda, really. They read from John 10 and then shared what it made them think of or how it made them feel. Part of the discussion led to a conversation around “otherness” and how the church has excluded certain groups of people from God’s love, even though Jesus says quite the opposite about how we come into Her love.

This reminded me of many instances where I was looked at as “other” within my church during my time there. One that really stuck out was when a group of friends and I got together and decided to start a little Bible study at someone’s house. These were not friends I currently went to church with but these were people I did a lot of my day-to-day life with. It was a nice way to spend time together while learning about God and Her nature.

At the time, I was considered a part of “informal” leadership at my church because I was on the worship team. Something to note, I could never be considered a formal leader within that church because I am a woman. Apparently women are not allowed to lead men. I was only made aware of this “small” detail because the conversation came up amongst a small group of us at some church event. I was honestly shocked, and super pissed, because I had never been told this explicitly before and thought my church was rather progressive (ha!).

While at church one morning, I had mentioned this really great group of people I was gathering with once a week to worship with and study God’s word with. To my surprise, my worship leader warned me about small group gatherings outside the umbrella of a church with an established theology. He said that I could get into “trouble” of sorts because without a church overseeing what was being taught, we could be at risk for false teachings. In the church, “false teachings” are a great scare tactic to keep people from trusting their own discernment and keep the church in control. It was the mose bizarre thing I had every heard. The original church started in the homes of fellow believers; small communities of people who opened their homes to one another in love.

Something I’ve learned about the church over the years is that it is afraid of free-thinkers and those who do not follow the formula. Something I’ve learned about God’s nature is that She does not perscribe to nor require a formula for Her love.

Needless to say, I never brought up the home group at church again. I thought the concern and warning were hot garbage. Also, I hate being told what to do. Fuck off with that. No one ever mentioned it to me again, and I certainly wasn’t brought into any intervention with church leadership. But, if you’re familiar with my story, then you know that my time would come soon enough.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Music

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I’ve been sitting on this for a while because I’ve been doing my own processing and healing. While in the middle of writing this blog, there were several public outcries from the evangelical community denouncing the process of deconstruction. Trusted leaders, pastors, and musicians have called deconstruction evil, witchcraft, and ungodly. I’m in a place where I can often ignore or shrug off these ridiculous claims, but sometimes it hits a nerve.

I am a lover of music. I love all different kinds of music. Not only do I love music, I am also a musician. Music is very powerful and can evoke powerful emotions. It can convey what is not being said and bring people to a special place.

While in the church, worship time was my favorite. I was often on stage, singing with the worship team. This appealed to me for several reasons. For one, I love to sing. I love to take a song and make it a little bit mine. Secondly, I love being on stage. As scary as it can be, I like having eyes on me. I like performing. I like being heard. I really feel at home on the stage. When people would come up to me after church and compliment me on my voice, it filled my cup.

In the church, however, you are reminded quite regularly that you are there to serve and it isn’t about you or whatever need of yours it is fulfilling. While I believe servant leadership is a beautiful thing, the struggle between joy and sense of duty that came with leading worship eventually led to guilt and shame around enjoying what you were doing. It was made to feel selfish. I felt this and I saw it all around me. It made me sad that people couldn’t just enjoy the high of performing without being pulled down by the guilt of being self-indulgent in your talent and hobby. This was seen as holy.

There are many exvangelicals who will talk about the manipulation tactics used during worship services – evoking strong emotions by song choice, “spontaneous” worship time, talking over a musical intro/outro, long build ups in songs, dimmed lights or concert lighting. These are all things that happen during worship. These are not points I feel too strongly about, personally, but I believe that anyone who feels they were misled or manipulated by these tactics have valid opinions. Not everyone carries the same opinions or experiences from the church and I would never dismiss the harm done by the use of these tactics.

I’m also an avid listener of music. It’s rare that you walk into my home without some kind of music playing – especially if I’m alone. I admire talented musicians and lyricists. I sing loudly to the music I love. I dance around my house while cooking or cleaning.

Some weeks ago, my partner asked if I had heard the newest Skillet album. He knows that I really like Skillet’s music, so this is a totally normal question, but I wasn’t prepared for how triggering it would be. At the time, I was a bit hesitant to listen to anything remotely close to Christian music because so many of my beliefs have evolved recently. I’m still working through this. I want to be cognizant of the musicians I support because I don’t want to perpetuate the abuse I’ve experienced.

While writing this blog, a very problematic video came out where John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, declared a “war on deconstruction.” This isn’t entirely surprising, but still hurtful. As a fan, I realized that their music is no longer safe, uplifting, or encouraging for me. He is spreading a dangerous and unloving message at his concerts while his legions of fans cheer him on. The irony here is that he is fiercely defending an institution that does not fully accept him for who he is with all his rock ‘n roll and tattoos. The only reason he is welcomed by any part of the evangelical community is because of deconstruction. Deconstruction paved a way for him to be a successful musician on the edge of evangelicalism and secular popularity. Since then, I’ve done some research and realized that John Cooper has a history of spreading misinformation and dangerous ideologies. Disappointing, to say the least.

Navigating the obstacle course of the music I once loved can be an exhausting feat. There are still musicians who I adore and will sometimes listen to. For now, though, I stick with my alternative, rock, pop, new grass, and hip-hop of the secular variety. It’s more open, loving, and godly than I was taught to believe.

Floor of Failure

*This is a repost from a blog I had in 2012. It feels as real today as it did then.

Sometimes I look in the mirror

and you rear your ugly head

I try to pretend you aren’t there

that you don’t exist

Then I trip and fall flat on my face

You are ever-so present

and all I want to do is cry

give up and lie

on the floor of failure

Tonight I’m facing this

monster that paralyzes me

with fear with invisible power

I can’t put my finger on it

The intangible terror is

dancing with you in

my head

My mouth is dry and my

words are gone

What you don’t know, though

is that I just took my

first step

to no longer being under

your thumb.

Divorce: The Best Decision I Made … In the Last 10 Years

Divorce: The Best Decision I Made … In the Last 10 Years

This post will probably rub many people the wrong way – especially my fellow Christians. Good. I hope it does. There’s a very important point to this, so keep reading.

First, let me make this very clear. Divorce is hard and painful. If I would have known my first marriage was going to end in divorce, I never would have gotten married. I’m sure that goes without saying, but I’m saying it. But I also believe that no time is ever wasted and God redeems everything, including time.

My first marriage was never what I would call “good”. Some people who know me might be surprised by this fact. Others, conversely, are not surprised at all. Perspective is a funny thing. There are several factors that play into this but I truly believe that even if we each would have made better choices, we would have eventually ended up in the same place.

Why do I believe that? Suffice it to say that I’m a problem solver and a fighter. I believe no situation is hopeless. That passion and perseverance were not reciprocated. A relationship like that will never last. And typically, after that pattern goes on long enough, there is a lot of resentment that eventually turns into an emotionally abusive relationship, at best.

In my first marriage, I became a person I didn’t know. Words that come to mind are weak, powerless, co-dependent, pessimistic, underachiever. Now, these words are far from the truth. They are lies from the depths of hell, but that is how I was living.

Here is the trick, though. I believed that if I tried hard enough or “gave it to God” enough, that it would get better and my marriage would be saved. I believed that if I pushed through and persevered that it would get better. And I honestly thought divorce would be the worst possible thing to happen. I wasn’t a quitter. And God is always faithful.

That said, God is always faithful – it just might not be in the way we want Him to be at that time. He works everything out for our good. We just may not be able to see it right now.

During the struggles in my first marriage, I had several well-meaning Christians give me advice.

“God honors marriage.”

“Give it up to Him.”

“God hates divorce.”

“God can redeem any situation.”

These are all TRUE statements. But I’m here to tell you something:

God does hate divorce, but not more than He loves you.

Let me repeat that for those in the back:

God does not hate divorce more than He loves you.

Our God is a personal, loving Father who loves you more than anything. He wants the absolute best for you. It breaks His heart to see His children suffer.

I will never tell someone that if their marriage is struggling, then go get divorced. Every couple and situation is uniquely different. But if the only reason you are still in your marriage is that you think divorce is a sin and you think you’re honoring God by staying, then I want to encourage you in knowing that God loves you more than that. I recommend you shift your heart posture from being sin focused to being focused on our loving, graceful Father.

But if you have a partner who is willing to really work from a place of love, then partner with God and He will honor that.

Remember, God loves you more than He hates divorce. I promise. God will choose you every time.

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My life is so much better since choosing divorce. I’ve let go of so much guilt and shame. I’m closer to God than I’ve ever been or thought possible. I am becoming myself again. Positive, loving, driven. And slowly but surely my big dreams are becoming a reality.

I know there will be people who vehemently disagree with this post. I’m good with that. I’m confident in God’s promises for me and that’s all I need. I’ve learned to let the opinions of others not affect me.

But I encourage you to really lean into whatever may be causing offense in your heart about this post. When something causes us to have an offended heart, it is usually God stirring up a wound that needs healing. So lean into that and ask God where you need healing.

Or you can call me a heretic. I’m fine with that too. While I truly hope you find healing, I won’t be offended if you disagree with me.

And for those of you in the tough situation of trying to figure out if divorce is your best option, I’m sorry. It sucks. But I hope you find it encouraging to know that God loves you and blesses you whether or not you make all the right choices. That’s why His grace is so beautiful. The decision is never simple or easy, but He will be by your side through it all.

Finally, for my fellow divorcées; I’ve been there. My prayer for you is wholeness. Full restoration and healing in your family are possible, even though that may seem impossible right now. There is hope and beauty and healing on the other side of divorce. I promise.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Always Look Like Suicide

Mental Illness Doesn’t Always Look Like Suicide

*Trigger warning: This post discusses difficult topics like drugs, alcohol, suicide, and self-harm.*

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Everyone has mental health. Just like we have physical health, like bone health and cardiovascular health, we have mental health.

Poor mental health runs in my family just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease can run in one’s family. From the outside, that may not seem apparent. No one in my family has ever lost their battle with mental illness by suicide – at least none that we know of in recent generations. But plenty of people in my family have battled mental illness with food, drugs, alcohol, and work. As a result, many have died prematurely from heart attacks, complications from obesity, type 2 diabetes, stress, cancer, and what we like to call “hard living”.

We don’t talk about these things like mental health issues. We don’t say, “Oh, she really really struggled with mental illness, which ultimately took her life.” No, we don’t say that. We say, “Oh, she struggled with obesity her whole life, which led to a life-ending heart attack at age 60.” But what really happened is, she lived a hard life because she was raised feeling unworthy, which caused her mental health to break down. And because we don’t talk about the hard things in our life – the mistakes, broken dreams, the painful things done to us, and our lack of love for ourselves – it grows like a cancer inside of us. And because there’s a stigma around getting real help from therapy or just saying, “I’m not okay”, we medicate.

Food makes us feel better. Alcohol and drugs dull everything around us – the bad stuff and the good stuff. Work helps us ignore it. These medications aren’t initially seen as an issue because they are the things we would do in a healthy life too. No stigma.

We have to eat and work. These are essentials in our lives, so they can’t be that bad. Alcohol is something we use to socialize or unwind on occasion, but it’s not used every day or all day for the average person. They are socially acceptable.

But, the truth is, I come from a long line of people who use these things to feel better when our mental health is suffering. If left unchecked, we use them to the point of addiction – to the point of abuse. And I’m not alone.

Remember, mental illness doesn’t always mean suicide or self-harm. It’s not always that final or that obvious. In fact, it almost never starts there. It starts somewhere much smaller and less defined – in the gray areas.

This is why self-love is so important. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You must love yourself and take care of yourself. Take time for you. Take a walk, a bubble bath, a nap, a yoga class. Meditate, read, write. Visit a friend, take yourself out for coffee. Take a mental health day or a whole weekend! Tell people no.

And – encourage this behavior in others. Give people permission to tell you no, or to take a day off. Give them permission to have bad days and love them anyway.

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Let’s be advocates for self-love: for ourselves and for others.

How are you going to practice self-care this week? Let me know in the comments!

 

Mourning the Loss of What Wasn’t

A friend of mine who has a strong social media presence recently posted on Facebook about how we filter our lives on social media — the facade that is often put up to show how great our lives are. He made a point to say that while he aims to be positive, he is also real. Everyone has stressful days or bad things happen to them. His point was to say, “Hey, I keep a positive mindset, but shitty things happen in my life, too. You’re not alone.”

While I’m well aware of this fact about him, or any of my other friends on social media, it was relevant for me that particular morning. The previous night, my uncle passed away after a 10 year battle with colon cancer. I wasn’t particularly close to my uncle. Then again, he wasn’t really close to many people outside of his immediate family. But growing up, he was a fixture in my life. I spent summer after summer at his house hanging out with my aunt and cousins. My aunt doesn’t have any daughters, so I was the next best thing.

She took me shopping and let me wear makeup. I spent endless summer days at the ballpark watching my cousins play baseball and listening to my aunt and uncle scream, holler, and cheer. She took me to swimming lessons and let me watch movies my mom and dad would never let me watch – I promised I wouldn’t say anything (Sorry, Aunt Lyl! Secret’s out!)

All through these memories, my Uncle Wes is on the fringe. A few things I knew about Uncle Wes: He loved music and even owned a guitar, though I never remember hearing him play. But he had a classic sound system all the neighbors could enjoy. He loved his hair and his cowboy hats. One summer he taught me and my cousins how to play 5 card stud. He worked for “the union”, which, as a kid, meant we got tickets to see WWF or the CMA Awards dress rehearsals. And we got lots of free stuff from the trade shows that came through town. One summer we had an endless supply of fun sized bags of Spicy Doritos. Those are still a guilty pleasure to this day.

It’s always heartbreaking when someone close to you dies. But when someone dies who you aren’t that close to or you wish you were closer to, it’s a different kind of tragic. You no longer have the opportunity to learn more about them or build a stronger relationship. There’s always this time of mourning. But rather than mourning the loss of something you had, you’re mourning the loss of something you didn’t. You’re mourning the lost opportunity of what could have been. I’ve felt this particular sense of loss more times than I care to count. Another word for it: Regret.

Now, if I would have reached out, called more, or spent more time with my Uncle Wes, would we have been closer or had a better relationship? Honestly, maybe not. But, maybe so. Did we have a bad relationship? Not really – in fact, we had gotten closer over the last 10 years.

I guess my point is to spend more time with people you love. You may not have the same lifestyles or see eye-to-eye on things, but take the time to show you care. Make a 5 minute phone call or send a 2 second text – because you just never know when you won’t be able to anymore.