Notice the Dust

I’ve always found it funny that we read these words on Ash Wednesday: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” We read these words and then walk up the aisle of the sanctuary in order to have a cross made on our foreheads from the dust of the celebrations of the year before. From dust we were formed, and to dust we shall return.

We wear this dust on our foreheads one time a year. One time a year we acknowledge publicly the harshness, but also the beauty, of life—the celebrations of Easter aren’t the only thing we are charged to remember. We acknowledge our dust as a community one time a year. But what abut the dust we carry with us the other 364 days a year?

We’re all made of the same dust. And the dust that we leave in our tracks is a piece of us. A piece of our souls, our hurts, our sorrows. A piece of our faith.

Do we notice our dust? It isn’t pretty. Sometimes what we leave behind for others isn’t the best of us. It’s the hurt. It’s the fear. It’s the doubt. I like to brush dust off to the side. I like to pretend like my life is spotless, that if I just brush the dust of my own life away, I can go through life with only the joys. But Ash Wednesday reminds me that my dust is God’s dust. I have to deal with dust because it’s as much a part of my life as the joys that I hope shine through.

Of course, my dust isn’t the only dust that matters. How do we handle the dust of others? As children of the one who formed us from the dust, we have been given the responsibility of noticing the dust of others. We can’t pretend that the only thing worth seeing is the light. That doesn’t cut it, and it’s on this day each year that we’re reminded of that.

We have to see the dust, those pieces of our beings and our souls that we leave behind for those we love. We have to notice those pieces, because someone has to notice and sit with the awkwardness and discomfort of those pieces. Someone has to sit with and listen for the voice of God coming to us from the brokenness of our selves. We don’t get a pass because we’re of the same dust.

We’re all broken. We’re all loved. We’re all afraid. We’re all loved. We’re all angry at the wrongs of this world. We’re all loved. We’re all dust. We’re all loved.

From dust you were formed, and to dust you shall return. Notice the dust. Notice the grace. Know you are loved by the one who took up the dust and formed it into you. Listen for the voice of God coming through the dust of others. And never doubt that someone is listening for the voice of God coming through you.

From dust you were formed, and to dust you shall return.

#WhyIMarch

This weekend I was in DC for two historic events: the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and the Women’s March on Washington. I did not attend the inauguration, but New York Avenue Presbyterian opened its doors to provide hospitality to those who did. I spent several hours there, drinking coffee and chatting with folks. We watched President Trump’s speech together, though some were more excited than others. I walked around downtown with friends to see what was happening in the city: there were protests in Franklin Square that turned violent, the McDonald’s I like to go to had its windows busted out, I observed police in riot gear throwing smoke bombs into crowds of protestors. It was a tense day in DC.

The general air of Friday left me nervous about Saturday, but from the minute I woke up I was surrounded by excitement. The energy was completely different. People were friendly, cheerful, and glad to be together. 16195372_10158022158505648_4129778015161917278_n

The group of us who stayed at New York Avenue walked over to the starting point together. We ended up getting split up, but I was glad to take in the rally and march with a group of YAVs, YAV alums, and my best friend from Maryville who came up to be a part of it.

In the days leading up to the march, I loved following the #WhyIMarch hashtag. Reading those short snippets of someone’s story inspired me to think about the reasons why I was marching. Was it because I was angry about the election? Partly. Was is because I don’t respect Republicans? Absolutely not. Was it because I think the Republican party is horrible? Of course not. I did not march in the Women’s March because I am a democrat. I did not march in the Women’s March because I am “a brainwashed millennial,” like I have been called before.

Here’s why I marched:

  • I marched because human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.
  • I marched because I believe that every person should be treated equally no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or political party.
  • I marched because Donald Trump’s rhetoric and language he uses when talking about women genuinely causes me fear.
  • I marched because I have been told that I will be a “lady pastor” instead of just a pastor.
  • I marched because I want little girls to know that they can be president and little boys to know that rating a woman on a scale of 1-10 is not acceptable.
  • I marched because the government doesn’t have the right to control my body, nor does any man no matter how famous he may be.
  • I marched because most of the people in my life who raised me, who taught me that I am stronger than I think I am, who love me despite my imperfections, and who stick with me through all of life’s twists and turns are women.
  • I marched because my faith in Jesus Christ taught me that love is an action verb, and that love has no borders. And I can’t truly say I love someone if I’m not going to do everything I can to fight for them.
  • I marched because there have been too many times in my life that I felt I haven’t had a voice and being around 300,000+ women sharing their voices was inspiring.

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I’m done with standing by and hoping that things will get better. My YAV year has taught me that I have a responsibility to be a part of the change, and I’m ready to own that responsibility. That’s #WhyIMarch.

History Has Been Made

I spent today at Mount Vernon with my friend Sarah. We needed to get out of DC for a bit, and in a spurt of spontaneity decided to go to Mount Vernon instead of Arlington Cemetery as we had planned. I thought that escaping the city would mean that I could escape the fog that I’ve been moving in since the election, but even the beauty of the fall didn’t do it.

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On Tuesday morning, I woke up at 3am. I had been looking forward to Election Day for weeks. My love (and/or slight obsession) for politics meant that I’d been preparing for this day for a long time, and I was confident about how the day would go. I was in line to vote at 6:45am and the moment that I was able to fill in the circle beside Hillary Clinton’s name was one of the proudest moments of my life. You see, I have loved Hillary for my whole life. I admire her strength, her willingness to keep going in times of struggle, that she owns up to mistakes and works her hardest to keep moving forward. I admire her (and yes, I do recognize that she is flawed and has made mistakes) and I was so excited to one day tell my children that I voted for our first female president and that I was proud of her.

I spent Tuesday night with DC friends who were as excited about the election as I was. We ate chili and talked about why this night was important to us. I don’t think that any of us thought that it would be a landslide, but we were excited and confident that we would be witnessing history.

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We witnessed history on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, but it was not what we thought we would be watching. As the electoral college votes kept adding up, I found myself more and more in shock. I was shocked that I live in a country where over 49% of people could bring themselves to vote for a racist, sexist, misogynist.

I woke up Wednesday morning in a fog. I felt numb. What had we done? Our next president  is a man who offended each and every one of my closest friends. He is a man who has bragged about sexually assaulting women. He is a man who wants to take away health insurance from those who need it. He is a man who has threatened to ban an entire group of religious people from our country. He is a man who is threatening to build an actual wall. He is a man who is endorsed by the KKK. He is a man who shows no compassion, no love, no grace. He is our next president.

Wednesday was a day of deep grief. This wasn’t because my team didn’t win. I could move past that. This was because I now live in a country where I am afraid for those I love. I am afraid for my LGBTQ friends. I am afraid for my friends who are people of color. I am afraid for my friends who are Muslim, Jewish, or anything other than Christian. I am afraid for the children that I love. I am afraid for all women.

Hillary’s concession speech was aired while I was eating breakfast with Tara and Emily. As we watched her speak, we all cried. Once again, I watched a poised, graceful, qualified woman give us a gift that we as a country did not deserve. I watched her tell little girls that they should never doubt that they are “valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve” their own dreams, and I wept because we live in a country where we need that reminder. I wept because children are terrified of what they will face. I wept because every statement that Trump made has now been validated. And frankly, I wept because it feels like we have gone back in time to a place where the only people who matter are straight, white, Christian men.

We are a country that is divided. The lines are more visible than they’ve ever been. Of course, they have always been there. The blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia are NOT new. But we now have a president who validates all of those things. So today is not the day to call for unity. I refuse to accept these things. I refuse to move on, to squash my anger and my grief and pretend like nothing has happened. I cannot be true to my faith if I accept these things. I will not give Trump that satisfaction.

The funny thing about this week is that Sunday is still going to come. Sunday’s going to come and the Good News will be proclaimed, and at this point I’m giving thanks that I’m not the one who will have to stand up and proclaim it. But, I work with those who do. On Wednesday afternoon the director of NEXT Church, Jessica Tate, sent out an email to the Strategy Team members to ask what they are thinking about saying to their congregations or what they needed to hear from the church. I wasn’t going to respond as I was on a list of some of the most incredible preachers I’ve ever heard, but as the day went on, I found some words. And maybe someone else needs to hear the same words that I need to hear.

Hear that your value in the eyes of God has not changed.

Hear that your fear is valid and real.

Hear that you are loved.

Feel that you are loved.

Know that you are loved.

With the reassurance of God’s deep and unchanging love, go and be a loving presence in a country that is broken and divided, knowing that your vulnerability and authenticity will allow others to do the same.

 

“Mama, I want some!”

Moving to DC taught me that there has been a constant in my life that has been so present that I never imagined life without it: being around kids A LOT of the time. My life is marked by the kids I babysat, the kids I tell stories about and follow on Facebook (which constantly makes me feel old). Catherine, Michael, and Bryce were my first. Then Susanne and Riley, and Carson and Kaleigh (and later Jackson!). Then Marshall and Walker entered the scene, along with Trevor and Crawford. Even in Arkansas I babysat: Linden and Evie, and Tobin, Vada, and River. In Maryville, Daniel and Asher quickly entered my life. Summers were full of Presbyterian preacher’s kids: Stockton, Anderson, Hannah, Charlie, Caroline, and Thomas! Children are a constant, and I’ve been feeling the hole that not being around kids has left in me.

Last Sunday at New York Avenue Presbyterian, I had the chance to give the children’s sermon and then go to Worship Play with the few kids in worship who weren’t at the all church retreat. It was the most restorative day I’d had in a long time. We read stories about Moses, sang Pharaoh, Pharaoh, and ate fruit snacks. I heard about Halloween costumes and how school was going, and made a fool of myself with dramatic motions during our song and different voices during the Bible stories. It was wonderful, but I knew that it would not be an every Sunday kind of activity.

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The main part of my job on Sunday mornings is working in the Radcliffe Room, a breakfast/hospitality ministry that NYAPC offers each Sunday. Guests can come and get clothes that they need from the clothing closest, some coffee and breakfast, and then have space to hang out and talk to one another or to church members, sing spirituals or hymns, attend a Bible study, or simply rest for a little while. It’s incredible to see every week, but today was different.

This morning, a woman that I hadn’t met before came in with her little girl who is probably around two. I had been told that if a child were to come in, I should go pick a few books from the nursery to give them since we don’t typically have children’s clothing. I went and asked her mother if she would like that, and then tried to find books that I knew were fun. After I had delivered the books, I returned to the stage to keep the women’s clothing area pretty organized and visit with the guests that I’ve come to know, but I was super excited when the mom and toddler came onto the stage. Her mom and I talked a little bit and she told me some of her story. She made a point to tell me that even though she was having to start over from nothing, she knew that keeping God first was the key to feeling like she could make it.

Towards the end of Radcliffe Room, one of NYAPC’s parish associates served communion to the guests. She began by telling a story about the saints of the world, defining saints as “those who let the light of God shine through them.” She spoke about the saints in all of our lives who have shaped and guided us, and I could feel the room settle as we all thought of those people who immediately come to mind. As she spoke the words of institution and prepared to take the plate and cup around to each of the guests, those of us standing around the piano began to sing Let Us Break Bread Together.

The mother and her daughter had moved to sit closer to the piano so that they could sing and hear the music, and while Beth moved around the room and we sang the song, the little girl grew impatient. She had watched attentively while Beth spoke and prayed, and grinned when the music began to play. Her impatience showed itself with her ever louder cry: “Mama, I want some! Mama, I want some!”

Beth served the little girl and her face lit up. She held that piece of bread while she heard the words, “This is the bread of life, for you!,” and gleefully ate it and drank the grape juice out of the little cup that was just her size.

If the saints are those who let the light of God shine through them, then I met a saint this morning: a tiny little girl with a bright pink coat whose shouts of “Mama, I want some!,” would not be ignored.

I Want to Cover Up.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks in this election cycle. Granted, it’s been a rough election. I dread looking at the news in the morning, wishing that I could avoid seeing the new ways people are being attacked, both through words and actions. It’s been a rough election.

I’ve been thinking about sexism a lot during my YAV year. It’s hard not to considering how much of the news is about the ways that Donald Trump continues to put women down again and again. I open the NPR app on my phone and read about Donald Trump talking about sexually assaulting women, and then I open Facebook and read about how “words are just words!” But I’m here to say that words aren’t just words. It could just be me, but words cut deeply. Words live with me, and it’s a whole lot harder to figure out a way to send them out of my head.

Tonight I watched Michelle Obama’s speech from last week in which she responded to the video of Donald Trump on the Access Hollywood bus, and it made me think about all of the things that have been said to me in the church, the things said that make me want to cover up.

“I could barely pay attention to your sermon because your legs are so distracting!”

“You’re a cute little girl with a cute little figure!”

“You look like you’re ready for a hot date!”

“You do know that that cookie is fattening, right?”

These are just a few of the comments made to me over the few years in college that I worked as an employee at a church. Several of those were made while I was shaking hands after worship. After each of those comments, I found myself thinking, “It’s alright. Once you’re ordained, you can wear a robe. Maybe if you’re covered up, people won’t say these things. Maybe then they’ll just comment on your hair.” Isn’t that screwed up? I think it took me until the last few weeks to realize how screwed up it is. I am angry that my first thought is that I need to cover up. I am angry that I feel anxious about the comments about my body more than I am anxious about what people will think of my sermons.

What kind of church are we creating for the girls and women who are a part of it? What are we doing? I’m genuinely fearful of what will happen if this “words are just words” mentality continues.

I want to cover up. I want to hide my body so that maybe men will stop making comments that make me feel uncomfortable. I want to cover up the body that God created, and I want to cover up because I’m afraid. And that’s not okay. We’re better than this, y’all. Why don’t we act like it?

Ready or not, here we go!

After months of prayer and preparation, it doesn’t feel real that today is the day I’m heading to Stony Point, NY, for orientation with the other 80+ YAVs. Now seemed as good a time as any to write a quick post to check in before kicking off the year.

Since I last posted, I’ve found out what my placement is for the year! I feel incredibly lucky to have been placed with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. They are very different sites, but I feel like they are the places I’m meant to be for this year. At NYAPC I’ll primary work with social outreach through their Community Club tutoring program and the Radcliffe Room Ministry. With NEXT I’ll be able to go through community organizing training and also see what it’s like to run a non-profit like NEXT. I’ll do a lot of behind the scenes administrative stuff such as fundraising, connecting with people to let them know about the things that NEXT does, etc. I think that these sites will be really interesting and that I’ll learn so much.

This summer I’ve spent as much time as I can with the people I won’t get to see as much as I’d like over the next year. In preparation for the year, what I’ve realized is that the only thing I’m truly anxious about is feeling disconnected from “my” people. I’ve been on a bit of a Bob Dylan kick and a particular line from Forever Young has stood out to me over the past couple of weeks: “May you have a strong foundation/when the winds of changes shift.” The winds of changes have shifted, but this summer has reminded me of how strong my foundation is.

I’ve spent at least a week of almost every summer of my life in Montreat, NC, and almost always with the same group of people. They’re my family and my foundation, and being away from them for so long will be hard, but they’re excited for me and I know that they’re always a text or phone call away. The reunion will be that much sweeter!

In all honesty, that really is my biggest fear/anxiety. I’m so excited to see what this year will bring. I know that it won’t always be easy, but I cannot wait for the new experiences and relationships waiting for me.

Now that the time has come to really begin the year, I’m very aware of ways that I will need support this year.

  • Pray for me and for the people with whom I will live and serve this year. It will be a year of growth, change, and adventure and your prayers would be so appreciated.
  • Follow my experience by reading or following my blog! I will be updating periodically with stories of my time in DC and would be excited to read your reactions in the comments section!
  • Send me a card! I love receiving notes in the mail. They help me remember how blessed I am to be connected to so many wonderful people. If you want to send a card or a note, contact me and I’ll send you my address.
  • Contribute to my fundraising efforts! Each YAV is asked to fundraise at least $3000 to help finance their year of service, but going above and beyond is fabulous and helps the program immensely. You can donate online at http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e051477/ by entering the amount that you’d like to donate and then adding “Sarah Dianne Jones” to the comment box that will appear when you’re asked for your billing address, or by sending a check made out to the PCUSA to Presbyterian Church (USA) Remittance Processing, PO Box 643700 Pittsburgh, PA 15264. On the memo line, include my name and the number E051477.

I’m so grateful for the amazing support I’ve already been given. I can’t wait to have more to share!

Sarah Dianne

New beginnings

It’s hard for me to believe that I graduated from Maryville College over a month ago! I’ve spent the majority of my summer traveling with various groups of youth from Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church where I’m serving as their summer intern. It’s been wonderful so far and I’ve been grateful for the new friendships that have begun and experiences I’ve had, and also for the many chances there have been to tell people about what I’ll be doing this fall. 

In August I will be moving to Washington, D.C., to spend a year with the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program. I’m not sure yet what my exact job will be, but there are several possibilities including working with the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness, NEXT Church, and Church of the Pilgrims. I’m excited by the possibility of working with any of the placements and look forward to having a better sense of what I’ll be doing. 

I know that this year will be life changing. YAVs are asked to live outside of their comfort zone and to focus on the needs of others. My faith will change and grow in ways that I cannot yet imagine, but I am confident that the lasting impact will be a good one. I know however that this is not something that I can do on my own. 

Though I haven’t yet begun my year of service, there are already ways that I know I’ll need support. One of these is prayer. Please pray for me! Another is by checking in once the year has begun. I love how connected I’ve always been with friends and family (chosen and blood!). The idea of being this far away from the people I love so much is hard, but a quick text to say hello or to check in would be so appreciated. 

The final way is really important. The YAV program asks those who will be serving to each raise $3000 to help offset the cost of the program. I would greatly appreciate any help in reaching this goal! There are several ways to donate. One is by sending a check to: Presbyterian Church (USA) Remittance Processing, P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700. If you choose to send a check, please write this in the memo line: Sarah Dianne Jones, Washington DC, E051477. This will ensure that it goes to the correct place. You can also donate online by following this link: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e051477/. If you donate online, make sure to write my name in the ‘comments/instruction section’ so that they know who the gift is for. My goal is to have all of the funds raised by September 1st!
I am so excited about this year! I’ll be updating this blog throughout the year about my experiences, hopes, fears, challenges and joys, and I hope that you will follow along and walk this journey with me!

Sarah Dianne