Talking Taboo

In our culture of talk shows and late night Facebook posts, there are many occassions for covering our ears and protesting, “TMI!” [Too Much Information] But in the church, too often we suffer from Too Little Information. In a community that claims to be formed in response to God’s grace – God’s free gift of love for all people – shame keeps our mouths shut. We are afraid of being judged – of being injured in the name of God – and this not an unreasonable fear, but one rooted in hard experience. And so we sit in a pew (or flee from it), holding back our unique history which, if we found the right persons to share it with, would prove to be not so unique after all.

For years I avoided sharing that I had married and divorced in college. And for good reason – I had learned from an early age that silence and shame were the expected responses to a divorce within the Christian community.  But when I began to write about divorce, I found that many pastors and other Christian friends had divorced and remarried, too – and they thanked me for talking about it. This encouraged to share more deeply about the ongoing spiritual and emotional impact of losing my first marriage, including in an essay, “Leaving a Marriage, Finding Jesus,” which will be published in an upcoming book!

Today, I am excited to announce the Indiegogo campaign for that book – Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (coming from White Cloud Press in October.) I am one of 40 women who contributed essays to this book, edited by Enuma Okoro and Erin Lane. Each one of us is committed to starting a conversation and keeping it going.  The radical hospitality of extending Christian love to all people begins with telling our own stories and listening to each other’s stories with grace and humility.  When you pre-order your copy of Talking Taboo through the Indiegogo site, that gives us the resources we need to publicize the book – and to get conversations started in our churches.  Once you have read the book, I am sure you will agree that we have a lot to talk about.

Learn more, and Preorder Talking Taboo via Indiegogo

Read what co-editors Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro have to say about Talking Taboo

Read what Rachel Held Evans, Brian McLaren, and Rosemary Radford Ruether have to say about Talking Taboo

There and Back Again: A writer’s tale

Given that I slipped deeper into depression yesterday while unpacking events from my last year of college, driving around town today listening to songs from the unhappiest decade of my life was arguably unwise.

A couple of weeks ago, we bought a new Prius V! I feel more affection for this vehicle than any inanimate object properly deserves, but I am not alone in this: just this past weekend, after a couple of hours of Christmas shopping, my daughter actually hugged the Prius, and with genuine affection in her voice said, “I love you, car!”

Since we buy new cars only every 10 years or so, relatively standard features are a revelation to us. This one comes with satellite radio capabilities. Hoping to rope us into a paid subscription, the car comes with a free 3 month trial subscription to Sirius. Today I discovered a station called “First Wave – Classic Alternative Rock” which could just as easily be titled “The nostalgia channel for aging Gen X pre-hipsters.” It is the first time in years that I have heard Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Buzzcocks, Berlin, The Pretenders, Alphaville, The Clash, REM, and Midnight Oil all on the same day. Delivering my daughter’s forgotten backpack to school, it took a great deal of effort to turn off the car just as “London Calling” was getting underway.

Exhausted after a bit of exercise this afternoon, I reluctantly headed off to an appointment, only to discover that it was cancelled! And located right next door: frozen yogurt! With mochi and strawberries! And best of all, after eating said frozen yogurt while reading the latest mystery novel in my rotation, I got into the car just in time to catch the beginning of The Cure’s “Close to Me.”

It was the same remixed version that I had listened to on my way to pick up a high school friend for our first date. The music and lyrics both seem designed to intensify anxiety, and I remembered that long drive (he lived an hour away – these sorts of drives are common when you attend a magnet school which drew its student body from 3 adjacent counties, as ours did), and the strange mix of fear and optimism that always preceded a first date for me.

Poor guy – he was sweet and naïve in a way that I had not anticipated from someone with long dark hair, leather boots, a black trench coat, and genuine artistic ability. Most damningly, he refused to accept my carefully cultivated badass veneer. As a friend from my first year of college recently told me, “Even in that dark time, I could see the light of God’s love shining through you.” Which is great and all, since I really did love everybody. But that was dangerous, and the only way I knew how to protect my overly vulnerable heart was to be under constant attack. Young Mr. Trenchcoat was far too chivalrous. I kept my internal demons at bay by externalizing them – he didn’t have so much as a snarky bone in his body. And so it was that what began with the anxious anticipation of danger became instead the long anxious avoidance of breaking the heart of a truly decent person.

Last night, in the midst of a difficult conversation about the dark years governed by my depression, by my experiments in how much damage I could do to myself and allow others to do to me before I was utterly broken, my husband asked, “Are those your only two choices, for that time to matter so much that it breaks you, or for it to not matter at all?”
“Yes!” I answered, “Yes. If I think about it, I am paralyzed. So all I can do is not think about it. To remember that that time is past, that the present is good, that I am happy now. To cut the past loose and forget it.”

But then I remembered something that my daughter has said about her anxieties, her memories, her scary thoughts. “Mommy – every word I have in me is written on a piece of paper in my mind, and I can’t erase it or throw it away! It is there forever!”
Yep. There they are. As made most evident by my mood yesterday, brought on by a simple allusion to the five months I spent as a cabdriver in Richmond, Virginia. That seemingly innocuous footnote opened up into a wormhole that I sped through screaming, like Bill & Ted in the phone booth, only to land in a past time that I had no real interest in reliving. “Execute them!” “Bogus.” Bogus indeeed.

Writing yesterday afternoon about my past made me feel temporarily worse. But I have reason to believe that by naming my demons I might slowly begin to exorcise them at last.

I have some experience with this. September and October proved to be a time when I was given the opportunity to explore my divorce at age 22 through a couple of writing assignments. It was a miserable process at first, this going down into Sheol. But as I edited one piece in particular, stripping away layers of analysis until I was left with dialogue and sensory experience; as I cut away paragraphs of events inessential to the story to find the core, the center – Sting’s “still point of destruction” –  I found healing. I remembered the preciousness of my pain, and how it has honed my empathy to a clean edge that can cut away at sentiment or pierce the protective carapace of long suffering, a blade with which I may draw those few drops of blood that will remind one who has come to loathe herself that still she has a heart that beats within her. And as I wrote and remembered, Jesus broke the gates of Sheol and grasped my hands and pulled me back into my place amongst the living.

And so I shall peer into the abyss again, with a reasonable hope that should I fall headfirst over the precipice, I will not be forgotten there, nor left behind.

Not my best work

In the past week, I have been finishing a mixed media painting for a friend.  I had started work on it more than two and a half years ago, and then set it aside after working on it for some months.  I had long claimed that I was “too busy,” but I think the truth is that I was too scared.  I didn’t want to give my friend something that was less than “my best work,” and I was not in love with the painting.

But the reality is, this is the first time I have ever attempted something on this scale.  So of course I hope that it is not my best work in the scope of my lifetime.  I hope that as I learn and experiment, my later work will be better.  But this is something better than my best work – it is my first work – the first time I was moved to attempt such a piece.  It is inspired by my friend and her life, and every brushstroke and every found scrap of paper and other bits of collage are links in a chain of prayer for her, starting when she and her husband first separated and continuing through her return to work, her daughter entering kindergarten, the continued unraveling of the marriage and the certainty of divorce.

She has found her feet – she does not perhaps need the affirmation of change and new life that the painting represents.  And perhaps this is why I have been able to pick it up again – because it can now be a celebration of arriving at the other side of all she has endured.  Or perhaps I just ran out of excuses to leave it on the shelf.  Or perhaps I finally understood that my perfectionism was holding me back, and remembered that my friend loves me too much to desire perfection from me – and that she has known me too long to expect it.  Only those who the law would recognize as kin to me have seen me as bad off as she has seen me.

Am I giving her a canvas that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will be interested in acquiring from her?  No, I am giving her my prayers for her – my prayers of September 2009-February 2010, and my prayers of this summer.  I am concretizing my love for her to the best of my ability at the moment.  Maybe that is the best work any of us can do for one another after all.