For those of you who know me, or have seen my show, you know that I don’t have the best relationship with my mother. We don’t see eye-to-eye about much.
Basically, she wants me to be something I’m not — a conservative Christian housewife — and I want her to be something she’s not — Gloria Steinem!
So it is with great humility that today I tell you a story about the time my mom was right.
MY MEANINGLESS LIFE
Every couple of years Mom drops me a little note or sends an email that says something along the lines of: “Thea, your life won’t have purpose and meaning until you return to Christ.” Or the other variation: “Thea, you won’t ever be happy until you start using the gifts and talents God gave you to serve him.”
These notes used to offend me, so I’d just throw them away. But now, I file them in a special folder marked “FODDER FOR FUTURE SHOWS.”
WORSHIP BAND #1
About 10 years ago, Mike and I lived across the street from an evangelical church. They had this hip and happening rock-and-roll worship band that would warm up every Sunday before church. I don’t know how, but their metal building acted like a megaphone that aimed sound directly at our bedroom. We’d be lying in bed, and we’d hear this thump-thump-thump-thump like an LA nightclub.
One Sunday, I remember it was Easter, the worship band was warming up extra early before their sunrise service. It was something like 6:30 in the morning. Thump-thump-thump. And I just snapped.
I threw back my covers, pulled on some sweats, ran across the street, burst into their church and yelled, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
Sure, it might have been more mature to explain the situation to them, but I had a lot of baggage from my religious childhood at the time.
WORSHIP BAND #2
Fast-forward a couple years, when Mike and I first moved here to Paonia. Once again I found myself in front of a worship band – only this time, I was standing in the congregation and singing along!
When we got here, I decided to try what I thought would be an open-minded church. I figured it’d be an easy way to meet like-minded people. Boy was I wrong! During the sermon, the pastor warned us about the “immoral element” that had been “invading the valley” since the 1970s. He said “good Christians” of the North Fork needed to work together to take the Valley back.
Now I was new here, but I knew enough about the area’s history to realize he was talking about people . . . . like me.
Instead of yelling STFU this time, I decided to do something even gutsier. I pretended to be one of them. I really got into it, too. You should have seen me! I closed my eyes and sang and swayed and lifted my arms up in supplication.
I did such a great job the music director came up to me afterward and said, “It’s such a joy to see someone so moved by the Holy Spirit!”
That was a pivotal moment for me. I realized two things:
- I wanted to stand up to Christian hypocrisy, and
- I have a gift for acting.
It took me a couple more years, though, to figure out what to do with that info. Eventually I created my show, “Jesus Loves You (But Hates Me)” — with a TON of help from a lot of people in the community. Thank you. And then, Mike and I debuted it!
And then, the shame started.
The show was epically long — more than two-and-a-half hours. I was horrified. Some of my material worked. Some of it didn’t. A lot of it needed to be rewritten. So I went back to the drawing board and revised the show. Then, we performed it again locally. Then I made some more revisions and we started touring it around the state.
And I thought the shame was bad after the first show? Wow — was I in store for more.
PAINFUL AUDIENCE REACTIONS
Some people thought my show was too critical of Christianity. “You need to tone it down,” they said.
Other people thought it wasn’t critical enough. “It’s too soft,” they’d say. “Not edgy enough.”
One person would say: “I loved it when your show ended with the church service! You inspired me!”
And then someone else would say: “ I hated it when you ended your show with that church service. You betrayed me!”
A friend of mine had brought her parents to a show. They got into an argument the next morning about it, because some of it hit too close to home.
Okay, I thought, I can deal with that because at least I got people talking.
In Durango some guy stood up in the middle of the show, genuflected and then walked out.
Okay, I thought, I can deal with that. I wasn’t raised Catholic anyway.
At a Denver show, a man kept pestering my sister-in-law at our merch table. “Tell her she got the Immaculate Conception wrong!” He was adamant, and even left me a little note, which he signed, “From a Jewish Atheist.”
Okay, I thought. I can deal with that because it’s just too perfect — a Jewish Atheist telling me about the birth of Jesus Christ!
THE REPUBLIC OF BOULDER
And then at our Boulder show, a woman participated rather enthusiastically in my “Who Wants to be a Virgin” game. I get a couple volunteers up onstage and they compete to have their virginity restored by faking an orgasm. It’s always a highlight!
Anyway, this woman really got into it — “uh uh uh uh” — and I had to pull the microphone away from her because she was going on and on! She looked like she was having a good time, so I was shocked the next day to get a scathing email from her.
She said I had humiliated her. She got into a huge fight with her husband afterward because he thought it was funny and she didn’t, and now they weren’t speaking. So I may have cost her marriage, not to mention her professional career. AND I probably traumatized her children who — although not at the show — may one day hear about how their mother FAKED an orgasm during a GAME at a COMEDY SHOW.
Okay, I thought. I can deal with that because I never realized I was so powerful!
Actually, that one was really hard for me. The whole point of the game is to show how obsessed religion is with sex, particularly women’s sexuality. So for a woman to feel like I violated her . . . .
My shame kicked in double time.
On the bright side, a progressive minister was in the audience for that particular show, liked it and invited me to perform at his church, which Mike and I did a couple months later.
YOUR A GOD HATER
And then we started getting some media coverage. Now people who weren’t even AT MY SHOW started telling me what I was doing wrong. “Your a god hater,” someone wrote, misspelling “you’re,” of course.
Guys started commenintg on my physical appearance. One guy said, “She needs to join forces with a dentist! Ha ha!”
Another guy wrote I was “smokin’ hot” and he wanted to show me his “girthy penis.”
And then . . . the shame became unbearable. I decided I didn’t have the kind of personal fortitude it takes to put your story out there publicly. Either I was too ugly or too sexy, too critical or too soft, too misogynistic or too feminist. Just too too too fill-in-the-blank.
No matter what I did, someone somewhere was going to be upset, angry or offended. Unless . . . I never performed the show again, right!?
SHAME & FEAR KICK MY ASS
And so, sometimes I give in to the shame and the fear, and I don’t do much for awhile.
But something keeps pulling at me, telling me to keep going.
And so, sometimes I book a show. Sometimes, I do a media interview. Sometimes, I write a blog post that a reader says made them feel less alone. And sometimes after a show an audience member comes up to me, gives me a great big hug and thanks me for giving voice to their experiences, to helping them heal.
And so I keep going, because it’s not just my story. It’s anyone’s who was ever injured by religion, or told they were unworthy, or rejected by their family for being who they are.
I use my talents to put my art out there in service to something greater than myself.
I guess Mom was right after all.
YOUR STORY MATTERS
It takes courage to be yourself and to tell your story. There are thousands of people who will try to stop you, to tell you you’re wrong. But the world needs to hear your perspective, your experiences, your truth.
The truth is, we get to make art from our heart, but we don’t get to decide what people will do with that art.
And that takes guts.
But do it anyway.