11 October 2005

Getting In, Club Episcopal

In my quest for a more helpful introduction to seminary for future students, I ordered an Episcopal Dictionary and have tucked all the good feedback I've gotten into a folder. I am thinking of taking an informal poll of students. Did you feel behind on anything when you arrived at seminary? Did you feel out of the loop in your own establishment? This kind of thing. I will post what I come up with.

My friend Stacie, currently living in Shanghai, has just left after being here for a couple days on her way back from seeing family in Kansas. It was so nice to have her all to myself for a few days after a few years of 30 minute visits over Christmas vacations. After being roommates for 2 of our college years, it finally felt like we were back in the groove. Fun to bum around the City a bit and show her Berkeley. I'm always interested in her reaction to my church stuff, but wasn't surprised at the lukewarm feelings about our Rite I eucharist she attended on campus Monday. (I was Lay Assisting for the first time.) It brings up resentments I have for a church whose language doesn't speak to my generation (somethingunderstood and others excepted).

The senior sermon today hammered this message home. The current issue of the New Yorker highlights a history of Ivy League institutions faced with unseemly student body demographics in the early 1900's. Since superior academic merit was fueling the onslaught of undesirables, the establishment altered the admission requirements (include a picture, state your race, parents' names of origin, personal essays for confirmation of character) in the quest for the ideal homogeny once again.
The article, entitled "Getting In," was a brilliant picture, from our homilist's perspective, of how awful we all can be, and he pressed us to examine whether these dynamics exist within our Church. Do we like to talk about filling the Church with the non-White, non rich, non well-educated but then find ourselves too attached to the mechanisms that ensure that dynamic in the first place? We know it's bad for us, he suggested, but we seem to do it anyway. His message spoke directly to my current struggles.

It strikes me that the Emerging Church workshop has been the only thing I've encountered at CDSP so far to address this concern with vigor and a plan. In talking with some others who are interested in the Emerging Church methods and taking Kinesis' concerns quite seriously, I hope to glean from it something that both Stacie and I would see fit to do on a Sunday night.

From the inside and the outside, I am experiencing the negative potential of Club Episcopal, and prophetic voices that would see the tide turn on these dynamics. I am learning that my seminary experience is not just the accumulation of knowledge and spiritual seafaring I thought it would be. It is also a process of intense evaluation: what is working (in the Church, in the seminary, in the chapel) and what isn't?

I think the seminary environment encourages this critical posture but I am wary of its destructive potential as well. I hope that these disconnects come to electrify me and not just electrocute me, so that they can be used for good. Hopefully it is the shock needed to turn on the light.


Blogger CJA said...

Have faith, dear Zinnhead. Lizette told me at one point that Seminary spends two years tearing your assumptions apart, and then the third year is designed to let you start to build it back up, but with a clear sense of consistency and coherence.

I can't wait to see what we all do.

6:50 PM  
Blogger CJA said...

And another comment, what were your feelings before you came here? Is your experience with Episcopal worship very different in your home parish, or did you find parts of the worship frustrating and exclusionary there too?

About the speaking to your/our generation, I wonder why that is. Imagine this: the worship that we come up with in the next decade will eventually be seen, by our grandkids, as really stuffy and old and boring. What will that be like?

6:56 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I would encourage you to keep up the critical posture. I spent my first semester thinking that everything was great, got pretty sour by the end of my first year, and then spent most of my middler year doing as much theological thinking and reflection as I could. Now that I'm in my final year I've evolved from being critical to being able to offer critique while seeing the value of my seminary education, and I am grateful for all the discomfort and crabbiness I went to in order to get there. I think your attitude is healthy, because the sheltered seminary exisistance makes it pretty easy to be in denial about the fact that many facets of ECUSA need a serious wind to blow through and clear out the cobwebs of old assumptions.

I also found that CPE helps give good perspective too, because it gets us out of the seminary bubble and invites us into the experience of the suffering and doubt of others. It's gritty and challenging in a way that classroom life can never be.

8:14 PM  
Blogger TheCrowdBelow said...

I'm concerned with how this Club Episcopal attitude translates down to the induvidual level. What we model corporately as an effect on each part of that corpus, and our individual attitudes, especially those of you who will lead, will surely find expression in the liturgy.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

I liked the article in the New Yorker and agree. The conceptual drive of any institution is to preserve itself. Or as one orthopedic surgery resident once said to me, if you want to graduate, you have to make the attending surgeons believe that you are like them. Appearance, voice, skin color, accent, clothing are all evaluated. "Not one of us!" is always a devasting comment.

When General [then Colonel] George Patton's daughter talking with her father about the officer she wanted to marry, Patton said, "You cannot marry him. He is short, Roman Catholic and Field Artillery." The Pattons were, what else, Episcopalian, Tall, and Horse Cavalry!

My only disagreement with the article was the line: "It’s confident that the experience of undergoing Marine Corps basic training will turn you into a formidable soldier." Marines turn you into a Marine, not a soldier.


4:42 AM  
Blogger Doc said...

A few more thoughts: Patton's future son-in-law could not make himself taller and he selected Field Artillery perhaps because he saw the coming dissolution of the Horse Cavalry in 1948, with the ascendancy of FA in the Army of the 50s and 60s. At any rate, he made 4 stars and finished his career as a General. When Patton's wife requested that he become an Episcopalian, he asked her if she would really want her daughter to marry someone who who would change his beiefs just to please someone else.

5:19 AM  

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