Thursday, April 21, 2016

Self-Reflective Advocacy

Of late, I find myself engaging in the practice of self-reflective advocacy.  It started a week ago when I wrote a letter to an advisory group at my place of employment advocating for educational programming and a specific educator.  Though there was some degree of anxiety in sharing this self-reflective plea with a group of strangers, the positive response I received from them was deeply heartening.

Then, this week, I was leading chapel service.  I had intended to write my homily yesterday, but I got home from work and accidentally drank too much tequila to allow for quality homily writing.  Instead, I headed to work this morning and spent an hour pulling together my thoughts.  A little after noon today, I produced a very simple worship service - opening prayer, homily, benediction and passing of the peace (which always gives me the willies, but expectations....  Damn it!).

Self-reflective advocacy from behind the pulpit proved to be as enjoyable and richly rewarding as anonymous letter-writing advocacy had been last week.  Hurray!

*****

God who created the
     mighty and meek,
     strong and fragile,
     powerful and weak,
Who calls us to care for the
     widowed,
     orphaned,
     poor
Who instructs us to welcome the
     stranger
     alien
     foreigner,
be with us now.  In our meekness, be mighty; in our fragility, be strong; in our weakness, be powerful.  Show us that in caring for the widow, orphan, and poor, we care for you.  Help us to see your face in the face of the stranger, the alien, the foreigner.  We welcome all who enter our midst just as we extend extravagant welcome to you this day.  Amen.

*****

I think rather often these days of the literature I read in the eighth grade.  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Some of the lessons to be found in these works of literature seem more salient in this phase of life for me - in this line of work.

As the cold of winter melts to the temperamental, and times long and bright, days of Spring, the muck of rain showers brings forth flowers from the early bulbs and buds on the trees.  This time of year also evokes within me the hope of occasionally spying a great blue heron.  Though common, with a conservation status of "Least Concern," and found in the Midwest year round, I seem only to see their awkward looking bodies move with infinite grace during the late spring and summer months.

One thing I did not inherit from my parents was their mutual love of bird watching.  Though my mother can identify an oriole from 100 yards, I can scarcely  remember the differences between a European starling and a common grackle.  The great blue heron, however, has held a place in my imagination as a thing of wonder and rare beauty since I first read the short story The Scarlet Ibis by James Hurst.

The description of the scarlet ibis as having long legs, a precarious perch, and a long, graceful neck curved into an "S" with a long beak delighted my imagination.  Having never seen in life, I found myself comparing it to the great blue heron whose awkward body, long legs, seemingly precarious perch, long graceful neck, and long beak left me imagining them with bright red plumage instead of the dishwater gray and blue of their species.

The Scarlet Ibis opens with a  description of summer's end and the "rotting brown magnolia petals" and the "purple phlox."  It is the story of a boy and his brother.  Though narrated in the first person, every person in the story is named or designated except for the narrator.  It is a beautiful and terrible story, the anonymity of its narration allowing one to easily slip within the skin of the man reminiscing about his own beautiful and terrible childhood follies.

At the age of six, the narrator becomes the older brother of a  boy who "was, from the outset, a disappointment.  [Who] seemed all head, with a tiny body which was red and shriveled like an old man's."  It wasn't until he was three months old that this tiny baby was named, "William Armstrong, which was like tying a big tail on a small kite.  Such a name sounds good only on tombstone."  The narrator states, "I wanted more than anything else someone to race to Horsehead Landing, someone to box with, and someone to perch with in the top fork of the great pine behind the barn, where across the fields and swamps you could see the sea."

The narrator got none of these things in his young brother, William Armstrong, who was "a burden in many ways."  As their relationship developed and the narrator resigned himself to the fact that his brother was "going to cling to me forever ... so I dragged him across the burning cotton field to share with the only beauty I knew, Old Woman Swamp."  The also re-christened his brother, telling the reader, "Renaming my brother was perhaps the kindest thing I ever did for him, because nobody expects much from someone called Doodle."

The story The Scarlet Ibis reminds us of that "knot of cruelty borne by the stream of love" that is within us.  As the age of eleven, when Doodle is only five, the narrator "embarrassed at having a brother of that age who could not walk" sets out to teach his brother.  "....all of us must have something or someone to be proud of, and Doodle had become mine.  I did not know then that pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death."  And so the narrator, over the course of several months, pushes and pushes and pushes Doodle to conform to the image of what he wants in a brother - "Doodle walked only because I was ashamed of having a crippled brother."

Can you see yourself in this nameless, faceless, unidentified narrator?  I can.  Are there times in our life when you press others to succeed for your benefit rather than theirs?  I know I fall prey to this temptation.  Like the narrator, there are times when "I [begin] to believe in my own infallibility and I prepare[d] a terrific development plan" others, rooted in pride and the desire to see my own grand schemes come to fruition.

A year after Doodle begins to walk and several months into his brother's ill-fated scheme to make him run, swim, climb trees, and fight, a scarlet ibis is down into their front yard by a summer storm and it falls form their bleeding tree, dead.  "Even death could not mar its grace, for it lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and we stood around it, awed by its exotic beauty."

The narrator takes Doodle out to the swamp once more to continue the pursuit of their goals.  But "Doodle was both tired and frightened.... he smiled at me ashamedly.  He had failed and we both knew it....  The knowledge that Doodle's and my plans had come to naught was bitter, and that streak of cruelty within me awakened.  I ran as fast as I could, leaving him far behind....  So I could hear his voice no more."

How often does the shame of both our failures and our motives cause us to flee from the things we once pursued?  How often do we seek to separate ourselves from others when they no longer live up to our expectations of who they should be?  When they no longer serve our needs?

The narrator tells us, "I hadn't run too far before I became tired, and the flood of childish spite evanesced as well....  I went back and found him huddled beneath a red nightshade bush....  Bleeding from the mouth, and his neck and the front of his shirt were stained a brilliant red....  I began to weep, and the tear-blurred vision in red before me looked very familiar.  'Doodle!' I screamed above the pounding storm and threw my body to the earth above his.  For a long long time, it seemed like forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my scarlet ibis from the heresy of the rain."

Only in facing the death of his brother did the narrator come to realize the love he had for Doodle, the need to protect and care for those who cannot protect and care for themselves.  The narrator finally comes to know intimately the twin vines brought forth from he seek of pride - life and death.

I believe we all have our own scarlet ibis - the thing we find pride in and which, we not carefully tended could be the seeds of our destruction.  To care well for others, to love them, to encourage them in the pursuit of their dreams for their sake can be a wonderfully enriching experience.  When we seek instead to mold others into our vision of who they should be, when we see relationships as being primarily about fulfilling our needs and objectifying others, accepting them only so far as they are what we want them to be, real and lasting harm can be done.

Today I invite you to consider who in your life is a little different, a little unknown, who you feel is a disappointment, who doesn't fit then ill of what you thought you were getting when you met them.  How might those relationships move forward with mutual respect and caring, with consideration and acceptance?  How can we remove the streak of cruelty from our hearts today and begin appreciating the gifts of otherness?

The commands of the God of the Christian Old Testament are summed up by Jesus quite simply:  Love God; love others.  In giving us these commands, God sets before us life and death and exhorts us to choose life.  How are we choosing to live today?

*****

Go forth to find God in all whom you meet today, that you might also find life.  Go in peace.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Imagine Something New

A chapel service, exploring my theology of hope, for my residency program.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

On Being Bad at Christianity

People are often surprised by how little reverence I pay to the church. Especially when they learn I am a religious professional. How much reverence might I be expected to show? Honestly, at this point, any would be of note.

Doing so might help me appear a bit "more normal," to quote one of my colleagues who accused me of heresy for daring to suggest that physical cosmology just might be a thing. I could probably start by refraining from cracking frequent jokes about and openly mocking my own religious heritage. My unchurched, unaffiliated, areligious, not otherwise specified, "spiritual but not religious" friends seem to find me equally abnormal. In their case, however, my breaking with the traditional attitudes of a pastor makes me their favorite religious professional.

The thing is, it's really hard to revere the thing that promised to show me the way to salvation and nearly killed me instead. At this point, I imagine if I had a Jewish mother, I would hear her voice in my head, "Always so melodramatic!" I do not have a Jewish mother. My mother is less churched, less religious, less agnostic, and more prayerful than I am, to judge by her Facebook wall posts.

I make jokes and mock my religious heritage because I am deeply uncomfortable with my relationship to my religious heritage. Most especially the Evangelical part of it.

And I'm really not kidding when I tell you it almost killed me.  

I got involved with the Evangelicals when I went away to college. They seemed like rock stars to me. Too beautiful for words and so in touch with the appeal that sin holds while simultaneously being able to bear up under temptation and walk around, heads held high with all the moralistic superiority any 18-22 year old virgin who's never so much as looked at mind altering substances let alone actually seriously considered tasting even a drop of alcohol or tried a drag from a cigarette can muster.

The whole endeavor was filled with worship services and student meetings, conferences and retreats, where the coolest guy in the group led a band playing the latest Christian music, prayers that the Second Coming would happen NOW, and speakers who promised that the reward for all our hard work, sincere worship, and abstinence was that God would absolutely give us the desires of our hearts. It was like something out of a Hollywood movie. (Saved! resonates with so many people for a reason).

For a fat, socially awkward, depressed girl who came from poverty and abuse of all kinds, this seemed like the deliverance I needed. Of course I wanted to be a part of that crowd! It didn't matter that I was never going to fit in with them. If I worked really hard and did everything right and stayed on the narrow path and refrained from sinning, I would finally be deemed good enough, worthy, valued.

The key was to be the perfect Christian. The only way to be a good person was to be a good Christian. If you weren't a good Christian, not only were you not good person, you ceased to be a person at all. Instead, you were a moveable object, a living mission field, a soul to be saved!

I swallowed it all and began treating myself, my friends, my family accordingly. I preached the Gospel and prayed fervently, and tried very hard to be very good. And while I never believed myself to be self-righteous, I was certainly one of the righteous. I didn't judge anyone! I mourned for them, that they hadn't yet met Jesus, started that all important relationship, and had their lives transformed.

I lived like this for almost 10 years. And in that time I punished myself brutally for every mistake or perceived sin. "I just thought that man was attractive! I'm lusting! I must confess my sins and pray that Jesus takes this thorn of lust from my side and heals me of the wickedness in my heart! God forgive me! I cannot do it on my own!" And I would weep for the repugnant thing I was.

I continued to hold out hope that I might one day become perfect and earn my place among the "good Christians" who were the only people who were subjects rather than objects.

Then I ended up at the most liberal seminary in the United States and things started to change. Suddenly, I was surrounded by honest, loving, good, faithful, and unbelievably kind Christians and people of other faiths who were doing all kinds of "sinful" things. While I was pretty sure they weren't going to hell, no matter how much pot they were smoking or sex they were having, I still wasn't sure I could do any of those things and escape the wrath of God.

So, I held on, desperately, to this faith that promised I would be given my heart's desire as a reward for my faithfulness.

Except it didn't happen that way. Midway through my studies, heartbroken, alone, and disappointed, at the age of 26, I had sex for the first time.

I fell immediately into a suicidal depression. If I was no longer a virgin, I was no longer a good Christian. If I was no longer a good Christian, I wasn't...anybody. I lost my entire identity along with my virginity.

And I couldn't deal with it. I spent two weeks on the psychiatric unit of one of the top ten hospitals in the nation while the doctors tried to get a "therapeutic" level of anti-depressants in my system and the psychiatric medical resident told me my only real problem was that I was too hard on myself.

When I got out, I immediately returned to my Evangelical church.

It was a source of constant reassurance that I would never be enough. Lest I dare forget, my sins were ever before me and held up on Sunday mornings as proof of my depravity and utter need for their Jesus. I was not a virgin. I love LGBTQ identified individuals and believe they are human and have as much right to access God and the government as anyone else. I feel and believe the same things about women and dare to imagine I just might have value outside of my reproductive capacities.

When I left the Evangelical church 6 years ago, I was fleeing for my life! I was desperate to get out and build a new life and a new faith for myself. And I did. I began living in accordance with my values rather than theirs. And I am happy.

But I still look back on my time among Evangelicals with longing. I mourn something of the faith I rejected. While life was awesome and terrible as an Evangelical, it was also simple. Everything was black and white; good or bad. No shades of gray; no ambiguities. I was a good person because I followed the rules. I prayed for your soul because you didn't follow the rules, you couldn't be a good person.

I am ashamed that I miss anything from that tradition. I feel like a victim of domestic violence who looks back on her relationship wistfully because every once in a while, he was so sweet and I hoped that moment would last forever; I knew that moment would last forever if I were just good enough.

I still want to be (maybe not perfect, so much but surely) a good person. Figuring out what that means, now, is much harder and far more personal. There is a greater chance of messing it up.

Recently, in a moment of needing to connect again with some of the brainier Christians I knew from that time, I attended a bible study. The leader shared with us her frustration as a mother with a "problematic" teenage daughter, though she didn't clarify what problems they were having. "I did everything right," she declared. "We were virgins when we got married, we attend church every week, we tithe!"

I had had sex with my boyfriend, with whom I live, just that morning. I know I have done nothing sinful in loving this man, but the judgment was there.

I am bad at being a Christian. I spent a decade of my life apologizing to Jesus for being so bad.

In many ways, I am not what a religious professional "should" be. But I no longer apologize to Jesus and I no longer confess my sins and seek a word of forgiveness from other Evangelicals.

Instead, I find myself apologizing to the unchurched, the agnostic, the "spiritual not religious." I find myself apologizing for taking them by surprise, for defying their expectations, for not being a better Christian. I find myself offering ironic apologies for not trying to bring them to God while never considering that I might be a bigger impediment on their life's journey - wherever it may take them - than their "sin" ever was or ever could be.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Ode to Church Mothers

Where have the old church mothers gone?
I remember them from my childhood.
They were quietly watchful and forcefully present.
They ruled the church.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
The one's from my Sunday School days
Played the piano and taught me church school songs
and all the old hymns.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
They had salt and pepper hair in their young mother days.
I remember the silver, turned white, turned nearly yellow with age.

The old church mothers were
the ones who did the work of the church.
You might know them as the "Women's Fellowship,"
A mysterious group to young women who were never invited to join.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
They used to serve the funeral luncheon.
They are the ones who catered the funeral luncheon.
They used to hang the banners on the front wall of the church.
They are the ones who used felt to make those banners.
They used to set the altar each week.
They are the ones who sewed the altar cloths.
By hand.

Where have the old church mothers gone?
The ones who were my mother's mother's age?

Mine will never be an old church mother.
She left the church two decades ago.
She is still my mother.

Where will she go
as she grows closer to becoming an old mother?

Where have the old church mothers gone?
When and where will I become an old church mother?
Where will I go
when I am no longer?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Suffering

Though placed later in the Old Testament, the book of Job is widely considered to be the oldest book in the bible.  The purpose of the book of Job is to attempt to explain human suffering.

In Job, God and Satan make a bet. God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  When Satan responds that Job only shuns evil because God has blessed him and further provokes God by stating that Job would surely curse God were God to strike everything Job has, God puts everything Job has into the hands of Satan, with strict orders not to harm Job himself.

When Satan has destroyed all of Job’s wealth and taken all of Job’s children in a catastrophic accident, Job falls to the ground in worship.  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Not to be thwarted, Satan insists that if Job were to be afflicted in his own body, sure then he would curse God.  And so, God gave Job’s body into the hands of Satan, stipulating only that Job’s life must be spared.  Covered in painful sores “from the soles of his feet to the top of his head,” his wife says to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  But Job replies, “You are talking like a foolish woman.  Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all of this, Job did not sin (Job 2:7-10).

After this, three of Job’s friends come to him.  They each tear their clothes and sprinkle themselves with ashes.  The sit in silence with Job for a week.  After a week, these friends of Job rebuked him.  And it is here that we see a change in Job.

In the earliest parts of the book of Job, we see Job lose his fortune, his family, and his health.  In all of these losses, Job praises God.  It is when Job is rebuked by his friends who insist he must have sinned to have earned the wrath of God that Job begins to suffer.  At this point, Job curses his own existence.

Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave?  Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?  (Job 3:20-23)

Job goes on to answer to his friends who rebuke him, but there is a significant shift in his focus.  No longer does Job defend God; rather, now Job goes on to defend himself.  Job’s suffering comes from the isolation of being with others who move from a posture of joining with Job in his suffering to attempting to explain and fix the root cause of Job’s condition.

When the question, “Why ?” is asked and attempts are made to answer the question rather than join the questioner, suffering ensues.  Vulnerability.  Isolation.

Upon learning of his diagnosis of terminal cancer, Dr. Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist, wrote an Op-Ed essay for the New York Times.  In My Own Life Sacks wrote:

"There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever.  When people die, they cannot be replaced.  They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death."

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” declared Job.  The famous actor, writer and director Orson Welles put it like this, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.  Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

Religion is humankind’s first attempt to explain how the world works – what the mechanisms are that are at work in our experiences.  As the earliest book in the bible, Job attempts to explain the how thusly:  God and Satan making a bet.

But if religion is humankind’s first attempt to answer the question how?, then divinity or God is, at its most basic, the process by which we answer the question why?  God is the means by which we attempt to transform trials into triumphs.

Job is also the earliest Hebraic attempt to make meaning out of those experiences.  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

It is “the genetic and neural fate – of every human being being to be a unique individual,” to be utterly, beautifully, gloriously alone in this world.  To be alone does not meant to be lonely.  Suffering happens when we experience our alone-ness as isolation.

We have the ability to reach out to and connect with others.  After all, we all come from the same place; we are all made up of the same stuff – star dust.  Astrophysics tells us that everything in the known universe is made up of the elements of the first exploding star in The Big Bang when the universe began.  We live because the first star died.

The bible explains it this way:  From dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19b).

Though each is born alone, makes the journey through life alone, and dies alone, we can through love and friendship be present for and with another.  This is no illusion.

When we seek to answer the question why with something more than our presence however, when we attempt to define the cause, when we seek to fix the problem by fixating on the notion that things must be different, when we grow attached to a specific outcome and fail or simply forget to be present in the current moment, this is when we or those with whom we sojourn suffer.

Who or what is God in the midst of suffering?  If religion informs us of the how, God informs us of the why.

Though I do believe in divinity, though I believe God exists, I do not believe that God is some being or entity out there somewhere, working here and now for God’s own purposes.  God is not a capricious puppet-master giving control of our fates to an adversary simply to settle a bet.

When faced with the most basic and complex question that can be asked, “Why do we suffer?” I can only answer one way:  Life gives.  And life takes away.  Life is still a blessed endeavor.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Lois - The GNF Cat

This is Lois.



Lois is the single greatest cat on the planet in my not at all biased opinion.

Lois's personality is basically the same as mine. Perhaps that is why I'm so partial to her. Perhaps that is why I bonded to her.

Lois is the bomb-diggety of catdom. She owns her catness.

Lois knows herself and she's okay with herself. And if you don't like Lois, that's okay. Lois does not care. She knows she doesn't exist to make you like her. Lois exists to be Lois - in all of her glorious catness with a whole lot of cattitude.

Lois looks like a cat. If you were to look up generic pictograms of cats, they would all look like Lois. This isn't to say that Lois is in any way generic. Rather, that Lois simply looks like the quintessential cat.

Lois is not only in form quintessentially a cat; in her catness, she is quintessentially herself.

Lois lives life on her own terms. She is deeply intuitive and has vast storehouses of compassion. She will use either to love well those who have earned a place in her kitty life.

Lois, however, is not your typical lap cat. Lois does not want laps nor does Lois feel a need for laps to exist.

Lois is a proximal cat. She wants to be near her people, but she does not want to touch or be touched by them. In fact, if a human touches Lois too much, she gives them "the paw." That is, Lois will use her front paw, loop it over the wrist of the person touching her, press their hand to the surface on which she sits and then apply gentle pressure to their hand. Once she's confident that she won't be touched again, she'll remove her paw. If a person does touch her again, she immediately gives them the paw again.

Lois has boundaries and she makes no bones about making them known.

If Lois loves a person, she is willing to grace that person with her presence and loud purring. That's what she does. That's how she tells a person, "Okay, you're in. You're one of my people." She sits on the arm of the chair you're in, or she climbs over your head in the middle of the night to sit on the edge of the bed, or she sits on the nightstand and she just stares and purrs at you.

Lois is a cat who never sits in laps. Except for this one time....







....when Lois sat in my lap.

I'm sure it's only because the new chair had very narrow arms, it was a rocker, and she wasn't sure of balancing on it. My sock monkey pajama clad lap seemed like a safer bet. Still, I felt like I'd been blessed by the cat-gods themselves to have received such a gift.

Lois is a cat who hates being picked up and will go spread-eagle-claws-out-murder-in-her-eyes angry if you try to pick her up. And I get it. Lois is just a cat who expects to be respected for her catness. And given her space.

And she lets me pick her up. She doesn't love it, but she tolerates it; she lets me provide full support to her body and she curls up and purrs for a few moments until she's had enough. The moment she begins to squirm, I set her down. And she still purrs at me.

Lois is a cat who isn't terribly concerned about her people (so long as there is food in the dish, clean litter, and fresh water available). Except for this one time....


....when I was having a hard day and Lois loved me. 

Lois is a cat who, rumor has it, used to love cheeseburgers and sour cream. Until her first humans had to give her medicine and human food became a delivery vehicle for those wretched pills. Now Lois is a cat who continues to love Tillamook yellow medium cheddar cheese, goat cheese, sour cream, and even crème brûlée. But she'll only eat it when I offer it to her.

Lois is kind and lovely and honest. She is a gentle and genuine creature. Lois is a cat who is utterly herself and utterly happy to be herself and she gives no fucks whether you like that or not.

I didn't know I had a quintessentially cat-shaped hole in my emotional life until I met Lois. But there she resides; and she will continue to reside there long after she stops staring at me in the middle of the night, long after she stops purring at me, long after she stops giving me the paw, long after she stops going nose-to-nose to me just to make sure I'm okay on those really hard days when I see nothing but loss and pain and death and can only curl up in a ball at the end of the day and cry for a bit before I remember why I do the work I do.

And until Lois stops doing all of those things, I'm going to continue loving Lois. On her terms. Just the way she is.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Spiritual Vomit

A new job, a new group of colleagues. We are new to each other and we are all new to the system (though my cohort is newer than I, as I spent my summer in this system). We have been getting to know one another the past two weeks. It's a process.

During my summer work, there was a colleague to whom I gravitated due to our shared interests and similar educational backgrounds. It was a very life-giving and fulfilling experience for me. This individual was my favorite colleague. That's right. I had a favorite. I'm human.

Not so, this time around. I have no favorites among my new cohort. None. Not a single one of them that I like better than the others. There hasn't been much bonding and I wonder if it has something to do with proximity. But, maybe it's just personalities. I don't know.

What I do know is that one of my colleagues inspires compassionate mourning in me whenever they talk of their relationship with their spouse. They are in love and hold one another dear and are deeply committed to one another with an unbreakable bond. Even if they don't like each other very much at the present moment.

But all of the stories my colleague shares about their marriage are painful. "I was telling my spouse last night about today's assignment," my colleague will say, "and they told me 'cut it down; no one wants to hear all that; why would you share that?'" "I told my spouse last night about how I planned to proceed with this assignment," my colleague will say, "and they told me 'You're doing it wrong. What makes you think anyone needs that much information about your life's journey? No one cares!'" "I told my spouse about this experience and they grew angry with me and yelled at me because I'm sharing this experience with you and not with them," my colleague will say.

As one person on the outside of their relationship hearing only one perspective, I have a necessarily limited view. I recognize that. I also recognize, though, that the things people share with us in our most intimate exchanges are often the things that matter most to them. And when my colleague shares about their relationship with their spouse, my colleague shares about how they are consistently verbally and emotionally belittled and invalidated for who they are.

Constant, on-going, pervasive rejection of their self.

It makes me sad. I want to ask, "Don't you realize that this is abusive? Is there a reason you're staying or a reason you're not working on this?"

But my colleague also shares this in these moments of grief: "My spouse is jealous for me. And it makes me realize how jealous God is for us and I think that's just the most beautiful picture of God's love for us."

Then, I want to throw up.

And I am grateful that I escaped such dangerous and abusive theologies. And I can only hope the same for my colleague.