Pieces of My Culture

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A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.

“I get so frustrated when I talk to people and they say, I don’t have a culture. And it’s mostly white people who say it. And I say, that’s bull, of course you have a culture, where did you grow up? Who’d you talk to? What’d you do? What was your thing? What was your family’s thing? Where’d your family come from?” – – Rhiannon Giddens

I was born in Athens, Georgia, and thus by natural inheritance will always be a Bulldog. Not that I’m an over-the-top fan of any football, but it’s part of my culture. I grew up knowing what red and black were for. My parents met in Athens, where they were both living in the first government housing built in the town. My Dad lost his father when he was four, and Mom’s dad abandoned the family when she was a baby, so they were both raised by mothers who had to work hard all their lives. I never knew my dad’s mom, who died before I was born. But, my Mamaw Bryan was always a sweet, white-haired, lilac dressed Grandma who treated us to Coca-Cola in jeweled colored metal cups and cooked up wonderful fried chicken in her little apartment.

I’m sure being raised without fathers played a part in my mom always being home with us while Dad worked hard to provide. We never lacked for anything, but I have no doubt my parents were on a tight budget. Mom made some of my clothes and we ate a lot of beans, but I never worried about where my next meal was coming from. I learned to save what money I had to purchase what I wanted, like a ten-speed bike and my first stereo.

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We moved to Jacksonville, Florida, via Montgomery and Ft. Lauderdale, when I was six. I grew up there in the same house until I married. The Georgia Bulldog devotion stayed with our family, especially due to the Georgia-Florida game played each year in Jacksonville. My life revolved around school, church, and neighborhood. We saw Mamaw and our Georgia cousins once or twice a year. The extended family loved to visit us, partly because of our proximity to the ocean. We were less than 30 minutes from the beach and that was a huge part of my childhood and teen years. Flip-flops, body surfing, driving on the beach and listening to WAPE radio are all cherished memories that fashioned a part of me.

This was all background, though. It helped shape me, but there is much more to culture. There are also beliefs. When I was ten years old I came face to face with my sinful state and knew I needed a Savior. I went to my mom, who sat me down in the kitchen and gently answered my questions. I was soon after baptized and spent the next seven years or so with a group of friends, many of whom I’m still in touch. Our world was one of church picnics, choir trips, “rolling” each other’s homes with toilet paper and “dinner on the grounds”. I am forever grateful for those gentle times of growing up feeling safe and secure.

Jacksonville was a last-holdout to racial integration. This affected me in numerous ways. My parents would always claim not to be prejudiced, but they yanked me out of public school the year that desegregation was finally enforced. Yes, it was a tumultuous time and I would not have wanted to be bussed across town, but I actually was anyway, for a year, to a private school. By 10th grade I was back in my local high school, and had my first real encounter with a different race. I never told my parents that I actually made friends with some black students. In my house the “N” word was common; even my brothers and I called each other that when we were mad, much to my shame and regret.

Music is a big component of every culture. In elementary school we sang “Found a Peanut” and “Billy Boy” along with learning all the military branch songs; I still remember ““Over hill, over dale, we have hit the dusty trail, and the Caissons go rolling along.” I grew up on the Beatles, KC and the Sunshine Band, and “The Church in the Wildwood”. My first concerts were the Dooobie Brothers and Peter Frampton. I never learned to play a musical instrument, but from the time I got my first transistor radio music has been a part of my life.

I imagine it might take a whole book, and perhaps a quilt maker, to piece together all that is my culture. It’s southern, middle class, and pretty white. It’s sprinkled with ya’ll and yes ma’am and grits. Casseroles are the preface and postlude of every funeral; July 4th and New Year’s Eve bring reason to shoot off tons of fireworks; “Merry Christmas” still abounds as the go-to December greeting.

In reflecting on the elements that shaped me, I hope that I have passed down all the good parts of my culture, and let go of the parts that needed to be left behind.

 

(originally posted Dec. 2015)

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I’ve Been Set Down

 

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Birmingham, Alabama

 

This post was originally written three months ago. I was  ruminating on friendships past and future; looking for words of wisdom from scripture and finding nuggets in unexpected places. Surfing the net sometimes provides providential words of encouragement and exhortation.

There is no ideal place for us to serve God except the place He sets us down. We are not to run from it on a whim or sudden notion, but we should serve the Lord in it by being a blessing to those among whom we live.  -Alistair Begg

I have been set down in Alabama; deposited in this south deeper than Florida. Here the grass is softer and the roads hillier; the accent thicker and the seasons more varied. Tornadoes have replaced hurricanes and I have discovered white BBQ sauce. But, God is the same. No matter how much I vacillate, He is the same.

And to quote a fictional character:

 God will put you in the right place. Even if you don’t know it at the time. –  Alec Hardy (quoting his mother)  in Broadchurch

So, I believe I’m in the right place, no matter how I “feel” about it. Maybe I have not yet seen why. But, in our pursuit of becoming foster parents, I think perhaps this is our right place. In taking the steps to follow our desire to foster, it’s been like “going down the chute”.

You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. – Tina Fey

Circumference of Love

 

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We love wherever we can love, and the power of that love spreads until the circumference of the circle of love grows wider and wider…even though I know to my rue that the circumference of my love is still much too small. – The Irrational Season (1977) by Madeleine L’Engle

I feel like I keep giving myself this same message; to love wherever I can love. And I also keep seeing that the circumference of my love is also still too small.

God’s word has told me: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” – John 14:15

And what are these commandments? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

So, I think this circle of love begins with God’s love for me and my love for Him. The circumference can’t grow unless this is firmly established. After that, the boundaries can grow and stretch beyond measure.

Thoughts on the words of J. Gresham Machen – Sin and the Christian

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Oak Mountain State Park – February, 2017

J. Gresham Machen lived from 1881-1937. He was a Presbyterian churchman, a New Testament scholar, a Princeton Theological Seminary professor, founder of the Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Machen is considered to be the last of the great Princeton theologians. The quotes in this series come from his book, “Christianity and Liberalism”.

“… since we know that God does all things for His own glory and the good of His people, His decision to leave Christians with many struggles with sin must also somehow serve to glorify Him and benefit His people.
Sinless perfection and complete peace and joy must wait for heaven, but abundant joy here and now in Christ is your birthright and your inheritance, even when you sin and fail miserably to be a good Christian.”

These are two thoughts that I think tie together. As a Christian, I still struggle with sin. The only One who can help me overcome and the only One who can forgive that sin is God. Knowing I am weak makes me turn to Him, and His working through me glorifies Him.
Though I fail and sin, yet I can have peace and joy knowing I am His. I do not sin just because I have forgiveness – that would not work. But, when I do fall short, I know I can go to Him. This is the same way a child should be able to go to their parents. There may be natural consequences, but there is also sweet forgiveness.

For What is Faith?

The prompt for PAD Day 24 was “faith” . The day before I had just posted the following quote while hashtagging on twitter

 

“…you don’t have to understand things for them to be.” – from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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September, 2016

 

For What is Faith?

I find myself questioning without doubting
Not understanding but believing
For what is faith?

The substance of things hoped for
Even when my mind is perplexed
My heart is pierced with truth

The evidence of things not seen but sure
Indications and manifestations to hold me
To keep me on the way

Hope, that thing with feathers
Faith fluttering as a breeze
Mystifying yet dependable

Guilt and Going On

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Key West – 2008

…my faith is so frail and flawed that I fall away over and over again from my God. There are times I feel that He has withdrawn from me, and I have often given Him cause…

So I struggle with my theology of failure and the Noes of God.

from The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

These words resonate with me. But, I have to think that it isn’t that God has withdrawn from me but that I have withdrawn from Him. That’s not to say He doesn’t have reason to withdraw and leave me in the dust. There is no reason to keep pouring into me. But He does. He gives me more grace. And sometimes I don’t even realize it.

Grace comes to us at different stages in our spiritual pilgrimage, and it accomplishes different effects and evokes different responses. But it is all grace. – Steve Harper

I not only struggle with failure but with guilt and doubt. I long to know confidence. That No from God, His holding back of my confidence, must be for my good. I need to use that No to stay humble, but not to doubt. To draw near and to go on.

Prayer

 

Dear Father… You are patient and gracious far beyond our deserving. Let us hope for your forgiveness when we can find no way to forgive ourselves. You bless our lives even when we have shown ourselves to be utterly ungrateful and unworthy. May we be strengthened and renewed, to make us less unworthy of blessing, through these your gifts of sustenance, of friendship and family.” – prayed by Jack in Home by Marilynne Robinson

You would have to read the book to understand how beautiful and sad this prayer is.  Jack, the “black sheep” of the family prays here and it nearly broke my heart. This is the prayer I need to pray. Every. Single. Day. I identify with the ‘no way to forgive ourselves’ sentiment. And the being blessed even while ungrateful and unworthy.

Prayer doesn’t change things, but prayer lays hold of God who changes things and Who, in prayer, changes you. And sometimes in the midst of it all He gives you the assurance that your plea has been granted. – from The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life by Dale Ralph Davis

I like that part about how God changes us in prayer. And gives us assurance.