Thursday, November 29, 2007


In a fit of bravery or stupidity, I spent my lunchtime at the Mesa En Espanol. On Thursdays, the Spanish speakers all sit together at this table and speak only Spanish. So I - with all of six classes in Spanish under my belt - decided to try it.

I warned everyone at the table upfront that I was a new student and was there to listen more than to speak. Everyone was kind and spoke reasonably slowly and encouraged me to at least try to speak some. I managed to hang in there for 30 minutes and didn't offend anyone, so that's progress. I may even try it again next week!

I do love the Spanish class and the language is infinitely easier than French (my first modern language), I just wish I had more time to practice. It seems if one is going to go to the effort of taking the class, one should try to actually speak it regularly. And here near Your Nation's Capital, many folks speak only Spanish.

In other news, I had a good meeting with the dean about several topics, including the proposed honors thesis. He helped me shape it a bit and had some good ideas for me to chew on. I think I'm getting close to writing up the proposal and taking it to the prof who would be the logical advisor for me. I mentioned it to a friend who said, "But she's a real hard-a**.") Very true words.

But it's like the Spanish. If I'm going to do this thing, why would I want to just dip my toe in? Shouldn't I want to dive right in?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Feeling Very...

...swamped. And blocked. I hate writer's block, particularly when I've got several papers due. Blech!

To do list:
Church History Paper (5 pages)
Pastoral Theology paper (10 pages) plus class presentation
Church History education project
Final paper for Systematics (got the draft back with some great ideas from the prof - now all I need is time to do it)
Sermon for Homiletics
Expanded Homiletics class sermon for Field Ed.

I'm sure there's something I can't remember to add to this list, but this seems like enough for the next three weeks.

Yes, I know.
Stop blogging and start writing.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sermon for Sunday, November 25, 2007: You Never Know

Proper 29, Year C. Jer. 23:1-6, Ps. 46, Col.1:11-20, Luke 23:35-43.

“You never know”

Here we are on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the feast of Christ the King. In the past weeks, we’ve read through much of the Gospel of Luke. We are on the verge of Advent. But before we can get to all our favorite Advent stories, here we are with this story of Christ on the Cross. It seems a surprising story so far from Passiontide. It’s unexpected, somehow, to be hearing about this in late November. So how do we bridge the gap from the crucified Christ to the soon-to-be-born infant Jesus?
We’ll start in a place far from Jerusalem, far from the hill called “Skull”.

My husband and I were standing in line in front of the Accademia in Florence. It had been his dream to see Michelangelo’s David, and now here we were, on a crisp autumn morning, with all the other tourists in comfortable walking shoes, waiting for our turn to go into the museum to see the statue. Suddenly a gaggle of scruffy pre-teens came rushing up to us. They didn’t really look Italian; gypsies, most likely. Dirty faces, torn clothes, old shoes. They formed a scrum around us and shoved big pieces of cardboard at us on which were written their stories – I am poor! I have nothing to eat! Please give me money! Even as we were reading the cardboard signs, they were reaching underneath them --- and trying to pick our pockets. One of us in line noticed what was happening and shouted an alarm. We grabbed our respective purses and wallets and yelled at the street urchins. They ran off , cursing us in Italian and Romany. Shaken, we double-checked our pockets and thanked those who had figured out what was happening.

I hadn’t thought of that story for many years, until I saw a newspaper article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago. It told the story of Mario Capecchi, who survived as just such a street urchin in WWII Italy after his mother, an anti-Fascist intellectual, had been hauled off to the Dachau concentration camp. Before she was taken, she had given some money to a neighbor to care for her son Mario, who was then just three years old. The neighbor cared for him until the money ran out, and then turned him out onto the streets. He went from town to town, occasionally living in orphanages, but mostly begged and stole and survived on his wits. He nearly died of malnutrition and was in a hospital in Bologna when his mother, liberated from Dachau, finally found him in 1946. A year later, an uncle in America sent money for them to emigrate, and Mario began a new life, one that included degrees from Antioch and Harvard and a fellowship under the discoverer of the structure of DNA, James Watson. Capecchi did groundbreaking work in gene targeting. And so, last month, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. A street urchin to a Nobel Laureate. Not what one would expect.

This gospel passage is another case of unexpected people doing unexpected things. We shouldn’t be surprised by this; it has been the case all the way through the Gospel of Luke. In Luke’s world, the outsider is usually the hero of the tale, and the folks who are the in-crowd usually get it wrong.
What’s going on in this passage, one that is so very familiar to us?
Jesus hangs on the cross. He’s been up there so long that gravity has taken its toll. The wounds on his head and hands no longer freely bleed. The bloodstains on his face and palms have dried to a dark-wine crust. His shoulders creak with pain. The crowd, who had called for his execution, is watching silently now, but the soldiers and the leaders mock him. The sign on the cross mocks him: “Jesus, King of the Jews.” Even one of the criminals hanging beside him mocks him, daring him to save himself and the criminal, too. In their eyes, this is no king. This is just another broken troublemaker who got what he deserved.
But the criminal on Jesus’ other side sees something more in him than a loser, a failed religious leader. This criminal chastises the first one: “We are being justly punished, but this man doesn’t deserve this. He did nothing wrong.”
That would be remarkable enough coming from the mouth of a dying criminal, but the moment takes an even more surprising turn: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is more than a personal request. It is an acknowledgment of Jesus as King of a kingdom not of this world.
And then Jesus does what he usually does when a person opens his heart to the Anointed One and asks for help.
Even in the pain of the moment, with the taste of blood and sour vinegar in His mouth, Jesus speaks words of comfort and of promise: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.”
Jesus turns the eyes of the repentant criminal forward in hope, to a place of salvation.
All those people, watching and mocking, and there is only one who truly sees this broken rabbi on the Cross for the King He is. Only one, an unexpected one, seeing an unexpected King.
Time and again in the Gospel of Luke, throughout these weeks of Ordinary Time, we’ve seen the same surprising story. The conventional religious people just don’t understand Jesus’ message. It is the outsiders, the ones we least expect, who open their eyes and their hearts and recognize the kingship of Jesus, and what that kingship entails. It is not a kingship of this world, and what we are expected to do to pay homage to this King is very different than what the expectations of a worldly king might be.

So we hear this story on this last Sunday of Ordinary Time, on the Feast of Christ the King, before we enter the cold, pre-dawn winter hours of Advent. In the dark, it may be easy to miss who we’re really seeing on that cross.
It isn’t a broken man, a failed teacher. If we truly understand His message, we see Christ the King, whom the Greek Christians called Christ Pantokrator, Christ all powerful, looking forward in hope that we all might be with Him in the kingdom.
Christ opens our eyes and hearts and souls to see unexpected people in unexpected ways, as He too was the ultimate unexpected One. He bids us to see who He is, and how we might see Him in the most unlikely people.
You never know. A street urchin might turn out to be a Nobel Prize winner. A crucified teacher might turn out to be King. And a baby born in a rude stable on a cold winter night might turn out to be the Son of God.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Friday 5

From the RGBPs:
1. Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?
We were right here, PH and I and the three kids, Litigator, StoneMason, and StrongOpinions. It was wonderful! We haven't had Thanksgiving with the kids in a couple of years - they'd gone to their father's house in New England, but they insisted that this year they wanted to be with us. Can't say I wasn't pleased that they pressed the point with their dad who is sometimes a wee bit insistent on getting his own way.

2. Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different?
Since StrongOpinions is vegetarian, we had two main courses: the turkey(actually a roasted turkey breast, since we were a small group) and a whole roasted pumpkin filled with a vegetable stew with seitan, which is a wheat gluten protein. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cranberry sauce. homemade cranberry chutney, soft whole wheat rolls, pumpkin pie, apple pie. It is a sign that they're growing up that they really didn't eat much of the canned cranberry sauce, and adored the chutney.

3. Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year?
Nope, just eating until we're immobile. The teasing that her two brothers usually dish out to StrongOpinions has really faded in intensity this year. Another sign of growing up.

4. The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between?
We usually stay home and avoid the shopping craziness, but we had to replace StrongOpinions' eyeglasses, so we ventured out to the SlightlyRundownMall of the Ethnicities (it's like the UN there - Africans, Latinos, Asians plus some of us poorer Caucasians). PH took StoneMason to Sears to buy a new pair of workboots and I took StrongOpinions to Lenscrafters. Because it isn't one of the ridiculously upscale malls,
the crowds weren't overwhelming and we were able to get in and out quite expeditiously.

5. Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up?
In the past, I've put the Santa collection up on Thanksgiving weekend, and the tree goes up on Advent II, along with the creche. I just don't know if I have the energy to do it this weekend, but we shall see. It will not be the end of the world if it doesn't get put up until Advent actually starts.

So how was YOUR Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

So when you're planning a party... the Windy City, where it's pretty chilly, and you run out of storage space in the frig, because you're making many kinds of hors d'oeuvres for 70+ people, this is what you do.

You put them in the garage, on top of the car.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I presided over Sung Evensong this evening. It's one of my favorite services, and it's such a privilege to be able to do this. The intimidation factor was high because the retired Bishop of Oxford was in attendance, but i got through it with only one or two bobbles, and Lord Harries was most gracious and complimentary after it was through. So I'm thankful that I didn't embarrass the school or myself.

All of the food shopping is done in anticipation of the Thanksgiving feast (or Accion de Gracias, as my Spanish teacher reminded us today). Tomorrow starts the cooking extravaganza. I'm making something really labor-intensive: Pumpkin Stuffed with Vegetable Stew. It's a treat that may or may not be edible, for StrongOpinions, the house vegetarian. It being a Gourmet Magazine recipe, there are many ingredients and even more steps to make it, but it will be fun for a experiment. All the other stuff on the menu is te regular Thanksgiving odds and ends. Tomorrow will be prep day for the aforementioned veggie dish, plus baking the pies (pumpkin, apple, pecan). Thankful to have a day off before Thanksgiving to do this, and even more thankful that we can afford to fly the kids in and buy all this food. Many others won't be so fortunate.

The aching hip is doing much better, and I'm thankful for that as well as no MS relapses lately. I think one of the reasons I've signed up for such an intense schedule is that there is a piece of me that is afraid I'll lose my vision again, and I want to get as many credits out of the way as possible just in case. So I'm thankful that my health is holding up and that I can afford to see the doctors and get the very expensive medicines that help keep me well.

PH is his usual wonderful self. We went to a party at the home of a parishioner in my field ed church - several other parishioners were there as well. Delightful people, and he was so good with them. He is a blessing on so many levels. Life is good being married to him. Every day, not just at Thanksgiving, I am thankful for him.

The list could go on and on: my wonderful kids and grandbabies, music, icon-writing class, some amazing professors, the freedom to go back to school at this stage of my life, ...

...but you understand.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Back Again

The trip to Chicago was a whirlwind. The party for my dear MIL was wonderful - 70 or so folks, vast quantities of food, a concert by professionals and family, many lovely stories. My back and hip are complaining after a day and a half standing and doing food prep and cooking, but it was worth it. The littlest grandkids sang "If I Were a Butterfly," complete with the hand motions - I accompanied them. They were precious.

This morning I did a short homily for Homiletics class - needs some serious reworking for the actual preaching at Saint Middle School, but it was a good start. Nothing like taking a little risk in the style of sermon-writing.

I just finished the event account (like a verbatim, for you seminary geeks out there) for our Field Ed Colloquy. It will be interesting to do this...I'm hoping being the first student to present will mean our conveners will be more willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.

It is cold and raw here. Time to get out the winter coat, I fear. Many of the students have already left for Thanksgiving at home, since several of the profs are out in San Diego at the SBL/AAR conference. No such luck for me - I've got classes until 2 pm tomorrow afternoon. I did a pretty intense food-shopping expedition this evening, in anticipation of the kids coming for Thanksgiving, but I'll need to go to the over-priced Hol(y) Fuds for some special stuff for StrongOpinions, who is a vegetarian. No, I'm not getting Tofurkey. There are some depths to which I will not sink.

Herewith, the rawther unusual homily from this morning:

“Shall We Gather At the River?”
Advent II, Year A, RCL. Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 , Romans 15:4-13Matthew 3:1-12.

What was truly shocking, the view that took their breath away, were the sheer numbers. It looked like hundreds, maybe thousands, of people clustered all along the rocky riverbank, waiting for their turn to go into that unsavory water. They looked hungry for it, these people, who had come not only from the city, from Jerusalem, but from the four corners of Judea. Their faces spoke of need, of a desire for cleanliness, of a wanting of washing in this water that seemed so unlikely to clean anyone.

And then there was the man himself. He had first been spotted wandering around the wilderness, crying out “Repent!” Word had gotten out about his message, one that resonated with people. What did this mean, “The kingdom of heaven is coming near?” Was he saying that the Messiah was coming? He certainly didn’t look like a herald of a king. He was wearing animal hides, strapped around him with a thong of leather. His skin was as leathery and brown as the thong, bespeaking a man who lived rough, in the outdoors. His hair and beard were matted into dreadlocks. He smelled bad. There were rumors that he just ate whatever he could grab, insects, wild honey, weeds, whatever was available to one living in the wild. Would they be rendered unclean by moving closer to him?

It was a risk, but perhaps worth it. His words were compelling. They had to find out what this was all about, this washing in the river. The people who were coming out of the river now were almost glowing. Hard to imagine anyone coming out of that silty water looking refreshed, but there it was. They looked clean. How could it be?

And yet this seemed contrary to the Law, whether you believed the rules of the Pharisees or the rules of the Sadducees. No, no stepping into the water for them.

Ah, but the temptation was there. The curiosity, what this might feel like, besides just being wet and muddy. And they were there, right at the edge, with the water lapping at their toes. It would only take a step…

But then he spotted them. This brown and wild-eyed man who played a prophet, or was a prophet. Who knew?

And he was ripping into these men, these Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them vipers, calling them pompous, evil fools, calling them barren and useless. What was this? A life spent in dedication to the law, and this is how they were treated, and by this madman?

But what was he saying now? Something about another who was to come, one even more powerful than he? Oh, there’s a thought, someone even more crazy than this one. This new one sounded like he might be violent. Winnowing forks…fire…

Advocating overthrow of the law? Of the government? Such talk was dangerous.
No, they wouldn’t stand there and be insulted by this madman. They would step back from the river’s edge, step back from whatever strange thing was happening here. This was too dangerous.

And you? Is it too dangerous for you? Are you willing to take my hand, and step into the murky water, and be washed clean, in preparation for the One who is to come?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Yes, I'm still here...

...just a lot of work and not much time.

In the queue:

  • Church History paper (five pages, probably on Saint Francis)

  • Church History Christian Ed Project (five sessions worth of material done by a team of three of us on the sometimes contentious, sometimes uncomfortably friendly relationship between church and state)

  • Suicide presentation (ten page paper and twenty minute classroom presentation for Pastoral Theology)

  • Final Systematics paper (ten pages is what is asked for, but given my topic it will probably run a bit longer, once I get the prof's comments on the rough draft)

  • Sermon for Advent II (I've already written the 5-minute version of this for Homiletics but need to expand it to 10-13 minutes for my parish)

  • Another five-minute sermon for Advent IV.

Believe it or not, this feels somewhat manageable. I would guess this shows how far I've come on this journey .

It's been a busy week. We had the installation of our new Dean at Big Old Seminary.

It was a lovely service. When various members of the community brought various significant gifts up to New Dean, his administrative assistant brought him a calendar, who got a great laugh out of the assembled congregation of students, faculty, bishops, alums, local clergy, and various guests. I sang the "Panis Angelicus," with the Seminary Choir as my back-up group (no, they didn't go "doo-wop"). It was well-received, although I am never satisfied with my performances - this one was no different.

Last night, we went to the opera to see William Bolcom's "A View from the Bridge" - yes, it's a setting of the wonderful Arthur Miller play. Not hummable, but accessible music with references to jazz and other musical forms from the period. My voice teacher was in the cast in a supporting role, so we got to go downstairs to the dressing room area and see some of the performers, then onto the stage, which was great fun. I was so in need of something not seminary - it was great to have a night away from the work.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

IPod Stuff

I hadn't realized how much I had become addicted to my IPod (B-day gift this past summer from PH) until I was getting ready to drive home from evening meeting at Saint Middle School (40 miles from home). The IPod had frozen up (no, not cold-type frozen, non-functioning type frozen).

Oh, no! I listen to Bible readings, podcasts from NPR, Spanish lessons, music of all types, and audiobooks on it, and since radio reception is sketchy the further I get from home, it makes my commute twice a week to and from Saint Middle School much more tolerable.

I no longer carry CDs in the car, so I had to listen to scratchy radio all the way home.

Yes, I know you REALLY pity me.

Seriously, though, this was a very pricey gift, and the thought that it had died after only three months' use seriously disturbed me.

I got home, where PH was patiently waiting for me to get dinner on the table (he would have done it, but I told him I would do it when I got home). Instead of starting on supper, I immediately got on the computer for guidance on how to fix the problem. Ten minutes later, I had found what I needed and resolved it.

Bless PH, he quietly sipped his gin and tonic while I got it done.

Just count me grateful for things that are simple to fix.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I believe I'll have an order of Ritalin with that...

My advisor once again pressed me to do an honors thesis next year. "You might be able to publish it!" she said with great glee.

Is it wrong of me to be intrigued by the thought of publishing?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

All shall be well...

Dame Julian is kindly requested to perch herself on my shoulder and whisper her famous words in my ear when I get a little frazzled.

The Systematics draft is done - 10 pages plus a page of endnotes and a page of bibliography - and safely in the hands of the prof. Hallelujah!

I'm hip-deep in the next sermon for Homiletics, plus memorizing the text I will preach on - we are expected to say it from memory and try to "embody" it, or perform it, or whatever you want to call it. Memorization is not my forte, so this part of it will be a challenge, but the sermon, for Advent II (John the Baptist telling off the Phraisees and Sadducees after baptizing everybody in the surrounding five counties) is coming along, sort of.

I've got another sermon to write, along with a theological reflection on a particular pastoral situation, for my Pastoral Care class. That's due in a week, so I'd better get cracking on it.

I should also get going on the next Church History paper. Not that it's due really soon, but I've got several other things that will be due later in the quarter, and I hate getting jammed up.

Somewhere in this I've got to do some work on Spanish. I watched "El Gordo y La Flaca" while I was on the elliptical machine today. Still getting no more than every fourth word, and not enough context to figure out what the heck is going on. Oh, well, language study takes time.

We got our forms to register for classes for spring. Third quarter (the first half of spring semester) will be brutal, but fourth quarter should be lovely. The line-up includes wrapping up Church History, Systematics and Homiletics, plus more Field Ed, The Sung Service (that's my treat to myself), Theology of Mission, The Revelation to John, and (gulp!) Christian Ethics. sixteen and a half credits. Not too over the top. All my core requirements will be done, and that will clear the decks for senior year if I decide to do an honors thesis. And if I don't, I can take a few of the courses Pass-Fail and focus on passing GOE's and getting a job.

If that doesn't make me long for Dame Julian's wisdom and calm, I don't know what will.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Not enough hours in the day.
Too many pages to read.
Too many pages to write.
Not adjusted to Daylight Savings Time yet.

Agita around Big Old Seminary about blogospheric nonsense. A purported conservative seminarian posted on one of the very anti-ECUSA blogs about a gay student forum and how conservative students are kept muzzled at Big Old Seminary. The initial post was sad, but the response threads that followed bordered on the pathological. Ah, well, it was emblematic of the difficulties we face these days.

I find myself wondering which of my fellow students (if indeed it was a BOS student) posted it. Even more, I find myself wondering how I can respond to someone who couldn't gather the courage to speak out to his or her fellow students.

Naive me.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Henri Nouwen is Up in Heaven Smiling

I can recall reading of the great priest and writer Henri Nouwen dressing up in faux vestments playing priest as a five year old. The photo at left is of Henri doing just that, courtesy of the website.

The image came to mind this morning at Saint Middle School. There we were, standing around the altar, the Vicar, me, a senior acolyte, and two junior acolytes. As the Vicar was reading the words of the Eucharistic liturgy, and doing certain actions with her hands (term of art is "manual acts") such as raising the bread, or raising the cup or the paten, or making the Sign of the Cross over the elements, one of the junior acolytes, a little boy of 8 or so, was doing all the manual acts right after her. Not making fun, mind you, but doing it with great seriousness, as if by doing this it would help him understand what was happening, and make him more like the Vicar, who is his great buddy.

I told PH this story over dinner tonight, and he smiled and said, "Big Old Seminary Class of 2025, eh?"

Perhaps. But even if that is not so, what a lovely thing to see a little child so entranced with the power and beauty of the liturgy that he wants to imitate it.

It worked for Henri. May it work for this little guy as well.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Home Again

..after two days of racial reconciliation training (a requirement of the canons). It had its rocky moments (a facilitator who was at times a wee bit overenthusiastic), but also had its rich moments. Although this was sponsored for the Diocese of Your Nation's Capitol, a group of us seminarians from Big Old Seminary went to meet our canonical requirements. My table for our small group work was all seminarians, which made for some very interesting conversations. I was the only middler - the rest were all seniors. We are bringing some of what we learned back to the seminary and will continue to meet monthly as a small group to do the exercises we were taught (this is the methodology:

I could have used the time to work on the infamous Systematics paper, but this was a good experience. Now on to laundry, food shopping, and Lindbeck and Hauerwas!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Five: Interviews

1. What was the most memorable interview you ever had?
Probably my interview with the Commission on Ministry, which would recommend to my bishop whether or not I should become a postulant for Holy Orders. I had heard that their questions could run to the snarky, and I had developed a plan for this with my spiritual director ("My gut says that this feels like an attack. Is it?") In point of fact, the questions weren't snarky, although some of them were challenging. Many of the questions were fascinating, and I was deeply moved by the answers to some of the questions addressed to my husband, my presenting rector, and folks on the vestry and the lay discernment committee who accompanied me. Of course, after it was all over, I sat in the car and cried for ten minutes - stress release and all that - but it was definitely memorable.

2. Have you ever been the interviewer rather than the interviewee? If so, are you a tiger, a creampuff, or somewhere in between?
I've been the interviewer often in my past life. I do tend to think I'm somewhere in between, because I think interviews are two-way streets. There is some baseline information - skill-related stuff - that I want to get at, but then it's more touchy-feely - will we work together well kind of stuff. Of course, if I feel like I'm being gamed, I ask a lot of questions that might leave the interviewee feeling like I'm a tiger.

3. Do phone interviews make you more or less nervous than in-person ones?
They make me very nervous, because I rely on nonverbal cues to assess what's going on. Absent the body language and facial expressions, I feel like I'm flying blind.

4. What was the best advice you ever got to prepare for an interview? How about the worst?
Good advice: Breathe. Say a prayer. Interviews are a two-way street. Don't just respond instantaneously to a question; think about it for a moment before replying. Smile.
Bad advice: Prepare answers to every possible question.

5. Do you have any pre-interview rituals that give you confidence?
Going to the bathroom beforehand (I'm a practical middle-aged woman). Saying a prayer of discernment. Checking to make sure I don't have any food stuck between my teeth. Deep breath.