Muse on a Monday

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Today there are no words. I offer instead some of my musical muses from the past 6 months, because sometimes only music can express what we can’t yet say for ourselves.

MUSE PLAYLIST

Oceans by Hillsong United

John Legend Mix

You Can Do This Hard Thing by Carrie Newcomer

Praying by Kesha

Various songs by Sam Smith

It is Well by Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music

Millions of Reasons by Lady Gaga

Even If by Mercy Me

Perfect Symphony by Ed Sheeran with Andrew Bocelli

This is Your Fight Song (Rachel Platten Irish Cover/Amazing Grace) by The Piano Guys

Lots of KISS 104.1 FM Atlanta’s R&B Station

Rise Up by Andra Day

 

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I pray…

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My son and youngest daughter tromp down the wooden stairway perched on a steep, wooded incline in front of their grandparents’ cabin. Buckets and nets in tow, their squeals echo as rambunctiously as their feet racing to the floating dock. They are fishing today, the non-fishing way. No hooks or worms. Just bread crumbs, nets, and long lines of patience.

Depending on the time of day, they may or may not see what they’re trying to catch. My son and daughter lay across the dock’s splintered slats, faces pressed as close to the lake’s mirrored surface as their lifejackets’ bulk will allow. Sometimes they only catch a glimpse of what’s below when a sunfish breaks the surface tension of chocolate gray water.

If, however, the sideways gaze of the rising sun drew my kids down to the dock, they stare into the water’s sepia-infused glow. Scaled bodies, drunk on the morning sun, swim with the music of lakegrass and lilies. Mesmerized by the disco-ball-dazzle of a quartz boulder glittering in the shallows nearby, my kids watch and wait, enchanted.

It’s this kind of enchantment many churches try to create at Christmas. Dazzle! Impress! And maybe, just maybe, some of the people who came because it’s the one time of year they go to church, or because they miss carols and candlelight, or because awhile back the church was their family, or maybe because they’ve never gone and just want to see what this Jesus stuff is all about…maybe, just maybe, some of these people will come back.

This Christmas Eve, I entered the stone archways of a cathedral clad in all its Christmas finery. Candlelight, choirs, brass. Carols and communion. The head priest walked the center aisle, reaching out towards the people in filled pews. He met others’ gazes through round professorial glasses. His gray hair distinguished him more so than his vestments. This was Christmas in all its nostalgic, traditional glory.

And then he preached.

“The woman was so ugly!”

Laughter in the pews from the front and side by the pulpit.

My spine straightened. My skin bristled.

Did he really just say that?

Yes. And not just “ugly woman.”

The “ugliest woman.”

And on it went, spun in ways that confused outer beauty with inner worth. His words twisted one’s God-given goodness from gospel truth into knots beholden to the human standards of male authorities.  This ugly woman was exalted as a necessity for shameful men (like him, he admitted) to learn (and now to teach, apparently) that it’s all okay because God needs broken, ugly women (people, if I’m generous) because that’s how God’s light gets in.

I was drowning, thinking of God’s people who had been diminished by ugly name-calling and labeled less-than by people deemed more powerful than them. Many of whom were likely in the pews around me, bracing themselves against the assault from the pulpit and laughter around them. I longed for the sense of wonder found on the dock with my children.

Those moments on the pier weren’t always perfect, or beautiful, or crystal clear.  But we knew the fish were there. The light was already there. We waited. We watched. Whether we saw into the depths, or how we perceived what swam underneath, was a matter of timing, opportunity, and the perspective revealed by the angle of light. Not really all that different from Bethlehem so long ago, when a baby came to shift our perspective. To shed light in ways that did not break us more, but illuminate new ways to love and better paths to peace.

My heart breaks for the other priests who had to follow the head priest’s path down the aisle. Priests who because of labels are marked as different, or even ugly. Female priests. Priests of color. Priests betrayed by a head priest’s Christmas Eve message to the masses. I pray that more of these children of God stand proudly in the pulpit. I pray they cast light in the ways only they can. I pray our perspectives shift in healing and life-giving ways. I pray that ensnaring people from pulpits with nets of blame and shame becomes a thing of the past.  I pray for a time when all old, white, distinguished, smug men in the pulpit will humble themselves and speak boldly of the beauty found in all God’s creatures.

Muse on a Monday

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Today is the day a tiny baby arrived and offered hope to a broken world.

“What in God’s holy name do you do when it feels like you’re broken and cut up, and love has failed, and you’ve failed, and you feel like Somebody’s love has failed you?”[1]

“My dad had told me this once. For a seed to come fully into its own, it must become wholly undone. The shell must break open, its insides must come out, and everything must change. If you didn’t understand what life looks like, you might mistake it for complete destruction.”[2]

Muse Profile

Who is Ann Voskamp: Bestselling author, blogger, wife, mom.

Why This Person: Voskamp’s writing is lyrical and vulnerable.

Why these quotes:

As Christmas dawns, I find myself broken, raw edges exposed.
And yet, somewhere in my tender wounds, the promise of hope aches.

Not one thing in your life is more important than
figuring out how to live in the face of unspoken pain.”[3]

[1] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path into the Abundant Life (Zondervan, 2016), 12.

[2] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way, 26.

[3] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way, 12.

Journey Revisited–The Still: Fall 2016 Edition

(formerly published on one of my retired blogs)

The small moments, great reads, and experiences on the journey…. 


DCF 1.0
ITINERARY

Semester 1 2016:

  • Intro to Practical Theology
  • Intro to Old Testament I
  • Introductory Biblical Hebrew
  • Imagination and Resilience for God’s Changing World
  • Scripture Reading Practicum

January Term 2017:

  • Postmodernism and Why It Matters to Preaching

GETTING READY

I drew the line between the before and after, an inky delineation down the middle of my narrative. Still-tender shoots of writer-self on one side, seeds of pastor-self on the other.  I laid down my pen.

TRAVEL PLANS

What I thought would happen:

  • My call would only become clearer
  • I’d question my beliefs
  • My marriage would be tested
  • I would not like Scripture Reading Practicum (the practice of interpreting Scripture orally)

TRAVEL PLANS REVISED

What actually happened:

  • I questioned my call altogether
  • My beliefs were affirmed and expanded
  • My hubby and I are in a groove!
  • Scripture Reading Practicum was the reason I didn’t quit seminary

PIT STOP:

Where: Write-In at The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA, October 2016 (an integrative exercise of writing and activism, the first in Columbia Seminary’s Cultivating Courageous Communicators series)

Take-Aways: The power of the written word to affect change spoke loudly in a silent exhibit of letters and other correspondence written between Dr. King and other peacemakers “behind-the-scenes” during the civil rights movement. Change did not toll from one cacophonous bell of collective protest, but from the persistent chimes of individuals wielding small but mighty mallets of justice. Little things=big things.

BEST READS ON THE JOURNEY:

Forever changed how I look at death, resurrection, and atonement

  • “Prayer for the Impossible,” in  What Would Jesus De-Construct? by James K.A. Smith

Now I get why I pray in Jesus’ name

  • Christian Prayer for Today, by Martha Moore-Keish

A beautiful call to action and work of hope and possibility:

  • “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On women’s writing and subversion of male dominated systems. Gorgeous poetic language. An anecdote for the Trump era. A gift that keeps on giving.

  • “The Laugh of the Medusa”, essay by Hélène Cixous

ROAD BUMPS

On the hard stuff: Before my depression was diagnosed and managed, parenting sucked. I wrote a piece about it. People who read it in its original form either loved it (they could identify) or hated it (they couldn’t identify). Both reactions were strong. My feelings didn’t scare me, but it scared me that my writing could make people uncomfortable. I polished the raw out of it. A member of my writer’s group recommended I revisit it at some point. The time for that has come.

On optimism: In my PCUSA tradition people pursuing a call to ministry undergo a battery of psychological testing to identify areas of potential strength and weakness well before you move on through the process to ordination. I did this during this past summer. Not surprisingly, I’m an optimist! As with anything, taken to an extreme, optimism can be negative. Since my results came back, several people made some assumptions that don’t ring true with how I feel, process, and share the hard stuff. This experience forced me to examine my optimism critically. Interestingly, others sometimes are rattled by things relatively low on my “hard feelings” meter and skate over others I’d rate as more critical in the “hard things” rink. A Letter to a Pessimist from an Optimist is in the works.

On failure: Never have I earned a B-, let alone been overjoyed about it. Oh, Hebrew. Oh, first semester. Everyone told me how good it is for me to experience failure. I have some things to say about that, about when failure slides the slippery slope from an earned measure of aptitude to an arbitrary construct where an idealized rite of passage reigns supreme. I have some things to say about making failure a goal, and its potential implications for one who will pastor people for whom passing or failing a class is a cake walk compared to the hard stuff they face every day.

SCENIC DIVERSIONS:

Binge-watched the first season of Designated Survivor with my mom and I finished Parenthood. My husband and I finished The Good Wife (what a disappointing series finale!). Movies Stork and Trolls good wholesome fun with kids. Lion the best kind of thinker movie I love.

DETOUR

Destination: 2016 Writer’s Colloquium at Earlham School of Religion, Richmond, IN

Highlight: Writer Marlena Graves spilled water on my manuscript. That inky line down the middle bled all directions, blurring the “before” and “after”, the “was” and “to be”, the “done” and “to do”, the “writer” and the “pastor”. The burgeoning mark of the now, the is, the doing, the preacher in all its vibrant multiplicity stares back, ready for me to pick up my pen and turn the page.

A NEW YEAR’S LAYOVER

Celebration: The “First” of my first year in seminary is over. The “First” chiseled my intentions and attention into pointed focus. The “First” whittled away layers of stagnation and preoccupation.  The “First” revealed potential.

Found in my dirty laundry: Excess. Too much eating out, too much diet pop, too little quality interactions with family.  Hoping 2nd Semester has a laundromat.

Best thing I DIDN’T do to pass the time: Installing Facebook on my new phone.

Best Luggage Tag Logo:  STEWARDSHIP. This is so going to be my word of the year. Stewardship of mind, body, and resources or bust, baby!

SIGHT-SEEING NOW!

Post-modernism philosophy. Absolutely breathtaking and life-giving for tumultuous times. So many allusions to the Christian narrative. It is rocking my world. Hélène Cixous is my travel companion from now on.

SOUVENIRS:

Written on my faith statement paper in the class Imagination and Resilience:

“You”ll probably have to make some substantial changes (and, sadly, be less creative) to get through the ordination process.”

A favorite quote from the book What Would Jesus De-Construct? by James K.A. Smith:

“When is faith really faith? Not when it is looking more and more like we are right, but when the situation is beginning to look impossible, in the darkest night of the soul. The more credible things are, the less faith is needed, but the more incredible things seem, the more faith is required, the faith that is said to move mountains.”

A conversation:

OTHERS (WITH COMPASSION) “It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. We’ll support you, that’s what we’re here for.”

AMANDA: Shares struggles.

OTHERS (WITH PANIC): You do know that will happen as a pastor. How do you plan to handle that!

A conversation about my background and maybe returning to camp someday:

LISTENER: So how does one with a heart for Quakers and who considers a Unitarian Universalist camp for her kids end up Presbyterian? Isn’t there something in between?

ME: That is the million dollar question.

From my new travel companion, Hélène:

“I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst-burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn’t open my mouth, I didn’t repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What’s the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient infinite woman who…hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a …divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn’t thought that she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble.”  Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa

A hopeful reminder:

 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.   –NRSV 1 Cor 13:12