{ A Deeper Story: Miriam’s Drum }

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.

Read the rest over at A Deeper Story…

{ ShePonders: Stations of the Cross }

stations sheloves

We shuffled slowly into the sanctuary and between the pews. We, so young and squirrely, still uninitiated in hushed tones, moved in as much silence as we could muster from one station to the next. At each wood etching the somber procession would come to a stop. We’d look at the plaque, listen to the reflection given by the fresh-faced priest and then say a prayer more (but mostly less) together. We were learning to walk the Stations of the Cross.

The icons affixed to the walls depicted The Way of the Cross – snapshots of Jesus carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem out to the hill of Golgotha. Church tradition preserved these images so we’d never forget what happened during That Week, the one we now call Holy. Our annual practice invites us to remember these moments on Good Friday when things are already quite dark.

As a child I found these carvings both crude and lovely. Jesus carrying the cross he would soon die on, his mother weeping as she watched from the crowd, an on-looker recruited to help Jesus, then being stripped and nailed to a tree. Jesus falling not once – but three times – and we’d stop, look and pray for each one. Not even a child could miss the truth that Jesus suffered many things before he suffered the cross. 

Read the rest, where I share what the Stations of the Cross have taught me about the sufferings of Christ, over at SheLoves Magazine today.

When the roads to Zion mourn…

amahoroorangedress

The week moved fast with controversy, but slow with grace. The magnanimous inched along like amber molasses, slowly shining, but outpaced by hot hostilities burning through my internet neighborhood.

In the aftermath there’ve been a few cloistered conversations with thoughtful friends. These discussions about evangelicalism, ecumenicalism, art and faithful translation happened in the alleys behind the internet streets. In quiet hallways we huddled down for gentle conversations with one another. Maybe we were licking our wounds, too.

Yesterday a friend returned from an internet fast of sorts. She returned to find traces of the battles, the carnage of hateful tweets and mean-spirited status updates and all the rest. Her voice cracked. Through the phone I heard her heaving, her sobbing. At this point words ceased.

She mustered enough composure to say, “All I can do is cry.”

And I thought – crying is the most holy response of all. Lament is the proper posture (or lack there of) after last week. So I told her to lean into the tears – because they testify to what is most true today.

The pure prophetic potency of our lament says that we know deep in our bones that things aren’t right. We are shalom-hungry people, even when it’s beyond our present sightline. We carry an ache for the world set right, for a love wide enough for God and neighbor and our very self.

We know too well the pain of disjointed bones, the heated friction, the inability to walk strong when we are out of sorts. We need alignment. We need to be recalibrated by Love, by Wisdom, by God’s kindness and bottomless mercy. Because we are the feet to bring good news across mountains and rough terrain – and we must be ready to run strong with shalom-stamina.

So for now we weep. We don’t argue, debate, define or draw lines between us and them. We don’t ascribe blame, farewell one another, vilify, demonize, weaponize our words or absolutize our beliefs. Maybe we don’t even try to understand, explain, build bridges and mend fences – yet. Maybe for today we just cry hot tears of grief about the week that broke our hearts.

We sing along with the dirge of Lamentations, given to us as wisdom for days like these…

Bitterly she weeps at night,

Tears on her cheeks.

Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her.

All her friends have betrayed her;

They have become her enemies…

 

The roads to Zion mourn,

For no one comes to her appointed festivals,

All her gateways are desolate,

Her priests groan, her young women grieve,

And she is in bitter anguish…

 

This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.

No one is near to comfort me,

No one to restore my spirit.

My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.

 

Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her.

 -Lamentations 1:2,4,16,17

When the roads to Zion mourn, we do likewise.

We weep now… confident that joy comes in the morning.

 

 

 

{ A Life Overseas: Giving Good Gifts }

Photo Credit: Tina Francis

Photo Credit: Tina Francis

The Batwa people live on the edges of Burundian society, marginalized in their own country. Local humanitarian workers tell tales of these people who thwart good gifts and show little gratitude, making them notoriously difficult to work with.

One organization generously gave corrugated metal roofs for the thatch-constructed homes. But soon after the installation, the aid workers discovered the metal was sold.

Another religious-based agency gave these families window insets and doors for their unsecured homes. It didn’t take long for word to travel back to the team – all the items disappeared, probably sold for quick cash.

These organizations promptly labeled this Batwa community as ungrateful. They said the people were incompetent to care for the gifts or unable understand the value these gifts could add to their community well being. “They are troublemakers,” the workers said. We were warned to stay clear of them and help someone else or our energies would be wasted.

But my husband had learned to not take the solitary narrative of the NGO workers as gospel. Claude visited this community often and forged friendships with them. He listened to the stories told by the chief, the mamas trying to feed their children, the men looking for regular work. They painted a different picture about the good gifts.

Read the rest over at A Life Overseas… this is my debut post for this fine community of international development practitioners, expats and bicultural people of faith. I look forward to contributing monthly to these conversations about community development work, justice in our global neighborhood and living life as a bicultural family in transit.

TransitLounge returns…

Girls in transit from Uganda to Burundi... books under discussion!

Girls in transit from Uganda to Burundi… books under discussion!

The transit lounge has been rather empty lately, I confess. It’s not because I haven’t been traveling or reading. I’ve done a bit of both in recent months. But I’m also working on a book proposal (nearly done, thanks for asking) and so much of my energy and reading is connected to that one large project.

However, I miss the hustle and bustle of reading on the go. And I miss the conversations we have together as we read in community, challenging and stretching one another right alongside the author. So even as I’m working on a book… I want to host a couple of community book conversations this year.

Both books I’ve chosen are by Walter Brueggemann because no matter what I’m working on, he nourishes my imagination and pushes me deeper into the Biblical text, thus deeper into good practice. Also, I think one of the best conversations we shared together was our collective read of The Prophetic Imagination. So maybe this is a good place for those kinds of ideas!

This April we will be reading Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the CULTURE OF NOW.

How can the practice of Sabbath function as resistance to the empire? How can Sabbath-keeping embody the alternative community of God in our neighborhood? What is Sabbath, really? These are all explored in a small volume that is quite accessible and provoking in the best kind of way.

I’ve invited some friends to help host this conversation: Amanda Martin (North Carolina), Matt Orth (North Carolina), Steven Spears (Alabama), Seth Haines (Arkansas), Esther Emery (Idaho) and yours truly (Arizona). We’re inviting our friends to read along with us – which includes you! (Feel free to find and follow us on Twitter – these are some of my Favorite Follows, so a bonus!)

Some logistics:

  1. Get the book soon!
  2. Tweet your way through it this April using #TransitLounge – so we can find each other in the crowded twittersphere. Tweet quotes, questions, observations and connections while you read.
  3.  Write a response. We’ll promise to offer our reactions to the book – where Brueggemann enlightened, challenged, offered some freedom or pushed us too far. Those posts will go live on our various websites, but can also be found here during the week of April 28 – May 2. And I will host a link-up on the last Thursday, May 1, right here for you to contribute your own responses.
  4. Comment on responses – this is how the conversation goes deeper, as we interact with one another around the ideas Brueggemann presents but also our own thoughtful responses.

Our future read, for the planners among you, will be Journey to the Common Good in October. My conversation partners will be Caris Adel and Luke Harms – and probably a couple of others. I’ll offer more exact dates / details as we get closer to fall.

 

For now – let me know if you plan to read Sabbath as Resistance with us next month!

And please share with your friends and expand the conversation to your community. As an introvert I hardly ever say this, but in the case of discussions around the words of Walter Brueggemann, the more the merrier!

Welcome back, friends, I’ve missed our conversations here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Taken by the lovely Claire deBoer, or as I call her, eClaire!

{ShePonders: eyes that see }

M_Kelley

I want to see and hear rightly, to be found responsive to God’s work in the world and a ready collaborator. I don’t want to be caught flat-footed like the disciples, sitting in a boat with Jesus but unable to perceive the truth around me.

Remember the story? Jesus had been out and about Galilee with the twelve, from one side of the lake to the other, extending compassion, teaching, serving up bread with baskets of leftovers. In both feeding enterprises they began with mountains of people and a handful of bread (and fish), but ended up with mountains of leftover bread after all the crowds ate and departed for home. Jesus didn’t single-handedly provide this miraculous meal; he empowered his disciples to join the organization and distribution of abundance. Together they fed thousands. Not a bad day’s work.

Read the rest over at SheLoves Magazine today…

{ Deeper Family: He Sits With Women }

suffering women

He sits with women. When trouble comes, the mamas and widows gather at the edges of peril and my husband finds them. He joins them.

Last week flood waters rushed in overnight killing some of the most vulnerable children and displacing over fifteen thousand families from their homes. Almost as fast the Red Cross erected at makeshift camp on a nearby soccer field. At the invitation of the director, my husband drove out on the first day to survey the situation and agreed to sponsor the camp.

He gravitated to the women, all sitting together surrounded by children and swaddling the tiniest ones. He sat among them, listening to their stories of loss and sharing in their sadness. Tears, groans and sighs all in an attempt to exhale the heaviness of the day. He sat with them for hours, refusing to rush their lament. He confessed to me that he cried, too.

As he told me about the rest of his day, other scenes flashed before my eyes.

Read the rest over at Deeper Family today…

{ The Red Couch Book Club: God Has A Dream }

Feb-Book

This morning I’m sharing some reflections on my reading of Desmond Tutu’s God Has A Dream, my most re-read book penned by this beloved African elder. The SheLoves Magazine book club, The Red Couch, embraced this book for the month of February. How wonderful to read with friends – I’ve enjoyed Twitter exchanges, Voxer conversations and more around the themes of transformation, hope, suffering, neighbor love and more.

Here is a bit:

In God Has A Dream the beloved South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about transformation in ways that are fresh and challenging. He describes suffering as long-term, redemptive and purifying. He sees freedom as inevitable in God’s world, which is being restored to wholeness day by day. His metaphor of choice, transfiguration, ignites my imagination and somehow deepens my sense of the potential of earthly transformation.

I appreciate most how Tutu articulates a spirituality of transformation in this tiny volume. For those of us working to see transformation, be it global or local, he sketches out a structure for our soul amid the hard work of activating change. His words offer wisdom to mothers, writers, pastors, artists, activists and disciples laboring every day for real change in their homes and communities.

What is the spirituality of transformation that sustains us from beginning to glorious end?

Read more about the spirituality of transformation over here… at SheLovesMagazine.com. 

 

{ Deeper Church: A Careful Charismatic }

CarefulCharismatic

My first encounter with the Spirit, as far as I know, happened at St. Nicholas Church. Spiritual songs surrounded me, people spoke in tongues quietly, and one night I joined the spirited cacophony, too.

We gathered across the parking lot in the fellowship hall, trading candles for florescent overhead lighting and a pew-free space to circle up chairs. The Holy Spirit lit our hearts. We kept the fire to ourselves. When we crossed back to the altar we used the same words as everyone else: creeds, prayers, responsive readings. We processed forward together, drank from the same cup, shared the peace.

I started as a Catholic charismatic.

//

After college, finally on my own, I found a church that clicked. They spoke often about the movement of the Holy Spirit, as if they understood all the divine gestures. My community taught me to see the Spirit moving as we prayed for people, “notice the fluttering eye lids, the hot hands, the shaking.” My pastors easily recognized when the Holy Spirit was present in the room; the worship leader knew the Spirit’s preferred playlist. Itinerate preachers came with words of knowledge, holy laughter and the ability to fell a man the size of a tree with the tap of a finger. I learned to see and speak of the Spirit in these ways.

I spoke about hearing God. I received words of knowledge. I spoke in tongues. My hands gently shook as I prayed – like a holy tremor signaling I was on track. In the context of prayer I’d venture, “I think God is saying…” or “I heard Jesus tell me…” or “…the Spirit just showed me something.” I was utterly earnest. I wanted to be on the super information highway, where God was always talking and I was always listening and delivering words. (To be fair, sometimes we lightened up a bit and called them “impressions.”) But those were heady days, when we trafficked in the words of the Spirit. 

Read the rest over at Deeper Story / Deeper Church today… 

{ ShePonders: We Belong to the Sixth Day of Creation }

SL Belonging

We belong to the sixth day of creation.

We belong to the dark, damp soil teeming with freshly created life. We stand as shared substance with all the seeds and biological matter packed into that rich dirt. We are connected to the cosmos, the light and dark of the first day swirling around us from the beginning.

We belong to the garden and all its goodness; variety and bounty, food without toil, movement unfettered by constricting clothes or the straightjacket of shame. Abundance is our natural habitat.

We belong to daily walks at dusk with our Creator, barefoot and free. We are at ease in God’s company. In this garden, in this Presence, there’s nothing to fear.

We belong to each other. We know relationship without strife. We interact with strength and vulnerability. We only know unity.

We belong to a good story from the start. We come from original shalom – wholeness, wellness and a world set right.

***

But we’re often found elsewhere. We wander like we’ve forgotten what day it is.

Read the rest over at SheLoves Magazine, where we are considering BELONGING this month.