Saturday, February 27, 2010

Of Course, I Could Be Wrong

I should be taking a nap, but I'm too amused at this moment to really take one. :). I had a busy day yesterday between meandering around in a cassock for about two hours and being trained in keeping the church safe by Safeguarding God's Children/People. I did, in fact, get some boots yesterday afternoon, and that made me late for evensong's set up. I'll post some pictures from my iPhone later today (with another very fun, surprise picture or two). After I worked on the thing in the surprise picture(s), I went to dinner with friends, came back, did homework, and then went out for a few hours. I had to come back because I needed some sleep (hence needing the nap now) so that I could go play in Central Park this morning.

I did that! I played in the Park for about two hours before going to the Metropolitan Museum. I'll write about that later, I think. I got a comment on here while I was there and it was nice. I don't get a lot of comments. When I got back to my room I logged in to Statcounter to see that I had 92 hits (up to 99 now). As I often do, I checked out visitor paths and saw that lots of people were coming to me from MadPriest! Not only was I added to the Neighbourhood, I'm featured in an entry which says about my blog, "Its creator, Joseph P. Mathews, OSL, is far too young and good looking and I hate him already."

If you haven't ever been over there, go check his blog out and read regularly. There is excellent humor, nice caption competitions (of some great photographs), good analysis, and a Church of England perspective on what's going on. There is also prayer sharing. It's an excellent community with nice dry talk and smart thinking. If nothing else, go read the entry about me and Kelvin Wright. The comments are humorous, and I expect as they accumulate will only get funnier.

In a different vein, I think the Blogpress app that Colin introduced me to is outstanding. I think it will encourage greater content generation in smaller forms, and enable me to share pictures with this community that I put on Facebook. I'll try to start posting album links here to over there so that my Senior Warden can see my adventures.

Friday, February 26, 2010

More Window and Snow Pictures

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

More Snow Pictures

Tiny path in the sidewalk. Wasn't there before I went off to sacristan, so I trapsed through snow that deep.

The trees are beautiful, even if they block the pathways.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

The View From My Window

It usually looks like this:

Today it looks like this:

It's not even really that cold, just snowy. I don't have the shoes for this. Hello K-Mart in Penn Station when I get my refund check.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, February 25, 2010


In January I installed an invisible counter on my page so that I can see how many hits I get each day. Additionally, I see how people go to my page (from Twitter, my Blogger profile, googling me, etc.) and I see where they're from. And I've gotten somewhat amused by some of them, but am also just fascinated by other. I can intuit how people came sometimes. If they came from my blogger profile (like my visitor from Capetown, London, and Monterrey, Mexico), I assume it's because they clicked me on a comment, which took them to my profile, and thus led them to my page. Sometimes people come from the OCICBW Neighbourhood.

I like looking at the visitor paths and seeing when Judy Dye visits; she's in Troy and usually comes from Ryan's page, which links to me. Fr. Jeff comes straight there because he has it in his favorites. That's my guesses, anyway.

I assume that the Catholic University of America visitor is Matt. My favorite person, I think is the person in Enterprise on the Alabama Supercomputer Network, who seems to google my blog each time they want to read. Curious: the person at Collegetown Center in Ithaca, NY. Someone in Montgomery apparently follows me on Twitter and checks out my entries, but I don't know who it is. Today (and once before) someone from Searcy, Arkansas (White County Video), has been by. The person in Madison, AL (at Dynetics) is amusing to me.

Some people might think it's creepy that all these different people that they don't know are reading their page, but that's why we put stuff on the internet and not in a diary, right? That's why I do it, and I think it's fascinating.

Going Paperless, Chapter 3.5

Tuesday I presented some paperless music to the LT90 class, and we sang. We sang well as a group and I was very pleased. Hopefully that will carry over to the liturgy in 35 minutes. Together we sang "Praise God" that Patrick Evans taught us in San Francisco, "Whoever Eats This Bread", and "Return to God". "Return to God" was rocky because my pitches were off. Today we're singing a song paperless in the liturgy, so we'll see how it goes. I think because there will be people there trusting the decisions of the class and willing to sing that it will go well. And we have some ringers to help me lead, and we've got some practical planning stuff down. The intentionality involved in planning the service was impressive, and I think it shows through in the liturgy in a way that the other services sometimes show a lack of intentionality.

Here's a song that we sang at St. Lydia's on Sunday night.


As many of my readers know, I have been through three different denominations. While I have left two for very specific reasons, I try not to speak too disparagingly of my time in either of them. When I joined The Episcopal Church my mom asked me what I was looking for. Two years later, I think I've found my answer, and it comes from looking at comments in a blog a few weeks ago. I've been looking for identity within a denomination, identity that is honest to itself and with its members about who and what it is. I've already written about why I'm an Epsicopalian at length (here and here). Essentially, we have an identity that is ours that we live and share (although there needs to be a lot more sharing. This using the term "identity" is a new usage for me, although I've been saying it for awhile in different ways.

A few weeks ago I was fascinated as I read through the comments on this blog. I was learning from the essential post about controversy and gatekeeping and rigidity of professors. But then as I read through the comments my eyes just got wider and wider. The blog is a Southern Baptist blog, and I was finding out all kinds of things about the Convention at the Convention level. I had no idea that certain things happened, or that the congregationalism I was so used to wasn't how it always entirely played out. I don't remember specifics not, but there was stuff about the International and Domestic Missions Boards, disagreement at the national level about missionaries and cessation of gifts. I was clueless about that stuff!

I remember being in seventh grade, or maybe just a little earlier, when there was a unit in my Discipleship Training Union book about what it meant to be baptist. There wasn't a lot of information in the student book, and we never got there as a class, so I never got the information. I knew the way we did things differently than other denominations (we only immersed, and the Methodists sprinkled), but I didn't know what made us distinctly us; I wanted something other than the way we were different than others. That isn't to say we were cast against them, but there were definitely times that we learned that we were right and others were wrong (baptism for example).

From the time I saw my grandmother's Book of Discipline I was fascinated, especially by the Social Principles. An entire denomination had adopted statements about what it believed on social issues. At that point in my life I had never seen or heard of The Baptist Faith and Message. I don't recall seeing it until Timothy joined Crawford Road after we all pretty much stopped going to Cascade Hills. As I was growing I was growing dissatisfied with congregationalism, although I didn't know that word for it. I wound up in a United Methodist Church looking for a friend of mine, but finding new friends who played a big part of my life through high school.

There was identity, though. The United Methodist Hymnal has information for learning/teaching about baptism and sacraments, I feel like I read. I borrowed Books of Discipline and flipped through Grandmother's whenever I was at her house. I got very involved, I went to Annual Conference, I bought a Book of Discipline of my own, I graduated from high school and got plugged in to the Wesley Foundation. Then I started reading more United Methodist resources and finding my experience dissonant with teaching and directives from the denomination. I don't have a problem with congregationalism as an idea, but it's not a practice for me to engage in. I got more liturgical and more frustrated with suspicion of being "too Catholic." I got tired of not feeling like identity was being reflected around me.

I am where I'm supposed to be, and the places I've been have shaped me and given me lenses through which I view life. They've impacted my ecclesiology, liturgical sensibility, biblical knowledge, and relationships, relationships, relationships. I don't know if I'd stayed Southern Baptist if I'd known about the higher up machinations of the Convention, but I doubt it. If I'd known that there were liturgical baptists as I was getting more liturgical I might've lasted a little longer. Some experiences in college did a lot of shaping me, which I think would've pushed me out of the SBC.

I feel like this a Debby Downer post, but it's not meant to; it really starts with and continues with a fascination from reading Wade Burleson's blog once and checking back in periodically, actually reading the comments. Stuff that I had no idea happened that as a now-outsider looking in is just fascinating. I get the polity (in large part) of two different denominations, but didn't realize at all that the church of my founding had similarly elaborate polity as well.

Trying not to run this race in vain.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Going Paperless, Chapter 3

I'm feeling like Wednesdays are the days that I post about the previous Sunday's experience. Maybe I need that much time to process and think, maybe cool down, maybe that's just when I get around to it. Oh well, it's not that important; it's getting posted, and I already have a Chapter 3.5 to post maybe tomorrow or Saturday. Probably not Friday, though. All that was completely arbitrary. It's a short post, but it'll get written when it does. Nothing's ever boring on our Sunday paperless adventures; there's always something!

This week was our third week with paperless music, and I think we had a breakthrough. :) My music stuff got all switched on Saturday and Sunday as I more carefully considered what I wanted us to sing. We came in to "Return, Return to God" (see video below). It went well, and we added an extra phrase, but it worked. It was a very good starting point. It's slow, contemplative, Lenten. Colin and I are very much wanting to not take as many options as we can to make this a kid-friendly service. We want it to be accessible, but we want it to be a full service and a formational experience for the children, and hopefully an experience that seminarians can learn from about leading worship that involves children. As such, we're trying to restore the song of praise after the opening sentence (Collect for Purity being optional). This week we were going to do an English Kyrie that I was essentially going to make up. But it got skipped. It happens.

We were going to sing "Come Light of Lights" as our Gospel acclamation, but I decided to shorten it to just the second phrase. I will keep doing that, I think, even though it was a little rocky. Despite the rockiness, the singing was stronger in general this week. I think three weeks in people are starting to understand a little better or trusting themselves a little more. That our presider sang strongly was very helpful. The sermon was outstanding and I think everyone got something out of it regardless of age. I don't remember us doing the Creed....but we did say the confession, which we've added for Lent. The prayers of the people were good and were bidden. Need to make a mental note about them. During the peace I moved again, which I think works well. There was a slight miscommunication between me and the presider (I didn't hear an offertory sentence), but singing "What We Need Is Here went well. We sang it as we gathered around the table and until we were ready to start giving thanks together, making eucharist.

At someone's suggestion from last week, I stood directly across from the presider, which worked well. We've continued Mark Miller's Sanctus et Benedictus, which is going well. The hosannahs are a little confusing because of the third one the second time through, but it is what it is. During the distribution we had our breakthrough! We were singing, "Whoever Eats this Bread," and we sang and sang and sang. We had strong voices singing, and we were close together and could hear each other. When I received I made eye contact with someone across the table who was comfortable singing and they kept the song going. Then I took it into the round and someone followed me. I think there were just two of us singing the round, but I think that made the first part sing more strongly. On the way out we sang "Jesus Is With Us, Let Us Bless the Lord." Just one part, maybe I'll add harmony myself as Lent progresses.

And this week I had a very formative experience, which I'm realizing Sunday night planning very much is. It's preparation for being in parish ministry. I received some feedback from someone who's attended about the way we're doing music and about variety of musicians. I've heard it and made note, and am going to talk about it with the rest of the team, but I think for now we've made the decision to use paperless music for consistency, which is a key goal of our time planning Sunday nights. I don't want to be the only one leading the songs, but we do want to have a consistent manner of music, if not always the same "style" as it were. (Read: "Guide My Feet" will be used by the end of the year; it'll be paperless, but gospel.)

Next week, all the music is the same. Might toy with some harmony that is pre-written, or might just keep making it up. Going to try to get someone to cantor verses for "Return, Return to God," so that I can drone during petitions to demonstrate droning. I'd love to move to more singing during the Great Thanksgiving so we can drone, but these are pipe dreams. Master singing first, then droning.

Make a good Lent. Return to God.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bread, Wine, Water, Ashes: Symbols

Nearly a week later, and I don't know that I've really put a lot of additional thought into up until now, aside from the thoughts I'd already had. First, something can never be "just a symbol." A symbol is "something visible that by association or convention represents something else that is invisible" (here). When I lived in South Carolina I was discussing baptism with someone who identified as Thoroughly Reformed and she said, "It's just a symbol!" By virtue of its being a symbol, it has something attached to it, whether it's profession of faith or cleansing from all sin and being sealed by the Holy Spirit forever. Christianity is full of tangible symbols, things that represent things to us. These symbols aren't limited by their actual matter or the different things they symbolize.

Bread and wine are symbols, at least for Episcopalians for us. They symbolize a lot of things though. They're the body and blood of Christ. They're elements of a meal that we share together. They're gifts from the community, the community offering itself to God through its resources. They're signs of God's provision for us. Since we relate to God in them, it's important to me (and other) that they be real. Real bread that tastes and looks and feels like bread. Real wine, preferably good wine, that smells like wine and tastes like wine and doesn't make you gag afterward. If you're not in a wine tradition, real, good, grape juice, not stuff that's watered down. It's hard to envision the Eucharist as a feast if you're operating on meager provisions (although it certainly is by merely being God's gift to us, but we need to convey that through symbols we've been given).

These are symbols of grace, and need to be abundant, not cheap or skimpy. That's why I give people large pieces of bread and give them the option to do more than lick the rim of a chalice. God's grace to us is abundant, and there is enough for everyone, and enough for them to not have tiny portions. And that needs to be take into account when planning provisions for worship. It's hard to taste and see that the Lord is good if you can't taste the bread. And yes, you might have to actually chew what you're handed, but that's a sensory experience, God's grace being something that we can experience through a symbol. Wafers might be tidier and more easily managed, but is God tidy or grace easily managed?

Water is a symbol, as discussed briefly above. Most of the time it's a symbol of baptism and forgiveness of sin, sometimes it's mixed with wine, and the comingled liquids symbolize Christ's divinity and humanity. I think water, therefore needs to be abundant, too. I don't like candy-dish fonts, but they can be redeemed somewhat if they're full of water, not just a tiny bit down in the bottom. Fonts are both practical and symbolic; they are the entry to the church and are often there. The font in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd is a great big stone font. Inside it is a ceramic bowl to keep from damaging the stonework. Lately, however, the bowl had had barely water in it. It hasn't been empty, but it hasn't been brimming in abundance. I think that these symbols mean something. A tiny amount of water (especially when you have usually 20+ people remembering their baptism at 3-4 services a day) doesn't go far, or look like it goes far. Abundance of grace...and symbols thereof.

Those are very familiar symbols that we encounter very, very regularly. We have lots of other symbols, but since I was passing them out yesterday, ashes as a symbol come to mind, and this might be a rant, but I don't think so. I don't want an ash smudge, and I don't give an ash smudge. At St. Paul's I used the ball of my thumb after a few people because the symbol was bigger and clearer. Ashes are symbols of our mortality, and as we start Lent they are symbols of our sinfulness. They're to remind us in humility that we are in constant need of (conscious) reconversion, which we focus on during Lent. I made crosses big, bold, and clear. A smudge on the forehead makes it look like you bumped your head at the Olympics (a la English video clip of VP Biden's ash smudge) or that you're just dirty. A dark cross is clearly a marker of Ash Wednesday.

I think symbols need to be clear and acknowledged. If a symbol is downplayed, its weight may not be fully realized. Ashes as a symbol are about mortality and sinfulness, and they are a kind of greeting sometimes. Seeing them on one's own forehead isn't the only way they get seen. Every time I saw someone on the subway or elsewhere last Wednesday, I was reminded that I had ashes on my head and called to mind, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." And I didn't always call that to mind if I wasn't sure if someone had ashes on their head or their hair was doing something funny.

So, in summary


Monday, February 22, 2010

Slow to Speak

"You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness." - James 1.19-20, NRSV.

I'm sure I'd heard this verse at some point in my life, but can't recall an exact instance. Dean Ewing did a reflection during orientation on it, and I changed my blurb under my Facebook picture to verse 19. This verse came to mind today as I was writing some e-mails; I e-mailed a mentor this morning, I've had an e-mail discussion with a classmate, and I've sent a few official-ish e-mails, too. Being super-wired: Facebook (and chat), Twitter (140 characters!), and instant messaging don't encourage being slow to speak.

I find just the opposite, actually. I respond more quickly to chat stuff, or just click "comment" on Facebook or sometimes @reply someone without exercising much self-control before so doing. As I e-mailed with my classmate, as I e-mailed my mentor, and as I'm blogging I'm taking my time finding words...and these media encourage that moreso for me anyway. Submitting takes more effort, and pushing send on an e-mail makes me want it to be substantiative; IMs have been for one-liners for the last ten years of my life, and e-mails have been for more depth (at once).

While I can recall instant message conversations wherein I get to some good depth, it comes as a barrage of messages. In an e-mail I can muck through my feelings as I get down an e-mail. The person replying will get the entirety and know that I'm finished by receiving the information all at once. This gives the responder more to work with as s/he thinks about all that's going into the e-mail, and s/he can see my process so that they don't cover bases that I get to on my own.

I'm through four-days of fasting, a feast break, and into my fifth day...and I'm really liking it. I'm finding other kinds of distractions, but I'm also making room for other kinds of things (reading blogs more, reading for fun more, focusing on school reading more). This having to be slower to speak (by inhibiting my ability to speak quickly) is making me more contemplative. More time for contemplation has actually made me more God-focused and conscious of things for which I (may) need to repent, or maybe things that I need to check myself for before I get to that level. I'm reading Glamorous Powers, which like Glittering Images before it, is speaking to my soul. Sometime I'll post my quotations from Glittering Images.

Remember sisters and brothers, be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Return, Return to God (Going Paperless, Chapter 2.5)

So, there's been a lot of shuffling for this week's music, which I'll report in Chapter 3. However I'm soliciting responses for our new Lenten procession. No longer are we doing "Wait for the Lord" from Taizé, but rather "Return, Return to God." As you watch the video, please keep this question in mind: When do we need to return to God? What do we need to bring? If you can answer in a 4-6 syllable phrase, even better. Thus far my list includes:
  • In all our sadness
  • In darkest moments
  • With great humility
  • In great compassion
  • When we are tired
  • When we are hurting
  • When we are broken
  • With all we have

I'm going to be incorporating stuff from your feedback and from the children in the coming weeks. Please comment or e-mail me. Commenting on the Facebook version won't be seen until next Sunday, 2/18.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lenten Order

The crosses (including the Sunday night children's cross) shrouded in purple in the sacristy.

Lent is a time that we get rid of the clutter in our lives. I'm taking a mental health day today from homeowork and exercising to get rid of some clutter:physical, mental, and emotional. That started with doing my taxes(which I've just finished), which clears space and gets some anxiety about money gone; I can work on financial aid now.

I'm about to clean my room while I have a movie on. I have a lot of clutter that I'll try to reflect on as I clean and listen to the story. I've been writing emails the last two days and I realize how much I miss that. That will icrease. Reading will get rid of some of my stress.

All shall be well.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Thought for Lent

(via Ben Hines)

I am not asking you to take this wilderness from me,
to remove this place of starkness where I come to know the wilderness within me,
where I learn to call the names of the ravenous beasts that pace inside me,
to finger the brambles that snake through my veins,
to taste the thirst that tugs at my tongue.

But send me tough angels, sweet wine,
strong bread, just enough.

- Jan L. Richardson

Faith, Foreheads, Father

I got ashes three times yesterday. Once in Union Square, and twice at St. Paul's Chapel. For an hour yesterday I imposed ashes in Union Square with St. Lydia's, so I got ashes before hand. It was neat and very, very cold. We had Sacred Harp singers singing songs about death, which drew people to just watch and listen, and then there were people who got ashes. High point of my time there was when a woman came up for ashes, but asked me about them (I think) in Spanish. She crossed herself and drew on her forehead with her fingers after I didn't understand her. Then I got it and gave her ashes. I was really praying for Pentecost moments the rest of the hour if they were needed. If you click the link to Emily's Blog you can see some of our other high point people who received ashes.

During the time we were outside, though I think we all answered some kind of questions about faith. I was standing there with my little stone pot of ashes and olive oil (Emily and I are not of the same mind about the viscosity of ashes) and there was a couple across from me. I heard the woman say, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," and then I looked her in the eyes as my ears perked up. Then I heard her say, "You should probably ask him," to the man. He came over and the three of us had a discussion of Ash Wednesday and Lent. I should've sent them to get one of the rockin' bookmarks that Rachel made, but I didn't think about it. Neither of them got ashes but they got information. Another couple talked to the girl beside me. The man asked her (while pointing to me), "What is his faith." She replied, "That's a profound question, really." He wanted to know my denomination, but she really wanted him to expound on that. She didn't know what my denomination was and told him that. Then they talked about how some Protestants do observe Lent, starting with ashes on Ash Wednesday. Part of that discussion was his telling her she looked Catholic because of her ashes. Then there was an amusing exchange between the man and wife about life, age, and timeshares.

After that we got coffee and I came back to the Close for a few minutes to rest before putting my cassock on and heading down to St. Paul's Chapel from 5:00-6:00. All I can say about that is wow. One of the things that struck me was the diversity of foreheads that people have! While I'd been imposing ashes at Union Square, I didn't impose as many times. I got to notice the different consistencies of skin, and the different sizes. Very short, very high, narrowish, wide, dry, oily, and all in between. Different people had such different reactions to the ashes, too. Some came up smiling (I tried to have an inviting smile; one that was welcoming without breaking the somber mood of the day), some just came up with a blank, intentional look. As I imposed some people looked at me, some looked down, some looked up. I made eye contact with everyone before imposing ashes. Most of the people replied with "Thank you" and sometimes there was an "amen."

Thinking back on it now is more profound than yesterday. Just thinking about all the people - at both locations - who wanted to start observing a holy Lent somehow or another, regardless of whether they were Catholic, United Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, college student who grew up getting ashes and might not be in church much, but connected with God yesterday in keeping a tradition of their faith. The diversity of all of them - the construction worker whose scent of concrete made me think about my dad getting home from work when I was wee and he was working construction - to the man and his daughter who came in and said, "It's our first time" before I imposed the ashes. And there were so many ways of "amen" that I heard. It's nice to be reminded visually that God's people exist in all different shapes and colors, and that liturgical traditions manifest themselves in all different kinds of people.

And for those people, the ashes weren't the only symbol. (I'll be blogging on symbols tomorrow or later today.) During orientation small group Br. Blaine said that while we're currently in the discernment for ordination process, people in hospitals at CPE ordain you. By that he meant that people would call you Father or Minister or Pastor or something to that effect...and that in the moment attending to their spiritual needs is more important than having a lengthy dialogue about how you're a seminarian. Yesterday I was a lay person in a cassock, but I was imposing ashes. Four or five people called me father yesterday and it caught me off guard. This is something I'm going to have to stew on for awhile, but it's already giving me thoughts about priests being a symbol to people, whatever that symbol is. Yesterday it had something to do with getting ashes. Who knows what that was, but yeah. Look for more on symbols soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Going Paperless, Chapter 2

One word summary for 2/14: abnormal. All the music we used was the same, except the Gloria. Since Rick's Gloria was too hard last week we moved to the Peruvian one, like I said we would, and it went well. "Arise, Shine" was better this week since people knew it, and really all the songs were better. But like I said, this week was an abnormal week: we had prospective students on campus and in that service. And they sang. Oh did they sing. It was great. They actually may have been just what we needed in a few ways, and they also made me forget some things, too.

Colin and I have shifted the focus of the service, and now we're in the process of implementing it. It's not a change in the service inasmuch as what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it. All the prospectives made me forget what we'd discussed but I think it worked out. After the fact, I remembered and will keep it in mind this weekend. So, the Gloria went well. Right now echoing is working very well. "Gather Children" didn't go poorly as we gathered around the table, but it took a few times through, and there were plenty. During the peace I moved from where I was sitting in the frontish of the Chapel to the middle of the Chapel so that I would be behind everyone as we moved forward. I don't know if that helped or not, but I'm going to keep playing with my positioning in the Chapel. This week I'm going to try being directly across from the presider after we've all gathered at the table. Mark Miller's Sanctus was well received, and I have some tweaks I need to make in teaching it. We did "Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord" again during the distribution, and that is where we learned a few things.

One, two chalices when there are prospective students! That's what lead to the second revelation. We weren't even thinking that far ahead when we just went with the standard Sunday night one chalice. However, since we did that it was taking awhile, and I thought "I need another song!" So, after a number of times through "Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord" I taught "What We Need Is Here." That worked really well, and I'm glad that I taught it. Through Lent that's going to be our offertory/gathering around the Table song. And last Sunday we got a sneak peak at it, and only the people who read my blog will know that's what coming.

So, two weeks down. It got better. It was abnormal. I had a debrief with someone in attendance afterward who raised some things for me to consider, though I've lost in my head what they are. I was just thinking on some of them to include them in my note. Oh, I wanted to say that I've recruited a child to help with the leading, and I'm thinking I'll start incorporating that this week. The Dean contributed a paperless confractorium that he asked if we'd like him to do just before the service. It's already Wednesday and I haven't rehearsed any of the music yet. That is to come...Friday? Saturday? Sunday afternoon?

Next week we're singing: "Wait for the Lord," "Sing Praise to God," "What We Need is Here," "We Have a Hunger Lord," and "Jesus is With us, Let Us Bless the Lord." Stay tuned for more adventures in going paperless.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Churched" by Matthew Paul Turner, Part 2

Just two quotations to ponder in your hearts.

"Over the years I've learned that sometimes God's mercy shows up in the form of a question, one that not only can't be answer, it was never meant to be."

The last one is a realization I've had about churches in my life where I have and may still on occasion worship, and it's prettttttty important to keep in mind before going on any kind of rant about people whose faith tradition (religion or denomination) is different from one's one.

"Regardless of where it comes from, someone else's hope is difficult to devalue."

"Churched" by Matthew Paul Turner, Part 1

So, I finished Churched this morning before not going to church. My plan was to go, but it just didn't happen. I hate that I missed good Transfiguration hymns today, but I'm leading music tonight (that'll be blogged tomorrow or so), and that will be church. I got a lot of reading done on the subway last night to sea shanty singing and back, and I read once I got back and when I got up this morning. Here are a few of my thoughts.

First, turner is a good story teller. His writing is easy, and it's engaging. That's why I read the book in three days. I won't say that it sucked me in, though. I was reading it on the recommendation of a friend, and I was looking for the kind of enthralling whoosh of getting sucked in like I've gotten with other kinds of Christianish books, and it never came. It wasn't a bad book by any measure, just not what I was expecting, which is probably my fault.

It's no one's fault that I didn't really relate to a lot of what he had to say, although I have some good take aways from it, which will be in a second part, per Cary's suggestion to make more entries that aren't as long. I think that he spoke from his experience, but that sometimes attempts at humor I read as dismissive or mean. Some of the stuff in it was funny, but I think coming from my experience of growing up fundamentalist (though I don't remember the church self-identifying that way), I didn't laugh but instead thought, "That's not what my experience was like.:" That being said, I think the reviewers who found it so hysterical may've been taking it all on face value - and maybe rightly so! - and laughing at the kinds of crazy things that happened, but I just thought, "That's not the kind of fundamentalism I experienced."

At the same time, there are some profoundly astute observations that I never put together but agree wholeheartedly with now, and then I'll give some take-away quotations that are just good things to keep in mind. While there were never boxing matches with Satan that ended in verses from the King James Version (I don't even remember any kind of preference being given to KJV), the following, in retrospect, makes perfect sense:
When I was a kid, I needed hell to exist. I didn't understand that at the time, but I needed it. Being fundamentalist was pointless without hell. With no hot and fiery pit existing somewhere below the soil, our views and beliefs lost a good deal of meaning. It was our fear of hell that fueled our motivation for living the way we did. Perfect. Separated. Medieval

What's strange is that how we lived didn't save us from eternal destruction. The only happened by being born again in the blood of Jesus. But being perfect, separated, and content with living in the Dark Ages helped us feel born again.

That just makes sense in my head. I remember that we got saved, but there were lots of things we were supposed to do and not do. It's the spirit behind Derek Webb's "New Law." And like Turner says, those things didn't save us, Jesus did...but we were supposed to do them to show Jesus that we loved him? Not make him mad? Feel separated and born again? I thought of Derek Webb again, at another part in the book that I felt was my experience but not just with Fundamentalism, but through at least a year or two of college and is still my experience somewhat with my family but that's just because changing it is easier over time: life being about perception more than reality. Turner says
How people viewed you was much more important than how you actually were. The truth didn't matter. What people believed to be the truth mattered. I learned early on that if everybody believed I was the well-behaved, good-natured boy without a sin in the world, it didn't matter what the truth was. The truth was secondary to a person's opinion or perception of truth

Webb talks about that in his intro to "I Repent" on The House Show. I think it's "I Repent." Anyway, he talks about repentance and walking in the light. My family thinking that I'm the conservative Republican that I was in ninth grade has persisted until recently, or scales fall away more every day. For parts of college I wasn't honest with people about my general life because I was more concerned with what people thought of me. I preached on this last year at St. Mark's.

I think that quotation from Turner needs to be fully evaluated and thought out not just from a fundamentalist perspective. There's a lot in life in general that isn't based on truth but is based in perception about a whole host of issues, political, theological, whatever. And being truthful requires correcting people's assumptions about you when they're wrong and calling attention to yourself to someone when you've fallen into sin that you may repent - turn around - and return to the Lord. Not misleading others by your silence about yourself and speaking the truth about your silence is repentance.

Those are two things that I identified with from my experience or that made me think or give me something to offer here. Part two is just two quotations that I think are good to reflect on. Read the book. It's a good read, but it didn't change my life or make me say "Yes, yes, yes!" at any point. If you're on the Close and don't mind my marginalia, you're welcome to borrow it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some Thoughts on Prayer

Ember season is coming up, so I'm starting to get some thoughts down early for my letter. That's one thing I can say, I guess. I have been planning my letter for a few weeks now, close to a month. Just making mental notes of things to include. For those who don't know, Episcopal postulants are required to be in communication with their bishops four times a year, during the Ember Days. They're relative to certain feasts and fasts. If you want to know which ones, Google it. :) One of the things going in my Ember Day letter is my prayer life and how it's strengthened by being at the General Seminary.

I know I've talked about it with Fr. Warnke, my spiritual director, and I feel like I may have blogged about it, but I may have just been talking to other people. All of my classes start with a prayer, and some end with one. My day starts with Morning Prayer in the Chapel most mornings, and I say Evening Prayer at the close of my workday. I usually go to mid-day Eucharist. Basically I'm surrounded by prayer. Not only am I surrounded by prayer, I'm surrounded by the prayers. Most week's I'll hear the collect of the day 8-10 times, versus one on Sunday. If you haven't had that experience, let me tell you: it does something. The same way that consistently hearing the same eucharistic prayers gets into you so that you think more on the meaning of the words than the words themselves, same with the collects.

Although perhaps I shouldn't have been, I was surprised Friday morning when I sat down to read for class for the upcoming week and prayed. I don't remember what I prayed, but I prayed about guidance and illumination of Scripture. So I sat at Starbucks and read my textbook about the Latter Prophets and kept noticing the theme of humility and prayed
O God, you have spoken through the prophets and scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts, give to us (especially me!) a sense of humility that I may serve you and others through Jesus, who served his disciples and washed their feet. Amen

It just felt like I needed to pray, and out popped a collect. I hadn't pre-written it, but the form is there. After praying I thought about something in The Noticer that Dr. Klein talked about in his class. If you want to be a good leader, read the biographies of leaders. I think if you want to learn to pray, read the prayer book. The Holy Spirit's interceding and giving words of prayers doesn't have to be spontaneous. Words that have comforted, consoled, and helped generations can help us, too. And I think that by learning forms of prayers and the content of prayers we can move beyond "me" praying and move beyond vending machine praying, and focus our prayers so that we aren't "Just asking you Lord to _____________" ad infinitum.

Am I perfect at praying? Goodness no. But I've noticed that I'm far more likely to pray as I go, without ceasing, as it were, now that I'm so immersed in a community that continues in the prayers. When I can't find words, I can find others' to make my own. And sometimes I have them, but am now able to organize them. My prayers are far more Trinitarian now, and I couch what I'm asking in a rationale and demonstrate a why (I'm very partial to collects).

Off to end my day with sung Compline.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Going Paperless, Chapter 1

This calendar year (because that's how the Chapel of the Good Shepherd Operates) I have been asked to co-coordinated the Sunday evening community eucharist (about which I blogged a few months ago) with Colin Chapman. One of the things we're trying to do is get attendance up. We're seeking to make it an authentic, intentional worship experience. One of the ways we're trying to do that is with paperless music. In January I went to Music that Makes Community and learned some good pieces, got a confidence boost, got some resources, and made some good networking connections. So from that I've planned music from last Sunday through Easter. Lots of continuity with pieces so that people can get really comfortable with them.

The exception to that, of course, is that very, very soon we're in Lent, so all the music will change for that season. However, we'll get two weeks of these songs (or so I thought) before we moved on to more dreary songs. Not dreary. Just more contemplative and slower, at least off the top of my head I think they'll be slower. I chose the songs for now the same way I usually choose music: what do the words say and how is that related to what we're doing? If I had to use one word to describe how Sunday night went, it would definitely be #fail.

It wasn't really a failure, it was just new. It will get better at it as we go, and even as the service progressed it got better. As Taylor Burton-Edwards (whose wife is a priest) pointed out, I am trying to get a very scripted people to go off-script. Paperless music is new to them, and the musical selections weren't the best they could've been, and I'm making changes as a result. And most of the music was completely new to the people, too. This week I'm thinking about moving my position to somewhere else and hoping to have some ringers in the congregation who've practiced the music and can bolster confidence of the assembly as they sing.

The opening last week was "Arise, Shine," which is in Music by Heart. One of the perks of having evening worship is that songs with light are always applicable, regardless of season. I'm trying to avoid the Phos Hilaron since it's the invitatory at the evening office. That song will continue. One of the things that we're doing is restoring a song of praise separate and distinct from an opening song. This week, since it's the season after Epiphany we attempted a Gloria. This was Rick Fabian's paperless Gloria with congregational refrain and cantored verses. I practiced it all week with the keyboard because I kept getting some intervals off. We didn't make it to the verses because we didn't get comfortable enough with the refrain. Now I know it at least. Next time we're doing the "Peruvian Gloria " that Patrick Evans lead at MMC and can be found in The Faith We Sing and probably other collections. It's much simpler.

For the gospel acclamation we sang the Caribbean Hallelujah that we've used all school year and the people are familiar with. I'll sing it twice through next time versus just the one. That needs to be worked out and communicated with the presider so that they know when they'll be on, and I'll know when I need to stop. That'll clearly change with Lent. For the offertory song, which is also a transition from the choir to the altar we sang "Gather Children, Gather 'Round" which I somewhat altered at the end as that I couldn't entirely remember how I learned it, but I made it work. Then we did the best two of the night: Sanctus and song during communion.

For the Sanctus we did Mark Miller's, also found in The Faith We Sing. I don't have a copy of that, but I remember when we'd do "Singy Communion" at the Wesley. Mark's setting works well to break into phrases to do an echo. During communion we sang "Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Risen Lord," which went well. The people, in large part, knew it. We repeated it a good number of times, and I think we were starting to get some harmony. We sent the altar party out with "God Bless Every Step," and it went well, despite being a newish piece. I think one of the things that helped as we were around the altar was that we were close together, so we could hear each other even if we weren't singing lustily and with good courage.

And that was Chapter 1 in this adventure of turning a service into a service of paperless music. Keep checking in for updates, because I think I'm going to keep blogging them, both for my reflections and in the hope that people can offer suggestions and the hope that people can learn from my mistakes!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

#episcopalianbecause Part 2

I thought I'd take a minute to share all the tweets that I've written myself or re-tweeted from others with the #episcopalianbecause hash tag:

I'm an #episcopalian because...

  1. question marks are even more welcome than exclamation points.
  2. most of our hymns have a verse in praise to the Trinity, which we almost always sing.
  3. we pray for those whose faith is known to God alone, not by naming people and things we don't like about them.
  4. The Episcopal Church opposes the Death Penalty.
  5. we know tectonic plates are to blame for the Eathquake in Haiti, not Voo Doo.
  6. if I get tired of anglo-catholic worship in the Twin Cities, I can go to a service in Hmong or other languages .
  7. my [future] daughters [will] see women in leadership roles in the church.
  8. we don't pretend to believe the same things, but we gather and pray together the same way.
  9. from St. Mary the Virgin Times Square to St. Gregory of Nyssa San Francisco, there's a liturgical style for you.
  10. Common Prayer is the best way we have to draw the largest number of people possible close to Jesus.
  11. we have good news to share and are willing to change certain aspects so that we can get that message out.
  12. regular reception of the Eucharist changed me: because it's a God thing not a me thing.
  13. even when I don't feel like praying the Daily Office it shapes me and surrounds my day with prayer.
  14. we treasure the historic roles of bishop, presbyter, and deacon and value ordination and its preparation.
  15. I'd rather revel in the mystery than argue facts.
  16. the worship of the church has shaped and formed my life, both from its consistency and its theology.
  17. I'm part of a "we" church versus an "I" church. We believe. We celebrate seasons.

Are you an Episcopalian? If so, why?


Many of you who read this and many won't will recognize the title of my blog. On twitter, a way to aggregate information is to put a # sign in front of it, called a hash tag. The Episcopal Church launched #episcopalianbeacuse a few months ago to tell the story of TEC, it's people and mission. They saw many topics and discussions and wanted to engage the Episcopal audience in an open-ended question with good results. This is ground up advertising: the people on twitter who are Episcopalian tweet that they are and why. All their followers get the message, and people who are searching for the hash tag can share the response if it resonates with their experience. And followers will see enough on their feed to consider going to an Episcopal Church. Rather than spending millions of dollars on ad campaigns, this is a way for people to share their stories.

Some have asked (and this isn't meant as a passive-aggressive rant directed at them; I'm just expounding on some of my thoughts, not throwing stones) why not #Christianbecause. A United Methodist mentor put it very succinctly when he said, "Because saying we are Christians doesn't identify how or with whom we live this out." I think I latched on to this so much because it's so right in my mind. Christian means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I've been through three denominations. I'm very much a "company person." If I'm in a church I want to know why I'm in said church, what it believes collectively, what its polity is (how things should run), who all is there, what kinds of personal or mid-range group deviations there are (what kind of freedom exists within form, different interpretations of all our texts, Bible, BCP, Hymnal).

How We Live This Out. Saying that I'm a Christian doesn't tell people a lot about how I live my faith. It could immediately make them think of the Catholic diocese that contributed so much money to fighting LGBT marriage. They might think of "Jesus is My Friend." It could be a group whose congregational statement of beliefs starts with the importance of the innerancy of the Bible or a group whose Creed starts with "We believe in one God." There could be no mention of baptism or communion, or pages about them. The earthquake could've been the result of a pact with the devil or an unfortunate event that calls us to show love to our sisters and brothers without making any kind of judgmental statement.

Saying I'm an Episcopalian says that nine times out of ten the service will come from the Book of Common Prayer, wherever I am in the world, that there will be readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, and one of the Gospels. Even if the service isn't straight out of the Book of Common Prayer, we will gather together, hear the Word of God proclaimed, pray for the Church and for the World, exchange peace with one another, share in the Body and Blood of Christ, and be sent into the world to do the work Christ has given us to do. It says that we look at the Bible and read it with a sense of tradition and reason applied to it. It says that we aren't afraid to unpack all the metaphors in the text which actually make it richer, rather than detracting from it. It says that we believe that in baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever. (BCP 308).

Identifying as Episcopalian gives me the freedom of not having to scramble for an answer to the question, "What do you believe about...?" Between the Catechism and the texts of our prayers that's answered. (What we pray, we believe). It says that I've promised to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever I fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

With Whom We Live This Out. As Derek Webb points out on The House Show, "If you divorce the people of God, the local community, from the gospel, then it ceases to be the gospel. There is no other context for your faith as a Christian than to be in community with other people." By necessity we live our Christian lives in community. Saying I'm a Christian could mean that I go to a church that's mostly middle-class white people or of mostly African Americans or mostly LGBT people. Saying that one's non-denominational Christian church is "diverse" but only having white men as clergy and in any other leadership suggests otherwise without further explanation about what kind of diversity you embody.

Saying I'm an Episcopalian says that there are people who dance around the altar and people who do figure-eights so that the deacon and "sub-deacon" are on the correct sides of the presider as (usually) he moves around. That statement says that we have women, people of color, and people different sexual orientations in all four orders of ministry: laity, bishops, priests, and deacons. When I personally say "I'm an Episcopalian" it says that I live my Christian faith with people who know grace and show grace, striving to be in love and charity with all people. It says that we have congregations that meet outside in the Castro in San Francisco on Sunday evenings, in buildings enormous and historic like Washington National Cathedral all throughout the week, and that we have congregations that are made up entirely of prisoners that meet on Sunday mornings with a supply priest presiding for them.

I am a Christian. I worship a vulnerable child, a non-violent teacher, a crucified troublemaker from an occupied land. I worship the One who sent Jesus to us to live and die among us and reconcile us to God the Creator of us all. I worship the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. Saying I'm a Christian and stopping there might imply those things (at least nominally). Saying I'm an Episcopalian says that the three parts of the trinity will be named many times through our prayers (almost all of them) and during our hymns. To me, saying I'm a Christian because is too general a statement. Saying I'm an Episcopalian says "I am a Christian whose tribe believes x, y, and z with lots of different kinds of people. And we welcome you.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

One Week Down

Good morning blogland. I am blogging so as to not read for class. I'm one week in to my second semester as a seminarian, and I'm glad that it's done. A senior and I were talking briefly yesterday, and he said that the first week back is always really hard, and I agree. Trying to figure out a new routine, trying to get everything in to the routine, etc. But back I am with some changes to my week-to-week activity. Taking on less class (Thanks be to God), but still working ten hours a week. But I'm also now a lot more involved in chapel life, beyond regular attendance at Morning Prayer and Eucharist.

Now I'm co-planning the Sunday night community Eucharist, which is using all paperless music. This week I'll be sending an e-mail recruiting people to lead the music, and hopefully we'll get a nice little community of singers who lead, eat, and sing together that in time starts writing music which we then workshop together at our eating times. That's what I'm envisioning and hoping for...and hoping that I'm not really the only one leading music the rest of the semester, but if that happens God will be praised and I'll have a good time doing it.

I'm also now a sacristan, which is very neat. I started yesterday and have already learned a lot about the chapel that I didn't know before. I'm really looking forward to serving in that role the next two years. My day is Friday which is funny because I have to work my homework routine around it, but it works. It makes sure that I get up in the morning, and adds my evensong attendance to at least once a week.

Additionally, I'm getting myself a cupcake today. That is my reward for having exercised every day this week. 35-40 minutes on the elliptical three days and weight machines on a circuit the other two. Yesterday was one of them and my muscles feel it and it's the best kind of sore. Not throbbing pain, but good. And the stuff is getting easier and it feels good. In addition to the exercise I've cut back on my carb intake, and only had fruit for dessert in the refectory all week. Thus, I'm getting a cupcake today as my reward before I go sing.

Today is a Sacred Harp day. Tomorrow I don't know where I'm going to church. I'm leading songs at Eucharist tomorrow night and really need to do a decent amount of practince on one of them today, which I'll make work. I ned to get some reading done, which I'll make happen, too. We sang a Sacred Harp song last night as the Office Hymn at evensong, which almost made up for the rest of the office.

Dinner with the bishop and others from Alabama and Florida. Was very good. Very relaxed. Informal. Questions about field ed and CPE. Good wine. Good conversation.

Time for homework. It's snowing here.