rockets and waterfalls

by Suzannah Paul

party

It was the last song of the night, and the house was on its feet, abuzz. We flung long tresses wildly, and bespectacled hipsters imperceptibly bobbed their heads. The band requested attendees dress in costume or finery, and the earnest crowd complied. Skeletons whirled like dervishes beside masked, feathered birds and adults clad in footie pajamas. Daniel Tiger drank pale ale, and girls in bright sequins nestled under the arms of lanky boys in pinstripes, rapt and content.

The entire affair could have been a case study in whiteness or youth culture, but something transcendent was palpable, too: that strange, larger-than-life connection when the music soars and thousands of perfect strangers share one enchanted moment.

I’ve felt it at concerts and experienced it in worship, and sometimes I’ve sworn the two were one and the same: the keen awareness of being united and alive and the near-audible whisper that something exists beyond all we see, something like home.

Years ago, in his book Sex God, Rob Bell argued that such moments were sexual in their essence because sexuality is broadly about connection, not just climax. Many thought he was reaching, but his thesis always struck a chord with me. I do believe that our sexuality encompasses more than desire (or desirability) and what we do with our genitals (although it’s those, too, of course).

Whenever a teen starlet comes of age, it’s almost inevitable that she’ll announce her entree into adulthood with a racy photo shoot, music video, or movie role. While embracing sexual agency is a hallmark of adulthood, I do wonder how performing that particular cultural cliché demonstrates sexual autonomy as a rule. Teen queens are sexual people, of course, no matter how provocative or chaste their stage persona is.

We’re sexual whether or not we’re partnered or perceived as sexy by the crowd. Sexual agency may be expressed in the act of sex or abstention from it, in projected sex appeal, a passionate kiss, or the practice of personal boundaries.

What might it look like to express our sexuality in ways that honor God, self, and neighbor? Consent and respect play critical roles (with one’s partner and in community), but a believer’s sexual ethic can’t start and end there. What honors God must factor centrally, too, even if Christians disagree on all that entails.

It’s no secret that as Christians, we often lack a compelling and holistic vision for healthy sexuality and do perhaps the worst disservice to those who are single and/or celibate. “Purity culture” teachings inherently link sexuality with dirt and defilement, requiring something akin to asexuality from unmarried adherents (and inviting residual shame into a significant number of Christian marriages). While the absence of sexual desire is completely normal for those who identify as asexual (and others), expecting single Christians who do not ID that way to repress their sexuality is another thing entirely, and it’s as unrealistic as it is harmful and dishonoring. Our bodies and sexuality are at the core of our humanity regardless of marital status, drive, or experience.

So what then? How can we express desire in ways that honor the image of God in one another? What might it look to fully inhabit our bodies in faithfulness and without shame, whether we’re partnered or single? Is Bell right that sexuality is linked to points of connection in the bedroom and beyond?

For Christians, can sexuality be understood as the pursuit and expression of wholeness, encompassing acts of physical love as well as other manners of platonic union or spiritual transcendence? Is it possible to express our sexuality whenever we serve or create? When we love our friends and community well? Could our sexuality be tied to other ways we inhabit our bodies, perform masculinity or femininity, or glimpse the sublime in nature, worship, or art?

If we accept Jesus’ incarnate humanity, then he was a sexual person, too. Could Jesus have expressed his sexuality when he fed the five thousand, upending expectations and satisfying needs? When he healed broken hearts and bodies? When he esteemed the woman who anointed his feet with perfume and tears, drying them with her hair?

What does it mean to be sexual when we aren’t having sex? Ecstatic moments when breath catches or feet tread holy ground, are these touchpoints to shalom and sexuality, both? Am I a weirdo for thinking this might be true (even if spiritually more than literally)?

Maybe I am. But I can’t help being drawn to the idea that sexuality is something greater, simpler, and more inclusive than either the Church or Hollywood currently projects.

It’s reaching for each other in the dark and dancing with friends, at home in our skin. It’s a longing, an embrace, and a killer pair of heels, and it’s liturgy and Eucharist on a Sunday morning. It’s an arena rock show and a climbing trip in the mountains, with a verdant view four states wide. It’s that flicker of recognition or belonging, the feeling of being seen and known. It’s two hands clasped in passion or support or prayer, not unlike the rest of this everyday, ordinary, sleeping, eating, going-to-work, walking-around life that we live together and offer unto God.

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The 5 Stages of (Faith) Loss

by Addie

train tracks

You were a good Christian. You memorized all the Bible verses in Sunday school. You prayed at the flagpole on the fourth Wednesday of September. You wore the t-shirts and read your Bible and you were a good, devoted “on fire” kind of Christian. How could you have seen this coming?

Denial

At first you keep going, one week after another. Maybe this church. Maybe that one. I can get through this, you think as you stand up, sit down, Greet your neighbor.

You lift your hands when everyone else lifts theirs, read the Scripture, underline the pretty words, hoping that if you just engage with the text in the same way you used to, it will come back to life for you.

In the church foyer, someone asks you how you’re doing, and you say, “Fine! Good!” because you don’t know how to tell the truth. Because you never really learned how to tell the truth in a church foyer in all of those years of in and out and Hallelujah and Amen!

Denial, denial, denial of self. You perform the same old rituals again and again to show God you’re serious, because somehow you learned that God loves a busy Christian. This is stage one.

Anger

You start tentatively saying the word shit, and before long, you’ve worked your way up to fuck. These forbidden words seem the only language sturdy enough for your anger and pain, so you use them again and again and again.

You begin to call them “Church People,” and you take a certain amount of comfort in pointing out their faults. Petty. Judgmental. Closed-minded. Sometimes you even stoop to critiquing their clothes, their personalities, their mannerisms. You’re so angry that once you start pointing out faults you can’t stop.

Somewhere, in your rational mind, you realize that this is not really about them ­– these particular people. You don’t really know them, and they don’t know you, and that makes you all the more enraged. You lump them together and focus your rage at the whole amorphous group of them. Church People. This is stage two.

Bargaining

It was because of that church, you think. It was that person who did this to me. You begin to assign blame. If only you hadn’t dated him, gone to that conference, gotten mixed up with those people or that leader or this particular brand of theology.

You try to regain control in whatever ways you can. You go out at night and drink too much, and it’s almost like you’re daring God to intervene. If you care, show up! Come get me! Give me a sign. You shove yourself in a bathroom stall and puke…and he does.

Maybe this isn’t your exact story, but the stages are probably the same. We rage and anger and bargain in different ways – but the pattern remains. We are losing something. We are terrified, trying to talk our way out of it. This is stage three.

Depression

Maybe it looks like grief. Crying. Worry. Regret.

Maybe it looks like a dark hole, deep and lonely. Maybe you crawl in there for a while and then when you’re ready to be done, you find you can’t get out.

Maybe it lasts a few days or a few weeks. Maybe you lose a year. Maybe two.

Maybe you don’t know how to acknowledge what was going on, to verbalize it. No one told you it was okay to ask questions. Somewhere along the road, you learned that to say, “I feel like I’m losing faith,” was a sin in and of itself – a failure of eternal significance. So you keep your mouth shut tight.

Maybe the simple experience of depression turns to Clinical Depression, and you find yourself lost there for a while. This is what happened to me. Stage four.

Acceptance (Pt. I)

The therapist turns on the light machine and you begin to work through the past. “How did that make you feel?” she asks, and you try to remember.

You say that you can’t figure out how to pray anymore, and she looks at you gently. “That’s okay,” she says. “That’s okay.”

It’s impossible to tell sometimes the difference between change and loss. The two feel so much the same. You are outgrowing a version of yourself; you are moving on, and there is grief in all of its hard stages. In all of its agony.

But really, this is all part of it. You are cycling out of one thing and toward something new. You are changing. This is the hard, beautiful work of becoming. This is the nature of faith.

Acceptance (Pt. II)

You begin to sort it out, and it’s painful and it’s purposeful. Don’t mistake “acceptance” for happily every after. This is not the end of the story. This is the beginning of a new journey. This is the stage you’ll be working through for the rest of your life.

You read new books. You learn how to say things out loud. You take some medicine. You begin to work out your salvation in simple, honest ways: Eat. Sleep. Go outside. Rest.

And all acceptance really means is to receive, to take. You look again at your broken changing faith and figure out that God looks different than you once thought. But he is here. He was always here.

You open your hands, and you feel them overflow with Love.

One Last Stop

by Sarah Bessey

by Chris Marlow

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Chris Marlow is the founder of Help One Now and has dedicated his life to seeking justice by empowering leaders and organizing tribes to launch global movements that do good. He currently lives in downtown Raleigh, NC with his wife and two daughters.

www.chrismarlow.me | Twitter | Facebook.

 

Back in 2007, I was driving down a one lane road in Zimbabwe, then a country on the verge of a total collapse. This was my first visit to Africa. My Zimbabwean friend asked a simple question: “May we make one last stop to see some kids at this gas station down the road?”

Now, we had just driven over 20 hours. It was 4:00 in the morning and I did not want to make “one last stop.”

But God did. He needed to pluck me from the comforts of my American Christianity and drop me in the middle of reality, slap me the face, and say, “Wake up! Don’t you see the world around you?”

“Sure. One last stop.”

At the gas station, there were dozens of kids sleeping together on the ground, cuddled close to stay warm. This gas station was their makeshift home. We got out of the van and I was immediately surrounded. These kids were desperate – for love and attention, for food and clothing, for hope and a future.

One boy grabbed my hand in a tight grip and said, “Sir, thank you for visiting my country. I’m so sorry it’s in the shape that it’s in. I don’t want to beg you for food, but I’ve had nothing to eat for days. Is there any work I can do for you, so I can get something to eat?”

“No, I have nothing for you. No.”

That was my response to an 8-year-old orphan’s desperate request for help. I turned away.

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photo credit: Scott Wade

I spent the next few days in a constant state of repentance, telling God that I was sorry for my lack of action. I was overwhelmed with emotion, heartbroken by my own apathy and ignorance.

Thankfully, we serve a God who has explosive grace that is so wide and deep, and so far beyond our human imagination.

We also serve a God who is on a mission, and he uses His people to fulfill that mission. He will do what is necessary, to get each of us to live a live that goes beyond our own comforts, desires and needs. You have gifts, passions, resources and time to make a difference.

A year later, we started Help One Now, and we’re committed to to empowering local leaders to serve orphans and transform their community through holistic development work. Including Zimbabwe. It’s been amazing to see how much work we’ve been able to accomplish.

How Do We Solve The Problem?

I ask myself that question all the time–and I’m not sure I have all the answers–but here is what I know.

We need to empower the church to do good, and we need to ensure that we don’t try and do good and change the world by our own strength and wisdom.

That is a recipe for burnout. We’re not sprinting; we’re running a marathon.

We need to lean into God’s strength and wisdom. We must cast our burdens on Him. We need to pray, hope, rally together and serve our neighbors who are in need and suffering from extreme poverty.

What If Doing Good Was Simple?

I’ve come to realize that most of us are terribly busy. Our society and our own brokenness causes us to constantly be moving forward. This can be good and bad.

I also know that it’s simply impossible to write a check every time you hear a story of suffering. Being generous is amazing and necessary, but we can’t just ask people to give over and over.

If we do, it will cause damage and an unhealthy culture. Scripture reminds us not to become weary in doing good.

Of course, the harsh reality is this: money moves the mission forward. Money creates the foundation to establish long-term, sustainable change in communities that are suffering from extreme poverty.

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So, a few years ago, we had an idea – Garage Sale For Orphans. It was simple. What if families, friends, neighbors, small groups, churches, businesses and students rallied together and hosted a Garage Sale for Orphans party? Each party raised money for a specific project that they’re passionate about.

The idea spread like a wild fire. Soon, we had people hosting parties all via word-of-mouth all over the country.

In the last 2 years, we’ve raised over $300,000. Those funds have rescued 25 kids from trafficking in Haiti, provided clean water for orphans in Zimbabwe, and helped move families out of tents and into homes in Haiti.

We now have a goal to raise $1,000,000 in the next two years. We need 1000 people to say “yes; I will do that! I will rally my friends together and throw a garage sale party.”

So, will you join us and throw a garage sale party in 2014?

Make one last stop, friend.

P.S. Several of the writers from A Deeper Story – Sarah Bessey, Erika Morrison, and Amber Haines – are with us in Haiti right now! Click here to follow along with their trip.

http://vimeo.com/69480472

God Has A Body

by Emily Maynard

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God has a body, they said.

God walked on the earth and blew dust out of his nose and laughed with his friends. God took on human flesh so we, human flesh, could be with God. God had to become a body, they said. And I believed it.

I saw the pictures, growing up; I saw the pictures of God on flannel graphs and coloring pages and in the Jesus storybooks and on TV. I liked God.

God had a body, but it wasn’t a body like mine.

It wasn’t a body with breasts that grew, with hips that expanded, with a uterus that bled regularly, with cramps that made him throw up every month. It wasn’t a body that was warned against, and called a stumbling block.

It wasn’t a body that was called unclean and prevented from participating in community and worship. It wasn’t a body that kept him on the edge of society, that made him property, or that made him less than other human bodies in public because of his private parts. It wasn’t a body that was silenced, just for being a certain gender of body.

It wasn’t a body like mine.

*****

There were eight people in my house growing up, and the bathroom was the only door that locked. And even though it offered peace to lock the door and turn on the shower, it was only a matter of time before someone else came pounding, letting you know that they wanted in and your time was up.

Our bodies are like that, too. Sometimes I can hear mine creaking already: Your time is running out.

You’re just a body.

The water encourages the crisis as it pounds down on my skin. It’s terribly vulnerable to be just me and my body and soap. Even as I scrub away the old skin cells to release the new, I am losing parts of myself. I am growing older. Bits of me run down the drain, and they are not me anymore.

I’ve heard people say that they sing in the shower because of the acoustics; the mix of steam and glass and high ceiling cushions the pitch of the song. But my shower is ripe with existential crisis, and I sing so I don’t cry.

*****

God had a body, they say.

But it’s not a woman’s body.

It’s not a body that is feared and controlled and abused and abandoned and coerced, like the bodies of women all over the world. It’s not a body that is passed over for promotions and speaking platforms, equality and the ability to make decisions for the intimate parts of that body. It’s not a body that is too fat, too old, too loud, too young, too angry, too independent, too ugly, or too weak to be valued.

It’s not a body that is raped, like one in six women’s bodies are raped in this epidemic in America right now.

God’s body doesn’t make God unacceptable in church. It doesn’t disqualify God from teaching, praying, leading, or giving without restrictions, the way that women’s bodies are banned from serving. God’s body is poured out in wine and broken in bread, but it’s not a body like mine.

*****

Despite what I’ve said about Jesus living in my heart, God has never inhabited my body. It’s mine; sometimes it cannot feel further from God’s.

I used to be jealous of Catholics, because they had Mary. She at least, had God in her own body for a while, and is honored for that still.

Growing up Evangelical, we sidestepped Mary, lest we worshipped her God-bearing female body. The only mother we had was Eve, and she was deceived. The pastor said she was deceived, because that’s what Paul wrote to Timothy, but I understood that he believed she was a bit of the Deceiver, too.

After all, when she gave Adam the forbidden fruit, she was playing the part of the serpent to him. After all, when she bore children in her body, she did pass on sin through her cursed womb.

After all, she had a woman’s body.

I guess, though, we also had the Proverbs 31 woman. She was welcome, lauded, and strong in her home sphere. But even she had a husband and an estate to keep, and all I had was a growing collection of half-filled, hand-scrawled journals that I stashed underneath my mattress on the lower bunk.

When I flung myself onto my bed and pulled out the journal and a pen, I wrote out prayers that my body, please, wouldn’t be so sinful.

*****

One time I heard a woman take a deep breath and close her eyes and lift up her hands and pray: Father, Mother, Brother, Sister God, be with us.

I cringed; my body tensed up. God couldn’t be like that. God was Jesus, was man, was male, was Father, was Lord, was King, was God.

I couldn’t handle a prayer like that. To use feminine names or references for God was disrespectful, liberal, unbiblical, and wrong. It was making God in my own image to use a feminine pronoun. God wouldn’t be like that, like a woman, like me, like Emily.

Right?

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Go! Tell Them.

by Velynn Brown

Go

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

He rose, He rose, He rose from the dead;

And the Lord shall bear my spirit home.

Standing in full Easter-glory, white gloved, satin ribbon tied, afro locks pressed straight — I belted the next verse to this Easter hymn with pride, conviction and certainty.

Sister Mary she came running a looking for my Lord;

Sister Mary she came running a looking for my Lord;

Sister Mary she came running a looking for my Lord;

Mary was a girl.

Singing the words to this chorus made me proud to be a girl. Sister Mary, in my nine-year-old soul, was a role model. I found the fact that she made it into the Hall of Fame of Easter Hymnals very impressive. In my Baptist upbringing, only men got to wear fancy-preaching robes and have the privilege to proclaim the “Good News.”

Mary was a runner.

I, too, was the fastest on my neighborhood block and the only girl. I could relate to a running Sister! Throughout Jesus’ ministry here on earth, Mary Magdalene was busy making meals, serving Jesus and the disciples well. She had some stamina. She kept pace, next to Jesus’ side throughout the crucifixion journey — carrying from a distance what she could of his pain and trauma. She persevered, following him all the way to the cross.

Mary was a doer.

I have always appreciated a woman who knows how to take charge. Ummhumm, ain’t nobody got time to wait around for things to be done. She led a group of women who provided for Jesus and his followers from their own financial resources.

Nobody else had discovered the buried Jesus was missing, and she was determined to find him, even if it meant pleading with Angels and questioning a gardener to get what she needed.

Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” John 20:16

***

As a little girl, I didn’t understand the journey Sister Mary had endured that gave her the courage to stand in her Holy Savior’s tomb. My childhood faith had no way of comprehending Mary’s past and the Power she had encountered that transformed her. But my innocence would too soon be shattered. Sin and shame would have a grip on my life-sooner than it ever should. As I grew older, Mary Magdalene, in more ways than one, would play a powerful role in my own redemptive path to the cross.

I understand Mary’s tears.

Mary wept as she bent over to look again into the empty tomb. She had given everything to serving this man, and now he was gone. Who would she be now?

I’ve always been a crier. I was teased and mocked for always being “too sensitive.” That stupid childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”-IS A STRAIGHT UP LIE.

Words hurt. Words sting. Words kill. Don’t matter if the calculated vocal dart or bold, inhuman mistreatment is directed at me, a friend, or a stranger — I know learned to carry other people’s pain.

On auto-pilot, I have jumped headfirst into fights, getting bruised in the battle to defend a battered lover or bullied child. And when the offence is too much for me to carry or too far away for me to embrace, I have freely unleashed my tears.

I understand Mary’s desperation.

It’s easy to get stuck in our last place with God, desperately holding on to our last tangible, physical Jesus encounter. Paralyzed, unable to develop and spreading out wide, new faith wings.

I know I am weak. I know I am nothing. I remain desperate for his closeness because without him-I know I don’t know who I am or where to go.

If I were Mary, dropped, face down at that empty tomb, I, too, would have panicked. That tomb held the only man that every truly loved every broken and restored part of her-and me.

For years I had tried to fill the emptiness of my desperate heart with the love of another. But when I found the True Lover — the Lover of my heart, mind, body and soul — how could I let him go? I would have lingered at the tomb too.

It had been devastating enough to watch Jesus be buried, but at least there was a small amount of peace knowing his body was secure and could be visited often. Having a physical place to frequent-where one could grieve, honor, and remember life together would have been enough to carry on. But this too was taken from Mary-or so it appeared in the dawn of that first Easter day.

Mary must have imagined that returning to the place of Jesus’ burial would provide some comfort, a place to carry her loss. And having  grieved, honored and remembered her life together with Jesus-she’d be able to carry on.

I understand Mary’s grip.

And then the miraculous.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

An embrace. Mary can hardly contain her delight. But then the crushing words.

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”

It’s so much easier when it’s just me and Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. I love people — I really do. I love ministry and the call of wife, mother, servant and writer – these roles are what get me up in the morning.

But sometimes I don’t want to have a job to do-I just want to grab a hold of my Jesus. Want to stay all day, un-made-up-face, pajama pants, fuzzy socks, curled up in his arms. Can I get an amen?

I’m not sure how long Jesus held on to his ride-or-die chick, but I imagine he let her linger a while. She needed his wrap-around-Glory to once again hold her fragile worth and stitch back together her unhemmed faith. To nestle tightly- one last time-his relentless love.

Sister Mary, I would’ve held on tight, too.

I understand Mary’s joy.

I imagine it may have taken Mary moments to collect herself after seeing Jesus resurrected. It probably had taken her awhile to gather up the courage and the message she was told by her Savior to deliver. But deliver it she did.

“I have seen the Lord!”

In my own life, I have experienced supernatural encounters that, if I were to tell you, might have you questioning my sanity and my salvation. Unexpected places and spaces where God has come and rescued me from darkness, demons and doubts. Dangling over the edge of cliffs, my only rope the faint whisper, “Jesus, help!”

And I wait.

I cry.

I scream.

I beg.

(And sometimes if it’s really, really bad, I even cuss).

“Jesus, please come for me again.”

In my mess, He comes.

In my obedience, He comes.

In my brokenness, He comes.

In this offering right now, He comes.

And his showing up, over and over again in my life brings me great joy!

***

Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

Like Mary, let us keep on running, no longer mourning a dead Savior. Let us run instead to proclaim our resurrection stories, the stories the Lord has given us to share.

“Go.”

Easy Easter Girl

by DL Mayfield

I grew up an easy-Easter girl / now I spend all year in Good Friday

– Beth Malena

When I was nine, my family joined a Christian mission organization and went to Mexico for a few months, doing songs and dramas around various villages. At one point we found ourselves in some nondescript village marketplace, vendors selling sweets and fruits and vegetables and meat on the cobblestone streets, flies buzzing thick in the air. Trying to escape the heat and the flies, I ducked into the largest building on the street: the dark, severe Catholic church. I smelled the incense, the moisture of a the cool, damp stone walls. I saw the flickering candles off to the side, the walls adorned with statues and icons, gaudy plastic flowers sprouting out of vases. But off to the sides of the auditorium, to the far right of the pews, was a large, enclosed glass box. I crept over to look at the glass case, pushing my thick blond bangs out of my eye. I gasped, stepping backwards, panic pounding like I had done something wrong. Because there, in front of me, was Jesus, lying dead in a box in a church. His body was green and purple, covered with cuts and bruises, his eyes closed. His wounds, garish and a dark-burnt red, were life-sized and immediate, their effect visceral.

I ran out of the cathedral as quick as I could, finding my mom studying native handicrafts in the street. I tugged at her shirt, trying hard to keep it together. Mom, I said, feeling the tears starting to come. Mom, mom, Jesus died.

She didn’t understand, until I pulled her by the hand inside the cathedral, over to the box. Once there, she pursed her lips and looked around the cathedral. I didn’t know back then that she had grown up in similar cathedrals, that she had seen more icons and incense holders and statues of mother Mary than I in my evangelical little life could ever dream of. Don’t remember him like this, she whispered to me as we walked back into the sun. We don’t think of him like this. We remember that he came back to life.

I nodded, heart calming, watching the flies crawl over the sticky sugarcane treats. Of course that’s how I remember him, straight from the pages of my Sunday School coloring book: white robe, light blue sash, brown hair with blonde highlights, perfect, smiling, resurrected Jesus.

It would be years later that I would realize what a comfort wounds can be. Of looking at a savior who had experienced what so many had: torture, abuse, persecution; spittle, sharp irons, cutting words, even death. For people to whom life has been hard, there is a form of solace in praying to a God who does not look spotless, shining like the sun. For many, love is the very wounds of Christ, the greenish-purple skin tones, the bruised and battered life. By his wounds we are healed, the scriptures say. I didn’t realize another way to read it is like this: only the wounded can truly experience a savior.

Because now I know more than ever: we live in a Good Friday world.

Every day is bruised; every day is resurrected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Was A Customer, Part 1

by Leigh

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I wish I could forget Phil. A week after my 17th birthday, I started working at a local pharmacy. A pharmacist and clerk covered the back of the store, while I ruled over the Lotto machine and front register. If I worked in the morning, I’d make popcorn, coffee, and hot dogs. If I worked in the evening, I’d clean it all up. Not very glamorous but it was a paycheck. For me, the highlight was the customers. Most of them, at least.

We were encouraged to talk with our customers, the regulars becoming like family. We teased and advised one another. I knew who preferred which brand of cigarettes and the latest happenings at their jobs. They learned about how my junior year of high school was shaping up. Everything a first job should be, but for Phil.

The first night I met him, he sauntered in with panache. This was someone to notice. He introduced himself immediately, reaching to shake my hand, and barely letting me respond before he launched in to a story about his day. Phil’s belly hung over his camo pants, his posture stooped. He appeared to be in his mid-50s but I couldn’t say for sure. Greasy hair stuck out from under a baseball cap, contrasting his manic pace. As he continued talking, I noticed part of his front tooth was missing. A perfect triangle gap. I didn’t want to know how it happened.

Under any other circumstances, Phil would be labeled as “scary.” I would have avoided him. But he was here at the pharmacy, demanding my attention, and somehow setting me at ease. He left after about 10 minutes, long enough to buy cigarettes and Lotto tickets.

A couple of months passed and I forgot about Phil until he walked back in to the store. He launched in to an explanation as soon as I came to the counter.

“I’ve been away for a while but I haven’t forgotten about you or how great you are.”

Strange, yes, but I brushed my reservations aside. He was a customer. He was probably lonely. Not a big deal.

Phil came in more frequently after that. As we chatted, I gathered he did not have the happiest of lives. Whenever he stopped in on Saturday mornings, the alcohol on his breath permeated the air. I felt sorry for him.

Four months after I started working at the pharmacy, Memorial Day rolled around and I was the lucky one working that day. Sounds from the town’s passing parade called to me; it was the first time I hadn’t witnessed it. I buzzed through the opening chores and tackled the list of jobs the manager left for me. Few customers stopped in and soon there was nothing to do but read magazines for the rest of the day. I grabbed a few copies and nestled them between the popcorn machine and coffee maker, leaning over the counter as I flipped pages.

And then I sensed someone watching me, their gaze hot against my head. Don’t be ridiculous, I told myself. There was a window behind the counter but you’d have to look past the sunshade and cigarette cases to see anything. I brushed the feeling aside but the sensation lingered. My head fairly buzzed. Someone was watching me.

I slowly turned around, expecting to laugh at myself when no one was there. To my shock, Phil stood before me on the other side of the glass, his hands cupped around his eyes. Eyes staring straight at me.

He shot straight up and hollered excuses through the thick glass.

My heart thudded as wild as my racing thoughts. Please don’t come in, please don’t come in. I prayed to no avail. He walked in and tried to apologize.

“Oh, sorry…didn’t mean to be looking in on you. I was just trying to figure out who was working in here. That window makes everything look darker. I thought you were a black girl until you turned around,” he blundered, ignoring my telepathic plea for him to stoptalkingstoptalkingstoptalking.

I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? My face turned blank, as did my mind. What could I possibly do? I willed him to leave the store, to leave me alone but he took longer than usual. He couldn’t decide between Camels and Winstons. He didn’t know if he wanted to buy a cigar or a Little Lotto ticket. Never one to linger, he wandered down the magazine aisle after making his purchases. I caught him using the storefront security mirror to spy on me several times. But I didn’t say anything. He was a customer. Surely, he was harmless. Surely.

I pushed the incident aside, until a few weekends later.

Next month, part two.

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Miriam’s Drum

by Kelley

View More: http://tinafrancis.pass.us/africa2013 The Hebrews danced to the emphatic beating of the drums across the Red Sea, leaving behind the brickyards forever. They sang “The horse and rider YHWH has thrown into the sea!” as they moved beyond the reach of their taskmasters. Moses led the liberation parade as Miriam played her tambourine along the edge accompanied by a band of women. What a sight for sore, slave-weary eyes. I played a tambourine when I was young. It was small, made of chestnut colored wood and shiny with shellac. The guitar players would let me shake my tiny tambourine along the periphery of the circle. The tinny sound blended well enough, I suppose. My part may have been ancillary to the work of worship, but I savored every song. I fancied myself a modern Miriam swaying on the sidelines.

*****

Years later I would hear the sky crack open as a Burundian drummers beat their massive drums in practiced unison with intricate rhythms and ground-shaking energy. I’d never felt anything like it – the cadence traveling through the soil, through the souls of my feet, recalibrating my own heartbeat. I couldn’t stand still. Dancing was instinctive. I feel most Burundian when I hear those drums; they remind me that some part of me belongs to this place. The steady, strong pounding of those drums under the gold sun unleash what binds me and for the duration of the drumming I am undeniably free. So when I learned that Miriam carried a drum, not a tambourine, it made perfect and prophetic sense to me. The mention of a tambourine was an anachronistic mistake in translation, as all evidence in art and archeology shows that women drummed. The women were the trained musicians, skilled and strong with stamina to hold a rhythm all the way across the Red Sea. They composed the victory songs; they were the communal catalyst at the center of the procession out of captivity and into freedom. Now more than ever I want to follow in Miriam’s footsteps.

*****

In Burundi I notice women can make anything into a drum when there’s reason to celebrate or gather the community. They’ll repurpose empty plastic containers or turn washbasins upside down to find a flat surface to hammer with their calloused hands. The drums rally the women and before long the entire village is galvanized and gathered. Those women are my favorite. They don’t demand to be seen (often they crouched down low to the earth) but they’re heard across steep valleys and over green hills. Maybe they are the descendants of Miriam – it would explain my deep affinity for their handiwork.

*****

Sometimes I’m invited to shake my little tambourine on the periphery. I watch my sisters treated like tokens or merely ornamental instruments in one gathering or the next and my heart aches. I’d like to think it’s unintentional, another instance of anachronistic translation. But the truth is we act as if all women have are tambourines. So I’m turning in my tambourine and exchanging it for a drum that I can pound with all my might because I have freedom songs shut up in my bones. I want to break the air like a Burundian drummer and declare jubilee is on offer and neighborliness is making a comeback. I want to join with the tribe of women leading the liberation movement, drums in hand, because these rhythms will set us free. We are Miriam’s descendants. So it’s time we compose more freedom songs and dedicate more time to drum circles. It’s time we move in stride together to lead our communities in parades out of bondage, out of scarcity and out of injustice. We can join up with Mary, who Jesus called by her Aramaic name on Easter Sunday – Miriam. My guess is her parents wanted her to beat her drum like her namesake once did. And so she did as she ran to town announcing the resurrection song that sets us all free! Now it is my turn to carry Miriam’s drum… and I don’t think I’m the only one.

image by Tina Francis Mutungu

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