Purity Culture, Andrew McMahon, and California, Oh My!

This week has been a huge, overwhelmingly beautiful and emotionally taxing week for me.

Let’s start things off right, from the beginning of last month.

Theopoetics and Dialoging with Purity Culture

I spent the middle two weeks of January in Richmond, Indiana on the campus of Bethany Theological Seminary, where I attended a 2-week intensive of their Theopoetics 1 class taught by the amazing Scott Holland. It was intense. So much reading. So much dialoging. So much beauty. I made new friends and new discoveries—about theology and about myself.

Scott announced the annual theopoetics conference coming up in March, which I have been longing to go to but figured I probably wouldn’t be able to because it’s out in Oakland, CA this year. My adventures in theopoetics began back in 2017 when I attended my first theopoetics conference in Cincinnati (which is much closer to home for me and a much more affordable trip). But I haven’t been to one since, because last year’s was in Boston. But Scott recommended the conference, and even encouraged us to submit workshop proposals if we feel the urge. For some reason, I did, so the weekend we got a ton of snow, I burrowed inside and wrote up a workshop proposal on found poetry, created an author résumé, and submitted my stuff barely by the deadline, thanks to some technological issues. I figured it was a long shot, but I was proud of myself for at least trying.

In class, my new friends and Scott encouraged me to think about doing a found poetry project for my final project for the class. So I decided that I wanted to be intentional and create a project that would 1) all come from the same book (usually when I do found poetry, I use words and phrases from various sources), and 2) dialog with an aspect of my evangelical upbringing that I’ve been questioning or rejecting.

I settled on creating found poetry out of Joshua Harris’s book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Though I turned in my final project yesterday, the project as a whole is not yet complete. I plan to do one poem for each chapter of the book, totaling 16 pieces of mixed-media art and poetry. Eventually, these will all be compiled into a book with commentary on the process and how I engaged with the materials. Below is the cover of the project, which I shared on my Instagram and Facebook pages yesterday:

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This project, which I am calling Goodbye Brutal Romance: Rewriting the Damaging Messages of Purity Culture, has gotten so much bigger than I originally envisioned it to be. So far, I have completed four of the pieces/chapters/poems for the project, and when I posted about it on Instagram yesterday, I tagged Josh Harris, who liked my post and followed me. So I’m sitting here thinking, how cool would it be to be able to engage in dialog with this man who wrote a book that was so influential on my youth (in not the greatest of ways, though I don’t 100% blame that on him—my feelings are that the churches and people caught up in purity culture at the time took that book and used it as an icon of what purity should and shouldn’t be, though Harris repeatedly says throughout his book that not everyone has to do things in exactly this way, and that it was his convictions. But this is a discussion for another time.)

My whole goal with the project is to take words and phrases from this icon of purity culture and reframe them into messages of hope, restoration, and healing for those who have been deeply hurt or damaged by purity culture. I also spent much time typing up quotes from Harris’s recent documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and lyrics from Brooke Fraser’s song “Brutal Romantic,” to create the backgrounds for each poem.

I will be sure to post updates here, on Insta and FB as the project progresses and when I know more about when it will be complete and when I can publish.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

About three years ago, my best friend introduced me to the music of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, when he sent me the link to “Cecilia and the Satellite.” I loved the song, but I didn’t really listen to much else by AMitW until about a year and a half ago when, for some random reason, I thought, “Amy, you should probably listen to, like, the entire album.” And I did. And I was hooked. For weeks I would listen to all of his available music (under his AMitW band—I still haven’t delved into Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin yet) on shuffle and repeat on Spotify. And last summer, I decided that hey, since his music means so much to us, we should totally go to a concert. But when I checked his website, he’d written that he wasn’t sure he’d be writing any more albums or doing any more tours because he wanted to focus his time on his wife and daughter.

But last September, I got an email that he had—surprise!—written a new album and would be touring this winter. So when tickets became available in October, I snatched up two.

Well, we got to go, finally, this past Wednesday night. It was awesome! If you haven’t ever listened to Andrew McMahon’s music, you should give it a try. I think he’s a really good musician and a great lyricist. Also, his concerts are really fun.

I got some photos, but most of them turned out pretty crappy because the music was so loud, it threw off the focus/image stabilization on my phone’s camera, so I got one decent photo (with silhouetted heads in front of me) and a video of AM riding a giant sun floaty through the crowd.

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The concert was an awesome experience, and honestly my first live concert in about 12 years (my last one was seeing Imogen Heap live, which was also amazing). It was a standing-only concert though, and for this middle-aged woman with chronic pain issues, that was not the most pleasant thing in the world. But my body handled it better than I expected it to, and I was able to stand for almost the entire time, with just a short sit-on-the-floor session between Grizfolk’s and Flor’s sets.

California, Here I Come!

The day after the concert, while I was still massaging my aching calf muscles, I got an email from ARC, the organization that organizes the theopoetics conference each year, that my workshop proposal had been accepted! They were inviting me to come to California to teach a workshop on found poetry! I cannot even explain how honored and humbled I was and still am.

My workshop is called, “Redeeming Logos: Finding Poetry in Discarded Words.” I’m really really excited to be presenting this, and I will bring some of my own pieces to have on display as examples, including pieces from the Goodbye Brutal Romance series. I will walk through blackout/erasure poetry and découpé/cut-out poetry, both of which I have done, and participants will be able to make their own poetry piece(s) during the workshop.

If you live in or around Oakland (or anywhere else!) and are interested in attending the conference—where there will be many other amazing artists, musicians, creatives, spoken word poets, authors, and more to share their talents and expertise—then click here for more information on how you can come and participate.

This has been one of the most amazing weeks of my life so far. I know that probably sounds super dramatic, but to be honored in such a way, to realize that you are fully in the place where God wants you to be… This is not something to take lightly. I am so incredibly grateful that God has called me into a community of people who recognize the gifts and talents God has given me and who spur me on to use them and take risks, even when I didn’t plan to or when they are uncomfortable.

I hope you are as blessed with such a community.



Star Wars, Seminary, Autumn, and Apple Dumplings

(Thanks to my dear friend, Mandi Franks, this post is a guest post on her blog, I Speak Food. Please take a moment to go check out her page if you love food!)


Classes have officially started.

I may already be a teensy bit behind in my readings because of missing out on 4 days over Labor Day Weekend to travel out to South Carolina with my kids for a joint cousin Star Wars-themed birthday party. As I was the only adult in the car, I had to drive out and back (so couldn't read in the car) and I was in charge of games and the photo booth, for which I chose to do a green screen so I could put the kids into scenes from the Star Wars movies. The kids had a blast. I had anxiety.

Haha.

But seriously.

Yesterday I spent the day resting and taking care of myself but also reading like crazy because you know. School. I am adoring Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. There is so much richness in it, and I love her voice! I'm also really enjoying one of the texts for my theology class—Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel L. Migliore. It's highly readable and flows really well, which is great for getting back into school reading after 12 years in the real world. (**These links are NOT affiliate links. I will not receive anything if you decide to purchase the books from these links. I just wanted to share because I love them so much.**)

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I love school, and I love September, because September always brings up the idea that it should be fall. But I live in the south. So basically September and early October are like second summer. But I still feel academic and fall-ish when September hits. And a classic fall-ish thing is my Grandma Norma's apple dumplings.

I grew up with my grandma's apple dumplings. They were an awesome treat anytime of the year, but especially during the fall, when apples were ripening and falling from their trees, and the leaves were changing, and the wind was growing chilly. We loved to have an apple dumpling warm in a bowl of milk for breakfast. I remember many occasions sitting at her breakfast bar in her little kitchen, swinging my legs and savoring her delicious apple dumplings.

So naturally, every fall, I find myself in the mood for apple dumplings.

There are just two problems with this: 

  1. My grandma is no longer around to make them for me.
  2. Her recipe, which we have record of in the Scott Family Cookbook, is, well...vague. And. Well, look:
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So last year, I set about experimenting to see if I could replicate her apple dumplings. And I am happy to say that I did! So I wanted to share this delectable recipe, forever immortalizing this tiny memory of my Grandma Norma on the internet. I've already had some people try out the recipe and they said it was delicious. So here you go.

Grandma Norma's Apple Dumplings

Ingredients:

  • Betty Crocker pie crust mix—one box makes 4-6 dumplings (depending on how thick you roll the dough/how big you make each dumpling)
  • McIntosh apples—peeled and sliced (I prefer McIntosh, because they are my favorite. But you can substitute whatever variety of apple you like.)
  • Butter
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Milk

Directions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 400
2. Mix dough per box instructions
3. Roll out dough and cut into squares of approx. 6”x6”
4. Place approx. 4-5 apple slices in middle of square

Steps 3-7

Steps 3-7

5. Add 1-2 pats of butter per dumpling
6. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon (amt. per your preference) on top of butter and apples
7. Fold corners over toward middle and seal around apple goodness
8. Place dumplings on oiled/floured cookie sheet
9. Once your dumplings are on the cookie sheet, brush them with milk and top with a sprinkling of large granulated sugar
10. Bake approximately 20 minutes or until tops start to brown

Steps 8-9

Steps 8-9

Steps 8-9

Steps 8-9

Step 10—Done!

Step 10—Done!

Step 10. Look at how delicious that looks!

Step 10. Look at how delicious that looks!

Saving some for later.

Saving some for later.

Grandma always liked to serve these warm, in a bowl, with some milk poured over them. That's the classic way we always enjoyed them, and they were often a delicious, delightful breakfast on chilly mornings.

This is now my preferred way to serve them: a little milk, some whipped cream, and a cup of coffee or tea. Yum!

You can't go wrong with some whipped cream.

You can't go wrong with some whipped cream.

If you decide to try this recipe, please let me know in the comments how they turned out for you and how you like my Grandma's apple dumplings! I hope they help you feel a little more autumnal, wherever you may be.

Crazy Days of Summer

Oh, where to begin.

I know it's been a while. Several months. The spring and summer have been so full of both goodness and difficult things, though the goodness definitely outweighs the shadows.

From the day school ended for my kids in May, our summer was full speed ahead. We left the day after school ended to head out to South Carolina to visit family—we got to celebrate my niece Fiona's End of Chemo party! That was a huge and ridiculously beautiful celebration, let me tell you. We cheered her on as Make-A-Wish made her wish come true of being a cowgirl on a dude ranch out in Wyoming, complete with all the adorable cowgirl gear.

We had fun with VBS this summer. The kids got to do two different VBS's, and we parents got to assist with one. (I also had severe vertigo during the week of VBS that I helped with, so that was super fun. I won't go into details but things were a little...shifty that week. Har har.)

We spent a week in Pennsylvania visiting my grandma and aunts in July. That trip was, for me at least, very much a pilgrimage. I could write an entire post just on that trip (in fact, I did last month, but my power went out in the middle of writing in and I foolishly hadn't saved my post, so down the internet drain it went. I just took it to mean that perhaps it was such a deeply moving experience for me that it was meant for me, so I decided to leave it that way). But here are a few photos (all images in gallery © Amy Lutes, 2018) from the places where I grew up that hold deep spiritual meaning for me from my formative years, and some lyrics that were sticking in my brain the entire time I was up there:

 
I have returned to that part of the country
That I knew as a child
Here I’ve spent time on top of
a rugged high mountain
Overlooking the southwest wild

Now the season of prayer is finished
Now the season of fasting is done
Now the season of waiting is over
My journey has begun
— Iona, "Brendan's Voyage (Navigatio)"
 

Upon our return home, we had to deal with a dead HVAC unit in our house and the grueling temps of high summer that pervaded the inside of the house. Often, it was cooler outside than inside, until we finally got the unit replaced. No a/c during the summer in the south? NO THANK YOU. But hopefully all shall be well now that we have a brand new unit to take us through the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

Through all of the ups and downs and heres and theres of this summer, though, I've been steadily working on making sure all of my paperwork is done and everything is set up for me to begin seminary later this month. So all my enrollment fees, online registration for classes, emailing professors for syllabi, and attending the on-campus new student orientation last weekend have been steps in my journey toward, well, beginning the journey, I suppose. But I now have almost all of my required texts, and I'm eager to get started. I'm planning to keep a journal of sorts, here on my blog, for my journey through seminary. Right now I'm just in the certificate program for Theopoetics and the Theological Imagination at Bethany Theological Seminary. But I feel confident that this will eventually lead to my getting an MDiv. I'm still not entirely sure exactly what shape the ministry God is calling me to will take. But I do know that poetry will play a large part of it, and I'm really looking forward to eventually digging into the Hebrew language and studying ancient prophetic and poetic structure.

Stay tuned here, and I promise to try to update at least once a week as I go through classes and learn all the new things. And if you're still on summer break, I hope your summer ends spectacularly and your transition into the new school year is smooth and unmessy.

The Habit of Social Media vs. the Practice of Journaling

Here is the truth of things: I do not have it all together.

Somehow, over the years, the internet has changed and morphed into this place that makes us think we have to live perfect-looking lives. Everything has to be Instagrammable, from your food to your living room to your kids to your "I woke up like this" groggy bedhead peering over your morning coffee. Everything has to be posed and set up for the perfect shot. Even your words.

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But of course, nobody's life is perfect, really. And when you get to an average white, middle-class mom of two who deals with health issues, of course it's not perfect. That's why I don't post photos of my living room. Or dining room. Or really anywhere inside the house. Or my backyard. Oy.

But we feel this pressure that anything you post or share has to be RIGHT because once it hits the interwebs, you can never NEVER take it back. It will always exist somewhere in the ether, so it might as well be perfect.

And so it is that I have found myself unable to journal. In any form. When I was younger, I kept journals all the time. One of my favorite entries was written in a cab from Johnson City, TN to Asheville, NC after my parents' car broke down while we were visiting a college. I wrote page after page describing our crazy cab driver in intense detail, from the way his hair stuck out on one side too his intriguing speech patterns and driving abilities.

I brought my journals to college, where I would sit beside a peaceful little (man-made) stream, talking to God and waxing poetic, marking the page with a small flower or leaf plucked from a nearby patch of earth.

Eventually, I took my journaling to the internet, when my cousin introduced me to LiveJournal. Oh I loved LiveJournal. I loved how I could pour out my soul and share it publicly or keep it private if I wanted to. I met some friends in the LiveJournal community that I'm still friends with to this day.

And then there was a shift.

It was called Facebook.

In 2006, my sister wanted to show me a photo of some hot guy on her campus, and she sent me a link so I could see how worthy of her everlasting love he was.

"I can't see the picture. The link says I have to log in."

"Oh," she said. "Yeah, I guess you have to create an account. It's okay though, it's free."

This was back in the days when Facebook was only for college students, so I had to enter in my school info (thankfully, you know, I quit college the first time 'round and so I delayed my graduation by a few years and was back in school at the time). And voila! I had a Facebook account.

And oh, the journey since then.

You see, Facebook quickly became THE place to be. Back in those days, I was a MySpacer, which was my first introduction to social media as we would recognize it today. I've always been a little slow to jump on bandwagons, so it took me a few years of having an account with this weird Facebook contraption before I started really using it. (Eventually I deleted my MySpace account.)

But once I started sharing everylittledetailaboutmylife on Facebook, it was sort of a snowball effect.

Facebook statuses became my journaling. I word-vomited to the world about what I was eating, where I was going, and eventually the funny things my kids were saying and doing. I posted photos, memes, links to videos and articles, and more. I interacted. I joined groups. I made life-long, true friendships. (See? Social media isn't ALL bad.)

And you know what? I still do ALL of that. All of it. Even today.

But something is missing. And I think it's the private, slow, handwritten daily practice of journaling.

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There's something magical, alchemical even, about forming words onto a page with the touch of your fingers. I say alchemical, because it's transformative. The base metal of your soul changes into something more pure when you unload your thoughts, ideas, worries, and joys onto a page that is always silently waiting to hear you. And it's different than just typing 90 words per minute at a computer screen. (Which, don't get me wrong, I really love doing. I can type without looking. I can hold conversations and type out pieces of a book I'm working on.) But that's almost mindless. And I think that the point of writing in a journal, slowly, by hand, so that your muscles feel each word they shape, is that it is mindful.

When you have to think about how much space you have on a page, how big your writing is, how much writing you want to do, you are more mindful of what you say. Even writing something as simple as, "This morning: tea, Earl Grey, hot. Cardinal and blue jay on my deck banister, probably fighting over a worm. Their song is beautiful. Something about the way the sun was shining on the wood floor set my soul at ease," can be so deeply meaningful. Capturing the little moments, engraved in your own handwriting... Like I said before, it's alchemical.

So this year, I'm trying to get back to journaling. I want to make a practice of it. Not a habit. I believe there is a stark difference between a habit and a practice. Again, I think it comes down to intention. The point of forming a habit is so that it becomes second-nature, and you can do it without thinking. Like taking out the garbage on your way to work every morning. But a practice...now, that is something else entirely, something that requires forethought and effort and intention.

So I'm going to focus more on practices than habits this year, starting with journaling.

Have you ever kept a journal? How do you journal—traditional handwritten journaling, or art journaling? Or something else? Share your tips on keeping up a journaling practice in the comments!

The Journey Begins...Again

A long time ago—almost ten years now, actually—I wrote on my old LiveJournal blog, "God has called me into ministry." I didn't know exactly what that meant back then, and from my perspective now, ten years later, I can see how I was already trying to reframe what God wanted me to do.

I believe that call was inspired by the struggles I was going through as a new child-loss mother. Less than a month prior to that statement, our first child, Genesis Aria Lutes, was born 3.5 months too early to be able to survive, even with the help of neonatologists. To say it was a hard loss would be an understatement. It was the moment that completely changed the trajectory of my life.

The years following that realization and statement took me down a winding road that included more loss in the form of miscarriages, losing friends, and yes, even losing faith to an extent. It also included research, and hope, and dreaming, and ideas, and about twenty different graduate degree programs I was convinced I would someday be part of. There was volunteer work, and creating a community learning center that never really took off, and having two children who did survive, and quitting my day job so I could be a mommy—and also so that I could heal from all the physical trauma that came with high-risk pregnancies and subsequent botched surgeries. There were a lot of struggles, and a lot of tears. There were friends made and lost, and some who became closer than family, and remain so to this day. There were church issues, betrayal, pain, and angst at God.

And through all of this, God still walked right alongside me. Probably at times doing that nice Jesus facepalm I'm sure you've seen around the internet. I know at least one of my friends has probably done this on the other end of our online conversations (or mentally when face-to-face) whenever I shared something "new" that was really a revelation of 10 years ago. So I wouldn't be surprised if Jesus has done this with me too.

This image originally found here: http://www.city-data.com/forum/atheism-agnosticism/1878932-what-do-atheist-think-jesus-christ-6.html

This image originally found here: http://www.city-data.com/forum/atheism-agnosticism/1878932-what-do-atheist-think-jesus-christ-6.html

For all of these years that I was trying to find my place, and work out my faith, I felt deep in my spirit that God wanted to have a Conversation with me. I capitalized that, because I knew that it would be The Mother of All Conversations, if you know what I mean. And if you don't, I mean, it would be The Call. The Call Into Ministry. The Call Into Ministry Where God Directs Your Every Move And You Go Where God Tells You To Go And Say What God Wants You To Say Conversation.

And I just would not have it.

"Oh, I know what you want to say, God, but I think what you really mean is that I can just be a lay minister and help out in the local church."

"Oh, I know what you want to say, God, but surely you mean that I can still pursue my previous academic interests and my ministry would be to my college students once I have my PhD."

"Oh, I know what you want to say, God, but I think you'll see that I'm very not equipped to do just that so I'll do this little thing over here and we'll just call it even."

And then there were times when I was just like:

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But gradually, I felt my spirit softening, loosening its grip on what it thought God should tell me. I became more flexible, pliable, and eventually I metaphorically lowered my hands from their defensive stance.

And on December 24th, 2017, during a sermon I found quite dry and frankly messy, at a church that was not our own, while my brain went off on a tangent haughtily imagining how I would explain things differently, God broke into my thoughts and spoke.

 

"You will be ordained. You are going into the ministry. I will heal your rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimoto's, and I will give you the strength and stamina you will need to do all I am calling you to do."

 

I sat up straighter and looked around. Was it just in my head? Was it really, really God that just spoke that to me?

I immediately thought like Gideon and after the service told my husband and my friend, "I need a sign. I need to know this was God that spoke." But I didn't tell them what God said.

Didn't matter. They already knew. Because apparently everyone has known, for the past ten years, that God was calling me into the ministry. Everyone except me, maybe. Apparently. Probably.

 
Everybody always seems to know my secrets before I know them myself.
— Katniss, Catching Fire
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So. Here we are, in the middle of January, and snow is falling, and for the past couple weeks I have been consumed with stepping into this new thing, this new identity. And maybe it's not a new identity, maybe it's just a full recognition of who I've always been from the start: a child of God with a voice and a lot of love to give.

So here's to the beginning of the journey. Again. Ten years later. I've finally spiraled back 'round to my starting point, with maybe a little more maturity on this side of things. Hopefully I'll recognize the path fully this time around and keep my feet moving in the right direction.