Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Cross is More Than a Whisper

I wrote this poem after visiting Israel/Palestine. That trip forever changed how I view war and our world. However, a poem uses specificity to speak to universality. These words came from the Middle East but speak to all injustice, whether across the ocean in an ancient desert, or a few miles away in Memphis, Tennessee or just outside my door in Olive Branch, Mississippi.





If our God is for us then who can ever stop us…

If our God is for us,
then who are we
for?

What do we stand against?

I have to ask, because
the bombs are steady falling.
I watch the babies die,
the mothers cry,
the men turned each day
to animal instinct,
to survival at expense
of love, life, peace.

The bombs fall and we
who claim to believe
our God can do anything…

What the hell are we doing?

How dare we debate doctrine
as our brothers die.
How dare we who follow the Christ
throw stones and walk past
the beaten man in the ditch?
How dare we side
with human power?

The bombs fall.
The people cry.
The bodies are broken
and peace will die.

Because we stand by
motionless
and let this happen.

We are letting this happen.

We quote the Old Testament
and Revelation
but never Jesus.
We can’t quote Jesus
to defend ourselves
because deep down we know
that Jesus is ashamed.

How dare we claim
not?

You go to Israel and watch
the agony and hate,
watch as you read
the Sermon on the Mount
and then you tell me
if Jesus is proud
of all we see
in his homeland.

Was the cross only for me?

Was the cross only a whisper
when it’s meant to be a scream?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Coloring the '90s

Y'all know I love adult coloring books. Coloring was one of my favorite pastimes as a child, and some things never change.

I dealt with panic attacks and some other anxiety issues pretty heavily in 2014, and I colored my way through much of that struggle. Everything from sugar skulls to Bible verses to Lisa Frank... The act of filling in the lines with brightness stilled my wild stallion of a mind.

I haven't gotten to color as much lately, but I did spend some time with this new coloring book: That's So '90s Pop


Strictly speaking, this isn't just a coloring book. It is an activity book. It also has some trivia stuff inside its pages. The little-known-facts are fun, but the activities don't go one way or the other with me. I want to color, so I mostly skip those.

My only complaint about the coloring pages is that the artist may have tried to make the people too realistic. The faces are more lined than I would like them to be, but that isn't a big deal. I just prefer a bit more whimsy to my cartoon celebrities. LOL!

Since I just shared with you all how I feel about 90s hip-hop, I thought this would be worth sharing. It's a fun little book to add to my collection. Here is the first page I colored:


Sometimes, a girl just needs a little Alanis to vent all the anger from her spirit. Know what I mean?

It's a jagged little pill... swimming in your stomach.

I hope your Sunday is beautiful. I felt it was time for a lighter post. My thoughts have been heavy as of late.


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Used to Dance




I used to dance.

I wasn't that great at ballet or jazz or even modern... the three styles we learned in middle school classes. The only reason I took dance on into high school was because I didn't know what to replace it with. The theater class was full, and I'd already been in dance so at least it was a known quantity.

I don't remember how long we were in that freshman class before the teacher told us to split into groups and choreograph our own routines. I do remember that my only friend in the class was Tina and she picked our music, "No Diggity" by Blackstreet. Off to the gym we went, playing this hip-hop song and working out moves. At that point, it was probably me just doing whatever moves Tina told me to do. Aside from my 5th grade obsession with En Vogue, I was surrounded by bluegrass and country western music. The little bit of R&B I knew was pitiful.

So, there we were, doing our thing on one side of the gym, when we heard another group talking about us. They'd paused their own routine to watch ours. The gist of their comments can be summed up like this: "Those white girls can dance."

It turns out my body was not made for ballet and jazz, but it did know a thing or two about rhythm. Dance became my confidence currency. My friend, Catherine, started calling me "Black White Girl" when she saw me dance backstage after a theater performance one night. I'd quit taking the school classes, but I hadn't stopped moving.

I went from standing on the sidelines at parties to diving into the thick of things, my body pressed against another body. Boy, girl, didn't matter. The point was to dance, to feel the music in my muscles, to know that my body knew what it was doing.

Until that moment, that acknowledgment from the outside that something about my physicality was right, I had been at odds with my body.

Too skinny.
Too pale.
Too freckled.
Too flat-chested.
Too oily.
Too weak.

There was always something wrong with me.

All of that changed when I let myself dance.

I stopped dancing when I got married. I had good reasons. By that point, the dancing I did was out at nightclubs, my body pressed against the body of some man I didn't know. I never gave out my number. I didn't drink or talk or flirt. I rarely got their names. I just went to dance, to feel the power that existed inside my limbs. But, if we're being honest, it was vertical sex with clothes on. The choreographed routines had long slipped away. What used to be about connecting to my body turned into a connection to someone else's body, allowing how they moved with me to boost up my flagging confidence.

I did go to a club once after I got married. I had two kids by that point, but I was visiting a friend in Virginia, my kids states away. We decided to go out dancing at a club called Corned Beef.

They played techno music.

I stood there, baffled by the speakers. What was that stuff? How was I supposed to move to it? And who with? I no longer needed other bodies to tell me what mine could do. My body had twice created new life. My body could rock it.

My friend and I danced together for a bit, but the music was a disappointment and we soon gave up and headed home.

I still dance in my kitchen when no one is looking.

When I started back to school last month, a full twenty years since that first dance routine to "No Diggity" in the gym at Lower Richland High School, I was nervous. My confidence was a mess.

So I made a playlist. 90s R&B blasted from my speakers in the week leading up to my first class. I dance in the driver's seat. My kids laugh or roll their eyes, and that's okay.

Because it works. I feel those rhythms inside my skin and I remember how I used to move, and I know I can do that again. Maybe I am not heading off to a hip-hop class, but I am heading off to class, and if my body can remember how to dance, so can my mind.

Who knows, maybe one of these days, I WILL head off to a hip-hop class.

Monday, January 30, 2017

People Are Not Grapes



I recently attended a workshop on using metaphor in writing. The question was asked, “What makes a metaphor bad?” Around the room, writers proposed theories. We debated those theories. This was my conclusion:

A metaphor is bad if it does not make its point.

This week, I was forced to rethink that statement. Over and over, a metaphor has been thrown at me that perfectly makes its point but is still a bad metaphor. It is bad because it makes a wrong point. It leads the reader to a conclusion that is unfounded and inaccurate.

In every debate I read on the refugee crisis, someone uses some version of the following metaphor:

There’s a bowl of grapes. A few are poisoned. Do you still let your child eat a handful?

Every time I hear this, I want to scream.

People are not grapes.

That metaphor does not hold up under close scrutiny. What you are saying, when you use that metaphor, is this:

There are twelve people in a sinking boat. One of them might someday do something evil. So let’s let all twelve people drown.

In the metaphor, the grapes are Muslim refugees. A poisoned grape is a terrorist. Perhaps we should be angry with the person poisoning the grapes instead of the grapes themselves. But I digress.

Let’s look at this another way.

A long time ago, a man named Jesus chose 12 men to be his disciples.

One of them was bad, deceptive, poisoned if you will.

Jesus knew one of his disciples would betray him. He even knew which disciple it was. They were 12 men in a boat, and he did not walk away and let them all drown. He still chose them, all of them, poison or not. He chose them and walked with them and lived with them and ate with them. On the night the poison would be discovered, he served them, all of them, even the one hiding the poison.

You could even argue there were two poisoned grapes among those twelve. After all, Peter also betrayed Christ. He denied him three times in one night. And yet, Jesus still used Peter. Jesus built his entire church on Peter. He milked the poison right out of that grape.

Jesus did not put his own life ahead of anyone else’s, whether they deserved his sacrifice or not. Whether we deserve his sacrifice or not.

To answer your question, no, I would not let my kids eat those grapes. But people are not grapes.

Could you stand in front of a mother and father and their children and tell them you are okay with them suffering and dying because… because they are a bowl of grapes and one might be poisoned?

I am not perfect. I am equally guilty of this kind of thinking. When I drive past a hitchhiker, I do not stop. I have kids in my car. I have to protect my children, and some hitchhikers are bad people, right? I am a woman by myself with no means of protection.

And today I feel convicted. Because yes, I am judging all hitchhikers by the evil actions of a few, just as so many of my friends and neighbors are judging an entire race of people by the evil actions of a few.

We are both guilty, the person comparing refugees to poison grapes and me, the person driving past a stranger who needs a ride.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know the story of the Good Samaritan. I know Jesus’ command to love and serve the least of these. I know about “entertaining angels unaware.” And because I know these things, I cannot go on living like people are no different than grapes. I can’t stand silent while otherwise good people use a bad metaphor to justify the cruelty their fear perpetuates.

Argue against the acceptance of Syrian refugees if you need to. If you truly feel your point is valid. But please, drop this faulty metaphor. If you are going to condemn a group of people, be honest about it. Be willing to own your judgment call. Do not hide behind a bowl of poisoned grapes.

Jesus sees past our excuses.


God saw those twelve disciples. He knew one or two were poisoned. And still, he sent his son. He gave his child those grapes.





*Originally published by Venn Magazine

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Deconstruction



In my last post, I mentioned that I am in the midst of deconstruction.

I wanted to be sure my readers understand what I mean by that.

To deconstruct something is to take it apart. That does not mean to destroy it.

Destruction might mean burning a building to the ground or sending a wrecking ball right at it. You might build something new on top of the ashes and dust, sure, but you will need new materials to do so. You will start from scratch.

Deconstruction, on the other hand, means to take something apart piece by piece.

That is what I am doing.

It was a slow process, at first. I thought maybe I could just remodel the kitchen of my faith, if you know what I mean. Maybe I just needed a new roof and some fresh paint. It was only when those changes failed to satisfy my soul that I settled down to work.

First of all, deconstruction can be pretty scary even though it doesn't involve burning my faith to the ground. Luckily for me, I am able to do this work in a safe place. That isn't true for everyone and that is why I am writing these blog posts. There are people out there doing this alone. 

There are pastor's spouses out there doing this alone.

Because churches don't take well to their pastor's wife picking apart her faith. It feels too much like she is picking apart THEIR faith.

Too many churches still think a pastor must "keep his wife in line," or some such nonsense. As if my husband can control what happens in my spirit. As if he can control what God does with me.

Luckily, my husband has faith enough for the both of us right now. He can shelter me under his roof while I rip mine apart to find the leaks. And our church is a church that loves. Our church believes in community and justice and compassion, and those are walls that protect me while I figure things out.

The part of deconstruction that has scared me most is the worry that I will take down the last brick and be stuck. What if I don't know how to put things back together? What if I can never decide which bricks to keep and which to throw out? What if I rebuild and make it worse than it was before?

What if I am too tired to rebuild and find myself in the vast field of atheism?

Yesterday, a friend and fellow sojourner, suggested I listen to the Richard Rohr episode of the Deconstructionists podcast, and I did.

WOW!

As Fr. Richard explained the three boxes, I realized I am living in the second box. The second box is death, and that is scary as hell. I'm not gonna lie about it. I'm not a person comfortable with death.

But the very basis of Christianity (and the very basis of all creation) is dying and resurrecting. Jesus is the obvious example, but there is also seasons and plants and the water cycle. It is everywhere.

It is incarnation.

So why should my faith be any different?

I am in the second box. But there is a third box.

I am in the tomb, wrapped in cloth, asleep in the darkness of the second day. But there is a third day.

The tomb will be empty.

For me, hearing that was like drinking the living water Jesus offers to the woman at the well. I sat in my car, crying, texting my husband, so grateful to see a future in my future.

With my podcast congregations and my physical faith community and the friends I have alongside me, I am not alone in this. There are blueprints to follow.

Deconstruction is not complete, but I can continue the process with the assurance that reconstruction is on the horizon.

All hope is not lost.

Monday, January 23, 2017

I Need to Approve of Myself



I don't worry that you won't like me.

I am under no obligation to please all the people all the time.

I do, however, worry that you will judge my husband based on me.

My husband is a pastor. He is a strong man of faith and conviction. He has been called to plant a church where we are now, and the community that is being built continues to inspire and amaze me.

He is a man of faith and conviction.

I am a woman in the midst of deconstruction.

He and I are not the same.

Years ago, I took a brick from the wall of my identity and examined it. It didn't look quite right to me. Now, here I sit in a whole pile of bricks. I am going full KonMari on these slabs of mud and concrete that construct who I am. I hold each one up to the light. I turn it over in my hands and in my heart.

Some of the bricks will remain. Some are in a waiting pile. I'm not sure what I think about them. I can't bring myself to throw them into the fire.

Yet.

To get more specific, the main brick I can't throw out is Jesus. However, the other bricks that built my religious house are scattered. That means I am going to get some stuff wrong. I am going to get other things right. I am going to do and say some wrong things for the right reasons and some right things for the wrong reasons.

I am at peace with that.

But I don't want someone to look at me and decide my husband isn't worthy or the church he is leading is not for them.

I am not the face of his ministry.

I am only the face of me.

Right now, I am trying to follow Jesus and that means fighting for the oppressed. I will stand up for those whom society is trying to dehumanize.

I didn't know about the local women's march, or I would have been there. I'm sure that triggers some of you to make assumptions about my beliefs and values. You probably are assuming right in some categories, but wrong in others.

No one fits in one little check box.

But I do fit in the box that says I am a woman and I matter. I am not comfortable living in a society that seems unfazed by our president's treatment of women, the language he uses when speaking about us. Have other presidents behaved disgracefully? I'm sure they have. The majority of my adult life has been spent under Obama, however, and whatever issues there were with his presidency, scandal did not mark it. Should I have been concerned when Bill Clinton couldn't keep his belt buckled? Of course. But I was just a kid back then. I didn't understand how men in power could affect my daily life.

Now I do.

Now I know what it is like to be a woman in a world where patriarchy still holds too much sway. Now I have watched rape victims take the blame for their own trauma. I have watched men walk away from their crimes because they are good athletes or rich white boys. I have taken pictures of my friend's bruised and battered body and known, even as I encouraged her to speak out, that her rapist would not be held accountable.

I know what it feels like to walk across a dark parking lot alone, jumping at shadows, wondering if what I am wearing could mean a jury would see me as "asking for it."

I have traveled and seen how good we have it in America compared to how women live in other lands.

But having it better than someone else doesn't mean we rest on our laurels and trust the status quo. Because Iran used to be a land of liberated women. Read Reading Lolita in Tehran if you want to know more about that. Iran was a land where women were professors and dressed as they liked and lived their lives and then one regime came through and changed everything.

So I know my comfortable situation could change right before my eyes, and I know that my status as a white women has afforded me privilege that my sisters of color don't have. My status as a heterosexual cis woman has afforded me privilege that other women of all walks have not been afforded.

So I will use my privilege to speak. I will use the voice God gave me to say the words I believe are right and true and just.

I cannot be at peace with myself and with Jesus if I am not seeking justice with everything I am.

My mother told me I should be praying for Donald Trump, and I assure you that I am. But I won't use prayer as a cop-out either. If my own son behaved the way our president has behaved, I would pray for him. Yes. But I would also set his rear end straight and remind him how he was raised and I would not enable him.

I have told my boys as much. I have told them that if they ever treat a woman like the Stanford rapist did, I will not speak up for them in court. I will visit them in jail and pray for them and love them, but I will not let them off the hook of consequences. I will not let them behave that way BECAUSE I love them.

And I love America. I love the hugely diverse population of America. I love the mix of cultures and languages. I love the focus on freedom and equality. I love my country too much to enable its demise.

I hope, even if you disagree with my methods or my convictions, you who know me will hear my heart.

But if you don't, that is okay too. Twenty years have passed since I was the gawky girl who needed to be approved of in order to have peace.

Now?

I need to approve of myself.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Haven't Made Peace



I sat in Chapel with my 4-year-old class and listened to the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea... after the disciples woke him up because they were terrified. The teller of this tale didn't give Jesus's ending speech... Oh ye of little faith! Yeah, Jesus really ragged those guys for being scared when he was right there with them. You'd almost think they were... gasp... humans.

I am not good at children's Bible stories.

Our children's minister who does these Chapel times at the preschool is very good at Bible stories. She draws them in and involves them physically as well as mentally. It's good stuff. The problem isn't her. The problem is me.

I am too detail oriented, too intent on picking things apart, and too at odds with my own beliefs and ideas about the Bible.

Yesterday, the kids learned that Jesus protects them from bad things.

And I had to fight back tears of anger and despair as those little children sang about Jesus always watching over them.

Because I don't believe it's true.

Do I?

When the minister told the group that Jesus would protect them, my mind went instantly to the children I spent my summer with in Honduras. I can't begin to tell you all of the dangers a child faces in a third world country. Especially girls.

Then, I thought of the kids actually sitting on the floor around me. It is likely that a few of them have already been abused in some way. Others will be abused in the next few years. One of my dear friends was molested for ten years, by a neighbor, and it started when she was the same age as the little boy telling me I am the best teacher in the world.

It was hard to sit still. My body was screaming at me to run away. All of this is too heavy.

RUN AWAY!

Why would Jesus protect some kids and not others?

That is what my brain was demanding to know. Either Jesus picks favorites or Jesus isn't all-powerful and some kids are beyond his abilities or maybe he isn't protecting any child and it is all left to chance.

Or to us.

Maybe it is up to us to protect these children.

If that is the case, friend, we are a whole lot of failures.

One of the girls we met summer of '15 didn't show up summer of '16. She'd left to be a prostitute. Left... as if this was a choice for a young girl to make. As if some gang or older man isn't pulling those puppet strings and making her dance because she feels like she has no choice.

She is not being protected.

And I don't know what to do with these thoughts. They sit on my shoulders like gorillas. They are so heavy, so awkward, so difficult to explain away.

I know the answers apologists give. Those answers worked well when my questions were more intellectual than nitty gritty in my guts real happening right now.

Now... they just aren't good enough.

I can't walk away from Jesus. I love him. I believe in him. I want to live and love like him.

But I am also angry and scared and maybe I don't want to wake him up and tell him that. Because who wants to be lectured on their lack of faith when the boat has been rocked so violently the waves crash onto the wooden deck? My clothes are soaked and salty. I'm seasick, heaving over the sides of the ship. The wind blows my hair into my eyes and I cannot see my own hands at the end of my arms.

I need Jesus to wake up and say, "Peace. Be still."

But why should Jesus save me from this place of confusion and fear? Why save me and not that girl from the mountain village in Honduras? Why save me and not my friend when she was 4-years-old and afraid?

This is where I am in my faith. It is a place where the light peeks through the clouds but the clouds keep spinning into twisters.

I have no beautiful wrap-up paragraph in which I explain how I have made peace with these issues. I haven't made peace with these issues.

I haven't made peace.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Finding God in the Waves - A Review



I spent the last few weeks reading Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science by Mike McHargue.

Some of you have followed my journey into doubt and cynicism and general confusion about my faith via my posts on Middle Places. Some of you have not. So let me just say this: I have been in a season of faith deconstruction for a few years. At first, it was more a dissatisfied feeling... a time in the desert, spiritually. But I was not content to stay in the desert, so I started chasing after God with everything in me.

I also let myself question God. I let myself question everything, because not questioning was only leading me down a bitter path. I knew that path could not lead anywhere I want to go.

If you don't ask questions, no one knows to give you answers.

Imagine that.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears, right? I forget who said that, but I believe it. I believe that, and there aren't a lot of definites in my belief-case right now.




As soon as I heard Mike, also known as Science Mike, talking about his book, I knew I had to read it. That was the first Liturgists podcast episode I listened to, and I listened with tears on my cheeks.

I had found my tribe.

"The first and best response to someone whose faith is unraveling is a hug. Apologetics aren't helpful. Neither are Scripture references. The first thing a hurting person needs is to know they're not alone."

Thank you, Mike. As a pastor's wife in the south, it would be pretty easy to isolate myself in this journey and to live as though I am alone. I am lucky to have a church family that hugs me, literally and metaphorically. No one is handing me Lee Strobel books or quoting Paul at me. And that is good, because I have already read Strobel and I mostly want to punch Paul in the face. Not always. Sometimes I love good ol' Paul so much I could kiss him right on the mouth. But, when he talks about women, I mostly just want to punch him.

And I am willing to say that.

I am lucky to have a husband who loves me and doesn't feel his own faith or calling is threatened because his wife can't decide what she thinks about the Bible. I am lucky to have a church that isn't threatened by my questioning and sees my heart, how I love Jesus no matter what I think or don't think about the rest of it. Not all pastor's wives can openly struggle and journey and live their own faith.

In Finding God in the Waves, Science Mike took me along on his journey into atheism and then back to God. He used a lot of science, and I actually understood most of it. That in itself blew my mind. I thought I disliked science, but it turns out I just dislike math. The theories and all of the workings of the human brain? That stuff is interesting and actually HELPED me make sense of my faith.

In the pages of this book, I found my own questions about the Bible and prayer and how God engages the world... or doesn't. I didn't find answers, per se, but I did find a companion on the journey and new tools for understanding myself and my world and my faith.

If you are a skeptic or even just a person of faith who wants to better understand people who struggle with the things that seem simple and sure to you, I cannot recommend this book enough.



*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Currently: First Post of 2017



Current Books: I am reading Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg, but it is not holding me quite how an Elizabeth Berg novel usually does. I may have just read too many Berg books in a row. Sometimes, I am like that with authors. I need them in well-portioned doses. I am also reading Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found It Again Through Science by Mike McHargue and LOVING it. I will post a full review soon. By my bed, I have a volume of poetry called Return of the River: The Selected Poems of Roberto Sosa. He is a Honduran poet, and this book is for both pleasure and book research.

Current Playlist: The Liturgists podcast. Always. Mixed in with a few Gungor songs. I just started the episode called Who Am I?

Current Shame-Inducing Guilty Pleasure: I stayed home while my husband and kids traveled for a few days. I did miss the family time, and I loathe being home alone at night, but I got a lot done and I really needed to feel I'd accomplished something over break.

Current Colors: Grey and teal, especially the darker shades of teal.

Current Food: I had Papa John's pizza last week, and I hadn't had it in a long time. It was so good.

Current Drink: Coffee, as always, but also I am shaking EmergenC Immune+ powder into my water bottle in the morning this month. I refuse to get sick again. I leave for Honduras in a month, and the sick has to go.

Current Favorite-Favorite: The word "hygge." My friend, Jen, taught me the word and showed me this website and I am in love. It explains what I have been aching for in my own home.  It isn't the theme God gave me for 2017, but it is my personal goal for the year.

Current Wishlist: Items to help me accomplish hygge in my home and a few books and such.

Current Needs: A job that pays more for less hours or allows me to work from home or else to feel at peace with the juggle of my current job (which I do like) and school (classes start in 2 weeks).

Current Triumph: I cleaned so much stuff out of my closet/craft cabinet over break. So. Much. Stuff. And I finished reading The Anatomy of Story so I am ready to start scene weaving my new novel.

Current Bane-of-My-Existence: Illness. My kids have been sick and so have I, and I cannot shake the sneezing and the coughing. It just will not go away. It always goes away in Honduras, so I am hoping my upcoming trip will help reset my system.

Current Indulgence: I watched all of the first season of "This is Us" last weekend. I can't wait for it to return.

Current Mood: First day back to work after break and juggling illnesses in the family? My mood is pensive and exhausted. Probably, by Friday I will be back to normal.

Current Outfit: Dark wash jeans, dark purple sweater over a black tank, dark grey cardigan, light grey sneakers

Current #1 Blessing: The Well... the community I have found there... the friends I have made within that community... They are keeping me sane.

Current Quote: (This explains the answer I gave for #1 Blessing) “I hadn't realized how much I'd been needing to meet someone I might be able to say everything to.” ― Elizabeth Berg, Talk Before Sleep

Current Photo:
Hygge in the bathroom

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