Southernisms: I Could Eat

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Each week we have a hashtag game at Progressive Redneck Preacher called “Southernisms”. A southernism is a phrase, activity, or ritual common to our southern culture – sometimes amazingly beautiful, sometimes pretty helpful, sometimes uproariously funny. The past two weeks we had the hashtag #icouldeat . This hashtag comes from what is considered a polite, common answer to the question, “Are y’all hungry for something?” Also, sometimes “I could eat” leads into a description of how hungry you are. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” comes to mind. We asked people to think about the question, “What is your most unique or your favorite southern dish, southern meal, or story about eating in the south?” and to share that, with the hashtag #icouldeat . Or, alternately, to share the strangest thing they’ve heard someone share that they could eat.

Next week, with us coming out of the labor day weekend, I’d like to follow up with a suggestion made by Gabriel Sealey-Morris, author of The Stubborn Pines. He recommended #listentotheworkingman, stories about the experiences, struggles, or wisdom of working class men. I’d like to add, remembering this week’s day of action for women done by Moral Monday, #awomansworkisneverdone, a hashtag about the same issue but focusing on working women, especially (but not limited to) southern culture. This way we can highlight both the working man and working woman. Share these examples, with the appropriate hashtag, to my Facebook profile. Also please include songs, stories, pictures, and memes that connect with this theme as well.

Here are some of the answers our readers gave us this week to the call to share about southern food and southern eating in #icouldeat:

pork and gravy
Gabe Sealey-Morris, the author of Stubborn Pines, a novel of the new south we will soon be reviewing at Progressive Redneck Preacher, says “#icouldeat a whole pork shoulder in gravy”.

skillet cornbread
Calla Belbin writes, “#icouldeat unsweet cornbread ’til ‘y’all’ goes out of style”.

shrimp and grits

My mother-in-law, Kristine Laun Clark, says her favorite southern food is ” Shrimp and grits! Thank you Jesus!”

nannerpudding

Steve Horn says “#icouldeat ‘nanner puddin'”.  So could I, Steve.  So could I.

eastern nc barbecue

Brittany Glenn-Steiner says, “BBQ (pulled pork) is definitely my favorite. I could just eat it all”. As does Tamara Story Knowles.

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I could eat handmade pimento cheese. The best I’ve had so far, bar none, was the pimento cheese at Inspirational Grounds Coffee shop in Dunn, NC.

chess pie

Sally Rigg says “Anything w/garlic-cheese grits and chess pie suits me!” I, a life-long southerner, had to ask her and then look up what chess pie is. Apparently there is a southern food that’s new to me.  Gotta try it.

Rev. Amanda Kie Borchik shared a new pie for me: “You also have to try buttermilk pie, if you’ve never had it. I recommend Scratch Baking in Durham for all your pie-tasting needs”.  

Challenge accepted!

Here are some stories of southern eatin’:

pig pickin
Growing up, I actually didn’t attend a pig picking until I was a teenager, because as a child my parents attended an off-shoot of the Seventh Day Adventists that tried to keep kosher — no pork, no shrimp, nada. (Not eating pork, by the way, puts you at a huge social disadvantage in southern culture, let me tell you). Well this was not the case as a teenager, and I still remember the first pig-picking I went to. It was at my uncle John’s, of blessed memory. He was, among other things, a pig farmer, as were many of my ancestors. So for him, a pig picking was the end of harvest time. It was no small affair. I actually brought a date to it. And thank God! There were at least four huge barrels in which whole hogs were slow-cooked in eastern NC-style vinegar barbecue. There was country music playing and everyone dancing. It was like a community street party. Food, drinks, everything. I remember thinking, as I looked at the juicy aromatic NC barbecue uncle John was cutting up for the guests, “I didn’t know what I was missing. ‪#‎icouldeat‬ that all night”. And I did. I can’t recall if my date and I cut a rug or not, but I hope we did. I learned that in my wider family of cousins, aunts, and uncles, a pig picking was more like a southern luau.

turtle

As a teenager, I went fishing with my buddy Cecil, who grew up in a town named “Beaver’s Creek”. (If a town is named for a woodland creature, i.e. “a varmint”, be clear: it is likely as southern and country as collard greens). Anyway, we had caught a mess of fish. Then suddenly, we turned and perhaps the largest snapping turtle I have ever seen had knocked over our bucket.  It was destroying our fish in a feeding frenzy. We both were furious, and swore as much like sailors as teenage boys can. Then Cecil’s face scrunched up as he clearly had an epiphany. “I hear turtle ain’t bad. ‪#‎icouldeat‬ me one of them”. The next day Cecil brought me a soup that tasted a whole lot like Brunswick stew which he swore was made from a night of cooking turtle. It was delicious, and had an accompanying turtle shell to go with it. Cecil’s Turtle Stew remains one of the most unique southern dishes I’ve ever eaten.
Becca Mueffelmann responded to this story by saying soup was the “only thing those damn things are good for….snapping turtles are ugly jerks.” Many southern readers concurred.

MALREC_WE_C_^_WEDNESDAY

Another story of southern eatin’: One of my favorite places to eat in high school while I was living in a southern military town was my friend Miguel’s. His parents were from Puerto Rico and when I was invited to their house, his mother would always have the best dishes — rice, plantains, chicken. My mouth waters just thinking of it. I remember swearing to myself that I had to find a nice young lady from Puerto Rico to marry because the food was so very good. (I’m happy with who I married btw, California girl though she is). I also remember paying attention to Miguel’s momma’s critique of restaurants. “Don’t let me hear you are eating at Taco Bell! Show some self respect and eat real food. Mi Casitas or Monterrey maybe. But not that fake Americanized food”. But really, who wanted that when her food was better? ‪#‎icouldeat‬ it any day! And this is a memory of a meal in the south, from a southern family. My friends Miguel and Gabriel spent most of their time in Alabama and North Carolina and so the south is as much a part of their roots as it is mine. I share this story to help change the picture of the south. We’ve always had Hispanic families in the south, and still do. They are as much a part of our cultural tapestry as Scottish dancers, rural pig pickings, and bluegrass.

And finally, two readers suggested the strangest “I’m so hungry I could eats”:

Calla Belbin quips,”The weirdest I ever heard is: ‘I’m so hungry #icould eat the rump off a skunk.'”
Richard Allen Jernigan, a regular reader, says, “Okay for weird things how’s this one? ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the a** end out of an old wash woman’s drawers.’ Yes, I have heard that one more than once.”
Eww. That’s nasty, ya”ll.

To get us back thinking about appetizing foods:

another family reunionEating is a big deal in the south. In a recent interview Rev. Hugh Hollowell gave Progressive Redneck Preacher, he said, “In the south, food is love”. There is truth to his words. How many of us southerners over the years have heard a grandmother or aunt say “Eat up. You are a growing boy” or “Girl, you need to put some meat on them bones”, as they nearly shoved food down our mouths whether we were willing to eat or not?

Yet eating in the south is not just about nutrition. It is about extending the bounds of family. It is about how wide the welcome will be. Even as a young adult in the south, I knew if I heard someone say, “Put your feet under my table. Have a bite to eat, and sit a spell”, that person was treating me like family. This is a part of why Jim Crow was so isolating, and its removal so earth-shattering.  Saying people of different races could sit at the same table and eat together was tantamount to saying they were kin, they were family, they were related.  This element is part of why the whole debate behind “do we eat Chik-Fil-A or not?” became such a big deal to many people in the south.  Who are we loving, or not loving, if we eat that chicken sandwich?  This factor also is why whether you’d been to someone’s home, or whether someone’s had you to supper, or not, was once a great gauge in southern culture on how significant your relationship was. “Well, y’all may say you’re friends, but have you been to their house yet?” “You say she’s serious, but have you taken her to dinner to meet your folks?”

country fried chicken 2Interestingly enough, the very unique southern foods that people find so colorful, which companies like “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, “Bojangles”, “Church’s Chicken”, and others have mass-marketed not just nationally but around the world, are in fact one of the most multi-cultural and diverse contributions of southern culture. What we consider traditional southern foods — fried chicken, collard greens, okra, corn bread, and sweet tea, among others — include in their histories a dizzying cultural diversity expressed in our dinner table.

In Deep South magazine, chef Todd Richards charts the unique history of southern cuisine:
A_Southern_Barbecue“You have to look at two things: what came with the slaves on the boat and what they had to work with when they got to America. There was a strong Native American influence in the early beginnings of Southern food when slaves began arriving: crops like corn and techniques like frying. Then, you have crops and techniques that came over from West Africa with the slaves, like the peanut (or goober peas), okra (or gumbo) and stewing techniques. There’s also daily survival ingredients like watermelons, which served as canteens in the fields. It’s 95 percent water. The slaves also used the rind as soles for their shoes. So ingredients like this that are now part of Americana and the Native American influence really started shaping Southern food very early on. But you can’t discount other influences like that of the Spanish and Portuguese through Louisiana or the Latin influence through parts of Texas. The slaves worked with what was available to them and adapted their daily diets accordingly….

country fried chicken 1What people don’t really understand about Southern food is that it is all based off of preservation methods. How can we keep the food for the longest period of time and make sure it’s safe to eat? … Salting and frying meats and vegetables were simply preservation methods they learned from the Native Americans. They adapted to survive, while in the process, unknowingly transforming the Southern diet with the ingredients they brought with them from Africa. They found that they could grow these crops quite well here in the South.

…Definitely one-pot cooking [was created by southern slaves]. Gumbo, cornbread and hoecakes were being done out in the fields. There were no lunch breaks. But, to me, the most essential technique to come out of slave-based cooking is preservation…

To me, greens tell the unique story of Southern food. There was no refrigeration, so slaves used meat, mostly pork, and salt to preserve the greens by laying the meat on top. Not only did the pork preserve what was underneath, but it flavored it as well. They didn’t necessarily eat the meat after the greens were finished. They might repurpose it. Frying was another technique. Many people are shocked to learn that fried chicken is not Southern-born but actually Scandinavian and Native American. Animals in West Africa were not fatty. It was hot; they didn’t require fat to stay warm. Frying was a preservation method the slaves adopted. I found this out when I was up in Louisville, Kentucky, researching Native American foods. They were teaching the method to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was meant to preserve the meat underneath the skin during long journeys. They would fry rabbits, squirrels, small game birds in bear oil. Slaves in certain regions of the South caught on to this method, finding the skin of the chicken, for instance, to be quite tasty. Jerky is another example of preservation turned tasty snack in the fields. You take the meat off the bottom of the shank, slice it very thin and dry it out on tobacco leaves. They learned this preservation method from the Native Americans, because in the early days of slavery, Africans knew little of preserving meat. The slaves economically had no choice but to stretch every last morsel of food they had. Food preservation is the key to all Southern cooking. It is the essential ingredient.”

The Princeton University website adds further details about the history of the southern diet:
nc_barbecue_trail“The most notable influences come from African American, Scottish, Irish, French, Native American, British, and Spanish cuisines. Soul food, Creole, Cajun, Lowcountry, and Floribbean are examples of Southern cuisine. In recent history, elements of Southern cuisine have spread north, having an effect on the development of other types of American cuisine.

Many items such as squash, tomatoes, corn (and its derivatives, including grits), as well as the practice of deep pit barbecuing were inherited from the southeastern American Indian tribes such as the Caddo, Choctaw, and Seminole. Many foods associated with sugar, flour, milk, eggs (many kinds of baking or dairy products such as breads and cheeses) are more associated with Europe. The South’s propensity for a full breakfast (as opposed to a Continental one with a simple bread item and drink) is derived from the British fry up, although it was altered substantially. Much of Cajun or Creole cuisine is based on France, and on Spain to a lesser extent. Floribbean is more Spanish-based with obvious Caribbean influences, while Tex-Mex has considerable Mexican and native tribes touches.”

 

western nc bbqUS History Scene adds further details about the influence of African slaves on traditional southern diet, including the fact that pit barbecuing, where the tradition of southern barbecue and the southern pig-picking comes from, originated in methods used by slaves to cook their meat, which were so successful and delicious eventually their masters picked up on them.  Apparently a part of the prevalence of chicken and pig meat in southern culture was because the majority of the population was originally very poor, owning only small amounts of land.  While it takes acres upon acres to raise cattle, both chickens and pigs grow easily in small areas of farm land.

 

This diversity in the southern dinner table is only growing with each passing generation. One of the reasons I made a point to share my experience having dinner with my friends who were a part of a southern Puerto Rican family is to help recognize how the mosaic of faces, families, and cultures in the south is adding new hues to its mix. Hispanic food, whether Puerto Rican, Brasilian, or Mexican, is now evidence of how the mix of southern foods is multi-cultural. Almost every southern town of any size now has both a Mexican restaurant and a Chinese restaurant. We would do a dis-service to our ever broadening cultural context to overlook such southern watering holes. I wonder in what ways these foods will eventually become a part of the fusion that is southern culture.

In my own family, at immediate family dinners we now sometimes have wonderful Filipino foods mixed in with collard greens and fried chicken, as well as at times California-style dishes from family members through marriage. At extended family reunions, these distinctively southern gatherings often also include food from various Hispanic cultures, and also Lebanese and Korean dishes.

Southern eating is inherently diverse.

jesus breaking breadI would add as a progressive Christian that the symbol of the open family table, which we sit at and so become as family to each other that is so key in the south, has added symbolism. For progressive Christians such as myself, this family table is ultimately pictured in the table Christ sets for us where the symbols of his own life are made available, not just for some people, but for all who live. In the progressive Christian community, the open table is a symbol for the welcome of God who, as Father, Son, and Mothering Holy Spirit, has opened their arms wide not just to embrace certain people, but to welcome all people to sit at the family table. In the progressive Christian community, it is a fitting symbol for the need to tear down barriers to everyone having equal opportunity for education, for work, for a role in the church, for marriage, to raise children, and to have healthcare, food, and basic needs met. The southern family table we remember when we say #icouldeat is a symbol for the calling of people of faith and people of good will to attempt to make true the promise of Acts 4, which describes God the Holy Spirit birthing a community where people shared their goods, services, and opportunities so there was more than enough for everyone and there was no poor among them.

source of life moltmannTheologian Jurgen Moltmann describes what this would look like in his book The Source of Life:
“The ideology of ‘there is never enough for everyone’ makes people lonely. It isolates them and robs them of relationship. The opposite of poverty isn’t property. The opposite of both poverty and property is community. For in community we become rich: rich in friends, in neighbors, in colleagues, in comrades, in brothers and sisters. Together, as a community, we can help ourselves in most of our difficulties. For, after all, there are enough people and enough ideas, capabilities and energies to be had. They are only lying fallow, or are stunted and suppressed. So let us discover our wealth; let us discover our solidarity; let us build up communities; let us take our lives into our hands, and at long last out of the hands of the people who want to dominate and exploit us”.

It is just this understanding of the southern family table which a southern preacher from Georgia used 51 years ago to call our nation to a new understanding:

To which I say, let’s each grab a plate, a cup, and a spoon. Let’s join together in setting that table of welcome. I don’t know about you, but I could eat and share my full at a table like that.

And I ain’t whistling Dixie!
Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,
Micah

Me, after cooking one o my favorite breakfast meals: Eggs in a basket.  Yumm.

Me, after cooking one of my favorite breakfast meals: Eggs in a basket. Yumm.

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Prayer That Deepens our Experience of Life: A Week in the Psalms

robin williams 3

My reflections during this week were tinged by three events weighing heavy on my heart as I wrote: first, the news of the surprising death of Robin Williams, beloved comedian. He died as his depression, an illness he’d struggled with throughout his life, became too overwhelming and ended in suicide.

Secondly, I was struck by struggles of family members dear to my heart also struggling with illnesses that threaten their ability to fully be who I know them to be and live as they long to live.

fergusonFinally, the tragedies of the death of young black men here in the US, and of children in the Middle East, both the result of heartlessness and hatred.

This week’s reflections are on the Psalms. The Psalms are not just Scriptures to be read but invitations to pray. In fact, they are model prayers for Jews and Christians. We read them and meditate on them not just as a way of inspiring us, but also as invitations to make time and space to connect personally to God in prayer. Throughout the centuries Jews and Christians have used the words of the Psalms to inspire their own personal prayers, along with the prayers and songs of their communities.

One of the aspects of the Psalms that stood out to me this week was their this-worldly nature. They focus so often on finding more life, depth, and meaning to this earthy world of joy and pain. As I read their words, I could not but help think of a psalm of his own theologian Jurgen Moltmann developed in his book, The Source of Life.
breath prayerIn that book he prefaces his prayer by quoting the words of Augustine in his confessions:
“But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not the manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace; it is none of these things that I love when I love my god. And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfiet embitters; there is an embrace which not satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God.”

Augustine’s focus is where a lot of our modern prayer and spirituality, which divorces us from this world in hope of a home in heaven, gets it roots.

Moltmann responds with a prayer of his own, which returns to the Psalm’s roots of using prayer to help us become at home in this world in ways that rekindle our love for life:

 

“When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shiiraneausning eyes, the embrace, the feeling, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me.

For a long time I looked for you within myself and crept into the shell of my soul, shielding myself with an armour of inapproachability. But you were outside–outside of myself–and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.

“The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them.iraneus For
it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God, the more I gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible source of life and eternal livingness.”
As you read through these Psalms with me, I invite you to consider how praying these Psalms can help you more fully embrace a love for life; and how you and I can help those who have lost their love for life find hope, strength, and peace.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie,
Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,
Micah

micah spring hat

 

not an illness but a person

Psalm 66 calls us to praise God for the ways in which God brings us victory over our enemies. I don’t believe other people are our enemies, but those forces within our soul that crush us, leading us to self-destructive and paths that are destructive to those around us. I think its also those forces in society that lead people at large to unthinkingly harm others and God’s earth. As I write, I am moved to think about the death of Robin Williams. I write shortly after news of his death. As I write, I also am in the midst of supporting friends and families with chronic illness.
I cannot help but ask: Where is victory in one dying in a struggle for health with mental illness? At first I see none, but then I remember something my momma told me once: death is not a defeat, because everybody dies. The question is really not how you will die. It is instead a question of how you live your days.
And I look again at a person who, with his struggles, is able to live 63 years of vitality, creativity, and beauty in which he paints this world with laughter and hope. How many daily victories over the enemies his illness produced within, including the stigma from others it might have meant he faced, does that mean? I thank God for those victories, for as momma said, death is not a defeat since all of us have to die. It is how we live.
I think of the many I know with chronic illnesses, both mental illnesses and non mental illnesses. Some of you I see daily work, empowered I believe by God’s grace, to live generously, passionately, creatively, like Williams painting this world with beauty and laughter. I thank God for the ways you, with God’s help, have found the daily victories that make that possible. You are inspirations to me.
Child Abuse StatisticsI think also of our social evils. Sometimes it is harder to see it, with kids dying in the streets here in the US and even more so in some war-torn areas of the world. My heart breaks to hear of these.
I cannot find words to express those current heartaches. I do know that beyond the current tragedies, we can see where God has found victory: over systemic misogyny where women could not vote or own property or govern their own bodies; where people of color were property and then not given the full rights of citizenship; where gay people could be thrown in jail or beaten to death for who they are.
Surely, the need for us to pray and work together with God to overturn evil around us is not over, or we would not have these situations of heartache in this world. Yet living out the Psalm in front of me means in the midst of my heart breaking over what I see before me, I must also recognize how far we have come through those who have worked together with God. I must thank God for the victories that are. I must also hear the voice of Spirit echoing through the tree-lined forest of my life, calling me forth to join my voice and hands with all those who have and are working to heal this world, for God answers these prayers not alone but with our cooperation as co-creators with the Father, Son, and mothering Spirit. ‪

 

I used Psalm 67:1-2 from this week’s lectionary as my breath prayer mindfulness meditation text for the week — “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make God’s face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power upon all nations”.
boat in stormOn day two I had some trouble centering as I prayed it. It was like an inability to settle a ship while the waves are rocking it. As I listened to the words I was struck by the phrase, “make God’s face to shine upon us”. Where do you see God’s face in this world? I can think of the eyes of many a person with skin on them who were the face of God to me, for in them the love, graciousness, kindness, and wisdom of God were made manifest where I could hear, touch, and see it. I can think of many a neighbor, friend, stranger. I can think of the eyes of our puppy looking up loving and trusting. I can think of the sunrise and the call of the birds upon the waters. I hear these words inviting Christ to open my eyes to how God’s graciousness is made manifest all around me. I’m asking that I might see the many ways God puts skin on so I might see God’s face with God’s shining eyes gazing in love upon me. I think this Psalm also bids me to “be that face, those eyes, this day” for others.
On day three I had some trouble centering. I think, practically, a long phrase like this is hard for breath prayer and perhaps I should split it into different parts in the future. Also I have a lot on my mind as I meditate today. I kept finding my thoughts wandering. What is the key, fellow mindfulness practitioners, for that? I will say what struck me during this practice is how so often the focus of our spirituality is on ourselves: our centeredness, our peace of mind. Part of why I had trouble centering is thinking about others: thinking about Robin Williams who passed after living with a mental illness that proved fatal for him, thinking about various family members and friends with chronic illnesses, some which are not mental illnesses and some that are. These people weigh heavy on my heart this morning. I hear the Psalm’s words teaching me, though, that the reason we practice this spirituality and mindfulness to seek God’s blessing is not just for us. God’s face shines upon us, we are blessed, so that through us others might see the way through us and all kinds of people know God. So I have to seek to encounter the blessing in the center of my existence in order to be able to be there for others, so the rocky storms don’t overwhelm us and so I can more easily walk the way God has laid out before me.
love wendell berryOn day four, at first I couldn’t focus on the words, my heart full of worries. But as I settled into meditation, this sense overcame me that I could rest, putting aside defenses. The words “us”, “way”, and “salvation” stood out to me. Many of my biggest worries I bring to my meditation time right now are not for me so much as those close to me struggling with health issues. When those close to you struggle with health issues, you can feel afraid and powerless to help. Health issues have their own path, their own journey they take. You can maybe help the journey, but I am keenly aware today that you and I are not the Healer. The waiting, the uncertainty, includes in it admitting you are without power. So the “us” is big for me.
So often, in the evangelical world within which I grew into faith, the focus was on me: my personal salvation, my personal relationship with God, my responsibility to live a Christian life. At times I find life as a liberal or progressive Christian having the same tendency: focusing on my beliefs and convictions, my questions, my freedom of consciences, my spirituality, my passions. Times like the one I am going through now remind me in my heart what I know in my head: there is no me apart from us. As Desmond Tutu says, I am who I am because you are who you are. Or as Dr. King would say, we are bound together by an inescapable garment of destiny so that what happens to one of us singly affects all of us together.
trinityIt is encouraging to know that my own spiritual practice in some way helps this weaving of me, you, and them, into us. It means a lot to know that God’s blessing is not just for me, but also for the wider us in the world. This ‘us’ includes those hurting that I am powerless to heal in my own sphere. This ‘us’ includes those hurting in the wider world like the suffering children of Guatemala and the Christians of Iraq and Palestine. I rediscovered this prayer, and spiritual practice, as an invocation for the Shining Brightness of God to shine forth upon these others, and as a promise that it is shining now and it will go on shining, even if I cannot see it in this moment. I also was drawn to the words “way” and “salvation”. Growing up I thought of this salvation for which this Psalm teaches us to pray in terms of forgiveness, or a place in glory for me. But I’m struck that the Psalmist equates salvation with embarking on a way, a journey or a way of walking in this world. More and more I come to see salvation as not just about my forgiveness personally by God, or my place in God’s family or heaven. change struggleThese aspects of it are there, as givens for all of us, just waiting for us to accept and embrace them since Christ’s coming was for all who live, all who have ever lived, and who will ever live. But salvation is also taking us from a story written for us: the story built on the values and dreams of this broken world, written by the broken cycles of our family or childhood or culture, the story of our own fear and doubt; and placing us into a wider story that remains unwritten, one with the starting place of the center of life being love, hope, liberation from oppression, and healing. We are placed in a story where we can become co-creators with God, working together with God to build beauty and hope, freedom and new beginnings, community and grace. So it is pure gift and includes an invitation to participate with God in the healing of the world, including our families, our communities, and the lives of others. How have you experienced prayer as not just on behalf of a “me” but an “us”? How have you experienced your personal salvation not just as forgiveness or a place in glory but also as entrance to a new way, or new story, you write together with God? ‪

On day five I sense a tension in my muscles and whole body as I do breath prayer using this psalm. I feel the butterflies in my stomach coming from a mixture of my alarm not going off and so much in the air I have to handle. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that my mind focuses on the word “to us” during meditation. It makes me think of the line in the Nicene Creed that describes Jesus’ work as being “for us and our salvation” When you’ve got a lot on your shoulders and you are busy trying to get everything done for your future, and trying to help others in your life, it can feel like it is all up to you. Yet this graciousness, blessing, and shining face of God toward us is not up to us. It is to us, upon us, for us. It comes to us as pure gift. This message reminds me that in my busyness to do, do, do, I have to take time to be. I have to recognize that so much that is essential to me is already there, provided each moment by the life-giving Spirit. I have to recognize what I already have. I have to trust that the Biblical description is true: there is more than enough for everyone, even though it is sometimes hard to see. I can let go of my need to be in control and trust. Doing that, just for a moment, is fairly liberating. Learning to do it each day, while still doing the part I have to do, is better. And discovering how to accept other’s giving — whether friends and family or God — while giving myself, that’s life giving.
bend-in-the-roadOn day six: During times of transition, it is easy for me to fear what is coming down the bend. There is a part of me that tends to expect change is bad, to believe what is around the bend is not going to be good. Such thoughts bubbled to the surface as I took part in breath prayer from this text today. Yet the words washed like water over me, reminding me that God’s heart is always gracious toward me and all of us, always ready to turn God’s face to bless, with shining eyes. God reminded me what is around the bend. There may be joy or trouble, but looming larger still around the next corner for me is the all-embracing graciousness toward me at the heart of the universe, desiring to bless and support me, at work to birth beauty in every circumstance. That is true for you, too, and all who live in God’s good world. Such knowing transforms the unexplored not into a fearful alley but into a journey, an adventure into untold territory. It is boldly going where you have never been before.
On day seven, as I set to meditation, my mind was racing to the week ahead and all that must be done. I thought about the beginning of classes in my counseling program, and the possibility of hearing back about another job. So, as I heard the words of God blessing and making God’s face to shine upon me, I could not help but think of the great “what ifs …. ?” What if grad school works out? What if I get that job I want? What if the people close to me struggling with health issues improve? What if my wife and I get to the point in our lives where we could adopt? I hear a reminder. ‘Suppose I do…, suppose I say “yes” to all those requests? Well, what then?’. I am being reminded that God blesses me to be a blessing. God opens the door so that walking through it I may do that next thing on my journey in such a way that God’s way in the world might be demonstrated through how I do it, so that through my presence in that place God’s saving power might be made known in me to others and to myself. This slows down my monkey mind, which wants to jump ahead and jump all over, making me realize that perhaps the reason for the “not yet” is to ensure not just that the open door is the right door opening for me. It is also to ensure the me entering it is the right me. God brings us through times of waiting to prepare us. And even our waiting times can be times in which we also are ones that show the way and the saving power, while we see the way shown and saving power demonstrated through others in our lives. ‪

Psalm 69 reminds me that God hears and will respond to the cries of those distressed and oppressed. The “afflicted shall see and be glad”. I think this phrase is a deep word of encouragement. It has to be said, I believe, because often in the time of affliction you feel like nobody listens. Often it feels like your prayers hit a brassy ceiling in the dome of the sky and bounce off. God is reminding us that in the Spirit God is the life breath who gives us strength, life, and is within us. This means God never leaves us. It means there is never a time God does not hear our prayer. God is the One ever at work in our life and our world to liberate the oppressed and comfort the afflicted.
jesus in prisonI also think it is important to notice that God will hear the prisoner, which this text says. Often, we are content to imaging prisoners as “getting their just desserts” and to think of them as barely human, but they are children of God like we are. They may be guilty of a crime, or guilty of non-violent demonstrations for justice. They may not be guilty at all. Now these words are particularly important since, in the southeast US, our criminal justice system is stacked against people of color and minorities. This verse reminds us that God sees the fact we are throwing the youth of a generation under the bus by sending far more young men of color in prison for the same crimes that equally young white men are committing.
God sees it and God’s heart breaks, God’s voice echoing forth for us to join God in the work of righting this injustice. We think wrongly that the verse, “God shows no partiality,” means God doesn’t take sides. In truth, God always sides with the oppressed. God does not side against the oppressor, for in his or her own way the oppressor is also held captive to the system of injustice. No, God stands for them both against the unjust system. This verse, to me, suggests God will ultimately win out. Thanks be to God.

Mother and childPsalm 71 invites us to see God as at work in our many crises and troubles, as the one empowering our victories. We are invited to see God as present with us from birth, as the one who cared for and cradled us in their arms right alongside our mother and father. We are invited to see God at work in the heartbeat of our lives. This message reminds me that no matter how weary I am, or how many rocks, dips, and bumps the road has before me, I can trust. I do not walk alone. And when I cannot walk any further, I know who carries me.

Psalm 77 calls us to recognize our restlessness. This verse describes particularly inconsolable pain and despair. For many this is our restlessness. If it is you, this verse calls you to not face it alone but to reach out to God and another person for help. If you don’t feel that, the Psalm is calling you to see yourself in solidarity with those in such pain. There are other growth painfultypes of restlessness. In all of our talk of putting it all in God’s hands, which we should try daily to do, at times feelings of restlessness continue about the future, the present, all that is beyond our control. I feel this psalm is showing us facing into that feeling, really owning and acknowledging it, is important.
Sometimes in order to feel we are laying things in God’s hands, we try and act as if we don’t feel restless. God knows. God can handle it.
Finally, it reminds me that there is a type of holy restlessness. Jeremiah said his desire for justice to be done was like a fire in his bones that could not be quenched. Jesus told us if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, which really is more about justice being done in the world than some code of holiness regarding how we dress or who we sleep with, we will be filled. So don’t feel a need to apologize for such a holy discontent. It may be the labor pains of God the Holy Spirit Herself laboring within your heart and life to birth something new and beautiful.

Psalm 80, “Hear, o Shepherd of Israel, leading us like a flock, shine forth”, was the basis for a hymn in my childhood church. It painted a picture of God going before me, through the darkly gathering storm of life. It left me with hope that whatever comes around the corner, whatever the future holds, God walks ahead of me. I still see this hope in the psalm. I’m thankful to know I don’t have to face the future feeling abandoned, deserted, or alone. I know that God the Father, Son, and mothering Holy Spirit are both with me but also go ahead of me.
inner-peace (1)As I meditate on the verse, I notice that it says the Shepherding God lights the way for me. I remember a piece of pastoral wisdom I heard in youth group as a teenager: God’s Word is a light unto our feet, not a floodlight to the whole road or valley before us. I am reminded by this rich image of God lighting the way for me, one likely taken from Israel’s memory of the Exodus in which God went ahead of Israel as a fire by night and a cloud of storm by day, that it does not promise to tell me what thing I am supposed to do tomorrow or next year. God promises to light the next step or two in front of me. Only once I’ve made that step has God promised to reveal what God has next for me. So when we pray, “God show me what to do in the future”, we must also ask ourselves, “what has God shown me already to do in the now?” Only in doing so can we ensure we are in the place we will see and hear what God is saying about the future for us.


Psalm 133 — The image of kin living in unity is beautiful. Sometimes with folks around us in conflict it can be hard to not believe this is a pipe dream. I have to be honest because of this fact, I kind of buck against this beautiful verse. And that’s ok. I confront in my bucking against it my own resistance. I know in my heart my call as a believer is to work toward reconciliation not just of those I know, but all people. And not just all people, but all of creation. I am called to live in faith in the day Jesus spoke of when women and men come from east and west, north and south, to all sit down at that long drawn out table upon the grassy hill of God’s homestead at the great family reunion to be. I am called to look for a creation fully reconciled and restored. When in the midst of discord in our lives, the dream of a reconciliation of all people and all creation in Christ can be painful like salt on a wound. But it is also the hope that animates and gives strength. And as this verse suggests, there are Holy Ghost moments when a glimpse of this coming reality we work toward breaks in as it did on the first Pentecost. What have been your glimpses of the reconciliation of all things? Where can you work toward it in you life? Where do you struggle to see a point in continuing to work toward it?

all saints 2

Christ Existing in Religionless Community: Our Week in the New Testament

body-of-christ.independencemochurch    This week’s readings from the New Testament continue our emphasis upon how a living faith helps us connect with this worldly life, helping us recommit to this life, as a “yes” to God’s earth. Because of this theme, I’d like to share some further reflections of Deitrich Bonhoeffer which connect with the texts from the New Testament this week.
One theme of these readings is Christ’s suffering and death, and what it teaches us about our life as believers.
Bonhoeffer’s words on being the body of Christ connect with these readings:
“The church is a piece of the world; forsaken, godless, beneath the curse: vain, evil world– and that to the highest degree because she misuses the name of God, because in her God is made into a plaything, an idol. Indeed, she is an eternally forsaken and anti-Christian piece of the world in that she proudly removes herself from her solidarity with the evil world and lauds her own self. And yet: the church is a piece of qualified world, qualified through God’s revealing, gracious Word, which she is obliged to deliver to the world which God has occupied and which he will never more set free. The church is the presence of God in the world. Really in the world, really the presence of God…
“[Yet] the collective experience of the church really is ‘Christ existing in community.’ How they all become one and yet all remain themselves, how they all remain in God and yet each is separate from God, how they are all in each other, and yet exist for themselves, how each has God entirely and alone in the merciful dual loneliness of seeing and serving truth and love, and yet is never lonely but always really lives only in the community — these as things it is no longer given us to imagine. We walk in faith…”
unity_in_the_body_of_christ1  This call for the church to be Christ existing in community is something Bonhoeffer modeled by refusing to bow to Hitler’s call for German churches to abandon the Gospel of Christ to teach the hatred and nationalism of NAZI doctrine. He practiced this message by organizing an intentional community to train ministers who stood against Hitler. Ultimately, he continued to stand against Hitler, as he was thrown in prison in part for these same beliefs.
His experience in prison led him to add to this vision of Christ present in community a sense of Christ’s presence in community extending beyond the institutional church, which by and large failed to stand up in his day against Hitler, just as it has often failed to stand up against injustice before, since, and many times in our own day.
Bonhoeffer, in his Letters and Papers From Prison, writes on Christ being present in a “religion-less Christianity” lived out in a this-worldly, everyday existence:
“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man – in contrast, shall we say, to John the Baptist. I don’t mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection. I think Luther lived a this-worldly life in this sense…
everyday-life-21    “I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God’s sufferings through a life of this kind?” (p. 369-370)
In light of the events of the last few weeks — from Robin William’s suicide, to the crises in the Middle East, to the situation in Ferguson, this call both to be Christ existing in community as well as as to have our faith deepened our everyday life and not just other-worldly religiosity.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie here!
Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,
Micah

micah pic
Multicultural Jesus 1    This reflection is inspired by a great sermon I heard at United Church of Chapel Hill on Matthew 15:21-28, the story of Jesus & the Canaanite woman. ‘What God assumes, God heals,’ quoted the preacher, to explain how Jesus could have shared the stereotypes and prejudices of his contemporaries. That quote was of a church father, explaining that God took on all of our humanity in Jesus, so that from the inside out God could begin to work to transform us. That God as a human being with women and men to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel, could have this experience teaches us a lot. It shows us that this the existence of prejudice or of narrow minded perspective itself many not be a sin.

We, like Jesus, may simply be restating what we have always heard without yet having any other frame of reference to consider. Yet, like Jesus, God brings people into our lives like this Canaanite woman who call us out of stereotypes and prejudices to see people for who they are. In that moment we must choose to listen to God’s voice in them or to cling to our prejudice. Clinging to prejudice at this point is a choice, not just living out what you have never had a chance to reconsider. It means choosing to cover your ears and eyes to that of God in another. Then the human condition of ignorance we all, like Jesus did, innocently share in both in greater or lesser degrees, ceases to be innocent ignorance. It becomes the willful sin of bigotry.

Jesus’ holiness is not that he never is shortsighted. He clearly is at the beginning of this story. Jesus’ holiness is not that he never has limited vision, for he begins his encounter with the Canaanite woman with just such a limited view. Jesus’ holiness is instead that when he’s confronted by a need to change, he does so. The rest of the Gospel of Matthew shows Jesus’ encounter with this Canaanite woman as a pivot, a turning point, that changes the whole direction of his ministry. No longer is it only to the people of Israel, but to all who need God’s love. Jesus is willing to change, to evolve even, when he encounters God’s truth in the voice of others. Jesus’ example gives me hope that even with my own short-sightedness, I can choose a path of holiness not by being perfect, but by being open to change. Also, Jesus’ example gives all of us hope that good people can fail to see, and have God open their eyes. It also demonstrates our need to ever remain open to God using others to challenge our stereotypes. ‪

judas betraying jesusMy devotional encourage me to read Matthew 27:1-10, the account of Judas’ suicide.

Some things I note: 1. Judas was repentant. He returns the silver he is given for betraying Jesus.  Judas tries to make amends. It appears like his inability to make amends is in large part what “pushes Judas over the edge”.

Judas attempting to make amends.

Judas attempting to make amends.

2. The description of Judas as having a spirit controlling him during his selling over of Jesus and subsequent suicide very likely is an ancient description not for being controlled by evil, but for having a mental illness or neurological condition that clouded his judgment. That Jesus continues to treat him with love up through his last interaction with Judas is suggestive of Jesus’ understanding of Judas’ sickness.  If this is accurate it means Judas was acting out of illness, not evil.

3. Judas is one of the earliest examples of people of faith stigmatizing a person with mental illness. Early in Christian history, there was Christian literature that described Judas’ journey as tragic but necessary, with Judas’ role as just as important as the other apostles. By the middle ages, compassion for Judas disappeared and he became a symbol for evil. I’d suggest this stigmatization of Judas is
not from Jesus.   Jesus is constantly reaching out to people who, like Judas, have mental and neurological illnesses and stand-up-to-stigma1loving them no different than others. It seems Jesus knew what Judas struggled with when Jesus called Judas. Mary Magdalene also seems to have had a mental illness. Our stigmatization of people with mental illness, including Judas, is not Christian because it goes against the example of Jesus. Even Judas’ death, often portrayed as Judas getting his just desserts, is not an act of divine justice as some want to portray it. It is his illness becoming fatal. Sadly, some mental illnesses become fatal to the person with them without (and even with) appropriate treatment, and cause harm to others. I don’t think Jesus is condemning Judas for his illness, but has hope that as he passed beyond the veil even Judas heard the words Jesus spoke in the last moments to the thief on the cross — “I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise”. I trust that for all who die from mental illness, and pray for a day we have more compassion as believers both for those who live with and those who die from mental illness. Jesus exercised that compassion every day of his ministry, and if we call ourselves Christian we should strive to have the compassion Jesus showed.

jesus in prisonMatthew 27:11-23. What stands out to me in this story is that in the case of Jesus and Barabbas, what is most important to Pilate and the people is not who is guilty or innocent, or about what justice would look like. It is about political expediency and what will appease the greasy wheels crying out. This is sad, but it is too often true. I think the story of Jesus’ trial and execution ought to not just be a beautiful account of the depths of God’s love for us, but also to call us to question whether justice is truly being done in our day. Too often I think we look away at injustice, choosing the path of expediency, even though it leaves victims in its wake.

 

Matthew 27:24-31. What our Savior goes through here demonstrates that physical abuse is not the only type of abuse we should concern ourselves with. Rome does not just kill Jesus. They also humiliate Jesus, dressing him in royal robes, publicly mocking him, …I can’t help but think of how the Klan would lynch people of color, not just killing them but mocking them and making a spectacle of it. I think of the story I heard a Freedom Rider share of being beaten and mocked by police officers. They did not just beat him, they treated him at points like a child and at others worse than a vagrant animal. I think of what Matthew Shepherd and Brandon Teena went through. I also think of the young man who recently was killed just before going to college. Its not just our violence, our blood-lust, our willingness to take life. We also need to confront our willingness to dehumanize, to bully others. Those are forms of emotional abuse and terror. Its not just among killers. I’ve talked to so any women and men in relationships where their intimate partner emotionally abused and bullied them. This is never justified in the Christian life. Our Savior endured this not only to help deliver us, but also to show us that this is unacceptable. Also so we would not have to. Friend, God intends more for you than to be a victim. Do not let other people turn you into their punching bags. Let’s stand up against all forms of abuse, terror, bullying, and hate crimes.

Matthew 27:45-54 has given me goosebumps since I first read it as a teenager. It still does today. Hearing Jesus cry out the prayer, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And knowing that in some mysterious way all of who you and I are, and all of who God is, are meeting in those moments of darkness, fear, shadows, & loss! When I first read it I was overwhelmed, thinking “How far God was willing to go to love me and have me as God’s child!” Now, having faced moments of darkness it speaks another word. This moment shows me that in our darkest hours, God is present. It is when we feel the most abandoned that God stands nearest.
gods callingRomans 11 — what always stands out to me in this text is how Paul says that “God’s gifts and call are irrevocable”.

We want to put a loophole in those words, don’t we? Sometimes those called do. I can think distinctly of many a time I thought “Lord, let me go” when my calling as a minister was something I just wanted to hang up like a used coat and forget. And even more so at times that call to be there for someone in crisis, when their stress or pain led them to react in hurtful ways to my love and care! Yet God’s gift and call are irrevocable.

We not only do this to ourselves, but we also do this for others, too. Someone fails and we want to say “well I guess they weren’t really…” whatever, Christian, a good parent, a real pastor, …

I remember when Ray Boltz came out as gay and all the evangelical friends I had flipping a lid about it. “I guess he was a fake”, they said, as if being different than their standard meant he couldn’t love God, or be used by God. I went through the same rejection when I left the denomination that first ordained me over how they treated (and still treat) gay people. I had so many once friends and mentors respond as if  it changed who I was.  The message I heard from them was “well I guess you aren’t a Christian now, and never were a minister”. I remember believing it, on a level, and thinking my walk on this journey was over, and the loving people of Heartland MCC reminding me of this verse through the words of their dear pastor and their own actions. I try to remember it now whenever I become discouraged. I hope if you are struggling over if your call from God has been cancelled, you remember: on God’s side, the welcome and invitation never ends. I hope too if you see someone struggle, fail, or not fit your image, that you don’t trash them or judge them, but continue to encourage and support them to listen to that voice of truth in their life that you and I know is the Holy Spirit.

 

Re-post: Southernisms (Hashtag Game)

Today is my 11th anniversary of marriage to my wife, Katharine.  In order to ensure we have enough time together, I’m postponing posting this week’s Southernisms hashtag challenge of #icouldeat until next week.  That gives everyone more time to come up with favorite foods, favorite eateries, of favorite stories of eating in the south, which you can share on our facebook page or on this post with the hashtag #icouldeat

Instead of posting the most recent hashtag challenge, here is a re-post of our original “Southernisms” hashtag, which inspired the name for our hashtag challenge.

And, today, I am just whistling.  Though not Dixie.  More a southern love song.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

Your progressive redneck preacher and his California girl, 11 years ago, on their wedding day.

Micah & his California girl, 11 years ago, on their wedding day.

flowering dogwood

Thanks for everyone’s involvement in our hashtag game this week. We used the hashtag #southernisms and people contributed their own favorite southern phrases — some which were useful, some which were hilarious. All as southern as peaces and cream.

dinner-table-l

I realized as we did the hashtag game this week that this weekly feature is really talking about southern phrases and peculiarities, so I think I’ll begin to call our hashtag game “southernisms”.

 

We are coming just out of family reunion season, so how about funny things that have happened familiy reunions for our next go ’round? Just type a story up, add #familyreunionbloopers, and share it with Progressive Redneck Preacher.

 

Without further ado, here are this week’s “Southernisms”:

keep-calm-and-bless-their-hearts-5.png.cf

‘Bless their hearts’. The one phrase that excuses anything you say no matter how rude or harsh. Cause once you say that, it ain’t gossip.

dooflotchy

“Dooflotchy”. A southern word used for anything at all that you can’t think of the proper word for. “Boy, go get me the dooflotchy from my toolkit what turns the howzits” “Y’all go down dooflotchy road til ya see the big green dooflotchy on the right, then turn left. It’ll be just past the old oak tree by that abandoned dooflotchy factory what Mr. Johnson used ta own. Can’t miss it!” What’s your favorite southernism?

furpiece

fur piece 2“A fur piece” — a unit of measurement in the south. It helps answer the question of how distant “yonder” is. Its much further than a “stone’s throw”. As in “Cali-forny is a fur piece from North Cackalack here, I tell you what”. What is your favorite southernism?

‘Kin’. Folks you know like the back of your hand, who can tell stories on you from when you were knee-high to a grasshopper that’ll make your ears turn red. Folks you bicker and fight with but would still give the shirt off your back for. Also ‘kin’ means to be able to. Like ‘y’all kin getcha some maters from uncle Earl’s garden’

kin“That boy ain’t right” (provided by Richard Allen Jernigan) One of them is from Designing Women. The one where Julia Sugarbaker is telling someone,”I’m just saying that this is the South. We don’t hide our crazy people. We put them on the porch. Here we don’t ask if you have crazy people in your family, we ask what side of the family they’re on.”

My lovely wife Katharine Royal came up with this one: “Jeet?” Often accompanied by “you poor thing. You are all skin and bones”, and someone dolloping food on your plate. 

country fried chicken 2

Chris Tyner offered: “Widja didja?” When you go to a family reunion and someone asks “Brought Grandma widja, didja?”

Richard Jernigan: Here is one that my mom used to use. #southernisms “Well, you ain’t no bigger than a popcorn fart!”

Reckon — That way in which southerners know deep in their soul something is true, feeling it even in their bones. Like how I reckon where the best fishin’ hole is, or that family comes first, or that it will rain today. I reckon so. And so it is. Also, for many southerners proof God is in fact a southerner. After all, Genesis 15 says, “Abraham believed God, and God reckoned it to him as righteousness”. To these southerners, this comes as no surprise. After all, ain’t sweet tea, pecan pie, and fried okra all southern? And, boy howdy, they are good!

Down Yonder–if you have to ask where it is, y’all ain’t from around here!

And finally, the ultimate southernism: the South. Defined here:

Well, folks, that’s all for this week. Until next week, may all your tea be sweet, your chicken be fried just right, may you see the twinkling lights of fireflies dancing through the long leaf pine each night, and may you always know whatever hill you trek up, y’all gotta home down here.

And I ain’t just whistling DIxie,
your progressive redneck preacher,
Micah

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A Week in the Hebrew Scriptures: Discovering Love as a ‘yes’ to God’s earth

robin williams 4

I read through many of the texts in the Hebrew Scriptures for this set of reflections in the midst of the time leading up to and following the news of Robin William’s struggle with mental illness, which eventually ended in suicide, as well as family members dear to my heart struggling with frightening illnesses of their own.

bonhoeffer Because of this context, I was drawn to how these Scriptures point to sources of hope and strength in the face of darkness and pain, sources that when we draw on them strengthen our resolve to life on this earth, a life lived as fully as we can embrace it. These sources include not just our relationship with God, but also others with whom we share our lives and our love, including both friends and romantic partners. God is uniquely felt as the life-giving presence available within these deep friendships and romances in our life. That all-encompassing love provides shelter and space to buoy us through life’s storms. This reality reminds me of the words Deitrich Bonhoeffer penned about such relationships in his life through which God gave him hope as he prepared for the journey that ultimately led to his martyrdom under Hitler’s NAZI regime. Writing to his fiance’, Bonhoeffer writes:

“When I consider the state of the world, the total obscurity enshrouding our personal destiny, and my present imprisonment, our union can only be a token of God’s goodness, which summons us to believe in him. We would have to be blind not to see that. When Jeremiah said, in his people’s hour of direst need, that ‘houses and fields [and vineyards] shall again be bought in this land,’ it was a token of confidence in the future. That requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains to the world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear the Christians who venture to stand on the earth only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.” (as quoted in Metataxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. 455- 456)

To me, Bonhoeffer’s words mirror those of Mary Lambert, in a stirring song she sings alongside Macklemore, which has become a rallying cry for many to recognize the power of love in relationships of all types:

I invite you as you read these Scriptures with me to consider what relationships in your life are like Bonhoeffer describes, a “yes” to God’s earth. Where do you find gracious spaciousness in which to stand under the weight of the world’s pain and heartache? And, how can you help foster these for others? I also would challenge you to think about what these relationships might be for others, and how you can ensure the many shapes love takes which can build such shelters through the storm for others can be respected, treasured, and embraced by our communities and churches.

 

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,

Micah

Your progressive redneck preacher, with his lovely wife whose love has carried him through many storms.

Your progressive redneck preacher, with his lovely wife whose love has carried him through many storms.

Genesis 45:1-5 includes in it some words of promise joseph reconciliationand challenge to me: “for God sent me before you to preserve life”. What Joseph describes is horrible mistreatment. His brothers have sold him into slavery, left him for dead, and not known if he was ok for so very long. He has been locked away in Pharoah’s dungeons on trumped up charges for years. Yet Joseph sees God as sending him through these circumstances in order that Joseph might become God’s vessel through which to preserve life. I have a hard time when I face trials, mistreatment, circumstances of all kinds, not just getting irritated, angry, and upset. I think I have a harder time yet seeing God as present in those moments, yet this verse suggests to me not only is God present but if God is not causing them (an interpretation that can be easily drawn from this text, which I reject personally) then God is at least at work in them, turning them to good. I wonder how I would respond to life’s trials if I truly believed that this hard thing I face may in the end preserve life, not just for me but for others. How have you discovered or wrestled with this message in your life?

 

ability to see yourself What stands out to me in 1 Samuel 17:31-49 is David’s statement after being told to put on worldly armor: “I can’t go in these. I’m not used to them”. David goes, as himself, in the way that fits him, and together with God, defeats the foe of Israel, Goliath. There is a powerful truth that resonates with my heart from this. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I play the “if only” game, thinking if only I was like so and so, this or that situation would go easier for me. But David says “no” to this. He knows that the only one way to win the victory is to say, “hey, the bronze-armored soldiers aren’t cutting it. I can only win by being true to my gifts and weaknesses”. The same is true for us. I need to know my gifts, my weaknesses, and embrace who I am, not needing to put on another’s clothes to find victory. The same is true for you.

 

david and jonathan 1 Samuel 20:11-23 is a powerful tale about the power of love to hold you up in the face of death. Scholars debate how to understand the love between Jonathan and David. It is powerfully deep. After all, “Jonathan pledged his love to David once again, for he loved David as he loved himself” in this text. And, in 2 Samuel 1, David sings to the departed Jonathan, “I grieve for you, …my Jonathan, you were my delight, my sweet! Your love was more marvelous to me, more wonderful than the love of women!” Is this love a deep romance, like the many romantic relationships with women David had, but deeper and with more mutual respect and faithfulness? Or is it a deep friendship, one that sticks closer than a brother? I don’t think 1 Samuel Lentz, Jonathan and Davidor 2 Samuel makes the answer to this question clear. I find both interpretations equally possible from the story I see in front of me. Whichever interpretation is more accurate, what is without a doubt is that the love these two men share with each other gives them the strength to stand against uncertainty, fear, and a risk of certain death. Like Romeo and Juliet or like the German and Jewish boys in the movie, “the Boy with the Striped Pajamas”, Jonathan and David’s different situations in life keep them from sharing their love (whether friendship or romance) together for long. This makes the end of their story of mutual love so tragic. However, their love is real and it builds a safe place of harbor and shelter for both of them through the storms of crisis and fear. To me their story reminds me that God’s greatest gift to us in times of trouble can be those people who are our shelter from storms through the love we share with them. I am thankful as I read it for the lady who God gifted me to share my life with, whose love for me I see mirrored in this story. I also am thankful for the many friends who have also provided that safe harbor of a shoulder to lean on when I could not stand on my own. Each of you have been the grace of God to me. I hope I can be that for each of you in your lives. ‪

 

 

more kindness 1 Samuel 20:24-42. I’m struck again about how Saul’s mental illness leads him toward destructive behaviors that threaten himself and others. These actions alienate his family and closest friends. Again I am struck how the love and friendship Jonathan and David share, in whatever form it is intended to be understood, give them both a shelter through the storm that engulfs their life flowing from Saul’s sickness. This powerful tale of companionship and love again reminds me of and makes me appreciative of those friends in my life in whom I can find shelter. So often the face of a friend is the face of God for us in dark times. I also am reminded of the need to be such a friend. I remember too the support of a loving wife in dark times, as well as the way our society still stacks things against couples who don’t fit the popular image of the ideal couple, whether because they are interracial couples, same-gender couples, or remarried couples. I also have to admit I have a hard time when going through difficult times of truly reaching out for support from others, though I know in my heart such times I am not meant to walk alone. To me this story reminds me of the importance of reaching out for support in my dark times. God does not intend a one of us to have to walk alone.

Friendshiphelenkeller
1 Samuel 25:1-22 begins the story of David, Nabal, and Abigail. To me, this story is one of the most troubling stories about David. In this story, David ends up acting like a mob boss or a gangster. One could paraphrase David’s relationship with Nabal with, “Nabal, let me make you an offer you can’t refuse”. Also, reading this literally as a historical account seems questionable to me. I couldn’t prove this, but I imagine, especially with the tongue-in-cheek names (Nabal means “fool”. Clearly that isn’t the man’s name. Who would name their child Fool?), it may have begun as some kind of bragging tale initially. Couldn’t you see David’s soldiers, drinking ale after a battle, telling this tale as a way of bragging about how foolish anyone is who stands against David? Many parts of the Hebrew Scriptures seemed to have begun as just such folk tales before being placed within holy Scripture.

Abigail Pleads with David I Samuel 25:18-31 Although I find much in this story problematic, I do notice one lesson though, that ought to be liberating today. The other day while watching my nephew I played a video of various children’s songs, because he loves to sing and dance, as I guess all three year olds do. “Humpty dumpty sat on a wall” came on. When it came to “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again”, I got a little mischievous. I turned to my wife and whispered “their problem is they didn’t ask some women”. I guess my nephew heard it because he sang that statement the next time the song came around, adding it to his version of the song. I think the message, “their problem is that they didn’t listen to the women,” is not the punchline whoever first wove this tale about David intended to be there, but the Holy Spirit had other plans. I think this is the punch line the Holy Spirit intended when She inspired this story to be taken up, redeemed in all of its broken glory, and woven into the holy text.

saint-mary-magdalene Nabal refuses to listen to his wife Abigail, and it is his downfall. He did not recognize her voice as the voice of Lady Wisdom herself, sent by the Holy Spirit, to protect Nabal. This story joins the Holy Spirit’s witness in Scripture to the importance of the voice of women. It is Rahab who saves the day, Deborah who saves the nation, Mirium who preserves threatened Moses from death by Nile waters as a baby. It is another Mirium, whom we call Mary, who says, “let it be as you say”, and births Jesus our Savior into the world. It is yet another Mirium, Mary of Magdala, who is the first to believe and proclaim “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed”.

The message that men should listen to the wisdom of the women in their life, instead of having them seen and not heard, is revolutionary in the time of David and Saul. I would say in many parts of our country and our world, it is still revolutionary today. God the Holy Spirit is in all people, and She chooses to use the voice of women equally to men in speaking words of truth, challenge, comfort, and promise. When we silence the women in our world it is a form of abuse. More than that, it also grieves the Holy Spirit of God who lives in and through them just as equally as She speaks through men.

I would go further and say that this message is not just true of women, but of all people whom a society chooses to marginalize: people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, minorities. We choose, like the man who came to be known as Nabal, to take on the name “fool” if we do not listen to the voice of Lady Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, in the mouths of women, the oppressed, and the poor around us. Let’s hear the voice of the Spirit, and open our ears to the many different voices through whom the mothering Holy Spirit speaks.

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.

 

Again I feel that 1 Samuel 25:23-44’s greatest message is to shake off the cultural message that clings to us whispering that women should be seen and not heard. Listen to the voice of the women around us, let their voice be heard, since it is their voice which might be the one speaking for the Holy Spirit. Their experience which might be the fount of wisdom and the path of freedom. This promise is true not just of women but of all who are oppressed or put down in our society.

 

I can’t help but notice that “foreigners” are welcomed onto the mountain of God, and into God’s house as long as they embrace justice and love of God in Isaiah 56:1, 6-8. Ever since the recent debate about immigration and refugee children, I notice this phrase whenever my devotional reading comes upon it. God apparently welcomes the immigrant. And since usually the immigrant in the Bible was a refugee fleeing their life from disaster or tyranny, rarely are the immigrants spoken of in the Bible at all “legal” or “documented”. Of course there are no strangers to God; God views us all as one human family, each God’s children embraced fully in Christ by our loving Father and the motherly Holy Spirit. I pray and hope for the day that we all can express this love and unity ourselves.

Clinging to the Everlasting Arms: A Week in the The Psalms

The Psalms are not just Scriptures to be read but invitations to pray. In fact, they are model prayers for Jews and Christians. We read them and meditate on them not just as a way of inspiring us, but also as invitations to make time and space to connect personally to God in prayer. Throughout the centuries Jews and Christians have used the words of the Psalms to inspire their own personal prayers, along with the prayers and songs of their communities. To prepare our hearts to delve into the Psalms this week, I want to invite you to join me in reflecting on the words of Walter Brueggemann, a leading scholar on the Psalms in his book The Psalms and the Life of Faith:

Capacity-to-grieve “We turn to Israel’s other model of prayer, the lament. We might expect that the propensity for praise would require Israel to yield its own agenda, get its mind off itself, mute its concerns, understate its need, in order to focus everything on Yahweh in praise. The surprise of Israel’s prayer is that the extravagance of praise does not silence or censor Israel’s need but seems to legitimate and authorise a second extravagance, the extravagance of complaint, lament, accusation, petition, indignation, assault, and insistence. Israel’s prayer is dialectial*, moving between these two extravagances.
“At the very limit of wonder and yielding, Israel’s prayer is an irrational abandonment of self. Israel’s prayer, however, is not uni-focal, but bi-focal. Praise does not deny the impatience of prayer, so that this utter abandonment of self is matched by an utter insistence of self and the self’s rightful claims, needs, and expectations. As doxology celebrates the peculiar character of Yahweh as faithful, so the complaints insist upon Yahweh’s faithfulness and protest against Yahweh’s refusal to be visibly and effectively faithful.
sitting in despair ” … In the process, however, the speaker never entertains the possibility of withdrawing from conversation with God, never considers the prospect that such talk is futile or that help must be sought elsewhere. The silence (or absence) of Yahweh does not drive Israel away from prayer; it drives Israel to more earnest, intense, passionate prayer—to the very You who will not answer.
“The stubborn resolve of this faith is worth our pondering. I submit that Israel stays in the conversation with Yahweh (who does not seem to answer), not because there are no alternatives, but because Israel will not concede that the conversation of prayer belongs wholly to Yahweh or happens wholly on Yahweh’s terms. Israel has a stake (p.57) in the conversation and is ‘part owner’ of the process of prayer. Israel will not be driven from the conversation, even by Yahweh’s lack of response, and will not yield its claim to the silent sovereignty of Yahweh. Israel determinedly and self-assuredly knows that this prayer is the meeting ground where life occurs and will wait there for a response from Yahweh, if need be, ‘until Hell freezes over’… Israel fully expects that Yahweh will also be present at that deathly limit…”


As you crack open your Bibles and join me in reading these Psalms, may they be an invitation to this living conversation with God.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie!
Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,
Micah

micah spring hat

sad-eckhart Psalm 18 calls us to see God as angry at injustice in the world and ready to respond when we cry for help. I have to admit initially my hackles go up at this image, because of how from early on in my life I have seen on anger has be misused. Yet anger need not be viewed as always wrong. Anger is a natural response to injustice. It’s ok to be angry when used, abused, or mistreated. A tool of an abuser is to use manipulation to send the message that natural anger at being mistreated means something is wrong with you. Instead, anger is neither right nor wrong. Anger is simply a part of how our hearts let us know we’ve been hurt. Anger lets us know we need to confront the cause of our pain both to heal and, when possible, ensure we are no longer putting ourselves or others in the place to be hurt again.
The positive message in this verse is how, in the midst of oppression, discrimination, or abuse, God is not cold and indifferent. God’s heart is moved for those being hurt. God is not neutral. God is on the side of the oppressed. Yet God’s anger and justice is not like ours . God is not at work to destroy the oppressor but rather to set them free from whatever hate, insecurity, bigotry, fear, pain, or indifference keeps them from treating other children of God with the full love and respect they deserve.

 

 

Psalm 27 imagines us making ourselves at home in the place we call God’s home. The house of the Lord is described as a place we can find shelter. This is where we get the idea of a “sanctuary” as a place to flee for safety. The house of God is to be a safe place to
pr20140728-093402.jpgotect from enemy, disaster, and storm. As a child I imagined this psalm, which we sang at a church I attended as a child, as being about being in the church itself or a great temple somewhere. There may have been some truth to that idea. Surely the author of this psalm imagined the great temple of Jerusalem, where people from all over the world came to pay homage to the God who led Israel through the Red Sea, out of slavery into freedom. Yet as I’ve continued further down my spiritual journey, I’ve come to connect this image of God’s house as a place of refuge where even the mother bird can find a home more with Jesus’ promise in John 14 to prepare a place for us. Jesus prepares a place for us not simply in the brick and mortar of a church building or the splendour of some temple grounds, but instead in the embracing love He shares ever, always with his Father & Ours in the Holy Spirit, who covers us with Her love like a Mother bird who shelters her chicks under her wings. God ever, always, offers to transform where I am, in that moment, into God’s courts, God’s dwelling, if I take the time to acknowledge the embracing presence of the Holy One in it and, most of all, in me, and in you. This is true for you as well, and for all who share the breath of life. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling of the holy, and in God’s courts whenever and wherever wee open ourselves to the embrace of the Father, Son, and motherly Spirit. ‪

great cloud of support Psalm 37 tells us not to fret because of evil doers, but to trust in the Lord who will make our righteous path clear. I think this call not to fret for other’s actions not only applies to those who are evil, but also applies to the many who may not be evil but out of ignorance, anxiety, or illness, may do things that are hurtful to us and others. It is so easy to worry about what we cannot control. And what can be more out of our control than what others will do? God calls us to give them to God’s care, and to take God’s hand. Making our righteous path clear also I think has broader meaning than we often realize. I do not think this phrase is at heart about ethics or morality. Instead your righteous path is the path that is right for you in all your uniqeness. It is the path that avoids landing you and others in the ditch. It is the trek that will keep you from getting stuck in the mud or floundered on the rocks. You have to take time, make an effort, to ensure you find this righteous path. You have to listen for the voice of the Spirit in your life. This voice comes in a sound like silence, a whisper in our souls that easily can be drowned out by the clamoring noise of our many anxieties. To know that path takes stopping your relentless journey forward, quieting the noise, laying aside your own sense of judgment upon yourself and your circumstance, in order to hear the voice underneath it all, the whispering call of peace. As you learn to do so, you are freed to take that hand which can lead you through God’s storm. For me, this has to be a daily practice.

falling-into-a-black-hole Psalm 40 invites us to both cry out when we feel we have fallen down into a great pit, and also to remember and thank God for deliverance. Whenever anyone ever comes out of the pit, whether of illness, depression, addiction, joblessness, it is not a solitary act occuring all on its lonesome. It is a work of God. Many times this deliverance from the deep darkness comes as pure gift, without much effort on the part of the one lifted up. More often, in other times, people experience it as they learn to work together with that of God in their life, community, and circumstance.
Wherever freedom, liberation, healing, and true life occur we know that it is from the motherly Holy Spirit who lives in and through all living things. She is the life giver, and wherever healing comes or life flourishes, it is her presence that is felt and known, whatever name it is given. I remember times of deep despair in my life and how the Holy Spirit came to me in those moments, opening my heart to joy, to peace, and new perspectives which at times changed my circumstances but even when the circumstance remained, change my relationship to it.
cave-you-fear-joseph-campbell-quote432 I also hear in this Psalm a call for me to have solidarity and compassion with all who feel as if they have fallen into a pit: the person trapped into a cycle of addiction, the victim of domestic violence without yet the strength to leave, the person who is depressed, the person who is homeless, the person who has mentally illness, the person who has a disability that debilitates them, the person who is a veteran walking as wounded & broken due to their sacrifice. Often our society looks at people who seem to have fallen into a pit, and points the finger of blame. It is far too easy to turns up our nose, our hearts full of judgment. Yet this Psalm invites us to realize we are but one step away from the same struggles as they. We must not see people as merely the crosses they bear or the monkeys on their back. We must strive to see them in their full humanity, which means both their pain and their unrealized power. I hear a call from God in this Scripture to let God ignite a fire of compassion, and a vision of hope in my heart, and perhaps in yours.

RiverLife Psalm 46. Two things resonate with me in this Psalm.
First, “there is a river whose streams make glad” God’s people. In the time the psalm was written this river was clearly the river that watered Jerusalem, a holy city. Yet later, after praying this psalm his whole life, Jesus talks instead about a different kind of river. In the book of John, Jesus invites people to come and experience the living Spirit who indwells all things becoming a river of living water that wells up in their souls, renewing us in this life now until it does so finally & completely by ushering us into eternal life. Our ability to not just get through crisis but to thrive is through learning how to drink deep within us of this deep well of water flowing from the river whose streams make glad.
This river I believe is available not just to Christians, but all people of all faiths, and of no particular faith tradition at all. To borrow the phrase of Father Matthew Fox, there truly is one river flowing underneath in the Person of God the Holy Spirit who indwells all life, experienced in many different wells which all name Her differently. In my own spirituality, I find stopping for meditation, mindfulness practice, prayer, spiritual practices, and even just to breathe, listen to the birds, or hear great music all help me find and drink deep of the river of Spirit that flows in and through us and all things.
tree-of-life-river-of-life-05-08 Secondly, the Psalm says something important about what fruit of the presence of God among us is. The Psalm vividly paints a picture of this river inspiring the weapons of war to be broken and destroyed. This stark and vivid imagery of weapons being shattered and burned reminds me of the fact drinking deep of the Spirit is not just about my own personal “inner peace”. My drinking deep of the well of life is also about changing how I interact with God’s world. It is easy to let our pain cause us to justify hurtful words and actions to others, both those who have harmed us and, more shockingly, innocent bystanders or even intimate partners. I know I do that. But when the healing river of Spirit washes over you, that drenching in life giving presence will, little by little, help you become more gracious even when in pain. I ain’t there yet, but I’m further along than I was. I think also drinking deep of the Spirit waters calls into question the ways in which I have seen our society justify violence as the answer from spanking our kids to toting guns for protection, to jumping as quickly as we do to the death penalty or war as an option in the face of others who choose violence or crime. The river of Spirit ought to nourish us in ways that inspire us to find ever more non-violent, non-damaging ways to deal with other’s hurtful acts. With society as with our souls, it is a long-term process and a one day at a time journey. But as we each open ourselves to Spirit, I believe little by little we each can be transformed. And through us, this broken and hurting world.

reconciliation-art What strikes me in Psalm 54 is how the psalmist feels so many have turned against him. I’ve been there. I’ve been where I gave, served, and loved individuals or a community and they stabbed me in the back. Strangely I think what has hurt the worst were moments of misunderstanding, when I felt that people were against me, and they weren’t; or where people thought I was against them and I wasn’t. It is funny, isn’t it? Oh how many ways we miss each other in relationships!
When we are the ones to make a bad choice sometimes the most loving thing people can say is “I love you; I support you. And I think that God has better for you than what you’re doing”. I’ve had that happen to me and come to appreciate those who said those words. But not always have I in the moment, when they spoke those words to me. Even those words, spoken with love, can hurt to hear. Whether the words are intended as loving or not, in the moment, the pain you feel is real.
end stigma 3 For people who are struggling with alcoholism, mental illness, or abuse, sometimes trying to encourage them to get help can come across as an attack. This psalm reminds me of this sober and baffling truth. Yet, strangely, this reminder encourages me. It encourages me first of all because it invites me first to reach out to God and another person when I am hurting, feeling misunderstood, or feeling people are turning against me. Whether people are turning against you or not, the feeling of rejection and isolation is not something God intends you to face on your own. It can be too much to carry. It may be that you need to speak up the person involved, too.
Was what they said or did truly inappropriate? If so, this may be an opportunity to set some healthy boundaries in love. If you have not learned to set boundaries and it is new to you, choosing to do so can be frightening. Will I lose the relationship, the friendship, the romance, or the support given to me by a family member? Beginning to set boundaries in your relationships can be terrifying. Yet doing so also allows you to keep it, while also preventing future resentments that may erode an important relationship gradually until what you find so beautiful in it passes into the night.
Often, though, before one tries to set a boundary, taking the time to meditate on what has happened and even hear another’s side of things can be essential. It is possible that in talking with the one whose words or actions hurt you it is possible you might discover it is a misunderstanding. That alone can be such a healing and liberating experience.
bend-in-the-roadNot only does this text speak to me when I feel rejected, but it also calls me, even when I do not feel wronged, to stand in solidarity with those who feel, rightly or wrongly, attacked and misunderstood. . It is easy when I am helping someone who is addicted, who is ill, or who is being abused, to face their problem and seek help, to have an entirely unhelpful attitdue. It is so easy to sit like I’m a judge & jury, like I’m morally superior to them. I need to see things from their perspective to help them. Taking that time to imagine myself in their shoes is the only way I can really weigh how they are feeling. Without doing so I may only push them away and make their problems worse. I need to be moved with compassion both to their suffering and to the real loss change brings, even positive changes. I need to face that looking our problems head-on can be painful and that I am asking someone to truly do something very hard. I need to realize how truly scary changing the status quo can be, even if the status quo is bad. What a rich and a challenging call!


Psalm 99 calls for praise for God because of how God forgave, bolstered up, and worked through those who went before us. What a significant and important thing for which to praise God. One of the most painful realizations on entering adulthood was how broken, frail, and sinful were so many of the people whose life and influence had paved my way to my faith and calling. I remember being deeply hurt by folks who misunderstood how my calling shaped up because of how it led to stances of inclusion and justice that did not fit how they understood Christianity. I also remember the disappointment I felt on learning of great cloud of saints behind preacherfamily members and mothers & fathers of the faith from my childhood who had greatly failed to live out the life of Christ in significant ways because of their own brokeness and frailty. In seminary I learned of the great sins of men and women like Luther, Calvin, Dr. King, and others who I viewed as great bright lights of faith. How this psalm speaks to that experience in my life. I learned, too, of the same flaws in Bible writers and how sometimes their own shortcomings and small-mindedness even influence this oh-so-holy text. Those examples all can remain bright lights for me, though. They can do so because those in that great cloud of witnesses around me and before me were, like me, broken in their own way and given to frailty. Yet God’s love was enough, enough to forgive them, and turn their lives to the good. God does not call the perfect, nor use the already arrived. This psalm reminds me what was so discouraging early in my faith journey and ministry is a word of hope for me. I, too, am frail, broken, and often wrong. I, too, have made huge mistakes, and, honestly, I will make even more. And God’s grace is big enough. God’s love is embracing enough. And guess what? It’s that way for you too, and for all who live on God’s earth, or have passed beyond the circle of time. Hallelujah!

Southernisms: Listen To Your Momma

listen to your momma

Each week we have a hashtag game at Progressive Redneck Preacher called “Southernisms”. A southernism is a phrase, activity, or ritual common to our southern culture – sometimes amazingly beautiful, sometimes pretty helpful, sometimes uproariously funny. This past week we had the hashtag #listentoyourmomma . “Listen to your momma” is a phrase which every southerner learns as a child to pay attention. You will be up a creek without a paddle once its spoken, unless you perk your ears up and listen. In my house, it was usually said by my daddy when we’d ignored what momma said to do. There was very little worse we could do than to not listen to our momma to daddy. The worst punishments came when we didn’t listen to momma.
what happens if you dont listen to momma I’ve caught myself saying “Listen to your momma” in situations less serious than that, such as when I was with someone whose kid was ignoring their mother when she said to stay in place, sit still, or just not to climb, I don’t know, the produce stand at the grocery store. Or, sometimes, say at church when a kid who likes to play and is friendly with my wife and I doesn’t listen when their mom says to come. With my little nephew, it is now paired with another statement. “Listen to your momma. She’s saying what she says so you know how to stay safe”.

listen to momma 3 I chose to use this hashtag this week in part because of the rich lessons about southern culture and even faith we can glean from thinking about what the phrase, “listen to your momma”, means in southern culture. But, more important to me, is the fact my mother has been having some health problems this past year. One thing my momma always said to me that stays with me to this day is, “Honor the living”. I can still remember when a great aunt passed and family from states away came to the funeral. I believe I was a teenager, and it was a great aunt we saw a few times a year. Momma turned to us and said, “Half of these people have not seen her for years. She was sick for months and they never visited. Now they come to see her body. Don’t do that. Don’t wait until after someone has died to let them know they matter. Remember the living. Honor people while they can appreciate it”.
So this blog post is also a way for me to honor my momma while she is still with me. And I hope it invites you to honor your momma, too.

Well, here are some of the momma-isms I gathered from my own posts, and posts of others:
dinner-table-l I remember as I watch my three year nephew sing, dance, & build towers with his food momma saying “don’t play with your food,” “not at the table,” and “clean your plate”. She never mentioned children in China though. “Eating right will help you grow big and strong. That ought to be reason enough. You eating food won’t help kids in China. To do that, you’d need to send food to China”. Very true, mamma. Very true.
Amy Thomas says, “momma taught me how to make a kick-ass potato salad”
I remember my momma always telling me, about my brothers and sisters, ‘Look out for each other. You can pick your friends, and they might come and go. But y’all will be family forever.’ Sometimes this was preceded by statements like ‘don’t put that in your sister’s hair’, ‘no you can’t microwave your big sister’s Barbie doll’, and ‘boys! quit fighting!'”

Me and my brother and sisters.

Me and my brother and sisters.

There was a time period when I remember my momma sewing me hand-made clothes. Using her creativity to deal with times that money was tight was a talent of momma’s growing up. She used, of course, fabric from the store and her handy sewing kit, not rags like the momma in the song below. But as I listen to Dolly’s words I can’t help but think of the clothes my momma would patch and sew growing up:

My momma is the first person who taught me about being green. I remember I’d be her hands to help her in her garden as a wee thing. I loved doing it, largely because it meant I’d get the first bite out of the first juicy tomato. But also I think though I couldn’t have put it into words, it was one of the few places I saw her be creative, which for a woman who was a hobby painter is to be fully alive. There’s something about a garden where you encounter life fully awake. I remember distinctly one day smooshing a ladybug in childhood glee. “Look, momma, I killed a bug”. Momma sat me down, picked up a ladybug in her hands. Holding it on her finger in front of me, she explained to me not to do that. “Ladybugs are good luck,” she said, and explained how with ladybugs near your garden, you didn’t need as much bug spray. “They eat the bugs that eat my tomatoes. They help those tomatoes grow”. I remember, too, how she made a mixture of beer and other herbs to keep the slugs away. And how our dogs got drunk one day gobbling up bear-soaked slugs.

ladybug

As a teen I remember, when I’d visited churches of different Protestant and Pentecostal denominations, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, and a Jewish synagogue with friends, hearing my momma say “I’ll love and support you whatever you believe. You need to search and decide for yourself what you believe, even if its different than us “. Good advice from my southern mamma.

mom sayings 2
Alicia B., a reader of our blog, added, “‘Look with your eyes & not with your hands.’ She was always trying to make sure we didn’t break anything.”


Perhaps the most enduring lesson momma taught me was to value education. I remember distinctly being told, on getting off many a bus ride from school, “Now finish your homework first so you can play”. I remember when I for some reason struggled to learn my letters, my momma sitting down every night for around a week with a book in hand, teaching me to sound out the letters. My favorite book was a little story about a zoo-keeper and his lion. A world of stories and ideas opened up to me. Before I knew it I was reading children’s books about dinosaurs and outer space. And then the Bible. Then I saw momma go back to school to earn a Master’s Degree, becoming a teacher to special needs children. Momma taught me to love learning, a lesson I carry with me.

momma kicks ass

My baby sister, Alyssa, comments that she thinks the best lessons mom have to teach us are yet to come. I hope so, sis. I hope so.
My wife, Katharine Royal, remembers her momma teaching her, ” Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold. ”

mom sayings

Momma never gave up. Momma stopped working as a teacher when I was very little, both to take care of us kids and to care for our grandmother, Myrtie Barefoot, who had raised her, following a series of strokes. For some people this might have been the end of pursuing her dreams. Around the time my grandmother died, momma went back to school and got a Master’s degree, ultimately becoming a special education teacher. Also, though she never became a professional artist, even into her retirement, momma continues to do beautiful art work, painting, and creating jewelry. The lesson momma taught me in this is never give up on your dreams. A good lesson, I’d say.

Yes, apparently, even Northerners have to listen to their momma.

Yes, apparently, even Northerners have to listen to their momma.

The language of “listen to your momma”, on the one hand, is a statement calling people to respect and honor their mother. In the south, I think its fair to say that this is a part of the larger “chivalry ethic” I posted about last week. And it includes with it the same causes, pitfalls, and possibilities.

On the positive side, it is a way in which a culture with a history of sexism and patriarchy has historically encouraged respect for and support of a woman’s voice. For many of us, the first female voice we hear is our mother’s. Whether her opinions and insights are listened to and respected by the people in our lives teaches a very important lesson about whether or not a woman’s voice is worth listening to, or worth hearing. I can say that having my dad reiterate to me as a child, “listen to your mother,” taught me that her voice was worth hearing, and her words worth listening to.
On the flip side, though, often in southern culture the one saying “listen to your mother” is a male voice. And though there is a way in which this can be empowering, it can also be patronizing.

I experienced this when we were host parents for an international exchange student. I forget the situation that came up, but I distinctly remember my wife, a California girl by birth, suddenly raising her eyebrow as if to say, “Say what?” She then, after the situation was over, pulled me aside and said, “That was sweet and all, but you know what? I can tell her to listen to me myself. I don’t want this young lady thinking she has to get a man’s approval to speak her mind”.

Unfortunately "listen to your momma" can be a subtle way of keeping women in "their place".

Unfortunately “listen to your momma” can be a subtle way of keeping women in “their place”.

Kat’s comments, like so many my lovely wife makes, was eye-opening for me.
I realized a downside of this southern phrase, “listen to your momma”. Too often it can also be a paternalistic way of reinforcing the message that women need to get their permission to have a voice or have power from men.
In a Psychology Today article , Belle De Paulo calls this “benevolent sexism”. She lists some qualities of benevolent sexism:
“Women should be cherished and protected by men.
Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.
Every man ought to have a woman whom he adores.
A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man.”
However, it is a slippery slope from benevolent sexism to hostile sexism, ” aimed at women who don’t stay in their place …” such as ” women who compete with men ” or women who don’t require men’s permission for their voice.
You can see some of this at work with what psychologists call the domestic violence cycle, in which an abuser is incredibly polite, seemingly sweet, and romantic to their intimate partner to woo them into a relationship or to try and keep them from leaving the abusive relationship in a “honeymoon” or “reconciliation” phase, only to turn toward controlling and abusive behavior later. Both the benevolent sexism and later hostile sexism are used to keep the significant other in a situation where the abuser has power over them, control over their lives.

Cycle_of_Abuse
You can see this back and forth found between honeymooning through benevolent sexism and abusive controlling ways of relating to women by hostile sexism in the back and forth way sometimes southern culture treats women. My friend Gabe Sealey-Morris talks about this in his recent book, The Stubborn Pines, when he describes one man’s relationship to his wife:
“With copious red hair and a body that used to be called ‘child-bearing’ — wide, sensuous hips and proportions that skewed to the fertility idol — Maryann could be maternal one moment and deliriously sexy the next. She had turned Ray’s head around the moment they were introduced … Fortunately the Madonna/whore complex at the heart of the southern psyche was hardly ever submerged in Ray”.
This “Madonna/whore complex” is where the “listen to your momma” message in the south can go wrong. It can be a part of southern culture’s way of saying a woman has to choose between being strong and independent and being maternal or compassionate. It can be a part of saying a woman has to choose between being sensual and creative, and being life-giving and hospitable. Such an approach tends to penalize women for being strong, being independent, and tries to force them to “keep their place”.

504-Steel-Magnolias-quotes When “listen to your momma” is not just honoring a woman’s voice, but is a subtle way of saying her voice, her power, and her value is defined by men, then it can be a way our culture goes wrong. It is where we get the stereotypes that Sheryl St. Germain critiques in the excellent Huffington Post article, “8 Absurd Myths About Southern Women“.
As St. Germain points out in her article, southern women have a long history of refusing to hear that voice in our culture. The greatest fried green tomatoesfemale protagonists of southern literature, from the outspoken ladies of Steel Magnolias, to the gender-bending independent protagonists of Fried Green Tomatoes, to Minnie with her “chocolate pie” in The Help , do not fit this quiet as a church mouse image we think of when we hear “southern belle”. Heck, even in her own way Scarlett in Gone With the Wind demonstrates a different southern ideal. The ideal southern woman is not one who simply says “yes dear” to the men in her life, but fiercely independent, with a sharp wit and an ability to speak their mind.

 

 

 

God mother hen A final thought before I go. As a call to hear women in their own voices, to honor the women in our lives that shaped us, this phrase “listen to your momma” is powerful. As a progressive Christian, I would suggest it also points past our earthly mothers. All strong female role models are icons of the Holy Spirit. In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is pictured as the Divine mother of all living. In Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit is pictured as a mother bird brooding over the chaos of the uncreated world, as a hen would brood over eggs about to hatch. The Psalms picture the Holy Spirit as a mother bird gathering chicks under her wings. And this image is used for the southern mommasHoly Spirit as a mother dove brooding over Jesus at his baptism in Luke 4. In Proverbs 8 this image of a motherly figure for God is applied to God’s Wisdom, who shows the way of truth and life. Strong mothers and strong women are a beautiful icon, pointing us to the Divine Feminine Christians experience in the Spirit of Wisdom who gave birth to all life, and who we are told in Romans 8 continues to grow as in labor within all things until all life is made new and whole.
I would suggest new images of southern motherhood strengthen this image. Here is a picture like many I saw first-hand while serving as a pastor outside a southern army base:

new image of motherhood

This picture shows a mother as a soldier. Strong southern women are not just southern belles but also, as my mother, Master’s educated specialists. They are police women and lawyers. They are judges. Like my sister-in-law, they are medical professionals. The strength of the southern mother pictures the strength available to all women who find their voice. And the strength of the undying love of the Holy Spirit for all God’s children, and all who live on God’s earth.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!
Your Progressive Redneck Preacher,
Micah

 

Micah and his momma.

Micah and his momma.