Saturday, December 26, 2009

20 More Things I Learned in My First Semester of Seminary

  1. I thought I was a liberal until I heard Greg Morgan say that Luke's Gospel's intro includes the phrase "Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."
  2. Based on his explanation of proper usage of the term "faux," Colin is a fauxmo.
  3. Reinholz, Kellogg, and Joe's comfort with gay idioms sometimes makes the gays uncomfortable, but that's just part of the corruption.
  4. If you have a stereotype about the Diocese of Californian, share it with Greg Brown. He'll either agree with it, exaggerate it, or actually be doing it right then.
  5. While Ben Hines's alternate reality may be rather dark, it includes some very comical (if sometimes disturbing) images.
  6. Joiner lives every day looking for more florid words or chant tones.
  7. Jadon is one of the most low maintenance people I know, and wishes all choirs would adopt Psalm 100.1 as their motto.
  8. Everyone has crazy family, and coming back from Thanksgiving means telling other classmates about it during lunch in the refectory.
  9. The larger the conference, or well-known the organization, the more their faces will look like something on Candid Camera when a precentor sings the blessing.
  10. The Ten-Mile dialect of Latin is extremely rare and will soon be extinct.
  11. Jess is from the Diocese of Roman Catholic. She's also Lebanese and Chinese.
  12. Sam really worries about my protein intake since I don't eat meat.
  13. My classmates, for the most part, are really Episcopalian (though with varying degrees of Protestant), which is apparently different than Erin's experience.
  14. Christie Chapman analyzes Glee for ethical and legal violations...I just look for football rules violations ("Single Ladies" dance is a total false start on the offense).
  15. Matt's mission in life is to self-differentiate and not get sucked into Ben's spiral of darkness.
  16. Gale Jones is fabulous and doesn't put up with anyone's crap (least of all ignorant Southerners').
  17. There is much, much more to many of our classmates than meets the eye; we've done some cool shit in our lives and I love the adventures others have had.
  18. "General Seminary" must be chimed at least once a week, based on what I've heard.
  19. George Herbert (and John Donne) give plenty of cause for giggling at texts.
  20. If I can barely handle two weeks away from my classmates for Christmas, how am I going to handle CPE, let alone graduating, however far off it may seem?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sermon on Luke 1.39-56

Joseph P. Mathews, OSL
4 Advent, C
20 December 2009
Lk. 1:39-56

That I speak truth to you from the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us; that I may ever be filled with awe and wonder when claiming so to do; that the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in the eyes of that same God let us pray: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Beloved sisters and brothers, I am back, and we are back. I am back to you for this brief period of time from that heavenly country, Chelsea Square, wherein lies the New Jerusalem. And we are back into this time of expectation and preparation of Advent. The first time I spoke to you from this pulpit was the First Sunday of Advent, last year. My first time worshiping with you was the First Sunday of Advent in 2005 at the invitations of Paige Swaim now Presley and Dr. Sam Shelton. And today another Advent comes to a close, though this year, it closes using the Revised Common Lectionary, without any passages from the Gospel According to John or the Revelation to St. John the Divine.

The gurus of the new lectionary have excellently crafted readings for Advent that maintain an emphasis on the gospel of the coming church year. Three weeks ago we heard in New York and Alabama of the impending destruction at the end of time. Two weeks ago John the Baptizer exhorted us to prepare the way of the Lord and gave us a vision for the end of time different than cosmic destruction: valleys being filled and mountains being leveled, the crooked being made straight, and all flesh seeing the salvation of God. Last week John called us to bear fruits worthy of repentance. And in that same text, Luke the Evangelist begins laying the groundwork for one of the majors themes of our faith history and his gospel in particular: caring for those in need: sharing coats and food with whose who are without.

And in our passage today Mary goes to Elizabeth and greets her with words that make up a phrase in the Hail Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Think if you will of the joy that is usually experienced by those who are expecting a child, and the joy that is not only theirs, but their family’s and their community’s. Here the handmaiden of the Lord is about to be the Mother of God and her sister praises her for accepting what God has said and expecting it to come true.

And rather than accepting Elizabeth’s praise for being God’s servant or people’s remembering her through history, she says, to use the language of those who regularly attend Evensong in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior!” Despite her irregular pregnancy and the effect that would have had on her life, and all the dangers that we can hardly fathom accompanied a first century pregnancy, Mary praises God not just for her gift, but for the things God has done, is doing, and is about to do.

Similarly to the way that Hannah praises God at Samuel’s birth, this female servant of God gives thanksgiving for her son, but also for God’s care for the outcast, downtrodden, and disenfranchised of society. She tells of the way that God has mercy for those who fear God: those who respect and subject themselves to what God teaches: loving God, neighbor, and enemy, and as John told us last week, giving food to those who do not have it and a coat to those who don’t have one if we have two.

The hungry have been filled, while the rich have been sent away empty. This is the same active performative language of creation, where God speaks things into existence, and the beatitudes. This too is part of Luke’s gospel: the salvation of those downtrodden by society is happening here and now, and it is about real needs, not merely spiritual ones that make readers and hearers feel good. The proud are subject to the strength of God’s arm and are scattered in their own thoughts, where they cannot hear and are unwilling to hear what others might be saying to them, even if it is a word from God. The lowly are lifted up, and the powerful authority figures are thrown from their positions of power because God alone is powerful.

This Magnificat is a song of praise to God for the justice that has done, is doing, and is about to do: God’s mighty acts of redemption and salvation brought to an apex in Christ, God in flesh. But as we have been incorporated into Christ’s work and God’s acts of redemption in baptism, we are charged with making this heavenly reality break through to an earthly one. As we wait for and approach the birth of the Prince of Peace in this Advent season, we have learned not too long ago that our country will increase its troop levels in Afghanistan. Our country can afford to send more people to war, but it cannot give basic healthcare to all of its citizens. The world’s poorest, those who rely on subsistence farming, are the ones most effected by climate change and have the least opportunity to affect change.

We share in this Eucharistic banquet coming to the table not for solace only but for strength, not for pardon only but for renewal. Afterward we pray that God will send us out to do the work God have given us to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Part of that work is using our privileges in this life -- which start simply be being born into a system where we can speak to elected officials and ask them to consider our position -- to speak on behalf of those who can’t, giving voice to the voiceless.

Our job as a church is not simply to pray, although that is a significant part of the work we’ve been given. We certainly ought not rely too much on government powers because Christ is the eternal ruler, and our citizenship is first in heaven. But our job is also to be changed ourselves and contribute to changing systems that oppress and systems that breed disunity. Page 855 of the Book of Common Prayer says that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The Church pursues its mission as it prays, worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members: from the laity up to the episcopate.

“My soul doth magnify the Lord.” As we members of the church carry out the mission of the church, we should magnify God at all times. The work we do is Gospel work, which requires loving those around us even when we don’t like what they are doing or what they have to say. I close with one of my favorite paraphrases of the Magnificat, which is entitled “The Canticle of the Turning” which points to God’s work in all things but offers some modern, vivid imagery of what God’s Kin-dom looks like.

My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the god of my heart is great
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blessed. Could the world be about to turn?
Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be
Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower not a stone will be left on stone
Let the king beware, for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne
The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn,
There are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn
Though the nations rage from age to age we remember who holds us fast,
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp
The saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound
Till the spear and rod can be crushed by God who is turning the world around.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near for the world is about to turn.

We are moving to celebrate the birth of our Lord, which I will leave to celebrate with my extended family right after the service ends, and we are moving to celebrate his imminent return. As the Blessed Florence Li Tim-Oi, first female priest in the Anglican Communion; the Blessed Alexander Crummell, who was denied admission to General Seminary because he was black; the Blessed Jonathan Myrick Daniels, civil rights martyr; the Blessed Cady Elizabeth Stanton, who worked for women’s rights all asked in their own advent waitings; as Canon Mary Glasspool, bishop suffragan elect of Los Angeles, and my classmate Brandt, who God willing and the people consenting will be the first African American ordained in the diocese of Alabama in sixty years ask now with longing and expectation; as those in areas torn by warfare and devastated by lack of food ask; and most importantly as the Blessed Mary, ever virgin asked as she looked forward with praise, I ask you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, could the world be about to turn? AMEN.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 20 Things I've Learned in my First Semester of Seminary

Inspired by Keith

1. Transitioning from one intense, intentional community to another takes time. It's very easy to miss both groups when out of town and feel completely lonely when surrounded by one.
2. Even if it's a violation of the rubrics, I'd rather be dismissed from the back of a church after a recessional hymn than be dismissed and held hostage by a recessional (with or without hymn).
3. Having a variety of friends is essential to seminary life, and it's okay to find them on the internet.
4. The hardest part of long distance relationships is not having someone to hold you when you fall into the pit of despair.
5. God has a way of giving you obligations or situations to put things in perspective or to force reconciliation.
6. Despite its regular worship services, a lot of surprising things can happen during liturgies in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.
7. I would rather hear silence than an amen corner that agrees without any elaboration or defense or further contribution.
8. Some of my cattiest friends are the first to call people out for just being mean.
9. Foul-weather friends who swoop in only when things are getting bad may actually be more annoying than the fair-weather friends who leave right then.
10. Sue Sylvester is not a real person and cannot mess with people's ordination processes.
11. I made too many assumptions about my peers based on Facebook profiles and geography of origin.
12. Most of my assumptions were proven wrong by the end of orientation week, and I'll forever be thankful for that.
13. Whenever the word "Methodist" is mentioned in lecture, all eyes will look at me, despite my not being the only person with Methodist sympathies.
14. Slightest alteration of routine time spent with someone or a group may potentially negatively affect the rest of the week.
15. While work study might be heavier on the work than the study, I have an awesome job.
16. I need anonymous noise to do homework effectively: from Starbucks to the corridor at Chelsea Market.
17. It may only be Advent, but singing Christmas songs (NOT carols) in a group does wonders for how one approaches the day.
18. Being the almost youngest can be a downside, but in some groups it's a plus as that everyone else has most of their shit together already.
19. Memorization is not the way I learn; I would much rather intuit a verb by its context than parse it first in the sentence
20. My worth is not determined by my grades or any other arbitrary external standard (like ability to memorize a paradigm).
20.5 Actually believing that takes time, and I'm not there yet, but God and I are working on it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Tweet

Dance like the photo's not tagged, love like you've never been unfriended, tweet (and post things) like nobody's following.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Nice Little Quotation

"..The bishop acting outside or apart from the church as an episcopus vagans is like an electric fan unplugged from its source of power. Its blades may show some signs of movement in a strong wind, but are of no effect in actually generating a breeze. And the same is true of any minister, ordered or lay, who amputated from the body of fellow-believers attempts still to function as an organ of the body.

We are, in the long run, all in this together. Lone wolves go hungry. And shepherds are nothing without their sheep."

-In a Godward Direction: "The Coinherent Bishop"

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's the work of the people: Sunday Nights

I'm sitting here watching Torchwood before I work on a Church Music paper and my final Tutorial Seminary Paper. And Right now they're reading Daniel 12.10 (title of the Episodes is "End of Days"). How appropriate for Advent. This is the first in a three part series that I've promised my senior warden for over a month now, and it was spurred by conversations with Taylor Burton-Edwards and Fr. Malloy. The conversations were about services that I like here at the General Seminary (and those I don't like to some extent), and then we talked about Sunday night, and TBE put it succinctly when I described the service: it's the work of the people.

Sunday night is the family/community Eucharist, and it has some quirks, and I fell in love with it last February when I visited the seminary. It starts with either the opening acclamation or a hymn. Sometimes the processional hymn is the hymn of praise, and sometimes we sing or say the Trisagion or the Kyrie after the opening acclamation. A priest from the community (and believe me, we have plenty) is always the presider, but students are usually the preachers. This is the opportunity for students to preach in the chapel in a service before their senior sermon. This is the most child-friendly of the services.

Children carry the cross and the gospel book, they are usually the oblation bearers. Lately we've had kids that can read reading the first lesson (we only do two) and the prayers of the people. Most of the time the sermon starts with an invitation for all the children regardless of age to join the preacher on the chancel steps. The music is provided by students with musical ability. We've had guitar players, organists, and a vocalist who accompanied herself with a tambourine. And they're all awesome.

Sunday nights is a time when the GTS community comes together (in varied sizes) and brings its gifts to glorify God and enjoy God's goodness in the Eucharist. And we don't tidy up living in community: children scream, they crawl around the chapel (one especially enjoys the altar rail on the dean's side as a destination), they kick the pew wracks in front of them, they babel. Sometimes they cry or meltdown and need to be held. They try too hard to hold infants and toddlers. But they have a part to play and in all their noise and messiness they glorify God and at least remind me (as if I could ever forget!) that honestly living in community is messy because we're broken, messy humans.

And adults I think have a lot to bring and learn. Students preaching often ask questions as part of their sermon, which my elementary school principal mother will tell you may not always be wise; you never know what the answer might be. They have a role to play not just in worshiping, but in formation. There are children who stand with me and the presider (and somtimes others) in the orans. They look on the in the prayer book that I take up with as they learn the memorial acclamations. They are learning now about acolyting, helping the presider set the table, taking directions from sacristans and altar guilds.

And it's not a show. And it's not cold or detached. It's worship. It's the work of the people, and I'm headed there now.