In More Ways Than One

Have you ever been camping?

My church had a campout on Mt. St. Helen’s so yes. I have camped. I hope it’s the last time until I find a place that’s warmer. It was great during the day. I froze my ass off every night. To her credit, Kari tried. She gave me a sleeping bag that was rated -20. It says more about me than it does about the sleeping bag, because my body temperature didn’t get high enough to provide the insulation and that’s on me.

Therefore, I have nothing against camping, per se. I don’t mind being dirty at all. It’s just that I’ve never been able to sleep outside without massive amounts of bedding. Which I have at home. In my bed. In a house.

Even my coldest outing wasn’t as bad as camping out in my mind tends to be every day. That’s because in order to maintain the good, I have to look at the bad. I have to go back and read what I’ve written so that I understand the context in which it was written and what I’ve actually written down…. and I can only go back long enough before the context fails, and then I can see if an idea is local or global. Am I ranting, or is it a problem that lots of other people deal with? Is it my bipolar spinning out? I have to make sure it’s not that, because it’s the kind of mood and behavior that isolates people. In a lot of ways, I camp out in my mind to make sure my story is consistent, and letting my emotions evolve day by day. The facts are consistent. It’s how I “treat myself,” and I’m delighted by that little double entendre.

When I see what my behavior is doing to people, I can look at others and see if my problem reads universal or personal. I can separate reactions from responses. I can separate their childhood shit from their adult behavior because I do it to mine all the time, comparing against the heuristics of all the human behavior I’ve seen my whole life. I had a platform to be able to see down, but I was looking up. My congregation has been teaching me to be a better human since I was born, both in learning to lead and singing in the choir.

The most disturbing thing I’ve ever thought is that if the woman who emotionally abused me had stayed, I might have been the pastor of the church. That she would have made me into her partner, and I mean the one she has now. If you look at who I am and who she is, it’s a fucking jump scare. She didn’t pick a person, she picked a pattern.

I could have turned into an arrogant asshole, but I didn’t. It probably wasn’t how she came across to her congregation, because when you’re already in love with yourself, you have the ability to lead and it’s whether you like it or not how the ones around you are treated. If you need to feel powerful because you feel powerless, you’ll take it from people who you deem inferior to you…. according to your own personal ranking system. Nature does not deal in absolutes.

I would like to think that I would have remained myself, and realistic about the fact that it was just the hand I was dealt. I don’t know what I would have done had I actually taken on pastoring a church… but here’s what I wouldn’t have done. I wouldn’t have made everything dependent on my mood and behavior so that pleasing me was a guessing game…. because microaggressions don’t lie. If someone picks it up, they won’t believe your words for a second because the energy is off. Your words and behavior don’t match. That way, other fixer/pleasers don’t feel like they’re not getting recognition, because it’s the easiest and kindest way to let them know they matter…. because they do. To treat them as anything else is crazy and won’t win you any points. If you have turf wars because you can’t delegate, it’s the beginning of the end because no one is empowered except you. Let your board feel like they’re failures long enough and berate them when they complain, and then either they’ll replace you or you’ll throw a fit and go tell them to fuck off and fire yourself. Picking up your toys and going home is never a good look, and you’ll burn down your legacy in any church at all. It was a difficult thing to stand in the flames because I had bought tickets to the show for 20 years.

No one will ever win an argument by thinking they’re always right. But let’s be real. In a congregational church, you have a boss… and the boss is the equivalent of an Episcopal vestry. In a large denomination, you have a bishop, and the conference is responsible for conflict resolution because they’ve SENT you to a church instead of you applying for the job. If you’re not humble enough to work by committee, it’s a losing argument in the congregational church. The board’s general problem is thinking they’re smarter than the pastor, and it makes the pastor feel like “if you wanted to lead the church yourselves, why did you ask for someone with a Master’s and treat them like crap?” Doesn’t expertise count for anything? It’s a give and take, a spectrum just like whether there’s a Bible or not, a God or not. It takes a tremendous amount of vulnerability on both sides, and torture when either can’t do it. The pastor isn’t always right, and neither is the committee. They will repel and attract for the entire length of their stay, and it very much depends on whether you were on a committee or not as to how you feel the church is being run. Only the people in the room know what happened.

So if you are in a church, and someone tells you the pastor did something or another, have empathy for all this. Listen objectively, and don’t let them get away with anything, either. It keeps both parties honest to hear the ways they can help each other so their future keeps getting brighter. The same things that work with leaders and groups work in marriages. People in homosexual relationships know this better than anyone else, because marriage between a man and a woman comes with a very strict power dynamic. Letting your penis inside something is good, being vulnerable enough to give that power to your partner is bad….. and leads straight men to treat gay men like they’re sinning. Not because they’re gay…. because they’re vulnerable and men don’t do that.

Straight women don’t get their glory because straight men won’t switch hit. They know it will change the power dynamic and they just don’t want to do it. That’s because most of the time, it’s the only power they’ve got. They’ll do everything from raping women and children to pretending it’s not sex with men if they’re on top. That way, one person thinks they’re in a relationship and one doesn’t. It is……. problematic. I remember getting dicked around by a straight girl that way. I knew I was an experiment…. the next morning. Speaking about not looking at microaggressions… she was a walking time bomb.

It was just a coincidence that I started hanging out with her ex later, because she’d already left my life for good. That didn’t stop her from calling my answering machine and saying that Kat had been abused and listed all the ways in which it happened. That time, Kat was in the room where it happened. It filled me with love for her that I was able to hold her while she cried about it, to say to her honestly and completely that I loved her and that nothing her friend had said made any different. Her friend had outed her about something that I would never have wanted to hear about her unless she told me, but it did give me the opportunity to be even more loving than I could have been because we started the relationship both knowing everything about everything and nothing was holding us back from honesty. That’s why I called the police when the ex showed up at our house unannounced and Kat said she didn’t want to talk to her and stood her ground. The ex wouldn’t leave and broke our screen door. Whether that was on purpose or by accident is a non-issue. It happened, and facts are facts.

Being me is knowing that I’ve also felt like her, but never done anything to that degree in my life. Thinking is free. Saying something is optional. I try to wish things into being, and work toward it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not human. It doesn’t mean my words come out right all the time so that people never misunderstand anything because I’m so great. It depends on how much they desire to understand that makes listening to me get easier. That’s because the less I need to process something, the less you’ll hear about it unless something pops up suddenly that connects to something in the past………

Probably because I’m camped out in my mind.

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