A poem to read on a vocational journey

This week in Current (West End UMC’s Wednesday night programing) we are talking about Vocation. I am interviewing two people I respect highly about their own vocational journey.

Last week I posted about my own musings on vocation. This week my mentor, Michael Williams, sent me this poem and in the email he wrote, “It came as a gift to me and I pass it along as a gift to you.” It is a gift to me a beautiful interpretation of the story of Jonah and the many ways I both miss and live into my calling.

Prophet
by Carl Dennis

You’ll never be much of a prophet if, when the call comes
To preach to Nineveh, you flee on the ship for Tarshish
That Jonah fled on, afraid like him of the people’s outrage
Were they to hear the edict that in thirty days
Their city in all its glory will be overthrown.

The sea storm that harried Jonah won’t harry you.
No big fish will be waiting to swallow you whole
And keep you down in the dark till your mood
Shifts from fear to thankfulness and you want to serve.
No. You’ll land safe at Tarshish and learn the language
And get a job in a countinghouse by the harbor
And marry and raise a family you can be proud of
In a neighborhood not too rowdy for comfort.

If you’re going to be a prophet, you must listen the first time.
Setting off at sunrise, you can’t be disheartened
If you arrive at Nineveh long past midnight,
On foot, your donkey having run off with your baggage.
You’ll have to settle for a room in the cheapest hotel
And toss all night on the lice-ridden mattress

That Jonah is spared. In the space of three sentences
He jumps from his donkey, speaks out, and is heeded, while you,
Preaching next day in the rain on a noisy corner,
Are likely to be ignored, outshouted by old-clothes dealers
And fishwives, mocked by schoolboys for your accent.
And then it’s a week in jail for disturbing the peace.
There you’ll have time, as you sit in a dungeon
Darker than a whale’s belly, to ask if the trip
Is a big mistake, the heavenly voice mere mood,

The mission a fancy. Jonah’s biggest complaint
Is that God, when the people repent and ask forgiveness,
Is glad to forgive them and cancels the doomsday
Specified in the prophecy, leaving his prophet
To look like a fool. So God takes time to explain
How it’s wrong to want a city like this one to burn,
How a prophet’s supposed to redeem the future,
Not predict it. But you’ll be left with the question
Why your city’s been spared when nobody’s different,

Nobody in the soup kitchen you open,
Though one or two of the hungriest
May be grateful enough for the soup to listen
When you talk about turning their lives around.
It will be hard to believe these are the saving remnant
Kin to the ten just men that would have sufficed
To save Gomorrah if Abraham could have found them.
You’ll have to tell them frankly you can’t explain
Why Nineveh is still standing though you hope to learn
At the feet of a prophet who for all you know
May be turning his donkey toward Nineveh even now.

My favorite lines: “How a prophet’s supposed to redeem the future, Not predict it. But you’ll be left with the question Why your city’s been spared when nobody’s different,” How I love that this poem challenges my indifference as much as it does the indifference of my city!! I look forward to the conversation tonight and hope we will unearth some of the challenges of the journey as much as joys.

Going to Uganda

I am not quite sure when I fell in love with Uganda.  I know that it was WAY before I ever heard the words, “Invisible Children” or “ONE Campaign.”  Although these are excellent organizations, they put Uganda on the map in a way that emphasizes the hurt and the pain of the region.  I fell in love with the hope and joy, specifically through the music of Uganda.  While at FSU I earned a World Music Certificate, which allowed me to take a course in African music, and to participate in an African music and dance ensemble at FSU.  Ugandan ethnomusicologist Damascus Kafumbe, who taught he how to play a Ugandan bowl-lyre called (e)ndongo, challenged me to dig deeper in my understanding of how Ugandan women relate with music in religious contexts.

Music possesses the ability to heal, empower, connect, and guide its performers and listeners.  Music frequently engages these abilities in religious practices.  I combined all of my deepest interests into a seven week project in Kampala, Uganda for this summer.  I wrote for an “Imagination Grant” with Vanderbilt Divinity School and they are funding part of my trip this summer.  You know, the money is amazing… but what really makes me excited is that the committee is willing to invest in a project of my combined passions!

The central purpose of this project is to explore women’s leadership and liberation in the Christian church through music and dance practice in Kampala, Uganda.  Much has been written about women’s empowerment in Uganda. [1] The power dynamics have been clearly defined as women suffering from forced polygamous relationships, verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, as well as a lack of power in political and family systems.[2] Many have blamed the church as enforcing powerlessness on women in the name of God. [3] Yet there are also examples of women through the church reforming political and cultural norms, in addition to gaining options for economic independence and wider access to education.[4]

Music is inherently powerful due to the importance it plays in Ugandan culture and is not narrowly defined as just song, but also frequently encompasses dance, drama, and proclamation. Recent studies on music and women in Uganda and east Africa describe music’s value as a tool to educate health practices, [5] cope with domestic labor,[6] testify to deliverance,[7] entertain, [8] build community,[9] and employ the power of cultural performance to encourage liberation.[10] In these settings and others, music communicates ideas and messages that are not always spoken but are culturally or intrinsically known.

This summer I hope to:

1.)   Build relationship with and hear the stories of women musicians in the church
2.)   Analyze the role music plays in the church and society
3.)   Observe the use of music in various religious contexts
4.)   Identify the historical, cultural, theological, and political implications of woman’s leadership in the church in Kampala, Uganda
5.)   Identify explicit and intrinsic women’s issues
6.)   Observe the global church

When I get home, I hope to create a curriculum for the church to discuss the theological implications of women’s performance practices in Uganda.  This curriculum could include themes of vocation, calling, ordination, lay leadership, gift, and blessing.

I am in contact with the President of the United Methodist Women, in the East African Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She is arranging most of my trip, including the opportunity to meet with women’s groups, choirs, and economic partnerships in Kampala and Jinja.

I leave June 20th.  I covet your prayers as I take this trip of a lifetime.  I know that God is going to change and challenge me in powerful ways.  In the words Nouwen I see this journey as “a way in which I am saying, ‘yes’ to God’s call to, ‘Come follow me.'”.[11]  I am hoping to become more in rhythm and pitch with God’s tempo and melody.

I will be updating my blog with experiences, thoughts, and reflections!


[1] Aili Mari Tripp, Women and Politics in Uganda (Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2000).

[2] Tinyiko Sam Maluleke and Sarojini Nadar, “Overcoming Violence against Women and Children,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 114 (2002).

[3] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[4] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993).

[5] Gregory F. Barz, Singing for Life: Hiv/Aids and Music in Uganda (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[6] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993)..

[7] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[8] Lovemore Togarasei, “The Implications of the Dominance of Women in the Zimbabwean Music Industry for the Ordination of Women,” Scriptura 86 (2004).

[9] Karen Ralls and Graham Harvey, Indigenous Religious Musics (Aldershot; Burlington; Singapore; Sydney: Ashgate, 2000).

[10] Carol Ann Weaver, “Kenyan Women’s Music : An Agent of Social, Cultural Change?,” Conrad Grebel Review 12, no. (1994).

[11] Henri J. M. Nouwen, “The road to daybreak: a spiritual journey,” Darton, Longman & Todd, (1997).