Sunday, June 24, 2012

Will the REAL "Rising Up Whole" please stand up?

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
Anne Lamott
For years, it seems, I’ve not always known what exactly to write about my life, especially as it pertains to my family. Or rather, what I should not write. Where to draw the line. How to write about my story without hurting other people. Where respect for the people that raised me collides with something that needs to be talked about.

For most of my readers, this is old news, but two or three years ago, my parents started a ministry and named it “Rising Up Whole Ministries.” Now, you might notice that my blog is named “Rising Up Whole.” This is no coincidence. It has been named this since soon after its creation at the end of 2005.

I wrote about this issue with my parents' ministry once in the past, before I knew that it was final (before the ministry was a 501(c)3 and had a website)—when someone had just found my mother listed on Google as a counselor at "Rising Up Whole Ministries." When I found out that first tidbit, I was devastated. Angry. Hurt. In a huge amount of disbelief. I think I stayed in bed much of the weekend. Depressed and feeling so betrayed. Vacillating between anger and feeling as if I was at that point truly motherless and fatherless. Who would do this to their kid?

The name of my blog is so very significant to me, and if I’m repeating myself from a couple years ago—sorry. For me, it’s worth repeating. When I initially named this blog (in 2005), I called it “Rising Up” and thought of it as rising up from the ashes that defined my life at that point. I still felt defeated, broken, and a whole host of other things after my time in the ex-gay movement. But I was rising up and out, and I was becoming who I always was, deep down; who I was meant to be.

In 2006, I renamed it to “Rising Up Whole” as I began working through the lies of the ex-gay movement that told me I was broken merely because I was gay; as I began to believe that I was whole. It fit me, and described perfectly so much of my journey and what my new life was about. It spoke of the triumph of overcoming, of leaving my past misconceptions behind, of leaving behind a broken and often toxic family and church system. I was, for the first time, feeling like I could be whole—it was not only a possibility, and not only a destination, but also a place on the journey.

Since that time, I’ve used variations of Rising Up Whole as handles or monikers on different websites. You can find me on Skype, chat, several online forums, Facebook, etc. by some version of it. It’s become an extension of me.

So when my parents stole it (yes, STOLE it - there’s really no other way to describe it since it was mine and they took it without permission) to use for their ministry name, it was a slap in the face—a punch in the gut. In their ministry, they have counseled people who don't want to be gay. They have attended Love Won Out (the ex-gay roadshow that used to be from Focus on the Family/Exodus and now is an Exodus event). They agree with those principles that I speak out against. They see me and other LGBT people as broken, in need of healing and saving. My Mom has written an article on the anti-gay PFOX site (an organization that does much damage to young people by actively fighting against anti-bullying legislation, among other things).

My parents also believe in and actively conduct/participate in “deliverance work” (“exorcism light,” as many call it - so, less dramatic than the movies, but perhaps more dramatic and frightening to some than you might think). I am not sure I’ve written much about my own experience with deliverance work here on this blog in a public forum, but I found it ultimately very damaging to my soul and my psyche with lasting side-effects. People pay my parents (er, donate to their 501(c)3) to be "delivered."

My parents counsel people in the same way I was counseled for years—unprofessionally, knowing just enough to often do more harm than good. They have ministerial licenses, but have not gone to an official, accredited college to earn these. They have taken some correspondence courses, attended a Bible college for 1-2 years (only studying the Bible, not philosophy, critical thinking, alternate views on anything), they have worked with various ministries and attended seminars and weekend trainings. This, an application process, letters of recommendation, and probably some fees were enough to give them a ministerial license. With this license, they are now “Reverends” and have hung out a shingle for counseling, healing, deliverance, etc. which takes place out of their home.

It pains me to have this kind of activity associated with a name of my creation; with the name of this blog that means so much to me. Everything they do is absolutely antithetical to what I practice and believe. It’s the opposite of what I’ve been working for since telling my story publicly in 2007, and the opposite of what Beyond Ex-Gay (bXg) is. The people who come to bXg, hurting and in need of help, have been wounded by people just like my parents. In fact, I've even been contacted by a few people who have had dealings with my parents in a ministry setting and been wounded by it.

I considered for a while sending my parents/the ministry a cease and desist letter. Suing them. It’s such a clear violation of intellectual property/copyright laws that it would be a fairly open-and-shut case. At the time, I’d not seen them for 5 or 6 years, and as they age, I was hoping to have some sort of connection to them, even if very little, and even if superficial. I felt that if I pursued this legally, I would invest more energy and would have more contact with them than I wanted to, and would ultimately destroy anything that was left.

I then realized that I own the domain name. I own this blog. I am the rightful owner of the name, and hopefully anyone searching for my parents or their ministry would come across me, my previous blog post in particular, and it might raise some questions, or make them do some explaining. I decided, in the end, to try to let it go.

So why am I writing this now? Because I came across my Mom’s review of a book on Amazon, where she puts her name and then “(Rising Up Whole)” - and you know? That’s not her name to use. That is mine. I also came across a recent article she wrote where she mentioned that she and my Dad had started a ministry named “Rising Up Whole Ministries” with no mention of how they came upon that name. Then I came across the Anne Lamott quote above. And it all clicked.

The more I think about it, it’s just an appalling lack of integrity to knowingly steal someone else’s intellectual property. It’s even more stunning to think of stealing it for something that goes against everything the other person believes and works for. It’s even more incredible when you consider that they did this to their own daughter—their own daughter that they want to win back to themselves and their God. It’s a monumental lack of respect, and it is only my desire to have some connection to them that keeps me in touch with them in spite of things like this.

I had correspondence with my Mom two years ago where I told her that I didn’t think I could trust her—and gave as an example the issue of the ministry name. Her only response? “I don’t know what to do about the trust issue.” I still, to this day, have never received a response for why they stole the name. Why is this OK in their world where they claim to obey the 10 commandments, and love their neighbor as themselves, and so many other things? I sometimes wonder how they would feel if I started a pro-gay organization helping gay people come out, accept and love themselves and called it “The Mal and Jeanette Bakke Gay Pride Group.”

This is long, but this blog post is here to say that while I love my parents, and while I’m so glad they gave me life, and while I’m glad for many things that they gave me growing up, and many of the good memories I have, this ministry name issue has done more damage to my ability to be in relationship with them than they may ever know. If it was anyone else—anyone who was not my flesh and blood, I would have nothing to do with them.

But the way I've chosen to live my life with regard to my parents is this—they do not deserve my respect, or a big place in my life based on this and other actions. Their lack of integrity, character, and basic respect in this issue has led me to where I am now. But I choose to try to love and engage, although in a limited capacity and as I see fit. I try not to hold any grudge, and I try to let go of resentment (another of my favorite Anne Lamott quotes: "In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.")

It’s not always easy, because this is an ongoing issue. For instance, last year my mom sent me pictures of a trip to Africa where they went under the banner of their ministry and handed out T-shirts with “Rising Up Whole” on them. She is using the name around the internet. They have a website that I believe relatives of mine helped create. (Although, is it wrong that I’m amused that people in Kenya are wearing the intellectual property of the lesbian daughter of Mal and Jeanette Bakke? Just wondering.) It's hard to ignore it, and perhaps I'm not really sure that I should. And maybe this blog post is all I need to do. Maybe I just need to have it out in the blogosphere for anyone searching their ministry in the future. Maybe I just need to have my say, and not feel apologetic for it.

After all….if my parents wanted me to write warmly about them, I guess they should have behaved better...indeed.

[p.s. Please do NOT try to contact them about this. People have apparently done so in the past and it did no good. It does not help me, and it does not help them. Please just leave them alone and let them live with the end result of their actions. Thanks.]

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Rising up LOVED.

This is a very long-overdue blog post. It's the day before my 1st wedding anniversary - and I suppose you could say no news has been good news. Or something like that.

Shortly after the new year last year, I was privileged to be able to marry my wife, Theresa, in a wonderful, snowy, intimate ceremony with so many beautiful friends and family in attendance.

An online community I've been involved with had their conference in Denver. Since many of our friends go to this conference, we decided this would be a perfect opportunity to celebrate with many people who normally wouldn't have been able to make the trip here. We were surrounded by dear friends from all over the country, Canada, and Australia.

Since Theresa and I decided not to invite anyone who couldn't be happy for us and celebrate with us, we were happy to have Theresa's mom, grandma, and an old family friend join us. I also had a relative there and it was nice to have someone there related to me who wanted to celebrate us.

Standing in for my parents were Bob and Mary Lou Wallner. Mary Lou lost her lesbian Christian daughter to suicide after she refused to accept her daughter being gay. Mary Lou and Bob have traveled all over to tell their stories and educate about the consequences of homophobia and we've ended up at several of the same events and conferences and gotten to know each other through the years. I was so honored to have them be at the wedding, in light of my own family's non-acceptance.

Our dear friend Joe was the officiant. We decided that we wanted the wedding to be interesting and surprising to us as well as to our guests, so we asked three different couples to do something during the wedding - taking up to 5 minutes to do whatever they wanted. And we didn't want to know what they were doing until they did it.

One couple read a haiku and then burst into a song about our relationship to the tune of The Brady Bunch. Another sang one of our favorite songs and wrote a beautiful third verse for us. The last couple had one person talking about us and their own committed relationship, while the other half of the couple played a very perfect love song on the piano. Our friend Ling read an e.e. cummings poem, and another friend sang a beautiful song for us.

Our rings were passed around in a bird's nest during a ring-warming ceremony. Since we are non-religious but many of our friends are people of faith, we decided to use this as a way to include them, and asked everyone to hold our rings and take a brief moment to make a silent wish, pray a blessing, or fill the rings with warmth, love and some good juju.

We wrote our own vows which made each of us cry and some of our guests gag (and I said "Follow your shiP" not "shiT" people, just sayin'), had a wonderful time and celebrated us in front of the friends and family who give us unconditional love.

The reception was in the same art gallery as the ceremony, and our friends gave such wonderful toasts. Another friend put together a Newlyweds game for us, and we couldn't stop laughing.

It was an entirely perfect wedding, except for the absence of some friends who were not able to come. You know who you are!

It's amazing to me the life we've created for ourselves...the love that we give and receive...the ways that we bring wholeness to ourselves and to others.

It's been an amazing first year, this first year of being with Theresa for the rest of my life. We had sickness on the honeymoon (pneumonia for Theresa, bronchitis for me), a flooded basement on our return, great visits with friends (and wonderful visits with my nephews for me), board games and cabins, work and play, the death of a very dear friend, being apart for Christmas (that will never happen again)....all of it. It's just life, and it's what is real, solid and good. I wouldn't trade what I have in my relationship with Theresa for anything in the world. I'm looking forward to many more years to come.

Happy Anniversary, baby.