One of the hardest writing experiences I’ve ever faced was being asked to name five writings, films, or artistic works that influenced me and to explain how they have helped shape my life.
I thought I would share my answer with each of you:
1) Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple: In Walkers Novel, “The Color Purple” Cecile, a young Black woman, has been praying to God and trying to please God over the course of her life. She comes to believe that God simply doesn’t seem to care. Walker writes, in the voice of Cecile, “All my life I never care what people thought bout nothing I did, I say. But deep in my heart, I care about God. What he is going to think. And come to find out he don’t think.” W hen asked by Cecile what God looks like, Shug replies, “Don’t look like nothing... It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself” This book and these two quotes have primarily played a role in shaping my theology, and personal understanding of my relationship with God. I remember reading this book my junior year in high school and feeling very much like Cecile, in that God did not care about me as a queer person and asking myself why I even cared if God cared about me in the first place. It was not until a few years later that, like Shug, I began to see God in everything. This was not in the image of God that had been ingrained into my mind as a kid growing up in a more conservative presbyterian church, but was, as aforementioned, seeing God in everything. To this day, I am still exploring ideas of God, and I feel like I am learning more and more with every passing day.
2. Kesha’s Song Praying: I have always loved musical icon Kesha’s music. I have heard every song she has written/sung, and I know many of them by heart. In 2017 however, my love for Kesha evolved into something greater than just being a fan of her music.
I saw Kesha as a role model and a great inspiration after hearing the song “Praying” off her 2017 Rainbow Album. From 2012-2016 Kesha had been raped by her then manager. Her song “Praying” speaks to the strength she had to find in herself and from God to overcome. Kesha sings,
“I hope you're somewhere prayin', prayin': I hope your soul is changin', changin' I hope you find your peace: Falling on your knees, prayin': I'm proud of who I am No more monsters, I can breathe again.”
After hearing this song, I came forward as a survivor of sexual assault and joined the MeToo Movement. This song gave me the strength to do so, and to this day brings me to tears when I hear it, but they are good tears, for the song changed my life.
3. Live Theater in general: As I have said, I love live theater and have had many spiritual experiences while watching live productions such as Le Miserable and Dear Even Hanson. Both musicals have powerful ballads that have influenced my life ever since I heard/saw them performed. In Le Mis, the song “I Dreamed a Dream” comes to mind instantly.
I dreamed a dream in times gone by; W hen hope was high and a life worth living I dreamed that love would never die; I dreamed that God would be forgiving Then I was young and unafraid.”
This song, by the female lead, is one of pain and doubt in God, in faith, and humanity. There was a point in my life I felt all the things she sang about on a spiritual, physical, and emotional level, and yet, this song provides me some comfort in those dark times. When it comes to the Musical Dear Even Hanson, the whole show is relevant to my life as it is the tale of loneliness, bullying, mental health challenges, suicide, and suicide prevention. Having my own lived experiences with mental health, this musical hit is relevant to my own life and gave me hope for the future.
4. The work and ministry of the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber: I first learned of the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber in late 2018, and I was instantly hooked on her words and her witness. When her newest book Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, came out, I knew I had to read it, and I did so in 48 hours cover to cover. Then in March of 2019, I had the honor of attending her Shameless book tour in Atlanta, Georgia, and hearing her speak on her book and preach a sermon on sex, self-love, and hope for the future. After her talk and sermon, she personally took questions from the audience, and I was honored to ask her, “What advice would she give me a queer multi-racial person who has been hurt by religion yet is called to ministry”? I will never forget what she said. She looked me in the eyes and said, “Bless you, my friend,” and continued to talk about the love, bravery, and witness that I expressed in asking such a question. She asked the entire gathered community to hold me in love and strength for the journey I was called to take part in. This moment was the first time I had my calling affirmed in a public space, and it helped me see that I was indeed on the right path.
5: Rob Bell’s book, What Is the Bible: Growing up, I was taught that the bible was the word of God and to be taken as such and nothing less. I struggled with this, as many parts of the bible did not make sense to me, nor did I agree with what they said. When I discovered and read this book, my full understanding of the bible changed. I learned how to read it as a set of poems, like history, like letters, and stories. Like the book's cover implies, it did change the way I thought about and viewed everything around me, especially how I read the Bible and what I took away from each passage. I still see parts of the Bible as sacred but do not hold it as being the only sacred book or of the ultimate authority over my life.
And so beloveds, I challenge you now to name your own five writings, films, or artistic works that influenced your life and, if you feel called to do so, to share and explain how they have helped shape your life via social media and to tag me #RoddyBiggsNamingFive or you can comment below. I look forward to seeing and reading what influences each of you. Take care, beloveds, and be in touch if you ever need someone to listen.