…as a kite -or- The Spectrum and How to Swing It

I’m writing this after just taking a fresh dose of Tylenol 3, so bear with me. Some of this might sound awesome. Some of this might sound like Drinking Out of Cups.

I finally had enough of Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief and started a novel just for fun (is the subtitle a nod to Pagels?). I’ve never read the alphabet series, so I’m a few pages into A is for Alibi. I think Kinsey and I are at the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It reminds me a little of Mallory’s Oracle, but only because Kinsey Milhone and Kathy Mallory are somewhat similar in their delivery and approach to their work. I love novels with strong women leads, because I want to be a strong woman and it doesn’t hurt to take their strength into myself. It’s like getting a shot in the arm of bravery, because if they can get up every morning and do what they do, so can I.

In terms of giving up on Amen, I can’t put it away entirely. I’m trying to finish it before Sunday, because the class has had this book for a while and I don’t want to show up unprepared. My former minister friends are very interested in my opinion. I don’t know that they’ll like what I have to say, but I’m willing to put myself out there, anyway. My answer to this entire book is that the author seems very full of herself. Absolutely sure that there’s not a deity, because prayer works regardless. The thing that makes me feel that she’s so conceited in her writing is that she may not mean to, but she speaks down to those who do believe there’s a deity, as if those who believe are just not as mature in their faith as she is.

Let me say for the record, “fuck that noise.”

Faith is not a journey toward believing there is no deity and praying, anyway. Faith is a spectrum, just like sexuality. To illustrate, I will go back almost ten years and tell you about the time I was sitting in the back of the church at Bridgeport while the Portland Lesbian Choir was setting up for their dress rehearsal (we rented out our space for concerts). One of the women was wearing a t-shirt that said, “100% Lesbian.” Nancy was in love with a woman, but had never dated any others. Before she met her partner, she considered herself straight. At the time, I was dating a man, for the first and only time as an adult (so far). We sat there for at least 20 minutes trying to decide what percentage of lesbian we were. Some days, I feel gayer than others.

It’s the same with religion. Sometimes I am absolutely sure there’s a God, and sometimes I’m not. But there is never a point at which I will go all the way toward atheism, because the question will never be settled for me. Just as I will never consider myself gay or lesbian, because to me, that is saying that even though I have only been married to women, that means the men I’ve dated don’t count. And of course they do. When Ryan and I were together, we dated for a year and two months, and that was in middle school… highly unusual for kids that young, and yet, we just fit. He was the cream in my coffee and the butter on my bread. It was one of the happiest times of my life. To call myself gay after that is just ridiculous. Bisexuality gets a bad rap because most people think it means that you date both sexes at the same time to be happy. Not so much. Bisexuality is a spectrum that lasts your whole life, and if I look at my whole life, I’ve been attracted to men as well as women, but never once has it occurred to me not to be monogamous.

Klein Sexual Orientation Grid
To extrapolate a little further, my first wife was bisexual as well, and because of this, she really wanted to go to a bisexual conference held in Houston where one of the keynote speakers was the late and great Fritz Klein. Remember that name, because even though he died a relatively long time ago, he will teach you just as much about your sexuality now as he told me in that lecture. He took Alfred Kinsey’s work (the scale from 0 being completely heterosexual and 6 being completely homosexual) and added to it in ways that most people never think about, but should. Getting to meet and spend time with him is one of my fondest memories, but this is his legacy.

If you click on the image, it will show a version large enough to print that you can fill out on your own. Here’s the catch. No matter what you put in any of the boxes, Dr. Klein firmly believes that one box trumps them all, and that is self-identification. Say you fill out everything with numbers that say you are as queer as a three dollar bill. If you self-identify as straight, then you are. Period. You are what you say you are, and no one can tell you any different. Self-identification comes at your own pace, on your own time.

There should be some sort of grid for belief, as well. Perhaps I will be the one to make it. I certainly have enough information over my lifetime to complete something like it in terms of belief, prayer life, commitment to religious services, etc. It is a rolling set of emotions. Sometimes I feel more spiritual than others. Sometimes I feel more willing to commit to going to church than others. Sometimes I feel more altruism than others. However, if I look at my faith over my lifetime, I have consistently believed that I don’t know if there’s a God or not. I have never, not even once, believed that there was no God. I always fall into that category of, “who knows?”

I have told this story on Nadia before, but I will tell it again. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a loudmouthed, often profane, heavily tattooed Lutheran minister whom I seek to emulate, but in the best of ways. One of the stories she tells in her autobiography, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, is that she was called to the bedside of a man who said, “I’m an atheist!” She said that in her head, she was thinking, “good for you. I wish I could pull that off.” I knew intimately what she meant- that for this man, there was no struggle. It was black or white.

Even for “professional Christians,” it’s sometimes a struggle to believe that someone is listening when we pray. However, there are two things that keep me in the game at all times. The first is this scene from Shadowlands:

The second is that regardless of how I’m feeling when I show up for church in the morning, there is that moment where we’re all in deep prayer together, sharing joy and pain… or there’s that moment when we are hearing the words that have been said for hundreds of years that begin, “on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: ‘take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'”

I don’t do all of this because I think God cares one way or the other. God is too big, too mystical, too unknowable to think that God might require worship. I do all of this because I see what it does in my own life, just like Jack Lewis. I do not have the option not to pray. It flows as easily from me as do blood, sweat & tears (as a brass player, you didn’t really think I was going to pass that up, did you?). It strengthens me when I think I do not have anything left. It shows me my flaws in my own reasoning because as I am praying, God whispers back… and of course I think the god-conscience is part of myself. I think that the god-conscience resides in every living being.

Where you fall on the spectrum is whether you decide to use it. If you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. It means that you have something else in your life that fills that spot for you. As a liberal Christian trying to take back the fanatical words of the Evangelical movement, I am sorry if you are an atheist and you have ever been treated badly by a Christian wanting to help you to death.

You are welcome to walk with me. I will even hold your hand. It is not either of our jobs to change each other’s minds, just to be together, because the spectrum is wide, but not so much when our fingers touch.

Amen.

3:30

I have a dentist appointment at 3:30 today, so I only have to hang on a little bit longer. By then, my Tylenol and ibuprofen will have worn off enough that if they give me a vicoprofen or a T3 it won’t bother my stomach and I might kiss them. Might. We’ll just see what happens when I get there. 🙂 Even if all they give me is laughing gas and try to make me forget about the pain, that will be enough. I have such problems with my teeth that I’ve just put off and put off due to cost that I’m in trouble. I’ve already had a tooth extracted on that side, and it’s affecting everything, including the way I drool. It’s attractive, let me tell you. And remember ladies, I’m single.

My tooth is the only thing I can really think about, so distraction is key. I’ve been watching the fourth season of Veep, and when I realized I was devouring it too fast, I switched back to reading Amen. Like I said earlier, I am reading it for Contemporary Theology class, but I fucking hate it. The author has an air of righteousness about her that is just so off-putting. It’s full of shit like, “if you believe x or so doctrine, keep doing what works for you, but…” It’s like reading a watered down version of Richard Dawkins, and I so wish I was kidding about that. Other people’s beliefs are their beliefs, and they are so cute. I am taking in her words without believing them. I want to argue her into the ground, and if I ever get the chance, I will. Because there’s a way to talk about belief without sounding like a sanctimonious prick. I will water my comments down in Sunday School, but you know me. I won’t water them down here. Mostly her thought process is that you can be an atheist and be a part of the life of the church and pray and all of these things, with which I totally agree. No one should ever be turned away from a church, because at its heart, church is about altruism just as much as it is about belief in God. If you are an atheist, you are always welcome at St. James and All Sinners, because even if you don’t believe in God, I will still put you to work feeding the homeless and asking you to bring extra socks and food.

And if you show up, there will be no discussion about whether your belief is right or wrong. It just is. There’s no proof either way… just as I expect that there will be no discussion about others’ beliefs without really trying to reach across the pews. I’m not going to talk you out of your atheism, and you’re not going to talk me out of my belief, so intelligent discussion can take place within those parameters. I am also not going to let anyone say that your beliefs are cute, but you’re really not mature enough in your faith to see that there’s not really a supreme being… or that there is. But, to me, it’s not the classic grandfather in the sky, but a place inside all of us that yearns for the divine and the mystical for answers. What scientists do not seem to understand is that faith does not answer the scientific problems of our time, but the human ones.

Faith and science can reside together because they accomplish different things. It will not help you to memorize the periodic table when your child is in surgery. It is then that we reach to the mystical and the divine for the prayers that we all pray in those times, such as Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow.

When atheists describe to me the God in which they don’t believe, I often say, “I don’t believe in that God, either.” Frankly, the God of the Old Testament is a divine douchebag at times. But, in taking the Bible seriously and not literally, it is the words of the Jews writing that believed that’s what was happening, not necessarily what was. By the time the New Testament was put together, the understanding of God and the Trinity had progressed quite a bit. Theology had progressed into a world of promise and not vengeance. I often say that every parable of Jesus can be redacted to the one about the rich man and the servants who received talents, and what they did with them. The answer to that parable is directly tied to how much each servant believed in themselves.The rich man returns, rewards the two who made money, but severely punishes the servant who did nothing. To me, every parable of Jesus is directly tied to stopping putting all your talents in a hole, because are we really talking about money anymore? Yes, a talent was a denomination of money, but it extrapolates so well in today’s world. I’ve hid my talents for a long time, and I have a feeling I am not alone. People with much more bravery than me have reaped the reward of putting their talent out into the world and reaping its benefits four, five, even tenfold.

Maybe some of you even go to eleven.

It is here that I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. By writing out my emotions and examining myself, I have put out a body of work that resonates with others as well, and it provided me the confidence to put my money where my mouth is. I have applied to school again. I have agreed to put on the stole and call myself Christ in the World (as all Christians are, but few go to school for it). I never would have had the confidence to do so if I hadn’t put myself out there on this web site, first. I rescued my talents from their hole in the ground by listening to you when you say that I’m a good writer. I came into myself, realizing that I had more talents than I thought I did. I got away from believing that I wasn’t good enough to fly solo, when in reality, I’ve been ready for a long time, I just didn’t have the chutzpah to GO FOR IT.

It was really the marriage article that did it. In one day, I went from obscurity to Margaret Cho and Martina Navratilova and thousands of others knowing who I am, both as a writer and as a person. It encouraged me to keep going… and going… and going. The next article that I wrote was a piece on sex and marriage, which prompted one of my readers to say that maybe I’d end up as a marriage and family counselor. Actually, you get all of that when you put on the stole…. and I would like to think that all of my mistakes in my relationships give me a better idea of what not to tell people in their struggles than being perfect ever would. I feel that all of the changes I am making in my life are preparing me for that Biblical marriage I struggled to have with Dana, and though we failed, I learned things that couldn’t have been learned any other way. I think about her every day, about what went wrong and what went gloriously right. She is literally the best thing that ever happened to me (#lafawnduh) in terms of what an ideal marriage is and the things I’ve learned since in terms of how to keep something like that going- how to keep it sacred.

My next relationship (even if a miracle occurs and Dana and I get back together) will be a reflection of those things, because a relationship with Dana cannot be weighted down with the mistakes of the past. My next relationship will be new, whether it is someone from my past, or someone that I meet here in DC. We both should have turned to the Bible more, and the Internet less. We both should have had more communication and less checking out. We both should have done so many things, and those things I ponder in my heart.

Jesus sets forth the rules for a great marriage, and as Christians, we both ignored those rules when we should have learned them cold. For fuck’s sake, if I’d just taken my own advice in my marriage article, we might not be where we are right now, which is mostly estranged with the occasional e-mail or text. The last communication I got from her was on my birthday, for which I was so grateful because I moped that I hadn’t heard from her right up until I did, and then it seemed like my day was complete. My love for her is so absolute that if I hadn’t heard from her, I think I would still be crying over it.

My cardinal Biblical mistake was putting someone else above her, and it never should have happened. Not in a million years. But it did, because my friendship with Argo consumed me in a way I’d never experienced. She became my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night, but not in a way that I felt superceded Dana, but in retrospect, it did. It’s shitty how hindsight is 20/20. You would have to know all the ins and outs of my friendship with Argo to understand why I felt that way, but it’s not my story to tell. It’s hers.

The point here being that I understand my mistakes, because I’ve been spending a lot of time going over them. Extracting lessons and pain so that I can move forward, even though some of those ruminations pull me back into a time when we were happy- all three of us. It was so good right up until the train ran off the tracks and now I am alone, sitting in a lot of things I wish I could just put into the ground and hide.

But those mistakes are also the basis of why I want to pull everything out and look at it, so I can recover in my own time, enough to be able to take my talents out of the ground and multiply them. As I told my former minister friends, I can see the vision, but I cannot see the staircase…. not yet. But it helps that there are former ministers in my congregation that are willing to impart advice, HARD gained wisdom. And Matt is not shy about sharing his wisdom as well, which makes me feel that I have joined a special group. I have graduated from someone who wants to be a minister someday to asking those who’ve already done it how to create what I want.

They looked at me funny when I talked about not creating by committee. I think they think I want to be some kind of dictator. No, it’s just that I want people who are going to take the God energy emanating from me and put it into action without telling me what I should do. It seems mean. It really does. But at the same time, I do not want to be called to a church already in progress. I want to start my own, and have a denomination approach me, in the same vein as the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. I am not talking about telling people what to do once the structure is in place. I am perfectly happy to delegate and create. But the vision is mine, and it cannot live in several people at once. It can only live in me, and having to fight an uphill battle every day does not appeal to me. I would rather start a small plant and watch it grow, like a Russian doll. There is a difference between being a visionary and a dictator. Visionaries put ideas in place and have others carry them out. Dictators are micro-managers who cannot let go of anything. Visionaries are open to ideas, but have the freedom to say whether it fits or not. I want a church that is well-run, self-sustaining, and committed to social justice. I believe the way to do that is by working from the top down, not the bottom up. It creates mixed messages and muddled ideas that may or may not move forward because the message is lost, tied up in committee for ages. As the great philosopher Martin Blank once said, look, I don’t want to get into a semantic argument, I just want the protein. I want people to follow me, knowing that the power does not come from within me, but from the holy authority given to me by the power of the stole.

I want to be able to say that I studied for this for a very long time, that I have been working in the church in various capacities since I was ten years old (mostly helping my mom with the children’s choir). I have been a lay preacher, thanks to Susan Leo at Bridgeport UCC, since 2003. When I graduate from Howard with that MDiv, I will have received even more training in the ways of interpreting the Bible, learning how to preach more effectively, and in going to a black school, having more awareness of race relations and how to bridge that gap in my own church. The first thing I want to do is to reach out to the homeless community, which in Silver Spring is almost exclusively black. I want to get in trouble with Jeffrey. I want the government of Montgomery County to know me as a troublemaker. I want to be worthy of an orange reflective vest that says “Clergy” on the back as I am actually walking the streets bringing the light of Christ to people who sorely need it more than I do. I am white. My family comes from money. I have never gone without a thing I need, and rarely gone without anything I wanted. My job is to learn to help people in concrete ways who have never had these things, possibly in their whole lives. When I see homeless teenagers, my heart melts into a puddle on the floor and I have to go into my nothing box just to be able to cope, to be able to calculate my next move without getting too angry or too incapacitated by my own tears to listen to those that need me.

Here’s the first time I learned that lesson. Years ago, I sang with a group called Bayou City Women’s Chorus, conducted by James Knapp. One of the pieces we were singing was called How Can I Keep from Singing, one of the pieces that I loved when Diane introduced it to our choir at Bridgeport, and she later told me that it was sung at a funeral for the family in our church that lost their infant twins. Between those two things, I could not keep my emotions unchecked. I was crying through the whole thing. James was not speaking directly to me, but it felt like it. He said that when we are singing for an audience, the emotions are for the AUDIENCE to have, not us. I have carried that advice ever since, and that’s mostly how I cope with ministry as well. It is not my job to have emotions in situations like this. It is for me to listen while others have theirs.

I was happy and shaken when several people said they wanted to come to my church, because it sounded like their kind of church (in the bulletin it said that I was starting my own church called St. James and All Sinners). I was only shaken because I realized that I needed to have a church as far away from CCC as I could get, because I didn’t want Matt to think I was trying to poach members from him. It’s my dream to start a church, but not at the expense of taking away from CCC. It’s my home. The home that is going to teach me to fly solo, one step at a time.

And this is everything I am thinking as I wait for 3:30, which cannot come fast enough. I have had enough of my own tears.

Amen

Tylenol, Ice Cream, and the Parables of Jesus

No one in my house has codeine, so I am doing my best with my split tooth until tomorrow with Tylenol and Advil. I also bought some ice cream, which I thought would help soften the blow, but as it turns out, not so much. I am having to drink my calories through Carnation Instant Breakfast because the OTC pain meds are taking the edge off, but I still cry when I eat. It’s just unavoidable, and I am not usually a cryer. I used to be. I really used to be. But at the same time, I developed a layer of clinical separation from my emotions so that I can think about things behind it without necessarily flooding out. Sometimes it’s a gift. Sometimes it’s a disaster. But there you go. This whole tooth thing is my undoing, because I cannot hide that much pain.

It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t on codeine today, because I had to be sharp for church. When we did the reception of new members, he told us to introduce ourselves and tell the congregation a little bit about us. Since I’d written nearly everything I wanted to say in the bulletin, I told the story of reading Matt for ages without knowing what he looked like or where he preached on the ground. He wasn’t at CCC when I started reading him, probably in 2008 or 2009, so it was a surprise and a half to walk into a church where I knew someone in the cloud and THERE HE WAS. In the flesh. I ended up telling that story without (thankfully) saying the words “drooling fangirl,” but I got my point across. As I said in my Facebook post about it, it made Matt blush and the congregation clap. #missionaccomplished

We also did a special anthem for the offertory where there was a soprano solo, and Karen, the one who sang it, is one of those voices that brings tears to your eyes because it is so pure and clean… the kind where when you listen to her, you have to will yourself to come in on time. It was gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. I cannot get that tone because my voice is a lot heavier (and LOUDER) than hers, so if I ever sing a solo in church, I hope she is as proud of me as I am of her. We are so different, and therefore we enjoy sitting next to each other. She brings out the best in me, and I hope she feels the same way in return, that I bring out the best in her as well.

And as an aside, the last hymn was cwm rhondda, and I sang the hell out of it. Just enjoyed myself and mad I wasn’t standing next to a bass. And of course I took the highest note possible at the end because I’m a whore like that. Wendy knows. Wendy was the first person to call me a “descant whore,” and Dana thought it was so funny she called me that pretty much the entire time we were married. 🙂

After church, I went down for coffee hour and several people came up to me wanting to know about St. James, and we ended up having a fascinating conversation on how to build a church and a book called Amen that they’re reading in the Contemporary Theology Sunday School class. I bought it for my Kindle as soon as I got home, because I want to go to the class next week. Apparently, this woman is teaching theology in such a way that her parishioners are having trouble following her. I said, that’s probably because she doesn’t teach in parables. I’m reading a book by William Barclay that talks about how Jesus taught in parables so that regular people could understand what he was saying. Here’s my favorite theological joke in the entire world:

Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and James Cone find themselves all at the same time at Caesarea Philippi. Who should come along but Jesus, and he asks the four famous theologians the same Christological question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Karl Barth stands up and says: “You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christomonism.”

Not prepared for Barth’s brevity, Paul Tillich stumbles out: “You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.”

Reinhold Niebuhr gives a cough for effect and says, in one breath: “You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming oughtness in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”

Finally James Cone gets up, and raises his voice: “You are my Oppressed One, my soul’s shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose blackness is both literal and symbolic.”

And Jesus says, “what?”

Parables are found in the Old Testament as well, but I don’t think many people know them as such. For instance, let’s talk about Nathan:

Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

David had everything; Uriah had nothing. And yet David sent Uriah to the front lines of war just so he could take his wife. In that parable, David realizes what a delta bravo he was to Uriah… Nathan didn’t say that David was a douchebag to his face. He just pointed him in the right direction.

It’s the same with the parables of Jesus. Metaphors about the ways we act are the foundation of the understanding of theology for the lay person, who isn’t the one that signed up to learn words like “Christomonism” and “Eschatology.” That’s for me. Parables are for you. It’s not my idea. It’s William Barclay’s, but it’s one that I wholeheartedly embrace. I have a whole parable spelled out in my own abuse called “The Wheat and the Weeds.” I realized that no abuser/enabler relationship is without its good moments, and that’s why enablers stay. Especially since Diane was with me in my heart and mind all the time, and I was young enough for her to model speech and enculturation, we have a lot of the same facial expressions, speech patterns, you name it. I realized that trying to get rid of her completely within me was burning down a whole field, because I could not separate the wheat from the weeds without destroying who I am in the process.

When I learned that parable, it beget action. So parables are for everyone, even people who sign up to read Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr, and Cone.

Amen.

He Just Gets Me

Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

I have a wallpaper changer app called Variety, and you can set it to put quotes on top of your desktop pictures. When I saw this quote, I realized that Roosevelt could probably understand me better than most, because he was a prisoner in his mind for a lot of his life. If my mind is full, I cannot imagine how his must have burst forth, thinking of things that no one has since (actually, I take that back. The Affordable Health Care Act would have made Roosevelt smile). But the point is that when I read this quote, I thought, “he just gets me.” Roosevelt was in a wheelchair because of polio.

I didn’t walk until I was almost two because my mind developed much faster than my body. I don’t think I’d be able to walk at all without the constant physical therapy that my mother endured, because seeing your child cry is one of the hardest jobs mothers have…. when you know something is good for them, but you see how bad it hurts in the moment and you can’t do anything about it. Miracles happen every day, and the fact that I can walk and talk and speak and write as well as I can is one of them. I have a cerebral palsy, possibly more than one, from being born eight weeks early in a hospital in 1977 and being oxygen deprived in the process. I learned to think much more quickly than I learned to do anything else. I could speak in full sentences at about one, and because I was born so early, I looked like I was half that age. One idiot in the grocery store thought my mom was throwing her voice.

I was a prisoner of my own mind for quite a long time, and I can’t imagine what was running through my head, but I do know that it made me verbally smarter than anyone in any of my classes until I got to college. Even through that, though, I was often a depressed child. I remember one summer when I was about ten or so that I couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, and my parents forced it on me every day- that I couldn’t spend the entire summer in my room sleeping all day. I had to get dressed, take a shower, go to the library, SOMETHING. I knew I wasn’t acting normally. There’s a difference between a kid off for the summer that sleeps late and someone who cannot perpetually propel themselves. I was a prisoner of my own mind, although it was years and years afterward that I was finally diagnosed with depression and even more years that I was diagnosed as bipolar so that I could get the right treatment for what ailed me. Getting a mood stablilizer on board was like getting new glasses- for the first time I knew what it was like to live without depression, and I knew that because my mood and behavior became lighter, more playful as the drug took effect… because let’s face it. I am hilarious when I am not mired in illness.

I still have ups and downs, but the swings are less frequent and disparate. Sometimes, I am comfortable as the life of the party. Sometimes I just want you to get off my lawn.

A prisoner of my own mind and what I think I can do with it.

On my best days, I see a church with hundreds of members all dedicated to social justice. We feed the homeless. We invite the homeless into the building and let them sit next to us. We baptize them if they want it… because the church is not the building, but the acceptance of everyone who shows up. On my worst days, I see a writer who can never finish a book, can never get out into the community enough to start the projects she wants to finish, because it’s just too hard. When you have depression, things that are easy for most people seem insurmountable for you. My darkest moments are Dana asking why they let me out of the hospital to begin with, as if I belonged there as easily as the furniture.

I crumpled in the face of it, because I wasn’t ready to leave the hospital, either. My nurse practitioner said that the ward was quiet all weekend, and she didn’t think I would get much therapeutically out of staying, so she was going to send me home to start outpatient. I agreed with her that it was a good treatment plan, and the thought of going home to Dana was comforting….. right up until I got there. She told me with finality that we were not getting back together when we were on the phone together at the hospital, and I uninvited her from visiting me because I needed to cry out my hope. I still do, in a lot of ways.

And that’s what this time of single-ness is for. Crying out hope, and making room for new people in my life. I am doing fine with making friends, but most of the time, I am content to be trapped in my own mind, because I have to learn to take care of myself, first.

In terms of taking care of myself, today is terrible. My entire body aches as if I am coming down with something, and I have split a tooth down to the nerve and it hurts so bad I’ve cried off and on all day. This is the exact reason I am glad I didn’t move in by myself. When I’m sick or upset or depressed, there are people here to catch me.

In fact, Samantha and I were talking the other day and she said, “Leslie, I think there was a reason you were sent to us.” It was music to my ears….. in a major key.

No Homework

Sarah (my therapist) did not have any homework for me this week, which is really cramping my style. Her homework assignments have turned into writing prompts for this web site…….. good ones. In terms of visits and views, A Letter to Someone Who Hurt You has been shared around and it upped my stats considerably. That’s not why I wrote it, of course, but it doesn’t suck that people are identifying with the pain I’m going through. I have a sneaking suspicion that lots of people can relate to what’s going on with me…. it’s just that maybe they’re not writers or they haven’t found the courage to take up their own emotional space. What keeps me going is that anything I write could help someone else, so seeing stats going up doesn’t feed my ego so much as give me a community to work with. Shared pain is so much better than going through it alone, and even if people don’t comment, I see the resonance in graphs and social media buttons. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Dana about a year ago:

Leslie: I think one of the things that makes Argo so sacred to me is that when I’m sitting there alone, writing to her, she gets into my God space, and even when I’m not sure God is listening, I know she is.

Dana: (tears in her eyes) Go tell her. Right now.

It’s the same way with all of you. I put my prayers for the future and the pain of my past right out here for everyone to see because I know you’re listening. You get into my God space because when I am writing, there is never anyone here with me. I require it. I sit here with a diet grape soda or a Gosling’s ginger beer and type away at 80wpm. My fingers fly on the keyboard and it makes me happy because my fingers can keep up with my thoughts as they happen. Therefore, you are also getting that same slice of time. It is not all of me, it is a timestamp designed to tell you what I’m feeling in the moment. Tomorrow, it may change. Or not. It depends on what kind of interactions I’ve had that day. Maybe something has changed my mind, and maybe not. That’s the thing about being open-minded. People think you’re being hypocritical, when in reality, I don’t believe that the mind stays stagnant on much of anything.

Argo has said that when we fight and I also send love that hypocrisy is unbecoming. I told her that I didn’t see it that way, and I could see her eyebrows raising FROM HERE. I told her it was closer to looking up at the Sistine Chapel and having ALL THE FEELS. I don’t just have one set of feelings about anybody, and it has never occurred to me that you couldn’t be angry at someone and love them at the same time.

For instance, I love Dana. I love her more than myself at times. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to kick her ass. Some of the things she’s said to me still haunt me, and there are moments when I cannot sleep, I am ruminating so hard. She pushed me away from Argo for nothing, because Argo was never a threat and yet was constantly treated that way. She told me I would never amount to anything. She threatened to call the police if I didn’t leave her alone when we were having a simple conversation. It seemed especially designed to make me feel smaller than I already do. Fortunately, I didn’t take the bait.

I did in terms of Argo. I fucked that relationship up all to hell because I thought it would save my relationship with Dana…. would prove to her that she meant more to me than Argo because that’s how she felt. It didn’t work, and it caused more emotional damage to both Argo and me than, I think, any relationship I’ve ever had. That’s because we both fought like we were trying to cut each other off at the knees, and there wasn’t any part of us that could say, “ummmm…. wait a minute. Let’s back off before we say things we can’t take back.” Dana and I were fairly emotionally intelligent about fighting right up until we weren’t. Argo and I had both guns on the table pretty quick, because it’s easy to do when you can’t see each other’s eyes when you’re talking.

I was just this first child bulldog that couldn’t submit. To either of them…. and that’s possibly the only thing that would have saved either relationship.

Submission to Dana would have been, “I’m sorry I let an Internet relationship get out of hand so that I was spending more time on it than was comfortable for you. I’ll back off.”

Submission to Argo would have been, “you’re right. I wasn’t taking your feelings into account and I need to do a better job before I lose you, because it will happen if I let it.”

As a first child and as a master manipulator because of the “way I was raised,” I couldn’t submit to anyone, or even need them in the way that made them feel needed, wanted, vital to my life in a way that no one has been before or since. Most people only get those relationships once in a lifetime, and I screwed both of them up to the point that it’s going to take all of us a long time to get over it…. particularly with Argo, because I said some shitty, shitty words to her on the way out, trying to slam the door so she’d go away on her own and I wouldn’t have to make her. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life, because at least with Dana, I got to hug her and kiss her cheek and tell her goodbye. With Argo, I just acted like a jackass and there was no excuse for my behavior. I knew she was threatened by my attraction to her and I knew that it would be the shortest path to getting her to stop contacting me, so I capitalized on it, and as soon as the words left my mouth, I crumpled in agony because I knew I had said something I couldn’t take back and I wanted to with all my might, because I didn’t really feel that way. I was in love with the idea of her, not the reality. I was in love with this fictional character that I’d made up based on her. Who knows what she’s really like? Maybe one day I’ll find out. But not any time soon, that’s for damn sure.

I beat myself up a lot because I think I deserve it, and in no small measure, I do. I will never progress beyond acting as small and immature as I did without growing the fuck up. I am in hell over the relationship with Argo because I was responsible for treating her like shit when I really didn’t have to. I just did. There’s no excuse in the world that’s good enough, and it’s only been recently that we have come to a place of peace. Neither one of us want toxicity and hate running between us, so I printed out an e-mail that she sent me with lots of love and I keep it in the small pocket of my Kindle so that it’s with me every day. I look at it when I feel wrecked, or when I just need a confidence boost that though we may not communicate, we are no longer at war. Feeling like death warmed over all day, every day was just not working out for me, and now that feeling is gone….. mostly…. because when I get into a worthlessness loop, I take out that e-mail and read it again.

It was amazing how relatively easy it was to say goodbye to Dana in comparison, because even though she told me that she thought I had the capability to reach millions and she was jealous, she also told me that I would never amount to anything. In my worthlessness loop, guess which words stuck?

I try and overcome those words every fucking day. EVERY. FUCKING. DAY. I told Sarah that I didn’t want every session to be me bitching about my problems, that I wanted to do some visioning and values as well. Sort of a gestalt approach so that I can feel like I am more that the sum of my parts, because most of those parts feel like I can’t handle anything, that I’ll just fuck it up, so why even try?

The exception to that is looking for jobs. I had a lunch meeting with my friend Kathy, whom I met when I lived here before when she was working at Congressional Quarterly and Politico gave her an obscene amount of money to be able to poach her. I have several avenues to get into web production for several government web sites, and that is the kind of stuff that feeds me…. at least while I’m going to school and need money to support myself and this monster vision I have planned for later. I only need to raise about 15 million dollars. Mere pocket change…. but that is later. This is now.

As I am waiting for all of these things to happen, I am reading like a mad man. I just finished The Time Traveler’s Wife, and now I’m reading Things Fall Apart.

But hopefully, I’ll get to write the book Things Get Glued Back Together.

Doesn’t Even Want to Write Today… Still Does Her Job

It’s true. I don’t want to write today. I feel like I’ve poured myself out on the page lately, and I am emotionally exhausted. However, that’s what a writer does. Gets emotionally exhausted and keeps going. It’s like an Energizer bunny of sad until it’s all out. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how I wrecked my life from the ground up, and how much I miss Dana and Argo and Aaron and the whole bit until it got weird.

Actually, that sums up a lot of the last two years. It got weird.

I’m feeling particularly crispy today because I’m going back to Alexandria to hang out with my sister, who’s staying there at a conference for her work. Going back physically is hard work mentally, because there are so many things on that side of town that I’ve been trying not to feel since 2002. The hotel where I’m going is close to “our” old movie theater, and that shouldn’t seem like much, but it is. I remember clearly packing up our townhouse and feeling like the world was going to end and saying, “Leenie (my nickname for Kathleen), can we just take a break? I am too emotional to do anything right now. Let’s go to the movies.” We saw Blue Crush. I thought it was a terrible movie, but a great escape from the task at hand. It was doubly hard not being able to take her hand in the movie, because it was my natural instinct and she’d already fucked three of her coworkers just for spite. I couldn’t decide whether to be mad, or just enjoy the few hours we had left together where we weren’t at each other’s throats over the furniture. Someone close to me that I will not mention told me to just put it out in the front yard while it was raining.

I did not.

I participated in the end of that relationship. She chose the trump card of adultery, but I was mentally ill and had been let go from ExxonMobil, so now I was mentally ill without health insurance. I was too much for her to handle, because I couldn’t own my half of the relationship. Depression had gotten ahold of me and wouldn’t let go. However, in that case, I couldn’t really be blamed for it. I mean, I take responsibility for my *behavior* during that time, which was mostly nothing (it’s amazing how much doing nothing is doing everything)… but at the same time, I had a TERRIBLE psychiatrist that just kept adding pills to my protocol hoping they would help.

They did not.

I was on Lexapro, Wellbutrin, and Adderall all at the same time. I am bipolar, but we didn’t know that at the time. So they were just throwing all these drugs at me to treat unipolar and ADD and surprise, surprise, not only did they not work, they threw me into a level of frantic anxiety I haven’t seen before or since. Well, maybe lately, but this time I have a great psychiatrist, a great therapist, and the RIGHT diagnosis. Then, it was more like, “let’s put you on THIS for a few weeks and see if it does anything.” Yes. My psychiatrist actually said that. I don’t think “let’s see if it does anything” is said by the people that graduate first in their class in medical school.

It was a nightmare, and I am sure that adultery was sheer escapism. At the time, I blamed Kathleen for leaving me when I needed her the most, because she did. Straight up. But at the same time, allowing myself to see her side of the story gave me a bit of power. I wasn’t as much of a victim as I thought I was. I went through a grieving period, but the pain was much less intense when I realized that even if I only had 10% of the blame, I needed to own my fucking 10% for all it was worth.

I’m sure I had a lot more than 10% responsibility. I am just using it as an example of taking back my own power. I let her have so much when I was sick, and our patterns of behavior were just outrageous to begin with. I married her because it was comfortable. Being treated like crap was what I knew, and her control freak nature fit me perfectly. It was okay that she blew up at me when something wasn’t done her way. It was okay that we fought all the time over stupid shit because to talk about real emotions was just beyond her capabilities…. It was okay that she wanted to run my life and rage at me that I wasn’t doing enough, because when I tried to assert doing things my way, it caused an avalanche of emotional violence. I married a pattern instead of a person, and it was totally okay with me, because I didn’t know any different.

She accused me all the time of falling down on the job, and wouldn’t let me stand up, either. It was a trap. I didn’t know which way to go or which end was up. I was shat upon no matter what I did.

But I felt justified in my unworthiness, so being treated like crap was something that didn’t even register. It was just the way things were.

Being in therapy makes me feel more powerful, because “if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” I have been struck down, over and over, because of unworthiness. I feel bad about my sins, so therefore, living in perpetual punishment looks attractive.

No More.

No. More.

Sarah and I have a lot of work to do, and I have a lot of work to do on my own. I do not want to live in the darkness, but walk in the light. Part of walking in light is recording everything here, because then I can go back and re-live what I was feeling in those moments and hopefully not revisit them in later relationships. I have, for lack of a better description, an instruction manual on What Not to Do.™

For someone who didn’t want to write today, it seems like I found something to say. Let’s hope I learned something from it, because that’s what I hope every day. I am grateful that leaving Houston and heading for Silver Spring got me into a great mental health system and a loving family all at the same time. In fact, we are having some morning sickness around here…………. stay tuned.

A Bio of Me

I am joining the church next Sunday, and they’ve asked me to write a short bio of myself for the bulletin. One thing I will NOT put in is that I use TextWeek for sermon prep, so I have been following Matt Braddock at Dry Bones Arise for YEARS without knowing it was him. You’d think I would have read the “about me” section, and yet not. I am drooling fangirl impressed over him, and it was like meeting Oprah or Matt Damon when I realized I’d just walked into the church of someone I already knew in text, but had never met on the ground. Speaking of Matt, he told me that I made a good impression on the youth pastor search committee, and he’d be willing to ask the woman that got the job to mentor me if I’d like so that I had more experience to put on my resume. So, this man I’ve been reading for years now wants me to talk about next steps in terms of working with youth, ordination, etc. Can you look into my heart and see how much it means to me? I am flabbergasted. Simply shocked beyond all measure.

Drooling. Fangirl. I try not to show it, but OMG. I walked into the church and HE wants to help ME.

That’s a God moment right there if ever I’ve seen it.

So, here’s my bio. I hope it works. We’ll see once it’s printed.


Leslie Lanagan is a native Texan and preacher’s kid, which is code for having lived in lots of places across the state. She settled in Houston from the age of 12, with detours in both Portland, Oregon and Alexandria, Virginia. She comes to us with the dream of being a DC-based writer and theologian. She has applied at Howard University to eventually earn a Masters of Divinity and later start a church of her own, tentatively named “St. James and All Sinners.” She is looking forward to volunteering with the youth group, singing in the choir, and drinking as much coffee after worship as possible. When she is not delving into theology, she is fond of going to the zoo and all of the other Smithsonian museums to gather inspiration.