Skip to main content
Essay

Memphis

By August 10, 2015 2 Comments
Listen To Article

Well, hello again. I’m back after a three month hiatus from The Twelve. Many thanks to those who have been writing in my absence!

I wish I could refer to the past 3 months as a sabbatical, but that would imply that my time away has been somewhat productive or restful. Instead I’ve been occupied and preoccupied with all the tasks of transition. At the end of June, after my husband Jonathan officially finished his Master of Divinity and received his commissioning (ordination) in the United Methodist Church, we moved to Memphis, Tennessee, three hours from our previous home in Nashville. Here Jonathan is solo pastor of a church in the Midtown area of Memphis and I will attempt the feat of writing a dissertation in the next year or so, making frequent trips back to Nashville. We are living in the church’s parsonage, which is about a mile from the church building. I have been in ordained ministry for almost seven years now, but the experience of being a pastor’s wife and living in a parsonage is entirely new. I had expectations about what expectations there would be around how I act/participate/look/dress etc. but I am still trying to sort out what is actually going through the minds of the people who meet me, and what is simply going through my mind about what I assume they think of me. It’s a weird role. Plus, I am not the least bit a Methodist. But here I am, married to one, and trying to wrap my head around what it looks like not only to be a clergy person but to be married to one.

As big as these role transitions are, the geographical one is just as challenging. Memphis is, well, a bit rough around the edges. And rough around most of the other parts. I have never lived in a city where the bulk of advice given to newcomers seems to be related to home security and personal safety. Neighbors compare alarm systems and cameras, and swap stories of burglaries, carjackings, robberies at gunpoint, etc. There is a pervasive sense of imminent threat. “Don’t ever ever leave anything–anything!–in plain sight in your car.” “Don’t ever go to the gas station after dark.” “Never leave your house doors unlocked.” “If you feel like someone is following you home, don’t go home.” “You can get a security system that has a ‘hostage’ code that will phone the police directly!” Etc, etc. Indeed, the crime rates are high and Memphis consistently makes it on to lists of the most dangerous cities in the country. Much of that has to do with the deep and persistent poverty here.

Even though this was an “in-state” move for us, we are in an entirely new regional culture — I nodded profusely when I saw on the recent map of the “11 nations within the US” that while Nashville is in “Greater Appalachia,” Memphis is in the “Deep South.” Yes, the Deep South–the legacy of slavery and segregation feels very potent here. Racial tensions pervade the city’s history and current ethos in ways I hardly yet understand. And it’s a black majority city; about 60% of Memphians are African-American. It’s the city where Martin Luther King Jr.’s life came to a violent end; we live about 5 miles from the Lorraine Motel where he was assassinated on the balcony outside his room in April of 1968. The motel has since been turned into the Civil Rights Museum.

I had a keen sense of entering a different region of the country when last month I stopped for gas off the main highway between Nashville and Memphis. Along with the gas station there was a Country Store, in which plenty of Confederate flags were for sale, but this place took it up a notch. At the checkout was a box containing replica Confederate money– you could buy bills for 49 cents each. The handwritten sign above the box said, “the South will rise again! Be prepared!”

There have been plenty of times in my moves over recent years when I’ve felt myself a stranger in a strange land. I feel it again. And again I am trying to digest the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke to people as they wondered how they had ended up where they were, how long they would be there, and how they should spend their time in this foreign place. Seek the welfare of the city, for in its welfare you will find your welfare, he directs them. Build houses and plant gardens. I don’t know what this Memphian season in our lives will bring, but I hope for the wisdom to live it out well.

2 Comments

  • Jim says:

    Welcome back, Jessica! I’ve heard it said,”The capital of the (Mississippi) Delta is the lobby of the Peabody Hotel.” Feels that way.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Reminds me of the kinds of things people say about safety in Cape Town. Another stage on your pilgrimage, Jessica.

Leave a Reply