A 21st Century Candlelight

Remember sorority candlelights?

You'd get all the girls in the chapter together to stand around in a circle, sing sorority songs, and pass a  candle. Then, after the candle had been passed around the appropriate number of times, one of your sisters blew it out, signifying the big news in her love life. She'd been lavaliered, pinned, or gotten engaged. It was one of those quintessential college moments. And, for those of us who were single, or not serious about our boyfriend, or whatever the situation may have been, it was more than a little alienating. Most of the time, we were happy for the sister who had the good news. Many of us, and I certainly counted myself among these ranks, had no interest in settling down in our early twenties. Still, for all of us who weren't blowing out the candle, there was a moment of feeling left out.

A few weeks ago, my sorority sister Shannon had some really big news to share with us all. Shannon, an Owensboro native, lives in Minneapolis with her partner, Ruanita, and their three adorable children. After fifteen years together, Shannon and Ruanita can legally be married in their state. Even as a mother of three, Shannon has promised us, she's going to be a full-on bridezilla. She's certainly earned that right.

As Shannon kept us all updated on the status of the Minnesota same-sex marriage bill via Facebook last month, I joked that I would find a way to throw her a candlelight if the bill passed. I was thrilled when the Minnesota legislature upheld their end of that bargain, and some of us immediately began brainstorming a way to make a candlelight happen. We settled on one of those invitation-only Facebook groups, to which several of our sorority sisters were invited. 

Now, you can't have a candlelight without songs. We "sang" our old familiar songs by typing them out, verse by verse. It was a beautiful juxtaposition -- a group of retired Southern sorority girls upholding our oldest traditions, but with a decidedly 21st century twist. 

As the words of a traditional candlelight song came back to me -- "Phi Mu in a word is love" -- I realized that it didn't matter that the flicker of a candle had been replaced by the backlight of computer screens across the country. And, while it was monumental that we were celebrating our friend's long-overdue right to marry the woman she loves, we weren't really even taking a political stance. We were just telling our smart, funny, awesome friend that we're happy for her.

For once, it felt like a candlelight where nobody was left out.

{You can read more about Shannon's adventures in parenting on her blog, Chronicles of a Clueless Mom.}

Everything I Really Needed to Know About Ministry, I Learned as a Sorority Rush Chair.

HerKentucky is thrilled to welcome Erin Smallwood Wathen for another brilliant post! I first met Erin when we were sorority sisters at Transylvania; I love this beautiful essay on how our Phi Mu days prepared her for her work in the ministry! -- HCW

I used to want to be a dancer. Preferably on Broadway. I wanted to be an English teacher. I wanted to be the boss of a newspaper or magazine. I wanted to write children’s books. I dabbled in the idea of sociology, and had a brief affair—you know, college experimentation—with what life might be like in the non-profit world.

But never in 800 years would it have occurred to my pre-adulthood self that, “Hey, I’m going to be a preacher!”

Yeah, God’s got a sense of humor like that. This calling sneaked up on me like an April snow in Kentucky—you know it can happen, but you never quite let yourself read the signs, you know? Anyway…I spent my youth, and even my college career, utterly oblivious to the signs that I was headed for a life in ministry.  And yet, I was being shaped for this calling at every moment along the way.

I look around at my life every now and then and say, you know, I really caught a glimpse of this pastor gig when I was teaching dance. Or waiting tables. Or when I found my first real soul friend in 7th grade. Or sitting on the porch with my Mamaw. Or reading the first few books that really blew the top off the world.
Growing up Kentucky, I learned the sacred nature of hospitality, especially where food is involved; I developed a sense of place, and a love of the vernacular; I valued music, art and literature that is engaging, authentic, and unfussy; and really, I just took in the truth that air, soil, and even the moisture in the air smacks of something holy. Every breath of the place—making me ready for this time in my life, whether I knew it or not.

And while it may not sound as spiritual as, say, tobacco hanging in a barn or good bluegrass music or real fried chicken: everything I really needed to know about ministry, I learned as a sorority rush chair.

1. If it fits on a t-shirt, it’s probably not that important. But
2. matching tshirts are still important, in a philosophical sort of way.
3. Fake it til you make it. The appearance of a growing organization will actually evolve into a growing organization.
4. Sleep deprivation is a bonding experience. (Rush week=mission trip, church camp, leadership retreat, Holy week, etc)
5. A beautiful, welcoming space is not an extravagance; it is hospitality.
6. Singing loudly is more important than singing well.
7. Manners, manners, manners.
8. Put the pretty people in front.
9. We’re all pretty people.
10. As long as there’s food, people are happy.
11. The more important a ritual is supposed to be, the more likely you are to laugh at inappropriate times.
11.5. Laughter=also a sacred ritual.
12. Voting people out will always come back to haunt you.

There are no big moments, small moments, or waiting spaces. There is no downtime, and there is no endgame. It is all the perfect, winding way of grace, and it will always take us somewhere good, eventually…Someplace where the grass is blue, the people are real, and ‘fried’ is not a 4-letter word.

You can read more from Erin on her blog, Irreverin, and her Facebook page.

What Cheerleading Camp and Sorority Rush Can Teach Kentucky Fans

I wrote this post for The Kentucky Girls blog last year, after a particularly ugly loss to Florida. It seems apropos for Wildcat football fans this season as well. Go 'Cats. -- HCW
We smiled, but we weren't cheering for a winning team.
If I ever have a kid, I'm going to insist that she become both a cheerleader and a sorority girl. Now, I'm fully aware that I've just articulated the most ridiculous, outdated Southern cliché that one can imagine. The thing is, I'm not claiming that my hypothetical future daughter's most important life goals should be back handsprings or paint-pen crafts.  But, I certainly believe that this tried-and-true path to Southern womanhood taught me a few important lessons.  Lessons that extended to my professional and social well-being. Lessons that, if you'll kindly indulge me a few moments' explanation,could most assuredly be passed along to the Big Blue Nation right about now.  
  • Keep smiling. My tiny Eastern Kentucky high school wasn't exactly known for its football program. In fact, my sophomore year was the first winning season in the football team's history. But, no matter how mediocre our game, my job as a cheerleader was to smile. And provide encouragement. Because I loved our team.   You keep smiling.  You work out your differences in private. And you strengthen your organization without presenting outward displays of strife for the entire world.  As fans, we need to keep smiling-- we need to support the players we have and support the organization we love while acknowledging that there's plenty of room for improvement. 
  • Remember that you're here because you want to be.  Whenever I got discouraged about any aspect of cheering or sorority life, my mama was always quick to remind me that I chose to be there. In fact, I was spending plenty of money for the privilege to be there.  We're Kentucky fans.  We always have been.  We're paying for the privilege of football tickets.  We'll pay for the privilege of tickets to what promises to be an incredible basketball season.  Because we want to wear Kentucky Blue.
  • You don't always like everyone. Get over it. I spent four years as a part of a hundred-or-so-member sorority. I'd spent the previous decade on ten-to-fifteen member cheerleading squads. (For that matter, I've sat on more Junior League committees than I can begin to count...) There were enough in-fights, infidelities and intrigues to provide the CW with a year's worth of new material. Of course I didn't like all the girls involved. Some, I outright loathed. But I learned to keep it to myself, because the greater good of the group was more important. Maybe you don't like Joker's style of coaching.  Maybe you think that your quarterback should put in more than two or three stellar minutes of play.  While there are certainly adjustments to be made, at some point, we need to realize that this is the lineup we have for the year.
  • Sorority Bid Day.
  • Maybe it was better in the past. That's kind of immaterial to the present. Some years, my cheer squad found ourselves undermanned and rudderless after a talented group of seniors graduated. Sometimes, my sorority suffered a lackluster rush and subsequently recruited a small pledge class. Sometimes, the football team for whom I was cheering did not replicate the storied First Winning Season that we enjoyed in 1991. These things happen. We miss Randall a whole lot right now.  Hartline -- 'stache or no-- sure does sound good.  They aren't coming back.
These lessons from the land of hairbows and ribbon belts served me well as I entered the real world.  They taught me to accept situations that I wish were otherwise.  They taught me to adjust my attitude toward crappy situations.  And, well, they're lessons that a whole lot of Wildcats fans would be well-advised to learn this year.

via AJ's Casuals.
Every early indicator tells us that this is going to be an ugly, ugly football season. We've logged two back-to-back losses that have left many of us wondering whether any of the remaining 8 games can be won. It's an exhausting, frustrating thing to be a Kentucky football fan right now-- all we can do, it seems, is count the days until Keeneland and basketball. But, the thing is, we don't stop being Kentucky fans when the team sucks. No matter how disgusting Saturday's game was, I doubt any of you burned your Wildcat gear and started making that Gator-chomp thing. (If you did, then this blog probably isn't for you...) If the next few games play out as badly as I fear (it's gonna take a lot of bourbon to get through the LSU game...), then we need to keep smiling, sorority girl-style, and maintain a little grace and decorum until the post-season.  It just seems the proper thing to do...

Sorority Rush Outfits