The Associate Pastor’s Tirade

Part I

We barrelled into Church a motley crue,

composed of one shoeless screaming to be

shirtless, who wanted to run and climb.

Hung from the other arm was one whose

Only desire was to scream and run, but

Who had cried out “I want Jesus” in the parking lot.

I came for the Living Water. Broken, tired,

I came to hear Him tell me love exists.

My husband came for me, and for hope,

And for the sense that everything will be ok.

The Mass is hell with toddlers on board,

But we trust heaven in it, because He is there,

Even when the darkness seems too heavy,

We are there because He came.

Today, was different though.

The air was heavy when we woke, as if it knew,

We fought to Mass, starving for the Bread.

Instead, we were met with him.

The man of God, but just a man,

Condemned those who fight for God.

The devil works in those who think they are good,”

He said, “racism is worse in other countries.”

Before he violated children’s ears with graphic fear,

Stuffing modern justice warriors with straw

Until they looked like war.

Scenes of blood and pain despair far above their heads.

The children grew impatient, shrieking,

They ran around the columns gleeful in rebellion,

As he compared defenders of the dead to spoiled children,

Like a baby girl’s father is less than a playstation.

Livid, we planted our feet on Jesus,

Crying out to Him, we stayed for only Him,

Left quiet, muted, but present.

We begged Him for His presence amidst the dark,

And He had already sent love to us, A family

just across the tile, with horror written on their faces,

They let us know, this Church cares for all the races.

We cried and laughed in anger with them,

Reminding each other of who God is, not this.

Part II

We dragged through the wreckage of

broken desire to reach the altar’s hope.

Heads hung in fear of what the Church could mean,

I lifted my eyes to Jesus, begging for His love,

And His arms reached out over three children.

The children were black, condemned by proxy

Through the entire hour long sermon for hate,

They sat apparently complicit, imprisoned to the wait,

No part of him asked if these children might be afraid,

As he spewed terror from the pulpit in defense of the racist horde.

Helpless, I watched as one child’s eyes opened,

And I asked myself if anything could take away what happened,

They may always remember that moment,

And God willing they don’t think it was Him,

This is why spiritual abuse is a sin.

Please Don’t Let Me Die

That song is playing agan

The one I play to praise

when I’m afraid

I won’t make it this time.

“Even when it hurts”

I pray again with beads

Clutched in my hand

Like a holy card or nun

Oh, God, Please don’t let me die.

It’s another one of those nights,

I don’t know if I’m dying

Or if my body is lying.

And if my body is lying

Is that better or worse than dying?

If this thing I live in can’t be

Trusted, or relaxed in.

If that, then how do I live

Again, how do I live this way,

How do I exist in a body

That lies? Or dies?

When Did I Stop Writing Poetry?

When did I stop writing poetry?

Was it when I told you who I was?

Was it when this place online

Became a place in your face

Without somewhere to hide mine?

When did I start preaching

Like so many talking heads

Doing the things I don’t do

Yet learned to, but still don’t

Understand how to.

When did I stop writing poetry?

Was it when you told me to take sides?

When my guts were pulled in both ways,

When you told me I am empty

Until I decide to play your games?

Hush. Take a breath. Be still.

When the poet speaks in the dark

There is no us vs. them, me vs. you,

There is you and you and you.

And me. Waiting for the words to come.

The Tapestries(from PEACEWEAVER)

While I was practicing yoga regularly, I redecorated my home. My tastes were bohemian, but I was concerned about surrounding myself with tapestries made in India about gods I do not understand. I searched for Catholic art, but I could not find anything that even remotely hit the style I was seeking. What’s more is that everything was the traditional Catholic paintings that I had grown up surrounded by, the ones that embraced suffering so fully that it was all I could feel when I saw them. Other people may not have the history I have with them, but there is a lot of pain and confusion for me in the typical Catholic art. As I continued to search I eventually found a few pieces I really loved, but they were so expensive I had no hope that I could afford them within the next century. I was so angry at how expensive everything was, and so frustrated that I finally decided to just get the Indian tapestries, but I would only get the ones that had a strong Christian spiritual meaning for me.

I chose a popular yellow tapestry with the symbol for Aum in the center because of how God had revealed Himself to me in their philosophy, a tapestry of elephants-which God had used to help me pray about some issues in my life, and a peacock tapestry that as far as I could tell was not associated with any deities. I treasured these tapestries. I took every picture in front of them, I planned which one I was going to use in the baby’s room, when I hopefully someday got a nursery. I laid them on the bed gingerly when I needed color in my room during long periods of stress. I designed my bedroom around them when I was pregnant with my first child.

As my two babies grew into toddlers, they used to love to play with the tapestries. During a time of particularly difficult post partum depression and hormone balance aggravated by what I can only ascribe to spiritual warfare, my oldest pulled on the corner of one that I had awkwardly hanging from the curtain rod in our basement apartment. It shredded down the whole side. She had pulled on it before leaving little rips, but this time the whole thing was shredded. A postpartum rage rippled over me and a she ran giggling to the other room, I ripped the tapestry in half, holding my breath while I cried so she wouldn’t hear me.

It occurred to me that that particular tapestry was probably not a great one to have around kids. My husband and I knew and understood the reason I had it and what it meant, but my girls would not for a long time. I threw the remains of it away mourning the independence I had lost. I cried too about how in motherhood the pretty pieces of art I loved were getting destroyed, the worst was a painted bowl I ate from for practically every meal. It was a bag of chunks of ceramic now, and it broke my heart.

The thought that the girls would not understand the tapestries stuck with me. For about a month I prayed and thought about it until in a progesterone and anxiety and spiritual dark night induced haze I pulled them all down and threw them all out. I kept the peacock one a little longer because it didn’t have a deity, but one day in another of these turbulent days I read on google there was a cult that worshipped Satan in a dark blue peacock, so I threw everything in my house that had a peacock on it away. (I found out later that the peacock is a symbol for Jesus so take that for what it’s worth.)

I honestly don’t know if it was wrong for me to have the tapestries in the first place or not, God knew it was about Him. I think maybe it was ok for me, but not my kids who were too young to understand and impressionable. As I began to do yoga and decorate again, I got alternating answers from God, yes yoga, no idols, yes art, no misleading art. I began to pray that God would help me create art that would meet that desire for color I had, and that He would help me to help others with the same struggle.

At first I thought maybe His answer was no. I started finding all these Catholic artists who were amazing. Plus, what I was trying to do with tapestries wasn’t working. I was painting, and when I did I prayed beforehand. When I work on any art, it is a prayer with the Holy Spirit, I ask Him for help and sometimes I can feel His guidance, sometimes I can’t, but the best is when I dive see the plan and it suddenly turns into something amazing and I can’t take credit for it. I went through a phase where nothing was working, these weird amalgamations of color sort of happened and took over everything I tried to make.

I hated them, and I felt so down on my work, Until a few months later, when I realized that the paintings resemble the crystals and nature art I love so much, but are all actually connected to God. I could not wait to buy every single one(but I had to because we were on a low income budget with toddlers. 🤦🏽‍♀️) What’s more is I already had them available to buy as tapestries. When I built my page on a website I didn’t even know had tapestries, I allowed them but it did not even occur to me that this was an answered prayer. Months later, in the middle of the night I woke up and realized I had created a line of bohemian tapestries that were rooted in God and not gods. The tapestries I needed 5 years ago. I laughed to myself once again about how the Holy Spirit works, and wrote this out for Him.

Selah

Note: This post is not meant to be a promotional post, but if you are interested in my tapestries they are available at https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/julia-odonnell

#Throughfire

As Quarantine began, the community led by Catholic Creatives exploded with innovators inspired to help others through their struggles. We faced our own giants of fear and trepidation, but something in us drove us to community and fellowship. My desire was to fill social media with art to help with the constant deluge of news all over our feeds. I went to Catholic Creatives who had a similar desire and together we launched the #throughfire.

We asked that you create art and share it on every form of social media. Now, the quarantine is at an awkward point of being kind of over but not really, and #throughfire is changing. Catholic Creatives must get back to their daily projects, so suzannagoretti.com will be the new home for the project. I will be sharing your art and hopefully getting to talk to you as you create it. I hope to get all kinds of projects involved so we can all see how many of us are joining together to walk through fire hand in hand.

Please continue to share your amazing works, so that we can keep this fire going. Thank you for all you are doing to bring Beauty to the darkness.

Write Where it Hurts: Quarantine

Quarantine.

For some of you it’s a dirty word.

For some it’s despair.

For some it’s loss and grief incomparable.

For me? It’s life.

For me, it was hope.

For me, it was a home

With incandescent joy and bliss.

Lie:The Problem with what John Cooper(of Skillet) said against Joshua Harris

https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/entertainment/2019/august/we-need-to-value-truth-over-feeling-skillets-john-cooper-reacts-to-christian-leaders-renouncing-faith

I grew up in the shadow of Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” The parents all around us were ecstatic and excited about this reverent and holy new way of dating, while I gazed on in horror and watched the future of my dating life crumble in the flames. You might think that sounds melodramatic, and, to be fair, this was my teen self, so it may have been, but if you knew the nights that my mom and I spent crying and screaming at each other, and how much time I spent crying into my pillow in confusion about sexuality and chastity, you would understand that it isn’t dramatic, if anything, it’s an understatement. I still deal with repercussions of the confusing anti-sex but pro-marriage theology put forth by those who adored Josh Harris and others like him.

When Harris came forward and renounced what he taught, admitting it’s flaws and being honest about the struggles and defeat it caused in his own life, I was devastated to hear the pain he is going through, but it healed my heart to hear him renounce it. I had lived by it because that’s what my parents and faith community believed was God’s word on dating, but I could see the damage it was doing while it was happening and I felt so helpless and confused by it. Harris humility in coming forward healed a part of me that had felt so ashamed of my own anger and confusion.

Much to my dismay, soon afterwards a singer I admire for his authenticity and raw honesty came out against Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson(the lead singer of Hillsong United who also admitted his struggles of faith.)

He said:

“Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once ‘faces’ of the faith are falling away. And at the same time, they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”

I was so disappointed in this. First of all, because I really like Skillet and I felt personally misunderstood because this was such a deep part of my experience. More importantly though, this is very dangerous thing for a Christian to say.

Here John Cooper is showing a profound misunderstanding of what Joshua Harris is experiencing, and giving way to some ways of thinking that could be very damaging to Christianity.

Something I find very powerful and admirable about what Joshua Harris did is that once he believed he had done something wrong, he did not repent and slink into darkness. Instead, he did everything he could do to right what he believed was wrong. John Cooper’s mockery of his ‘announcement’ completely takes for granted the pain that must have come along Joshua Harris’ experience. As someone who experienced a great deal of suffering because of him, it meant so much to me to hear him admit the problems in his work. What he gave everyone who had ever been hurt by him permission to do is to stop battling the fear that he was right, because he wasn’t so they can rest. That is so incredibly valuable and Cooper is devaluing it.

Cooper’s words about how people who ‘abandon’ their faith shouldn’t go talking about it is similarly insensitive and actually dangerous. On a human level, it is cruel to suggest that if you lose your faith after being an evangelist you should then be sentenced to a life of silence like some sort of permanent punishment for not believing.

More importantly, though, saying something like that calls into question the integrity of those who are teaching Christianity. Genuine testimony comes from the heart, from a real experience of God, especially in Protestant circles which is something I love about them. Cooper seems to be saying that those who are in ministry should only be public about certain experiences. That immediately makes me want to ask, is he being honest? If he believes he can’t speak out if he disagrees, can I trust when he says he does agree?

Now, I know on some level this isn’t really what he is trying to say. However, it does give an impression of cultivated truth that has been a struggle for me in the Church. Painting over Christian lives to make them look perfect and free of any doubt ever hurts ministry because people who are not of faith or who are struggling with faith can see this lack of authenticity. They may not know what it is or why, but they can feel it. I can feel it. When people push a Catholic to only write the positive things about godliness, or when people edited saints biographies to make them look perfect, or when authority figures tell teachers not to tell the truth, this all adds up to create a narrative of Christianity as full of unreliable narrators.

I would rather praise Joshua Harris for being genuine and authentic and pray that he keeps seeking truth than to condemn him for coming to a different truth than me. I believe God is truth and He will bring good out of our authenticity. On another level, part of the beauty of the Christian life is in conversion, and if one is not allowed to admit the feelings of doubt, or the suffering one is feeling in relation to the faith, it negates the possibility of sharing that story with others.bAfter my own miscarriage and some other trials, I was very honest about my trials with faith for a long, long time. These people also knew when I was fighting to get closer and when I felt like giving up. When I share my stories now, the know the blood, sweat, and tears that went into my conversion, and they understand that I am different than I was when I first believed. I had my phase of “la la la God is good,” Christianity, and a phase of “FEAR God” Christianity, and I am always journeying through deeper and newer understandings of faith and lacks of faith, but I could not share that story if I believed I could only share it when I was right. In fact, and a little ironically, for a long time I couldn’t write this post for that very reason.

Overall, I think something that Christians need to understand is that there is a profound value to allowing someone their own real life experience. God has given us free will for a reason and we all pursue truth in different ways and from different angles. There is something beautiful and perfect in that even when it scares us. I am not saying that everyone is right about everything, but we can’t just force everyone to share our opinions, instead we should encounter them where they are at, and try to help them through their experience. What if John Cooper were to put down his high horse, and write to Joshua Harris and say, “Hey man, I cannot imagine the pain you must be going through. More than a lot of other people I can understand what it feels like to be held up on a pedestal for my faith. Can I be here for you through this?” Maybe they could actually learn from each other and experience a profound community instead of Cooper seeming to shove Harris into forced isolation for struggling with faith the way that every Christian does at some point in their faith life.

Note: This post is not about John Cooper, I don’t know him he could be perfectly non-judgemental in real life. However, this particular incident is an example of the kind of things I have heard Christians say a million times and it is a great example to explain why this attitude is damaging. Please do not hate on John Cooper if you read this. If you are in a position to Joshua Harris some comfort and love though, be my guest. 🖤

In the Name of Unity: A Seder Meal

Many, many years ago today, the tribe of Israel, living in Egypt, hid in their homes, the blood of the lamb on the door, as a plague passed over them. Many, but less, years ago, Jesus, the Lamb, hid in an upper room, so that He could feed us before He shed His blood. Many years later, faithful people everywhere still commemorate this day. This year is different. This year, we are living this day. We are hidden in our homes, as the Hebrews were, and as the disciples were at first. This year we have an opportunity to be united as God’s faithful people in a very special way.

The tribe of Israel was chosen to be God’s people from the very beginning of time, according to Scripture. However, in the New Testament, we see Jesus welcoming new people, the Gentiles, into His tribe. The descendants of Israel must have been so angry. “You chose us, and now you abandon us, for them?” They had judged the Gentiles harshly and now they were the Messiah’s favorite? It’s no wonder, on a human level, that they did not accept Him.

What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that theologically, Catholics still believe Israel is the chosen people. Fulton Sheen talks about this in detail in The World’s First Love, but to summarize, Jesus said He came to fulfill the law not to abolish it, so what Catholics believe is that Jesus did not change who God’s tribe was, He welcomed more people into God’s tribe. We are His adopted children, because Israel turned from Him. However, Fulton Sheen says, we are still to believe that the Jews have a special place in God’s heart, and he even talks about the prophecy that before the end of time, the Jews will convert and we will all be united. All of this is why it is still so important that we pray and study the Old Testament. 

This year, I believe God has given us an opportunity to feel this unity in a more powerful way than we ever have. This year, we are hidden in our homes praying for a plague to pass us by. Some have even suggested putting red on the door posts somehow,( I have yet to figure out how I want to do this, painting the whole doorpost feels a little rash, and we don’t own the house, and I don’t have red ribbon.) What I would like to suggest is that we take time to live what we have in common. Today, on Passover, let us commemorate with the Jews as they remember waiting for the plague to pass over them, and let us all pray for this plague to pass over us. If it helps you to visualize it, maybe you could put something red on your doors. 

The most important and beautiful thing we have in common tonight, though, is the meal. Tonight, the Jews hold “seder meal” a special meal in commemoration of the Passover. Christians too, all Christians-not just Catholics, also have a special meal to commemorate tonight. Tonight, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, whether you theologically believe it is a symbol, or actual presence, or in remembrance, all Christians believe that this bread and wine is significant. Jesus did not institute this meal on the Passover on accident. On the feast of unleavened bread, He offered the unleavened bread(that’s why our hosts for Communion are made the way they are) up as His body, so that we would not miss the analogy He was making. The Jews used to sacrifice a lamb, He offers His body and His blood so that we will not miss that He is the new lamb. We don’t do animal sacrifice because Jesus came to replace the lamb. 

Tonight, then, what if we all in unity offered the seder meal. For tonight, we could meditate on what we have in common and share the tradition of unleavened bread and wine. Jews, Catholics and Christians alike believe in the importance of the bread, so maybe we all can eat some kind of bread in commemoration of this night. If you don’t have bread or wine, maybe just take some today to meditate on the meaning of this day, and live today in a different way than any other. 

For those who are not Catholic or Christian or Jewish, I know you are a little left out of this post, please know that I see you, and I want unity with you too. There are many divisions in this world, and one of the reasons I write is to help people see common ground. We have common ground with you too, I just have to shed light into one spot at a time. 💚

Stay: For those in Isolation

Dear Friend,

You are lonely tonight. 

When the rest of us cheered

Delighted at time away,

Your heart quaked in fear.

You were faced with isolation,

Alone with yourself,

You are haunted by your demons. 

I have fought that dark fight 

When night seems endless

I begged for release and screamed

While no one could hear.

Please, friend, be patient.

Stay with me.

I’m here. 

Here in the deep, 

you are not alone. 

I am reaching out my hand to you.

Touch me.

Let you fingers linger on mine,

As I tenderly stroke yours.

I will sing to you tonight,

Whatever is your favorite song.

Lay your hand in mine,

Let me hold your weary bones. 

Stay.

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