Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
It dawned on me how tired I am this afternoon. I had gone for lunch with my home parish rector - he was kind and took me to a really lovely Italian place - and when I came home, I slept for 2+ hours. Tomorrow will be more active. The morning will involve getting out my winter clothes, the afternoon will be babysitting one of my professors' 18 month old boy (sheer joy), and the evening will be a vestry meeting at Saint Middle School - 35 miles in each direction for that one. It was probably a good thing that I got my nap in today, because I don't think there will be time for one tomorrow.
I find myself already thinking ahead to the summer, when I'll be doing an intensive field placement. The good news is that it's for eight weeks, not the entire summer. The other good news is that I'll get paid for it. Not great $$$, but something. Since my salary from the bank ends on Dec 31st, we'll be watching our pennies while I finish seminary. I'm trying to just live in the moment and focus on the work at hand, but it's hard not to think ahead, plan ahead, wonder what's out there.
My best buddy is graduating this year, so it will make for a slightly less fun senior year, but I'll be focused on other things...
I'm smiling today, not because the Sox won, but because (unlike so many times in my lifetime) they didn't tank at the last minute.
Friday, October 26, 2007
(I'll go sit down and be quiet now.)
BTW, the high point of last week's classes was the announcement at the beginning of a Systematic Theology class by the prof, a gentle, sweet and dauntingly brilliant woman of a certain age, that "Josh Beckett rules!"
As in all things she says in that class, this was truth.
Out in the world, some were saying that Josh Beckett is God, but that doesn't preach in ST class, of course.
Several years ago, there was a popular movie starring Jim Carrey called “Truman.” He played a fellow living in a world entirely created as a stage set for his life, a life that had been documented from the moment of his birth as a television show. The place where he lived was a lovely bit of suburbia, populated by pretty people who all behaved nicely towards one another. The sun always shone, except for brief, charming showers that perked up the grass and the flowers. No one was ugly, or sad, or cruel. It was all façade. Truman was oblivious to the role he was playing, oblivious to the incompleteness of his life.
I am thinking about Truman and his make-believe world as I imagine what’s going on in the head of the Pharisee as he prays. Think about what he says: “Thanks, God. Notice that I do all the right things, I follow the rules. I’m not a bad person like some others around here.” This is a man who cares about how the world sees him and about how God sees him. He follows the rules. He looks good to the world around him, because he does what he’s supposed to do.
The theologian Jurgen Moltmann points out a very interesting thing about the Pharisee’s prayer. The Pharisee says what he does, and who he isn’t like, but he doesn’t talk about who he is. He leaves an empty hole in his conversation with God. The conversation seems to be about appearances, about the pretty façade, and not about who he is.
So we look inside this praying Pharisee’s head. Perhaps he has doubts about himself, and that’s why he doesn’t talk about what is in his heart and soul. He just talks about what he does and who he isn’t like. He’s concerned about maintaining that perfect exterior, like the perfect town and the shiny people in Truman’s world. He never gets to the heart of who he is, and what that means to him and to God.
The tax collector gives us a very different perspective. Before we even hear a word from him, we know something about him. He is standing far off, not willing to even lift up his eyes to heaven. These are postures of servitude and unworthiness. Before the words of his prayer are spoken, his body tells his belief. He speaks: 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
This is not a man who proclaims his perfection, this is one who admits his imperfection. He is willing to show God exactly who he is, the core of himself, imperfect as it is, and ask for God’s help.
Let’s take a peek inside the tax collector’s head. We know he knows what the Pharisee thinks about him, because everyone knows the rules about what’s clean and unclean. He knows he’s a sinner. He’s willing to show that to God in his prayer. “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” He’s willing to strip away the façade and talk directly to God, not boasting, not pretending he follows the rules, but saying, “Here I am. I’m a mess. I need Your help. Please help me in Your mercy.”
And what of the words and the world of this story? This is a bold parable, because Jesus is talking about Pharisees, directly to the Pharisees. The first verse says it: Jesus was speaking “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt”. Those “some who trusted in themselves” is an interesting phrase, because it can also be translated as “some who had persuaded themselves.” Perhaps they had a few doubts. Perhaps they had to persuade themselves to believe that they were righteous. I mentioned the possibility that the Pharisee had doubts before, because I suspect that we all have doubts about how good we really are, and that’s bound to affect our praying.
We’ve talked before, too, about how parables are countercultural. They turn the world upside down. This one is no different. When we talk about a tax collector, we’re not talking about your friendly neighbor who happens to work for the IRS. In this time, in this world, we’re talking traitor. Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were quislings, tools of the Roman Empire. They collected tax money for the Roman emperor and took a cut for themselves as their pay. They were viewed as unclean in every sense of the word. So in this parable, when Jesus talks about the tax collector as being righteous, he’s making an extraordinarily shocking statement…and he’s saying it right to the faces of the so-called good guys, the Pharisees, who were sparkling clean and who followed all the rules. The Pharisees were all about the rules, not because they were bad people, but because they thought that was enough.
It’s not in life, and it’s not in prayer.
So the issue here is how we pray. When we come to God in prayer, are we willing to show God more than the façade, the Thomas Kincaid sofa-sized picture we can paint of ourselves? It’s easy to hide behind the false front. It’s easy to excuse our imperfect words and our imperfect actions, thinking they’re better than nothing. I do it all the time. Each time I just pat my grieving friend on the back and move quickly away, rather than having that deep conversation about her pain, it’s an incomplete and imperfect prayer. Each time I walk quickly past the begging homeless person in Farragut Square because he scares me, it’s an incomplete and imperfect prayer. Each time I talk to God about how unfair it is that a colleague seems to get a free ride, not recognizing the second chances I’ve been given, it’s an incomplete and imperfect prayer. It’s an easy place to go as a Christian, because we usually are halfway there. We just don’t bring it all the way home, in life or in prayer. We hide the imperfection. We hide the incompleteness, because we want God to think that we’re wonderful, and to love us for the good things we do and not notice our failures.
But here’s the truly beautiful thing: God loves us no matter what.
Even more beautiful, God knows us completely.
I wonder if we sometimes don’t construct those prayers that are lists of all the good things we do because we’re afraid God will see the little uglinesses behind the good things. Am I feeling guilty about the nasty thing I said about a co-worker? Don’t talk about that; pray about how I went to church on Sunday. Am I feeling a bit ashamed of how I padded the expense account, just a little bit? Don’t talk about that; pray about the check I wrote for the charity. When I don’t bring my full self to God in prayer, the prayer is hollow. Unless I ask for God to help me with the things I need to work on, instead of simply saying I’m fine, I miss the opportunity to ask for God’s mercy and grace.
Perhaps it’s that we, too, doubt. We, too, need to persuade ourselves. We’re afraid God won’t like what He sees when we bring all of ourselves, the good, the bad, the ugly, to Him in prayer. But He knows us completely, and He loves us no matter what. If we bring it to Him in a full and honest way, He will help us to grow into a more perfect expression of God’s love.
So what happened to Truman, living in that perfect world that was all façade and little reality? Behind the scenes was a platoon of real people who manipulated this world to make it look pretty and sweet, to provide the perfect backdrop for this man called Truman, the unwitting star of the show. The real people weren’t so pretty or sweet. The center of the Truman Show was often venal, and harsh, and manipulative. But Truman, despite being coddled in that lovely make-believe place, began to see the seams of it, and struggled to break through to reality, with all its imperfections and difficulties. Ultimately, he did break through, and he embraced his own humanity and the imperfections of the world around him. The façade was torn. The rain fell. The truth bloomed, and it was a healing moment for a betrayed soul.
Our lives are complicated, and they are often neither perfect nor pretty. But unless we bring the whole of our lives, the whole of who we are, to God in prayer, the truth will not bloom, and we will not be healed. We are called to trust in God’s love and mercy, and to know that we will be made whole.
In this new world, I am a child.
It's a gift, being allowed to be a child again, to experiment and experience the joy of a new thing. It's a gift, learning and basking in the sheer pleasure of new knowledge and of stretching my brain in new directions.
Like childhood, it's not without its growing pains. This new childhood didn't bring with it a physical rebirth, so doing new stuff with an old brain and an old body is hard work.
I wouldn't trade it far anything, though.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I'm still wading through the Church History paper. I think I'm a page away from completion, although it will need some cleaning up. Comparison of Athanasius and Augustine and their theology of the nature of evil and our response to it. Feels more theological than historical, but I'm engaging the primary sources, so I'm doing what they want. I can't imagine our poor TA reading through 60 of these puppies.
Thus, any tree-saving we managed by the PC final has been outweighed by the paper generated by me and my colleagues in Church History. Ah, well.
Time to finish procrastinating and finish the dang thing.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
It had been a somewhat emotional Sunday anyway - it was "Honor a Friend Sunday" and people stood up during the sermon time and gave testimony about friends they had invited to the service today. There were quite a few tearful and tender moments.
One of the dads of a special needs kid came up to receive communion, and just stayed kneeling with his head in his hands, quietly weeping.
My vicar just stood there over him, saying prayers, with her hands on his head. She talked to him afterwards.
He had tried to commit suicide this week. The stress of a high-pressure job, a child with great challenges, financial difficulties all took him to the edge.
But not all the way there, thank God.
That exquisite moment of inbreaking of God's love saved him and his family. And that same inbreaking made it possible for him to open up to us about his pain and need.
His road ahead is going to be difficult, but I hope we can be there for him and help to know that God is with him even in this awful moment.
It is humbling to do this work.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I was volunteered at Middler Class Meeting (I was at Chapel team meeting) to be the Empress of General Ordination Exam prep. This will involve setting up prep sessions with profs, helping facilitate study groups, getting as much info from past seniors as possible about their GOE experience...apparently I was volunteered by acclamation. I can't figure out if this means they think I'm a smart puppy or I have a Mussolini-like ability to make the trains run on time. I suspect the latter.
It was also somewhat shocking to discover that I'm one of the better ones in Systematics. That truly indicates the sad state of scholarship amongst Episcopalians.
I'm sitting here listening to my ipod Spanish vocabulary...hoping it will enter my head by osmosis or something. Oh well.
Hard to imagine they will foist me on unsuspecting parishioners in a year and a half.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
It feels good to be in this kind of shape at the end of a quarter. Of course, the CH midterm will be a challenge, and the ST paper is a bear, but I feel like I've hit my stride - at least for today.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Four page mid-term for Church History
Rough draft of 10-page Systematics Paper (something in the area of Ecclesiology, Polity, and Scriptural Interpretation)
Prep work for the Pastoral Theology Exam
Final clean-up on Sermon for Homiletics on Thursday (Christ the King)
Start-Up of next sermon for Homiletics (Advent II)
It will get done, assuming I stop rewriting the Christ the king sermon for the umpty-umpth time.
Today was the fall Conference on Ministry. A whole bunch of folks checking out Big Old Seminary. Some were using it as a part of their own discernment process, as I did many years ago. Some were using it to decide if Big Old Seminary was the right one for them. Some were using it as an info-gathering session on life at our place, since they pretty much knew this was where they wanted to go.
Their hopeful faces were a good reminder of why I really want to do everything on the list above, why it WILL get done (the Spirit will help deliver), and - most important - how I'll use it, even the convolutions of Systematics once I graduate.
Of course, then I went home after school. Rather, I tried to get home. Most of the streets around our complex were shut by the police. Apparently a despondent man holed himself up in his unit with a gun, and they were trying to get the gun away from him and get him to a facility where he could be cared for. Another reminder of the needs of God's people, and why all this studying and praying and writing and grinding my teeth is important. The stand-off finally ended. No one was hurt. The streets were opened again. The Spirit moved.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Being read the Noah and the Ark story in kindergarten Sunday School. Of course, it being a Roman Catholic Sunday School, we weren't permitted to speculate on what it meant (only priests could do that back them). So the question of a loving God destroying everybody could not be raised, but I thought it. That's what happens when you get these stories out of context, even amongst five-year-olds, I guess.
2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).
NRSV for the scholarship and KJV for the exquisite poetry. Not big on paraphrases like The Message or The Word on the Street (a hip-hop paraphrase). Seems like middle-aged white people trying to be hip and failing miserably.
3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?
OT: Genesis, and NT: Revelation. I also feel a deep connection to the Book of Ruth, since that's the first one I translated from Hebrew, and since I love the story. My favorite verse comes from there: "Where you go, I shall go..."
4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther’s famous words about James, to be “an epistle of straw?” Which verse(s) make you want to scream?
I struggle with Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not only because of the infamous texts used to condemn gay people, but because long lists of what to eat and what to wear and how to set up the table is to me such an alien way to approach relationship with the Divine. Hard to believe from an Episcopalian who loves the rubrics of liturgy, but it's true! I suppose this also explains my discomfort with approaches like "The Purpose-Driven Life."
5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and liturgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?
If it's done well, I like it. It seems a matter (as RM has said) of hospitality. On the other hand, when it reads like a clumsy attempt at political correctness rather than graceful and grace-filled language, I cringe.
Bonus: Back to the Psalms–which one best speaks the prayer of your heart?
I'm with my buddy RM, Psalm 139. I find something new in it every time I go back to it.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Good news, bad news, no news.
* Finally got back the first Church History paper. I knew going into it that my thesis was a bit of a stretch, so I was gambling, but it was an idea that had intrigued me, so I went ahead with it anyway. He wasn't entirely convinced of my thesis but was also intrigued by it, and liked my writing, so I got a darned good but not spectacular grade. I'll take it. It also gives me an insight of how to approach the next paper, which is due the end of next week. Gack.
* Systematics. Bliss. Even reading Barth, which is like pouring warm tar on my synapses. Bliss. I ask questions and I can't believe they come out of my mouth. Of course, the major part of the bliss is the prof, who is amazing and witty and pastoral and willing to answer all sorts of questions, even the out-of-left-field ones. Why was I afraid of this class? (Remind me of this when I get my first paper back from her.)
*The Swede-mobile failed its inspection today. Needs new brakes and rotors and two new tires. Mucho dinero. Gulp. Oh well, it needed to get done. I drive 80 miles a week to and from Saint Middle School, so it's a serious safety issue. PH offered to do the work, but couldn't deal with it until the end of the month, and my rejection sticker requires the problem get resolved very quickly. So it goes into the shop tomorrow morning.
* PH and I are leaving tomorrow after I have a lunch meeting for a weekend away here just for Friday night and Saturday through the afternoon. Tenth anniversary tomorrow, and it's a treat to get out of town with no schoolbooks with me. (I am taking knitting, though.) I am so very lucky. If you want to read the insane story of my adventures baking my own wedding cake, you can check it out here . I was crazy to make the cake, but supremely sane to marry PH, who has been my friend, my lover, my editor, my punster, my challenger, my comforter. I am blessed.
* Got the stitch out on my skin biopsy site today (a stupid rash that couldn't immediately be identified) but no results yet on the biopsy itself. Not anything to worry about - she ruled out skin cancer right away - but I sure would like to get something that would end the rash!
* The Spooky cat is resting in anticipation of her big day - Halloween, when she will terrorize small children ringing our doorbell by her very presence. She is sleeping on my Pastoral Theology homework. It seems fitting, somehow.
Monday, October 08, 2007
It is a wonderful thing having today as a holiday (Columbus Day, for my non-US friends). I got to run mulitple errands, have spiritual direction, and - blessing of all blessings - take a nap.
I nearly ruined it trying to read Karl Barth this afternoon, but stopped myself before I got brain freeze.
News on the family front: Strong Opinions has cut her hair, StoneMason is mourning the death of a friend, Litigator is still on track to graduate at the end of this semester, all the kids' flights home for Thanksgiving have been booked, and PH is trying to find a fourth rider to do the Race Across America - an 8 day bicycle race from San Diego to Atlantic City. His original fourth dropped out.
No, I will NOT be the fourth rider.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
The coffee is brewing, and I've just reviewed the lesson plan for the teens in my Sunday School class about money and what the Bible really says about it.
This is not a preaching week for me, but sermons are on my mind. Yesterday I finished my sermon For my next turn in the (virtual) pulpit, Oct 28th. I say virtual pulpit because we preach from the floor at Saint Middle School. I am already starting on the one next in the queue (November 25th, Christ the King Sunday, or Reformation Sunday for non-Episcopalian Protestants) for Homiletics class. Doing one sermon in class on the 10th and another on the 18th is a bit intense, and I'm not clicking on a central theme yet for the new one. Good practice for the real world.
My advisor realized Friday morning at 7 am that she was preaching at noon. She had our Small group Worship and Advisee Meeting and kicked us out at 9:30 so she could complete the sermon in the half-hour beofre her next meeting. She showed up at noon Eucharist with something scribbled on two pages of yellow foolscap. It was brilliant. I wish...
Next Friday is PH's and my tenth anniversary. We're going away for Friday afternoon through Saturday night...such is the schedule flexibility of a Field Ed seminarian. I am so looking forward to a day and a half away with him, it doesn't matter that I've got to get ahead in my reading and writing to make it work. No school books or laptop are going with me.
Time for a cup of coffee..
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I don't know if that makes me sad for the seminary or proud of my fellow students, or both.
It was a marvelous forum. He made clear at the beginning that his talk was not going to be focused on the issue of homosexuality in the church, and his being a lightning rod for all that discussion. He ended up talking about it a bit in Q&A, but talked a great deal more about Scripture and vocation and keeping our focus on Jesus and the work we all need to do on issues of justice (not just "love justice" but - as Micah says - "do justice").
He was honest about his own struggles with alcoholism, talking about the powerful theology he has often heard articulated at AA meetings, suggesting that perhaps our services should begin with people standing up and saying, "Hi, I'm Mibi, and I'm in need of Jesus in my life."
The tone was more reformed/evangelical than I expected, but somehow it all rang true.
Remarkably, despite all he has been through in recent years, he is a joyful, joy-filled person.
May I have some of that good grace, and may he be blessed in his work.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
We have bunches of alums at the seminary for alum convocation. They are dears, except for one or two who seem to be having bad days. One of these was prominent in Morning Prayer this morning for reading a nanosecond behind everyone else, loudly, and for making highly critical comments about the lectors, loudly. Could be general crabbiness, could be early stage Alzheimer's, could be anger at Gene Robinson's impending visit, which is prominently advertised around campus. Sort of took the glow off of a lovely Morning Prayer, though. I hope he feels better having gotten it out of his system.
A delight to see some old friends who've graduated.
This afternoon, we had Juan Williams, the NPR commentator, give a lecture on the portrayal of religious issues in the media. I would have adored this, except it was freezing cold in the auditorium, and I was sleepy. Yes, give me some cheese with that whine.
One of the good things about this is that we're getting much fancier food at lunchtime in the refectory (and white tablecloths). It also gives us a break from some of the regular classes, since we are encouraged to attend the lectures. We still had to muddle through the Church History small section, a short Systematics class, and Conversational Spanish. One of the profs is taking Spanish with us, and we both bemoan the fact that we tend to revert to Italian when we get nervous.
The downside is that there is virtually no quiet place to read or write on campus, so tonight may be a long reading night. I got a first draft of my next sermon for Homiletics and the Field Ed site done. I don't much like it right now, but that's what revisions are for.
I think I need to go to sleep early. I got up at 5:30 this morning to finish off Athanasius' "On the Incarnation." I'm whupped. Feeling every bit of my cincuenta y cinco anos ahora.
Monday, October 01, 2007
- Tonight was convocation dinner for Big Old Seminary's Classes of 1952 and 1957, who are here for their big reunions. Delightful folks.
- I was part of the entertainment - we sang some popular songs from those years. I excused myself to go home to do homework after the dinner, saying I had a date with Athanasius. One of my tablemates mused that they had not been required to read Athanasius when they were in seminary, just a description of his work and importance.
- They also weren't required to study a Biblical language.
- Is it wrong to be jealous of a bunch of guys in their 70's?
- Ah, well, it made me look like quite the scholar to them, bless them. And Athanasius ain't so bad...surprisingly, I actually get the whole logos thing and enjoy it immensely. I think I'm a closet Greek.
- Tomorrow we've got classes in the morning and early afternoon, then convocation lectures and such for the next two days. It will bollix up the schedule of classes something fierce, but somehow it's good to get a change of perspective for a couple of days.
- It's also good to see recent alums whom I know back on campus. The big alum celeb is newly elected Bishop Sean Rowe, who at 32 is the youngest of the Episcopal Bishops. Gee whiz, I'm old...I've got a kid older than that.
(For more about Sean, see here: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/81803_89964_ENG_HTM.htm)