Jennifer Watley Maxell


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Lemonade: The Romance

 

So I just watched Lemonade and it was EVERYTHING!  I must admit, while I haven’t been a fan in the past, I am loving grown woman Beyoncé. As I watched the video album unfold, The Ellipsis Experience theme “More to Your Story: Facing It To Fix It” whispered in my spirit.  Like many women, I identified with the emotions depicted in the opening scenes and had to keep myself emotionally in check so I wouldn’t slip down my own rabbit’s hole of emotional volatility, which can sometimes be sparked by memory.  Most of all, I loved the thematic progression and growth from anger and betrayal to reconciliation, hope, redemption and resurrection.  While I agree that Beyoncé’s Lemonade is a tour de force of womanist theology, psychology, sociology, and history, it is also a good old-fashioned love story…grown woman-style.

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I must confess that I was late to the Lemonade party and was compelled to watch it only after hearing my teenager declare, “I didn’t like it. It was confusing and I really didn’t get it.” And then reading numerous posts hailing it as “ground breaking”, “visually stunning” and worthy of small group discussion.  I’ll also admit that I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.  Amid the grit, the pain, the vulgarity, the harsh contorting lighting and music, I glimpsed the beauty of love.  This lightness was a sweet and savory surprise based on the blogs, quotes, and posts that I had read, which seemed to focus on the themes of betrayal, heartache and pain.  Some seemed obsessed with Becky and her “good-haired” identity, others were concerned with Jay Z and Matthew and their hurt feelings, others were focused on the #blackgirlmagic and women’s empowerment aspects, which are all viable interests. However, no one seemed to see the love story or at least have the language to pontificate on it, if they did see it.

It has left me wondering, do we know black love when we see it?  Why in a story of love and life do we fixate on the labor pains instead of the birth?  Why in a piece titled Lemonade, do we remain fixated on the lemons?  Why does is seem to be theologically compelling to preoccupy ourselves on the struggle when there is also hope, redemption, reconciliation and resurrection? Why have we picked out and devoured every salacious morsel…Serena twerking as only she can, and Bey middle fingers up throwing her fur to the floor, just to name a few; leaving the pure refreshing joy of resurrected love… Bey & Jay curled up intimately in bed, and Blue Ivy swinging in the air, wind blowing through her fro (to be fair) untouched?

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While I believe that we must face and accept ourselves, and our history in all of their grotesque and compromising complexity, I struggle with hanging our futuristic hats on the dreams deferred, and promises broken.  Why are we so willing to accept and hold onto the worst in our stories, without also believing in and lauding the best?  Why is it so much easier to talk about black relational brokenness than it is to talk about black love?  THIS is the challenge we must face today. To recognize love as the hope of our future that it is.  To endure the pain…to let it seep into our bones and feel the grit of it between our toes, but then to let the ocean of forgiveness wash it away.

This isn’t trite, light Hallmark-esq romanticism, but this is the enduring legacy of Christ and His sacrifice for us on the cross.  When Jesus gave up His will in the garden of Gethsemane, He gave up His right to sinless purity for the remission of our sins.  Jesus valued the forgiveness of our sins above His own purity to the point of death.  While so many Christians place emphasis on relational purity (As the mother of three children, I’ll agree purity does have it’s place), I would argue that Christ’s ministry was focused not on maintaining purity but on the reconciliation and redemption that must take place when relational purity fails. Everyday acts of reconciliation, hope, forgiveness, redemption, resurrection…love are what constitute the sanctity of relationships and not our outdated expectations of purity.

Love is the sweet, life-giving force that turns our lemons into lemonade and it deserves to be recognized, celebrated and consumed as often as we shall in remembrance of Him.

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Daring Greatly

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt – Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

 I love this quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt because he pulls back the curtain on what success really looks like. While many of us look at success as an outcome, Roosevelt defines it as a process…the process of “daring greatly”. I have grown to accept this process of “daring greatly” as the blueprint for how I live my life. So often, we look at others and judge ourselves based on what we see in them. We covet someone else’s large corner office, their new house, their fabulous wedding or their seemingly perfect spouse. We may even look at their relationships with family or friends and desire the same for ourselves, however, we must always remember that what we “see” is never what we “get”. We fail to realize that what we are seeing is a highly perspectival part in a process that consist of hard work, choices, opportunity, and God’s vision for their lives. Rarely, do we stop to calculate this cost and factor the same variables into our own success and life.

When we compare ourselves to others, we make unfair assumptions that devalue who we are and overvalue who they are. We automatically compare our process with their perceived outcome. The idea of “daring greatly” gives us a different rubric to determine that success and assess the value of our lives. By “daring greatly” we move away from value determined by reaching certain benchmarks or achieving certain outcomes or “what we do”, and accept value based on our ability to show up authentically in our own lives, and to live into the vision that God has for each one of us or to be “who we are”. For many of us, the very idea of sacrificing “what we do” for “who we are” is risky because many of us struggle with knowing exactly who we really are and what our value is as individuals.

In a culture that assess us based on external values such as the type of job we have, our level of education or where we live, it is risky to assert that we are enough based on our internal values: our character, our morals, our integrity and how we embody God’s vision for our lives. By ‘daring greatly” we assert that the risk-of-being is worth taking because it leads us to the reward of a well-lived life. A well-lived life is one that allows us to live according to our internal values in fulfillment of our own unique purpose and destiny, which I define as God’s vision for each and every one of us. Jeremiah 1:5 reads:

“Before I shaped you in the womb,

I knew all about you.

Before you saw the light of day,

I had holy plans for you:

A prophet to the nations—

that’s what I had in mind for you.” MSG

While we know that this is a specific word regarding the call of Jeremiah as a prophet of God, it also holds valuable insight for each one of us regarding Gods creative process and humanity. According to this scripture, the idea of Jeremiah in the mind of God preceded the reality of Jeremiah in his mother’s womb. In other words, before God created Jeremiah the person, God envisioned Jeremiah the purpose. Before an artist begins to paint, draw or sculpt, the artist must first have an idea of what she wishes to create. This idea, which I call vision serves as the inspiration that drives her creative process. Her vision determines the design, materials, and techniques that she uses to create her work of art. In a similar way, God’s vision for Jeremiah, the prophet, which is his purpose serves as the inspiration that drives God’s design, material selection, and techniques used to create Jeremiah the person.

This pre-ordained “holy plan” gives us the assurance that who we are is enough for the life God wants us to live. By that I mean that everything about us: our physical appearance, our gifts, our strengths, our weaknesses, our blessings, our burdens, our successes and our failures were all designed according to God’s plan for our lives. The challenge for us is in determining what God’s vision is for our lives and having the courage to live faithfully according to that vision.

While this may seem easy, we live in a world of competing interest; parents and loved ones, corporations and advertisers, even our history, political systems and culture all conspire to influence who we are and dictate what’s best for us. The seemingly passive act of showing up as our divinely inspired, authentic selves and living according to our personal values becomes a risky proposition because we must constantly fight “to be” in a world that is pushing us to simply “do”. Just like the man in the arena, we are engaged in a battle of competing interest where we each must decide to live into God’s vision for our lives or to follow the dictates of others. We each must decide to show up as ourselves or to live as impersonators. We each must decide to take the risk of authentic living or choose a counterfeit existence.

When we are vision driven people, God’s vision for our lives drives our thoughts, and our actions, but more than that it is the very essence of who we are in the world, the inspiration for our very being. The “man in the arena” analogy is so powerful because it crystalizes the challenge of “daring greatly”, which is to live authentically, and audaciously, as we were created knowing that worldly success may or may not come and that vision-driven living is it’s own and greatest reward.

 

 

 

 

 


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The No-Guilt Zone

I once envisioned myself a bee, spending my days buzzing from job, to school, or home depositing myself here and there leaving me exhausted and overwhelmed. To combat this busyness I conceptualized a “lifestyle” boutique offering one-stop-shop service to people like me. Clothing for children and adults could be purchased and tailored on site with accessories to match. Home accents could be purchased and customized as well, without ‘buzzing’ from place to place to do so. In theory, my idea called “Honeycomb” was great, but in reality I discovered one fatal flaw. My peers and I had built our lives on busyness. Without it, we might not know how to function.

Despite the warnings of generations past and life experiences that affirm the same, our life choices often seem to negate our intentions. We say that spending time with our families is our priority, however, we choose to put our careers and personal ambitions first. We say we want to be healthy and live long-lives, however, we choose to eat fast food and don’t exercise. We say we want an intimate relationship with Jesus, but we choose to relegate Him to Sunday mornings before brunch and football. We seem to live in a constant state of guilt-ridden hypocrisy. However, in Howard Thurman: Essential Writings by Luther E. Smith, Jr., Thurman’s idea of the divided self, illustrated by Legion, the alleged demonic found in the gospel of Mark, gives a fresh perspective on how we might assuage the guilt. Instead of seeing it as hypocritical, or a lack of will, Thurman characterizes it as competing wills.

The issue is more complex than two competing issues with distinct outcomes to be selected from: either we choose our family or we choose our career, or either we choose our lifestyle or we choose God. This type of oversimplification leads to dissatisfaction as critical parts of ourselves remain unattended and unactualized. Thurman’s idea that the self is filled with claims and counter claims (130) seems simplistic and yet revolutionary at the same time. By relegating our choices to dualistic extremes we oversimplify the complex relationship of competing wills within us. For many of us, we find ourselves making choices that are counter to our beliefs without realizing that our choices have become unhinged from our moral center (141). This unhinging process results in what Thurman identifies as chaos. In this way, many of us are modern Legions, walking around amidst the chaos of our multiple selves resistant to salvation. Our resistance comes from our acceptance of this divided existence as “normal” and unchangeable.

Thurman asks, “What is it we want, really? When we try to meet it head on we discover, perhaps for the first time, that we have never lived our lives intentionally, and therefore now are unable to do it on demand.” (139) This concept strikes at the heart of what I believe is a fundamental spiritual issue for those of us who have adopted the perspective that we make choices and God endorses or denies them. This perspective has resulted in a shift from God as the moral center to God as outside counsel. While we say we want Christ centered lives, we end up with egocentric lives distanced from God.

Acknowledging the multiplicity of competing claims within frees us from the guilt of oversimplified choices and opens us to re-establishing God as the moral center. We in turn allow others to acknowledge that God isn’t their moral center facilitating the opportunity to shift in that direction. Thurman acknowledges that the process is difficult, however, with intention, religion as a resource (132) and grace (136) a different relationship with God can be established and the chaos of division within the self can yield to peace.