Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Silence

Well hello there! Happy 2014! (It’s not too late to say that, right?) You know, I never mean for these months-long “blog absences” to happen… they just somehow do. So tell me, what’s new with you this year?

One thing that’s new for me is that I am taking two classes from the Memphis School of Servant Leadership this semester. One is called “Finding God in the Music of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning,” and the other is “Fear, Courage, and Faithfulness.” Both involve some deep reflection and soul-searching, as well as working on the disciplines of faith – prayer, silence, Bible study, Sabbath, stewardship, relationship – which I admit I struggle with during this season of my life. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve always struggled with consistency in my daily faith disciplines. Maybe someday it won’t be such a struggle. Until then, I pray for God’s grace and understanding as I do, at least, keep trying.

Among those disciplines, silence might be the hardest. Unless I either have the apartment to myself or everyone else is asleep (and not snoring or having night terrors), there simply will not be silence in my home. Even now, when I am the only one here, I cannot help but notice the sounds of my upstairs neighbors walking around, vacuuming, and running their washing machine. And aside from these external noises, it seems there are always clangings and bangings going on inside my own mind.

My classes and classmates are helping me learn that the faith practice of silence does not mean eliminating these noises. Rather, it involves moving past them to a place deep within where we don’t even notice them.

image source: Brock & Co.
About a month ago, I got to see the Museum of Biblical Art’s traveling exhibit, “Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery,” when it was at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens here in Memphis. All of the art was fascinating, and it challenged and inspired me to see the biblical stories I grew up with in new ways. But by far my favorite piece in the exhibit was “Virgin Mary in Meditation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner. If I could, I would have pulled up a chair and stared at this masterpiece all day. (Mr. Tanner is one of my most favorite painters – though I confess I am in awe over anyone who can paint anything and make it look like what it actually is – and seeing his “Annunciation” in person at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is on my bucket list.)

Mary’s life was undoubtedly noisy, but in this painting she has found that deep place beyond noise. Although her face betrays no particular emotion, she looks completely content. Her cloak begins to melt into her surroundings, as if she is becoming one with something beyond the physical world. She doesn’t need to speak; I don’t think she even needs God to speak. She is simply being – being in the presence of God that is being with her.

As I head into a time of silence today – or at least trying – this image of Mary is going with me. I’m imagining my edges blurring and fading until there’s no discernible difference between my being and the presence of God that is with me. I may not get to that place where I don’t hear the vacuum and the washing machine, but I thank Mr. Tanner – and the “Ashe to Amen” exhibit – for helping me get a little closer.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent in Word and Image

I wrote a poem for the first Sunday in Advent (which is today):

the Light
steals into the world.
not with a bang
or a parade
or a headline.
it quietly slips
into the time and place
no one would expect - 
a back alley
a hospital room
a lonely soul
a stable.
the Light
steals into the world
and there is hope.


I also decided (another of my great last minute, late-night ideas) to photograph my way through Advent. Look for "gottabejulie" on Instagram and feel free to join me in #InstagramAdvent!

First Sunday in Advent: The Light of Hope

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Unfinished Pants and "Mad Men"

I bought Boy 1 some unhemmed pants not long ago. I thought it was strange at first, but then I realized the brilliance of it. Boys come in many different shapes and sizes and they grow fast. Boy 1’s particular body is about as tall as a typical 9-year-old and as big around as a typical 4-year-old. I sometimes have trouble finding pants that fit him (thank the Lord for whomever invented adjustable-waist pants for kids!). So after the initial surprise, this unfinished-edge pants thing made sense. I can put the hem exactly where Boy 1 needs it, and I can change it as he grows taller.

I wonder if people are like pants. At some point, our edges are unfinished. We get them hemmed, but then the hems may fall out or need to be let out. None of us are perfectly pressed all the time. Maybe some of us less than others.

My edges feel extra raw right now, and I confess that I’ve been protecting them with TV. Lots of it. Sleep is where the crazy, stressful, unrestful dreams are and reality is, well, dangerous for raw edges. So TV. TV protects the raw edges.

But it protects them like leaving Boy 1’s unfinished pants in a plastic bag protects them. They can’t unravel, yet… what’s the point of pants in a bag? There is a part of my brain that knows the plastic bag has to be temporary, but it’s not loud enough just yet to get me out.

In my plastic bag I’ve been watching marathons of “Mad Men.” It was hard to watch at first, even as hard as trying to watch “Breaking Bad” with Big Boy (which I just couldn't handle) – except it wasn’t the extreme violence, but rather the extreme sexism that disturbed me. The way the men look at, treat, talk to, talk about, and apparently think of women is hard to watch. Women, even and maybe especially wives, are more objects than people. Almost every husband on the show is unfaithful to his wife. Although these advertising gurus are slowly realizing that it’s the women who do most of the shopping and therefore the women they need to convince, they still don’t get it. As soon as I start to like one of the male characters, he turns out to be an androcentric jerk just like all his buddies. (I’ll give the exception to Father Gill, although I didn’t like it when he gave Peggy the Easter Egg. You’ll just have to watch to find out what I mean by that, because I can’t explain it without just telling you everything.)

So why do I keep watching? The women. I keep watching and keep watching not just to stay inside the plastic bag anymore, but because I HAVE to know: what will the women do next? What will Peggy, Betty, and Joan do next in this world in which they don’t quite fit? Joan knows how to work the system to get exactly what she wants, but does she know exactly what she wants? Peggy knows she has a gift and is trying to let it shine, but she fumbles and stumbles in this male-dominated business world. Betty tries to hide her raw edges; she tries to mend them (but her therapist gives her husband reports of all her sessions); and at last she lets them hang out. What will they do next? I have to know.

I have to know because I don’t know what to do next. I just know, sitting here thinking about pants and “Mad Men,” I gotta do some hemming. I’m not the same shape I was before moving to Memphis (literally and figuratively). My hemming from before has fallen out. But my raw edges can’t stay in the bag. They’ve got to come out into the light so I can look at them, measure them, and figure out what to do next with them.

P.S. – I’m only up to (almost) the end of Season 2. Don’t tell me what happens!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Makes Me a Jesus Feminist

I’m currently reading Sarah Bessey’s book, Jesus Feminist. I can hardly wait to finish and write a review for y’all! But in the meantime, Sarah has asked her blog readers to share their “Jesus Feminist” stories. Here’s mine…

My contribution to Sarah's "I'm a Jesus Feminist" Facebook photo project:
"I am a Baptist seminary graduate searching for my place in ministry
and I'm a Jesus Feminist."

I didn’t know it at the time, but I grew up around Jesus Feminists.

I went to a (then) Southern Baptist Church that did typical 1980s and '90s Southern Baptist things. I went to Sunday School, Training Union, Mission Friends and then Girls In Action every week. I had a star on my Vacation Bible School certificate for every year except the one when I had chicken pox (and I was crushed to miss VBS, by the way. I felt like there should be some kind of asterisk on my certificate explaining that it wasn’t of my own free will that I missed that one star).

I didn’t know that some things about my church weren’t so typical - like that women played key roles and got recognized for them. Little or nothing of significance happened without the support of the three Jenkins sisters (whom I thought were ancient back then, but who continued to live and be Christian pillars for many, many years). We had women deacons. Women were among those who represented our church at state and Southern Baptist conventions. It was the women, by and large, who taught me and who showed me the love of Christ by loving me.

I remember one time hearing some of the church ladies talking about what had happened at some or another Baptist convention they had recently attended. At that time, I learned as I listened, the president of the Woman’s Missionary Union was the only woman allowed to address the convention… But the WMU president at this particular convention had used her allotted mic time to HAND THE MICROPHONE TO ANOTHER WOMAN AND LET HER SPEAK TO THE CONVENTION.  I knew by the way these ladies talked about this rebellious and revolutionary act that they thought it was awesome. Awesome and about dang time.

When I got to college and discovered the academics of Biblcial studies – and then Chrisitan history studies – it was like finding a part of myself I didn’t know was missing, and I became a religion major. (Funny side story: the first time I met with my academic advisor, he looked at my transcripts and asked me about my upbringing and then, dead serious, told me my whole life had been preparing me to be a religion major. No kidding!)

That’s when the questions started: “You’re a religion major?...
…Do you want to be a music minister?”
or
…”Do you want to be a children’s minister?”

To be as fair as I can, maybe I got asked about being a music minister by people who knew I love to sing and that I took piano lessons for ten years. But really, by then I knew the world a little better, and I knew that, at least most of the time, I was getting asked these questions – and not, “Do you want to be a pastor?” – because I was a girl.

Multiply that by 10 when I went to seminary.

So let me be clear about something right now. My ministry career path has been derailed, redirected, shifted, and put on hold multiple times. By my wild collage of passions (Teaching! Music! Theological reflection! Worship! History! Bible studies! Missions! I love it all!), by my insecurity (Am I really that good of a musician/theologian/scholar/caregiver? Does anybody like me at all? Who would hire me when there are people with much nicer resum├ęs out there? Is there anywhere ON EARTH where I fit in?), by my choice to be a stay-at-home mom for several years (which was feminist because it was MY choice), by negative church experiences (don’t even ask…), by life events (like, say, moving to a new city just when I was about to have both boys in school all day), and perhaps by even more factors.
image source: SarahBessey.com

But never, in my heart of hearts, have I been held back from ministry – professional or volunteer – because of my second X chromosome.

That makes me a Jesus Feminist.

And I thank God for that! I thank God, who put these passions for the Bible and Christian ministry in my soul, and I thank every single Jesus Feminist I have known and am getting to know along the way!

You can read more “Jesus Feminist” stories, share yours (please!), and enter to win a signed copy of Jesus Feminist on SarahBessey.com.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Good Word a Day, Day 31: Making the World a Better Place, One Party at a Time

E.B. White once said something like this: "I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." (I originally read this quote here; however, a little more digging revealed several variations of it.)

I get that, but lately, I’ve been noticing that improving the world and enjoying the world can go hand in hand. Like this, for instance:

Our annual Pumpkin Festival photo... We were cleaning up
and the candy had been put away! I need a new idea
for next year; the monster teeth didn't survive the trip home.
A single mom and her four young children helped out at our church’s pumpkin patch this year.  (How this came about is a story all its own.) As our family was giving their family a ride home after a morning in the patch, my kids started telling her kids all about the fun stuff there would be at our upcoming Pumpkin Festival. Candy! Games! Popcorn! Hot dogs! Hay rides! Bounce houses! Music! Face painting! Crazy hair! My boys gushed with excitement.

Then one of the girls quietly asked, “Is it free?”

“Yes!” I said. “It’s all free!” Let me tell you, I was SO glad I got to say “yes.” I know some places charge admission to their Harvest/Pumpkin/Halloween events for various reasons. At my church, though, we consider our Pumpkin Festival a gift to our Memphis neighbors. It’s a safe, family-friendly way to have fun, dress up, eat junk food, and enjoy the world and each other’s company.

It’s a big party that strengthens the community. It's making the world a better place in a way that happens to be really enjoyable.

In my “Dawnings” leadership team, we’ve been talking about hospitality over the last few weeks. When we met this past Sunday, I noticed that we also said the word “fun” a lot. Building, nourishing, sustaining, and growing communities requires work – but not drudgery. We can make it as fun as we can imagine.

E.B. White also wrote, "All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world" (I found that quote here). Loving the world is at the heart of any work God calls us to do. And what is more enjoyable than love?
 
Whether you participate in Halloween festivities today, have a simple dinner with family or friends, or maybe just make a phone call or write a letter, I challenge you to improve the world by building community… but the good word of the day is that it can be FUN!

THANKS for hanging out with me for 31 straight days! 
I hope you have been blessed!