The Evolution of a Survivor: Emotional Resilience

Darwin_ResilientI’ve been working on a new writing project which dives into survivor experiences, as a means of highlighting what we understand about resilience, grief, and the healing journey after trauma. As I partner with other survivors, advocates, and psychologists, I notice that there is a sense of “strength” in this work. I’m preparing to launch the project as an e-book and it will hopefully highlight our experiences, educate the media, and provide support to those who are finding their way through the healing process. The project has been called “brave” and “powerful” by those who have reviewed the outreach approach and the content… yet…

We need to be transparent about our emotional resilience and its source.

I’m not brave.

I am not even strong.

I just evolved under changing and traumatic circumstances.

When my father emotionally abused my family, I learned to be responsive to change.

Home isn’t safe? I will evolve.

When my neighbor abused my body, I learned to be responsive to change.

My body isn’t safe? I will evolve.

When my church abused my mind, I learned to be responsive to change.

Spirituality isn’t safe? I will evolve.

When my peers abused my spirit, I learned to be responsive to change.

Being me isn’t safe? I will evolve.

To all of us, who have evolved from every unsafe environment and emerged each time as a new species within our own emotional ecosystem, know that I see you.

Others may think we are on the top of the emotional food chain and can handle anything.

And we can… and we will.

But sometimes rather than being viewed as the person who will “always survive,” we koalaknow we want to be viewed as the small and cuddly chipmunk, lower on the food chain, but adorable and cute too. We want to be seen as the butterfly, magnificent in her transformation, but fragile in flight. Sometimes… we are just a koala… looking for a tree branch and a soft place to call home.

Pay close attention to why some people are so “strong.” It may be simply because a tragic evolution required them to learn to stand alone…

I am fortunate because I finally met a woman who could walk this journey with me – recently, when my wife read through the survivor project, she did the unthinkable as a response – she put down the pages, said nothing, and simply hugged me – for those moments, I didn’t have to explain anything.

I didn’t have to describe my writing process.

I didn’t have to rehash anything I wrote.

I didn’t have to outline my plan for publication or my next steps as a writer/survivor advocate.

Before the editing, feedback, questions, or encouragement in the project, there was only the hug.

The best hug ever, honestly.

Because without words, she told me, “I see your resilience is because you weren’t safe…

And with that, I knew…

I am safe now.

My home, my body, my spirituality – me.

It’s safe to be me.

Evolve well, my friends. We are not alone. Namaste.

~~

RAY_7318Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News, SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine, Blue Mountain Arts, and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

 

Our Dead Dads… An Enlightened-ish Father’s Day Post

IMG_1786.jpg

Dad’s last sunset rainbow

The raw reality gets us to the point, doesn’t it? Death does that for the living.

I don’t like death, but I appreciate it for how it slaps us on the back of the head, especially when we are busy worrying about petty disagreements, financial distractions, or self-image obsessions that have nothing to do with “real” life or death. I’m not saying everything between the first breath and the last is all nonsense. All I’m saying is that once you’ve had an encounter with grief, you are more likely to be the kind of person whose healthy cynicism distances you from blind or lazy paths of “success.”

Anyway, this year is not my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I wrote about the first though, in Enlightened-ish. I have decided that the best way to remind myself that my dad still matters is to share that complicated, but important chapter from my grief memoir. After you read this chapter, you will understand why our dead dads matter. When we work through our grief, we we snap back into seeing what is important and learn how to free ourselves from burdens and imperfections. For some of us, our dead dads teach us more from the grave… and we miss them dearly not because they were perfect, but because grief is an awful, albeit powerful, teacher.

Allow me to add some context for this chapter – It touches on several themes that came up through the writing of “Enlightened-ish.” There are portions where I discuss what it felt like to leave the Christian Church *again* and also how I learned to let go of heart wounds that came through two relationships. This is the kind of stuff that I dealt with, alone, on my first Father’s Day without Dad – so many layers of grief, thus, so many layers of healing.

In short, healing begins with us, forgiving ourselves, for failing to accept the raw reality and the blunt self-awareness that can set us all free… namaste my friends. Happy Father’s Day, Dad… RIP.

~~

Chapter 12: The Freedom to Forgive and Forget

Enlightened-ishby Gail Dickert.

Feel free to share with permission if linked to the original post.

Copyright, Gail Dickert 2013.

“Father’s Day 2012 – the first when I did not have a phone call to make or a card to send.

I’m surrounded by some of the most thoughtful people that walk this great Earth yet, not one single friend reached out to ask how I was doing on that day.

No texts saying, “Hey, just in case you’re having a hard time, I’m thinking of you.”

No phone calls asking, “What are you doing to remember your dad today?”

No emails or notes suggesting, “The first one is always the hardest but you’re not alone.”

Nothing. Nada. No one.

Were it not for the short texts with my sisters, my mother and the friend I was visiting (who only contacted me because I was visiting her from out of town), I would have been all on my own to reflect, sob and search for solace.

            What I longed for most, aside from the freedom to call my dad, was a friend who would take note of his death.

~~

            When I took a summer getaway to Massachusetts before Father’s Day weekend, I discovered the Freedom to Forgive and Forget. Specifically, while sitting quietly in a secluded sandy beach at Cape Cod, I thought about my entire week away and all of the activities planned. I knew this retreat would be significant but I didn’t know exactly how the awakenings would present.

            It was hard to believe that this freedom would come from anger.

            Being angry at my friends is like punching flowers for not blooming upon my command. It’s hardly reasonable. My friends are brilliant. They consist of people who are globally recognized spiritual leaders and highly educated, mature, energetic, giving, creative, faithful people. I have the most enlightened-ish friends in the world.

            Yet, while I sat near the ocean, watching the waves predictably toss shells, rocks and sand towards my dry spot on this remote beach, I lamented, “This bunch collectively forgot to call me? C’mon Universe! What could I possibly learn from more isolation?”

            The Universe spared no expense on this freedom. There are three concepts to the Freedom to Forgive and Forget. I named them The Three Calls. (That’s three more than I received from my friends.) The Calls I did receive made it clearer for me to see through the fog of forgiveness and land at a place of acceptance and mental freedom. I didn’t know it was possible. Not only is it possible, but it’s also available to anyone with the ability to reframe the concept of impossible.

            There are people who teach that all things are possible, when we align ourselves with God. There are others who teach that all things are within reach, when we focus our thoughts on positive energy. On the contrary, we hear plenty of teaching about what is not possible. We can’t make someone love, we can’t force someone to change, and we can’t know what people are thinking.

           What I experienced on Father’s Day weekend, aside from the lack of calls from my tribe, was the opportunity to attend a mind-blowing, gravity-defying performance from the talented and innovative people of Cirque Du Soleil’s “Totem.” While on the beach, I remembered what I felt while watching their latest traveling revolutionary show.  (If you’ve never been to a Cirque Du Soleil show, I sum it up like this: Extraordinary acrobatic contortionists presenting their unique, artistic skills while defying gravity and reason before an audience whose jaws never leave the floor for 90 minutes.)

            Each show I’ve seen has been better than the one before. Totem was no exception.

            It was significant that the plot resembled my personal journey. The theme of Totem is to explore what happens as creation awakens to the beautiful spark that is “life.” It is deeply rooted in Native American traditions and viewing Mother Earth as a Turtle. (Turtle is my animal totem.) Beyond the theme, it was the tricks, stunts and interconnected costumes, music and physical tenacity of the entire event that allowed me to receive The Three Calls.

            As I watched the professionals deliver a breath-taking performance, I envisioned what my life would be like if I could use my mental faculties to free myself from the past the way they used their physical bodies to free themselves from the ordinary.

            Examining each performer’s acts of courage and bravery, I began the formation of this freedom. This all came to me during the show but it passed before I had the time and mental fortitude and capture it in writing. Little did I know that the same dedication and training it took for a man to balance on his head, on top of a 100-foot pole that rests on the bridge of another man’s nose, is the same mental capacity I can use to rewire my brain into a powerful tool for accessing the Freedom to Forgive and Forget.

~ The First Call: Recognize the Timing ~

            A single collision on the Cirque stage could send any one of the acrobats to the hospital. Bad timing could also injure an unsuspecting audience member too. Likewise, forgiveness is an issue of timing.

          “Forgive and forget” is good in theory. It is similar to the lofty and spontaneous ideas that Cirque producers have about their acrobats soaring through the air. As like the performance, the actual execution of forgiveness requires exact timing.

Forgiveness is often viewed as the climactic event around which all other spiritual decisions find their meaning but this is not the case. Forgiveness is simply one flip in the trapeze act, one step on the tightrope, or one ball to be juggled on the path of healing. “Trusting the timing” means moving through this part of our awakening with attention to detail.

            When the timing was right for forgiving my exes or the people in my Christian community, I had a lot to consider. At best, I could say their combined actions were unintentional. At worst, I could perceive that all involved needed to be held accountable.   (Enlightened-ish living has less to do with what others have done or not done and more to do with our own choices.)

            As I sat with a mental list of supposed transgressions, I had an image of the Cirque performers, spinning and twisting in their artistic displays of interdependence. I thought, “If one of them fell, would they immediately blame one another?” Using the Freedom to Imagine, I scripted a dialogue between me and the “performers” whose behavior had caused injury to my heart and soul.

            “You missed the catch!” I said to a trapeze partner at the church.

            “I know,” she sighed. “It’s just that you reminded me of someone else for a second and, well I don’t know what happened.”

            “Stay focused!” I barked at the knife thrower in the home.

            “I am sorry,” she replied. “I have so much on my mind, I haven’t slept in days and my head is throbbing.”

Suddenly the call was clear.

Bad timing cannot be underestimated.

            I did not recognize that I was rehearsing with people who were not fully present or able to perform. But with a broken arm and a knife in my foot, I had to take responsibility for my part in the collision.

            My spiritual community was not ready for a progressive person of faith. In fact, they were still recovering from being hurt by other people. No amount of artistic passion, friendship or prayer was going to hurry them along in their evolution.

            My ex wasn’t ready for a relationship. In fact, she had not yet recovered from abuses in her family or the disappointment of her divorce. No amount of nurture, love and prayer was going to hurry along her evolution.

I, however, was ready to fly and take calculated risks.

With a reframed awareness of timing, I could focus my efforts not on their behavior but my own.

I received the call to forgive myself for colliding with bad timing.

I called upon myself to forget what it felt like to force a situation to be what it is not ready to be.

~ The Second Call: Be the Source ~

           The twists and turns of a Cirque show require the performers to use their own body’s inertia and weight in order to create the movement that is desired. At some point, while the beauty is in the timing, the power is in propelling oneself.

            This is equally the case in awakening. Each twist is necessary but I was challenged to keep the momentum going entirely on my own. I set out on this freedom but also the entire book to complete an ethereal To Do list:

To give voice to the grief of my father’s death.

To tell the truth of how it felt to leave a spiritual home.

To imagine healing for my body.

To release myself from the karma Bright brought into my life.

To share the story of one man’s fateful day and my irreversible response.

That was one ambitious set of tasks!

Finding the momentum to proceed when I didn’t have a publisher or agent required a lot of stretching and expanding. Motivation would have to come from somewhere. I didn’t have a book advance and yet I maintained a full-time job while writing.

I had to become my own Source.

This Call came through loud and clear was when I realized that after all of my experiences of 2011-2012, what I was still hanging onto was the break-up with my partner of 4 years, in late 2009. (Before I reveal the details of this partnership, I need to finally give her a name. I will call her Beloved.)

The reason I am still in touch with Beloved is quite complicated and enough to make a therapist tilt their head in wonder. It isn’t necessarily a negative thing.

The Freedom to Forgive and Forget would not have been so powerful were it not for the day we debated about how she ended our engagement, leaving me with the deepest level of disappointment I had felt since…

Well, since my father had abandoned me as a child.

Granted, I had been left by a partner in 2006, but the level of trust that I had for Beloved was adult. This was “grown-up love.”

For better or worse love. (The kind of love I had hoped my father had for his family.)

As we had this awkward and heated discussion, I finally confessed to Beloved and myself that after almost three years, I was still angry that she walked away. I was angry not just because she left but because I never would have done that to her. She did not love me with the same for better or worse love with which I loved her.

She was “my beloved” and no other before woman had convinced me that they could love me with the same acceptance for our differences. When she proposed in 2007, I embraced every gesture like it was a marriage in that private, beautiful moment on a chilly but beautiful day in February.

While on my drive home, after this flashback of a fight, I imagined myself again as a Cirque performer. I thought of this wild task list and how I was editing the most bizarre book I’ve yet to write. I thought of the previous three years and how I hadn’t even come close to forgiving Beloved.

Suddenly the call was clear.

I am my own Source.

I was looking for her to be the source of the compassion I needed.

I was looking for her to be the source of the understanding I sought.

With a reframed awareness of Source, I could focus my efforts not on her behavior but my own.

            I received the call to forgive myself for seeking momentum outside of me.

            I called upon myself to forget what it felt like to be abandoned.

~ The Third Call: Breathe More, Think Less ~

            Sitting close to the stage at a Cirque show allows the audience to see deep into the process of each maneuver. As my friend of 20 years held her breath for each wide leap or fast spin, I looked closely at the rising and falling chests of each acrobat.  All performers were 100% focused on their breathing.

            I watched as two acrobats lifted the ends of a rubber balance beam upon which a smaller acrobat would soon be leaping. With intensity, they inhaled deeply, kneeling down and then exhaled forcefully as they stood up, and moved the beam from the ground to their shoulders. This image, of calculated and timed breathing resonated with my experience of grief.

            Grief has a way of making even good memories painful. This is the sad reality of the emotional unraveling that comes after the loss of a loved one. I noticed this one afternoon when I was talking with one of my teachers at the pre-school. She was sharing some of her thoughts about classroom management, nature-based learning and child-led activities and suddenly I started to remember that her first day at the school was the day my father died.

            Then my mind started to snowball.

September 16th.

The date of my father’s death happened to be the same as the birthday of an ex girlfriend. The woman responsible for so much of her pain and thus, our collective pain in the relationship, was born on the same day of the year that my father died. Death and birth are hardly distinguishable sometimes.

September 16th.

It hasn’t even been a year yet.

I was thinking so much, I couldn’t breathe!

After the teacher walked away, I went outside to catch my breath.

            Once again, grief had taken my breath away. One minute we were just chatting and the next, I was standing under the expansive arms of an oak tree hoping to calm myself down. I thought of the Cirque performers, lifting and shifting and doing it all, one breath at a time.  I longed to be as graceful in my awakening as they but anger within me began to boil. I thought of how death had been used to bring me to life. I resented it. Loss and grief had conspired against me since March 2011 and there I stood, angry at my father for dying, angry at an ex for lying, and angry at the “Universe” for not trying to make my life simpler.

Most of all, I was angry at myself… for crying.

Under that great oak, I knew that it was time to Forgive and Forget and make the ultimate acrobatic move regarding the many losses in my life.

It was time to stop thinking so much about the behavior of others. It was time to stop holding my breath, waiting for the ex to apologize for her lies or for Beloved to apologize for leaving me. I couldn’t be angry anymore at my friends for not calling or my father for not living. My mind was running the show.

            With a reframed awareness to breathe more and think less, I got the call to never forgive and forget anyone, ever again!

            I received the call to forgive myself for holding my breath for anyone or anything.

            I called upon myself to forget what it felt like to over-analyze that which cannot be explained.

~~

After my parents separated, my dad had a saying about how he was always thinking of his daughters.

“When the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me.”

This abstract thought wasn’t very comforting for a grade-schooler who hoped to hear her father’s voice on a daily basis. By high school, I started to understand that for some reason, he didn’t know how to be a non-custodial father. He arguably wasn’t the best father before the separation but it was my impression that at least he was present.

            It was that day on the beach at Cape Cod, when I sat with my silent phone and thought, “Dad, is that you?” that tears began to flow – the taste of these tears, so bitter and the anger, so tangible.

How dare he abandon his children in such fashion! How dare he not prove that he was thinking of me and behave in a manner that matched this so-called thought he had for my well-being!

            As I stared at my silent phone I debated between two options.

I could keep waiting for it to ring – berating my friends for being forgetful while I simultaneously remembered the wound of abandonment.

           I could turn it off –  forgetting what it felt like to wait for a call to forgive while I simultaneously remembered that I didn’t do anything wrong by having expectations that my father would be there for me.

            It was in that moment that this freedom turned me into a great contortionist!  I forgave myself for needing a call, turned off my phone and took a two hour nap on the beach. Surrounded by sacred stones and no other voice than the one inside of me, I was assured that this freedom was a call I could receive.

~~

Forgiving my friends for forgetting to call on Father’s Day was a natural act but forgiving me and forgetting what it’s like to live in impossible situations was an act of artistry of Cirque De Soleil proportions.

The Three Calls highlighted that I now have the capacity not to force a situation regardless of bad timing, not to seek external affirmation, and not over-analyze. With the Freedom to Forgive and Forget, I barely remember what it felt like to be bound.

All I can think about is what it feels like to be free!”

~~

To purchase Enlightened-ish and learn more about how grief can lead to spiritual awakening, click on the links within this post or here, to see reviews/commentary.

458190_254963957940988_1997742215_oGail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

Vulnerability Series… because Pain Matters

vulnerabilityWhen I wrote Enlightened-ish, I knew I was taping into something unusual… looking at spiritual awakening through the lens of a raw, complicated and emotional grief process was just plain weird. I mean, who writes from a place of vulnerability? Who writes and publishes words that are part of a process? Who dares put in print what will potentially fade with age and healing?

I did.

Responses to Enlightened-ish vary, but almost all of my readers so far use words like, “floored” or “brave.” I don’t feel very brave and I didn’t write it to shock anyone… I wrote it because it wasn’t written and I wished that someone would have spoken to me as freely as I spoke to myself, honestly. Grief was intense and separating from suicidal ideation, toxic spirituality, unhealthy relationships and aligning myself with psychic intuitions and energy healing all within a period of a few months was… well, it was weird!

What remains though is that the book is involved in saving lives, namely my own.

And now, as I have considered what to write about next, I look at the pain in my body (Managing chronic pain since May 2013,) I realize the same thing that happened with my father’s death and the face-to-face experiences with death – the book I want to read hasn’t been written.

No one talks openly about pain in a way that feels real. There are affirmations designed to make it go away, medications pushed in order to silence it and plenty of belief systems orchestrated to diminish or mystify its value.

I am embarking on a vulnerability series that will start as a blog, but as you can expect… will end in another book.

Why?

Because like grief… pain matters.

And it matters now…

Not 3 years or 2 months from now, when I am finally out of pain.

It matters now, while I type uncomfortably from my couch, between treatments… now, while I am on medical leave… now, while I can barely walk in the mornings and now, while I learn to celebrate pain’s meaning without demeaning my spirituality, relationships and dignity.

It is my highest goal to write what has not been written… and while I expect to do mighty things for my online friends and loved ones once the royalties catch up to the investment of self-publishing, do not be mistaken.

I write these weird things for myself.

It does not make me selfish and it does not make me a narcissist.

It makes me a writer and a person who becomes the change she wants to see in the world.

I want to see more transparency.

I want to see people share their stories.

I want to see people own their shit, establish their dreams and become a part of the whole that is our human condition.

I do these things because pain matters… because we matter… because I matter.

Namaste, my friends. Please share the links to the book and stay tuned… because if you think Enlightened-ish was raw, just wait and see what will come out of physical pain…

To buy Enlightened-ish, click here. Feel free to follow the process here on Facebook.

~~

Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. She has appeared in FOX DC News, SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Her new book, Enlightened-ish became available April 25, 2013 and chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

 

5 Reasons to Lose Christianity… but Find Jesus

It was with great trepidation that I prepared this post, but now, as I share it, there is a sigh of relief in my soul…

After years of trying to identify as a “Gay Christian” or a “church-affirming” person of faith, it seems that the logical side of my brain has had deep conversations with the part of my soul that is tired of drama. Together, they have agreed that the most effective form of spiritual abuse prevention is to avoid triggers.

And Christianity triggers me at the core of who I am – an emotionally awakened, self-regulating, gay woman with an altruistic mind.

First, let me offer an important backdrop for this discussion before I offend most of you with my experience.

We’ve all seen it in social media and even personally witnessed it in some local congregations:

Christianity has been undergoing a very powerful re-branding effort.

At first, this seems to be a good idea, as it is not a faith that has been known for love or kindness to… well, anyone who isn’t white, male and straight. I truly want to get behind the “progressives” who talk about not being “that kind of Christian,” as they follow Jesus’ teachings and attempt to paint a nicer, softer version of this politicized religion on the stained canvas of spirituality.

However, as a Bible College Graduate and a woman who thinks about this topic more than any healthy person should, I recognize that the reason that there is so much conflict over Christianity is the simple fact that its “holy” book is laden with highly disturbing passages, analogies, stories and directives in the name of a God-figure.

Moreover, being progressive right now means big bucks. It means more blog hits, increased interviews, acolades of “bravery” from those who have been wounded by the church, and a false sense of pride in a “new” movement in the faith. (As if the United Church of Christ folk haven’t been teaching this progressive stuff long before it was made cool… I digress).

What we know about the Christian Church is that it is losing popularity… why? Because it should. It’s archaic, draped in a toxic history, shrouded in conflict… and basically the idea of finding community in our modern age is no longer tied to religious beliefs. More folks are happier to stitch and bitch at the local Panera, rather than tithe and survive at dogma-soaked congregational settings. Community, while always difficult to establish, is easier to access and try out, be it through Meet-Ups or the fact that, oh I dunno… we have cars and public transportation, so we don’t need the same local presence that we used to need in order to feel connected. We find out about common interests and we value them much more than our belief systems. Oh yeah, and this social media thing seems to do a good job of helping people feel more connected (perhaps at the expensive of emotional connection at times, but again, another post).

We also know that Christianity is losing popularity because it has this set of beliefs about LGBTQ people, women and overall concepts of social justice that don’t fly with the younger generations. (Did the Biblical writers bother to speak out against slavery? Nope. Sure didn’t. On the contrary, it kinda said, “That’s okay. Slavery happens.” Young people (and yes, some older folks too) do not want to be told what to do based on a book written by men in a time in history that is barely relevant to their own. More and more people are interesting in conversations, not sermons… and giving to the actual community, where it’s tangible and they feel the immediate effects, rather than investing in a pastor’s salary or a building fund. (Your local non-profit… where real church happens?)

However, what the Church is doing, in its well-designed re-branding effort is to make itself hip. Doing as the Romans, they have their loud music, powerpoint screens, even social justice projects, and giving illusions of “cool” when behind it all, the fact remains that there is an extrinsic authority that regulates the Church – the Bible.

Various interpretations and various texts to argue about – but in the end… it’s their holy book – Their script, their point of reference and their reason for the season of known as “Christian.”

But without the Bible, tell me this: Would there be a Christian Church?

I wager there would not be.

Without a book claiming to have authority…

Without a building claiming to be sacred…

Without a leader claiming to be anointed…

Where would the Church be?

It would be in the people.

And thus, we would possibly see that the teachings of Jesus would have some room to grow… once they are no longer confined by books, buildings and budgets. (Oh and egos, but that’s another thought altogether).

So this leads me to a very direct and poignant call to support a great exodus from Christianity. Hanging on to Jesus’ teachings may be the hard part and it is optional, in my opinion because some of his teachings are socially and emotionally under-developed. But without any further ado, I offer you something that will upset many of you. For others though, it may put the nail in the church coffin. You have been waiting to hear that it is safe to walk away. It is safe to lose Christianity… here are 5 reasons why…

1. Lose Christianity because… their holy book is profane.

Unlike most spiritual texts, Christianity’s “holy” book is grossly tied to violence, inequality, 1947957_278200805670461_1195406355_ncrimes against humanity, injustices towards women and minorities and frankly, a key plot twist that never sounds appealing – child sacrifice. The older I get, the more I realize that killing your son has got to be the least creative option for achieving justice. I would like to say, “Hey God, I hear you made hummingbirds, dinosaurs and the ocean, but when it came to retribution, your creativity leveled out at killing your kid? Epic creative fail.”

1782130_278199992337209_142745578_nOne of the most obscene Biblical passages regarding God’s need for justice/righteousness is when he turns two bears on a group of 42 bratty kids for making fun of one of his prophets, Elisha. Yeesh. I want God to get my back, but what’s with all the child-murder? I work with children… In fact, I work with about 42 every day and if they say mean things at times, it’s because they are kids. Doesn’t God know they are just testing out hurtful words vs. helpful words? A book that tells this story about that God should be banned, at least for anyone under the age of 18!

 

2. Lose Christianity because… you don’t need to be the house negro to make a point.

Ouch. Did she just say that? Actually, I’m anonymously quoting a friend who made that statement in regards to LGBTQ Christians. We can make our points about spirituality without subjecting ourselves to the system that keeps the white folk empowered (straight?) and the colored (gay?) scrubbing windows and able to come in from the rain at night. We all know that Jesus is not the same as “the Church.” Do you really think that if he was hanging out among any of this today, he would recognize these “churches” as what he meant when he said to gather and share? The Church is a system and in the end, the return on investment is low for its inhabitants, as its owner (pastors and politicians) reap either financially or psychologically. (Oh, there’s the ego conversation again…) There is a safer way to find spiritual community than surrendering your identity to the system.

3. Lose Christianity because… they can’t seem to reel in their rogue right-wing.

1602068_275828789240996_643552855_oOften times I hear progressives and conservatives isolate themselves from one another. “Fundies” are viewed as the enemy while I hear “liberals” are just as much a problem for those who believe in “Biblcally-based” things like marriages, families and 401k’s. For a religion that they are trying to brand as one of love, there is a schism deep within itself that is undeniable. If these two groups could figure themselves out, I may take the whole lot more seriously, but when you tune in and really listen to what’s going on, you can see this: One side of the coin despises the other side and claims they have different values. They are on the same piece of silver, no matter if you flip it 40 times and apparently Jesus isn’t even enough to bring them together! If the progressives are so grand, rather than recruiting the de-churched or those who happily walked away, why not take all that liberal “Jesus is love” stuff and lavish it on the brothers and sisters of the faith? In short, even Jesus said, “Get your backyard in order before taking over the neighborhood.” (Or some shit like that… a plank eye comes to mind, but thankfully, Bible College was a long time ago 😉 )

4. Lose Christianity because… their God is kind of unstable.

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Be it the Old Testament or New Testament, the holy book has a way of making the Creator sound like a petty father who can’t determine whether to smite or smother. It’s a simple fact that the religion is based on God “loving” the World that he SENT HIS SON TO DIE. Meanwhile, there are rules and regulations that differ based on interpretation and no routines are established for what “really” pleases God. (Do justly, walk humbly and seek mercy rings a bell but apparently even that is too vague).

AZ_Refuse_ServiceWorse yet, is when Christians ignore the absurd nature of the God’s supposed decrees. When I saw this sign to the left, I didn’t think, “Yeah, you tell ’em.” After I thought, “Don’t you know how to spell virgin?” I thought… “Why am I the only person who thinks that it’s ridiculous to make so many excuses for this strange holy book? It’s full of nonsense at times!

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Even more emotionally unpredictable and illogical are the belief systems themselves. For example, prayer has a complication in that it is entirely unreliable, yet it is a key ingredient of the faith. Exactly what part of the brain is working to monitor something so circular and illogical as prayer? If prayer works, does that mean that I have influence over God? If I do have influence, what does that say of this egomaniac God who only blesses those who know how to talk to him/her/it properly? As a person who teaches social and emotional intelligence, I have to say, this god could use some lessons on being assertive vs. aggressive, as well as learning the power of choice in order to maintain healthy relationships.

5. Lose Christianity because… you have the Freedom to Be and Leave.

I wrote about this in Enlightened-ish and am sharing an excerpt below because I think it’s time that the bigger picture of our core beliefs be considered. Sometimes we stay attached to Christianity because it’s our cultural reminder of family memories. Sometimes we stay out of obligation because “they aren’t all bad” or because we like the community and we’re too busy to find it elsewhere. Sometimes we stay because of actual convictions related to the cherry-picking of verses that matter to us. (Cherry, or cotton, I don’t know. Ouch). But in the end, beliefs are in fact chosen… and if Christianity is too violent, dramatic, unstable or just plain illogical for you… the Freedom to “Be” and Leave means you have options. I can’t promise that other religions are any better (as most are male-driven and seem to reflect a lack of social intelligence) but perhaps a fresh start will feel good after all of the lost friendships, church-hopping, blog-bantering and arguments in your faith journey.

From Enlightened-ish: A Grief Memoir about Spiritual Awakening:

“For as disillusioned as I felt about the church prior to my father’s death, I never intended to write about anything specific related to my time in a progressive church… Leaving the Christian Church became a key breakthrough for my spiritual awakening. 

“I cannot have my spiritual journey tied up in the success or failure of an organization. It sounds like high-risk behavior for a spiritual person to place all his or her eggs in the collection basket so for me, I cannot support a place where my investments are not diversified. The ROI for the Christian Church would make my spiritual portfolio plummet.

“Many members of the community had hoped I would stay connected, in spite of how this place contradicted my core beliefs (core beliefs discussed in depth, in Enlightened-ish). I didn’t trust any of the leaders to understand where I was coming from in separating from the community. The gossip and lack of emotional intelligence had become toxic. I cut ties altogether with some subgroups of the church. Once the standard operating procedure for conflict management became, ‘Efficiently shuffle things under the rug and psychoanalyze one another,’ I knew my time was up… I gave myself the freedom to “be” and “leave.”

In the end, religious leaders benefit from having followers because those followers surrender their most valuable resource: The ability to self-regulate. If the Bible, a pastor, or even God regulates you, you are not on a path of becoming a self-actualized person

And I know this, because I was once a person who falsely believed that surrendering “my” plan for “God’s plan” was a part of being a loyal, obedient and even wise follower of Christ.

This manifesto, coming from me, is pretty bizarre really – a woman who dedicated her life to Jesus at a crucial age, attended years of church camps, graduated with honors from Bible College, served several churches in youth and pastoral leadership positions and even continued to engage in “bridge-building” with people on the progressive side of this conflicting issue.

But it’s time.

Because the truth is… the Church is not an ally to itself, let alone an ally to the rest of the world. (Um, exactly what teaching is behind hate/discrimination bills? Church teaching, that’s what.) For every minute we spent trying to criticize it or rebuild it, we lose time that could be spent focusing on the person of Jesus, our relationships with our neighbors and the ability to self-regulate during conflict in order to reach peaceful, mindful communication.

So, what about finding Jesus? (Yikes, can it even be done? Well if you are still reading, let me sum this up already so we can all move on!)

Jesus was probably the most misunderstood and messed up figure to ever try to be a spiritual teacher and healer. Imagine that, without social media and the written word, I died today, but 70 years later, less than twelve of you tried to write up some thoughts about my life. Good grief, I hate to think of how you would portray me, even if you loved me 😉

And so it goes… we can go on a search for Jesus, if we feel that he matters… that may be valuable to some of us…

But what the Christian Church has shown us is that it is time to let it go of their business.

Because for many, it is nothing more of a reminder of a broken culture, a crucified faith and a burden to our collective ability to Love One Another. And if it weren’t for the Bible, we would probably be church and no one would have authority over how we live it out.

Walk gently through these explosive thoughts… and know that even if you stay involved with the organized church, this isn’t a judgment against you… but having been there, what I know is that a part of you wonders why you’re doing it. If you ever get tired of the drama, it is in fact, safe to walk away (even if just for a season).

No matter what, I wish us all the ability to breathe deeply as we seek to reconcile ourselves to… ourselves.

~~

This post goes out to three “influences” in my cyber communities. The first is a blog post from a Facebook friend. Please check this out and know that the content is well-prepared by a former Christian leader. It is honest, raw and will probably make you re-think your position on homosexuality and the Bible.

The second influence is a Facebook Page called, “Holy Shit.” I do not know the admins (yet), but I stumbled upon their page and found myself feeling at home, revived and encouraged by the satire, the honesty and the community. I know I can’t please ’em all, but as I lose readers with this post, I know there are ten-fold to gain. Knowing we are not alone – What a valuable influence for us all, no matter what we choose.

To the folks at CTofBM, this doesn’t mean I love you any less either. You remain supported in your chosen frontline duties of the Christianity Branding War… but if you ever fold up shop and call it quits, no judgment here 😉

~~

DSC_0821Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. She has appeared in FOX DC News and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Her new book, Enlightened-ish became available April 25, 2013 and chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.

 

I am Strong. Scrunchie Strong.

Today, I made a striking confession that almost led to the worst thing that can happen in the first world problems of cyber community: Being un-friended on Facebook.

But I took a risk, knowing that it was more important to speak my truth, without shame or fear of judgment. I made it clear that I am my own person, I do not conform to status quo and I will not back down on my rights.

On July 19, 2013, at approximately 11 am, I let it be known that I would, in fact, wear a scrunchie today, without fear of being judged.

Cue gasp, right?

Women who wear scrunchies in public are some of the most demonized of all women. Carrie Bradshaw forever shamed us on the show Sex and the City and ever since that episode when Berger’s writing career unraveled because of her sharp and unnecessary judgment, CVS shoppers have been terrified to walk down the hair product aisle for fear that they would be mistakenly perceived as going in the direction of said scrunchies. Women have joined support groups, discussing their attraction to their former scrunchie-wearing days and some have reportedly shaved their heads in efforts to have no affiliation with hair, simply because of this cultural impression that scrunchies aren’t acceptable hair attire. (And don’t even get me started on the Levitical code regarding elastic and cotton combined.)

It’s been a tough decade, for scrunchie-wearers.

But today, I came out loud and proud about my use of said hair accessories and in honor of scrunchies and how they have served me, I’ve decided to share more about my scrunchie-affection and actual, live photos that show the more intimate details of my scrunchie and me. (Consider this a warning, as some photos will challenge your currently held beliefs about public displays of scrunchie-ness.)

In truth, my scrunchies have outlived even some of my partners and been there with me in times when not much else would hold back my hair. I mean, think about it ladies. Washing the dog? Scrunchie is there. Changing a diaper? Scrunchie in place. On a morning walk? Don’t forget the scrunchie. Random sex-capade at 8 pm after an excitable Happy Hour? Did he mind your scrunchie then? No, he did not.

Scrunchie_Choices

All those things aside, this evening, as I went on my nightly walk, which is designed to keep my back loose, as I work through some complicated pain issues, I started to consider my many companions on my walks. My thoughts… my concerns… my spiritual guides… my goddesses… my angels… my dreams… the pain… and… my scrunchie. As you can see from the first photo, my scrunchie was present when I made choices on my path – A loyal companion, no matter what road I go down.

Scrunchie_Shade

Later, my scrunchie and I were spotted by the police, who almost cited me for inappropriate scrunchie usage with a hat, but I told him I am a Buckeye fan and we exchanged the O-H-I-O chant and he let me go. After he left, I hid in the shade with my scrunchie, contemplating the deeper meaning of shade, comfort and how nutty Ohio football fans can be even in the off-season.

Scrunchie_FlowersIt wasn’t long before I thought, “A Facebook status isn’t enough. It’s time I write about this relationship that I have with my scrunchie.” So I started thinking of all the little places that we go together. Here is a photo of us stopping to smell the flowers. Go ahead, try and tell me the last time you and an actual person stopped to do that? It hasn’t happened, has it? Ahh, but a scrunchie takes risks. A scrunchie makes time for you, doesn’t it? A scrunchie doesn’t rush you because it prefers your company and can stay in the moment with you.

Later, we came upon a weeping willow tree and I thought about a childhood friend myScruncie_Willow sister and I used to visit, whose grandmother had a large weeping willow in her yard. I thought of Mrs. K and how high up her grandchildren climbed. Even my sister made her way to the thinnest branches to sit while I stayed near the bottom, no more than 4 feet off the ground, out of fear. I told my scrunchie my memories of that tree and my scrunchie listened. No reaction, no accusations – just listened. Good scrunchie.

Scrunchie_Simplicity

Finally, on my way home. I stopped and considered the simplicity of my walking exercises, the last few months. The pain seems to lessen, if I keep to a regular routine and forego things like sit-down meals, sitting down to write, or basically anything that involves the seated position. It’s a true inconvenience and while my tolerance for pain is apparently quite high, I shirked the suggestion of an epidural and until a better diagnosis is reached, I walk… I have a routine that helps, even when it hurts. Furthermore, my many companions have no opinions about my treatment plan. In fact, one companion told me today, “You are strong. Scrunchie strong.”

There’s a passage in the Bible about being “jars of clay,” and I remember that, upon further contextual analysis (Bible College Degree coming back to haunt me), the reason the “jars of clay” analogy was used was because clay jars were something usual… something ordinary. The writer wanted to send the message that something “typical” or otherwise “commonplace” could be the very container that manifests a more powerful light than anything that had been seen before. I liken it now, to a scrunchie. We, our lives, our sacred journey and yes, even our scrunchies, are “treasures” that exist to show the surpassing, expansive and inspiring Love and Light that exists for us all. (That, my friends is 2 Corinthians 4:7 done hippie Gail-style).

Scrunchie_EstateAnd so, as I gazed upon the Mount Vernon estate, which is the land of my cousin, George Washington, I sat with a mantra, “I am strong. Scrunchie strong.” May you pull it into your daily lives, so that with every ordinary thing you do, you become connected to and more aware of the light that is moving through you…

Through the pain, through the doubt, through the interpretations and through all the judgments that others have about who we are…

Be strong. Scrunchie Strong.

These are my words. Namaste, yo.

P.S. Seriously… stop judging people for how they hold up their hair. I mean… can’t you judge them on their sexuality or something else instead? 😉 By the way, my new pre-requisite for dating. Must love dogs… and scrunchies.

~~

Gail is the author of Enlightened-ish and Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams. She is a hippie pre-school director and advocate, as well as spoken word artist and general badass. She also co-facilitates an online community for survivors of fundamentalist perspectives on homosexuality.