30 September 2005

Purifying Fire

Fire is helpful and harmful, depending on the circumstances in which you find it. I struggle with it tremendously, but I do believe that in my life, fire of the allegorical variety can be experienced as destructive or purifying. I put forth this idea with wary trepidation because I know where it leads many theologically: all tragedies happen for a reason, all tragedy is God's will, all of this is meant for our good. I simply cannot go there; I find so much more nuance in the hard times of my life than these simple conclusions.

Still, I have experienced purifying fire and feel strongly called to share those experiences for the sake of others' hope. Yesterday was one of the more strange days of my life so far, and I feel incredibly vulnerable sharing my experiences. At the blogger panel for Theology on Tap, I was startled to hear that our faculty, fellow students and staff at the seminary peruse our blogs and talk amongst themselves about them. I heard my friend C speak to the vulnerability of blogging, and realized that I haven't made myself particularly vulnerable yet online. It is not required, but at times it is warranted.
Yesterday I missed a flight. It was for a meeting I should have attended for General Convention matters. I thought I was supposed to leave tomorrow rather than today, and by the time I realized my mistake I had been a no-show. There was nothing that could be done, and I called all the necessary people to explain what happened. Although I felt a huge wave of adrenaline when I discovered what happened, I didn't do what I usually do in these situations: freak out. I took several deep breaths and visualized myself in a month: how will this mistake affect my life overrall? Probably minimally. I felt overwhelmingly irresponsible and normally this feeling would cause a lot of anger to rise in me. This time, I was more realistic: my anger bouts never helped a single unfortunate event, and it usually made everyone around me uncomfortable as well. I have since received an email that I will be billed not only for the flight I missed but for any charges the hotel may give for cancelling on short notice. This is no small amount, and though it was my fault, this was only more bad news. I was somehow able to hold a sense of peace inside myself despite everything going on.

If it doesn't seem like much of a fire to you, or seems more like a struck match, I understand. I think some people, my husband for instance, would experience this situation as something like a minor setback, and go on with life, head up, shoulders back. If you know me, though, you probably have some sense that this is not my usual reaction. I am a schedule freak, a perfectionist, extremely organized. The peace I kept throughout the experience has allowed me to see growth in myself. Whether a small or large fire, I am able to see through an embarrassing mistake that I have grown. Before this experience, I had much less confidence in myself to deal with stress, an accident, a setback.

On a much more exciting note, I accompanied some acquaintances from back home on a tour of Cal-Berkeley and GTU campuses. I didn't know them well so I wasn't sure what to expect at all, and did feel a bit nervous as a tour guide in this town brand new to me and for these people fairly new to me as well. They ran a bit late and so while waiting I found myself studying greek at the downtown station, listening to street performers and fights among the onlookers, expletives flying over my head and gestures dancing around me, cops awkwardly looking on from a distance. As I was reciting, "Pas, pasa, pan" for about the 300 jillionth time, this woman approached me. I didn't really feel like talking to anyone, but she said very softly, "Excuse me. I'm sorry...if this, um, makes you uncomfortable....but you are....completely beautiful." WHAT???!!?!! I almost regressed into the self-hating "No! I'm the most irresponsible person ever!I missed my flight!" or better yet the sappy and self-centered, "You know, I REALLY needed to hear that today." Instead, there was peace in my heart again and I just felt very complimented by this also beautiful person, and I beamed a thank you and we just stood there for a minute. I don't know if this stranger saw me tearing up a bit as I was thinking of: flights, strangers shouting, strangers coming for my tour of Berkeley, self-loathing, anger-management, stress over the pending greek test, stress over money, but after a minute she said, "Well, have a nice day." and that was that. I grinned for a minute not knowing what else to do, and then put my nose back in my Greek book and tried not to analyze the experience, but just to be thankful for it. A part of me could go in a lot of directions with that, right? I am being too comforted by compliments about my looks --> my looks aren't me and this is patriarchy at work --> I am continuing to buy into patriarchy. I am being comforted by someone who is possibly hitting on me. I daresay it felt like an angelic encounter. Please, no comments on the sap-factor of this.

The acquaintances turned out to be fast friends. After a very pleasant tour talking about seminary life, California life, and all manner of things, they treated me to dinner at Chez Panisse!!!! It was delicious and such a treat not just to eat that amazing food but also to get to know better my guests, who are amazing and very spiritually uplifting to me as we spent the meal together. It was like water to my soul to eat and talk with these people. They were completely at east talking with me about things like spiritual warfare and prophecy. I felt completely at peace. After they dropped me off and I stepped out of the cab onto Euclid, I felt a pain in my foot, and removed my shoe to find two HUGE blisters, seemingly arising out of nowhere. One had already popped and was causing a searing pain, and the other was much larger but had not yet popped. I think I will be barefoot for a few days while I heal. Here's what I don't get: I have been walking everywhere in Berkeley for two months now, in these shoes no less: HOW did these pedal monstrosities develop at all, and why could I not feel them unti it was much much much much too late? I decided to take it as a sign I shouldn't be doing any more traveling for a few days, on foot or otherwise. All signs point to: STAY WHERE YOU ARE. By the time I
caught up with friends back at Community Night, other people were having bad days, too. Though our community conversation about alcohol at Community Nights was productive and helpful, there was a solemn feeling in the air among those with whom I spoke. Still, I felt peace. The fire seemed to burning away ideas I no longer needed

So there you have it: I am walking double-blister with anger management problems who missed her flight, went out to dinner with a prophet and a doctor, and is beautiful to one stranger in Berkeley.

25 September 2005

People Cry "STOP" and we're out of bullets

300,000 gathered in DC yesterday to protest the war. Why aren't mainstream media sources reporting it? Large gatherings in San Fran, LA, and other locations in the thousands. 300,000, I would like to point out, is twice as many people as all those living in my hometown.

We're out of bullets for our mission in Iraq and we're getting them from, guess where?, Israel.

All's well in Houston?

23 September 2005

Hurricane Rita

For those looking for Rita resources, I'm currently looking at the projected path of the storm, a map of which dioceses are on that path, and a map of Texas. I sent an email to ETSS that the people of the Texas coast are in our prayers here at CDSP, and to let us know what work needs to be done if Rita does in fact hit and do damage. A Reading Week trip is still a possibility, as well as trip already being planned for Spring.

Please, if you have time before Friday ends, watch the stream of Democracy Now about what is currently going on in the Gulf Coast region under the direction of our presidential administration. Matt and I watch this broadcast every day and it has changed our perception of many things in this country.

I'll try to post more resources as events unfold.

21 September 2005

Convocation: Funny Hats and Helpful Frames

This afternoon at the GTU's Opening Convocation, the topic was "Negotiating the Boundaries in Theological and Religious Studies." The address was given by Ann Taves, professor of religious studies and Virgil Cordano OFM Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. ( past topics and speakers ) Judging the very low turnout for the event, with attendance comprised mostly of PhD students with achievements being recognized and the faculty members in their academic costumed glory, I was a little disappointed in the tenor of it, until Ann got into her talk about 10 minutes. Her ideas became a much-need mental file cabinet for about 80% of my struggle since arriving. A while ago, somethingunderstood blogged about how the academic and spiritual dimensions of seminary make for a funny feeling now and again. Am I here for academic formation or spiritual formation? When we read gnostic texts or learn prayer book history, how exactly are we being formed and which sets of biases are we to use to understand the material? Having come from the secular religious studies mindset at KU, being in these classes has so far felt like one big trick question. When Dan said, "Remember that Jesus has already been resurrected at this time," I jerked my head up so fast I got one of those neck cramps you can feel in your tongue. Then I remembered, oh yeah, "resurrection" isn't a bad word here.
Faith in the classroom still gives me the heebeejeebees, but I expect I'll get used to it. Train something out of me while I train something else in. And later for PhD, who knows; I'll probably have to do the 180 all over again.

I'll get to the point: regarding religious/secular studies and theological/seminary studies Ann pointed out it might be more useful to think of these two worlds not as opposing or parallel tracks but as two places where someone may or may not be actively engaged in the "making" or "doing" of their discipline. One way to judge this engaged or detached status is through defining major terms of your discipline. For instance, most of my religious studies professors at KU did not care to enter into the debate of what is "religion" but were rather happy to work with materials that somehow fell into that traditional category. We generally side-stepped the definitions with accounts of our inability to ever define "religion" completely, and therefore could go about the business of studying it. This would be the detached performance. I really got interested when she spoke to the fact that though we might be ready to deem most religious studies departments as responsibly "detached" and seminaries as "engaged," it is not neccesarily so, and not necessarily useful if it is so. I think she argued that a little of both in any given context is probably healthy.

19 September 2005

Ember Days, Shmember Days

This morning in chapel, M, a seminarian's daughter, read from Corinthians that "the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power." Something about a young person reading the scripture makes the message clear as a bell and twice as convicting as when the rest of us open our tired mouths. When she read it, I wondered: am I living as though the kingdom of God is built on power, not words?

I finished my Ember Day letter, using my experience of M's reading as a springboard into how Katrina makes me feel like an ivory-tower-tenant in the midst of everything I could be doing that might be of greater service. Matt offered in repsonse to my panic that great thinkers all took their turn in school; it's my turn now, and I'll have something to contribute when my turn is up. I'm hoping he's right. If at the end of this all I have is white paper and white plastic, I'll cringe.

Mega Monday over and done with - the old 7:30-a.m.-to-6:00-pm-er is finished, week 2.

Food for thought: Read one Bishop's response to Nigerian Church events

17 September 2005

Middle School Cheers and Sesame Street Chants

"Put it all together, and what do you get?"

Justin Martyr (whom we just studied in my History of Christianity class) supposedly came to Christianity by reason. Joseph Butler (whom we're reading in my Anglican Tradition and Life class) defends that Christianity does not propose anything contrary to reason, that revelation was reasonable. The Fundamentalists (whose theology we've outlined in my Old Testament class) swallow all the demands of modernity and attempt to prove Christian precepts backwards in proof-style (see contemporary fundamentalist claims on evolution/creation, homosexuality and psychology/sociology). Contemporary Evangelicals propose their faith to potential converts in a very reason-oriented way, as if to say, There is nothing contradictory between reason and revelation. Are they just countering what mainstream protestants are calling the church where “you check your brain at the door” ? What does all this historical clash between reason and revelation amount to today, for us? Where are there reasoners posing as revelationers, and vice versa?

Anglicanism and "Other"

I've spent the morning digesting the readings for my Anglican Tradition and Life class, and it has left me with a desire to know how universal is my Anglican education. This is just the newest example of where a blogring of Anglican/Episcopal seminarians and former seminarians would be shockingly useful (to me if no one else). Email me if you're interested in helping me form one.

At the coffee shop today I met R, whose class on Allergy to the Other at Starr King has opened for him a desire to merge the work of justice with the intellectual understanding of Self in terms of Other, rather than in terms of similarities to Self. His words were unusually fertile ground for me this morning, as I'm reading all this, as I'm now calling it, ASS (Anglican Spirituality Stuff). Here's why: everything I'm reading so far has depicted Anglican tradition as defined solely in terms of Other, meaning that as a tradition we've resisted any notion that we know ourselves as this or that but that we know we are not this or not that or in between this and that. I need to pursue further whether these tumultuous "definitons" of Anglicanism have any bearing on the concepts of Self and Other that R is recognizing.

This leads me to my blogring aspirations: I endeavor to guess that not all of us are reading the same history and definition of Anglican tradition that I am at CDSP. Discrepancies in syllabi might lead to an understanding of how we define Anglicanism for ourselves in the absence of any doctrinal definitions. In other words, are we all seeing Anglicanism as I'm being taught to see it? A good place to start is insitutional endorsements. I'd like to see the bibliographies on seminarians' syllabi for Anglican courses. I have my own bibliography and reading list as follows:

Schmidt's Glorious Companions
Sykes' The Study of Anglicanism
Wingate's Anglicanism: A Global Communion
Countryman's The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition
The Windsor Report
Douglas' Beyond Colonial Anglicanism
Rowell's Love's Redeeming Work
Webber's Give Us Grace: An Anthology of Anglican Prayers

Secondary Bibliography
Armentrout's Documents of Witness: A History of the Episcopal Church
An Episcopal Dicitionary of the Church
Bates' A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality
Bicknell's A Theological Introduction to the 39 Articles of the Church of England
Borsch's Anglicanism and the Bible
Cross' The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
Hatchett's Commentary on the American Prayer Book
Moorman's A History of the Church of England
More's Anglicanism: The Thought of Practice of the Church of England, Illustrated from the Religious LIterature of the Seventeenth Century
Neill's Anglicanism
Shepherd's The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary
Wolf's Anglican Spirituality
Wolf's The Spirit of Anglicanism
Wright's Prayer Book Spirituality

(Apologies for any bibliography nazis in the face of this [lack of] documentation.)

PS: All this ASS (see above) is a lot more interesting than I thought it would be.

15 September 2005

Bookmark Theology

My boss in Missouri gave me a going-away present of two bookmarks. One of them reads:

"Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and receives the impossible."

I feel that in coming here (to seminary) I have been branded by my secular community as the seer of the invisible and believer of the impossible.
At the next table in the coffee shop today, two men shared with one another various factoids about the Christian-ness of this country's inhabitants and the immoral behavoir of its leaders. "Only 18% of Israel declares itself Jewish!" one blurts, "and 85% of America claims Christianity!" They lamented that for as "Christian" as this country is, we are quite "unChristian" in our conduct domestically and internationally. I sensed that to these men also I would be the seer of the invisible; I predict that to them I would represent the deceived masses of Christians, accepting war and oppression from our leaders because it is couched in terms of naming the other the "evildoer", branding the poor the immoral, understanding the oppressed in some fabricated system of well-distributed justice.
I don't want to get into politics, but I do want to dig deeper into this bookmark theology that we Christians are branded the seers of the invisible.
When Jesus talks to Thomas in that tense post-resurrection encounter, the words (I've heard them all this time as admonition) ring in my ears: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
What does John want me to hear in Jesus' words? What was Jesus telling Thomas?

WARNING: annoying side thoughts -- not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart --
[Someone suggested to me that it was because of Thomas' persistance that he was awarded the singular experience to finger the wounds. I see it as a teachable moment that Jesus chose to use to demonstrate something to us -- not a lesson in demanding material proof as virtue -- and then I wonder if the whole thing is a lesson in not forgetting what you already know. Thomas had been warned, after all, that Jesus would return. That feels incredibly harsh to me, though. Imagine the paranoia that has likely ensued among the apostles at this time. They are getting it from all sides, probably including "inside" at this point. And something like an appearance of Jesus would be a very convenient thing to invent to deflect some of the pain of being just dead wrong on the whole Messiah thing. Maybe Thomas misses his teacher and 3-year companion so much that he resents that he had to miss out on the event. But maybe the paranoia has gotten to him. The upper room huddling is probably wearing them all down. I don't even want to mention what Elaine Pagels' take on the story is.]

Somehow in this story Jesus calls Thomas and the rest of us to "see the invisible, believe the incredible and receive the impossible" just like in my bookmark. What are the implications of this expectation for us as Christians? We are expected from the inside (Jesus) and outside (bookmark) of our communities to have the hope of all hopes, the belief of all beliefs...to trust in something that isn't "there" in the way other things are "there." In a place and time valuing proof above faith, where does that leave us? (A second question is more narrow: Where does it leave the seminary student who, in the name of this faith expectation, studies everything around the invisible and the invisible itself, in the academic environment otherwise conditioned to function on the proof level with the rest of the world.)

The reality is that some Christians are intensely rational, some are intensely irrational, and some of us are caught somewhere in the middle, affirming things like Biblical criticism and evolution but not altogether confident that we have the faith of a mustard seed at the end of the day. I see many of us vascillating between trying to prove to ourselves we're the most rational of the Modern Englightenment bunch and on the other hand trying to prove we see more than meets the eye in case any Englightenment-ers out there are looking for a little dose of mysticism. Whether we "see the invisible" or not remains largely in the eye of the beholder. Leave it to a bookmark to throw me into a tailspin.

13 September 2005

Seminary, Mid-Spin

Post 2 from California:

After a very leisurely month of getting to know the terrain, I am now in full swing. Seminary has picked me up and spun me around and last night briefly dropped me on my head, so that I could sit and rub the formed bump on my noggin. There seems to be more room in my cranium under the heading "New Information" than I thought, because after orientation, transportation schedules, geographical exploration, many new friends and acquaintances, a new job, a new job for Matt, budgeting and finance work, 5 new class subjects and 1 new language (oi boes ousiv ischuroi), I was able to cram 3 hours of Anglican Tradition and Life in there without any detectable explosions. However, there was a tiny threat of melt-down last night around 9:30 p.m., when all the words on the page started blurring so that they all read, You are getting very sleepy. Ahhhhh, yessssss.....it is sssssleeeeep that you neeeeeeed. And I journeyed in the in-between wake and sleep area of consciousness for about an hour before giving up entirely. I realize a recap of the last few weeks is overdue.

Orientation was effortless and enjoyable, meeting new people, being thrust into a new worshipping routine, and attending various discussions, workshops, and information sessions on everything from enrollment to financial aid to spiritual directors. Instead of letting it all sink in with my colleagues over the weekend, I rushed to Menlo Park for a Presiding Bishop Nominating Committee meeting for the Labor Day Weekend. Labor we did. Rest from our Labors we did not. The meeting was productive, though, and at some point I will try to form a cohesive set of reflections on the entire committee experience. Most of the time I felt distracted and a little sleep deprived, having trouble shifting mindsets from I'm in seminary! I made it! I'm really here! to Examine these nominees' strengths and weaknesses and the usual committee brain fare. Still, I returned to the City with Sierra to show her some tourist sights, had a wonderfully peaceful Chinese dinner with Matt in downtown Berkeley, and promptly returned to my apartment for sleep, sleep and sleep.

Reflections on the standard 1st year M.Div. schedule: I predict my History of Christianity class will contain the most classroom energy, and my own pursuits in Old Testament should keep me busy enough not to complain about the sea-turtle speed at which we're moving. Biggest shocker: Fundamentals of Worship. I was intensely skeptical based on some misconceptions during orientation and approached even the very floor of the common room with extreme caution. Feeling intimidated and general put-off by the "liturgy rats/nerds/junkies" around me and the hostile warnings against harboring our own "personal liturgical agendas" in orientation, I felt I was about to enter a war-zone I didn't know existed. I tried to close my eyes and examine myself honestly for a personal liturgical agenda, but the only thing that came to mind was a dislike for the conservative Christian ribbon dancers that performed to boom box tunes at the Columbia Twighlight Festivals on Thursday nights in summer. And does that even count? I doubt Lizette is going to start any jigs of this kind, even for a what-not-to-do demonstration. I sat there in the Common Room and sighed at my lack of enthusiasm for the whole chapel component of the program. Maybe I'm not supposed to be a priest after all, I thought, I don't even have my personal liturgical agenda prepared. I worried that maybe I had misinterpreted my hunger and thirst after theology for a call to ordained ministry. In talking with some 2nd year students, some other priests, and friends, I realized that my lack of zeal in this area may be an asset, in that it may leave me room to explore the chapel phenomenon with an open mind and heart, and that some history and theology of liturgy may just get the train smoking. After meeting for the 2nd time today, I think they all may just be right. Who knew I would actually be interested in which prayers were introduced in the 16th century, and which ones we took from Byzantine liturgies? And George is a highly encouraging teacher, funny and putting all of us at ease who are biting our inner-nails at the thought of singing liturgy in front of ANYONE. I don't mind performing the occassional Cher impersonation but this is NOT that, and I can't even stretch it into that. If someone asked me today, What seminary should I go to? I would say, Come here and learn from George. Some who read may be shocked, but my fellow students may agree. He is hilarious, encouraging and knows his stuff. There is hardly a better teacher out there than that.

Our entering class retreat was quick but relaxing in the middle of the redwoods. A trip to Goat Rock beach was wonderful -- a rock beach with a deadly undertow so dangerous that my barefoot wading earned me a talk with a park ranger (beach ranger?). I got to learn the history of the beach, if anyone is dying to know. And more bonding time with classmates was a good thing. I had begun to settle into a certain group and the retreat opened up the social territory splendidly. Note to self: don't clique up.

Mostly I am discovering that for the first time, I am allowing myself the time and reflection to have an integrated schooling experience. Watching Matt get his philosophy degree gave me piles of good ideas for how to actually digest the lessons at hand, and take the class notes to a level of understanding that makes them accessible in other continents of my brain. My undergrad was a flurry of 3 concurrent part-time jobs and full time class work. One semester I remember working 40 hours and taking 17 class hours. I got all A's. The amount I can tell you about from those classes amounts to some buzz phrases I memorized for professors and the books I just gave to our church's booksale this summer. What more might I have taken with me had I sat with my studies, let them steep and stew? I made a commitment before coming to CDSP to follow tangents of thought that my studies aroused, and let these trial balloons float, even if they evolve into an extra project. As I've been meditating on this hope for a more integrated experience, our Anglican Tradition and Life class seemed to poke its head up like an answered prayer. Bill Countryman urged us to make the class a space to process the experience of being here and preparing for ministry, while seeking to understand our tradition in the context of our real lives. Let the integrated experience begin.

Matt is working at Berkeley Natural Grocery doing all those natural grocery things he was doing before we came across the country. Estimated job next year: High school History teacher. He is entering a certification program that he should be able to pair with an internship teaching. Our apartment is still a bit in transition but it is coming along. My thoughts are often with Marcia and Daryll, Honey and Papaw as they continue to go through their experiences of Katrina, having lost their homes and many of their belongings. I miss Brie and Josh and our friends in Columbia, and our families. Dad and Sally are going to come for a visit in November. Hopefully someday Cindy and Roy will come, too. Matt and I are reeling with the news that BOTH of our little sisters rushed at their respective universities this fall. Where did we go wrong, we asked ourselves, laughing. They seem to be well-adjusted women, though, so we can't worry so much. Still, this inside perspective into the sorority system is not what I expected from my own flesh and blood. Katie is still thriving in her new environment of religious studies and St. Thomas.

Stay tuned for reflections on work study and other academic musings. Wrists writing off....