Shelter From the Storm January 23, 2012Posted by Matt in family, personal stories.
Tags: destruction, drive-by truckers, music, neko case, sirens, Southaven, tornado, warning
add a comment
The word itself strikes fear into the heart of men, women, and children across the land. Feet get antsy, ears and eyes go on high alert, and people begin scurrying for protection at the first sound of danger, the blaring tornado siren or the soothing voice of Dave Brown, weatherman extraordinaire. This scourge of the south attacks with reckless abandon, its path of wanton destruction arbitrarily striking here and yon, with no regard for the victims.
Last night was another of those type nights. We knew the meteorological attack was coming, we knew that, if chosen, our chances for saving our worldly possessions were next to nothing and that perhaps even our lives may be in jeopardy.
I kept the television on as long as our satellite worked, watching the ominous red line move closer and closer to our home, listening to reports of the shattering of civilization, the unstoppable bombardment from above, the crushing power of an angry mother nature. Like people in war movies (and presumably in real war situations) crouched in their foxholes awaiting the inevitable firestorm from the skies, hardening themselves against the chance of death and injury, we sat with bated breath, wondering how the die of fate cast in the skies might fall for us.
The sirens finally went off and I walked upstairs, shook the children awake and moved them to the master bathroom downstairs, presumably the safest room in the house. The groggily went along, pushed by fear of the unknown.
The electricity went out and we sat together, the inner bathroom illuminated by a lone flashlight and I tried to placate their fears of what the night may hold, of the unstoppable power from the skies, the vortex of doom indiscriminately destroying towns and lives, leaving behind the wreckage of hopes and dreams.
Minutes later it was over. The sirens stopped and the exhausted children lay in our bed, refusing to troop back to their own rooms upstairs. I acquiesced, kissed them goodnight, and retreated to the living room couch. We made it.
I tried to think of a good soundtrack for a tornado, but I could only come up with two good tornado songs: The Drive-By Truckers’ “Tornadoes,” and Neko Case’s “This Tornado Loves You.” What other tunes would you add to the playlist?
Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 4 November 16, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: Advent, changing churches, Southaven, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
add a comment
Our intent was to stay through the season of Advent, then move on to sample other types of churches in the area. We eyed other liturgical groups like the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, while I considered the drive into Memphis to a Unitarian Universalist congregation, but as the weeks moved forward, we found ourselves becoming more and more attached to St. Timothy’s.
We loved the participatory nature of worship, the reverence of the Eucharist, and the beauty of every service. We were embraced by the people of St. Tim’s and Patrick, our priest, quickly became a good friend of mine. We loved the fact that our children, even our daughters, had opportunities to serve that would never have been available in past churches. It quickly became home.
The climax of Advent came with the solemn, candlelit Christmas Eve service followed by a joyful Christmas Day service (including a blessing of the toys), forever altering our future in churches, changing our path from that point forward.
At some point near the end of the season, Patrick, who knew we were only planning to stay through Advent, approached us, “So,” he said a bit apprehensively, “Is this it?”
I just smiled, “No, we’re here to stay.”
And we have been.
To be continued…
Say No to Amendment 26 November 3, 2011Posted by Matt in politics.
Tags: Amendment 26, Duncan Gray, Mississippi, personhood, Southaven, unintended consequences
I haven’t written anything seriously politically motivated in a long time, having grown tired of the nonstop squabbling, but I hope you’ll bear with me for a few moments while I tell of something that truly bothers me.
Those of you in other locations around the country, or for that matter, around the world may not be in tune with the political controversy currently engulfing that in which we live, Mississippi. The hot button issue of the day is Amendment 26, i.e. the Personhood Amendment, a proposed addition to our state constitution with ramifications that could be huge. The amendment itself reads:
The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”
As you might guess, the stated purpose of the amendment is to end the practice of abortion, which in itself is controversial enough, but the wording of this sentence could go far, far beyond that.
If fully followed through, this amendment would end birth control methods such as the “morning after pill” and IUDs, but it could even affect the legality of the pill, for even though the birth control pill primarily prevents ovulation, it may also prevent implantation following fertilization. Thus, this bill could make the pill illegal in the state of Mississippi.
There are also the ramifications that this piece of legislation holds for the practice of in vitro fertilization, where several eggs are fertilized and the unused ones are either frozen or discarded. If followed through, this amendment could then cause this practice to cease entirely.
Then there are the concerns of the physicians who wonder about their own liability when having to make life-and-death decisions involving a woman and her unborn child. Could they save the mother if it meant the termination of the embryo, or would they be held criminally liable?
And then there is also the issue of miscarriages. Would every miscarriage then be subject to a criminal investigation to ensure that the woman did nothing to cause it, and if she did, could she be charged with a felony?
In a state that already has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, so it seems to this Mississippian, with two daughters of his own, that perhaps the focus is misplaced.
Driving around Southaven, the town where we live, you see the “Vote Yes on 26” signs adorning yards on every street. They leap out a drivers from churches and businesses and seemingly everywhere one looks. Even the Church of Christ, the denomination I grew up in and one that is historically apolitical, near our house is proclaiming their stance in favor of the initiative.
And though it seems the passing of this amendment is immanent, not everyone is in favor of it. I was quite happy to see that our Bishop, The Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray, spoke out publically against it, and it is interesting to see that even many Roman Catholic bishops have voiced their opposition.
So, I will be voting against Initiative 26 and I hope that those of you living in Mississippi will as well.
In a related note, the local Fox 13 station interviewed our priest Patrick yesterday. He told us what he said to them, a measured and reasoned response that took no firm stand on the controversy, instead referring to the dangers of certainty (see why I like him so much?). Naturally, the news show cut his part down to just a few seconds and prefaced it with, “But some local pastors are not in favor of the Amendment.” That’s Fox for you.
Goodnight, Sweet Schnucks… September 19, 2011Posted by Matt in Southaven.
Tags: bought out, Kroger sucks, Schnucks, Southaven
Saying goodbye is never an easy thing to do. You can repave the pothole in your heart over and over again, longing for normalcy, for some semblance of solace in your despair, but eventually the scab will be torn away, exposing the wound anew. There is no comfort, no healing, the gaping pit in your soul may someday be bridged, but it will never be the same.
Recently I endured an experience such as this, one in which I felt and still feel lost, directionless, as though my world has been rent asunder. No, I have not lost a family member, a friend, or even a pet, not it is something else altogether, something that, over the past seven years, had cemented its place in my life. It was a place whose doors were always open and inviting, despite the day or the circumstances, a place that I knew from top to bottom, a place where familiar smiling faces are now dissipating into the ether, where years of memories are dissolving away with the sands of time.
Just a short time ago, our choice of grocery stores, Schnucks, was bought out by Kroger.
Never again will I walk those familiar aisles, searching through specials and checking items on my list. No more will I pick through the store’s ample supply, filling my cart to the brim with enough food to feed my family for a week. It’s over.
Sure, we have a Kroger just two or so miles farther down the road and, granted, it carries the exact same things, but still, it’s the principle that counts.
So, now we wait with trepidation and wonder what type of business will inhabit the rapidly emptying space at the corner of Goodman and Swinnea, knowing that few things could replace what we’ve lost.
Unless, of course, it’s a Whole Foods. Then Schnucks would only be a distant memory.
The Pink Purse August 2, 2011Posted by Matt in family.
Tags: boys, Hello Kitty, Mississippi, pink purse, Southaven, Wal-Mart
Our two year old, JD, has found a new object upon which to bequeath his affection, a new item to embrace and hold tight at all times, to guard as if it held the elixir of life. So, what is this newfound source of joy in the young boy’s life?
His sister’s pink Hello Kitty purse.
In the past you might see him carrying around his beloved blue elephant blankie, but now, with the addition of his purse (or man-bag), he can now stuff the blanket into his pink bag and carry it around with him. It’s not that big of a deal to us, and we think little to nothing of him hauling it around at home or at church, but a week or so ago I found myself considering this with thoughts that later bothered me a great deal.
As a rule, I avoid our local Wal-Mart like the plague, preferring anything to the crowded, soulless aisles of the nearby megastore, but for some reason I don’t readily recall, I found myself in a situation where I had to step into the unsavory retail giant. Because of Diana’s work schedule, I was also carting along the kids, another undesirable aspect to our Saturday outing. We parked the car and began to get out when I noticed that my son was gripping the purse, fully intending to carry it in with him. To a Wal-Mart, in Southaven, Mississippi. As you can imagine, it’s not exactly a hotbed of progressive thought. Suddenly thoughts flooded my head. Would we be accosted by hordes of Baptists with crazed eyes, swinging their Bibles like swords? Would I be beaten senseless by camo-wearing, Skoal-dipping, rebel flag-waving Mississippi rednecks?
Granted, none of these attacks would probably take place, but the seed was planted in my brain, so I quickly talked JD out of carrying the purse, and went on with our shopping.
The next morning I was relating this story to some people at church and when I came to end, saying something along the lines of, “I told him, ‘I don’t think it’s in either of our best interests for you to take this into Wal-Mart. In Southaven, Mississippi.’”
One of the ladies looked at me quizzically and asked one simple question, “Why?”
And I had to think about that. Why? I’m not embarrassed. It doesn’t bother me. I guess it’s because I’m anticipating a negative reaction from others and I don’t want to deal with it, but that’s really not a good reason. Not at all.
So, from now on he can carry it anywhere he wants. If other people don’t like it, they need to grow up.
The Willie Nelson Revival June 10, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: Gospel music, Jamey Johnson, Jesus, revival, Snowden Grove, Southaven, Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson's Country Throwdown
add a comment
There are only a handful of true American icons, those who personify that profound spirit pervading the land from sea to shining sea, and perhaps there is no one still living who fits that mold as well as the legendary Willie Nelson. I’ve had the chance to see Willie live several times in the past, but last night’s show was truly wonderful and without a doubt ranks among the best.
I had known about this show for some time, but due to some financial constraints stemming from our upcoming vacation, I knew that it was out of the question to spring for a ticket, so I sadly sat by and watched the concert date approach, wishing that there might be some way that I could make it. Then last week I received a phone call that changed everything. It was around noon and I was sitting in my cubicle, fighting off the doldrums spinning cobwebs around my head when my phone suddenly buzzed with an unknown number. I pressed the green button, gave my customary greeting of “Hello,” and was met with one of the most wonderful sounds imaginable, “Hello,” the unknown female voice on the line said, “You have just won tickets to the Willie Nelson Country Throwdown.”
Suddenly the sun escaped from behind the clouds, breaking the monotony with the force of a sledgehammer. In just a moment’s time, everything turned around for the better.
After calling Diana to express my great, dumbfounded joy, I thought for only a split second about who I should invite to the show before the answer became apparent: my good friend and priest, Patrick. So, I immediately called him at camp, where he was working as a counselor.
Patrick: Matt, how’s it going?
Me: Pretty good, pretty good. Hey, I’ve got a question for you. Do you want to go to Willie Nelson next week?
At this point I’m sure he’s thinking to himself, “You called me at camp for this?” and he proceeded to go through a long, sort of convoluted story about how we wished he could go, but can’t. I let him talk for a minute before breaking in and interrupting him.
Me: Patrick, I’m asking you because I just won tickets.
Patrick: What? No way! Are you serious?! How?!
I told him about the call and he immediately accepted my offer, thus setting us up for the big show.
The festivities for Willie’s Country Throwdown started early in the day – around 3:00pm – but because of work and family responsibilities we made plans to meet at 7:00 and head over, so that we would have plenty of time to see the two main acts of the night: Jamey Johnson and Willie. Upon our arrival at the amphitheater, he and I grabbed a couple of beers and headed over to find a good spot on the lawn. As we moved through the crowd we ran into another good friend of mine, Chris, and his wife, so we stopped for a few minutes and caught up with them. Everything was going well as we found our seats and prepared for the upcoming show.
The first act we saw was Randy Houser, an artist who I had never heard of before but who apparently was at least somewhat well known by the other attendees. His set was decent, but nothing beyond your run-of-the mill country music. As he finished, the sun was completing its daytime run and the temperatures were changing from warm to perfect, setting up the perfect June evening in North Mississippi for a concert.
Jamey Johnson walked onto the stage around 8:30, his long hair and scraggly beard accentuating the old-school, Waylon-esque outlaw persona that perfectly fits his style. He kicked the set off with “High Cost of Living,” then rolled through several cuts from his catalogue like “Cover Your Eyes,” and “The Guitar Song.” He even included a great Willie cover, “Can I Sleep In Your Arms,” as sort of preview and perhaps as a tribute from a new breed of outlaw to those who came before him. The set ended with probably the most beautiful moment of the night when his 7 year old daughter came from backstage and joined him for an incredible, heart-rending version of “In Color.” I’m a sucker for kids singing, so you couldn’t ask for a better way to finish off the set.
Another aspect of the show that intrigued both Patrick and I was that in between the main artists, there were three singer-songwriters who would sit on the stage and each perform a single song. I thought it was a really great idea, both to keep the crowd engaged in between acts and to offer some recognition for these little-known artists. I thought it fit Willie’s station well as an elder statesman who realizes that his time on stage is nearing its end, so he’s giving the younger ones a platform from which to launch their own careers.
Willie hit the stage around 10:00 with his customary opener, “Whiskey River,” and the crowd greeted him with wild applause as the band tore through the well-known standard. Willie was his normal, off-beat singing self, his voice sometimes straying behind the music and sometimes charging ahead, but never quite in line. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to play in his band. I don’t have a full setlist, but Willie ran through several of his biggest songs, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” “Always on my Mind,” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” as well as the medley of “Funny How Time Slips Away / Crazy / Night Life” that has long stood like a pillar of Willie’s past in his shows. His son Lukas Nelson, who played earlier in the day, came out with his guitar and joined his father for a great version of the blues classic “Texas Flood,” and Willie even found time for a three song Hank Williams tribute, running through his renditions of “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Move it On Over.”
To this point the show had been a good one, with Willie playing some of his famous tunes while adding in a few extras to keep things interesting, but it was the grand finale that I thought was particularly poignant. Willie has long had a penchant for throwing in a few gospel standards, but on this particular evening in Southaven, Mississippi, he seemed to take it to a whole new level. It began with the old favorite, “May the Circle Be Unbroken” and soon other performers joined him on stage for the rounding ode to friends and family. Randy Houser stepped back out, as did Jamey Johnson and his young daughter, and all together they sang out loud, “May the circle be unbroken / By and By, Lord, By and By.” But the show wasn’t to end there and soon Willie was in full Gospel evangelist mode, with down home gospel tunes like “I Saw the Light” and “Amazing Grace” ringing through the air as his personal choir grew even larger and everyone joined in the sing-a-long. The redemption ran thick through this big tent meeting-style performance as voices joined together in thankful praise. It was the First Baptist Church of Willie Nelson and fortunately I was there with my own priest in tow.
But, amid the Jesus-y stuff, Willie took another seemingly strange turn off the beaten path, tossing in “Bloody Mary Morning” in between the church tunes. At first thought, it seemed like a strange choice, but the longer I pondered on it, the more ingenious and beautiful it turned. Perhaps this was his ode to the dual nature of humanity, their yearning for redemption against their hunger for pleasure. Maybe this was Willie’s cry in the wilderness, his prophetic message about the human condition.
I don’t know, but whatever it was, it worked. Thank God for Willie Nelson.
The Episcopal Experience, Week 3 November 29, 2010Posted by Matt in The Church Search.
Tags: Advent, End Times, peace, Southaven, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
add a comment
We had a great time visiting family in Arkansas around the Thanksgiving holiday, but following Arkansas’ triumphant victory over LSU Saturday night, I loaded up the kids and drove back to our home in Southaven. There was a reason for our nighttime exit and it had nothing to do with being tired of Turkey and homemade desserts (that would never happen). No, the next day was the first Sunday of Advent and we wanted to make sure we made it to the service at the Episcopal Church we have been attending.
It was interesting to me that the Lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent, particularly Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 26:36-44, dealt with a second coming of Jesus, while the season itself is a look back at the first. That topic then was both the object of discussion in class and of the short sermon during worship.
The conversation in class was great as we talked about the fairly recent Evangelical idea of a Rapture as seen in the widely read and poorly written Left Behind series, and other ideas held by those across the spectrum. In the end, I really appreciated the remarks of the rector, Patrick, when he said that, in his view, people get too caught up in all of the end time prophecies. He said something to the effect of, “Many people spend so much of their time in hopeful expectation to escape this world that they forget to live.” It’s a sentiment that I’ve long thought and sometimes expressed and it makes me hopeful to know that I’m not the only one who feels that way. The overall thought was that it really doesn’t matter how it ends or if it ends at all. Some even suggested that perhaps this life is it, that perhaps there is no eternal reward or punishment and that we should make the most of our lives here.
On another note, I wish I had a dollar for every time the word peace was used in the service. It seems as though everything said ends with some exhortation for peace. It’s refreshing to be among the types of people who would be first in line to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
The more time I spend at St. Timothy’s, the more I feel at home, that this is perhaps where we belong. I love the liturgies and the fact that people with unconventional ideas (at least they would be in most churches) are treated with respect. I can already tell that it will be difficult to leave after Advent to move on in our church visiting. At the same time I don’t want to automatically jump headlong into the first place we visit. We’ll see.
I finally felt as though I got to meet a few people this week, which is ironic since I was there without Diana (she had to work) and with the kids. We also set up some time to have dinner with the rector and his family later on this week and I think we are all really looking forward to getting to know each other a little better.
The Episcopal Experience, Week 2 November 22, 2010Posted by Matt in The Church Search.
Tags: Eucharist, liturgies, Southaven, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, visiting churches
add a comment
As you probably already know, last week we visited an Episcopal church for the first time and had a very good experience. This week we returned to St. Timothy’s, just as we plan to do for the remainder of the Advent season in order to gain some understanding of the church and its practices.
We walked into this church the prior week with almost no knowledge of the Episcopal Church, so our first order of business was to learn as much as we could in regards to their beliefs and liturgies. On Friday night we set up some time to go to the church and visit with the rector, Patrick, in order to learn a little more. We quickly took to Patrick’s amiable, easygoing manner the past Sunday, and on Friday that response was definitely reaffirmed.
I don’t know what I may have expected a priest to be like, but Patrick blew away any of those preconceived stereotypes. To start off with, he had a wall of his office dedicated to one of my favorite bands, Widespread Panic, and he told us of how he and his wife, who are about the same age as us, met at an Allman Brothers show. He regularly referred to people as “dudes,” and called liturgical aspects of worship “cool” and “groovy.” As you would expect, I thought this was just awesome. Theologically speaking, he is very progressive and said several things that were much like things I’ve said and written on this blog over the past few years, so I of course found that appealing. When he made statements like, “You know, I’m not really concerned about heaven or any sort of afterlife,” Diana and I just smiled knowingly at each other because it was apparent that we were kindred spirits. In the end, it was a great visit and I came away from it thinking that, if nothing else, we could be good friends.
The Sunday morning liturgies were becoming more familiar to us this week, though it is all still a little strange and different. I love the participatory acts in worship, the call-and-response pieces that truly make you feel as though you are a part of something and not just an observer. A service consists of several readings, including at least one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from the Psalms. There is a short sermon given by Patrick, which is then followed by the recitation of the Nicene Creed, prayers for people done in an almost chant-like cadence, and then the leader concludes the section with prayer readings from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).
Holy Communion is the central part of an Episcopal worship service and it may have also been the act that gave us the most trepidation upon our first visit. The ceremony consists of Eucharistic prayers from the BCP and a hymn of praise, pointing to the fact that this is the most important act of worship to take part in. Every person goes to the front of the nave, one row at a time, and kneels before the altar, where the priest then places a wafer in their open palm and each partaker is given a sip of wine. It is a beautiful and moving ceremony, despite the fact that it is so alien to us.
This is then followed by the Post-Communion Prayer from the BCP, the commissioning of the lay Eucharistic visitor, a blessing and the customary dismissal, in which the priest says, “Go forth in the name of Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!” And the people answer, “Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!”
After two weeks of attending, we are becoming more familiar with the practices of the Episcopal Church and we have certainly found ourselves drawn to the powerful liturgies. We love the fact that women are able to lead in worship and that children are allowed to fully participate. At this point, the only drawback we have found is that it seems as though we haven’t really met and talked to anyone, with the exception of Patrick. Our hope is to find a place with healthy and regular fellowship between members and visitors and, though I’m sure that probably occurs at this church, we have not seen much of it yet.
Anyway, things are going well so far in our search and I will continue to report the things we see and learn.
The Journey Begins November 16, 2010Posted by Matt in The Church Search.
Tags: Southaven, spiritual journey, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, visiting churches
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
- J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring
Voyages into the unknown probably always begin with both a sense of excitement and fear, trepidation for what may lie beyond the familiar walls of home. Change is difficult and trying at times and sometimes the familiarity of the past may beckon with much strength, cajoling one to return, but in their mind they understand that turning back to a life that once was but will never again be a realistic solution.
After taking a few weeks to remain at home on Sunday morning and clear our heads for the upcoming adventure, we decided to step out our doorway this weekend and into an unfamiliar environment. In recent years my spiritual interests have rested on liturgical aspects of worship which, as one who knows the CoC realizes, is quite alien to our sensibilities, so we chose to explore churches often categorized as Mainline Protestant. After sorting through the congregations, we chose our first stop: St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Given that I was raised in a denomination that generally dismisses all other groups as fraudulent, my knowledge of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition was basically nonexistent, so we walked into the building that morning with few preconceived notions. One of the first things we noticed was the ornate artistic detail of the building, from the stained glass to the pieces of work adorning the walls, a characteristic deliberately not present in the familiar, and generally quite drab, churches of our past. We entered a building that acts as a sort of activity center, or as we often say in our circles, a family life center, where a man dressed in the requisite black shirt and white collar, along with army cargo pants and tennis shoes (who we would later learn is the church’s priest, Patrick) was playing a guitar and singing while several people gathered around, swaying to the music.
He soon acknowledged us as visitors and once the song was complete, he made a beeline for our family, introducing himself and several others to us with big smiles and handshakes. They then ushered the children to their various classrooms and we retired to the library with the other adults for a class taught by Patrick. He talked about a particular prayer from the Common Book of Prayer and the meaning of the liturgy associated with it, along with some great applications to life that struck both Diana and I as real and relevant. I was particularly taken with their emphasis on inclusiveness, a word that may rank among the most vulgar in some circles of our past.
After class, Patrick took us to the side and quickly learned of our complete lack of knowledge about the Episcopal Church and its service, but he didn’t sigh in exasperation, rather he just chuckled and said, “If you look up and realize that you don’t know what the hell is going on, don’t worry about it.” Suddenly, the priest in his white collar seemed totally real and normal. He assured us that we didn’t have anything to worry about. If we got confused about when to stand or to kneel, he told us it was fine to just sit. He explained to us that there was no set way to take the eucharist, we could dip the wafer in the wine or take each separately. He just smiled and let us know that it didn’t matter how we did things and, if we did get confused, we could ask anyone sitting around us.
The service was beautiful and completely different than what we were accustomed to, with candles and colorful robes and actual audience participation as we worked through several call-and-response pieces from the Common Book. Our entire family, with the exception of Jackson who stayed in the nursery, took communion together at the front of the building.
I was particularly struck with how the service seemed to be both formal and informal in many aspects. The ceremonies were structured, yet the people were not stone-faced. The matters were serious, yet the priest was quick with a joke and a smile. It was a wonderful experience.
Our plan is to remain at St. Timothy’s through the Advent season in order to get a more full experience of the Episcopal Church. After that we plan to move on to another place for a time and then maybe more following that. Right now everything is up in the air, but I feel better and more spiritually free than I have in years.