This is my reflection for day 21 of Advent based on the book “Low, An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz. The Title of today’s reading was “All Is Not Well With My Soul” and John encourages us today to be authentic about our emotions, especially sorrow and grief.
1) Though the pressure to be happy is always present, the holidays seem to amplify this—and yet the Bible gives us so many examples of people who were faithful, yet struggled with all sorts of doubt, despair, depression, and “inner demons.” Why is happiness something we chase?
2) Why do you think faith communities often struggle to meet the needs of grieving, depressed, or mentally ill people? Is there a way space can be made for people who struggle with such things; ways churches can include the valley experiences of life along with the mountaintop?
3) How can you make space for your own valley places this season? How can you be okay with your not okayness, and simply come to Advent as you are, resting in the truth that this is a beautiful thing?
Prayer/Reflection/Meditation Word: Sadness
I talked about the importance of making space for all emotions, either in our own head and heart, or in supporting other people; Not stuffing emotions, but feeling them fully.
Or what I often call “Being Real.”
I wrote this 11 years ago for a blog I had on Myspace (yeah, I’m old.)
“Being Real Jan 25, 2008
Someone asked me how I took the “measure of a man,” the other day…
I can’t answer for humanity, only what I use for myself….my personal code is that I don’t talk about anything that I haven’t experienced or worked through in my own life first, I don’t just talk theory, or theology…I talk about those things through the story of my own struggle (often quite brutal) with concepts like faith and fear and stuff like that…
Having said that, the true measure for me is my authenticity, or as I call it “being real.”
Okay what do I mean by that? To me it means not wearing masks, or hiding my light or my darkness from the world…or from myself…
It is doing or saying or being true to myself and not caring (too much) what other people say or think about me…Not trying to bend to make everyone like me. And doing what I feel is the right and decent thing to do…Even if people criticize me.
From as young as I remember, until I was close to thirty I bent over backwards to be whatever anyone wanted me to be…what my parents wanted me to be, my older siblings, the kids at school, what TV said I was supposed to be in orderto be cool or get laid or be happy, what society’s concept of”masculinity” dictated I was to be, or what religion said I was, a”sinner”, “dirty” if I was horny (but gee aren’t we all always horny anyway-seems like a natural thing to me) or “less than the worms ofthe dirt”…
Anything but whom I was…or who I wanted to be…
All in order so that people would accept me…not pick on me…like me…
Except inside I hated myself…Primarily because I couldn’t keep all the masks balanced in the air at once, while keeping all my thoughts feelings and emotions stuffed down inside…and when we stuff down…it rots into depression, cancer, illness….or comes out as rage…
Well, in the latter part of my 20’s although outwardly successful working inthe media…had a hip second job at a pretty well known public radio station as a producer, co host and sound engineer…I was in a deep suicidal depression…
It built up to the point where I had a dark night of the soul…I was planning to kill myself on my 30th birthday…
Just before that I made a list of the reasons to live or die, and the”die” list was much bigger….the only thing on my live list was my elderly parents…It would have killed them if I offed myself…so I chose to live.
But if I had to live I couldn’t live the way I was. I had to change. I had to start living my life for myself…no one else.
So I got help. I started doing deep soul psychological work…got involved with men’s issues, spirituality and obviously ended up having a knock down drag out mystical calling story that I ran from for 3 years until god bit me in the ass again and I ended up in ministry…
But mostly I learned some important stuff that I wish I had learned as a kid…
That no matter what I do or say or who I am, there are always going to be people out there who for whatever reason are going to hate me…Because I’m a man, because I’m white, because I allow myself to feel my emotions, because I believe in god, because I’m an American…because I’m ahead of them in the grocery store line…
And there’s nothing I can do about it…that’s human nature…some people just won’t like me…
So my choice in that then is either to hide in a bubble for the rest of my life….or live my life…as transparently and as un hypocritically and unapologetically as possible…as long as I was true to myself, and also didn’t inflict my reality on other people’s…or cause them pain…
In other words not to hide myself…for example to be the minister who has written erotica, who enjoys sex… And not be like a few ministers I know out there who indulge in their sexual pleasures…then go on Sunday and preach that the very things they did on Saturday are bad…
Or for me to stand up as a minister and say hey sex is god’s gift…and that ALL Christians don’t preach intolerance towards gays or are all against a women’s right to choose…
Or to be the minister that is not up on some pedestal, but sitting right next to them at the pub…
In other words to be real and to be a transparent in all things as possible…and accept myself, warts and all.
I have a singer songwriter friend named Karen Taylor Goode who’s won some Grammys. She wrote a song that has been one of the three founding passages that are sort of my personal code of life… The song is called “Real;”
“Last night I saw that movie, the one about the wooden boy
The good news is he could feel no sadness.
The bad news is he could feel no joy.
And it hit me hard…a puppet on the shelf.
So when he wished on a far off star
you know I made the same wish for myself
I wanna be real…real
Drop the act take off the mask and feel…real
Well I’ve been going through the motions
Pulled by invisible strings
And I’ve pushed down the hurt and held back the tears.
And covered up the dreams.
But beneath it all, trying hard to breathe
The me I buried long ago is screaming to break free.
I wanna be real…real
Drop the act take off the mask and feel…real
Let the fear go,
let the heart show
Let the world see me I wanna be real.
And good-bye wooden heart
Goodbye painted smile
I wanna dance in a crowd, I wanna laugh out loud
I wanna act like a fool, I wanna be uncool
I wanna cry when I hurt, I wanna sweat when I work
I want help when I fall
I wanna feel it, feel it all…
I wanna be…real.”
Being “real” is about being comfortable with all sides of my personality…the joy, the sorrow, the depression, and the fear that comes from stepping beyond my comfort zone…
Sometimes, hell, most of the time, being out beyond the fringes can be a lonely and scary place to be…But it sure as heck beats being 6 feet under.
The other lesson I learned is that if I am “Real;” If I show my sexuality, my joy, my sorrow, my fear even my shadow…Then I give other people permission to show that stuff they hide away too… That’s the biggest point to me being a minister….to help people allow themselves to be true to themselves…”
I referenced a sermon I gave in which I talked about the work of the artist and author SARK, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy. She is one of the people who I credit with their work keeping me from killing myself. She transcended incest and sexual abuse to become an inspiration to others.
This sermon was given at the Unity Church of Flint, Michigan on June 30th, 2019. In it I talk about transforming loss and other “negative” experiences into something beautiful; performing what the author SARK calls “inner alchemy.” Much like how the ancients attempted to transmute the base metal lead into the precious metal gold, we too can, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “…be transformed by the renewing power of your mind.” We can find healing and even joy out of the ashes of suffering. I share the inspiring example of my friend Chris, who has managed to create beauty out of the tragic loss of his daughter.
SARK is known for her colorful inspirational posters and books such as Living Juicy, A Creative Companion, Succulent Wild Women, Transformation Soup, and Glad No Matter What.
You can find more of SARK at her webiste PLANET SARK.