Franklin Graham, Amygdalas, and the Futility of Fighting with Fear

Amygdala of the brain, artwork

Amygdala of the brain, artwork

I made the disastrous mistake of accidentally reading today’s Islamophobic diatribe from Franklin Graham (how did this show up in my newsfeed? I *blocked* all FG posts ages ago!?).

But instead of getting mad at him or losing my shit over the comments (because seriously – my head pops off and fire erupts **exactly like** on InsideOut, which is the most emotionally accurate film ever made – don’t even try to debate me on this.), I scrolled through comments, careful NOT to read them, and prayed a blessing on each Image Bearer who commentstands either in solidarity against Muslims, or against those who’re against Muslims.

Because listen: Scared people don’t need to be yelled at or berated. They don’t need to be mocked. They don’t even hear it.

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God, The Gays, And For the Love of All That’s Holy, Context


There’s a thought that’s been marinating in my brain for a while. I haven’t made a point of saying it out loud (or in print) until now because it’s been said a billion times by better authors with wider audiences, and I am therefore, essentially, a mockingbird just singalinging what I’ve heard.

But it struck me one day as I sat in church not too long ago, and again this evening when I read this HuffPost piece which features a tweet from a dear, gay friend of mine who’s spent the last decade at war with himself over his sexuality and what God has to say about it, and who now blogs over at The Gay Post-Evangelical. He’s been clobbered by the clobber verses a billion times, including in the comments of that HuffPost thing, so I feel the time has come to speak up.

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Mid-October Life Assessment: 14 Lessons I’ve Learned So Far or “Don’t Streak, Be True, Prioritize Passions, Vaccinate Your Kids, Do Scary Stuff, Delete Meanies, and More”

Here is a pretty picture of a leaf in the woods. It is October, so leaves right?

Here is a pretty picture of a leaf in the woods. It is October, so leaves right?

In the middle of the night last night, I was awake and figured I might as well dive head-first into my first annual Mid-October Assessment of the Year Thus Far. Here’s some stuff I’ve learned.

1) Streaking is a bad idea. Joining The Latest Challenge or diet or whatever is possibly probably a terrible idea. Your body needs more than grapefruit. My muscles do need rest days. It’s okay to take them. It’s okay to say, “Hey it’s cool that you can run every day or run super fast even though I can’t. I can do this other thing, which is also really neat.” Don’t try to be like someone else just because a bunch of someones are being or doing the same thing. Sometimes they’re all jumping off a cliff, and that’s rarely a good idea unless there’s water below and you’re already a good jumper and swimmer. I digress.

2) Overtraining is real. Shitty seasons are real. One week you’ll be on top of your game, and the next you’ll be sidelined. There’s a season to plant, one to water and grow, one to harvest, and one to rest. There’s also the fallow season – the long hibernation of soil/soul. Honor the season you’re in. Move with it.

3) Do what you love, and stop when it becomes work or an idol or something you hate but keep on saying you love even though it’s a lie. Tell yourself only true things first, and then do only true things.

I’ll start:
I hate running marathons.
There, I said it.
Now, I’m not going to run anymore marathons until that true statement changes.

4) Self-care is where others-care begins. You can’t pour from an empty glass, no matter what all those supermoms and lay popes try to make you believe. Do yoga. Read daily. Sip your coffee slowly, but don’t let it sit too long. Sleep in. Take your time on the toilet, especially if you have kids and can lock them out. And get super-full before you go emptying yourself into others who deserve you, and deserve the best of you.

5) It’s okay to care about everyone and everything, and believe every cause that matters to someone should matter to you too. But be careful, or you’ll be the guy donating $2 to every charity who sends him a letter. I mean, $2 to 500 causes is great. $1000 to the one that makes your heart stop and then start again is maybe better. (Did I math that right? Anyway.) So try to think of your passion like pennies: you only have so many, and it’s good to prioritize, to save up and drop the paper money on the Really Great Ones, rather than dropping a penny here or five there on a bunch of bottom bin gum drops that lose their flavor before the wrapper hits the floor. Also, be creative. Sometimes you don’t have to spend pennies to show you care.

6) Like nuclear waste, long-buried family secrets are still deadly toxic 50 years after the fact. Maybe moreso. Unbury that shit, name it, and torch it. Things might explode. Things might be irreparably damaged. People might not want to talk to you anymore. That might be okay.

7) When you’ve grown up and have left and cleft, your family is who you’ve married, who you’ve made, and who you choose. Blood isn’t really as thick as we’ve all been told. So when you’re big enough to choose your family, be picky. And know this: When blood family does spill your blood, you’re more likely to hemorrhage. So grow thicker skin and stay away from the ones with sharp words and ways.

8) Try to be the kind of parent who makes it easy for your kids to not have to worry about nuclear family waste and all that blood-letting stuff. The only thing they really really need to know is that they are loved no matter what, and that is enough. And maybe to also be kind to others because others are also loved.

9) Don’t be afraid of all those emotional taboos like depression meds and therapists. Your mind and spirit need and deserve the same level of care you give your body. If you’d see a doctor for cancer of the lungs, make sure you see one for cancers of the spirit. It’s my believe that everyone should have a therapist on call; mine has saved my life a few times.

10) Those cancers of the spirit and mind – depression, mental health disorders, etc – are real things. It’s not a bad day; it’s a chemical imbalance. Please don’t be mean and ignorant and suggest those who need help just need a good prayer partner or a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude!).

11) It’s okay to be an essential-oils-loving, chiropractor-seeing, acupuncture-getting hippie who shops 100% organic and has her own garden of fresh veggies and fruits. That’s really cool, actually. It’s also okay to eat out every night of the week, drink pop, take ibuprofen, and buy your non-organic gmo-full grapes at Target. Just don’t be a jerk to people who don’t do it like you do it.

This goes for pretty much everything, with one exception: Please vaccinate your kids.

12) Know your professional and personal worth. Some might think you’re an arrogant jerk for saying, “hey, you can’t treat me like that.” Or, “actually no, you need to pay me more. This is what I charge to do this, and you’re not the special exception.” This is especially important if you’re any kind of artist or creator. Those people are the jerks for treating you like that. Know your value. Work hard to grow your value. And don’t work for anyone who doesn’t affirm your value. Okay, scratch that. You need a job, and it’s too crappy an economy for everyone to be paid what they’re worth to do what they love. But you know what I’m saying: don’t let anyone screw you over. You’re better than that.

13) Do stuff that scares you. I don’t mean jump out of a plane, though that is scary. I mean, if you’ve been thinking about writing songs but you’re afraid they’ll suck, they probably will but write them anyway. That’s what I keep telling myself about doing this blog writing thing more often: It may suck. That’s okay. Ann Lamott said I have to write a shitty first draft, so here I am. Don’t not do something because you’re afraid it won’t end well. Do it because you’re bigger than your fears.

14) It’s okay to say goodbye. It’s okay to play fast and loose with your unfollow, delete, and block buttons on social forums. Most of us strive for respectability. All of us fail at times, maybe even often, forgetting those are humans typing at us and absorbing our rants from behind another screen somewhere. We can all do better. We can be nicer. We can think before we angry-type.

And we can also say to those who haven’t quite learned, “No, not with you. Not today. Not tomorrow either.”

What are some really important lessons you’ve learned so far this year?

The Sinners Prayer, Hell-Bound Babies, and How Sin Saved Me

Continuing to process Cindy Brandt​’s ‘Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist’ series, in particular one guest post about why her family doesn’t say The Sinner’s Prayer…

The more I think about it, the more I come to the stark realization that while my “salvation experience” at age 4 (yeah – I was an early bird) was certainly real, it was not an “I have decided to follow Jesus” moment. Rather, it was my, “My four year old terrified brain cannot bear the thought of spending an unfathomable eternity in hell because I [fill in the sin]. So I have prayed to Jesus and He has saved me from hell” moment.

the sinner's prayer

I met Jesus for the first time, and chose to follow Him, in the midst of “sin and darkness” a full 19 years later. I was sleeping with my then-boyfriend (now-husband) while certain family and friends were furiously (not in anger, but in dreaded worry) demanding we stop, break up, or face doom both in this life and the next. They scrambled to ensure my 4yo sinner’s prayer was authentic, and worried themselves sick that it wasn’t.

Yet, while others were screaming, “FIIIRRREEEE! Fire, Amy!! Your house is on fire!” I was standing in the living room decorating with Jesus. I was setting up shop in the House He was building. I was getting to know the One who loves me, period. Who desires and designs a life of Good for me, and Whose greatest gift to me yet was this boyfriend with whom I was hurtling headlong into destruction.

Even as they worried, screaming that our lack of purity would be our certain doom, I was hearing the persistent, quiet voice of Jesus speaking peace. Speaking wholeness. Dismantling the myths of purity culture in which my previous “pure” relationships had left me shattered and disillusioned.

Jesus used this One Penultimate Sin (the ultimate being apostasy) I’d been taught and believed would invariably be the destruction of everything, to construct in me a new, living, breathing, For-Jesus faith.

In other words, the very thing I was taught would destroy me completely was precisely what Christ used to save and recreate me; To transplant me from the faith of my family into a faith of my own. As I disastrously diverted from their path, Christ paved a new one for and with me.

Perhaps I was saved from hell at 4-years-old and guaranteed my place in heaven. Who knows? Maybe? I’m more inclined to believe Christ saved me 2,000 years ago at Calvary, and that experience was my first spark of recognition, of becoming who I am: Beloved of God, Rescued.

But either way, the more I learn of Jesus, the more I’ve come to believe Jesus doesn’t want us to “choose” Him as an escape route. He is not – as they say – our “fire insurance.” [Insert disturbed groan here.] He wants us to choose Him because the love and long-suffering He has demonstrated toward us even in the midst of sin is unparalleled. He is the Lover buying His whoring wife back over and over and over, saving and sanctifying her by His relentless faithfulness and Love, regardless of her faithlessness and infidelity.

He wants us not to respond negatively to the idea of hell (because how unique or special is that?) but positively to His inexhaustible pursuit. He wants us to say “YES!”

I’m not here to defend sin. We are broken people who, since being deceived and kidnapped by the Enemy, are bent on serving self rather than God. We are hopelessly lost in our pursuit and embrace of counterfeit loves. We are perpetually missing the mark, perpetually straying into ditches, and in perpetual need of salvation and sanctification. It’s my belief that Christ, in Love for me, dismantled and dethroned one god (sex/purity) by undoing its power against me, and put Himself rightly on that throne by showing how small of a god it was compared to how great of a God He is.

Neither am I saying it’s inherently wrong to pray for rescue from doom. Surely it’s a good thing to cry out for rescue when we need it, right?

I am, however, trying to flesh out the ramifications of the destructive teaching that our kids are doomed by their Maker until and unless they say, pray, or behave in certain ways.

I am sure it’s cruel to “Scare The Hell” out of little kids whose imaginations are more vibrant and active than mine’s been in ages, and for whom such cruelties birth years of tortured sleep. (They did for me!)

I am sure it’s inherently wrong to teach them that unless they recite a prayer and beg for mercy with appropriate self-loathing, and spend the rest of their lives doing the Rain Dance of Righteous Affirmation of Correct Doctrine, a “loving” God will torch them. Literally, and eternally.

I am most sure it’s an ineffective means and measure of fostering real, loving, fearless, shame-free faith in young hearts. For, once a young child grows out of childish fear he may start to wonder what kind of god functions in a way so opposite of “love” and yet insists on defining himself as “love incarnate.” And he may (rightly) reject that god, or, absent any understanding of a truly Loving Divine, (tragically) reject the idea of God altogether.

More often than not, atheism is the son of destructive theism.

I mean, if I am forced to choose between the “Angry God Dangling Me Over the Pit of Hell Because He Is Loving” and “No God At All,” I will unflinchingly choose the latter.

It is one thing to teach kids to “fear [revere, respect, honor as we revere our personal heroes] the Lord and serve Him only.”

It’s another thing entirely to teach them they must somehow simultaneously love and be adequately terrified of a god who is so oxymoronically “loving” that he will destroy them unless.

In my 34 years, I have yet to figure the math on how one can unashamedly, fearlessly Love the God she fears will otherwise unleash her to eternal conscience torment.

“There is no fear in love,” right?

But I have become and remain an overjoyed student of Love. One who was moved from a coward before the theology of death and fear to a disciple of Love.

And with all the hope, faith, and love I can muster, I wish the same for my kids.

Dear Trans* Friends

Dear Trans* Friends,

I mean that: you are dear. As in, beloved.

Yesterday, after a day of some battling over a certain Trans* woman – I’ll call her Caitlyn, because that’s who she is – I wrote a message for you.

I wanted you to know that to me, and many others, and especially to the God I worship, you are not abominable. You are not broken or crazy; you are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, as you are, right now. You are beautiful. You are Image Bearers who each, in your own unique way, in keeping with all humanity, Image Him in a way no one else ever has or ever will. You are stunning.

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SURVIVOR STORIES: Picking Up Pieces – Why Josh Duggar’s Redemption Isn’t The Point

**Trigger Warning: The following post contains discussion of sexual assault & sexual violence, and may be disturbing or triggering to survivors.**

As anyone who follows my Facebook goings-on knows, I wasn’t remotely surprised about last week’s Duggar Scandal. I’ve been very vocal in my criticism of Quiverfull Patriarchy sub-culture and the abuse and repression endemic to its fundamentalist theology.

What was largely lost, yet again, in the blog-flinging from both sides – those condemning Josh’s actions and the QF movement, and those rallying in support of the Duggars – were the voices of the victims. So, in gratitude to and support of a brave soul whose experience closely mirrored the Duggar’s story, and who courageously raised her voice via this blog before, I offer her perspective in her own words. ~Amy


When I was 12 and my brother was 14, I was awakened one night by his hands pulling off my underwear. I froze. As he fondled me, I sat in the shame of that darkness completely lost. After he was done, all he said as he left my room that night was “don’t tell mom and dad.”

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Every. Single. Day. (a tribute to my long-suffering husband)

breakfast copyThis morning, my husband brought me coffee in bed.

It was steaming hot, delicious, and perfectly sugared and creamed.

He brought it to me at 9:45am, after having gotten up with Eli at 7:30am.

That’s right – he let me sleep in. Til 9:45am.

I know, right? I’m one lucky broad.

I say all this like it doesn’t happen every day.

I’m serious people:
Paul gets up with Eli each morning, letting me sleep in like a pathetic college kid, and waking me up to the half-gone day between 9:30a-10:00a with a steaming cup of coffee Every.Single.Day.

I’m not telling you all this to brag. I mean, I totally could be bragging, and I’d be right to do so. My husband loves me well in these small ways

I’m telling you all this because lately, I’ve been a horrible wife. I’ve been keeping records of his wrongs.

Like, it makes me so mad when he empties and refills the dishwasher, but neglects to wipe down the counters and stove.

It drives me bonkers when, after cooking my favorite meal – asiago cheese egg-in-the-hole bagels with bacon – he doesn’t wipe the table off, and leaves the dishes in the sink instead of taking them to the dishwasher.

Want to know what really drives me mad? When he takes his sweater off at bedtime – so he can comfortably curl up next to me – and throws that sweater on the otherwise clean and clear floor.

And good lord, when I come home from a 10-mile-run during which I enjoyed an hour and a half of uninterrupted “me” time while you solo-parented our child, would you please not ask me how it went? Geez!

Horrible husband, right? 10462897_10152275567138353_1989830656401881856_n

You can punch me in the face now.

One night, after a fight, I went to sleep in the other bedroom. Not necessarily because I didn’t want to sleep with him (though I didn’t), but because my mind was racing a million miles a minute, and I needed to get clear. So I googled stupid things like, “What to do when your husband doesn’t appreciate you.”

[Before you go any further, just know that I am keenly aware of the incredible irony of my previous sentence.]

I stumbled across this blog. The author tells about how, when she told her mom she wanted to leave her husband, her mom said, “Do this first: Make two lists. The first should be a list of ‘everything that makes him impossible to live with’.” She assumed the other list should be of his good qualities. But instead, her mom said to write down opposite of her grievances all the ways she responded to them. Then, her mom said tear the sheet in half and throw his side away. She was to reflect on HER side of the paper.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

Then, yesterday my husband – the very one who makes me coffee each and after letting me sleep in, and who usually takes that morning time to do the one chore I absolutely hate doing (dishes – you know, when he fails to wipe down counters. Ugh.) – shared this blog from Business Insider, declaring that, scientifically speaking anyway, the one thing that practically guarantees marital bliss or destruction is kindness. Are you kind to your spouse? When he invites you into an intimate moment – whether it’s about a bird chirping or snow falling or a funny video or a job frustration or straight-up sex – do you turn toward him, listen to him, affirm him? Or do you turn away? Do you ignore him, or worse, make him feel like he shouldn’t have bothered because you just don’t care?

Turns out, marriages that last are always built and nurtured by two kind and generous people.

And recently, anyway, there’s really only been one kind and generous person in my marriage.

The other one has been a raging bitch.

It’s me.

I’ve held him to these impossible standards and unrealistic expectations. I’ve kept a tally of minor grievances, even making shit up when the list isn’t long enough to match my unreasonable and disproportionate rage, while failing utterly to notice the myriad ways he loves me so well Every.Single.Day.

Whatever list I may be able to make of his “wrongs” – which, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are *just so horrible* (she said, tongue dripping of sarcasm) – the corresponding list of my responses is dastardly.

I wrote him an email at 1:30am this morning to tell him I’ve made the right list. That I’m trying.
That he’s a good lover, a champion friend, and a faithful and long-suffering teacher of generosity and kindness.

That he deserves to be noticed, acknowledged, hugged, kissed, thanked, seen, heard…

I apologized for being a demon woman.

And I told him I would have asked for his forgiveness if I thought for even a second that he hadn’t already forgiven me.

But he had.

And he does.


Ever Widening Circles >> Finding a Voice After Sexual Assault

“I thought I could fly…well, at least until my wings were clipped at the age of 4 when I first lost my innocence to my grandfather.”

In my last blog, I told a little bit of her story…

She was four years old when her grandfather molested her for the first time.
She was five when he raped her to the fullest extent of the word.
She was eleven before he quit, presumably because she’d soon begin menstruating.
Soon after, another family member began molesting her.
When told, a trusted youth pastor brought it to her parents rather than the police.
They not only deemed her a liar, refusing to believe her, but threatened her with shunning and worse if she didn’t remain silent and protect family secrets.
And in the decades since, she’s sunk deeper into their grave of lies, afraid to speak, afraid she doesn’t matter, afraid what they said about her worth, her belovedness, her value – or lack of all – is true.

Now, at 32 years old, she is beginning to find her voice.
It’s my honor to share her story in her words.


I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it…

waterdrop Funny the way life circles out and then back and then further still again. Often the journey is conceived geographically, but it’s the circumnavigation of waypoints deep within that map who we are as the circles widen.

My roots are nestled deep in the rural South of the US. There’s a friendly politeness to the people even if it lacks any genuine concern and a certain brand of Christian religion weaves through-out the culture. God often seems not one of compassion for those of us who doubt, question, are gay, or live in the grayer areas of life, but a God who casts off any who struggle to walk the straight and narrow.

For a precocious child who found turmoil way too early in life, I’ve found that such beginnings reverberate for years even as our small circles widen until we return again only to reach out further still. It’s hard to hold hope in such a God, especially when life curves.

Innately, I was always a bit of a risk taker, I pushed the envelope, I questioned everything, I thought I could fly…well, at least until my wings were clipped at the age of 4 when I first lost my innocence to my grandfather. For a while, I fought as best as a child could. I became insolent and angry, and in the midst, tried to reach out to the Church and my family, all who labeled me the problem. To them, it became more important to protect those who hurt me than how I felt. I lost all trust. As the next several years wore on with no relief, I slowly lost the rest of myself. In 9th grade, alone and with not much hope to cling to, I tried to kill myself.

In the hospital I found that tumultuous anger got me nowhere. So, I numbed to the pain and instead sought comfort in food and cutting. AND as my circles widened further into college, grad school, and finally, divinity school all of which I ran away to, to make sense of life…like my hidden scars, my weight increased proportionally through the years.

I’ve been to Burma and back, Appalachia and back, San Francisco and back, and a number of other places…and if any answers were found, it only lead to more questions.

AND then my life circled back to where I swore I’d never return when I left at the age of 17. BUT see the roots of my present journey started in the previous circle while I was in Nashville. The place I came to know as home. It was there that seeds of hope were first planted quietly in music, which has always been my life-blood, and then friendship, my saving grace and anchoring; whose beginnings were unknowingly fertilized in the circle of my high school days.

Now in my 30s and somehow back in the hauntings of where it all began; I couldn’t just sit still and languish. I found the courage to return to one of my first loves…horses. AND in the span of a year, as I’ve fought to find myself again, I’ve loved and lost and gained in so many ways: Friendship that challenges and teaches much about love, trust, and family. A beloved pony who began to teach me how to fly again even when I fell and had to get back up again…and again. I’m no longer carrying over 100 lbs that I had before… AND because I think it has something to teach me and a couple of good friends have encouraged me, I am training to run a half-marathon in February despite the fact that I’ve never ran more than 2.5 miles up to this point.

I’ve found that you CAN’T run from the things that are killing you…instead they must be faced. AND that’s why we circle back. How else can we heal? Only then can we make another revolution, wider still, and bring life and love to those encountered along the way.

The process is painful, excruciatingly so…and I DON’T know if I will complete this one. BUT maybe I’ll FINALLY begin to live into myself.

…I circle around God, the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

*The poem bookending this piece is from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke.

<<<<< If you or someone you know has been or is being sexually assaulted, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE

If My Liberation Is Bound To Yours…

“White friends, from a basic to do list standpoint: displace. Sit in the pain. Invest in one relationship. Give. Share. Retweet. Read. Listen. Get to know the heart language of Black Americans. I cannot imagine how different the Ferguson protests would look if even half of the Ferguson police force took this advice.” ~Grace Sandra

Today, a friend of mine linked to a Deeper Story blog authored by Grace Sandra, in which she – a Black American – asks her white readers to do this simple thing: Sit, listen, invest, and “learn the heart language” of our black neighbors. She implores us to displace ourselves, to get beyond our privileged lives. To understand the systemic injustice at the heart of the causes we are often quick to champion (and even quicker to forget or abandon).

This comes on the heels of having just learned from our next-door neighbor that last week, just half a mile down the street at our local laundromat, he was handcuffed, maced, and booked by local transit police for having “stood too close to the sidewalk” while waiting for his wife to finish up a load of laundry.

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Dear Ms. Trainor: I Think You Missed The Point

15270741875_5019710647_mSo about that Meghan Trainor song… I think it’s time to have this conversation.

The party-pooper conversation you knew was coming from one of your friends sooner or later.

I’m that girl. Feel free to tune me out. Or feel free to be the other girl who’s angry with this girl for shaming The Radio Girl and in so doing upending and/or damaging the cause of feminism just as much as I perceive she is (even though that’s not what I’m doing at all).

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