A Worldview, Ever Changing: Serra Barrett

serraThis month’s contributor, NazToo’s Serra Barrett, is a writer, actor, director, and teaching artist in the Central Ohio area. She lives in Mount Vernon with her husband Jeremy and three beautiful children. She is currently working on earning her Master’s in Theatre. Serra is an amateur foodie and loves to experiment in the kitchen. She also believes that coffee is life. Her house is usually a mess because she is busy doing homework or making dinner.

As I have been pondering what to share with all of Naztoo these last few weeks, I have thought a lot about what I should say! When a writer is given the prompt: “write about whatever you want,” it is both a blessing and a curse. I tossed many ideas around and quickly discarded most. But I think I have settled on something you haven’t heard before, but that will feel familiar to you. It’s my story.

This is a paper I recently wrote as part of my Master’s studies at Regent University. I was asked what my worldview is, and that question took me back through my life to explore the events that have formed me; the experiences that have broken me and remade me again. I left the citations because I am, at heart, part English teacher so forgive me if they are distracting. Thanks for reading.

I remember the first time I became aware that I had my own worldview. I was in high school, at an international youth retreat with my church. It was the first night of Nazarene Youth Conference, 1999 and I was there with thousands of other Nazarene high school students from around the globe. It was an electric night, with the best worship band I’d ever heard, and a speaker who held the attention of every person in that stadium. But by the end of his talk, I found myself searching my heart over the challenge he had laid before us: “What is your worldview? How does following Christ shape how you see the world and those around you?” I had never before considered how or why I viewed things the way that I did. I was always striving to live a Christian life and love others, but I was less than aware of where my perceptions came from, or how they had been shaped. This realization led me on a journey that I am still on today, nearly twenty years later.

As I began to explore my worldview for the first time as a high school senior, I considered my roots: both of my parents had been raised in parsonages and moved around their whole lives. Because of that, we moved into a house when I was three and there we stayed for twenty-five years. The stability of my parents’ relationship and the knowledge of the multi-generational Christian heritage I came from were probably the two biggest influences on my worldview as a teen and young adult. I believed that most people were good, that hard work was the way to achieve what I wanted out of life, and that the noblest goal a person could have was saving souls for the Kingdom. My worldview drove me to attend Mount Vernon Nazarene University, study music, and seek a career in ministry.

But life has a way of taking a naïve, bright-eyed youth with all her grandiose ideas and leaving behind a disillusioned, weatherworn woman in its wake. I soon found that ministry was harder than it looked, people were unreliable and deeply flawed, (in and out of the church), and God didn’t always show up for me in the ways I thought he should. Because of the road I’ve walked, these days I am just as likely to be praying fervently as I am to be questioning everything I ever thought I knew. And while that may sound extreme or paradoxical, holding these two practices together in dynamic tension has brought me to a deeper faith than I have ever known before.

Eight years ago, I went through the darkest time in my life. I had recently left a position leading worship at a church without another job lined up, I had suffered a devastating miscarriage, we were struggling to pay the bills, and I was completely removed from the church community in which I had grown up. Even though I had a supportive husband and two healthy children, I was angry with God for allowing me to dream of a future that now seemed unreachable. I reached bottom when I realized I wasn’t even sure there was a god to be angry with at all. My worldview, which had been firmly rooted in my faith, fell apart. And I was in no hurry to rebuild.

For about a year I drank and ate whatever I could get my hands on, avoiding at all costs anything that had to do with religion, spirituality, or self-awareness. Looking back, I truly believe I was a functioning alcoholic during those dark days. At this point in my life, I did not care what my worldview was. I did not care about myself or my future. Of course, deep down I really did care; I just could not yet face the unanswered questions I had about it all. If anyone had asked me then, I would’ve said my worldview was simple: live and let live; forget about trying to please some divine power that probably does not even exist. But God was working on my heart, even then.

In the spring of 2012 we found a new church home that seemed to be a good fit for us. I was still questioning everything, but because this church and pastor welcomed my questions and doubts, I kept going back. Through my questions, I found myself drawn back to God. He was there, in the bible stories I had known since childhood. These stories tell us of unreliable and deeply flawed characters who still experienced the grace of God in their lives. They remind us how to live with hope in the midst of our struggles, and they show us how to love.

As I found myself discovering my faith anew, my worldview came into focus once again, but changed from what it once was. I no longer viewed the world through the rose-colored glasses of youth, but instead saw it in its messy, imperfect, beautiful state; worth saving, and worth loving. I saw that for myself and for others, there is hope and promise in trusting God, as Paul says in Romans:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-9, NIV).

Viewing others and myself in light of this passage guides my thoughts, my relationships, and my goals. It allows me to pursue relationships without ulterior motives, and to forgive myself when I fall short.

These days, my worldview is also shaped profoundly by motherhood. Having three lives dependent on me lends a responsibility, not just to my own children, but also to the children and citizens of the world. Becoming a mother taught me how we are all responsible to each other. As Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” (O’Connell, 2018). This idea that we belong to each other has become central to how I look at the world. We owe it to each other to love well, to be good stewards, and to seek justice. We cannot qualify life by making judgments on who is allowed into the Kingdom and who is not. Our only job is to be conduits of God’s love to those that need it most: the widow, the orphan, and the outcast.

Lastly, my current worldview is shaped by my aesthetic as an artist. When I look at the world, I see a place that needs great stories, great interpretations of myth, and creative presentations of truth. As humans, we are drawn to story, and I would say, we need it. Story defines us: the stories we hear, the stories we tell, and the ones we pass from generation to generation. I am thankful to be attending a program that agrees with me. I was happy to read that Regent University’s Department of Performing Arts and Music believes “…that we are called to tell stories both descriptive and prescriptive in nature” (Regent.edu, 2018). I believe that telling stories is innate to being human, and beyond that, telling stories is how we can know God.

Based on my worldview, I believe it is my calling as a Christian artist to tell stories. Stories from my unique point of view that encompass the truth of who we are, and call us forward to be who we are meant to be. A good story, well told, can have “characters… more ‘real’ than people… [and] a fictional world more profound than the concrete” (McKee 21). In story, we can get to the core of who we really are, and who we want to be.

Works Cited

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Zondervan, 2017.

McKee, R. (1999). Story. London: Methuen, p.21.

O’Connell, C. (2018). 12 Mother Teresa Quotes to Live By | Reader’s Digest. [online] Reader’s Digest. Available at: https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/mother-teresa-quotes/ [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

Regent.edu. (2018). Regent​ ​University College​ ​of​ ​Arts​ ​&​ ​Sciences School​ ​of​ ​Communication​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Arts Department Handbook. [online] Available at: https://www.regent.edu/acad/schcom/docs/theatre/forms/Departmental_Handbook_FALL_2017.pdf [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

 

 

 

The Chilly Light of Epiphany: Mitchel Modine

Our first blog post of 2019 comes to us from Mitchel Modine, a charter member of NazToo. He and his wife Marnie, a native of the Philippines, serve as missionaries for the Church of the Nazarene. Mitch is Professor of Old Testament at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary near Manila. Marnie is currently the Asia-Pacific Regional Secretary for the Church of the Nazarene. They met on the seminary campus after Mitch arrived in 2008, and will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary on 7 July 2019.

When Steve Fountain first asked me to do this a year ago, I was in the middle of several writing projects, but I still thought I would be able to do this in time. Over the next few months, I scratched out a few thoughts here and there, but did not really get a lot going. In April, I talked to Steve again, and I told him I was making good progress. He kidded me that I was too early; at that time, my post was scheduled for October. Steve wrote me again in September asking if I could delay publication a few months, and I said it was no problem, because my post was not season-specific. (At that time, it was not, but now, as you will see, it is.) So, I put it on the back burner while I worked on the other thing that is due—was due—in December, which still is not done when I am writing this, but it will be, I think, I hope, I pray.

Unless a loved one is a writer, or you yourself are a writer, I suspect you do not really care about the process. Nevertheless, I went through a number of different drafts before I finally settled on what you see before you. None of them made me particularly happy, so my thoughts returned every so often to this post and I became a little more anxious about it, even as my anxiety over the other project increased apace. As late as the middle of December, I was left without anything, and now the deadline was looming closer. In the other December 31-due date project, I finally figured out a good plan and started working on it in earnest a few days into December, but for this I had nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. I was in the dark. I had no light. I had no idea what I was going to do, until…

Until a friend of mine posted a yearly retrospective thing on Facebook. I didn’t see it until the morning of December 12, but he wrote it on the evening of December 10 from his home near Philadelphia. This friend is someone I knew in graduate school. He was a few years ahead of me and on the “other side” of the Biblical Studies Area: New Testament. A bit of background on him is necessary. He was raised in the Restorationist Movement (Church of Christ), and had actually studied for pastoral ministry before turning his attention to serious academic study of early Christianity. In a way, his story mirrors mine: I also had been preparing to be a pastor, and changed focus toward pursuing a PhD in Old Testament while in seminary. When we were in school together, he called himself a “committed secularist,” meaning he had left Christianity and religion altogether. Some years after I came to Manila, I learned that he had converted to Judaism and I remember being so happy that my friend had returned to faith. This point should not be missed: I am happy that my friend returned to faith, and my friendship with him is not at all dependent on what faith he returned to.

Anyway, at the time of writing, my friend had just completed the Festival of Hannukah, the Festival of Lights. He wrote a long post about friends, those whom he has seen recently and those whom he has missed seeing for some time. He included a delightful phrase that set me ablaze: a nice metaphor for Hannukah if ever there was. Come to think of it, it’s also a good metaphor for Advent. They usually occur around the same time, of course. He wrote: “If you’ve celebrated Hannukah, I hope you’ve left the table full. If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.”

The chilly dark of Advent.

Every now and again, I read a phrase that really takes my breath away. I read a lot—this comes with the territory of being an academic—and like many I make copious notes in the margins of print books. One of my common marks to make in a book is to underline a nice turn of phrase or particularly apt metaphor or vivid image and write, in the margin, GQ, my shorthand for “Great Quote.” I usually then forget about whatever it was that caused me to call that quote great. If I happen to pick up that book again, I linger over these GQs, only to forget them again once I turn my attention to something else. But, on occasion, one such GQ sticks with me, and I suspect that it will continue to arrest my attention, especially whenever the thing it was associated with happens again, whether or not I again pick up the book where I first read and marked the thing.

I am convinced “the chilly dark of Advent” will be one of those phrases that will never leave me. I doubt I will ever read my friend’s Facebook post again: a testament to the impermanence of that medium, even less substantial than an e-book (to which, incidentally, I do not typically add many comments). Though I did screenshot his entire post, I might not even keep those pictures (it required two). But the phrase will stay with me. The chilly dark of Advent. “If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.”

The chilly dark of Advent. “If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.” Where I live, it never gets chilly. Though some places in the Philippines like Baguio City in the northern mountains do get rather cold, in Manila the temperature almost never falls below 25 C (77 F), and for eight or nine months in the year it is typically much hotter than that, and oppressively humid besides. It also does not seem any darker here during this season than it does other times of the year. The Philippines does not observe “summer time” or “daylight savings time” or whatever one may call it. Also, because Manila is only 15 degrees north of the equator, the times of sunrise and sunset vary as little as a half-hour one way or the other all year long.

Nevertheless, every year I and all of the Christian world experience “the chilly dark of Advent.” Aside from my friend’s delightful phrase, I find his acknowledgment of other religious traditions and their special days heartwarming. He ended his post by saying that he would see us on the other side of Solstice, which is yet another nod to the divergent ways people mark the time. I once reposted a meme which suggested that one should say “Happy Holidays” because, in this time of the year, some x number of religious traditions celebrate y number of holidays and “mine aren’t the only ones that matter.” I got some pushback from expected quarters on that, but I still think it is right.

The chilly dark of Advent. As the candles get lit—at the time of writing it is the middle of the Second Week, so just under halfway to go—the darkness increasingly fades away. Advent is chilly and dark, but the lights come in, quietly, slowly, building up to the grand celebration of the Nativity and the lighting of the big white one in the middle, the Christ Candle. The Christian season of Advent mirrors the Festival of Hannukah in that way, though with fewer lights, lit more slowly, and for a different reason. My friend cited the rabbis, who suggested that the point of the miracle is not the light that lasted the whole eight days, but the hope of the first day, when all seemed darkness and grim and hopelessness and death. He wrote: “the holiday is the firm, determined, ‘no,’ spoken by the sound of a match strike in a dark room.” The hope of lighting the lights, whether the lights of Hannukah or the lights of Advent and Nativity and Epiphany, is a defiant shout into the darkness, that the darkness has not overcome the light (John 1:5), and that those who walk in the light, as Jesus is in the light, know the blood of Jesus cleanses them from all sin (1 John 1:7).

I knew very little about the Christian Calendar until I came to seminary. I was, in a phrase I like to use, a “Christmas and Easter Christian.” I intend by this not the usual meaning among pastors: fringe members of the community who only attend on the two most important times of the year. Instead, I take this phrase to mean a more-frequent or even most- or all-Sundays attender, who nevertheless only recognizes those two. I do not count myself among those who sniff at confusing Christmas with Advent, but I do share with them a deep appreciation for the fullness of time, so to speak. Though I am not and never will be involved in pastoral ministry, I enjoy the rhythm of the Christian year, which connects the content of key seasons to the experience of the physical year. For example, Advent, Nativity, and Epiphany together form a complex of principal celebrations during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, it is not cold and snowy everywhere in the world in this time, but this triad does occur in the Winter in Israel, where the events these seasons commemorate took place. The average temperature in Israel during the months of November–January is 15 C (59 F). Snow and cold are often associated with death and dreariness and darkness. Or, in a phrase, chilly dark. The chilly dark of Advent.

“If you’re still in the chilly dark of Advent, I wish you well in your coming celebration.” Now that I have pondered over my friend’s greeting some more, I think if I met him for coffee or some other potable, I would offer him a gentle critique of his wording, on two levels. On the one hand, Advent may begin in the chilly dark (in the North and the West anyway), but it does not end that way. On the other hand, Advent is a preparatory time for the coming celebration, but then it is in its own right a celebration, a growing, slow advance of hope. We experience a waning of the light, as the days grow shorter, closer and closer to the shortest day of the year, ironically just a few days before Nativity. We experience increasingly cold and bitter days, when we would rather stay in yet we cannot because responsibilities do not end even in Winter. But then…

Then we strike a match. Then we say our defiant No! to the dark. To borrow and slightly alter my friend’s words again, the season of Advent “is the firm, determined, ‘no,’ spoken by the sound of a match strike in a dark room.” The lights are lit slowly, painfully slowly, one per week for four long weeks, as the darkness of the short days grows ever deeper. The Advent candles are not the same as the Hannukah candles, and Advent is not the same as Hannukah, but both of them are, in the context of the religious traditions in which they participate, a shout against the dark. The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately—unlike the shout of God into the dark of creation: “Let there be light!” The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately—unlike turning on a light when you enter a dark room. The darkness at creation fled away at the shout of God, and the darkness in a room flees away at the approach of the light: there is no struggle between them; there is no certainly about whether dark or light will prevail. But Advent is a struggle. The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately—unlike the rapidly approaching, suffocating darkness which is Holy Week. Especially in Holy Week, but now in Advent and in Epiphany—when, respectively, the lights are quickly marching out, choked by the darkness; and slowly marching in, invading the darkness—I always try to adopt for myself the same mindset as John Wheelwright in A Prayer for Owen Meany: “I am terrified that, this year, [the Resurrection] won’t happen.” For Advent: maybe, this year, the Baby will be still-born. For Epiphany: maybe, this year, the Wise Ones will report to the king rather than helping to protect the King.

The lights of Advent move slowly, deliberately, until on the Feast of the Nativity we light the big white Christ Candle. Then the Nativity Season has finally begun, running through January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is Christianity’s answer to Hannukah, the festival of the light shining in the darkness. The strike of the match is the sound of hope, hope shouting its defiant No! against the dark. Dylan Thomas wrote to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” but the triad of Winter celebrations—Advent, Nativity, Epiphany—represent the slow, steady, deliberate march of the light into, and against, and over, the darkness. When the lights are all lit, we should leave them lit at least until the Epiphany. For Epiphany is the rage for the dying of the dark. The dark of Winter comes to a shining, flaming, gleaming, radiant end with the Epiphany, also called the Theophany—the revelation of the Christ to the Gentiles. The three seasons go together, inextricably. If they are celebrated separately, their worth is tarnished, and the light is put under a bowl.

The chilly dark of Advent leads into the chilly light of Epiphany: there is still darkness and dreariness and death all about, but the match has been struck. It is still cold and the days are still short, but the darkness and the bleakness do not have the last word. At the Winter Solstice, the days are at their shortest, and immediately begin their inexorable journey toward their highest point six months later at the Summer Solstice. Yet even at this darkest point of the world, we rage against the dying of the light. And we rage for the dying of the dark. This struggle between the light and the dark is part of the rhythm of life, which the Christian Calendar, among other things, recognizes. It reminds me of the despair turned into defiant joy of the hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:”

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

As we journey into the chilly light of Epiphany, may we strike a match in the dark. Life is a struggle: let us rage against the dying of the light, and rage for the dying of the dark.