Tag-Archive for » church «

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 | Author:

I’m not dating anyone right now. But I can guarantee you one thing: if I were, about 50% or more of the people in my life, upon me saying I was dating someone, would ask two questions:

  1. What’s his name?
  2. Does he love Jesus?/Is he following the Lord?/ Is he a christian?

storyofjo dating, Jesus, Church, Satire

Growing up in the church, it was clear to me that a potential partner (i.e. anyone I’d date, because why, for the love of pete, would you date anyone that you weren’t “probably going to marry”? —I have thoughts on that for another day) needed to go to church and be a Christian. Which, by the way, is the real question lurking behind the guise of the trite question “does he love Jesus” for at least 50% of those 50+% that ask.

Being a christian (read: church culture participation) was the most important thing. So much so that the people who know a guy or gal marginally enough to ask whether the person they’re dating loves Jesus often stop asking about the person after that question is answered.

My parents have been delicate in this with me, which I appreciate, but I didn’t know exactly what I thought about it until a couple years ago when I started to date someone who didn’t know how he felt about God and was not involved in the church. “American Christian/agnostic” was probably a good description of where he was at.

While we’re weren’t in a relationship, just going on dates getting to know one another, I found myself one afternoon in a car with my mom when she brought it up. I could tell she’d been thinking about it a while. It wasn’t her first or second question about him. But it still came to that question, or rather that concern (which, for the record, I think is fine. Parents, I hope you hope for what you believe to be best for your children. Christ, christian culture, church, whatever included.)

“I am a little concerned about the whole belief in God thing, Jo,” she said sensitively. I knew she brought it up because she cared.

My response, though it did not feel defensive, felt heavy, and my words surprised me and educated me on how I felt as they left my lips.

“He treats me well. He’s kind to me. He respects me as a human being. I’m sorry mom, but those are things that are more important to me right now than him believing in God. I’ve been hurt and disrespected by men who believe in God before. I’d rather date a kind, respectful man who doesn’t know what he believes, or knows that he doesn’t believe in God, than the opposite.”

I still stand by that. Because when it comes down to it, loving Jesus is a matter of the heart, and it changes you. I have known, and known of, far too many “christian men” who act in ways toward others I would never desire. I will choose a man with a loving, kind heart like Jesus’ heart (whether he thinks Jesus is a falsity or not) first and foremost, every time.

Ideally, I think life is often easier when couple’s belief systems line up. Ideally, I’d like that for my own life in the long run. Heck, ideally, I’d like to figure out what my belief system is for myself at some point. But when it comes down to it, when I’m dating someone, I will have far more questions that are more important to me than what his name is, and does he “love Jesus.”

Here are some good questions that should be answered about the man/woman you date or those you care deeply for are dating:

  1. What is his name?
  2. What do you like about him?
  3. Does he have a history of violent crime? (Yes, it’s still a crime if he wasn’t caught.)
  4. Does he batter women? (Yes, you count in that. Yes, every other woman counts in that.)
  5. Does he deal drugs?  (This can endanger you. Have you seen breaking bad?)
  6. Has he ever made you feel less valuable? (Chances are you are not “crazy” even if he says you are.)
  7. Does he participate in illegal dog fights? (Please tell me you’re not dating Michael Vick.)
  8. How does he treat the waiter when you’re at a restaurant? (Waiters are people too.)
  9. How does he treat poorer people? (Poorer people are people too.)
  10. Does he care about the earth? (We all should, but at least make sure you’re compatible.)
  11. Does he cheat on you constantly? (No, I’m not going to define “cheat” for you.)
  12. Does he cheat on you occasionally? (No, I’m not going to define “occasionally” for you.)
  13. Will you have to compromise your dreams, ambitions, or personality traits to be with him? (that’s right, sh*t just got real.)
  14. Is he part of the CIA and thus might have to lie a lot and probably get your house shot up at least once? (I know you loved the show Alias, but I’ve heard rumors that real life might be different than TV.)
  15. Is his main form of income acting in pornos? (Again, if you’re OK with this, fine, if not, it maaayyy be a red flag.)
  16. Is he racist, homophobic, or otherwise scared or hateful toward any people group? (No jokes here. 100% Legitimate question.)
  17. Does he ask you to have sex with others in exchange for money? (Unless you realize he is your pimp and you are ok with this. If that is not the case, this is not love, honey.)
  18. Does he require you to perform degrading acts in the bedroom that you do not consent to? (You have a woman-born right to get the hell out of that relationship.)
  19. Does he stone you for not wearing your burka? (Probably not a great guy.)
  20. Does he drown kittens for fun? (I mean, as long as he loves Jesus this one is probably ok.)
  21. Does he love to burn things to the ground and ask you to wait at home? (This is called arson and could leave you lonely while he is in prison.)
  22. Does he ask you to drive getaway cars when he robs banks? (This is participation in a felony — Orange probably isn’t really the new black. Just food for thought.)

But hey, pretty much all of these are fine if he goes to church. You know that, right? You didn’t? Oh, good, now you guys are set.

 

*Note. This is satire. If you didn’t catch that. Just wanted to be sure.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 | Author:

This is not an opinion on the passing of the marriage equality law.

This is not an opinion on homosexuality.

This is an opinion about people who call themselves christians. And the heavy weight that entails.

 

In my blog post a few weeks back, I wrote, “even with all my qualms, and doubts, and wounds from the church, I would still call myself a christian.”

It physically made my chest cavity hurt to write that sentence. Because as I have found myself on the outskirts of the church — sometimes by my own choosing, sometimes not — I have begun to see more clearly what the church looks like to the rest of the world. What christians look like to the rest of the world. And I have found myself relating more to those on the outside of the church — especially those who used to belong to the church and got hurt or disillusioned and left — than I relate to those inside.

The christianese language sounds foreign and fake to me though it once spilled out of my mouth with fluidity.

Similarly the ways the church talks about and approaches problems and hardships in life feels not just unnatural, but fake as well. Though I have lost touch with the church culture, I have not lost touch with the personality of God and his son. And I’m seeing more and more and more how much of a disparity there is between mainstream American christian and church culture and the personality of God.

And then there’s this: there’s a commandment — one of those ten big rules to live by in the Christian and Jewish life — You shall not use the name of the Lord in vain.

I grew up with that being explained as why we don’t say “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation.

For a long time I would notice each and every time someone around me said either of those. I didn’t mind it if they weren’t a christian, because I understood that those that do not follow a belief system should not be held up to the specific standards of said belief system.  But I still noticed it.

Then, a few years back, I was working for a church in San Diego in youth ministry and I came upon this study about the 10 commandments. When it came to the “do not take the name of the Lord in vain” command, I was blown away by the authors’ interpretation.

He said that the commandment is about misrepresenting God, not saying “Oh my God.”

And what had once been the most trivial of the commandments became one of, if not the most important commandment to me.

When you do things in the name of God that have no business with God, you are breaking this command.  When you spread hate in God’s name, you are misrepresenting the character and name of God. When you are vicious to the world that God so loves, you are dragging his name through the mud. When apartheids and slavery and crusades and protests at funerals and wishing ill on a people group and refusing to acknowledge someone’s humanity and refusing to forgive and standing up for a cause that is against people not for people all take place in the name of God — that name is sullied — for some people beyond repair.

The world is full of people who think they have been hurt by God, simply because the “people of God” hurt them using His name.

And this fills my throat with hot bile and my eyes with hot tears. Because that is not who God is. And if you are in the business of misrepresenting God to the world, you are not an agent of God.  You are worse than the merchants at the temple gates charging too much for sacrificial animals — the people whose actions Jesus so detested that he threw their tables and scattered their goods. The peaceful Jesus, the Son of Peace, is also a son of Justice, and when people’s actions under the guise of being “from God” keep people away from God, he will not stand for it. He will make a scene. Because as far as I can tell, there is nothing that angers God more than people hurting people and doing it in His name.

The repercussions are biblically harsh for people who lead others away from God, either by misinformation (i.e. the Prosperity gospel which doesn’t pan out anywhere where pain or hardship spring up) or by harm (like hateful words or actions).

It pained me to say I was a christian — which pained me then further to have that realization — because one, I want to make severely sure that if I call myself by the name of God that I am not misrepresenting Him. And two, because the label “christian” is so saturated by those who misrepresent the God who by his own definition is Love.

I don’t have an ending to this. It’s something I needed to air and get off my chest and challenge you with as I am challenged by it as well. The next time you speak or act in God’s name, please take into consideration that this is a huge command. If you have an opinion that you are not sure aligns with God’s, call it your own, not a “christian opinion.” It’s time we all stopped using God’s word, God’s will, and God’s name as an umbrella excuse to act and spout what we will without room for challenge.

We shall not misrepresent God. We shall not hate or harm in the name of God. We shall not keep people away from God.

I’m practicing this in my own life as well. It takes some guts to say what I think, not what I think God says. My hope is that what I think will align with God thinks often, but if it doesn’t, I’ve not marred His name or his reputation in the process. It’s up to me to own my own thoughts and actions. The higher power I believe in is not an excuse for any of my attitudes or behaviors. And I will not label them as such. God is love. If I am less than that, it is because of me, not Him.

To those who have been hurt by myself or another “christian” misrepresenting God: I’m so, so sorry.

To those that are gay, black, female, poor, of a different religion, or anyone who the church (including me) has outcast, ignored, or persecuted — I am sorry. My heart is changing. I am praying for the heart of the church to change. But I am certain that the heart of God has not changed — He loves you. I’m sorry if you’ve been fed a message that is different than that. It’s a lie.

He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. And He tells us, the hypocritical christians, to love you and one another as well. Not only in our hearts, but in our actions, in our lives.


 

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 | Author:

I wrote this poem almost exactly two years ago about some of the people in my hometown. I have moved away now, but they are still people whose faces light up when they see me in town, who hug me and ask how things are and are willing to hear the honest answers. They have taught me more about grace outside of the church than anything within the church walls ever could. Seeing some of them recently reminded me of this poem from two years back, and about how true it still is.  They are the reason that I still love my hometown — these people feel like home even though the town doesn’t.

 

Pieces – An Ode To My Hometown (May 31, 2013)

We’ve worked for years to make a life together.

We’ve celebrated births and birthdays

promotions and graduations

holidays and everydays.

We’ve grieved the loss of

daughters sisters cousins,

brothers sons lovers,

the old and the young we did not want to let go.

 

We’ve sat in hospitals, backyards, couches,

church chairs and on the carpets at the altars,

in campgrounds and at lunch tables.

 

A blended family

merged by pain and memory,

by the act of rejoicing and grieving together.

A mosaic of broken pottery,

together it felt like home.

 

Then it broke again,

bitterness shot through wounded friends,

our hard-work mosaic burst like clay pigeons.

My shotgun blast of truth

was all it took

to ruin the life we knew.

 

And grace happened.

When one by one,

people picked up the shards,

swept up the dust,

and deliberately decided to put their pieces back in the pot.

They were some people, not a lot.

Their actions and their words

could not be unread:

“Life is broken, but no one’s dead.

Here are my pieces,

I’m willing to build again.

I’ll put in the work to

bring you back to life again.

Let’s make another mosaic

different than the last time.

I don’t know whose pieces you’ll have

but you’ll have mine.”

 

And they came back to the table

where brokenness is made whole.

Where shattered lives are mixed

where selfless love is bold.

A family was re-cooped,

where hard life is what we do,

where my life can be rebuilt

where I can be made new.

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 | Author:

“Do you know of any churches in Denver?” I texted a pastor I know from California when I had just moved to Denver last fall.

He texted back right away: “Scum of the Earth Church. Pastor is Mike Sares. We went there last summer. If you want to go, I’ll let him know you’re coming.”

“It’s f—ing hard to find a church when I don’t trust the church,” I thought to myself, frustration welling up.

“Thank you. I’ll go tomorrow,” I texted back.

Then I found the tears rolling down my cheeks as I sat at the table alone in my new apartment, overwhelmed at the thought of trying another new church. Getting to know people who would eventually have to know my story if I was to be known. And knowing that with telling my story, I might be judged, outcast, burned again.

I pulled my laptop out right then and wrote the blog post from last fall that I titled “I don’t trust the church (but I wish I did).” Many of you have read and commented on that blog post, and in the responses, I have realized that I am not alone in my distrust of the church, of religion, of pastors.

But I went to Scum of the Earth church the next day after I first typed out that blog post.

While driving by where it was supposed to be, I did see one church kind of looking building between a dirty alleyway and a house, it didn’t have any sign saying “Church” or anything at all, actually. No signs. So I wasn’t sure that was it.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI parked and walked back, asking the people in patched vests smoking on the steps if this was the “scum of the earth church.” It was, so I slipped in and found a seat while the folks inside were singing in the dimmed light. A little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, danced barefooted and beautiful in the open space in front of the worship band.

Soon, a big, white-haired Greek man got up to the microphone at the front.

“We have something we do a few times a year here at scum, and it is consistently one of the most important things we do. That’s tonight. Tonight we are having our “story night” and we have a few people who will share their stories with us.”

I was interested, immensely, because I love stories. But also somewhat skeptical — I had images of “I was doing bad stuff, and God saved me, and now my life is awesome and I have no problems” testimonies. I was prepared to discretely walk out if that was the case.

But instead, three or four people shared their scarred stories, and none of them were just about some sort of conversion of how they “came to Jesus.” Rather, they were their personal stories. Stories of them as whole people, not as “good christians.” Stories that didn’t have pretty bows to tie around them at the end.

The stories did involve their relationships with God — sometimes how they started to get intrigued about God. Sometimes how they met him. Sometimes how they wanted to follow him, how they wanted to accept His love, but how the dark draw of cocaine, of men, of alcohol, of resentment and pain over the wrongs done to them made it a rocky pursuit at best.

Not that their pursuit of God used to be rocky but now was great. But the fact that one woman still was fighting the urge to not go out and F— some random man a few weeks ago after church to temporarily fill that void, that ache. The stories felt real. And in the midst of conflict. In the midst of wrestling. In the midst of the battle between I-want-to-love-and-follow-God and this-world-has-screwed-me-over-and-it-sometimes-feels-like-I’m-dying.

The church itself is not what I’m used to. It’s a conglomeration of church styles and ideologies, not many of which fit what I’ve grown up in.

But what I found during story night was a church who was willing to be honest about the struggle. Not the I-used-to-struggle-but-now-God-has-saved-me, but the I-am-currently-struggling. A church that is willing to be honest about the messes of life, and be a safe place for people to admit that they are sinners, that they are hurting, that they are doubting, that they are wrestling.

And I have never seen another church like that. I have never seen an entire church that can be honest about flaws. That can be honest about life. That enables the people in it and around it to not pretend to be better than they are.

There are still challenging messages about how we can and often should do things differently. How we can allow God to better us and heal us. But the bleeding wounds of the church people’s souls don’t have to be ignored or hidden there. And that is the most important thing I need in a church right now.  That’s why I stayed.

I sat down with Mike, the pastor, the other day and he asked, “did you ever go check out other churches?”

I told him the same thing: No. I saw that you could handle struggles in honesty. And that’s the most important thing I need right now.

Though I think I told him then, as I told them the very first night 7 months earlier: I like this church. But I hate the name. Scum of the Earth? Really? That’s not how God sees us. But I’ll overlook it because of your church’s honesty about life.

I went to dinner after that first church service with Mike and his wife and several others from the church. And I told them my story. “So, I don’t really trust the church, or pastors right now,” I said.

And without missing a beat, Mike, this new Pastor I had just met said: “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t trust the church or pastors either.”

Again, he and the church seemed willing to have people be honest about where they were on the path. Not just in a general message from the front, but at dinner at Pete’s Greek Town to me, specifically. They were giving me permission: I didn’t have to pretend to be better off, or farther along than I was. I was welcome. And I was welcome to be honest. As was the rest of the church.

When you look around the church, about half of the people look like the outliers of society — the punks, the goths, the homeless. They have different colored and styled hair, lots of large plugs and piercings, tattoos galore.

The other half of the people look like they’d fit in well in clean, professional social circles. You could find people who look like them in bulk in any church on a sunday morning — well dressed, they sit up straight, speak with an educated tone, and their classic-ness gives them the “good church people” air. I’ve always found this mix of the type of people in Scum curious, but valuable.

And as I sat in the back of the church on Easter sunday, I noticed that someone a few seats down from me smelled heavily of BO. And I noticed that a woman across the aisle smelled freshly of sweet perfume. And I realized as I looked around, as I’ve gotten to know peoples’ stories there, why it’s called Scum of the Earth church.

Because it is for those who society thinks, the church thinks, or they themselves think that they look like scum on the outside, or that they are scum on the inside.

And it was the first time I realized and admitted how scum-like I have felt over the past few years.

This church, it has brought me up a bit farther out of the cesspool. It has given me space to be honest from day one about who I am, where I have been, and the fact that I’m still wrestling. That I’m still doubting and questioning. That I’m still distrusting, and they said, “you’re welcome to be all of those things here. We are and have been all of those things, too.”

I get it now.

I’ll be sad to leave Scum as I move on in a few weeks. They have taught me that it is not a sin to be honest about life and struggle in the church. They have restored some hope to me about what a church could be.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, April 07th, 2015 | Author:

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I met him once, briefly.

“Sit, with the opportunity to listen to one of the ‘saints in the land’ speak… this morning,” were the chaplain’s closing remarks of introduction before Brennan took the stage.

“In the words of Francis of Assisi as he met brother Dominique on the road to Umbria: ‘Hi,'” he began in a slow, measured voice with a grin.

The crowd exhaled in full laughter, their air having been held in their lungs a little too seriously during the astounding and gracious introduction about him was given.

Brennan Manning, christian author and speaker, was in his 70’s and his light blue eyes had already gone blind. His friend and traveling companion had to lead him up the carpeted stairs of the stage to the podium from which he would address our sleepy-eyed college-student selves. It was a Wednesday in early January, 2010.

It was the first chapel session that I had attended at my christian college since being back from my year studying abroad. I didn’t know that Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and grace-touter extraordinaire was to be the speaker.

But he was. As soon as our Chaplain began introducing him, my heart and ears opened.

I’d first encountered Brennan’s name and face when I was about 11 or 12 years old.

I was at the Christian book store with my mom, and a book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, caught my eye as it stared up at me from a “15% off” table in the center aisle. I picked up the book, and flipped it over to find a picture of Brennan looking back at me. He had wrinkled skin and white hair, and the short bio said that he lived in New Orleans.

I was impressed that a straight-laced looking, older Christian author lived in a place I only knew of for it’s debauchery on Mardi Gras.

When I first heard the news of Hurricane Katrina hitting the city in August 2005, I immediately thought of him and prayed for him and any family he may have there. I had not thought of him or his book at all since seeing that copy of the book several years before, but somehow, the information had stuck: There was a ragamuffin christian who lived in New Orleans. May God have mercy.

When I was in my early college years, I had been fully entrapped in the cycle of abuse and lies that my story unfortunately holds. Dying on the inside, feeling like I was never, never good enough to get out of the cycle, I found Brennan’s Ragamuffin Gospel again, and read it. Consumed it. I didn’t understand grace all of the way yet, but I knew, I knew I needed it.

And as I sat in the auditorium of my christian college, and as Brennan began to speak his famous message of grace, I was ready. I was familiar with grace now. I had realized that the grace of God on the hurting, the dirty, the trapped, the grieving, the sinning, the I-want-to-be-different-than-I’m-able-to-be’s was the only thing keeping me afloat. And Brennan’s words drenched me that morning.

I went up to him afterward, tears streaming down my face and urgency in my shaking voice as I spoke to him.

I don’t even know what I said to him, aside from “thank you, thank you so much for your message of grace today and in life.”

But I do remember that as he faced me, he took both of my arms, and clasped them right about at the elbow, holding our forearms parallel to one another’s as we spoke. He looked me in the eyes, though he could not see and his blue eyes were cloudy. They began to fill with tears in our short interaction. He thanked me, I thanked him, and we parted ways.

I didn’t think of Brennan the person (though I did use his books often) much for the next few years, until almost exactly 3 years later, when my life imploded, and the shrapnel of shame and pain went flying, lodging into anyone nearby.

About a week into the aftermath of that time in my life, in hours of searching through the book store for something to distract or help, I found it: Brennan’s memoir. It hadn’t been finished yet at the point I had met him, but I knew, this would be the book of the season.

The book is titled: All is Grace.

The reason Brennan knew grace so intimately is that he was such a “ragamuffin” (of his own naming). Ragamuffin meaning, one whose only prayer could be “God grant mercy on my soul, a sinner.”

In the beginning of the book, he writes this: “Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a reason, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check.”

In his ruthless honesty about pain, about grief, about short-comings and sins, and shameful things, Brennan walked me through his life, and I found light in the broken places.

In a poem by  Leonard Cohen, it’s written: “There is a crack in everything. // That’s how the light gets in.” That’s what I found in those pages — a testament that God loved my cracked self, and that he could pour light and grace into me, and hopefully, maybe one day, out of me as well.

Brennan’s honesty of his story was a tiny shimmer of light in a very dark season.  I took my time over several months to read through the book. But I was finally finishing it on my way back from a trip to Israel in April 2013 when I heard the news — Brennan had passed away. I sat on the plane and cried a few silent tears. Tears for a man who was broken, who failed often, and who God used in huge ways to tell the world about the message of grace and love.

To this day, Brennan is one of the few Christian leaders who I would wholeheartedly recommend because of his ruthless honesty about who he has been, who God is, and that when you match those two up, the only conclusion is this: All is Grace.

——- ——— ——-

There’s a movie that’s about to be made about Brennan and his life which I’m really excited to recommend. It’s called “Brennan.” You can keep your eyes out for it to watch it, but more than that, there’s the unique opportunity to help it get created.

The movie is being made by the same folks that created the film “Ragamuffin” a couple years ago about Rich Mullins’ life (which was, obviously, one of the lives touched by Brennan Manning’s message of grace for the outcasts of the world). If you know me, you know I sort of despise christian movies, but I’m really, really, really looking forward to this one. They will execute it well, and it’s a story well-worth telling and knowing.

 ——- ——— ——-

Lastly, this is Brennan’s “A Word Before” note at the beginning of his memoir:

All Is Grace was written in a certain frame of mind — that of a ragamuffin.

Therefore,

This book is by the one who thought he’d

be farther along by now, but he’s not.

It is by the inmate who promised the parole

board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.

It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path

to others but kept losing his way.

It is by the wet-brained who believed if a

little wine is good for the stomach,

then a lot is great.

It is by the liar, tramp, and thief; otherwise

known as the priest, speaker, and author.

It is by the disciple whose cheese slid

off his cracker so many times

he said “to hell with cheese ’n’ crackers.”

It is by the young at heart but old

of bone who is led these

days in a way he’d rather not go.

But,

This book is also for the gentle ones

who’ve lived among wolves.

It is for those who’ve broken free of collar

to romp in fields of love and marriage and divorce.

It is for those who mourn, who’ve been

 mourning most of their lives,

yet they hang on to shall be comforted.

It is for those who’ve dreamed of entertaining angels

but found instead a few friends of great price.

It is for the younger and elder prodigals

who’ve come to their senses

again, and again, and again, and again.

It is for those who strain at pious piffle

because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself.

This book is for myself and those who have been around

the block enough times that we dare to whisper

the ragamuffin’s rumor —

all is grace.


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Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Author:

Note: The juicy stuff you might want to gossip about or think about or message me about or just generally know starts at the break part-way down this page. If you’re short on time, just start there. I know this is a longer post and your time and attention are limited. 

Second Note: Feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested or who it may help. 

I’ve been putting off this blog post for a long time now. While I do take pains to make myself vulnerable here as I sort through the crap of my internal and external life, I’ve been beating around the bush now for over a year, and I was just outright selective and silent about this before then.

But this is the thing: I’m about to start a story project, where I’m asking people not just to trust me with their stories, but to pay me to write their stories for them (see posts in the next few weeks for more info about the story project — I’m really excited to share it with you guys!).

And in anticipation of that I’ve been doing a lot of research and prep work on writing real, true stories of real life people and I keep running up against this problem: How do I convince people that those ugly, dirty, shameful, painful parts of their story are truly an important part? That’s it’s worth the pain of digging up the past to talk about it?

People are quick to want me to write about their accomplishments or their fun adventures — which we need, too — but it’s harder to get people to be honest and open about those painful parts. If I’ve learned anything in writing and reading non-fiction, though, it’s this: The painful parts are the most powerful parts. 

They have power to connect with the broken, painful places inside the readers. They’re the moments when I read them, that I as a reader take sharp breaths in because, there before my eyes, I see that someone else knows pain like I know it. I know that I’m not the only one. That I’m not alone.

And that is the most powerful message I’ve ever read or ever written.

So all that to say, I have a story I haven’t put out there in writing yet. It’s the painful, shameful part of my story. And it’s not going to just be one blog post. But this post can usher in the era of freedom that I’m choosing to be ready for. I’m ready to start letting my story breathe on paper (or screens as it may be), not just in unrecorded moments in hushed tones at cafes and on couches in which I’ve previously chosen to share it.

So this is me, doing what I’m going to ask others to do. This is me letting the pain hit the page. Letting the image you have of me as a person be shaped as it may be by the truth, for better or worse. Because overall, I don’t think it matters what you think of me. I think it matters how my story makes you feel. And if it makes one person feel like they’re not alone, then it’s worth it. Consider this an era for that as well.


I’ve written vague things here before about “I lost everything.” About my distrust of people and of the church. And about deep grief. This is what happened.

1999

The first time I officially saw him, he was on the lower stage at the front of our sanctuary. (I assume this, I don’t actually remember it, but I’ve seen the pictures). It was his wedding day, and I was 9 years old.

The first time I technically saw him up close was the next day when they showed up at Carl’s Jr. for lunch in the next town over from ours. I was next to him at the fountain drinks and went back to my table to ask my mom, “Do we know those people?” pointing to their table.  “They were the ones who got married yesterday,” she said. And we awkwardly said “Hi” on our way out to the car, having committed the grave sin of seeing someone you know while they’re on their honeymoon.

January 6, 2013

The last time I officially saw him, he was standing on that same lower stage at the front of the same church sanctuary.

He got up in front of a crowd and read a confession and apology he’d written ahead of time. The crowd was our 900 person church. He was the pastor in charge of all of the ministries of the church. The confession was about how he’d been “inappropriately involved” with me for “a while now.” The apology was to his wife, his family, my family, and the church.

He sat on a stool and cried while he read it. Something I’d never seen him do before.

I sat in the congregation, tears and snot making a steady flow down my face while he spoke, and while our main Pastor (different man, just to be clear) took over and read an apology I’d written ahead of time. He’d had the foresight to not allow me to deliver it myself — something I’m endlessly grateful for now.

It felt like hell. Actual, living hell. I so wish there was a less cliche way to convey that. But those are the only words I’ve come up with in the two years since then. Hell. It-would-be-better-if-I-could-just-burn-to-death-and-let-this-end Hell.

This was my deepest darkest secret that had held me captive for years and years, and it had just been told to 900 people, including everyone I’d ever been close with. I thought in a surreal moment somewhere in one of those two church services that morning, “I’ll never be as free as I am right now. I have no other secrets.” But of course, those thoughts came in between the hyperventilation and the crushing grief of seeing my entire world collapse around me, seeing the people I was closest to in life filled with so much pain and betrayal.

This pastor of ministries and I, we’d been fully-fledged “inappropriately involved” since a couple months after I turned 18. But our relationship had begun to be inappropriate in nature since I was 16 and he was my youth pastor.

Let me say it as delicately as I can while also being accurate — What was happening when I was 16-18 would’ve gotten him fired in a heart beat, but not arrested. What was happening when I was 18 until I was 23 when someone found out would’ve been cause for arrest had I not been of age. (Not that it’s any of your business, by the way. But there was enough misunderstanding and misinformation that I feel it’s valuable to at least be accurate as I air out my dirty laundry here.)

2 weeks later

The last time I technically saw him up close, it was in the next town over again. It was 2 weeks after our public confessions. I was in a store walking down the main aisle when all of the sudden he popped out of one of the side aisles directly in front of me. There was no turning around unseen. So I took a breath and proceeded. “Jo.” He said. I felt ice and panic stall my heart. “Hi,” I managed, meeker than I ever am.

“See you later,” he said with a harshness in his voice that I was more than familiar with. Then he spun his cart around and fled in the opposite direction the way you do when you’ve committed the grave sin of seeing the girl you’ve been inappropriate with for years once the secret has come out.

His tone was the same one I’d heard in countless drawn-out arguments we’d had over the years from which I always emerged feeling smaller, and slightly trampled on and disregarded. This time was no different.

It is the only time where I’ve spent significant moments in the vitamin aisle. And it is the only time I’ve cried in the presence of gummy calcium chews.  The supplements as my silent witnesses, tears and snot acknowledging the years of pain from that tone and that twisted relationship, I hoped he was wrong – that I would in fact never see him later.

And eventually, one day short of one year after what I’ve taken to calling “confession sunday,” I found myself unexpectedly forgiving him.

That story comes next time.

If you’d be willing to donate to support Stories By Jo: The Story Project where I will be writing people’s stories for them as I have done here for myself, please click the donate button below. Thank you so much for your support and for reading.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Author:

I was sitting in a new church, in a new city, feeling very unknown again for the umpteenth time. It was my first time to the church, and while it felt warm and welcoming, I still felt new, knowing not a single person there.

It was the end of actually a really touching, raw and honest church service, and the worship band started to play, and the song that we all began to sing was not new to me. Somehow in the singing of a common song, I felt a little less alone, a little less like a stranger. It was a song I’d sung in the past with people who knew me as well as you can know a person. It was a song I’d sung before when I was new in a church, feeling uncomfortable. It was a song I’d sung on my own, in my bedroom while journaling through some dark times.

I knew the song well, and it seemed to know me in my broken moment.

These are the lyrics:

 

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

 

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me
Never runs out on me
Never runs out on me

 

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

 

In death, in life, I’m confident and
Covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
Separate my heart from Your great love

And I stood there singing this song that I knew so well when all of a sudden I realized something about it for the first time.

At the end of the second verse, as it goes into the chorus again, these are the words: “I never ever have to be afraid… one thing remains… your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.”

As I sung those words, I realized that to me, what I’ve been meaning when I sing this is a reminder to myself: I don’t have to be afraid, God’s love never runs out on me. But not in the “We ran out of money now we don’t have any” way, but in the “my dad ran out on us” way.

I had never realized before that I’m afraid that love will run out on me. That those who love me will leave. That the God who created me would just decide that I’ve been taking too long, wandering too far, questioning too much, and that he would decide it wasn’t worth it to chase me anymore. I never would’ve voiced that before, but that’s the deep fear, the deep ache of things too scary to think about — that maybe God’s love, and others people’s love will run out on me.

And in terms of other people, that’s a real fear, because it’s a real possibility. I’m learning to trust people with my heart again, but that piece is still there.

But with God I’d never realized that that was a fear of mine as well. That’s not based in truth, or in experience. It’s just fear. And this song, that line, it speaks to those vulnerable, fearful places deep inside me and reminds me of what’s true: I don’t have to be afraid, God’s love will never run out on me. And it will never run out on you.

My favorite image of God is based in an old English poem I found tucked away in a book at my Uncle’s cabin one year, and it has stayed with me ever since. It’s called “The Hound of Heaven.” God is the hound of heaven, like a relentless dog that pursues and pursues and pursues us, across ages and spaces. We don’t have to run to God. I really believe that. We just have to stop running away and let him catch us.

This hound of heaven picture is what I know to be true of God — that he not just won’t run out on me… he’ll run after me. And he’ll never stop. His love is ferocious in it’s pursuit, relentless in it’s goal, and gentle in it’s touch.  That’s what I know of God.

His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.

And that calms my fears more than anything else ever could.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Author:

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photo credit: Flickmor via photopin cc

This is hard for me to write, even though I’ve been saying it with my actions and body language for more than a year now.

I don’t trust the Church.

And that breaks my heart.

Like the admission, “I don’t trust my husband,” or “I don’t trust my father,” it hurts to admit because one, it’s true, and two, I wish it weren’t.

I have always loved the Church — my home church and the greater Church. I grew up in the church. The rough brick hallways and the green and purple faded carpets have known my touch, my presence since they were erected in the first couple years of my life. I have spent a massive percentage of my life within those walls.

My home church looks kind of like a prison from the outside. All gray cement blocks and massiveness in the middle of a large parking lot between two barren and vast fields of dead grass. It is lonely and unwelcoming in presence and stature. But it was home.

People said that, about it looking like a prison, and I could see what the meant, but I had personally never seen it like that. It was the place that held all of my dearest people in the world. People who had known me since I was born. People who had seen our family through some of the most trying times, including my mom’s severe illness with Lyme disease, and the sudden death of my 21-year-old sister. These were the people who had been there through it all. Not just at the church — in our homes, in our backyards, in camping trips and missions trips, in the schools, at softball games — but in the church, too. That was our common home, and I was there more than most.

Now when I drive up — which I don’t do often — I see what they mean. It looks like a prison. A prison full of beautiful people who know how to extend grace and how to love one another, mostly. But a prison none the less.

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photo credit: .brioso. via photopin cc


When I enter, I feel like I’m entering the prison. I walk through the foyer, down the aisles, and into rows of seats and I get stared at (or intentionally ignored) the whole way, like a prisoner walking down the cell block, being eyed — plotted against, sized up, respected, scared of — but being eyed none-the-less.

I take my seat and rely on the word of the warden-pastor that I am welcome there, of course. And though I know he wants it to be true, it’s not. I am not welcome. I am tolerated by most, judged and unwelcome by some, and greeted by a few (who really mean it).

The stares, glares, looks of, “Oh shit, how do I respond?” are palpable and, I am certain, mostly unconscious and involuntary.

I have a few friends who make conscious and great efforts to welcome me — to show that they won’t just tolerate my presence there, but align themselves with my presence there. They seek me out to hug me and chat, or even greater, they come and sit next to me. That’s how it was nine months ago at least. That’s the last time I could bring myself to attend a full church service there. I went one time since then, just for the worship portion, when the lights were down, and I wept and had to leave before the rest of the service continued. I wept because I so wish I could trust the church. I so wish it was still my home. I still love those people who bristle at my presence — and I love them dearly — but I know that I am not a part of them any longer. I wish I could be, but the welcoming hands and eyes of maybe 20 in a crowd of 500 is not enough. I can’t belong to a home where I am tolerated at best by the masses. It is better to be unknown.

But this is the thing, yes, that’s just one church. But that was my church. And I know those people — they are good people. Real people. People who have been through the mire of life with me. And they stiffen when I walk in, unsure if they should even look at me. Because they are human.

And the thing is, the reason why the stiffen, why they bristle, why they stare, is because they’ve been hurt by something that involved me. The reality is though — I was hurt by something that involved them.

And as I think about joining a new church, trying to find a new body of people to belong to — I have met many groups of people who are full of grace and acceptance. But I am still distrusting because while they welcome me now, I have been welcomed before. I have been known before. I have been carried through the trials of sickness and death and grief before. But then there came something that was too much, and everyone stepped away. And I was left. Unwelcome where I was once loved. Tolerated where I was once celebrated.  A threat where I was once a servant.

Not just by a few. Not just by casual church attenders. But by pastors, board members, and life long friends who I called family.

It’s not that they’re just bad people. They’re not. I know them. They’re hurt people. And hurt people hurt people.

So I’m distrusting of churches. All churches. Because they’re all made of people who have the ability to be hurt, and then to hurt.

I’m distrusting of pastors more than of churches. So the pastors that are big on grace, I’m suspicious of because it makes me think they KNOW they need grace, because they know of their depravity, and it scares me to think of the people they have hurt, or do hurt with that grace-needing depravity.

And the pastors that tote punishment, I’m wary of because, truly, I believe in grace.

And the pastors that talk of prosperity and hope, I don’t feel that they can understand the depths of the brokenness that I have drowned in.

The only ones I trust are the ones who talk honestly and openly about pain and brokenness and the God that is with us in that. But actually, in real life churches, I have yet to find those pastors.

The reason I don’t trust churches is because I don’t trust people. It just breaks my heart that it was church people who taught me to be distrusting. And it breaks my heart that I’ve taught others to be distrusting, too.

So this is me saying I’m fledgling right now. I’ve been drowning for a long time and am trying to find my way to the surface again. If you’ve got your head above the water, if you trust people and belong to the church and feel welcomed, don’t follow me.

But if you’re drowning too, if you’re distrusting and hurting and it breaks your heart, I’m trying to find a way up, and you’re welcome to come along. I can’t promise that I’ll find the most direct route, but I’m searching, and I’m trying to be honest about the journey.

And if you’re distrusting and it doesn’t break your heart, I hope it will some day. I’ve lived on both sides of this line now, and while this side feels wiser and more enlightened, the other side is more fulfilling indeed. It is a beautiful thing to trust people, and to have them be trustworthy in return.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com