Finding Kinship with a Bad Mormon

This is the text I received from a good friend who knows that I’m all about understanding religious experiences and the religions they take place in. As I had absolutely no idea who this Heather Gay person was and because my friend is an extraordinary ally and advocate for “gay” people, I guessed it might be a memoir written by a gay Mormon. Crazy assumption, but the mind works how it does. Bad Mormon is not a gay coming out story. It is instead a story about a devout woman member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints awakening to the reality that she finds no place for her real self to exist in the church she spent most of her life in.

Bad Mormon begins with Heather, a young girl growing up in a loving middle to upper class American family; educated parents, successful working father, a stay at home mom, several siblings and a whole lot of church. Heather is a child of parents who were married in the temple before she was born. What it means to be a daughter of devout parents and a member of the larger church community of Latter Day Saints in the world enveloped Heather’s life from birth. Everything in her life was directed by and filtered through that reality. Her personal successes brought glory to God and the church. Her personal failures, shame. For the highly ambitious and sensitive like Heather, no small amount of time is spent overthinking obedience and perfection. She gave it her utmost to become the perfect Daughter of Zion.

A highly intelligent, gifted scholar with a degree from BYU but unmarried and not in a serious relationship upon graduation, she swallowed her shame and committed to go on a church mission. She was sent to France and did her utmost to serve with integrity. Upon her return to the US she met and married a disgustingly wealthy Latter Day Saint man who gave her a Porsche immediately upon becoming his wife. She was married to Mormon royalty and loved it for a very short time. Soon she discovered that she and her husband were almost nothing alike. Try as she might to stay married to him and be pleasing as his wife and mother of his children, it was impossible from her perspective. Neither wanted to deal with the reality of their marriage so for a long time they didn’t but continued to live out their lives as they always had. Over time they finally got a divorce but the cloud of shame she felt as a result still lingers to her present day.

As a single mom and ambitious entrepreneur Heather figured out how to buy and develop a med spa in partnership with a good friend. The two were savvy business women. Their work exposed them to other elite Mormon women across the Salt Lake Valley with disposable cash to invest in their lips and keep their wrinkles at bay. It’s as if the perfection of the religion spilled over into the perfection of life itself as defined by popular culture. Heather’s brain is wired to the extremes of a perfect life, a perfect faith and a perfect look. It wasn’t long before her skills at this level of perfection led to the connection with the production team from Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. It was that connection that allowed Heather to see herself outside of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for the very first time in her life. It appears that it is the first connection she ever had to human beings who saw her actual self before seeing any other facet of her life. She was recognized for her own successes without having to share any of the credit with her church, her family or anyone else. It became so validating for her that she felt the freedom to reflect on her entire life as a Mormon woman and take a hard look at the parts of it that brought her a great deal of pain. At the end of the book she describes in detail her departure and reflects on how authentic she feels her life has become since.

I know a lot of Mormon women and I can honestly say that I have never met or been close to anyone like Heather. Though similar in devotion, the women I know are living out lives in the church very differently than she ever had the opportunity to do. The book Educated by Tara Westover is written as a Mormon departure story in a similar vein but her life in the very northern part of the Cache Valley was extremely different from Heather Gay’s. Both women found the patriarchal structure to be incompatible with their own core values and both women have departed at great cost to their relationships with friends and family. Perhaps when life is lived at the extreme end of something the weight of it breaks the back of the person carrying it the most. I think most people in religious faith live their lives somewhere in-between and as long as it works for them, they will stay and participate without any real desire to visit the shadow regions of the faith. Isn’t it like that with everyone of us in our own lives? As long as our perspectives work for us, we have no idea why we would need to upset the fruit basket and do any introspection that might lead us out of it and away from those we love and care about?

My personal faith story could be written in a memoir like this one, but unlike Heather, I wasn’t born into a devout family. My parents were dirt poor and away from both of their families. Their families were blue collar post Depression and post WWII families. A Lutheran church connection was alive in my mother’s family but not my father’s. Nothing in life could have possibly enveloped my life like the Mormon church did for Heather Gay, nothing. But here’s the deal, because I had such a weak identity within myself and within the context of a community, when I was first exposed to the Evangelical/Southern Baptist community I was quickly drawn in and enveloped my life in it all by myself.

Evangelical Doctrine, its faith and practice was very real to me because it taught me absolutes that I could adopt with certainty. It became my anchor in the turbulent world of the late 70’s and early 80’s. In the way that Mormon kids grow up knowing their place in the family, in the church and in life, Southern Baptist kids do too. I dove in head first and stayed in the Evangelical faith for 28 years. Post high school, I never imagined that I would ever leave organized religion, let alone that I would revisit everything and find my way out of it altogether. Like Heather Gay, I was ambitious and highly sensitive so I would expend no small amount of time and energy to pursue the most perfect understanding of God’s will for my life. Like her, I would build my life in accordance with my church’s teaching – for us, the Bible’s teachings. I would ignore my genuine thoughts and feelings because at the heart they were wicked and full of deceit. Any thought opposed to the church authority meant I was vulnerable to attack from Satan and I took that very literally. Thankfully, my genuine salvation in the end did not come from my church but from my marriage.

My husband is the most grounded and genuinely good person I have ever known. He and I met each other in the Evangelical parachurch ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. He was always this really nice guy I had no interest in whatsoever beyond friendship. On an outing as friends that he mistook for a date, he held my hand and threw his arm around me on a carnival ride. When I was going to set him straight a few days later he surprised me with an apology for doing both. He had me at the apology. Men had not been kind to me throughout most of my life and this one was clearly cut from a very different cloth. We remained friends but because we couldn’t seem to get enough of each other our relationship quickly deepened and soon we were talking marriage. Entirely nonphysical, we spent hours together talking about life and enjoying fudge crepes and coffee at the Village Inn restaurant in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s been over 40 years and we’re still talking, still drinking coffee and trying to find those crepes somewhere.

Our marriage hasn’t been an easy one but really, if anyone says that their’s is, I think they are possibly loading up on too many CBD gummies because relationships are hard work. In ours, I process life through my emotions long before I do so through my brain. At 62 that has changed to some degree but for the most part I still feel life long before I think it. Dean, on the other hand thinks first. We’ve had many long disagreements about things as a result but somehow in those earliest days of getting to know each other we recognized the truest self of the other and that has allowed us to get through everything else. It has allowed us to supply ample grace to one another when we are operating so unlike each other.

As Dean and I went into our early marriage, we shared a zeal to be full time Christian laborers and missionaries. Shortly after the ceremony and honeymoon, reality hit us both very hard. Student loans kept us from full time staff with the campus ministry, a first baby came along with no health insurance and in general we were entirely uncertain about our future. As creatures lost at sea, we chose to put our whole selves into the life of a church community that would provide a familiar sense of devotion and mission to our lives. This particular church was one that during my freshman year in college when I was away from home, broke away from the Southern Baptist church I loved so much and was the source of more drama than CBS, ABC or NBC could possibly have come up with at the time. Believing that their pastor had been given the one right way from God as to how to structure and organize church leadership and Christian community, they started their new church. My parents stayed and remain in the Southern Baptist church.

Two years and a whole lot of nonsense later, I was home for the summer and thought of myself as a bridge-builder and peacemaker between the two churches. I contacted a friend from high school who was there and we went out for lunch together. I felt purpose driven and strong in myself and my life ahead with Dean. I had no intention of living any of that life back at home. As I was warned by my parents that it would happen, before lunch was over, I was challenged to believe God was calling Dean and me to join my friend’s church. At the time I told her that would be a fire much too hot for me to even consider and that it would have to be really clear from God that was what we were supposed to do. I had no idea that when the door was tightly shut for us with the campus ministry we would find ourselves so far adrift and in need of those who would give us certainty that we would one day be able to fulfill our missionary calling. This church was eager to give us that certainty. We picked up everything and moved home to be a part of it.

Our families were accommodating but thought we were crazy. Everyone in our church was from a family that thought they’d gone over a cliff with religion. Of course they were right but all we knew was that these people got us and we belonged there. It would be the best and worst decision we would make as a couple. Best because we had the opportunity to raise our children near both sets of grandparents and many of their cousins. The worst, because we entirely lost sight of our own selves for the sake of the church. Our involvement was so extreme that I became so physically ill from burnout and the onset of a serious autoimmune disease that I almost died. It took years to rebuild our own lives and then our daughter began to experience severe mental illness that almost resulted in her death. In 2005 we left the town and our families behind us to try to heal. We went to Utah of all places. The reality of life in an entire state of people devoted to the man Joseph Smith and his vision was so parallel to ours in Nebraska that we found ourselves constantly gobsmacked by it. We’d been taught that the Mormon church was a cult, its members going to hell and there we were right in the middle of them all. It was the best thing ever.

It took years and much pain before the two of us would come to understand that the church we had devoted our lives to was in every way itself a cult. We’ve been deprogramming since and might just be for the rest of our lives. I don’t believe anyone finds it easy to think of their particular church in the context of having the qualities of a cult. The one thing that I think separates a healthy religious community from a toxic one is this. Control.

I found these 7 characteristics of a cult from this Atlantic Article that genuinely define the small independent church I devoted so much of my life to. Be it said, any organization that has these characteristics does not have them displayed on a framed print inside the front door. It can, and in our case, did, take close to 35 years to realize that this church met every single hallmark…and at face value it looked exactly the opposite of each one.

1. Opposing critical thinking

2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving

3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture

4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders

5. Dishonoring the family unit

6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual responsibility and personal ownership)

7. Separation from the Church

I could literally write a book on my own personal experiences that reflect every one of these 7 hallmarks of our family’s experience in this church. When you are deeply insecure inside and have devoted your life to one right way as the remedy for that insecurity, you are insanely vulnerable to life inside this kind of entity. We as human beings do not adapt to insecurity very well and it’s honestly for good reason. As humans it makes us seek safety and when we do that appropriately, it is vital for our survival. Life in this church took full advantage of my insecurities from day one and continually reinforced that the place that I would find health and happiness would only be there within that group. It took my own near death and the near death of my daughter to shake me loose from that grip. It was a horrific and painful break away that continues to be so very, very difficult.

I share all of this because in Heather Gay’s story, in Tara Westover’s story, I find kinship. Our three stories could not be more different from each other while simultaneously they could not be more exactly the same. I doubt the three of us would even know how to relate to each other should we be so fortunate as to find ourselves at the same table breaking bread, at least in the beginning. But in the end, in the end we would not see anything about each others outward appearance, life circumstances or personalities. We would simply see ourselves at home with each other. We’d be linked at the heart in a very short time.

Paxton’s Impeachment is Telling

The Attorney General of Texas is facing a historic impeachment trial in the weeks to come. Though Ken Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 he’s been able to avoid accountability for his crimes because he’s smart and knows how to play the system for his own benefit. General Paxton portrays himself to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He believes that as long as he is committed to owning the liberals by ridding the world of homosexuals and abolishing abortion, he’s free to do whatever necessary to make sure his own pockets are full. A Texas Tribune article from 2015 discussing one of his rare church speaking gigs said this.

“According to court filings, Paxton allegedly persuaded two investors to buy large amounts of stock in technology firm Servergy without disclosing that he would be compensated for it. In additional court documents made public Thursday, Servergy’s former CEO states that Paxton accepted $100,000 worth of shares in the company in exchange for political advice and information about how the company might market its servers to government data centers.”

Eight years ago. He was charged with this crime, eight years ago. Because he is the top cop in Texas, he found ways to deflect and delay being charged with these crimes but the reality is that he could only succeed in that endeavor with a whole lot of others willfully looking the other way. Here in Texas the best way to do that is to do so an Evangelical Christian with money and power. As such, Paxton has enjoyed connections with a plethora of rich Texans who want to make sure he is in office to protect their business interests. His crimes are all about quid pro quo favors to these people and lining his own pockets with their money.

If I remember right, the Bible actually says that the root of evil is the love of money. It’s when you will do anything for the aquistion of as much of it as you can get. Clearly Ken Paxton loves money and lots of it. As he has continually lined his pockets on the side and used quid pro quo favors to increase his bottom line, everyone looked the other way. Governor Abbot, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and a host of others in the Texas Legislature. Not anymore. It is crystal clear now that the Texas Legislators love money more that what is right just as much as Paxton does. 

The only reason Ken Paxton was impeached as is beginning to be held accountable for anything is because he had the audacity to imagine that the state taxpayers would agree to pay a 3 million dollar settlement against him. Apparently, as a poltician in Texas you can lie, cheat and do horrific things as long as you do not touch the money. The Evangelical base will line up to listen to you speak on being a courageous Christian in politics on any given day but touch the people’s money? You do that and you instantly become a grabber, a guy who likes handouts and isn’t responsible for his actions. In other words you’ve become a liberal. It’s quite the revelation if you ask me.  

The Bible has a lot to say about those who love money more than God. Maybe these people should actually read the book. It also says a lot about giving preference to the poor and undeserving. The Bible doesn’t tell us we can’t have money or even that we won’t have a lot of it. It does tell us that our main goal is to love God with whole hearts and to love others as ourselves. It’s a tall order but one that keeps us humbly realizing we’re just one among all of mankind.

I think as a result of this recent development with Paxton, I finally get how the followers of Jesus could turn a blind eye when their anointed POTUS says that he can grab women by the pussy and they don’t even care. I finally understand how with a straight face he can say he’s against abortion when everyone in his orbit is confident that he’s paid for several. I finally get how one could possibly believe that he’s a born again Christian after he prays with Dr. Dobson even though nothing is at all sincere about it. I also really get how an Attorney General in Texas can manage to go eight years after an indictment for a serious crime and then be re-elected twice all in the name of Jesus. It’s not at all about Jesus. It is all about money, power and control and in Texas you can’t really have that without claiming to belong to Jesus. 

It’s been my experience that as a follower of Jesus one is supposed to be different from those in the world. Instead of money, power and control, the Christian is supposed to be the one who lives a life surrendered to God, who releases control over others and instead lives to serve mankind. Whatever happened to that faith and message?

Post -Easter Thoughts

Easter. As the year goes on and we reach the season when Christian holidays begin to be celebrated, I find myself once again coming out of an Easter funk. Overthinking, ruminating and wondering why I’m still processing my life of faith and why it’s so hard to just let go of what was and lean in to what is. It’s a bit complicated with me because as I’ve said multiple times in this blog, I was once a sold out, all/nothing, Evangelical Christian. I was a leader in ministry, a teacher in an Evangelical Christian school and couldn’t imagine any kind of life better for me. I was a devout follower of Beth Moore, Women of Faith, Focus on the Family and heavily involved in The Right to Life movement. I was devoted to the Bible as the Word of God, believed it to be literal and without error and embraced the doctrines of the churches I attended with a whole heart. I loved my life and its certainty for a very long time and never expected to depart from it. Then life happened.

In 2004 my daughter experienced a severe mental and emotional breakdown that nearly took her from us. Severe mental illness wasn’t supposed to happen in the Evangelical world, in my Evangelical world. I was encouraged to believe from the time I came to faith at 16 that if Jesus was on the throne of my life because I lived in a continual state of repentance and was filled with the Holy Spirit, my circumstances would move into alignment and I would live an abundant life. I was told that I would certainly experience tests and trials but as long as I was in surrender to God, I would be righteous and above the average person. I was in and anyone not of the Evangelical persuasion was out. Mental illness, in my world was always rooted in the person’s inability to believe the truth and therefore vulnerable to satanic oppression. It’s an absolutely horrific experience when the worldview that has held you up for most of your life proves insufficient and even worse, abusive and contributing to your child’s illness. To find yourself in a psychologist’s office desperate for help knowing that if you don’t find it there you will simply have to bury your own child. It is hands down the loneliest and most difficult place I have ever had to experience and live through.

I inched my way out of my work at the Christian school and though I remain so very grateful for those who supported me there, my daily experiences with prayers for the release of demons harassing my child, reproofs from well-intentioned believers that I had caused her illness by saying her diagnosis aloud followed by the serious wound of friend asking me if I thought she was so ill because she was just spoiled…all worked to force me out the door while she was far away in a residential treatment. I stopped all activity in any part of the institutional church and its culture, isolated myself from anyone who could potentially lob another spiritual grenade my way and made plans to move away at the end of the semester. In the years that followed, we as individuals and as a family experienced what it meant to be free to think, to reason, to ask hard questions and to live our own lives for the first time without permission from the Bible or the church. Dean and I would not have met had we not been Evangelical Christians in a campus ministry. I count my lucky stars all of the time that we were alike in our ability to face reality and ask the hard questions. It is because of that shared gift that we found a way to validate our daughter’s real lived experiences and could empower her to heal herself. At the same time, doing so required us to die to all of what brought us together in the first place. Choosing to live and create an entirely new life together is really, really hard work. The losses we have experienced will never compare to what we have gained but nonetheless, they were and are often still emotionally difficult.

When Easter arrives for me personally, I find myself incredibly drawn into the story because in so many ways, it is my story. Not to equate myself to Jesus in any kind of one and only son of God way, but to profoundly find in its details a parallel lived experience. It no longer matters to me if the resurrection was a literal experience or is a metaphorical representation of one. The impact of the imagery and its lesson is the same either way. The reality of Easter for me is entirely in the power of the story. I once held it up as literal and proof of the certainty that my religion was the one true one. I can no longer do that. What I can do is share with you the parallel as I have experienced it.

The Easter story is about a man who was born into a religious family and culture. He was loved and nurtured within that culture but was one of those kids who was way more curious and questioning than his peers. He drove the religious scholars crazy with his observations and the questions that followed. I personally do not believe the Bible as the exclusive and literal account of the life of Jesus. It wasn’t recorded in real time as no one was there with their iPhone of the day recording it as it happened. Much of what is written was done by writers recalling past events, some even decades later. The original information was at first passed along verbally and even after it was written on paper and printed, church leaders were the only ones who could read it. I think that there is enormous freedom to evaluate it without being locked into the literal/inerrant cage.

I love to read and consider Jesus’s approach to everything. Sometimes I agree with what I read and sometimes not. It is faith for me in the truest sense to approach it this way. Jesus remains the center of my religious experience because he was always able to rethink the normal and cut through all of it. In the Bible’s account of the woman brought to him caught in the act of adultery (can you imagine?) Jesus’s true colors come to light for me. Picture the scene. A whole bunch of testosterone driven humans full of religious zeal dragging this scantily clad woman to Jesus. Fired up for the opportunity to participate in her murder they seek Jesus’s affirmation only to have him say that the one’s free of sin should be the only ones to stone her. They all had to leave and he told the woman to leave and that he wasn’t there to accuse her either. That is the Jesus that makes me want to model my life after him. That is the Jesus I still follow. And Easter? Easter means a lot to me because it reflects what Father Richard Rohr describes as the paschal mystery in a daily devotional.

“From evolution and the lifecycle of stars to our own lives, transformation and change appear to happen through periods of loss, crisis, stress, and even death. Physicists today would say that loss of energy or matter is not real. There is only transformation. Think of the changes water goes through in its journey from cloud (vapor) to liquid (rain) or solid (ice) and back to vapor. What may look like loss or death is in fact a becoming.

Spiritual teachers in all the great traditions have said the same thing in different ways. In Christianity, it was called the paschal mystery. Jesus became the living image of that pattern; his crucified body was transmuted, transformed into the risen Christ. Jesus taught and showed us that “unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

We might say that creativity and new life have a cost. The cost looks like death but really isn’t. We perceive death and loss as enemies and afflictions because they appear to be the opposite of life. Spiritually speaking, to somehow embrace loss is to find eternal life. Death allows us to be united with what is really real. To avoid all loss, to avoid all letting go, is to avoid transformation into God, into union, into something more. Wisdom teachers say that if you spend your whole life avoiding dying, you’ll lose your real life.

This is about as counterintuitive as it gets. There is no rational explanation or proof. We have to experience it to know that it is in fact true—just as true for us humans as throughout the natural world. As Jesus said, “You must lose your life to find your life” (Matthew 10:39; 16:25).

Gateway to Silence:
Let it go; let it be.

This is how I’m reflecting on Easter this year.

Cruz and his ilk do not disappoint… “this…is…evil”.

Sam Smith is a gender nonconforming person with insane theatrical talent and the singing voice to match it. He performed at The Grammy’s as the devil while a transgender woman performed with him. She was in a cage. Reflecting the lyrics of the blockbuster hit they were singing called Unholy. It was a provocative performance that had even the most devout fans shuddering. It was exactly what these people meant it to be. The reaction was immediate from the far right. It was also entirely predictable.

Ted Cruz: “This…is…evil” 

Ben Shapiro: “Satan is hot right now” meaning in popular culture, not hell 🙂

There are more by others but I will let you Google them if you want to because these really smart guys are apparently entirely unaware of the lyrics and the intent that the performance be a mirror staring back at their tribe of hypocrites. Consider the first line,

Mummy don’t know daddy’s getting hot
At the body shop, doing something unholy

Think of the plethora of “daddy’s” out there who actually ARE doing this. It doesn’t take long and the list of “holy” men preaching, teaching and discipling others in the ways of Jesus are actually among the daddy’s getting hot at the body shop doing something unholy. Cruz and Shapiro, both very intelligent men dropped their brains and went forward only with their reactive emotion. With their angst all aglow about this performance, they don’t even realize it’s talking about those in this world who are the very ones who supported and elected Donald J. Trump. If anyone’s daddy frequented a place like Smith’s body shop, it was him. Imagine the stories Ivanka, Eric and Don Jr. could tell. The guy was a great friend with Jeffrey Epstein! Let us not forget the Matt Goetz’s of the GOP and others like him who vocally lead the moral crusade for righteousness while living very different lives themselves. Apparently, that’s all just fine as long as you don’t dress up like Satan and put on a provocative performance to showcase and expose it to the world.

The Grammy performance wasn’t about Sam Smith or Kim Petras. It was about these guys and as always they totally missed it. The fire was just too hot for them.

A lucky, lucky girl
She got married to a boy like you
She’d kick you out if she ever, ever knew
‘Bout all the – you tell me that you do
Dirty, dirty boy

You know everyone is talking on the scene
I hear them whispering ’bout the places that you’ve been
And how you don’t know how to keep your business clean

When I read these lyrics I immediately think of a guy like the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell Jr. who found nothing but open arms in the GOP. American women have endured the misogynistic paradigm of Trump and his enablers for so long that we still throw up a bit when his name is mentioned. And for the GOP intellectuals reading this… – we do not literally throw up anymore than Sam Smith is the literal devil. Think metaphor.

Sam Smith and Kim Petras MEANT to provoke. They meant to speak truth to the obscene power and its stench of hypocrisy. Art is often provocative when it embodies a truth we are otherwise unwilling to see. Sadly, those who most needed the message of Unholy missed it entirely.

Imagine with me for just a moment that Ted Cruz or Ben Shapiro and others realized what this was about. Imagine that after having seen the Grammy performance, they found themselves sobered and contrite realizing that this unholiness thrives in their midst and that they have the power to address it. Imagine that if they saw the human beings Sam Smith, Kim Petras and the others not as satanic but as the whole people they actually are instead of nonbinary and trans subhumans. It would be a different world.

Maybe someday.

Real time with mental illness…

When I started this blog I wanted to write about my journey to live an authentic life. I didn’t really have a plan except that it would be a place where I would write about my life and its evolution toward authenticity. I didn’t want it to be about right or wrong, left or right as much as I did about looking hard at something and finding my own truth about whatever it was. We had moved from Nebraska to Utah as a result of a major shift in how we perceived life. Our daughter’s journey to understand her life with an eating disorder and mental illness changed us. It took us away from so many illusory beliefs and practices into the heart of life and what it means to be more fully aware of its realities. We’re grateful.

It’s really no secret why psychologists, psychiatrists and those in mental health are often seen in a less than affirming light. These people get paid to ask the necessary questions that no one really wants to ask. They get paid to listen to the stories no one wants to tell and then they have to figure out how to help people deal with the answers to the questions they ask. To do that, they do something called mirroring back to the mentally ill and those involved in their lives. They take a good amount of time to collect data and observe their client’s situation. They often ask more questions to clarify if they have understood you correctly. They might present to you how that’s working for you or not and ask you to think about that. Getting real for me is the result of this process and that’s why nothing challenges me to get real like spending time alongside mentally ill people.

Last weekend I experienced some minor complications as the result of surgery I had two weeks ago that required that I see a doctor. The CareNow urgent care clinics close early on Saturday so there was nowhere else to go but the hospital ER. Because my situation involves my GI tract and is one that will almost always require a CT scan for a full assessment, I am always placed away from the main stream of ER visitors. This time I was put in a small square room with four beds, each bed surrounded by its own curtain with a large space in the middle for easy movement of beds etc. When I arrived, a sweet tempered, big burly security guard with an Eastern European accent was sitting by the entrance to the room from the hallway indicating that someone in one of the beds has the potential to be violent. On this particular night three out of the four beds in this room were taken by mentally ill patients.

Bed 1 – Deaf man who had overdosed earlier in the day and fully planned on suicide if he were discharged. He was very checked out and only wanted to sleep. I found out about his situation when the nurse did an assessment and had to use a sign language interpreter via her phone.

Bed 2 – A 30 something man I happened to see because he was on the corner opposite. I realized later that the curtain had to be open for his safety and the safety of those working with him. He was sitting up on the bed asleep when arrived so I was none the wiser to his condition at first. It remained quiet for about 15 minutes and then suddenly I heard loud sobbing. He was hallucinating and experiencing someone threatening to hurt his dog. The security guard rose to his feet and went into the room. The CNA posted at the foot of his bed gently but assertively instructed him not to yell. He responded and stopped yelling but went off into a lengthy story about a text they should read. His moods went from up to down and all around accompanied by a lot of vocalization within minutes. His ability to be present and engage with others followed those mood swings. Then as is typical with psychotic episodes, he would crash and sleep for awhile before the next one.

Bed 3 – A woman accompanied by her own law enforcement officer rested peacefully most of the time.

It was, for the most part, a typical visit to the ER for me but there was one exception. The guy in Bed 2 was visited by the doctor and told his mother would be coming in soon to see him. She arrived as planned and the little boy inside the man’s body melted into her arms and sobbed uncontrollably. His mom, like most of us with a mentally ill adult child, reminded him what to do. She had her son take deep breaths as she held him and listened to the extremes coming out of his mouth. Also like most of us, she was able to see the person behind the psychosis, the brain’s misfiring for any number of reasons and in that recognition was able to bring him to the ground for a few minutes. She wasn’t there more than five minutes but it was a vital five minutes for him and for her. As she left I looked up and saw the tears she’d held in while being there for her son begin rolling down her cheeks. The staff assisting her were so kind and there was such a sense of compassion for both patient and mother. It has been a long time since I’ve been in her shoes but in an instant I was right there with her.

It strikes me time and time again how so many who are mentally ill wrestle with the hard core paradigms they have stored inside of them from childhood and for this man and his mother, Evangelical Christianity was the third person in the room with them. When the man saw her face he immediately apologized for his sin, said he finally got what she was trying to tell him when he saw God in one of his psychotic episodes and that he always loved her. My heart broke.

We Evangelical mom’s have such a burden on our shoulders from the minute we’re pregnant we are aware that we have to make sure to train up our children in the way that they should go so that they won’t depart from it. We talk to them about Jesus as much as possible because that is the one thing we know that will keep them safe. Then, when at some point in their lives, Jesus seems incredibly absent and they are deviating from that way that they should go, we know it’s because we didn’t do it right. Our faith community knows it too and some of them flat out tell you to your face. In my case it was at the local mall where I was numbly walking around trying to breathe after taking my daughter back to the airport so she could get right back into treatment after relapsing almost the minute she walked into our front door. My woman of faith friend in her piety who saw me fake shopping thought I needed to hear and think about how it was likely that my daughter was just …” Somewhere I found the strength to tell her that she was wrong but it was an enormous emotional blow for me when I was already in dire pain. I wish I could look back and say how rare that was but it was just one of many during that year in hell.

We eventually realized that to ever heal and give our daughter any kind of chance at life, we would have to move. We moved over a thousand miles to get away. Away from the constant defense of our reality we began to find ourselves again and actually deal with what was before us. Mental illness is not rooted in Satanic possession and is not easily cured by Bible verses. The brain honestly doesn’t give a rats ass if you are saved or not. Traumatic pregnancies, premature births, fetal alcohol and drug exposure, early childhood and adult traumas all leave the brain broken and no amount of laying on of hands or exorcisms makes a bit of difference. Then there are the life is the direct result of your choices people who are 100% sure that if your mentally ill family member can learn to choose more wisely they can be cured. They are equally sure that you could have chosen better to make sure your kid didn’t end up in this state. There is truth in both but to imagine it’s possible to have a switch flipping moment in time that results in getting put back together is utterly ridiculous. Even after 22 years there are still those in my life – very much on the fringe – who still believe it was all about God and choices. They simply refuse to know.

I don’t think there is one thing that hits me harder than a mother with a child wrestling with mental illness and carrying the weight of it as her failure to train up her child. I’m so done with the religion that I once loved and the God I thought I knew. It’s fine if you never get thrown under the bus and have to deal with those who refuse to get what you’re going through apart from their rock solid paradigm. It’s why the Texas and so many Republican politicians trigger me so much. They literally refuse to know because to know means that they have to acknowledge the holes in the golden calf of modern day Evangelical/Christian Nationalism that they worship. Reality exists only in how they define it. For the most part the truth is irrelevant to them unless it fits within that paradigm and because it never does, they do so little to address the real issues behind real problems.

The God I know and believe in was sitting there with me beside these hurting people. This source of life was one full of love and mercy without any judgment. Throughout my 5 hours there various staff came by my bedside and asked if I was okay. They asked if I needed ear plugs and apologized for their other patients. I gave them back the most compassion I could muster and just said, I was fine.

Today I’m writing this because this is all part of my real life. It is also because I want those three people to know that I saw them and that I stayed with them for as long as I could. I couldn’t talk to them or make any difference except to be there and in the whole scheme of life, that is enough for me.

My personal issue is ongoing and I’ll see my surgeon tomorrow. I don’t think it’s anything serious but if it is, I will deal with it when I need to. It’s just often strange when life shows me mercy as a result of my journey. This was that and equally therapeutic.

Getting Real: The GOP and Kevin McCarthy

Kevin McCarthy has finally and completely sold his soul to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives. As he boasts in his ability to finish strong and negotiate in the spirit of Democracy, like all of the proverbial frogs in the pot slowly being boiled, the life he once knew as his own is no more. He is now nothing more than a puppet connected to some very hard cable-like strings. He now holds a position of power so fragile that he will only be able to maintain it with continued bowing to the ones who demanded this compromise and that number is well beyond the twenty who directed this drama. A lot of people donated large sums of money to get him into the position and he will need to answer to them as well. These cables pulling him around could easily become tangled and make him immovable. Time will tell.

In the weeks and months to come so many ill informed people with a worldview that could fit on the head of a pin will lead committees under the banner of being godly, righteous and smart. They are instead anything but. These people are fully invested in a world that does not exist any longer. They haven’t yet realized that simply because they live in the backwoods, the rural or are isolated by their own wealth and privilege, the world at large has changed beyond its capacity to return.

Last week, my husband who works in the industry that makes sure our food is moved from one place to another, received an email from a strong voice in the industry telling his largely conservative colleagues that whether they believe global warming to be real or not is no longer relevant. He went on to say that the industry must recognize that on a global scale it is established as fact. It is going to increasingly impact their work and ability to sell products. The Japanese, for example,  are now asking for documentation as to the amount of fossil fuels used to make the products they are using. They have determined that they will show preference to those with least impact on the environment and other countries are doing the same. That’s a big deal and one that no American politician of any stripe can alter. Republicans like McCarthy cannot even begin to allow themselves to grapple with this reality without being ousted? Even as his own state of California faces an atmospheric river unlike any it has seen in his lifetime heading straight toward it, he will not mention global warming or climate change as anything but a natural event. The damage will be extensive but McCarthy will die before he assesses that any of it is due to fossil fuel induced climate change. Were he to announce even a flash of insight in that direction it would end his existence as Speaker of the House. 

I am a Reagan Republican turned Biden Democrat for more reasons than I can count but today it is because those who exist in the party now are just not able to live in reality. Whether it is because their minds are steeped in the tea made by the voices of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and others in their arena or it’s truly because they simply cannot face change, it is clear that in a very real way we are living in completely different worlds.

Focused on the perceived threat of Critical Race Theory or Drag Queens showing up to read a story in our grandchildren’s public schools, the very real national and global concerns that are having an impact on the daily life of every American are minimized or ignored altogether. All for the sake of position and power. The very real things that are changing our lives at warp speed are labeled as liberal fodder because to address them is a death sentence in the modern day GOP. As this water deluge begins to fall from the sky on saturated and in many places burn scared California soil, Kevin McCarthy will try to show empathy. He will later beg for a disaster declaration to distribute federal funds to help his people but he will not utter one word to validate climate change caused by fossil fuels. Not one word.

Rep. McCarthy is likely higher than a kite today feeling the spoils of last night’s victory. The sweet spot between his battle for the throne and the reality of being on it will be a small one. As the pretense of his everyday existence continually clashes with the real hard truths of American governance, his performance is sure to be Oscar worthy. I for one cannot imagine how the party with its own careless center will get anything accomplished but grab the popcorn and settle in because it is sure to be quite a show.

Thoughts on the Attack of Paul Pelosi

Hearing about the attack on Pelosi’s husband though abhorrent and incredibly disturbing, really should not surprise anyone.

For decades Rush Limbaugh, Dr James Dobson, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reily, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a host of others have funneled their disgust of all things liberal toward two women. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. These men and many more plus a lot of American far right women literally HATE them. Despise them.

Upon hearing of the attack on her husband yesterday, in the back of my mind I recalled multiple conversations around dinner tables and over coffee with friends about the danger we faced as a nation because of the “femin-Nazi” (Rush Limbaugh’s adjective used to continuously describe his most hated women leaders, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi).

As a young Evangelical Christian mom in the 80’s, daily listening to Focus on the Family to learn how to be a good Christian mother, Dr. Dobson would regularly have guests that would mention these women and the danger they posed to our country. In our church a pamphlet circulated from a charismatic Christian leader that exposed feminist women like them as those possessed by a demonic spirit called Jezebel.

We loved being separate.

We loved seeing ourselves to be exclusively enlightened.

We loved being Conservative Christian Republicans.

Then our daughter became seriously ill with an eating disorder. She was near death three times. She was suicidal. Our lives were lived with transparency in our church family. We almost lost our daughter because we had so many answers, they had so many answers.

It was almost intuitive for me to understand the connection between our religious and political life just months into our daughters treatment. It had been 14 years of living a complex life as her parents. Her premature birth made her childhood full of Dr appointments and hospital visits. Physical illnesses in the believer by default demanded inquiry into their root formation from sin, an attack from Satan or a divine gift from God, our Heavenly Father sent to teach and conform us into Christ likeness.

Eating disorders come from none of those places. They exist because the self – the soul has no place to exist. My girl was lost to her self almost at birth. There would be no redemption of that self in the toxic world of our Evangelical faith. We left it and moved away in 2005.

Nothing about what we are witnessing in our political life surprises us. No one steeped in that kind of exceptionalism and certainty can live a healthy life without perpetuating the distrust of the other. No one.

The cancer that has been and is continuing to eat our Republic alive is religious zeal that has covered over real dysfunction and abuse and emphasized controlling others in Jesus name. There were yesterday and are many more today celebrating the Pelosi’s horror right now. I know it like I’m breathing air.

Thoughts from the Heartland

Yesterday driving from Omaha to Norfolk through the most beautiful green fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa, through small towns where time seems to have stood still I was very aware of the abundant food supply Americans depend on without even a thought about where it comes from.

Our liberal politicians rarely come from here. Biden and Harris are from the east and west coasts. Flyover states rarely get visits from anyone on the left. Trump changed that.

The people of rural America feel seen and heard in a way they haven’t experienced before. Trump’s lack of formal education works in his favor here. Not because rural American is stupid but because they must be educated differently. Biden and Harris don’t know squat about rural concerns. The Left decries the Electoral College and the two Senators for each state but without that structure this heartland wouldn’t have a voice at all. They will be heard.

In my experience Liberal values have come across here as out of touch with real life. Religious Christian practice has deep roots here – the landscape is dotted with Catholic, Lutheran and other Christian churches. Towns large and small were structured with church at the center. Trump’s supposed conversion allowed people to feel safe with him and know that they would be seen and heard. Though he’s a hollow shell part from the worship of others few knew him apart from his image of success. He was the perfect idiot for the far right to use to grab hold of the party. He did not disappoint.

The Trump Administration poured government money into rural and America. His Ag secretary told a crowd at a convention Dean was at that he always told Trump to have his checkbook out when he came to town and Trump did just that. Reinforcement is a powerful thing. But with Trump the door to the crazies opened wide up. Playing into the fears that liberals, empowered by Satan at worst and Coastal elites at best were set on changing life here, good solid caring people find themselves capable of believing utter bullshit and don’t even realize it.

An example of this is a story I heard yesterday about a situation at our local high school. I was told that a special bathroom was built there as a pet relief station for a kid who would only relieve himself like a dog. The government said he had to be accommodated. As someone who spent a bit of time in Special Education I was immediately suspicious. 🤷‍♀️

First off – ANY accommodations we need for our most difficult students in public schools require a whole lot of work to ask for and then obtain in a timely manner. Requesting a special bathroom is just not even on the list because the normal ADA requirements make our bathrooms accommodating to begin with. We have kids in wheel chairs and with walkers. We even have older kids in diapers because their bodies don’t work like normal.

Second – IF we had a student who was mentally ill to the extent that he thought he was a dog, a regular public school would likely not be the place for him. He would be in a very specialized behavioral school instead.

Third – Any professionals working with a student with this severe mental illness would not suggest building a specialized bathroom to accommodate his delusion. They would work their butts off to change his behavior and in the process clean up mess after mess. They would literally work the miraculous with great skill.

I was 100% sure that this was not true and couldn’t rest until I checked it out this story with a friend who has devoted her life to public education here. Of course it wasn’t true. The rumor came from out of state was embraced by a state legislator eager to discover such a tale and then shared with his colleagues. Believed by the masses, this nonsense required a Superintendent’s letter to the editor and the Senator to recant. Clearly, once this kind of thing gets out and is believed, a lot of people never get the real truth.

I’m aching for my home state and mad that the best of who these people are is now veiled by this version of the GOP. Lynne Cheney and Adam Kinzinger reflect what the party once was. I hope that there are others who will question everything they hear and in so doing ground themselves in their own wise minds. It has been my experience that neither side has all of the answers and in order to reach wisdom rigorous debate is essential. Believing nonsense and rigidly clinging to it on either side serves no one.

Maybe I Should Have Known

In fall of 1983 I married my best friend and partner in Evangelical Christian ministry. We had spent the entire year before our September wedding preparing to go to Uganda, East Africa, with a ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ. Our task would be to go to small remote villages and show the Jesus film a movie based on the Gospel of Luke. The process to apply, be accepted and then plan to go was incredibly rewarding and we were so eager to go together. We began to raise financial support for the trip in the spring and received hundreds of dollars from friends and family eager to see us succeed until sometime in April when the financial faucet turned off. With our time limited, we had to make a decision. We realized that we had enough money for just one of us to be able to go and determined it would be Dean.

That summer I stayed home with my family and got my old job back for the summer. Having not planned on being there I was eager to meet up with friends and one day an old high school friend and I got together for lunch and caught up. She also had a wedding that summer and as fate would have it she was marrying a good friend of Dean’s from his fraternity in Lincoln. It was a small world. Maybe I should have known that serendipity can be incredibly deceptive at times and that no matter how the stars align, they should always be put through some good scrutiny, but I didn’t know that.

Maybe I should have known that not all friendships have to be reconciled even in the Evangelical Christian world.

Maybe I should have known that what my parents and others had told me would happen if I got together with her or anyone in her church would in deed really happen.

Maybe I should have known that it is often the most insecure among us who need to feel and experience the constant reassurance that we are the most unique and special.

Maybe I should have known that when other church members were sharing stories with me of those they considered highly spiritual with degrees in finance, engineering, microbiology and medicine were choosing to leave the world’s prestige behind them and taking basic jobs just to move there to participate in the church, that the human ego can masquerade as the Holy Spirit and create loads of dysfunction.

You see, the thing about getting involved in a cult is this…you really just do not know.

Spiritual OxyContin

platitude: remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.

“he masks his disdain for her with platitudes about how she should believe in herself more”

We all use phrases we can utter without much thought to express ourselves. I’ve written about this before but after hitting it again a few times this week, I just have to say something. In a world of real people encountering real horrors, this platitude has never seemed more hollow.

The platitudes that grate me more than any others are those rooted in the idea that we are in and others are out. When we utter the phrase God is good and it is attached with our personal prosperity, we bear witness that we believe our beliefs are the beliefs that give us special favor. We inadvertently imply that if you aren’t getting to buy that new car, move up in your community or take that dream vacation, YOU haven’t discovered this goodness. This platitude used in this way is rooted the prosperity gospel used by people like Jim Baker and Joel Osteen. It is not, nor was it ever, used by Jesus to express that God is good.

Another way people of faith use this platitude is to encourage the poor, the struggling, the ugly, the addicts and the ill others in their midst to have hope. In spite of anything else true about their lives, they are encouraged to believe that God is good. The Christian teacher Bill Gothard took this so far as to teach that if a woman was raped, God had a plan. He went on to say that her task would be to believe so firmly in the goodness of God that being overcome and violated by a man would turn out to be good in her life!!!

Last week my son and his wife were asked to foster to adopt a third baby. While many infertile couples would give everything for one baby, they now have three! I’ve heard countless platitudes related to God’s goodness with respect to Finn’s arrival. I’ve also been living with the God is so good! ear worm going round and round in my own head. With thirty years of throwing this platitude out there like rice at a wedding, I am here to bear witness that it is way past time for us to stop it.

Saying some form of God is Good rarely, if ever, comes from any genuine grasp of a deep truth we actually know in our bones, it has instead become spiritual OxyContin used to avoid the harsh reality that God isn’t attached to any possible construct of goodness as we in first world prosperity driven religious countries can define it. In my mind and heart I can no longer just say that God is good as I express gratitude for anything in my life. I am beyond full of gratitude for these boys in my life but I cannot neglect the reality of how they have come to us. Any kind of concept that a good God would allow a mother and father to continue to conceive while not being capable of safely parenting their three boys simply does not compute.

Why? Because from where I sit, my son and his wife are the ones who are good. My country, where an imperfect foster care system exists to intervene and save the boys, that is what is good. To be high on the opioid of God is so good will not possibly work for this grandma anymore.

I actually believe in the goodness of Divine life. I believe in the co-creation with that life to make my life better. But seriously, my faith paradigm hasn’t come from prosperity, it has come as a result of personal reflection, radical acceptance and facing hard truth. It’s come from religious de-tox and self discovery. It’s come from authentic friendships where others wrestle with reality in similar fashion. I live with an abiding presence, I believe to be God but very often, very often, real goodness looks nothing at all like material or physical prosperity.

Please think about this and release your addiction to this phrase. Do it for the good of everyone.