Quitting Facebook. Again. Sorta.

Web shots08070

As anyone who has known me any length of time can tell you, I have struggled for years with how to do Facebook. I love Facebook. I also hate Facebook.

I love being invited into people’s lives, to see the pictures of their families, to know what they are passionate about, to hear about their dreams, fears and even frustrations. Allowing me to see into your life is a holy and beautiful thing.

But it is also overwhelming. Because of how Facebook works, it becomes a firehose of information, with there always being something new to see, something new to be angry about, something new to like or dislike. I am pretty certain the human animal is incapable of paying attention to thousands of people. I am absolutely certain that I am.

For ten years, I have used Facebook as an address book of sorts. If we ever met and had a good conversation, I added you. If you moved down the street from me, I added you. If you asked me to add you, I added you. If I just wanted to get to know you, I added you. If we went to school in the 8th grade and I haven’t seen you since, I added you.

The result is that I have several thousand people who now have a piece of my attention, most of whom I do not really know, and who do not know me, but whose life streams across my screen 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I have long rationalized that because of work – I am responsible for raising money to pay salaries for myself and other people – it behooves me to “know” lots of people. And it does. But it’s just not sustainable. That level of attention kills my creativity.

And about that creativity – all of that attention I am paying creates a cognitive load that is, frankly, exhausting. I am not doing my best writing, my best thinking, if I am consuming all of the time. And that is what I am doing – just consuming everyone else’s lives rather than creating mine.

This way is fraught with peril. Back in the winter I took a Facebook hiatus for a few months. It was incredibly peaceful – but I also felt isolated, realizing just how much I depend on Facebook for connection with people I genuinely care about.

So here is what I am doing: I have created a new personal Facebook account. I am adding my family and some trusted friends… and then I will deactivate my old one. I am sending a spate of friend requests to some folks – if one of them isn’t you, I hope you won’t take that personally. I am just trying to make my intimate world smaller, so I can share my non-intimate world with more people.

That’s right: My radical plan is to only be Facebook friend with my actual friends. Some people are upset at me for this – which is a whole ‘nother blog post, about the way people feel entitled to the consumption of other people’s experiences.

But there are lots of options for those people who want to see how I move in the world. On Facebook there is the Rev. Hugh L. Hollowell page and Love Wins Ministries page, and I personally am on Instagram and Twitter. Those accounts are wide open, and where I will be doing the majority of my public sharing from now on. I hope to be doing more writing here – you can get an email when I update this blog by going here.

And, as a reminder, I send an email newsletter out every Monday morning that tells a little bit about what I am up to, and has links to five beautiful things. You should subscribe.

Is this the magic bullet? I don’t know. But I hope so.

Bonds and Betrayal

This was originally published last year on my old blog. Recently I have began republishing some of the older posts that are no longer online. If you have something of mine you liked and can’t find, let me know, and I will republish it here.  – HH

I have a friend who, as a child, idolized his grandfather. His grandfather and he were inseparable. The grandfather taught him how to be in the world, how to navigate life, how to act like he thought a man should.

The grandfather was a minister, and highly respected in their small town. My friend became a minister himself,  in part to be like his grandfather. His most prized possession is his grandfather’s Bible, which he received at his grandfather’s death.

A few years ago, (long after the death of the grandfather), it came out that his grandfather was a serial child molester. He had not only molested children in his church, but his own daughter, my friend’s aunt. The aunt that was always quiet and withdrawn as an adult. The aunt that had trouble navigating the world. The aunt that had always seemed, somehow, broken.

I always wondered how you navigate that – what you do when you discover that someone you loved and respected, who taught you so much, who you idolized and wanted to be like – when you find out that they did monstrous things.

What does that do to your story? Are the things you learned from him now invalid? Is your judgement flawed? How do you know he didn’t try to turn you into a monster too? How do you process those memories? Are they now questionable?

# # #

When I was in my late twenties, the questions I had around faith were no longer capable of being answered by the Methodism of my childhood, and I went searching. I flirted with Buddhism for a while, but I am far too much a practitioner to ever be happy sitting on the floor.

I discovered the activist Catholics (like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin) who taught me you could be Christian and work for justice, too. They led me to death penalty protesters, who led me to nonviolence, which, if you stay there long enough, will lead you to Mennonites.

To a person, everyone that I asked who I should read to understand the Mennonite position told me to read John Howard Yoder. So I did – I bought Politics of Jesus and realized I had came home. These were my people. I followed that up with Body Politics and What Would You Do – a primer on nonviolence – and I was sold. It wasn’t just that it made sense to me, but it made sense of me.

I joined the church, and then was pulled aside and told by several elders, that it was obvious I had a call to be in ministry. They would query me, shelter me, love me and, eventually, ordain me. They groomed me for leadership.

My work now among people experiencing homelessness is directly because of my Anabaptist convictions – convictions I was first exposed to in the words of John Howard Yoder.

In recent years, it has come to (more public) light that during his lifetime, Yoder was a serial molester – that it is estimated he abused, molested or raped more than 100 women, in the name of pursuing “the perfection” of his theology.

The man who taught me the basics of nonviolence was a perpetrator of violence. The man who wrote in Body Politics against abuse of power was an abuser of power.

What does this do to my story? Is what I learned invalid? Does this invalidate nonviolence? Are the theories I learned about power wrong? Is nonviolence just a pipe dream? How much of my story does this put into question? Hell, how much of the theories around my work does this put into question?

# # #

These days, I pastor people, most of whom have been hurt by the church.

I have had deep conversations with so many people who have been sexually abused by church leaders I have lost count.

A significant portion of my little flock identify as LGBT, and many of them attribute their homelessness to being kicked out of their family’s life once they came out, because of their family’s religious convictions.

My friend Lindsay was kicked out of her home at 16, when she came out to her mom. Her mom called the preacher, who said that tough love was the only thing that would change her sinful ways. Her mamma kicked her out and has refused her calls since then. Lindsay is now 26 and a survival sex-worker, with a crack habit and HIV. And she hasn’t been home in 10 years.

Or the woman – one of the most gifted pastoral personalities I know – who was told she could never be a pastor, because she was a woman. And while she knew there were churches that did not believe that, none of those churches were her church. So she didn’t go into ministry, convinced what she thought was her call from God was invalid.

I know all these stories, and more. They are legion.

But none of them are my story.

I had a wonderful time in church. I was always loved, and taught to love. I belonged, I felt safe there, I grew up there, developed life-long friendships there. The problems I had in my twenties were about religion – they weren’t about church.

I loved church – right up until I learned the truth. Until I was a trusted pastor person, who got trusted with other people’s stories. Until I learned that many people did not have my experience. I loved church until I learned that for many people, the church was their molester, or at the least, the enabling system that allowed the molestation to happen.

I am a pastor. I preach most weeks, and I bury and marry people. I say the words of institution at The Lord’s Supper every week, and I baptize a couple of folks a year.

But I seldom go to church anymore – at least, not when I am on my own. Not when I am not paid to be there. Not for my own benefit.

Because I have too many questions: How much of what I learned was invalid? How much was fake? How much was abusive, but I didn’t recognize it? How much was coercion? How much was propaganda?

How much, dammit, of my own story is now in question?

Notes: I recognize that a large reason I was groomed for leadership was my maleness and my whiteness and my social skills I had learned – in other words, a lot of it wasn’t just my being lucky, it was factors beyond my control. It was privilege. That said, I also recognize that those of us with privilege have a responsibility to use it to the benefit of those who do not.  

The oppressed never have an obligation to educate the oppressor, but I am grateful to those people who have been patient with me, who have taught me, who have educated me and who teach me still. Every single time, it has been a gift. 

Thanks to my friends Jasmin and Jay for looking over this before I hit publish, to make sure I didn’t make an ass of myself. Any credit goes to those who have taught me, and only the mistakes are mine. 

Some Advice on Starting Over

I was going through some old stuff I had written, and found this thing I had written a week after the event described, but never published. I lightly edited it and present it here, for the first time.  – HH 

Two years ago last week, I was in New York City on business. While I was there, I went with friends to a live presentation of The Moth, a storyslam of sorts. (If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.) It was awesome just being there, and, and to make it better, Ophira Eisenberg was the MC for the night. It was just a great night.

The theme for the night was “Blame”, and one of the people in my crowd, who I did not know, had just been left by her husband for another woman. Let’s call her Beth. Oh, and today was her birthday. So, Beth went to hear other stories of blame, maybe as a way to let herself off the hook.

After the event, we were all standing around, debating whether to adjourn to another place (I had to get up early, so I demurred). And then one of my friends asked Beth how it was going.

“It’s really hard. I don’t like this at all.”

I told her it gets better. She didn’t believe me. I told her that while no one gets married planning on getting a divorce, lots of people get them, and so she now has an experience in common with lots of people, and most of them (the vast majority, in fact) survived the experience and went on to have normal lives. I know this both anecdotally and as one who has survived a divorce myself.

I then shared with her my idea about fresh starts. I said something like this:

Here is the thing about starting over – you get to be who you want to be.

Living with someone, being in relationship with someone, means giving up little bits of who you are. You can’t be the person who sleeps in on Sunday, because he wants to go get lattes. Or you had a rough day at the office, and just want to eat cereal and stream Call The Midwife, but instead you have to go home and fix a real meal.

Maybe you like Jazz, and he doesn’t, and you feel guilty playing it on the speakers when he is home. You sleep best by yourself, and haven’t had a good night’s sleep since he moved in. Whatever – being in relationship means giving up part of who you are.

Most of the time, that’s OK, especially if you navigate that together. But you have been married for three years to someone who isn’t in your life anymore, and now you have all of this empty space, sitting around at night, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.

My advice? Create the you that you wish you were. Act like you are an author, and you are making a character who looks like you. So what is this character called Beth like?

She likes Jazz? She eats cereal for supper? She sleeps alone, and wears yoga pants around the house? She sleeps in on Sundays and spends Saturdays in the park and volunteers at the animal shelter? If you were creating a character that was the Beth you wish you were, what would she do? How would she act? Where would she work, and why? What sort of person would she partner with? Would she wear that outfit?

And after you sit down and create this person on paper, realize that there is not a thing anymore keeping you from actually being that person. You can be that person, and the new people you meet will never know the difference. They won’t know that you once didn’t listen to the music you liked, or that you one time gave up your dream of writing a novel or that you didn’t always wear a purple beret.

Being alone again means getting to be the person you wish you were. You get to write a whole new story, and you are the star. You are making a new story anyway – why not make it a good one?

The Day I Did Not Die

Content warning: Descriptive narrative of a suicide attempt. Please take care of yourself.

Chris Cornell is dead. They are reporting he killed himself.

I have a confession: I am not sure I know his music, or his band, or anything about him. I am pretty sure I never heard his name before today.

And none of that matters. Because it is being reported that he hung himself, and according to my Facebook feed, most of my friends were his fans, and so that news is everywhere. And every time a high-profile suicide happens, all the old fears come back, even if only to remind myself that they are never far away.

It is a common story, and I am not claiming to be special. I was a smarter than average kid who looked differently than his classmates – I was scrawny, pimply, socially awkward and most of all, afraid. I was always afraid. These days you would say I was bullied. In those days, I would have said I was in hell.

I was 16 years old, and my parents were not home. I don’t know how to describe it – it was just a wave that came over me, and when it did, I was ready.

I had read countless accounts of suicide – no mean feat in that pre-internet age. I had read all the dictionary entries, all the encyclopedia accounts. Then I researched famous suicides – Socrates, Hemingway, anyone at all who had made their way into the Britannica. I had a morbid fascination with death, and with suicide.

So when the dark wave came, I was ready.

I had received a shotgun for Christmas when I was 14. There were strict rules around its use, but it was unlocked. I sat on my bed and loaded it with buckshot. I took off my shoes, because I had figured out I could pull the trigger with my toe – a “trick” I had learned in a book I read about famous deaths. I put the barrel in my mouth – right now I can taste the bitter, acrid taste of the oil and the metal on my tongue – and placed my toe on the trigger.

And then I took the barrel out of my mouth, unloaded the gun and put it away. I don’t know why. The darkness receded, just like it came. I was horrified to find myself there. And it would be more than 10 years before I would tell anyone that it had happened.

It wasn’t the last time I thought about self-harm, however. Maybe three times since then, I have been in that same vicinity. The darkness just comes on sometimes, and it seems an incredibly rational solution to end the pain. It is always late at night (more accurately early morning). I hate waking up at 3 or 4am – not because I am afraid I won’t go back to sleep, but because I am afraid of where my brain will take me if I stay awake.

Please don’t mishear me – I have a good support structure in place. I have people who know my history, who love me, who I feel safe calling should I need them. There is a list of people Renee knows to call if I scare her with my moods. Mentally, I am in pretty good shape these days.

And I figure, from everything I read, that Chris Cornell had it pretty good, too. It is obvious he was talented. He had a family that loved him, he had kids. He had extremely devoted fans. He had a lot going for him. I bet that brother had health insurance.

And that is why, when I read of the high-profile suicides, it scares me a little bit. Because it reminds me that the wave is never really gone, even if it has been quiet for a really, really long time.

If you feel like hurting yourself, please don’t. The National Suicide Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. And if you don’t want to call them, please call someone. 


Jesus is Dead – a reflection on Holy Saturday

“If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of Darkness.” – Theresa of Calcutta

For the disciples, Friday had to have been a long night. The second long night in a row.

Night before last, after Jesus and the disciples had celebrated together, the Romans had come and arrested Jesus. Judas had turned him in, and some of the rest of them were convinced that they too were wanted men.

They had spent several years with Jesus. Some of them had abandoned careers, others had walked away for the family business. They risked ritual impurity, public censure and ridicule as they followed this itinerant Rabbi who claimed to have knowledge of God, who claimed that God desired it be on earth as it was in heaven, who claimed that this God was made most visible in the bodies of the hungry, the poor, and the disposed.

They had seen amazing things. The blind could see, the lame could walk, the dead could rise again and those who were estranged could be reconciled. They had seen demons flee at the sound of Jesus’ voice, they had seen the religious leaders give Jesus grudging respect and earlier that week had followed the donkey into Jerusalem when Jesus mocked Rome and the crowd shouted “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”.  Later that week they had been part of the direct action in the temple, when Jesus was flipping tables and driving out those who would exploit peoples spirituality for money.

They had seen amazing things over the last few years.

They had to have known it was risky – they were constantly courting treason and Rome did not take such things lightly. Just ask the residents of Sephoris, who some 30 years earlier had dared to confront Rome and as a result, 30,000 people were killed or sold into slavery, and 2000 men were taken to Jerusalem and crucified in a single day. No, Rome did not play.

So the night before last night, the horrible happened – Rome finally arrested Jesus.  Judas sold him out – Judas, one of their own. Judas, who had been sitting at the table last night. Judas, who Jesus, with sadness in his eyes, handed a piece of bread.

And then they watched him die. They watched him, beaten and bloody, drag his cross up the road. They saw, from the safety of the crowd, the guards spit on him, they saw him fall three times under the weight, they saw a stranger help him – something none of them felt safe enough to do.

And then they watched him bleed out after the guards stuck him with a spear while he could barely breath, nailed and lashed to that cross.

Jesus was dead. It was over. It turns out, Rome won and love had lost. Power and might had the final say, and for all his talk of loving one another and seeing God in each other, at the end of the day Jesus had just been another guy with lofty ideas that threatened the power structure, so the power structure fought back, and won. They always won.

Last night was so long. The disciples had to wonder, “Are we in danger? Are they coming after us, too? What should we do? How are we going to live?”

But worse than that, it means all of their hopes for the new world that Jesus had spoken of – The Kingdom of God, he called it – were gone, too. Jesus had boldly confronted Rome and here they were cowed in their rooms, alone, scattered and afraid. Uncertain about the future. Scared for their safety and that of their families.

They had seen love confront power, and seen power do its worst. They had seen Jesus refuse to bow to the oppressors, and watched the oppressors kill him for it. They had heard Jesus dream of a just world, watched him preach it and demonstrate it for years, and then watched all hope of it be placed in a tomb late on Friday.

Jesus is dead, y’all. The Jesus movement is dead. All hope for it to be better is dead, all hope that love will win is dead. The future looks bleak.

It is Saturday after Jesus died, and all they have is each other, the memories of what Jesus taught them, the knowledge of what they saw, and whatever hope they can muster as a result of those three things.

That is why Holy Saturday is my favorite day on the Christian calendar. Because it shows us that doubt, fear, paranoia, uncertainty, pain, disappointment and hopelessness can also be part of the experience of Jesus people. That it isn’t always about celebrating resurrection, but sometimes about wondering if resurrection is even real. It’s a reminder that the Jesus story isn’t just a story about overcoming the Powers, but also a story about despair at the hands of the Powers and trying to figure out how to survive it.

And when that happens, what we have left to hold us through is just each other, what we have been taught, what we have seen, and whatever hope we can muster as a result.