2 thoughts on “Johanna Finegan at Revoice

  1. What was spoken in this session reminds me of a post on SF written a few years ago titled “The Pursuit of Banality”. That article touched me very deeply during a season of deep reflection. For a while before that time, I felt this extreme tension between the ideal and real dimensions of experience. In an ideal sense, I thought it was good and necessary to speak plainly about different aspects of my experience so that I can grow as a person of Christ. On the other hand, the dynamics which resulted from acting on that ideal were quite devastating. I simply felt that I had to lock up most of who I was and what I experienced in community. Some of the consequences of sharing those inner parts included:

    a.) being told my faith is not enough, pray more
    b.) a lot of shaming silence and cold stares and
    c.) persons using scripture and personal information to hold power over me. In terms of the latter, that was not a matter of respecting or not respecting persons in authority; rather, persons in authority respecting and honoring me. What that looked like was someone would speak to me in a way that used scripture to tear me down. They had to feel like they were higher than me. Almost always those interactions were accompanied by cold and squinty eyes. It was hard to muster up the courage to call it out. When I did call it out, it was hurled back at me and basically told it was my fault that I felt that way.

    In one sense, what it really felt like was that talking about my weaknesses had convicted certain people in my community of the mask they were wearing. I remember receiving that insight a few years prior but I did not have enough support or really the courage to say that in a constructive way. I remained silent. In some ways, I believe there was an ideal thrust upon me where I was imagined to be a person other than I was. That person did not include someone who was schizophrenic nor a person who experienced same-sex attraction. I really felt like I had to fit the mold of this perfectly packaged baptist boy. If I did not fit that mold or say the right words, I was a failure. I remember thinking one time, “Just because you cannot see it or experience it firsthand does not mean it’s not real!”

    Backing up to a few years prior, by the grace of God and before I even knew Him, I realized that it is okay to feel weak. I was around 19 years old at the time working on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania raising livestock on pasture. I grew up about fifteen minutes distance away from the farm. This place was very special to me. The one manager and I grew really close. I lived with she and her family for a while. Her name is Sarah. I cannot even tell you the amount of time we had spent talking with one another. On slower days, we had occasionally talked for almost four to five hours. She helped me with so much of the crap I was working through and we also talked about many other things. Clearly, I was a salaried worker, haha. Without a doubt, that woman planted the Word of God in me. I am actually crying as I write this. Oh, I love her. However, I never told her about my experience with schizophrenia. I was so afraid to tell anyone. I felt a lot of shame about it. I finally told her about it a couple of winters ago and she was somewhat surprised. However, she also did not question my competence, validity, or ability to reason. I think one of the hardest things about living with that mental illness is the fear of others’ response and the possibility of controlling assumptions. If I were to say, “Yeah, I experience schizophrenia,” an assumption someone could make was that I cannot discern reality from delusion without ever asking me how if I discern the difference. I also believe that most individuals’ perception of schizophrenia is shaped by the witness of folks who live on the streets that yell to the dragons breathing out fire above them. Those are actually quite extreme cases. I know of a nurse that works for a medical clinic locally. She experiences schizophrenia. No one would have ever known if she had not said anything.

    Nevertheless, it was not until I gave my life to Jesus a couple of years later that I actually began to talk about it. The person I had first talked about this with was a new friend that I met when I moved here. I literally moved to this area a week after my rebirth. We had connected very deeply when we first met. He came over one night, and we were talking for a little bit and out of the blue he looked at me with a very wise stare which cut through my plastic smile and said, “Something torments you inside.” My heart began to pound vigorously. I could hear my heart beat pulsing out of my mouth. I broke down in gushing tears because he was right. We talked about it for a long time. Never once did he try to get the holy water! In the months succeeding, I had started to talk about it more with others in the church and received mixed responses. I was also very open to talking about my experience with same-sex attraction so that added a bit more color to the dynamic. That same friend also had acquainted me to SF. A lot of the writing on here put into words some of things I did not have a language for but felt deeply inside. That also added another color into the mix. In some ways, the difficulty I experienced in community was somewhat horrifying. I do not use that word lightly. Fists pounding on tables. Rage and screaming. When you are hurting and someone laughs at you which actually occurred more than I can count with my fingers. Not to mention the interconnectedness of small communities that extends way outside the church. Gossip. Slander. From the mouths of people I did not even know! I swallowed a lot of it.

    I remember one night in the thick of it in my pathetic little voice cried, “God, please just send me a star. Please.” I looked out the window hoping and waiting for the star. I read through the gospel of John and I kept looking out as I read. Still no star. “What am I, Thomas?” I laid down to go to sleep and just when I was about to close my eyes, this HUMONGOUS shooting star flew across the sky. You could see blue and yellow and red in the trail of light behind it. “Thank you!”, I screamed really loud and started to dance around my room. I felt like a new man the next day. You know when you see a woman in high heels walk confidently down the hallway—click, clacking and not a sound out of step. That’s how I felt. Haha. Yeah.

    Anyways, so then, it got hard again about a week later and I went to the window that night and I asked again. The same thing happened. Another one shot across the sky, although, not as brilliant as the last one. This occurred about four more times within the next six weeks or so and then there was one night when He didn’t send the star after I had asked. I felt like He was mad at me. The next day, I said to Him, “I don’t need a star to trust you. I know you are with me. I know it!” Just before I closed my eyes that night, I saw a shooting star. Later, when things started to get really hard instead of asking God for a star, I would pray those same words to Him. On the same day that I prayed that nights I saw a shooting star at night. I was really starting to get it. He wanted me to know He was with me and that He loved me. There was this defining moment when I knew without a shadow of a doubt that He loved me even in the midst of my afflictions. Talk about shooting stars galore. After that moment, I even saw them in the day time. It was crazy!

    The human to human thing is hard though. Love is hard in this world sometimes. I think the one thing that I really learned in all of that in relation to Johanna’s speech is that we cannot sympathize or empathize with the weakness of others if we cannot recognize it in ourselves. Jesus knew what every human experiences. He felt the agony. He tasted it. He is not afraid to sit in that with us. He does not run away from us as if we are Frankenstein’s monster.

    Anyways, one of my closest friends who imitates Christ well came over early yesterday morning for some coffee. We are intentionally setting time aside to grow in holiness together while he is home. We were reading through some Tozer and passages from the New Testament. The rule is that whatever comes to surface we will confess whatever rises up in our conscience both good and bad and pray over those things together with God. That is hard work. Later in the day, he and I were applying enamel to an oak dresser and two nightstands that we had built. I had chuckled out loud and he asked me what was so funny. “Well, one of the voices said, ‘If he comes to my church, I’m gonna throw poop at him!’” He just laughed, “Why? Hahaha.” “Who was it?” He asked curiously.

    I mention this because I want to show that I can speak very plainly with him. He is also a friend that can correct me and I would not even question his intention because he knows me and I know him. If he tells me to do something or think in a different way, I will most often yield his counsel and do so.

    In terms of the voices, sometimes I hear people I know and sometimes I do not. At different times in my life, it felt like there were six people standing within four inches of my body demanding that I hear their counsel and screaming at me and crying all occurring at the same time. At different points in this story, I have heard what sounds like a thousand person crowd blasting my ears. It has been quite difficult working through some of that. The best way to describe this in layman’s terms would be similar to a radio and Netflix turned on simultaneously at max volume competing for your attention. I could be listening to a friend or praying with people and hear that stuff. It is very difficult to focus on both.

    Before I came out of the womb, I never asked to experience that crap. I did not say, “Okay, God, when I get out there, make sure that 1.) I am attracted to men and 2.) I experience a very serious mental illness. Please make sure that I feel incredible shame at some point in my life. Hopefully no human will want to walk this road with me. You do not work through those that are a part of your body anyways. I mean they are not really….you. Although, they are a part of you…they’re in your body…that doesn’t matter though. Okay, thanks, bye.”

    One thing I do know: a person who worships both in spirit and truth will always be guided to daily repentance and repentance always leads us back to Jesus. In terms of same-sex attraction, there may be moments where my flesh wants to rule me. I have to pray and focus my mind on the things of above and hold my thoughts captive to Him. Likewise, with schizophrenia there are plenty of unhealthy coping mechanisms that one could use to medicate the stress caused by psychosis and associated hallucinations. Again, my only hope is truly in Christ. He honestly is the only one that can fill me with peace. Everything else is just sinking sand. If I do not believe that, time will eventually test their ability to stand next to God. Praise God for also surrounding us with brothers and sisters where we are who we can treasure Christ with and to love one another sincerely and with genuine affection which is, indeed, the overflow of Christ’s love. If it is truly sincere, it is in Him.

    I also resonate with something Johanna said toward the end when she was talking about how gay Christians who are chaste in another age may not experience the same things we do now. I think that is super important. The work we are doing will be carried on by future generations and perhaps they may not experience the same kind of suffering. I would say most of the baggage in my past resulted from how other humans have treated me and parts of my story. Future generations may not experience those dynamics at the same level of intensity. I am certain they will experience suffering. However, it kind of seems like we are all casting a vision for the future whereas they may be able to do this even better than we are now with the support of the wider church. Perhaps, they may be able to transcend the very ways we think about celibacy now.

  2. My friend and I also listened to this yesterday morning which speaks much to so much of this conversation. I’m not saying in any of what I wrote that being a ‘perfectly packaged baptist boy’ is wrong. I think of the way Paul wrote to Timothy as Timothy is a model for us. Change and transformation begins in the heart. Manipulating someone’s behavior doesn’t work too well. I am also not saying in any of that that I did everything correctly. None of us do.


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