Small Groups

I found myself in a collection of 14-20 year olds. We were in familiar grounds: The youth chapel at my local Assembly of God church. We spent much of our time in this building, playing games, building friendships, and playing music. I was probably 15 or 16, and along with my other teenage friends and peers, was right in the middle of The Age of Sexual Discovery™. Teenagers are coming into their own as sexual beings. This means a lot of hormones
and crushes
and feelings
and relationships
and fooling around.
Figuring out what attraction and sexuality mean to you.

And so, we as these humans, coming into our sexual reality, were divided into two groups. The boys went with the Youth Pastor, and the girls headed off with the female volunteers. I want to start by telling my story. But, I want to stress right here and now: This isn’t just about my story. Remember that. My story isn’t really about my story. Not really.

So, we went our separate ways. When all the boys were gathered and we calmed down our Youth Pastor explained what was going on. He said that tonight was a night that we were gonna “Get real” and “Be truly vulnerable” with each other. That we were gonna talk about some real issues that young men of god might have to deal with.

We were gonna talk about porn and sex.

A young youth leader (not the pastor of course) would start by opening up a confession. He would share with us that he too struggled with the demons of sexual impurity. Maybe this week it was a story about an ex-girlfriend who he went “too far” with. Or maybe it was the more typical opening monologue: one about how he looked at porn this week and how he needed forgiveness and accountability to be better. We would then go around the circle, each young man expressing guilt about their sexual experiences. Most involved a detailed breakdown of their various internet searches and masturbatory habits. Not too detailed to be crass, but enough to make us all know how bad they felt and in turn, how bad we should feel about our internet searches and habits. Once we made it around the room, we would talk about how this is only the first step. We would be told that repentance is not only admitting what you did was wrong, but that it was also the process of turning away from that thing (quick note, this is absolutely NOT repentance.) We would be encouraged to create accountability groups, with one or two friends. These small groups of two or three people were supposed to ask about our private sex lives every day. The hope of these groups (and it was made explicit when we formed them, by the pastor) was to foster guilt. Because you didn’t want to be the one guy who came back to the group and had to admit you slipped up. These were calculated efforts to create and sustain guilt and shame as a way of change.

This is not a story of one night. Throughout my time in church, I went through countless Men / Women ministry nights. My life in christian college involved a nearly weekly “accountability” group, which involved almost every dude on my all male dorm floor getting together and continuing the ritual I learned in Youth Group. I remember specifically going to a retreat with my dorm floor to an overnight campout at a local church. There the speaker, a well-known and well-respected Youth Guy™, pulled the same card as my old Youth Leaders, openly expressing his guilt about his porn habits. People in places of power, reminding you that these things are shameful. That you should feel shameful, especially if you want to become a leader.

So, I spent 4-6 years living my life with my sexual desires, impulses and actions constantly being shamed. I was marinated in it. And my journals are a testament to it. Pages and pages of entries, prayers, and even a couple of songs, full to the brim with guilt, shame and self-hatred for my inability to be “the man I was meant to be”. This was my experience in my formative sexual years. This was what was shown to me as healthy. This is what was modeled by the teachers and leaders in my life.

So tonight, when about 70% of the way through the Netflix special “Nanette”, I heard comedian Hannah Gadsby talk about “soaking a child in shame” and the tears started to flow. This was after spending all day struggling and losing a fight against my self-worth.

A battle I fight daily, and lose more days than I care to admit.

selah

And I was the safe person in those small groups.

What about the girls, who were taken to their own separate conversation, where they were told that it was their fault we boys were so horny. Where they were told to dress modestly, to help the sex addicted boys to control their dicks. Where they were taught, week after week that boys were monsters, that they as women were responsible for us monsters, and that if anything shameful happened, it was all the girls fault. Not only did they have to feel shame for messing around with their boyfriends, they had to feel personally responsible for it. AND for their boyfriends masturbating. AND for any future unwanted sexual encounters. They were taught the responsibility was on them. So, when that older boy forced himself on you, was it really his fault, or could you have maybe dressed more modestly?

What about the gay kids, who were told this was “a place where we are gonna get real”. That this was where we put down our masks and our barriers to get vulnerable with each other. And yet they knew full well that they couldn’t. That their feelings, their emotions and attractions and urges were beyond the pale. That even in this safe space, where we were able to be truly honest, they still had to keep hidden. Their shame, their “sin” was so bad, it was unspeakable. Because they knew if they opened up in that space, their community would reject them. That community that played games and sang songs and built friendships would crumble. They knew this because on many Sundays, the senior pastor would make sure to remind the congregation of their responsibility to preach the Truth™ to the corrupt cult of tolerance. They were taught that the straight boys and girls could be vulnerable and open about their desires, shameful as they may be. But, if these poor kids opened up about their struggles, their social life would collapse.

What about the trans kids, who had to keep their gender identity and possible dysphoria secret, while they struggle to choose which group to even go with in the first place. Being forced into a group where shame and rigid gender roles would be enforced. Desperately trying to appear the way they should, while again, knowing their feelings and struggles and identity is something way beyond this conversation. Knowing that being honest would remove you from both small groups. Being trapped, by the ideologies that fuel your inner conflict about your identity.

I could go on. The point stands. I was the most comfortable. The most privileged. I had it the easiest. My story is the tip of the iceberg. What lies below breaks my heart.

See, I was the straight boy (at the time. Read my last post to hear about my sexual discovery, sans shame at 30) who was fed a constant diet of shame that still debilitates me for days, even decades after I left that world. It started with sex, but it infected everything, fueling my depression, imposter syndrome, and body dysmorphia. And I had it easy. I can’t even begin to imagine the stories, the hurt, and the recovery that less privileged people had to go through. It breaks my heart to know the damage these small groups caused to so many. Which is why I said at the beginning, this isn’t just about me. My story is real, and it affects me to this day. But, my story is just the beginning. And the best thing you can do as a human being is listen. Listen to those stories. Listen to those who had it so much harder than you. Whether they be about shame and small groups, police brutality and institutional racism, LGBTQIA+ hate and intolerance, women being open about their own #metoo experiences or any other hurt human being open and vulnerable with you. These stories have voices. Those voices belong to people. Those people are real.

And, when you listen to others share their stories, and this is especially true for my fellow men out there, just listen and connect. Listen, don’t speak. Hear, don’t judge. Empathize, don’t criticize. If you manage to find yourself in a situation where someone chooses to open up to you about their wounds, don’t you dare fuck it up. Be the loving, caring ears that person needs.

Also, go watch Nanette. It’ll fuck you up real bad and it’s important that it does.

 

 

 

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I am here

I have been in a loving, supportive, heterosexual relationship for over 14 years. I have spent the majority of my sexually active life watching/being turned on by heterosexual porn. I have spent most of my life being attracted to females. But, around a year ago, I started to talk openly and candidly about sex with Allison. Coming from the Evangelical world, this was a big wall to break down. Being truly open about fantasies, crushes, porn, turn ons and kinks that we may want to explore was a difficult journey, because for most of my sexually active existence, much of this was surrounded by shame. Over the last year I have learned to shed most of that shame, embracing sex-positivity and my own sexuality.

And in that space, I learned that I was bisexual/pansexual.

ID

But being open about it is something I have debated a lot about. I have had some hang ups about my own sexual discovery and my openness about it.

First off, this didn’t feel like something that was always there. For most of my teens and 20’s I really only experienced arousal and attraction to females. But, once I stopped associating sex with guilt (almost entirely hetero-normative sexual stuff, that is) I felt like I allowed myself to be open to love and attraction in all forms.

I am also still mostly into women. I would say I am probably a 75/25 hetero-leaning pansexual, if I had to give a really detailed expression of my sexuality. I find that the more I connect emotionally to a person, the more I find that persons physical characteristics desirable. This can make that percentage lean one way or the other. Crushes and emotionally intimate friendships have a huge effect on what I find physically attractive and I find that this makes my sexuality super fluid and flexible. Because of this, I dealt with the question: “Am I really Bi/Pan enough for it to matter?”

I also don’t think my personal sexuality really affects me in any real negative ways. I don’t feel ashamed of it, and its something that really only affects me and those who I may engage with sexually in the future. So, the question of whether or not I should write this was one I have sat with for most of this last month. I don’t want to take away a spotlight from those who coming out is a terrifying experience that takes courage and can have devastating effects. I could stay quiet about this or be open and my life will stay largely the same. The people for who this matters (at least pragmatically) know and are accepting of it, so this lead to: Why make it a thing?

And I think the reason why I ended up writing this is simple: visibility and normalization. I write in detail about my depression and anxiety because I want people to know that you are not alone in your struggles. I want musicians especially to know that the struggle is real and that I am there too. I want people to know that depression is real, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. It didn’t negatively affect me to be honest about that, and I have no shame about it. But, I believe strongly that gaining more visibility helps, and normalizing depression helps others to seek out help. But, this isn’t about illness or depression. This is about celebration and pride. And if me being vocal about who I am, without shame can help someone else to love themselves, exactly how they are, than I want to do that. If  I can add even a little to the fabulous spotlight that is the LGBTQIA+ community that will help normalize all sexualities and gender identities, than I will. This is about being honest and loving yourself, exactly how you are. And so, I want to be honest about that too. I want to be a small part of this amazing month and show that bi/pan people exist, and that it’s totally normal to feel that way, in what little way I can. Cool? Cool.

 

Five Years Visiting San Juan Island

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Mark looking for cool rocks on Cattle Point -2017-

We just got back from our yearly trip to San Juan Island. What started as a chance for Allison to fulfill a childhood dream to finally see Orcas in the wild, has now become one of the most important family traditions of mine. It’s a yearly chance to set aside our work, our screens, and our worries and just spend a few days in one of our favorite places on earth. We read, we play, we see the engage in the creative beauty of nature. While up there, we realized it’s become such a tradition that we can not remember fully how many years it had been. As I pulled the photos off my CF card (a new one I had to buy this year, because don’t you always forget something when traveling) I decided to go back and check how many years it had been. I was suspecting it had been five, and I was correct. I have photos of these wonderful times going all the way back to 2013, when Mark was just about to turn three.

So, I thought to myself, there has got to be a similar style picture I took every year. I pulled a bunch of different ideas from the years, and found that there were very few pictures in the themes I was pulling from that had a solid photo every year. But, I had these awesome collections of pictures that really captured how much we have grown throughout the years. So, although few of these capture every year, I figure I would show off a bunch of collections of pictures, to give you a glimpse into the last five years through the lens of our tradition.

To start things off: A child who has grown up spending time in this beautiful place. I found a picture of Mark from all five years, to show how much he has grown over the last five years. I think one of the most powerful things I have noticed as he has grown is his love for spending time in nature and camping. The first four years we had to fight to get him out the door. He loved it every time, once we were there. But, this year was the first year he was really excited to go camping.

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Mark’s first time at San Juan. Just about to turn 3. -2013-

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He grew up so much since the first trip! -2014-

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Such a wild child. -2015-

Mark 13-17-4783

So cool. -2016-

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What an amazing big kid he has become. -2017-

To really show how much he has changed, here are two pictures of him, playing by this big rock that is near the coast at the campsite, one from our first year, one from this year. This is Mark at almost 3 vs. Mark at 7. I didn’t realize how much the rock had moved over the years until I saw the pictures side by side.

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-2013-

Rock 13-17-7615

-2017-

In 2014 I introduced mark to “light graffiti” which has now become an absolute staple of every trip. As the sun was setting on our first evening at our campsite this year, he exclaimed, “Okay! Now let’s go do some light pictures!”. Here’s a sample of our work, throughout the years.

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-2014-

Light Photography 2014-2017-9286

-2015-

Light Photography 2014-2017-4957

We made friends with our camp neighbors and they helped this year. -2016-

Light Photography 2014-2017-7592

Mark made an angry face. -2017-

Light Photography 2014-2017-7600

Mark is the green at the end. -2017-

We also go on a boat and see whales every year. 2014 is missing because it was the year we went all the way to Canadian waters to see transients, and I ended up taking care of Mark most of the time, so very few pictures were taken. 2016 is missing because I took very few pictures that year, because I brought my new video camera along and mostly shot footage with that. You will notice that photos from 2016 are far and few between, because of this. I only took like 50 photos that whole trip. But, what you see here is what most of our whale watching trips ended up as for Mark, a long nap. That is, until this year. This was the first year he did not fall asleep on the boat.

Whales 13-15-17-3114

-2013-

Whales 13-15-17-9671

-2015-

Whales 13-15-17-7861

-2017-

We also try to take a family photo every year. Again, we have a few missing years. 2016, because I took so few pictures, and surprisingly 2013. I think I was just not thinking about doing the family selfie that year.

Family 14-15-17-3815

-2014-

Family 14-15-17-0105

-2015-

Family 14-15-17-7997

-2017-

Starting in 2015, I wanted to start taking photos of Mark in front of this really amazing Madrone tree in Lime Kiln State Park. The Madrone trees are super significant to me, as the first trip we took was during one of the darkest times for me, spiritually, and the Madrone tree was a powerful symbol of the creative, divine energy that flows through our universe. Someday, I hope to get a tattoo of Mark standing underneath a Madrone tree on my left arm. Anyways, here are the photos of that scene.

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-2015-

Tree 15-16-17-4880

-2016-

Tree 15-16-17-7718

-2017-

So, there you have a look back through our time so far on San Juan, through the somewhat fragmented photos I chose to take each year. Sometimes I wish I had been more forward thinking about the kinds of pictures I chose to take, but in the end I think you can still see a time-lapse of our wonderful family growing together, through this tradition. I can not wait for many more years of pictures from this magical and holy place.

I leave you with one final picture, that really solidified in my mind how Mark has really transitioned into a “Big Kid”. We arrived at our campsite and got our tent and basic camping supplies set up. Immediately after setup, Mark grabbed his camp chair and ran off to the waterside. He set his chair down and just sat there for a moment. I grabbed my camera and headed over to him with Allison. When asked what he was doing, he simply stated ” I needed to sit and watch the sunset.”

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“I needed to sit and watch the sunset.”

 

Post Script:
Here is the video I made in 2016, when I decided to not take very many pictures.

My Spiritual Trauma

I’m 28 minutes into the latest Liturgist podcast and already I have to take pause.

The rapid-fire thought barrage has already reached maximum capacity, and in an attempt to calm the cacophony of my mind, I am writing this down right now. This might not make sense to you. This might be too real and trigger some deep shit in your own mind. However this hits you in your place in space and time, please be gentle. This is my story. Its gonna be messy, possibly incoherent, and full of things that you might disagree with. But thats not the point. I’m not writing this to prove anything to anyone. So calm down, have a cup of tea, and only read further if your heart is open. This is my story of Spiritual Trauma.

If you asked me a year ago if I had suffered spiritual trauma, my answer likely would start out the same.

I would surely say yes, and then move on to one of many stories about our transition from being leaders and foundational members of an Assembly of God church plant to being independent, progressive house church leaders.

Stories of members of our previous church family praying for us to come back to the will of G-d.

Stories of youth pastors who sent me long, angry emails about how my house church was a tool of Satan and I was directly responsible for sending people to hell.

Stories of a community (Light House Church, or LHC for short) that said, in one loud voice “You are no longer one of us. You are not good enough. We can no longer associate with you.”

I still remember the day that I realized my old Pastor unfriended me on Facebook. Thinking back on it today, 9 years later, the pain still lingers. The pastor who prayed over us, in the church that we helped start, blessings and support for our new mission.

And then never spoke to us again. That is, until the day I sent him a message asking why he chose to finally sever the one tie we had left.

But, if you asked me a year ago, I would tell you that as painful as these memories are to recollect (I am shaking thinking of these things as I type), I had largely processed a lot of them, quite openly and vocally. I may have been through some trauma, but I came out the other side. I was through the weeds. Looking back on the scars brought back painful feelings, but scars were all thats left.

Because I moved on.

I went through the cycles of loss and came out the other side. I found a faith, my faith, in the years after that. Most of this time I spent on my own, with occasional conversations with a friend (many of which caused those friendships to end, unfortunately). But, nonetheless I ended up in this place: Post-modern. Progressive. Mystic. Some other buzzword that will scare your evangelical grandma. I find myself regularly talking about the creative energy of all things, and connecting with the divine mystery. I even found a new faith community, after nearly giving up entirely on the idea, that puts up with me. I fucking love those people so much. I love that can write that I love them so fucking much and I know I won’t get slammed with a spiritual confrontation.

I have shared much of the trauma that I explained above. Things that had almost become normal to share with people, after being told so many times. I also found that in sharing these stories, and others of my time in AoG bible college and church, that our experiences and traditions were deeply poisoned by the theology that I had, years ago abandoned. Things that I never realized had affected me as deeply as they did.

It was here in this new community (Sellwood Faith Community, or SFC) that I realized there was a second form of spiritual trauma I had experienced.

One that lay hidden beneath the big, gnarly scars of our fallout with Evangelical Christianity. It came out in weird places. I would be picking music for our Sunday dinner church, and suddenly I would be gripped with panic and anxiety.

Is this song good enough? Spiritual enough? Too spiritual? Is this some shitty, “Jesus is my Boyfriend” worship garbage? Is this too evangelical? Is this too esoteric?

I would weep over the fear that my choices would be judged. I remember one time specifically bringing up a song choice to our pastor, who is vocally Pro-Choice. The song was “We Are Stronger” by Gungor, and in the middle there is a bridge where the vocals go:

Every black life matters
Every woman matters
Every soldier matters
All the unborn matter
Every gay life matters
Fundamentalists matter
Here’s to life and all it’s branches

And I messaged her, terrified that she would be offended by that bolded line. She first told me that the song is awesome, that as someone who is pro-choice she absolutely believes the unborn matter, and that this did not feel like a politicized lyric. She assured me that the song is great, and that I should feel free to bring whatever songs I want to the table. Then she said something profound:

“Just because I believe something doesn’t mean it’s right.”

I had never heard a pastor say those words before. I knew right there that this was exactly where I needed to be, but I also started to realize that those wounds that Evangelicalism caused aren’t as healed as I thought.

I would go on to have more panic attacks about picking music. Each time I would bring them up to the community, not to guilt, but desperately seeking some level of acceptance and validation as a person. My community has been absolutely wonderful to me. Still, those wounds linger. It’s gonna be a long time, and I may never get to the point where I don’t feel anxiety picking music. Fearing that I am either being too pushy, or too esoteric, or too god damn weird. I still worry that I talk too much, or that I repeat myself. Even in the most accepting and loving community, those scars still affect me.

The smaller ones, hidden under the big, gnarly wounds.

But the thing I really want to talk about in this goes even deeper.

See, during lent this year at SFC, we did this thing. Its the kind of thing that a younger me would probably mock. Its the kind of thing that normally doesn’t affect me. During Lent, one of the main themes is the idea of finding space for G-d. Typically, this involves some form of fasting or sacrifice. Many know of Lent as the time you don’t eat meat, or the time you give up something. I had been quite busy with my music through the lenten season, so I missed quite a few dinners. But, I ended up at this one. Where we did this thing. This thing that normally wouldn’t affect me.

We ate sang our prayer, ate our dinner, and then started to talk about our time through lent. I was fairly quiet, mostly because I hadn’t done much for Lent. We went through the conversation, maybe we did a Lectio Divina (I don’t actually have a super strong memory of the conversation leading up to that thing that normally wouldn’t affect me). But then we brought out a big bowl and some antacid tablets. We were supposed to write something that we needed to let go of, something that might be getting in the way of our connection with the divine. I immediately brought up how in our previous evangelical existence, this kind of thing would be used to guilt teenagers into feeling shitty about their budding sexuality, or their choice of music, or some other inane, non-helpful, damaging bullshit. I talked about how freeing it was to be in a community that had such different priorities.

And then it came to me. I was a deer on a lonely country road. These words, the truck speeding around the corner at 70 MPH:

I need to stop hating myself.

I’m in tears now, as I change the formatting of those words, to emphasize the weight of their meaning. I was in tears then, trembling, attempting to write “my self worth issues” onto an antacid. We went around the table, placing our struggles into the water. The teenager in our group leaned back, exclaiming “Kobe!” and splashed me. But in that moment, I wasn’t really there. I was alone, in my office, trying to stop the inner voice that, on loop kept saying “you’re not a good musician. You’re not a good husband. You’re not a good father. You are a bad person.” I swear to you, that one simple activity was the hardest spiritual act I have ever done. Because I knew that I couldn’t put something that important out there, and then leave it be. The action was merely representing the fact that I knew it was time for me to deal with my self worth issues. My imposter syndrome. My anxiety. My depression. My self-hatred. My lack of belief in myself.

So, I brought it up at therapy. I brought up the story from church, and I brought up the things that I thought might be a partial cause. I figured that some level of it was caused by bad theology and the evangelical fear of humanism. I felt free because I let it out, the process started, and I would find my way, like I had many times in the past, to the other side.

This has been my last month.

This is why streams end up not happening and videos get delayed. This is why I write “I have been processing a lot recently” in my write-ups.

Because processing these negative self images has been extremely taxing. I have found myself in the hardest depression I have gone through since college. I have come to terms with the fact that I do, in fact suffer from depression and anxiety, labels I had previously been wary to embrace, mostly out of fear of co-opting someone else’s struggle.

Every week we have uncovered some new stuff that has helped. We talked over some things that helped me to take the first steps in saying that I am proud of something I have done. That the way I think about certain things is good, and meaningful, and special. (Although even now, typing that is extremely difficult). Its the first step in a long journey, and its not gonna get easier for a while, but ultimately I am hopeful.

But this last week, I realized something. I realized how much of this goes back to Spiritual Trauma.

Because under those big, gnarly scars of abandonment and excommunication…

Under the tinier scars of bad theology and damaging understandings of leadership and counsel…

There was a deep infection, that goes to the core of my being. This thing that screams out “You are not a good person.” The demon in me, that I can nearly visualize reaching up, out of my chest to squeeze my throat closed as I attempt to utter:

“Your way of seeing the world is special.”

“The way you imbue emotion into your music is a gift.”

Its a shadow, small and wrinkled, curled around my heart, screeching at me to stop every time I try to say something good about myself. (I picture it like something out of a miyazaki film).

I wanna talk, quite candidly, with you all reading this about my struggles. I wanna talk about the roots of this illness that we have been uncovering. This is the rawest moment. Much of this is a struggle to type, because that shadow is screaming inside of me to stop.

“You are just whining.”
“Your trauma isn’t real trauma.”

“None of this changes the fact that you are a bad person.”

“Ultimately, you are going to disappoint and hurt those you love.”

That last one is the kicker. You see, one of the many trails my lack of self worth embarks me down is one of fear. Fear of disappointment. It was fear of disappointment that lead me to become a compulsive liar in college. It was fear of disappointment that brought me to tears as I confessed to the community I loved most that I made up a story about getting expelled, just to avoid the reality that I was a failure who dropped out of college.

But this fear went back to a moment that I brought up in therapy as an aside. Something that I genuinely didn’t think was a big moment for me. Until I started to re-tell it.

We were talking about the evangelical churches insanely destructive beliefs about sexuality. I had just talked about how during my time leading a youth group, I have true pride in the space we created. How one of our students felt safe enough, in an evangelical church of all places, to open up about his homosexuality. We moved on quickly to how my wife and I had to over come a lot of the damaging stigmas that were pushed on us as teenagers around sex. We talked about the nearly weekly guilt spiral around masturbation that 16 year old Ace would struggle through, week after week, constantly feeling like he wasn’t good enough.

And it was there that a memory came up. A memory of a 3 1/2 floppy disk. I had made a joke powerpoint with friends, meant to poke fun at some of our inside jokes we had with our Youth Pastor. Now, if you don’t remember or don’t know the logic of floppy disks, I guess if you delete something off of one, but don’t empty the recycling bin, those dirty images stay on that floppy disk. Teenage me didn’t know this, and so I put my seemingly safe disk into my Youth Pastors computer, dragged the powerpoint onto the desktop, and got to work on setting up the prank.

Except I left that floppy disk in the computer. And those dirty jpegs were still on there.

My pastor called my friends and I, individually into his office. He didn’t know which of us the disk belonged to, and he didn’t want to know. But, he wanted to make sure that each of us knew how wrong we were for doing this. And this is where all of that damaging theology found its way into the bloodstream. He harshly condemned us for looking at such awful, despicable things. He repeatedly talked of how we were student leaders and were to be held to a higher standard than that. We had disappointed him. We had disappointed God. But, then there was a sea change. The conversation turned to his career. How, if someone had stumbled upon that disk, he could have lost his job, his family, his everything. I have no strong memory as to whether he repeated this point or not, but the point was bored deep inside of me.

This thing.

This shameful thing that I prayed daily to overcome.

This thing that I felt I was incapable of overcoming (because I wasn’t good enough, not spiritual enough, not a real man of god).

Not only did my mentor find my shameful thing and enforce all of those damaging ideas. But, that thing could have ruined his life. I could have been responsible for destroying everything. My disappointment could have hurt others.

It was then that the lightbulb went on for both my therapist and I. So much of my struggle is tied to moments like this. Moments when damaging theology, backwards understanding of sexuality, a perverted understanding of holiness, and a man who studied ancient languages and persuasive speeches tried to be a therapist all let bits of this infection into my being.

My deepest spiritual trauma is not one event. It was spoon fed to me, over the course of many years. And even though I have shed myself of almost all of that damaging theology, the infection, the lack of belief in myself, has stayed behind.

The thing that lingers is shame. Shame pervades so much of my church past. I told one story, one that is absolutely foundational to my struggles. But its not the only one. Far from it. Its merely a brief window into the world that hurt me. The church attitudes and beliefs that damaged me. The myriad of moments when something was said by a leader that left the tiniest of pinpricks on my heart.

Like the time my senior pastor told the congregation that if you are overweight you should never lead from the stage of a church.

Like the time my pastor told my wife (then girlfriend) to leave me at a gas station after I got out of a moving car because I was convinced no one in the car wanted me around.

Like the time my pastors wife instant messaged me to scream at me about posting the word “fuck” on my xanga page.

Like the time our pastor fired the youth pastor because he had different theology. Then counseled his wife to leave him. Then shamed him for his drinking problem. Then lead the funeral service after he killed himself.

I can not possible explain in words the weight writing these moments down has on me.

These are my wounds. This is my spiritual trauma.

 

selah

 

I have one final thing I want to say.

The moment in the podcast that gave me pause was not some deeply triggering story or emotionally riveting conversation. It was a therapist, talking about how the struggle to overcome spiritual trauma can be so hard for so many because after leaving their communities, they struggle to feel like they are any good. Many times they end up finding therapists or partners who end up being more damaging then helpful, because they are drawn to the same kinds of leader figures as those from their traumatic backgrounds.

To this I say: I am unbelievably thankful for the people in my life.

For my wife, who has been gently (and not so gently) nudging me to deal with my self worth. Who is deeply empathetic to the struggles I am going through, and has been very supportive through this time of processing and working through it all.

For my church community who taught me that gathering together in the name of Jesus can look very, very different from the abusive world I came from. That I am loved, I am worthy. That I am enough.

For my friends who have heard bits and pieces of this story. I have sent this to many of you, so you know where I am at. Thank you for listening. For not judging me. For being willing to get real with me.

For my therapist, Melissa. I don’t know how Allison found you, but I am so happy that I found a therapist who is helping me in such profound ways. I have heard countless horror stories from friends who struggle, moving from therapist to therapist, unable to find someone who connects and helps them in the way you have helped me.

I realize how I could be in a very different place if not for the love and support of all these people. I am deeply thankful for all of you. You are reflecting the light of the divine, and you have all been essential in my path to wellness.

 

 

 

 

 

Dance in the Ashes

Theres a fire growing, but you didnt light the match

theres a fire growing, but you didnt light the match

There’s no way of stopping now, its spreading too fast

so let it burn, let it burn,  let it all burn down

 

This building we called holy yeah its all coming down

this building we called holy yeah its all coming down

and G-d wont come and save it, so you better get right out

and let it burn, let it burn, let it all burn down

and in the ashes we find love

 

The library is tinder, and theres no use saving it

the libraries now tinder, there no use saving it

The books are tales of pain and fear, from years of harmful shit

so let it burn, let it burn, let it all burn down

 

Theres a gospel thats buried, deep inside these walls

There’s a gospel thats buried, deep inside these walls

you see love’s truth: its fireproof, so theres no need for pause just

let it burn, let it burn, let it all burn down

and in the ashes we find love

 

Your heart is at the center of this temple on fire

in a building built by hurt and guilt that desperately requires

a pyroclastic moment of destructive prophecy

to show you love is all around, waiting for you to be

 

dance free in the ashes

Live free in the ashes

get lost in the ashes of what you once believed

dance free in the ashes

live free in the ashes

get lost in the ashes, where grace can set you free

 

The Imposter

I am the fire, the forest my art

watch me burn it all down

I am the flood, you are whats left, rotten and drowned

I built the alarms, with frayed bits of wire

The storm ripped right through, what am i to do

with the wreckage and mess i have made?

 

I say that I care for the cause, but i dont

I say that Im true to my word, but im nothing but words, oh im nothing but words

 
So dont praise this mess of a man

I fake my way through every song, every plan.

The notes are all lifted, the melody lost

the parts are all scripted, and you pay the cost

Shine like silver, bend like gold.

Tarnished aluminum is all I have sold.

 

If you buy the right robes, you can call yourself priest

But it won’t change the liar who’s hiding beneath.

Paint the walls all day long, and maybe you’ll hide

the decaying foundation collapsing inside

Grace for All in the Shadow of Tragedy

Someone was murdered, in a most terrible way. They were young, they were positive, they had no reason to die, let alone in such an unthinkable way.

In the midst of this we are left with a jarring disconnection. This goes against everything we think of the way the world should be.We have fear, grief, anger…all of these deep emotions trying to make sense of such a senseless act. How are we to process such an unthinkable situation?

In this, some will attempt to disconnect themselves from this person. This might be as benign as focusing on her celebrity status, and might become as severe as turning focus instead to other, more heinous realities in our world, like the deaths of many younger than her due to war, famine, and poverty.

Some will turn to change to help deal with the pain. They will focus on what they believe, in this moment of emotional distress, must be the solutions to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Talk of gun control will inevitably pop up.

Both of these will obviously upset those that in unthinkable moments, believe strongly in the purity of grief. Those who say that pushing an agenda or focusing on the overarching reality of the unthinkable pains in our world are diminishing the sadness of this individual tragedy. Like someone telling you your problems pale in comparison to the starving children in some 3rd world country.

Many will turn to belief. To prayer, to good vibes, to heartfelt thoughts being sent. This will inevitably frustrate the changers. They will see this as a cop out.

And this grief will manifest itself in many other ways as well. Complex combinations of the above. Reactions to reactions to reactions will start to surface, all clouded by the pain and emotion of the unthinkable. Ultimately, I think the thing we need to realize is that we are all struggling, as human beings, to process the unthinkable. To mentally handle a situation we were not prepared or ready to think through. Something we thought couldn’t happen.

I may well disagree with some of these methods as being healthy or helpful to anyone. But in the shadow of tragedy, I choose instead to have grace for all trying to process. I encourage you all to understand that there is a struggle, inherent in all of us, to come to terms with such tragedy, and that might manifest itself in ways you are not used to, not comfortable with, or even not okay with. But, try not to start fights, or be critical of others in this moment. Have grace. Allow people to process this information in their way. If you feel someone is “using this tragedy to push their agenda” or “not respecting this person as a human” that may be true, but realize those people are also struggling. And fighting with them on the internet isn’t going to help. Grief is messy. We need not add to the mess by being quick to criticize.

Because the people who move to political reform and just trying to figure out a way to limit the amount of pain we will experience in the future. Those who appeal to the purity of grief just want to focus first and foremost on the memory of those who are lost. Those who turn to belief and prayer are trying to process the unfathomable through something beyond them, and those who move to what they believe to be the greater societal issues see tragedy as a mirror, that reminds them of how much work is still to be done in our world. None of these are the right or wrong way to deal with grief. And my opinion on one persons reaction to grief isn’t important. What is important is that I love and respect people, and I choose to not judge, but to have grace with them in their time of mourning and processing.

Love and grace to all,
Ace