Welcome to our third Being Human interview where we highlight one of our creators or collaborators. (You can find the other interviews here.) Our goal with these chats is to offer you a small glimpse into their heart, hear some snippets of their story, and build connections with one another through our shared humanity. Rob Bell likes to say, “The real art is: Can I look far enough inside of you to find me?”
May you discover surprising commonalities, seek to understand, and practice empathy as you read their responses.
With that said, we’d like you to meet Jenna! She lives with her family in Alaska and uses story-telling to teach her kids (and herself) about the world around them. She’s a self-published children’s book author who also has a deep passion for photography, nature, adventuring, her family, and coffee.
Now onto the questions!
What emotions, images, thoughts, or ideas come to you when you hear the phrase “being human”?
The first thing I think of is the forest. Until recently, I never allowed myself the joy of fully connecting with the earth. Without realizing what gave me this notion, I grew up believing that the earth matter was inherently bad. Sue Monk Kidd summarizes it in this passage from her book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter:
Patriarchy has viewed the earth as a fallen creation and matter as inherently evil, and Christians have used and misused scriptures to drive the wedge deeper into the human psyche. ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone love the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world… is not of the Father but is of the world’ (1 John 2:15).
Consequently, in Christianity, nature is not a primary revelation of the divine. Rivers, trees, and stones are not perceived as alive and permeated with spirit but rather as dead matter. The earth, then becomes something to be conquered, subdued, observed, and studied. It becomes a big science project.
Because of all this, we began to think of ourselves as separate from and innately superior to the rest of the planet. We lost the ability to identify with it at deep empathetic levels.
In Christianity this is even further undermined by a sacred intent to transcend the material earth and the flesh of our bodies, as is suggested in a verse from James 1:27: ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: …to keep oneself unstained from the world,’ (RSV).
Lately, my resistance act has been spending more time in nature. Eating from her gardens, feeling the wind hug around my body, constantly studying and wondering at her beauty.
In your evolution and growth as a human – what are 1 or 2 moments that stand out to you as transformative in your perspective on life and/or your relationship with the Divine/God?
I remember being in a worship service once, a few years ago. The worship band was singing the song Cannons by Phil Wickham. A line in the song says, “I’m so unworthy, but still you love me.” I felt a jolt as I sang that. Why am I saying this? I wondered.
After the service, I brought it up with my husband and his parents. My mother-in-law said something that has stuck with me. She nonchalantly said, “Yeah I don’t ever sing those lyrics. I just say ‘I am so worthy, and still you love me,’ and I do that for any worship song that has similar lyrics.” This blew my mind. First of all, we’re allowed to change the lyrics?! But secondly, how simply profound of her. I’ve done the same ever since.
Why do we insist on believing the narrative that we are horrible, awful, unworthy, un-deserving, people? I won’t dive into original sin theology right now (but if you want to, please start by reading Original Blessing by Danielle Shroyer!).
I will say this: humans are neither perfect nor are we completely depraved. We are simply humans. Humans who have the opportunity to do good or bad in every decision we make.
But who we tell ourselves we are is ultimately who we become. And those opportunities to do good or bad will flow out of who we believe we are.
Consider replacing the fallen-nature identity lines:
“I am unworthy.”
“I am undeserving.”
“I am nothing.”
“I am bad.”
“I am a sinner.”
“I am guilty.”
“I am broken.”
“I am weak.”
with truth. As a creation of God, with Christ in you, you are loved, accepted, strong, good, redeemed, worthy, powerful, able, beautiful, divine, creative, and on and on.
What are some of the unique and/or basic contemplative practices that you have in your life?
Our family has one very strong contemplative practice that we’ve done for years. That concept I wrote about above (living in unhealthy identity lies versus believing truth about our inherent goodness), is so important to us. Negative behaviors stem from wrong beliefs about ourselves and God. And identity lies are floating around our minds all the time, just waiting for us to let them take hold and strike.
So our go-to contemplative practice involves grabbing a hold of those lies and replacing them with truth. We do this in a lot of fun, interactive ways with our kids (guys, I’m so passionate about this that I wrote a whole kid’s book about it).
You can find the process that we use on my website.
How does creativity play a role in your spirituality and daily life? How do you keep the artist inside of you awake and alive?
Have you ever noticed that kids are naturally inclined to creativity? They love self-expression whether it’s through art, writing, singing, movement (gymnastics, sports, dancing), building, or another form. But something happens along the way to adulthood, and we shut that part of us off. Somewhere on our journey, we decide that if we aren’t being creative for a job, an income, then we aren’t “a creative” at all. I was always more left-brained growing up – I was really good at math and memorization and facts. So I shut down my right-brain creative side because I assumed we had to be one or the other (how very dualistic of me).
I always secretly wished I was one of the chosen ones – the right-brained artists.
It continued that way into adulthood. I worked mostly as a logistics/admin staff person for years – but what I wanted more than anything was to work with the creative teams. (Also note that I had been a photographer – as in, owned my own successful photography business for years and years at this point in life, and still didn’t consider myself a “creative.” So many lies born from the thief that is comparison).
Eventually, I wrote a children’s book. And even in that process, I felt more left out of the creative world than I had ever felt. My illustrator for that book is an insanely talented illustrator. I am in love and obsessed with the work she did for my story. But I hated that I was the writer and not the illustrator. I wanted so badly to be the creative one!
Anyway, one time someone asked me if they could interview me for their podcast about “creatives” …and I felt like a fraud. Until I pushed through that lie and I finally learned to fully embrace my right-brain as an equal part of my whole brain and allow myself to identify as a sacred creative.
Even if it’s not our career, our job, we are all creative. The freedom I’ve found in that has been so very life-changing. I don’t have a flourishing career based on my painting or photos or writing; but it’s still an integral part of me and my life.
I use words as a way to find my own feelings. Writing has helped me heal, understand, and grow.
The most interesting freedom I’ve found in my creative journey, though, hasn’t been finding God in my own words or art, but being able to see divinity in so much more than I once was able: I can look at a bouquet of flowers, or the teal-blue color of a lake, or a poem, and it hits my soul at such a deep level, that I feel Divine presence.
What are you currently reading and/or listening to that we need to know about?!
I’m reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, and I cannot get over the fact that she wrote this in the 90’s! Loving it so much.
I just finished reading a middle year’s chapter book with my 8-year-old daughter called The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and the layers and layers of meaning in it were incredible. The author packed SO much about family, death, feminism, power, origin, sorrow, etc. all into a beautiful, intricately woven story filled with myth and dragons and witches and adventure. I find a lot of deep meaning in middle year’s and children’s books – they’re my go-to these days.
I’m more or less on a big break from non-fiction (Sue Monk being the exception) because I just got weighed down by it. So my current favorite fictions that I would say are must-reads are Anxious People and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
I’m also in an obsessive poetry phase right now and LOVING Kate Baer and Gideon Heugh. Here’s one of Gideon’s that blew me away:
Up she rose
and straight away
she felt the eyes upon her. She walked in the garden
and it wasn’t just the snake who put his lies upon her.
To exile they went
and without a complaint
she took the weight upon her.
Men wrote the Word and ever since the world has been laying its hate upon her.
Rilke invites us to “Live the questions now.” What questions are you living into these days?
I love this concept. I used to think that questions were bad, and if I was asking questions then maybe my faith wasn’t strong enough, or I wasn’t smart enough.
We just celebrated passover (and, consequently, Easter as well), and so many questions arose in my soul but also from my children’s mouths.
Why would God kill someone’s first born child? Why did God part the sea for the Israelites but drown the Egyptians? Why did Jesus die? How do we spend our lives focusing so much on Jesus’ words “my body, broken for you” without ever relating it to the feminine strength and beauty of motherhood, where our bodies are literally broken and poured out for our children? (Ok, that last question was mine, not my kids’).
I’m slowly starting to change my thinking about some of those questions. Where I once was ingrained to believe that “Jesus had to die for my sins, He was a chosen sacrifice – to appease God’s wrath on humanity,” I’m now replacing with layers of unlearning and new thinking.
Jesus was a victim. There was never an angry God who required a sacrifice.
Like Richard Rohr says:
“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. God’s abundance and compassion make any scarcity economy of merit or atonement unhelpful and unnecessary. Jesus undid “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10) all notions of human and animal sacrifice and replaced them with his new infinite economy of grace.”
There is so much packed into this interview with Jenna! Go through and re-read some of the parts that stuck out to you and be sure to let her know- perhaps you were inspired by a few of the quotes, curious about some of the books and writers she mentioned, maybe you need to replace some lies you are believing with beautiful truth, or start viewing yourself as a creative like Jenna reminded us.
Whatever it is, be sure to connect with Jenna on her Instagram or sneak over to her website where you can find her lovely children’s books- there is one about our identity and another on transformation (a wonderful way to help kids and ourselves navigate the pandemic!)