Lost at C

Alright boys and squirrels, this one is going to take some explanation.

I recently visited the High Museum here in Atlanta, and I walked around the corner to find the installation piece titled Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey. At first, the sheer size of it caught me off guard; it filled one of the larger spaces on the second floor of the museum by itself! However, despite its size, it contained very few elements. Unlike his other pieces, which were mixed media and contained everything from fishing line to glitter drenched construction paper and old photos, Windward Coast was stark by comparison. The description posted on the wall informed me that what I was looking at contained nothing more than “piano keys, a plaster bust, glitter, and a shell with sound.”

The description also informed viewers the intention of the piece, what it was meant to convey. (Yes, I am aware that what an author or artist intends to say is meaningless to discuss because we all experience art and come away with different interpretations. I’ll not argue that here as this piece is direct proof of that fact.) The title of Mr. Bailey’s entire collection was titled Memory as Medicine, and it was his attempt to connect with his immediate and distant past as a black man, a soul abruptly uprooted because of the evils of slavery. The plaster bust, glittering and black in the spotlight floats amid a huge “sea” of piano keys that are arranged to replicate moving water and crashing waves.

I had to admit as I looked at it a second, third, and fourth time that the piece was impressive. However, when I sat huddled in the corner to examine it and take notes, I was able to see the keys  at eye level. Some were tipped with plastic, others with something darker (perhaps bone or ivory), and black keys, those glorious half steps, were intermingled with white. It was then that I got to thinking about the pianos themselves–their guts lying on the floor. What kind of pianos had these keys come from? What kind of “lives” had they led?

Which sat in cold parlors or warm family rooms? How many of them proudly bore the family manger scene at Christmas? How many had the pleasure of enjoying two family members playing them together or been a part of a child’s musical education all the way from “Hot Cross Buns” to more challenging pieces? Had someone fallen in love near one or spent an hour in solace using it? How many had been given up willingly, and how many were sold out of desperation or ignorance as to their true value?

The more I thought about it, the more I saw a parallel between the pianos and the slave floating in them. They, too, were displaced, stripped of their meaning, value, and voice! That’s what bothered me the most about the piece–all the stories of pianos and the families who owned them floating in there that could no longer be told. Theirs were stories worthy of attention, too, and they had been cancelled out to create this installation.

I was planning on writing a free verse piece to mimic the chaos of the sea of keys, but the more I thought it over, I came to see that a fixed verse poem was more appropriate. To make something orderly out of something chaotic, to give meaning to something so disjointed, I would have to try something requiring rules.

I didn’t want to rhyme or be stuck by a meter, so I chose the challenge presented by the sestina. Please take a moment to read the link here if you’d like to know more about this form.

Essentially, the poet must choose six words and repeat them at the end of each line. I chose sea/see/C (homonyms, homophones, and homographs are fair game), keys, tone, master, wood/would, and sound. The first stanza is A,B,C,D,E,F. You then repeat that pattern, using the last word in one stanza as the first in the next. For example, if you look at stanza two, you’ll see that tone (my F word) is the end word of that new line. That stanza is ordered F,A,E,B,D,C, and so on and so forth it goes until all six stanza are complete.

The envoy, the three line stanza that closes a sestina, includes all six words in three lines. They do not have to be at the exact end, but you must use the B and E words in line one, the D and C words in line two, and the F and A words in line three. (However, some poets change that up and use the six words in whatever order they prefer).

It’s difficult because of the repeated words that create a sort of internal rhyme structure. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a solid start. I’ve not written a complete sestina on my own before this, so that’s progress!

Please read and comment. Let me know what you think!

***

Lost at C

A Sestina Inspired After Viewing Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey

The gallery floor lies buried beneath a sea

of writhing, cacophonous keys.

In the distance, as if discarded by his master,

a slave’s head bobs without a sound

amid the endless waves of splintered wood.

His suffering sets the tone.


But I’m left longing for the tone

that sounds when striking middle C,

the note among all others that would

help me place my fingers on correct keys.

A familiar place, safe and sound

on the instrument I longed to master.


In how many homes was it the master,

the symbol of domesticity? In tones

of chestnut and mahogany, the sound

made by each was like the sea,

rhythmic as a metronome, as key

to the security of its home as the roof or the wood.


If not for this artistic creation before me, how many would

still remain in the hands of a master

who’d polish its surface and clean each key,

tune it to maintain those harmonious tones,

relish the marriage of hammer and string, and the delicate C

atop the eighty-eight orderly architects of sound?


Would someone open the lid to release the sound

and the family history locked within the wood?

Would a starving soul sit on its bench once again and see

that while time is something we can never master

we can preserve memory in the mind’s sepia tones

and in sacred objects like a piano, those that are key


to understand our parts in life’s symphony? From key

signature to coda, from downbeat to the sound

of the final fermata, our pasts set the tone

for all that was, that is, and that ever would

be. None of us live lives made from a master,

without uniqueness, our own variation in C.


Knowing this is key to what otherwise would

be a sound failure. One cannot master his past

by stripping another of his tone and using it to create the sea.

Waiting for Onesimus

Isaiah 55:11 reads, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” It is an oft-paraphrased verse that is usually quoted in a more stylized, King James Version kind of way—“My Word shall not return void.” Isn’t that the truth?

Every time I earnestly study God’s Word looking for a deeper understanding of Him and what He would have for my life, I come away with more than I can process in a single sitting. It provides answers…in spades! This blog may be a bit on the circuitous side, so let me apologize for that in advance. However, I felt like saying something on paper was better than letting it roll around in my head, unformulated, any longer.

This all started yesterday when I read all of Titus in my daily Bible study. I started noticing a pattern throughout Paul’s letter—the repeated use of the phrase “good works.” In fact, there are seven uses of this phrase, only two of which are variations.  The two that are different (“lover of what is good” and “disqualified for every good work”) both refer to what a Christian leader must be. The former phrase describes those fit to be elders while the latter is applicable to the people of Crete, many of whom were grossly unqualified.

Having studied Galatians, I know that works are not what “earn us a spot” in heaven. In fact, our works are nothing more than “filthy rags” before God, worthless in the scope of eternity (Isa. 64:6). However, good works are something we cannot help but produce as fruit of the spirit. Once saved, we can manifest our gratitude to the Father by serving others and bringing His light to the world.

I got to thinking about “good works” and what, for lack of a better term, “qualifies” a work to be good. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I read stories about amazing missionaries who are converting entire villages in African countries with names I can’t even pronounce and marvel. I hear about people who are fighting to stop child sex trafficking by taking in girls despite the daily threats they receive from the animals trying to sell them, and I want to stand up and applaud. THOSE are “good works” in my book. Through of actions like these, lives are lives being transformed because of the strength security in Christ provides.

What do I have to offer in return? My best example of a “good work” this week was getting a six-pack of Jello chocolate pudding down off the top shelf for an adorable old lady. How is that even comparable!?

Thankfully, we are not meant to compare our good works against others’. In fact, we are not to judge anyone’s actions, including our own. That’s God’s privilege. Paul writes:

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Cor. 4:1-5).

God knows why we do good works, and that is even more important than what we do. Buying one homeless man a meal is just as “good” as running a twenty-four hour soup kitchen if it is done with the right intentions—to show kindness to others and share the love of Christ with them.

I’ve been asking God to show me what good works He would have me do. I’ve even told Him, “Father, even if I’m afraid or what You ask makes me uncomfortable, I know You will help me to see it through. I’m willing.” When in prayer, that sounds all well and good, but I would like to think I genuinely mean it. I want to be a “good and faithful servant” and do things that honor my Savior (Matt. 25:21).

But then I read the book of Philemon and swallowed audibly.

After reading the twenty-five verses of this short epistle, I realized that there are times when God gives people moments in their lives when they have to “put their spiritual money where their mouth is” and show that their faith is more than window dressing, some sort of Christian Kabuki theater.

Here’s the backstory—Philemon was a wealthy Christian living in Colossae. His slave, Onesimus, had run away from him and attempted to hide in Rome. However, God had other plans, and Onesimus was brought to Paul who was under house arrest at that time. Paul, who had likely led Philemon to Christ, led the slave to salvation as well. Paul enjoyed Onesimus’ company and desired to keep him nearby, but he knew that healing the breach with his former master was more important and that more spiritual good could be accomplished by sending him back with a letter.

Under the law, Philemon had the right to kill Onesimus. In fact, beating him within an inch of his life would have been viewed by many as merciful in the extreme. However, Paul doesn’t suggest that. Instead, he asks his friend to receive his runaway slave as “a beloved brother” because they were both a part of the family of God.  What he was asking was unheard of at that time! To show mercy to a slave, a person you had previously owned? It was nearly unthinkable.

Paul might have made it easier if he’d ordered the master to forgive the slave, but he does not. Paul writes, “…I wanted you to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion as it were, but voluntary. . . .Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Phil. 1:14, 20-21).

In essence, Paul tells his friend, one of the many he brought to a saving knowledge in Christ, “I know you understand the concept of forgiveness because you have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s all well and good, but now I am asking you to practice it as well.” Philemon had every right to abuse, starve, and kill this man that Paul was sending back to him. The world would not have condemned him for any of those actions. In fact, he would draw more ire for doing what Paul was asking him to do—“Receive him as you would me” (Phil. 1:17).

I’m sure Paul sent the poor slave home, letter in hand, hoping that his fellow Christian would do the right thing having been given the choice. And that is what God does with us. He offers salvation to all, but only a few receive. He gives us the choice to heed or disregard His will, all the while earnest that we’ll choose the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13). However, the asking does not stop there. God will continue to push us, to present us with moments and times where we can choose to follow His leading and His will for our lives, leaving it up to us as we grow in faith.

According to all the records and commentaries on this epistle, Philemon did indeed accept Onesimus back into his household, even freeing him from slavery. Many even claim that he “was the Onesimus consecrated a bishop by the Apostles and who accepted the episcopal throne in Ephesus following the Apostle Timothy”! Philemon was able to exercise forgiveness and allow it to strengthen his testimony, and because of it, his formerly rebellious slave became a useful servant of Christ.

The symbolism of their names makes it altogether wonderful. Philemon means “affectionate,” and it is he who shows Christ-like affection for his lost servant. Onesimus means “profitable,” and that is exactly what he became because of Philemon’s willingness to forgive.

Had the Holy Spirit not been working in Philemon and the man himself sensitive to His leading, how many others might have missed out on seeing Christian forgiveness in action? How many might not have come to know the saving grace of Christ Jesus? This is an amazing example of practical righteousness, of Christian brotherhood and love that showed many people the way to salvation who might otherwise miss out.

After all, words and mighty ideals might sound good, but many people will not be willing to sit down and listen to a lengthy scriptural argument. Many care nothing for doctrine or spirituality, those things that show what many are doing is sinful and of the world. However, if they can see it in action and realize that being Christian is more than just a slogan on a t-shirt, hearts that might otherwise be firmly shut and locked against the Word might be opened—even if it is but a crack. That’s all the Holy Spirit needs.

Like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, the absurdist play, I am waiting for my Onesimus. Unlike their “friend” who never shows up, I know my moment will one day arrive. I will then have a choice to make—to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit and be an effective witness or to let the opportunity pass.  Perhaps, Lord willing, there will be many such times. Therefore, I ask the Lord that I may be like Philemon, affectionate and willing to humble myself in His service , to be used as only He can use me for His glory.

 Soli Deo Gloria!

We’re All a Bunch of Egotistical Opera Singers….

….singing, “Me, me, me, me, me!” And apparently, we’re lazy and impatient ones at that.

According to the results of The New York Times best seller list labeled “Hardcover Advice & Miscellaneous, ” Dr. Stanley’s new book, Turning the Tide, hit the list at number eleven this week. Not bad at all. However, when I looked through the other books in this category, I saw a disturbing trend.

Aside from the new parody book about sleepless children and the zombie parents who attempt to raise them, Go the F*** to Sleep, every other tome in the top ten made me worry about the future of America. Yes, I am aware it is the “Advice” category, a sort of catch-all for the non-fiction reading types who might not be keen on a David McCullough history or a weighty memoir by an aging politician put out to pasture. I expected a certain number of self help books to be there. Classics such as How to Make Friends and Influence People, Men are from Mars–Women are from Venus, and Who Moved My Cheese? have all done their turn on the wheel of fortune that is the bestseller list. However, the other nine texts ranked above Dr. Stanley’s book all have something in common–they are all about taking the easy way out.

For instance, behind the soon to be canonized classic currently sitting atop the heap,  The 17 Day Diet by Dr. Mike Moreno is another book designed and written to inform another group of overweight Americans that they can change their bodies with just a few changes in their diet and a few hours of walking a week. Granted, this information is not new. Eating less and exercising more will, in fact, leave you a little closer to your ideal fighting weight. However, why anyone feels the need to give Amazon.com $14 of his or her hard-earned money on a book to teach them something common sense could provide is beyond me. According to his author blurb on the aforementioned bookseller’s (and everything else you could even think of ordering online) website, “Dr. Mike takes pride in being viewed not only as a doctor, but also as a friend and confidant.” I don’t know whether to yak or suggest him as a cast member in the reboot of The Golden Girls.

Timothy Ferriss has two books on the list, at number three and number seven, and both of them have something to do with the number four. The 4-Hour Body (currently in third place) actually boasts a much more jaw-dropping full title….The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. I’m not kidding. Go look it up.

According to the publisher’s blurb on Amazon, by reading this book,

You will learn (in less than 30 minutes each): how to lose those last 5-10 pounds (or 100+ pounds) with odd combinations of food and safe chemical cocktails, to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends), to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice, to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested, to produce 15-minute female orgasms, to triple testosterone and double sperm count, to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks, to reverse ‘permanent’ injuries, to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months, and to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit.

Well, heck! I bet we could read this and learn how to solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine, too…and in under thirty minutes! Seriously, everything in that list is pure vanity–physical satisfaction that can only be temporarily attained. I quote Yoda, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Sadly, The 4-Hour Workweek isn’t much better. It is essentially a guidebook that instructs readers how they can quit the 40+ hour a week grind and work remotely from some tropical paradise. In one chapter I am especially interested in reading, he claims he can “eliminate 50% of [my] work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist.”

If Mr. Ferriss’ words were true, we’d all be beautiful, bronzed minor deities with washboard abs who could sling a pigskin over a mountain and be crazy good in the sack. However, anyone who has lost a substantial amount of weight or who has built a company from the ground up will tell you that what he proposes just isn’t possible. Few people are successful in such things because, well, because they’re darned hard. And when something is difficult, few people have the tenacity to see it through to completion.

In truth, his first book sounds a little too Mein Kamph for me….minus the eugenics, of course. The second might work for .009% of the American workforce, which makes it about as useful as nipples on the Batsuit. I also have to wonder, if the man is so over the moon about efficiency, why does his name have unnecessary double consonants? Shouldn’t “Feris” suffice? I might give you the second S, but two F’s is just folly.

Another diet book, The Dukan Diet, graces the list at number four. It, too, promises to provide a foolproof weight loss system (primarily geared towards women) that can help us get the bodies we crave by using a diet French women have followed for decades. (Because when I think of good nutritional health, the French are the first group of people who come to mind….) Apparently, the plan involves unlimited lean protein and an oat bran galette for a few days, followed by what I’m sure is an indecipherable combination of veggies, proteins, carbs, and other food groups until the perfect Hollywood starlet’s body has been achieved. Unlike diets in the past that involved jump-start days filled with only boiled eggs and grapefruit juice or vitamin pastes spread on Wasa crackers (I’m not making that up…I remember those days well), dieters are also “allowed two weekly celebration meals to stave off boredom.” Isn’t it pitiful that we have become slaves to entertainment to the point that our diets must also refrain from being lackluster? Man, how did the native tribal cultures of America manage without food that tickled their fancy after they’d hunted it down? :-/

And now for something completely different…

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell ranks number five on the list. I have not read this “Christian” book in its entirety; however, I have read enough of it and discussed it with other Christian apologists to the point that I feel comfortable saying that this book is utter nonsense. Bell, a pastor with a large and ever-growing following, tells readers that hell is really something we suffer on earth, heaven is a place we can all reach regardless of whether or not we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that Jesus “is bigger than any one religion.” I would argue that Jesus is bigger than any denomination, sure, but those who bow down and worship other gods are not followers of the Risen Lamb. I am sure that there have been other claims as outrageous as his in mass media before, but I can tell you that, in my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything so close to the warning in 2 Timothy 4:1-5:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The other “Christian” book in the top ten, ranked just one spot above Turning the Tide, is One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Thankfully, this one is more on point with the Christian method than Mr. Bells, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily perfect. It is a book that encourages readers to see God’s amazing grace around them every day, learning to live for daily joys and find contentment even in sorrow. In the immortal words of William Shatner, “I can get behind that.” The sample chapters I’ve read are a little, shall we say, florid for my taste…as overpowering emotionally as my grandmother’s gardenia scented perfume once was in the confined space of the Chrysler on the way to church each Sunday.

However, I couldn’t read the entire book, and according to a reviewer named Cindy from the blog Books and Chocolate, “I was also wary of the mystical/contemplative spirituality/emergent church references, as she quotes those of the contemplative movement and recognized mystics such as Brother Lawrence, Henri Nouwen, and Dallas Willard. In addition, I was uncomfortable with the chapter on making love to Jesus in which the author speaks of seeking communion with God in what can only be termed as sexual language, taking it to a level that I personally don’t believe scripture intends” (emphasis mine). That entire concept reminds me of the song by Kari Jobe I used in a previous blog to discuss what was wrong with modern praise and worship music, and it just gives me the huzz. God is God after all—not Buddy Jesus, my homeboy, or my BFF.

One spot up from the love-fest that is One Thousand Gifts, Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness,  looks to be one of the most practical of the ten. In it, he explains how a few simple steps such as working hard, paying for things in cash, and staying out of debt can lead to financial freedom. It seems fairly obvious to anyone with a modicum of what Southerners call “good raising,'” but in a Hot-Pocket-eating-instant-gratification-I-can-download-that-book-in-one-tenth-of-a-second world, being told to save your money and to live within your means is pretty revolutionary. I think the book itself is a wonderful thing, but I have to worry about the mental fortitude and general willpower of a culture that has to buy a book (AKA spend money) to tell them how to save it.

The last two books on the top ten list, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and The Secret  by Rhonda Byrne are also both books that jump up and down like a Jack Russell Terrier that got into an open bag of espresso beans shouting, “Hey, hey, hey!!!! Pay attention to me!!!!”

Granted, the first was written by a college professor who died of pancreatic cancer and who delivered a “Last Lecture” that was just that, a lecture of information he wanted to impart to the world before he left it. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it is a touching book. However, it is focused on the temporal–what can I leave behind, and why do I matter in the grand scheme of things? You can actually watch him give this lecture live and judge it for yourselves. He does say that he isn’t there to talk about religion or spirituality and refers to his “Deathbed Conversion” that involved not finding God but rather finally deciding to buy a Mac. It’s more concerned with childhood dreams and the self-realization that comes with finding what you really want.

I can appreciate the desire to leave something of oneself behind, the human need to leave a sort of mark that will stand as a testament to the fact that you once converted oxygen into carbon dioxide and that you were more than a social security number or a blood type. It’s the reason cavemen painted on walls and why prisoners carve their names into the concrete of their cells. I was here, these messages tell the world, I mattered enough to be remembered. Yet, at the same time, I find the idea nauseatingly self-serving. What’s the purpose of leaving something behind, or teaching/enabling someone else to, when it’s all nothing but shadows and air? This world is a temporal, ephemeral thing, as easily discarded as a flyer in the mail. We should be more concerned with spending our time here growing closer to God, serving Him with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and making being used by Him to lead others to Christ. THAT, my friends, is something that lasts.

And then there’s The Secret. Oh my stars and garters, that book makes me want to kill myself via listening to Fran Drescher sing the role of Cio-Cio San in Madam Butterfly. From what I’ve heard from misty-eyed acolytes, the nugget of wisdom in the book is “life changing.” Granted, I might be simplifying a bit. Now, pay attention or you might miss it.

Think REALLY HARD about what you want = You get it.

That’s it. THAT’S “The Secret.” No serving a cause greater than yourself, no finding joy in simple things….like making love to Jesus (which still makes me twitchy)… and certainly no working diligently for what you desire. Simply wish non-stop for what you want and it will manifest itself like the Red Rider BB Gun that always seems eager to shoot one’s eye out. Who knew!? Imagine, I could have gotten that Albert Pujols autograph I’ve always wanted if I stood there and shook, my hands clenched in tight fists, and thought of nothing but Pujols signing my virginal, white baseball. Like someone trying to play a telekinetic superhero, all I have to do is grit my teeth and look like something cerebrally mind-blowing is going on between my ears, and it will magically appear like that lollipop that came down the chute when I was a good girl and didn’t cry at Fantastic Sam’s.

And to think, I schlepped through three years of graduate school for nothing!

When did we become a herd of self-serving, lazy nitwits who want all the joy and success life has to offer without putting forth a single iota of the effort? Why is the upper echelon of “self help” chock full of books that only show why we’re in this mess in the first place? Gracious sakes, people! If you want to lose weight, eat less and work out more. If you want to have money, earn it and save it. If you want to be happy, realize that the world does not revolve around you and that it is instead God who is at the center of everything! The answers are so simple, yet they sit untouched while the world trudges along looking for the path to wisdom and the route to enlightenment by picking up and looking under every rock on the side of the road.

The World Loves Its Own

I read a blog here on WordPress this morning about everyone’s favorite “Booty Shakin’ Believer,” Beyoncé. The author of said blog claimed the following:

…[I]f the goal is to touch the un-churched, I think Beyoncé has the right idea. Sending moral messages via the contemporary art form of the day is like sowing new seeds of life into a community void of a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is like a drink of fresh water in the scorching desert of life.

The statement got my gears to clicking much too quickly for a Monday morning, and the more I chewed on the thought, the more I felt it getting firmly lodged in my craw. Beyoncé apparently prays for her cast and crew before going on stage and did Bible studies when she was younger; however, in my mind, those could just as easily be meaningless gestures as they are meaningful acts of witness. After all, what game winning wide receiver or award winning actress hasn’t uttered the phrase, “First, I’d like to thank God for giving me the talent to…” when giving an acceptance speech?

I look at what someone does as well as the words of her mouth to ascertain her true beliefs. According to Beyoncé in an interview with The Son, a Christian newspaper:

I never mixed Christianity with how I felt [about God]. I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion. Doing right by others and not judging. The thing that keeps me grounded is knowing that I’m always protected and that God is in control of things. Even the name of our group, Destiny’s Child, we got out of the Bible. . . For me it is about the way I carry myself and the way I treat other people. My relationship and how I feel about God and what he does for me is something deeply personal. It’s where I came from. I was brought up in a religious household and that’s very important to me.

Something about this statement sets my teeth on edge. She seems to be saying the right things–God is in control, treat other people well, have a relationship with God. However, it’s the second sentence that sets the alarm bells to ringing. “I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion.”

She’s correct in one way; religion is not God. Being a Baptist doesn’t make me a child of God. My relationship with Him does, my acceptance of God as my Savior and Master of every single aspect of my life. However, she seems to be taking another tack with the idea. For her, it seems to mean that she’s accepted that there is a God and that, by and large, He means for her to live a happy and fulfilled life. Therefore, in return, she must be good to others and “carry herself” a certain way. That sounds closer to the concept of Karma, something associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Sikhism rather than a tenet of Christianity.

The video that garnered the most flack and (in some Christian communities) praise was her hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Many Christians took issue with her attire, her dance moves, and the overall tone of the song. However, others saw it as a ringing (no pun intended) endorsement of marriage before sex and used it to teach their daughters about the value of chastity and the preservation of virginity. However, I’m not going to rehash this old territory.

While searching through her videos on YouTube, I came across one for one of her newest singles, “Run the World (Girls).” Like many of her other videos/songs, it gives me great pause.

In essence, the meaning behind the song is “Women run the world because they have what men want,” meaning, of course, sex. Women can work for their own money, not be dependent on a man, and still make demands of men because all the money in the world can’t replace this one thing men crave. The military/Mad Max overtones of the video coupled with the aggressive dancing and animals on chains reflects the rapacious nature of this new woman who asserts, “My persuasion can build a nation. Endless power, the love we can devour. You’ll do anything for me.”

What is a young girl supposed to think with images like this flashed before her on television and the Internet? She hears someone say, “Beyoncé, oh, she’s a Christian” and sees this same woman dancing seductively and using her sex rather than her mind to get what she wants. What are the two options the girl can assume? 1.) Beyoncé is a Christian and does this, so it must be okay or 2.) Christians say one thing and do another, so I don’t think I want to be one of them. Either assumption is going to send that child down the wrong path, the former a more slippery one to be sure because it has the trappings of righteousness and the mantle of Christianity attached to it.

Later in the interview with The Son, Beyoncé claimed that there’s no double standard regarding her faith and her performing style. She claimed:

I honestly believe [God] wants people to celebrate their bodies so long as you don’t compromise your Christianity in the process.

I am not a Bible thumper who believes all dancing and celebrating are immoral acts; however, I fail to see how videos like “Run the World (Girls)” don’t fall under the “compromising my Christianity” umbrella. I don’t see a Christian who is following the will of God when I watch this video. She is dancing not as David did, to celebrate God’s benevolence and majesty, but to attract fans both male and female who both want her and want to be her.

In James 4:4, James tells the Jewish Diaspora, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” In short, you cannot sing about what the world sings about, dance the way the world dances, and lust after the trappings of the world and also be of God. It’s a classic case of trying to serve two masters, which cannot be done. This is why James continues in verse eight, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded!”

This double-mindedness is what is slowly killing the Christian church in the United States; we are sacrificing our standards in order to bring new Christians into the fold. But what we’re doing is not building up the faith of these new believers; rather, we are watering down our beliefs so as not to offend them. We should be worried less about who we offend and worried more about who we can bring to the Lord that they might be saved.

This is why, in I John 2:15-17, the apostle John warns Christians they must, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” because “[i]f any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This is why I cannot say that Beyoncé is acceptable for young girls to admire. I can tolerate her behavior even less than someone like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, or P!nk. These women, as far as I know, were not raised in Christian households as Beyoncé claims to have been. Unlike her, they were not brought up hearing the Word of God, well aware of what is expected of a Christian. The fact that she is willing to completely eschew what she knows to be right and pleasing to God in favor of what pleases the world speaks volumes about her faith and her relationship with God. This is not a personal opinion or one formed according to my own tastes. I garnered it from scripture.

In 2 Peter , the apostle Peter warns against compromise and the tarnishing of Christian witness by being too closely aligned with the world and falling prey to what he calls “false teachers.” He writes:

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire. [Emphasis mine]

If someone is truly saved, he or she has no desire to turn back to the same lifestyle he/she lived before. To know what true freedom from sin and death is only to turn back to its ways and trappings is worse than blind disobedience. The world doesn’t know any better, but a Christian should.

If the Christian church does not stand up to these double standards and tell the world, without hesitation, “This is NOT what it means to be a child of God” and then offer the truth, there’s no hope for us. We’re already so lukewarm and vapid in many congregations that we’re utterly indistinguishable from the “un-churched” so many are worried about.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article about Katy Perry, the performer responsible for “I Kissed a Girl.” Please note that it is posted on a so-called Christian website called “Beliefnet,” a repository of all kinds of “feel good” dogma. Honestly, it’s like a Golden Corral of religions—take what you want from this bar and this one until you find the belief that fits your worldview rather than you conforming to the will of God. The thing has a quiz you can take called the “Belief-O-Matic” if you’re having trouble deciding between faiths. This site makes it blatantly obvious that, to many, Christianity is a choice, one as easily wriggled out of and discarded as a wet bathing suit. And that is not the message we should be proclaiming to the nations.

So to those who think it’s acceptable to support artists who claim to be Christians just because they espouse the faith, I say you’re wrong. We are not meant to be like the world or liked by the world. To be of God means the world will despise you and try to tear you down, not fill your arms with Grammy Awards and platinum records. Jesus never claimed otherwise. Instead, he warned His followers:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. — (John 15: 18-22)

Letting Patience Have Its Perfect Work

Patience, Hard Thing! The Hard Thing But to Pray

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks    
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;  
To do without, take tosses, and obey.        
  Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,          
Nowhere. Natural heart’s ivy, Patience masks 
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks        
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.    

  We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills    
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills       
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
  And where is he who more and more distils  
Delicious kindness? — He is patient. Patience fills   
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

This beautiful poem from the pen of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest and scholar, is on my mind this evening. In it, he recognizes the importance of patience for a Christian, a willingness to wait on the will of God. However, he acknowledges that it is indeed difficult to sit and wait. This is especially true of those of us caught up in our on-demand culture. What God wants for us may require us to wait patiently while things pass us by that seem to count for losses. However, those things we “lose” and those scars we bear are where “patience roots” and nowhere else. Without challenges and a few nicks and chinks, nothing else can take root  in us. We will never develop spiritually without this necessary hurt. However, after the injuries, the patience we learn by waiting upon the Lord covers us like broad spans of ivy, making us better and more beautiful for our willingness to, as John Milton put it, “stand and wait.”

However, what we want and what God wants for us might always be at odds. We often struggle to patently submit ourselves to Him, to “bruise [our hearts] dearer” by relinquishing what remains of ourself to Him. However, that is our goal, to “die to self daily,” or until that is truly possible to “bid God bend to him even so.” In essence, we must first want to want to obey God. However, once we are still and patient, willing to wait on God no matter how long His reply is in coming, there is a reward unspeakably beautiful. Patience comes “the way we know,” which is through prayer, and we gain the delights of “delicious kindness” and that peace “which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). This is what we store up, our treasures for the hereafter, much as a bee stores honey in his “crisp combs.”

Lord, I ask You to make me patient, make me willing to carry our Your perfect will for my life. Fill up and cover over the broken parts of me and transform what is bitter into something sweet and pleasing to the senses. All to you, I surrender.

***

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” — James 1:2-7

Real Hope & Change

I have a love/hate relationship with change. The thrill of self-discovery comes with it, but more often than not, change brings uncertainty and difficulty. For me, the last two weeks have been a combination of the two extremes, both mentally and spiritually.

Several months ago, I began looking for a new place of employment, one where my talents could be put to use in a new field. I came across a posting for the Woodruff Arts Center titled “Director of Educational Outreach” or some such hyperbolic nonsense. Essentially, the job involved working with the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra as a coordinator and public relations specialist. They needed someone with people skills, a good grasp of the English language and written/oral communication, experience working with professionals, parents, and students, and a background in instrumental music among other things. I looked down the laundry list of required qualifications muttering, Check, check, double check, double plus check, to myself, wrote a perfectly tailored cover letter to accompany my curriculum vitae, and sent it in.

For weeks, nothing happened. The job remained on the center’s page, and no one contacted me for further information or to set up an interview. To date, they still haven’t. In all likelihood, they never will.

Needless to say, I was more than a bit nonplussed by this. The only thing that could have put this job more firmly in the perfect category for me would have been if the phrases “must love baseball,” “must be willing to bring pets to work,” and “must be able to perfectly quote films old and new” were listed as preferred qualifications.  So why no call? Like the true resting place of Jimmy Hoffa, the depth of the Masons’ influence over the founding of the United States, or even the true name of the man who put the “bomp” in the “bomp-shoo-bomp-shoo-bomp,” it’s something I’ll never know.

Fast forward a month or so.

I get daily emails from job websites offering me part time blogging gigs for websites like the Examiner or technical writing gigs that I’m missing one qualification for, and I often delete them without exploring the full posting, wasting time that could be spent keeping my head above water in the job I currently have. However, one came through two weeks ago advertising for a copy writing position with In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia. For those of you who don’t know the name, In Touch is the printing and publishing ministry of Dr. Charles Stanley, the head pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta. They manage a massive website, publish a monthly magazine, and, in essence, create all the printed matter needed to translate and transmit Dr. Stanley’s message to people around the world.

I read the qualifications for the position and knew that I had to apply. This was why the orchestra gig hadn’t panned out. I desired change, but my first attempt at it had been aimed in the wrong direction. I need to be using my talents not to enlarge myself, but rather to magnify Him. Well, unlike the symphony, In Touch did call, and an interview has taken place. It was a wonderful time for me, to be able to share my testimony and my desire to be used in a way that will allow me to fulfill my ministry, whatever it might be.

Now, I’m being tested. I’m being asked to be patient, something I don’t do very well. (Although, praise God, I’m markedly more patient than I was just a few years ago.) A week has passed, and the elation that came with the thought of moving into a new field in a place where my faith can be nourished and my talents used and honed has been tempered with a cold, hard week of silent days. I’ve carried my phone with me in hopes that I’ll receive the call that beings with the phrase, “Jamie, it’s my pleasure to tell you that….,” but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve prayed daily asking God that His will be done in this matter if this place is where He wishes me to go next. If not, I’ve also prayed for Him to help me understand why His perfect plan might not include it. The answer will come when He wills it, not a moment before, and as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers once sagaciously stated it, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

In past years, I would have been tempted to say “God is cruel” or “God doesn’t understand my problems,” but that is so far from the truth that I’m embarrassed to say that I actually once thought it. The truth is that God knows the desires of my heart; He knows me even better than I know myself. Seeking to understand the silence, I went to the book of Psalms.

David’s songs to the Chief Musician vary in subject matter—some praise His mighty works, others beseech him for deliverance from enemies both outside his kingdom and within it, and many celebrate His divine judgments, praising them for their righteousness, mercy, and grace. Portions of three of these divine songs speak peace to my situation and help to settle my soul.

The first is Psalm 144:3-10, which reads:

 LORD, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? Man is like a breath;
His days are like a passing shadow. Bow down Your heavens, O LORD, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Flash forth lightning and scatter them; shoot out Your arrows and destroy them. Stretch out Your hand from above; rescue me and deliver me out of great waters, from the hand of foreigners, whose mouth speaks lying words, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood. I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, the One who gives salvation to kings, who delivers David His servant from the deadly sword.

This has always been one of my favorite psalms because of verses three and four. David asks an often overlooked, but essential, question—Who is man that You even concern yourself with him and his piddly problems?  In the scope of His creation, we are tiny, a finite speck in the scope of God’s infinity. However, we are also the beings He came down to make. Unlike the heavens and the earth, the sky and sea, and the birds and beasts and creeping things He created, He came down to craft us with His own hands from a lump of lifeless clay and made us in His own image. It is His breath that fills us with life and makes us living souls. He created us for fellowship, and that is why He is mindful of us. It still amazes me that the God who created the universe and the beautiful planet we call home knows of my struggles and seeks to direct my life. I am hardly worthy of such attention, yet He loves me enough to give it. That alone is cause for celebration. This possible new job, so small in the scope of eternity, falls under His purview as well. There’s no cause for concern on my part. He will handle it as surely as He does the changing of the seasons or the conflicts between nations.

David then lists the mighty powers that are God’s, powers that know no limits. It is He who can move a mountain, separate waters, and scatter a seemingly insurmountable foe before His servant. It is God who “gives salvation to kings” and keeps them in His hand. No matter how great our power may be here on Earth, it pales in comparison to that of the Most High. David recognizes it and celebrates it because it frees him from worry, and this why he sings this new song to God.

Psalm 37: 3-8 is focused on trusting God in all things, not only with those things that seem impossible. It reads:

3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
8 Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret—it only causes harm.

The message David seeks to transmit with this psalm is one of trust and patience. He asserts that we should dwell always in Him, speak to Him about the desires of our hearts, and maintain a constant fellowship with Him. If we give all that we are, our “way” to Him, He will “bring it to pass” in His time. We are not meant to worry or to compare ourselves with those who “profit in [their] way,” which is wicked. I may never be as wealthy or as powerful as those who scheme and who get ahead in this world under their own steam, and that, I’m coming to find, is the best way to be. After all, if I spend all my time and energy worrying about what others have or what I don’t, I run the risk of falling into anger, wrath, and worry—all of which damage my fellowship with Him. I must always delight in His judgments and His righteousness, even if I don’t yet understand them.

Also, if I worry and try to solve this problem on my own, that is as good as admitting my lack of trust in His power. It is me saying, “God, you aren’t strong enough or wise enough to manage this situation, so I’ll handle it.” This kind of change tests my faith, refines it in fire, and makes it all the stronger, but I have to be willing to undergo the forging. This is why I must always remember the words of the sacred song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” to keep my heart and mind focused on the right thing. After all, if I can “Look full in His wonderful face, …the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

The same message is contained in Psalm 40: 1—5.

 1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
2 He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
3 He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is that man who makes the LORD his trust,
And does not respect the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.
5 Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done;
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them,
They are more than can be numbered.

However, unlike the previous psalm that claims the certainty of a future blessing, this one states the message in the past tense. “I waited patiently,” he begins. As a result, God “inclined” to him, “heard” his cry, and “brought” him up from the mire clay in which he was trapped. David is praising a blessing received in this song; he is not simply claiming “God will.” Instead, he is telling us “God does.” It is a song of a promise made manifest. He sings of the amazing blessings from God, and insists that the praise from his mouth, his testimony, will bring others to a lasting trust in God. And David asserts that his are not the only prayers answered or the only blessings given. Instead, David asserts, “Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works” and that “Your thoughts towards us Cannot be recounted to You in order” because “They are more than can be numbered.”

What do I learn from these three passages? Simply this—I matter to God. God promises. God delivers. It’s as simple as that. He does so in a way that is necessary for us and, more importantly, brings Him glory.

Change, as I asserted earlier, is hard. It requires us to step outside our comfort zone and trust in His will for our lives, knowing full well that His will may not coincide with our desires. However, His will is perfect and His judgments righteous. I will continue to pray for His will to be done in His time safe in the knowledge that I am His child and that He guides me rightly.

Because Muffins Don’t Bitch

A co-worker and I once had a lengthy discussion about how wonderful it would be to own a bakery/coffee shop in a small town square, one where patrons came each day to get a cup of well-made joe and one or more of our homemade baked goods. In our version of the story, everyone was whistling, walking or driving to their own joyful place of business, or taking it easy on a lazy Saturday morning in our establishments, reading the paper (either in print or on their laptop…using our free WIFI access provided for customers of course!), and generally enjoying life. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? What could be better than doing something you enjoyed, something that made the lives of others more pleasurable, and then being home by 3:00 PM? After all, I could use that time to write, to participate in local theater, and to volunteer at church to help others. My time would always be spent doing something useful and that would, I’m sure, make the world a better, happier, and shinier place.

This thought was only strengthened and reinforced during a recent weekend trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Wayne and I chose to splurge and have breakfast both mornings there in a little cafe/diner known as Cockadoos rather than the cheaper and more pedestrian options like Denny’s or any analogous variations of it. While there, we gorged ourselves on chocolate chip pancakes, cathead biscuits and sausage gravy, a pulled pork omelette, sweet potato hash browns, and a Memphis special known as “The Shag”–an Elvis inspired dish made with two pieces of French toast filled with peanut butter and bananas and topped with whipped cream and blueberries.

I can’t imagine what kind of dietary seppuku I committed that weekend by beginning each day with the food there, but I didn’t care. (Granted the other places we frequented–Gus’ Fried Chicken, the Rendezvous, and the Peabody Hotel bakery among others–likely didn’t help either!) It tasted great, the service was fantastic, and we were able to mingle with locals and fellow visitors before our day began.

Just click on the link and look at the place; I dare you. From the decor to the food to the attitude, this is exactly the kind of place I’d like to own and run each day for both breakfast and lunch. Everyone there was happily working, eating, and talking, including the kitchen and wait staff!

Oh, and did I mention that the place was completely and utterly PACKED both mornings!? Really, I think they bordered on a fire hazard on Saturday because there were so many people sitting around waiting to eat or who were engaged in the act at a table or at the bar. The place is making money; it has to be. Imagine that!? They simply use their creativity and work ethic to create a pleasing place filled with quality food, and people reward them as we did–by becoming repeat customers and spreading the word to others. There’s something beautiful to that for someone in my situation. Their rewards are immediate and tangible after all. People pay them in cash and in praise for their efforts, and as long as the results are the same each time, that cycle of unmitigated awesomeness will continue to repeat itself into perpetuity.

The thought is positively intoxicating and leaves me high on a sugar and blueberry fueled endorphin rush each and every time I allow myself a moment to think about it. And that isn’t often. I liken it to a bright bird in a pet store left looking out the shop window at its fellow aviary friends happily eating birdseed under a park bench. Why think about something you can never have or torture yourself with dreams about life outside the bars that define your world? Paul Laurence Dunbar captured the impulse perfectly in his poem “Sympathy” in which he, as a black man in a white world, identifies with a creature that’s told it must deny its innermost self and be content with its restrictive lot. Granted, I am by no means oppressed. I do not live in fear of lynchings or of being barred from doing something because I’m X instead of Y. However, I do understand the concept of a gilded cage. I am relatively safe–my job makes me a solid living, I occupy an apartment in safe (albeit painfully vanilla and WASP infested) town, and I am never required to go without basic needs like food and clothing. Do I have everything I want? No. But I cannot complain, and that is why I feel truly guilty each time I do.

At the risk of sounding like Quint in the town hall meeting in Jaws, “You all know me, know what I do for a living…” Yes, I teach, and I do so in a place where I am the living embodiment of a fifth wheel. In a nutshell, I teach English in a technical college. Please know that I am a firm supporter of the technical college system; I think it is a valuable place for an ever-growing populace in America. People who come here get training for work that more Americans need to be doing if we ever want to get back to our roots as a nation, one that knows how to get things handled and make things that last. Our soul is in that which is technical.

However, ENG 1101 and 1102, the two classes I teach, are often the barrier that stands between them and that job training. Often, I am nothing more to them than a hinderance and a nuisance, something that must be checked off a required list of classes, and that, I must say, can sometimes be hard on someone who does love the subject. Yes, there are many students who enjoy my classes and who thank me in some small way for my help over the course of a quarter, but they are rare. There are a great deal more who come to me with only complaints, excuses, and threats than there are with praise and thanks. I work long hours grading, lecturing, and handling other forms of paperwork and minutiae that I don’t plan on elaborating on here. (That’s a blog for another time.) In short, I make a living, but I rarely feel alive in my chosen career. More often than not, I’m going through the motions and trying to do the best I can.

Is there any wonder then in the fact that I often fall prey to the siren song of my imaginary muffins sitting on the shelf in my equally ephemeral cafe? After all, as I’ve said to others, muffins don’t bitch. They don’t send you to pointless meetings or require you to earn continuing education credits; they don’t question your motives or your knowledge and why they need it. Muffins simply wait in their elemental form for you to mix them in the correct proportions and slip them in to rise, like gooey fruit and chocolate filled phoenixes, from their own floury ashes.

I know what you’re thinking–Jamie, you’re not thinking of the early mornings, the customer complaints, or the other problems ranging from product delivery to paperwork and taxes. Your glass is unfairly half full. And you’d be right–I’ve worked in a restaurant, but I have little knowledge as to how to actually run one effectively. And I am certain that if I did undertake such a business now that it would be doomed to failure no matter how good my recipes were or how cheerfully I crafted them. I am a realist in this regard. However, as Jane Eyre says in the novel by Charlotte Brontë:

I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: ‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude!’

In this scene, Jane has been working for eight years as a teacher at Lowood School where she herself was taught, and as she looks out the window of her room to an open road, one she has never travelled, she begins to think of a new career as a governess. Like her, I’m not asking for perfection, for true freedom to be whatever I wish whenever I wish it. I only desire a change of scenery, a new world of work built on different expectations and principles that I can use to challenge myself and see just how successful I can be.