September 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
In my last post, I stumbled on the idea that religion teaches us to see the world from a specific point of view, while art teaches us to see the world from all points of view. This topic deserves to be expanded. The word “art” can be a little vague because we forget the wide breadth that this covers within culture. To name just a few areas where art is who we are—film, television, literature, journalism, architecture, fashion, visual arts, theater, the art of making a speech, the art of making a meal, the art of conversation.
Art provides empathy. Empathy is the greatest experience that we can achieve. Through all of the means I have listed (and then some) we strive to share something special to us in order to give that feeling to others. We find a breakthrough in our craft, which leads to the completion of a story, which leads to the beginning of another story. By sharing this, others may feel what we feel. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they are opposed to what we feel, and they will create a different story out of that experience.
By sharing, we spread the meme, and the meme grows. It is an organic process—ever-evolving. Through that evolution, life continues to change, only remaining the same in its substance. When we do not allow the story to shift and change, we’re in danger. If we do not allow metaphor and symbolism to have their way, we’re lacking in the imagination that can save us.
In my research, I’m currently studying the process of the mystics. Mystics often come from a traditionally religious background, but they have also been some of the great non-practicing figures, such as the poets Rimbaud or Walt Whitman. Writer Gershom Scholem shares:
“The most radical of the revolutionary mystics are those who not only reinterpret and transform the religious authority, but aspire to establish a new authority based on their own experience… The formlessness of the original experience may even lead to a dissolution of all form, even in interpretation (On The Kabbalah And Its Symbolism, 11).”
The word mystic can easily be substituted here for artist. Through persistent study, the artist breaks down what came before to create a new language. This language not only captures the zeitgeist, it transforms it.
The literalist, on the other hand, sees the words within holy books as stagnant, unmoving, ever the same. This causes a conservative rigid outlook on life—black and white, good and evil, wrong or right. To get beyond the words, we must stare at the words for a long time. We must examine their meanings. For example, the word good comes from god. The word evil originates from devil. Our language is steeped in religious concepts. The more I have examined these two words and their meanings, the more I have realized that they don’t actually exist. They only exist as a cultural concept, and not as a reality. Good and evil creates false judgments against outsiders, against people who have a different lifestyle or culture than our own. Within the parameters of good and evil, there is a language of conformity. These terms allow people to persecute others on the basis of differences and a lack of understanding.
We are an animal, and animals have motivations for survival. The greater portion of our faults come from being easily spooked. We over-compensate when we perceive the slightest threat. We are over-crowded in cities, stressed out and impatient, over-worked and struggling. News stations work hard to keep us uneducated and afraid. This in turn makes us want to commit atrocities against perceived threats.
Democracy is extremely fragile. We must be vigilant, because at any moment democracy can turn back into fascism. Last week the president of China visited Seattle. He had dinner at Bill Gates’ mansion. Fascism is happening right now in China. Activist artists such as Ai Wei Wei, Liu Yi, Zhao Zhao, and Chen Guang are threatened by the government on a daily basis. Leading up to June 4th, over 100 activists were taken into custody before the 25th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Some were imprisoned on trumped-up charges. Others were spirited away by police on forced vacations. Anything in order to silence the voices that are determined to remember the protesters who lost their lives in 1989. It is clear that not much has changed since then. Art is a threat against those who spread fear.
We must be grateful for our freedom of speech. In the US, just sixty years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a copy of Lady Chattely’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (one of the greatest novels ever written). Allen Ginsberg underwent an obscenity trial for his poem Howl. Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer was banned for close to 30 years until the early 1960’s. People in Hollywood were blacklisted from working in film, and censorship was around every corner. Communism became a dirty word, and the American government used that fear against us. We are told that we live in a democracy, but vigilance is necessary in order to fully achieve that.
This week is Banned Books Week, highlighting some of the great truth-tellers of our time and of the past. Some of the works epitomize the statement that you should write as though no one is ever going to read your work—they are daring and free. Other books might seem commonplace to us, but in other cultures they are viewed as dangerous. By empathizing with the characters in these books we are taken into a different point of view than our own. We are given the possibility of a mind expanded. For the fundamentalist or the fascist, that is a truly dangerous prospect.
To view 196 banned titles, click the link to visit Powell’s Books
May 12, 2013 § 4 Comments
I am so happy to announce that my memoir No End Of The Bed is now available on Amazon!
Lauren J. Barnhart’s memoir No End Of The Bed spans her search for truth through differing perceptions of sex, with some surprising parallels made between the fundamentalist church and the sex-positive movement.
Raised within the confines of Fundamentalism, Lauren J. Barnhart is instructed that her body is inherently evil and unclean; that innocence is of the highest value; and that a woman is meant to be a servant to everyone but herself. She struggles to believe all that she is told or else disappoint family, friends, and an all-knowing God.
At age twenty-one, outside of her small conservative college, Lauren expresses her sexuality and is surprised to discover a lack of guilt for her transgressions. Within nature rather than against it, awakened to all five senses, she begins to record the feelings of intense love and empathy that she failed to find within the church.
In the search for something more, she is drawn towards a group of polyamorists, who celebrate the body and the freedom to express themselves with many. Through their zest for life, she abundantly taps into her artistic nature. But at the same time, she experiences the same misuse of power that was left behind in the pews. Realizing that the need to find a leader is a fallacy, Lauren learns to value her own true voice, and finds the strength to forge a different path.
I began this book when I initially broke with the church twelve years ago. The experiences I had along the way were strange and extraordinary, and it took the entirety of that time since, for the story to fully unfold. In fact, the last chapter took place exactly one year ago.
In my early twenties, I became obsessed with the need to capture everything I was experiencing. I kept detailed journals, wrote poems, songs, and began writing short stories that grew to connect as chapters.
It took ten years, and one year of prodding from my husband, before I could face the fact that I was writing a memoir. I’m still shocked that I’m not hiding behind the false label of fiction. There are truths in the book that I wouldn’t even tell my close friends. But a book is different than a conversation. And without total and complete honesty, the story loses its effect.
Others who feature in my story might not remember the details the same way that I do. Each and every one of us has a different set of memories. But we all shared the same arc from repression to crazy expression.
I am very immersed in the present right now (more than I have ever been). I could not let go of the past until I finished this book. It helped me to process my life. I came to understand everyone else’s motives. I forgave them and went through a long phase of constantly thinking through the male mind. At least that is to say, the male minds that are in the book!
In the end, I found that there were more similarities between the Fundamentalist church and the Sex-Positive movement, than dissimilarities. Erica Jong once wrote, “All pornographers are puritans.” Residing in one extreme, the complete opposite extreme lies within it, just under the surface of repression.
Growing up, I was told that the body I live in is rife with taboo. I wanted to understand why. I put myself in highly uncomfortable situations just to test my own limits. I discovered that taboo only exists in your mind. Fear is based on the unfamiliar. Rules and religion began with the human desire for control and patriarchy, and control keeps the masses in the dark.
Through the long, arduous publication process, passages, words, phrases, and pages jumped out at me: flashes of years past. No End Of The Bed shows me how far I’ve come. I feel invulnerable to judgment. The young, confused girl in the book is not the woman that I am today.
But I also miss certain aspects of that very youthful place. I was so open to people that it bordered on unhealthy, though I learned so much from them. I was also scared shitless of all the new people that spoke a different language than the religious language I grew up with. Lately I am reminded, that if you’re not scared shitless, you’re not really living. Being on the stage seems to provide that over and over for me. I like to be constantly challenged so that I can keep growing.
Right now, I have two other books in the works, and I will be publishing other authors as well through Knotted Tree Press including literary fiction, memoir, essays, and poetry. You can find out more at Knotted Tree Press.
In the memoir, I found responsibility for my self. I let go of the need for a leader, and discovered my own truth. In taking charge of the publishing of that memoir, I found responsibility for my work. I’ve loved every detail of editing, formatting, designing the cover artwork, and marketing. The funny thing is, it took exactly nine months to complete the publishing process. Now, it’s just so good to be back to writing again.
December 17, 2012 § 10 Comments
As a young adult, my entire worldview was shaped by Fundamentalism. But everywhere I looked within the church, I saw that what was being preached, didn’t measure up. Pastor after pastor took a “fall,” usually of a sexual nature. My own “fall” was the best thing that ever happened to me. Unfortunately for the pastors, they lost their jobs, and sometimes their families.
See Me Naked – Stories of Sexual Exile in American Christianity by Amy Frykholm, was not the book that I thought it was going to be, but it was valuable all the same. No one interviewed for the book was actually tossed out of the church or excommunicated for their sexual sin. Yet I hear those stories all the time, particularly at creepy Mars Hill church down the street; the very last church I attended. Pastor Mark is such a misogynist power tripper that his downfall is bound to happen any day now.
Amy makes brief mention of the infamous Ted Haggard (mega pastor who was ousted for his secret homosexual life), then dives in to everyday people who have come to terms with bridging the gap between their sexuality and their faith. Throughout the book, however, the interviews are tinged with a bias. Frykholm is Episcopalian, by far my favorite Christian denomination for its all-inclusive, caring for the community spirit. But one can’t help but feel proselytized to from the standpoint of her beliefs. Impossible not to, I know. Just as when I share my own belief system (Atheism), Christians tend to feel attacked or even threatened, with knowing remarks about how someday I’ll “see the light.”
While reading See Me Naked, I recognized my own path in many of the stories, though my journey had a much different outcome.
“The message she heard from every corner was: you do not belong to yourself. You are not your own. You belong to us and you will do what we say (Frykholm, 80).”
I remember when all of my words were bottled up inside me, held back, weighing me down. I constantly had questions. All through my first twenty years, I wanted to challenge what I was being told. But if I challenged it, I would be seen as a failure. And a person who questions the word of God is weak.
I didn’t feel strong, I felt diminutive, as though my unspoken words would swallow me up into nonbeing. I walked through life like a ghost – not speaking, not touched, not known.
“He had “given a piece of his heart to all of them” and therefore did not have a whole heart to give to his bride. In this conception, purity is a finite, all too easily expendable quantity (Frykholm, 108).”
The word “purity” has no meaning for me. When I hear that word, it does not go beyond the age of twelve. I see a child. As an adult, purity has no value. It means purely free of personality and life. It signifies a person not fully formed. Someone with little understanding of the complexity of human relationships, and how much we can learn and grow from a love that is not finite but expands and grows. The highest value is in maturity, wisdom, and intelligence. People who can offer these three things have value that does not flit away, unlike the fleeting “purity.” Of course, it’s also wrapped up in the idea of innocent youth, and in an over-thirty something, “purity” is a train wreck of desperation.
For Christians on the marriage track, the fantasized about future will surely disappoint them once they are wed. In the courtship phase, moments that should be filled with intense pleasure and enjoyment, are instead replaced with the constant danger of falling over a cliff into a deep ravine of insatiable pleasure. Danger. Mistakes. Regret. No going back. Every touch is quantified and measured. And if the couple slips and falls, then one has “used” the other, selfishness has entered the game, bodies are “objectified.”
I use quotes here for all the words that fail to play a role in my vocabulary. Coming to a different worldview, has also meant coming to a new language. When I talk to my family, I listen to the ways in which we speak two different languages, and I feel the pain of a disconnect.
Purity is a pleasure to sully. Humans have enjoyed this sport since the beginning of time. In cultures around the world, the male pursuit of purity has imprisoned women in unhappy marriages, subservience, and shame. By ridding culture of virgin worship, we come to a place of equality for both men and women.
“Many of the people I interviewed for this book grew up with the idea that, if they made one mistake, they would fall into doom and misery. Sexual mistakes had the most dire consequences. Thus, sexuality became ensconced in fear – fear of being found out, fear of being truly known, fear of failing. Yet nearly everyone I interviewed had found a way through fear and found their deepest intimacy with God in their capacity for wonder (Frykholm, 173).”
When I was twenty-one and had sex for the first time, it took a year’s worth of therapy to get over the discovery of who I really was beneath the Christian veneer. The therapists didn’t do much beyond just allowing me to voice my own honesty for the first time.
With that honesty, I began to feel brave, and shared my poetry with classmates. Through writing, I broached the pain of feeling that all of my life, I had been lied to. It was obvious to me, that the body and sex and all of our five senses are not selfish and depraved, but immensely beautiful and giving. I never really knew how to love until that year. My awakening to empathy is intrinsically linked with pen and paper, and the need to write.
“If we pay very close attention, I think we will find that the pleasures of excess, hedonism, and self-indulgence are thin. Deeper, wider, more lasting pleasures are available as we grow more attentive to and more comfortable in our own skins, and as we give up the notion that pleasure is inherently selfish (Frykholm, 176).”
Frykholm offers no remedy for the conflict between church and sexuality. A difficult quandary when people are living ancient tribal beliefs in the literal sense. The church would like people to think that they have no control over themselves. The taboos loom larger than they really should be. They are afraid of what they don’t know. If you are afraid of something, maybe you should try it. It’s the key to understanding your fears.