Monthly Archives: May 2017

Self Portrait

For the past several months to a year, I have been haunted by an inescapable vision. Today, I painted it. The painting of it helped me to process the emotions and experiences behind it, and being a writer, more so than an artist, I feel the need to write out what I’m learning through this vision, and its painting.

Let’s start with the canvas. When it was time to finally paint this vision, I needed to paint it on something that’s already been colored, long before I got my hands on it. This used canvas represents the story behind my story. For better and worse, the canvas upon which I paint my life was painted before. It is fitting that I started with a messy, multihued canvas. This is my background. My parents’, grandparents’, and others’ choices pre-painted my canvas. Over the course of my life, I choose what to make of that canvas.IMG_0932

The pop bottle lids peeking up from the bottom of the frame matter, as well. When it’s time to paint our lives—our selves into the canvas we’ve been provided—we don’t always have the “right” tools. Sometimes, we have to improvise, to take advantage of the opportunities and objects at hand, in order to become.

Now, to paint.

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The first thing I painted was a crushed, broken dragonfly. For a large part of the past year, this was me. Those who are close to me know that I have considered dragonflies my totem, my sign, my symbol of transformation and transcendence. This is because a dragonfly nymph molts up to 12 times during its development. I love, and have always loved, the miracles and hope communicated to us through nature. Dragonflies teach me that change and growth are good, they never need to stop, and that someday, I’ll fly (or, the “arrived” human equivalent).

But, why is it broken?

Because dragonflies are fragile. And, I’m learning how to not be okay. I’m learning how important it is to admit that I’m not okay, in order to create space for healing. You can’t pursue healing until you admit you’re sick, or wounded. And guess what? I’ve been wounded.

Which brings us to the dragon.

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This is me, hoping that the dragon looks like it’s emerging from the broken space in the dragonfly. I’m not sure if she’s done, yet. She probably isn’t, but meanwhile, she’s here, she’s strong–mythic, even–and she’s ready to fly, and to fight. Notice that the background, the pre-painted canvas, shows through, but doesn’t define her. This is important, because I have spent far too much of my life pretending that my background doesn’t affect me in any way. That simply isn’t true. The colors represent the pre-existent people, circumstances, and events who color the canvas upon which I paint my life. The colors shine through, but don’t determine the dragon’s shape or action.

Finally, my dragon is lit by the Sun. The sun, and the bit of a glint of its light on her, is a reference to my name, and to Hope. The woman I thought I would be (the dragonfly) is broken, but the dragon rises, and light shines down.

So, what am I learning? I’m learning that, in order to become all I was intended to be, I can’t merely molt, and transform slightly. Death and resurrection are necessary. Deception must die for Truth to emerge. I’m not who I was, and I’m never going back.

 

Upsetting Things I Post on Facebook…

Last night, I posted a couple of in-the-moment links to my Facebook wall. They were provocative, and challenging. The first dealt with “progressive” Christianity, and how too much time spent reading the Bible and praying can lead you there. The second dealt with suffering, and the damage we do with our simple answers.

Both posts flew in the face of easy faith, easy answers, and the outright lies we tell ourselves to keep our worldview intact. You see, my tenuous hold on those lies was completely severed over the past year. And yes, it was tenuous to begin with.

After all, I grew up in a church with easy answers regarding sexuality. The first man I had sex with would be my husband, forever, in the eyes of God. Sex was a dirty duty assigned to women to help weak men not to sin–but those men are more spiritual than we “Jezebels” are…. Marriage existed to produce children and to prevent sin. And, maybe to keep women in line. We really do need a lot of management, according to this ethos.

Hmmm… So, what’s “Sex”? Does molestation count? That’s awkward, kids. And on that note, telling 12 year old girls that they’re a stumbling block is simply gross. (Yes, it happened.)

What about rape victims? What if we can’t even remember his face? Awkward, again. Like, 6 months of self-destructive behavior because I was damaged goods, awkward.

I could go on.

Speaking of man and woman…. What about my friends and relatives who were clearly non-binary in their sexuality from moment one? But, that’s another post.

When it comes to sexuality and the Church, I found our treatment of Samson most instructive. Samson was a sexual predator. He was a scary, mass-murdering, take-what-I-want-no-matter-who-I-hurt kind of guy. He’s the ultimate story of how desperate people will come to rely on despicable people, asking them to be heroes. How even God can get desperate enough to empower men, knowing they’ll use their power for evil, in order to create space for a miracle.

Our children’s Bible stories portray Samson as a hero, when the best thing Samson ever did was DIE. I’m serious. Read it again. Consider how our portrayal of Delilah, or of Samson’s wife, serves to promote rape culture in the Church. Let the Word of God SPEAK to you, to the Church, and bring correction! (Okay. Calming down…)

When the Church failed to live up to its promises when it came to sexuality, I found the Bible didn’t fail me. The full spectrum of human sexuality, the beauty and the pain of it, are portrayed in these pages. The Bible doesn’t gloss over any of it, and it doesn’t apologize. Yet, in the midst of the carnage, we find celebration, and beauty. We find the Song of Solomon, an entire book of songs celebrating sexual love.

But what about healing?

I grew up in, and pastored in, a tradition known for its belief in Divine healing. While I was pastoring, my family’s closest “counterpart” best-friend family lost their husband and father to cancer. While I was working on my MTS, one of my dearest friends died of breast cancer.

… Maybe Satan is just another name for cancer.

Thankfully, I got my Masters in Bible, and spent the majority of my efforts on the Old Testament. I love the Old Testament. Its bloody, awkward, angry, conflicted, worshipful, confused, wise pages sing to me of a faith that refuses to be boxed in, a faith that rejects easy, hurtful answers.

I needed that education this year. Because my children have suffered, and we have prayed. But, we didn’t get answers or relief until we got good medical care. Like in the rest of Creation, God partners with humanity here, as well. My son who suffered with behavioral health issues was healed by a simple blood test and a changed diet. No amount of prayer solved the fact that the child just shouldn’t eat certain things.

My daughter struggled with night terrors, and various “odd” symptoms for years. Not my religious background, nor my prayers, nor my internet research yielded any answers. The answer for my daughter was to finally progress to a daytime seizure in the living room. This earned her a trip to the ER, and the imaging that revealed the “innumerable” cysts scattered throughout her brain. In the universe-according-to-my religious upbringing, her symptoms appeared quite spiritual. In black and white video, they’re clearly physical. Today, we are wading through symptoms, tests, drugs, more symptoms, more tests, different drugs, and a whole lot of PRAYER–most of it heartbroken, and angry. But, just like in the Bible, the pain and the struggle are mixed in with beauty and glory. There is no child like this child. She has no inhibitions–for better, and for worse. She’s a firework. (Thank you, Katy Perry.)

And God is here with us in it. God is here with us in the  broken spaces. God is here with us in our fractured political discourse, in our shrinking churches, in our unanswerable questions… In fact, God showed up in the flesh, and allowed us to pour out our frustration, our confusion, and our rage upon Jesus. Then, after darkness had fallen, and despair had reigned, God arose. God promised resurrection. Hope after despair. And, in the Bible, we find a LIBRARY of human experiences of God showing up in our stories. We find humanity experiencing God. We find God being faithful, even when we are faithless.

And today, while the easy answers and Biblical Principles that are peddled in the name of Christ have failed me, the Bible has not, and neither has God. After all, I can spend weeks and months ignoring and cursing God, by turn, and in the middle of the night, I still hear that voice calling, “I am with you.”