Because Kansas

Touching down on the sizzling tarmac in Wichita, Kansas two weeks ago felt like coming home. While I was a little apprehensive for the upcoming two weeks of intense choir tour with Oasis Chorale, I was excited to be returning to Hutchinson, KS, home of my young college adventures (some of which you can read about on very old posts here.)

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For the past seven years, I’ve spent time every summer singing with the Oasis Chorale, a 40-member Anabaptist a capella choir. This year’s tour started and stopped in Hutchinson, KS, the same town that’s home to Hutchinson Community College, from which I earned my Associate of Arts degree before transferring to The Ohio State University. Moving half-way across the country as a 20-year-old to attend a community college is among one of the weirder decisions I’ve ever made, but it also stands as one of the best decisions, for the Mennonite community there is one of my absolute favorites, and it was my pleasure to call Hutch home for two years.

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Driving from Wichita to Hutch and passing miles of razor flat, wide-open green fields, the sun burning through the pale blue sky and humid, windy air, I giggled in glee, “You can see for miles! You can see the horizon! I can finally breathe deeply again!”

While most easterners and Mid-westerners have driven through Kansas, few of them have come to love the plains, and find beauty in them, like I do. I don’t have much of a chance; I was born in Plain City, Ohio, named so for its extremely flat geography. And I do. I love the plains. There’s something about the sunsets, the miles of fields, and (in Kansas) the unrelenting wind, that I find deeply comforting.

Waves of memories came pouring over me as we sailed down highway 96, past the “honking tree,” and past Yoder, KS, the tiny town where I worked during college. We turned on highway 50, heading toward Pleasantview, following the familiar railroad tracks, and I had a flashback to driving home late one night in tornado-like conditions, all alone on the open road, save for a railroad engineer and the piercing headlight of his long black train.

I hopped out of the van into the warm, windy air and breathed deeply again, an impossibly large smile on my face.

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The next few days became a blur of Oasis Chorale ritual—warm-ups, arpeggios, vocal fry (“Less pitch! Less pitch!”), finding space, unifying vowel, working pieces start-and-stop mode, and recording an entire hymns album (apart from our choral rep for tour), all the while darting in and out of Hutchinson, with its wide western street grids and period homes. I even managed to drag my choir buddies to Metro, the coffee shop I visited every week during my first two years of college.

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Reconnecting with Kansans, I was pleasantly reminded why I love them so much. You know how in every Mennonite Sunday school class there’s at least one lady who is refreshingly honest, unforgivingly practical, sharp as a tack, and very forthright, with absolutely no qualms about calling a spade a spade? Multiply that lady by ten, and that’s basically Kansas. (Readers of Shasta’s Fog will know how I can appreciate those qualities and find them more useful than the guarded, calculated East.)

How fantastic to share with them in song at our first Hutchinson concert, for which, miracle of all miracles, I had my breath under me. (For all our rehearsal days, I just could not make my breath work, but right before concert, my breath returned, and I enjoyed the full concert with, well, another smile on my face.)

Recording over, we began tour with a workshop with Dr. Bartel, a professor at Friends University, and the president of the Kansas Choral Directors Association. Great feedback, including small things like how to sing the word “the.” We were throwing it away, not giving it (and other words) “is-ness.” Such a small detail, but choral musicians know that these tiny significances matter.

Another tour highlight was our choir’s pre-concert chat in Illinois with Westminster student Douglas Byler, composer of this year’s new commission “The Spirit of the Lord.”

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pc: Jason Martin

And our second IL concert featured these special guests, my baby nieces!

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Meeting baby Holly for the first time.

We spent our day off in St. Louis, and furiously googling free things to do, I found that St. Louis is home to the Cathedral Basilica, the largest mosaic-ceiled building in the world. It was stunning.

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A small group of us began our adventures at Kaldi’s, a glass-walled coffee shop nestled beneath Citygarden’s trees, and we enjoyed gluten-free dining.

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Next, we maneuvered the city bus system for a 30-minute ride to the Basilica. It was then that I discovered St. Louis to be one of the friendliest cities I’ve visited. Our bus driver got out of his bus at the bus exchange to point us to the correct bus to the Basilica, and he let my friend ride for free when she only had a $20 and no change. He also added an extra hour to our bus passes. The Basilica’s tour guide offered tacky jokes and an amazing amount of history for the overwhelming mosaics.

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Not a painting; a literal mosaic. (!)

Dinner was at Three Sixty, the restaurant atop the Hilton, where we had a (warm) view of the entire city and the famous St. Louis arch.

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The next morning, our choir slipped inside the Old Courthouse, just a few blocks from our hotel, location of the famous Dred Scott trials, who sued the federal government for his freedom. Permitted by a security guard to perform a single choral piece beneath the famous dome, we sang Hawley’s “Not One Sparrow” in dedication to the historical significance of the courthouse.

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pc: Wikipedia Commons

Not one sparrow is forgotten
Even the raven God will feed
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need
Then shall I not trust Thee, Father
In thy mercy have a share
And through faith and prayer, my Savior
Rest in thy protecting care?

Most of tour, however, is a rat race of hydrating properly, eating properly, guarding your rest like nobody’s business, focused personal rehearsal and memory work on the bus (outside of group rehearsal), and stealing as many gummy bears as possible from the basses. (Gummies = OC’s candy of choice. The urban legend? They’re good for your throat.)

Another immensely rewarding experience was performing a set of songs at the Kansas Choral Directors Association convention in Topeka, KS to a congregation of choir directors, musicians, and All-State high school choir kids. It’s one thing to share your gift with local church audiences; it’s another thing to perform for a room-full of musicians. (You can catch this performance over at OC’s facebook page.)

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The other side of Oasis Chorale is collaborating with local choirs, meeting hosts, making new friends, and net-working. Performing in the green-hued, hundred-year-old sanctuary of First Christian Church in Fulton, MO, I met a lovely elderly lady who reminisced about the congregation’s past:

“It’s changed so much. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s our church was so full, you couldn’t find a seat. There was a women’s college in town, and the girls were required to attend church. Wherever the girls went, the boys showed up! But it’s changed so much. It’s not near as full.”

At a local Hutch concert, I also reconnected with middlewestpenandpage after we had worked together in KS seven years ago!

One of the most inspiring moments of tour was meeting Dr. Jana Nisly, to whom was dedicated our commissioned piece, “The Spirit of the Lord.” Director of La Clinica de las Buenas Nuevas in rural El Salvador for 25 years, Dr. Nisly has held Luke 4:18-19 as her clinic’s motto, and this text was adapted by Douglas Byler for the new commission.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To preach deliverance to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are bruised
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Nisly, to be regaled by doctor stories over a meal, and to hear the mission of her work: “The poor are disregarded in the medical field in El Salvador. To be able to touch them, to treat them, to listen to them… there is no greater joy.” And in her Kansan way, she added, “Now, there’s also nothing more tiring, and it’s too much for me!”

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Slowly and quietly the circling gyre of tour floated to the ground, and we found ourselves at our last concert in Wichita, surrounded by friends, family, and the lovely folks at Eastminster Presbyterian. We performed our last concert as the western sun sparkled through the stained-glass windows. We swallowed our emotions, encouraged to perform “just another concert.” I had the most freedom of breath in that concert that I experienced all of tour.

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The community of Oasis Chorale is something that amazes me. every. year. It’s a stunning moment to prep breath, vowel, and space, and to be backed by (but also to lead) thousands of vocal muscles that synchronize into a thunderous, unified downbeat of “All Hail.” I don’t take this richness for granted. Nor the spontaneous bus conversations about theology and vocation. Nor can I ignore how singing in choir is a metaphor for the way in which God wants to lead us into more perfect beauty. The experience of being led, and of following, of disciplined rehearsal, of vulnerability and trust within the community of choir mid-concert, and of flexibility to follow new gestures that can only come through the growth of being together… these are things which somehow mimic community led by the Spirit.

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Besides this metaphor is the actual musical beauty of my extremely talented friends, whose music-making, in rare moments, makes me feel that dull, physical ache, that only true beauty can. For we know that we are not made for here. As C.S. Lewis says, “We do not merely want to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” It seems that every summer there is at least one memorable solitary moment in which I experience this ache for beauty, a beauty, it seems, that I cannot inhabit. Lewis goes on: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in the world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We singers regularly discuss the chasm there seems to be between our beautiful two weeks of music-making every summer and the “real world,” as it were, or our vocations, which are more closely touched with earth’s brokenness. It’s therefore a grace to perform, to worship, and to inhabit these texts every evening. Yet we would be remiss to make it all about art. Our director gently reminded us to take time daily to know who we are apart from the choir, apart from the music.

Our pitiful goodbyes being said, we flew home this week, but not before I had one amazing day-on-the-town in good ole’ Hutchinson. My friend Trish and I took a gander around campus, and warm memories washed over me as I walked through Lockman Hall, the campus building where I worked as English Department Scholar, discovered my love of literature, took the hardest exam of my college career (World Mythology), and met some of the finest and most caring English instructors. It’s summer, so professors were out, but I penciled in a note to a professor, met the new secretary, and walked all my favorite routes, including the short-cut across the tennis court.

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My ramble across the empty campus was one of the most healing walks of my life. To remember dropping down into Kansas as a shy, scared Mennonite kid in order to maneuver what felt like the impossible unknown, and to look back now… I see that what was, at the time, one of the scariest decisions I had ever made, was one of the safest decisions. While at the time it seemed risky, I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that enrolling in college in Kansas was unquestionably the best, and safest, decision for me. My experience with faculty and students at Hutchinson Community College and my interaction with the Mennonite community in Hutch unquestionably impacted the person I have become. Kansas was exactly where God wanted me.

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My day in Hutch ended with one of my favorite iconically Kansan experiences… a night walk on Kansas dirt roads. My friend and I quietly crunched over sand and gravel, in the darkness, breathing deep breaths of sweet hay, and dust, til we reached Trails West, the only paved road for miles, and we lay down in the middle of the empty road, with our backs on the warm pavement, staring through the darkness at stars, the moon, and shooting stars and fireflies, and talking about all the secret things that girls talk about.

The next morning I rose early before my flight to make my last Kansas dream come true—a run down West Mills, my familiar running route, the dirt road where I became a runner. Trish and I ignored the distant thunder and lightning in the gray summer morning, as we jogged down the lane to the dirt road and headed west.

In one sense, Kansas, and its big sky, is a place where you can think more clearly. You feel closer to God because there’s nothing between the you, the prairie, and the open sky. It is at the same time safe, and terrifying. Lonely, yet inspiring.

With the rolling wind at my back and the miles-wide gray thunderclouds pregnant with lightning resting low above the shadow green fields, I picked my feet up faster, grinding them along the top of the dirt road. I ran on, in freedom, stopping only to spin and spin in absolute joy.

Empowering Single Women as Leaders in the Home

My pet discussion topic this summer has been about women’s issues, and in June I enjoyed essentially a two-week conversation with my parents about how headship is or isn’t experienced by single women, if all women must submit to all men (or not) according to Scripture, the fact that Mary and Martha learned from Jesus himself (and not through their brother Lazarus) and what this means for women and their ability to understand and teach theology, whether men can learn from women or not, and the fact that *most men* aren’t called into the ministry either.

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Some of the driving factors of our discussion were this book and an excerpt from Tertullian (155-240 A.D.), an early church father, on the veiling of virgins.

My recent tour with Oasis Chorale also prompted several conversations about single living and the roles of single women in the church, and in one conversation, I mentioned how Tertullian himself recognizes the fact that some of the headship principles of I Corinthians 11 seem to be speaking to *married* women and men, and he admits that “covered” and “uncovered” virgins were regularly admitted to communion in second century churches. (Check your ESV Bibles; this is how it’s translated!) However, Tertullian indeed offers extensive logical arguments for the veiling of virgins, all of which can be read here. (Another note: Tertullian points out that the exception was Corinth, where virtually all virgins covered their heads.)

It is clear, however, that Tertullian imagines “covered” virgins in a temporary light, and that he expects that virgins eventually marry. He doesn’t really know what to do with, or what to call, a woman who does not foresee marriage, suggesting that a permanent unmarried virgin would have to be some strange third class, or “third generic class.” (It sure feels like that sometimes, buddy.) (Warning: reading Tertullian causes extreme dissociation because he cannot begin to comprehend the possibility of single living for females.)

Which brings me to my question: what is headship, exactly, and how does it apply to single women? (I’m really quite uninterested in reading your opinions; rather, I’m looking for academic, historical, and theological sources on the topic.)

In her book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God, Byrd offers that headship is connected to household management and then poses this interesting question: “If headship is connected to household management, are all men to have authority over all women? And what are the responsibilities of heads of households?”

Perhaps you disagree that headship is related household management, yet I would like to offer this opinion: the modern “experience” and the “practice” of headship for single females is something quite very different from a stated belief in it, especially when it feels like our culture expects young women to soon get “married off” and then we don’t have to worry about it, do we? (A little sarcasm for your afternoon reading.)

All of THIS to say, currently, I am my own household manager as I am living by myself for the first time, and I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I want to build a Christian home as a single person. (In some ways, I feel like marriage is closely connected to identity and household management, where young people say, “This is who I am, this is who we are, and this is the kind of life we’ll build together.” When is the time for single people to make such assertions?)

Living by myself for the last year, I noticed that I’ve developed some bad habits. I haven’t been very intentional about what I’ve allowed into my home. How do I spend my time? What kind of person do I want to become, and how does the management of my home affect the future me?

As a single woman with no roommates, I am the leader of my home, yet since “leadership” in certain pockets of Christianity is a particularly male trait, I’m coming up short on resources for how to effectively build a Christian home, apart from a traditional family structure. (I may ask here, are we doing ourselves a disservice in positing men (or fathers) only as “leaders” for the home? Does this do a disservice for single women living on their own, single mothers, single men, people living with or without roommates? Aren’t we ALL called to be leaders in the home? What does this look like to manage a household well?)

I suggest that all household managers are leaders, whether they are male or female, and ought to follow their head which is Christ.

Since I haven’t found a lot of sources about how I as a single woman can be a leader in the home (as I don’t have children or a husband), I’m creating my own source here. Here are some practical things to think about if you are a single woman wanting to build a Christian home, following your head which, for lack of a husband, is Christ.

Building a Godly Home

1. Build a Godly home as a single by seeking emotional health.

Many of the sources that I’ve read on the topic of household management and male leadership relate to nurturing love and relationship inside the home. Obviously, this is where the household of a single, childless person diverges from the traditional family structure, creating its own set of emotional issues that merit discussion. Peter Scazzero, in his Christianity Today article “The Road to Emotional Health,” offers four characteristics of emotionally unhealthy leaders which I think are important points of consideration for those wanting to maintain Godly single households. He contends that a lack of emotional health is apparent in the following ways: (1) low self-awareness, (2) prioritizing ministry over marriage or singleness, (3) doing more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, (4) lacking a work/Sabbath rhythm.

Regarding low self-awareness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to be unaware of what is going on inside them. And even when they recognize a strong emotion such as anger, they fail to process or express it honestly and appropriately. They ignore emotion-related messages their body may send—fatigue, stress-induced illness, weight gain, ulcers, headaches, or depression. They avoid reflecting on their fears, sadness, or anger.” How singles may choose to process their emotions in healthy ways (both personally, and in the community of relationship) is a topic all its own, but I think a place to start is at least with self-inventory. I, for one, have been recognizing the negative pattern of bottling things up, choosing “not to go there,” quite simply because of the pain I would find there. However, I’m learning that I can’t be afraid of my emotions. My helplessness, at times, is the place where God meets me, and where He quietly asks for trust.

Regarding prioritizing ministry over singleness, Scazzero says, “Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to compartmentalize their married or single life, separating it from both their leadership and their relationship with Jesus. For example, they might make significant leadership decisions without thinking through the long-term impact those decisions could have on the quality and integrity of their single or married life. They dedicate their best energy, thought, and creative efforts to leading others, and they fail to invest in a rich and full married or single life.

I visibly started when I read this. A “rich and full” single life? This is not language we are used to! (For example, one article I found about cultivating a healthy single home was signed, “Single and Surviving.” I’m not sure that that is the same language as is used in articles about marriage. Don’t we have some work to do here? Why is the stereotype of singlehood so negative? We need to change the language.) And, just how one “invests” in a rich, full single life is a topic that is open for discussion, as always, on this blog.

To sum up, singles ought to press in to emotional health by sorting through their emotions and by creatively pursuing an understanding of what a rich and full single life looks like.

2. Build a Godly home by leading spiritually.

Set a sure foundation. A wise (wo)man builds her/his house upon a rock. What strides are you making to set a spiritual tone in your home? Are you reading the Word of God and praying on a daily basis? Jesus sets a standard for Godly homes in the Gospels by quoting from the Deuteronomy 6 passage: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” My next few points are borrowed from the article “How Does a Husband Lead His Family?” from covenantkeepers.org, in which we are reminded, “When you sit at the dinner table, or drive in your car, or at bed time, share what God has taught you from your devotional time in the Scriptures that day. If God has planted His Words in your heart, share them with your wife and children.” Granted, you may not have a spouse and children, but the question can be asked, what are you doing/reading/watching during dinner time? Who/what are you listening to in your car? What takes up your time right before bed? How does Scripture intersect with those you invite or host in your home? Be sure that the Word of God has a prominent place in your home.

3. Build a Godly home by leading morally.

Covenantkeepers.org asks, “Are your moral decisions based upon your own selfish desires or are they based upon God’s truth? Is your life an example of moral compromise or of the godly standards that you declare to your wife and children? Do you speak the truth in love or do you shade the truth when it suits you?” For single people, it is quite easy to live with a lack of accountability. This leads to moral compromise. I challenge single women: do you have a stated morality on the following issues: church attendance, service to the local church, sex (including masturbation and pornography), finances, food, alcohol, social media (what accounts you follow/don’t follow and why), TV and movies, reading material, pride and vanity in personal appearance (Tertullian would roll over in his grave at our modern society’s “see and be seen” social media culture), gossip, loyalty, the study of theology (so that one can make wise and discerning choices in the first place), etc. Be a female leader by taking a stand for moral decisions.

3. Lead by managing.

Be responsible for the details of your home management. Be a responsible renter, home-owner, housekeeper. (I’m sorry, Mr. Landlord, that I didn’t empty the dumpster, but there was a foot of snow and #winter.)

4. Build a Godly home by leading in decision-making.

For some reason, this is one that single women dread the most. However, wisdom is not a trait reserved only for males, and the Proverbs 12:15 offers us this key: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (An important reminder for female AND male decision-makers!)

5. Build a Godly home by leading in reconciliation and conflict-resolving.

Chances are, you are connected to family life in some way. It is possible that you are living in a satellite home of sorts, still in some way connected to your first home. Make sure that the reception between your satellite home and your first home is clear and without the static of discord. As conflict naturally arises in relationship, be sure that you are following the Biblical command for all Christians, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Resist the urge to use manipulation, control, and emotional vomiting with your first family. As a single person, you may also have close friendships with other singles, or other families. Keep Romans 12 in mind as you navigate those relationships.

6. Finally, build a Godly home by being a leader of example.

Can you say to your spiritual children, “I want you to follow my example as I follow Christ”? (If you’re not sure who your spiritual children are, you may want to reassess your stated morality of church attendance, service to the local church, and accountability.) In Bible times, there was a stereotype for single women (in the case of young widows) of becoming idle, and of becoming busybodies. What can be said of the godliness of your speech, your maturation in the fruit of the Spirit (patience, kindness, self-control), your purity, your pursuit of God, personal discipline, and your commitment to moral principles? All of these flow out of the way that you understand your leadership and management and its connection to your head, which is Christ.

Reflecting on these haphazard thoughts, I realize that there is a great need to study even deeper into the Biblical meaning of a “home” and to reflect more fully on the meaning of a home for single women. Had I more time, I would also sift through a lot more Scripture focusing on the more traditionally-thought-to-be-female aspects of household management of hospitality and relationship. Obviously, my list here is incomplete, but it’s a start. Blessings as you ponder.

A Poem of Pain in Loss

This week’s post is a poem I wrote about the pain of broken community. Whether communion be broken by close friend, family member, or society person, we all can relate to one who feels hurt by (what she feels is) betrayal, who yet refuses to let go.

Lamentation

With jagged spoon, you gouged my aorta

quartered an important organ, slopped it on the sidewalk,

mortal, palpitating, hanging by shreds

leaving

part of me

dead

 

We are each other; I am you; you are me

Communal veins and arteries

 

Until

my silent pleas, my unheard cries

died on lips

skinned

with

brimstone

when I saw you

shunned.

 

The Ban                is             done.

 

Quivering at time’s grave,

my sulfur tears

pour for the light terror

that thrills you in its grand resolution

of dissociation

of the mystery of community,

where we sip each other’s blood.

 


So how could you break faith?

 

I am a woman because

your relieving amputation,

your cauterization,

your risky prevention,

is my suffering anguish.

 

I will forever agonize over the murdered Now

and hope for you

through quiet love you didn’t ask for.

 

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