All of these words careening about my head - helpful and kind, intriguing, pedantic, imformative, and some cruel - all have been beqeathed to me at some point. I have, in turn, made them my own. As much as I wish to say, “these words are my own,” I simply cannot. It would be false. These words bear my mark, but they have been gifted to me malused though they may be.
Today it begins. This is the last stretch. I need to breathe deeply and let the writing come. Semiotics, music, theological aesthetics, authenticity and liturgical post-rock all gladsome burdens to me now, will be words upon paper soon enough. They will appear sedintary, but the truth of them will be more complex if not more virtuous.
My wife sleeps in the bedroom. Our unborn son is likely awake. Do children in the womb ponder the darkness of predawn hours?
I want to say something profound. Many of my friends have made the effort and succeeded. I’m just biding my time, I guess. The sheer terror of fatherhood often overwhelms me. I’m not sure when the excitement and elation will come in. I have felt glad. Happy even. But mostly I am overwhelmed. Truly. There are no words here, only feelings, vague enormous feelings. I am awash in them.
But, back to the papers.
I have alphabetized the books and the record albums. The iTunes mix is all set. I need to stop by the library to pick up some more books as we move forward, but not until then. There is much to do. Much to write.
Papers. “Comprehensive” papers.
We need better language.
Words. There have been so many words today. Words upon words. Telephonic. Facebooked. Tweeted. Spoken. Unspoken. Seen. Unseen. Words upon words upon words. I'm at a loss with what to do with them all.
5:00am: My day starts off the same almost every day. The cat, Mike, awakens me by trying to open the closet door. This is challenging enough for a cat, but with Mike it's even more difficult. The door is already open, but as it stand open against the adjacent wall, he thinks it needs opening again. His is a difficult life. I pick up my phone. The words pour out.
7:00am: I start my drive to my first appointment. I take a photo from the vista. I call my father and leave a voice message. More words. The radio. The voice mail. Words.
8:00am: The appointment. I talk. For an hour. I barely breathe this time. Saving it all up for once visit a week isn't working. Words tumble out upon words. It's terrible. There are no words unattempted. Many unheard. Mostly by me. I'm angry. Again.
9:00am: Texting. "Pancakes?"
10:00am: Texting and then a phone call to my brother back in Virginia. The words reach across a continent. Texts. Voices. Much left unsaid.
12:00am: Emails and Facebook.
1:00pm: Emails and Facebook.
2:00pm: Emails, Facebook, a text or two, a conversation
3:00pm: Conversation with people in the room and more emails and texts and Facebook.
All the words. The day is more than half over, but I wonder if the words are.
There is a wound in the heart of the world. Scarred over, we tread upon that injury in all that we do. Every blessing and every curse made upon the wounded heart of the world.
I cannot say how the wound came to be, by what illness or act of violence.
I cannot say how the healing happens, by what medicine or act of caring and grace.
Yet, I know this wound. I know its edges. I know its depths. I know that this same heart pours blessing upon blessing upon the earth and all the earth's inhabitants.
It is the heart of the world. It is resilient.
I used to get up in the morning and make these little videos of my playing mandolin or something. The purpose was simply to get me playing, to get these morning musical meditations on my radar by making them at least a little social. I hate making music alone. It's like drinking alone. Pitiful.
So, I stopped doing it for a while there, but the last two days I've started at it again. I'm posting them on Facebook and Instagram. The inspiration was this poem by Rumi.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
I am fearful. So, I need to play more.
Filed Under: mandodoxy
Over the Christmas holiday, I decided to post for all twelve days on Facebook. The posts were prayers of sorts, meditations meant for my benefit and the benefit of anyone else who grokked what was going on. Spouse and I made a sojourn back home to Virginia. It's rare for us to be able to spend the entire twelve days together much less together with family. So, it seemed important to mark it somehow. As others appeared to enjoy them as well, I thought I would share them all here.
1Let's see...shrimp sautéed in butter and Old Bay, stuffed mushrooms, country ham, a metric ton of shortbread cookies, ginger bread, a visit from Old Saint Nick, good conversation with family about the sublime and mundane...yeah. That's a good start to the holiday. It's the first day of Christmas. Merry Nativity, y'all!
We're just getting started.
Food is the thing. It is memory. Our families have this in common. People cook. Men. Women. Children. We cook for one another. Christmas is twelve (or more) days of sharing and tasting and preparing and feasting. Today was day one with a few good days to warm up.
I am excited by what may be yet to come. Merry Christmas, Facebookistan. Be excellent to one another.
2Good morning from Lynchburg, VA. Last night's seafood feast was astounding. There's a reason we do this only once a year. Oy. Today will be a low key day of hanging out with my mom. Perhaps a movie!
It's still Christmas!
Pondering a great many things this evening such as yogurt covered pretzels, extra cheese on my pizza, Lynchburg's need for a progressive seminary, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Hydrating this Christmas evening.
3The clouds are pink as the sun rises over Lynchburg on this third day of Christmas. Today we will have lunch with friends and then we'll slide back over to Huddleston to see some family. It's a great joy to be so near to family even if just for a short while.
Good morning, Facebookistan.
The third day of Christmas was charming and fun. Yes, Patricia and I explored a little more of Lynchburg (Bikram yoga what now?) and enjoyed lunch with Todd and Emily. Then it was time with Janet, Adam, Amanda, and the girls. Snuggling with Skylar is a joy. We swung by to see Grandma Agnes (age 93) and then met the gang at Amy and Jeremy's for dinner. A full and gracious day. It is still Christmas.
Good night, Facebookistan. Be excellent to one another.
4Up before the sunrise this fourth day of Christmas. I have brought homework with me, you know. Yesterday was a day for Mary Collins and her liturgical profundity. Today I am happily juxtaposing John Zizioulas and James White as I prepare for the last timed exam of this process. So...
Pondering: ecclesiology, liturgy, and American roots music
Listening: Dom Flemons, Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, and Apollo's Fire
The fourth day of Christmas has been a day of movies and comfort food. Mom is a gracious hostess. Lynchburg, a kind town. Now, to bed, Facebookistan. Be excellent to one another.
5On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me MORE SHEPHERD'S PIE...leftover crab fritata, good egg nog, crunchy chex mix, and a ham biscuit with some jelly.
Pondering: food and Christian materialism, hedonism and its many rewards, Zizioulas' Trinitarian anthropology (communion, you know), and how to write about music mo' betta.
Listening: to the rain fall here in Lynchburg's Boonsboro wooded confines
The eve of the sixth day of Christmas means we leave Lynchburg tomorrow to go to Doswell. There will be a stop in Lovingston along the way. Maybe Charlottesville as well. I am excited to see Daddy, Judy, and Carson but very sad to leave Mom and all the Austin kith and kin. O Christmas, you are a whirlwind.
Good night, Facebookistan. Be excellent to one another.
6I am in my pajamas because sixth day of Christmas. Those persnickety geese are up to no good once again. They misbehave. Honkers.
But this is just one day of the Twelve. Today we rent a car and drive to the Doswell countryside. Rolling hills and old farm houses will mark our way. This is the Old Dominion after all.
Sitting by the fireplace on the sixth night of Christmas listening to doo wop, Elvis, and Dom Flemons, while my family talks about Miazaki (Howl's Moving Castle) and K Drama. The night is cold. There has been chili, cornbread (the bread of my people), and cupcakes. Daddy has promised grits for tomorrow's brunch. Feeling grateful.
7Make compassion your guide and sympathy your companion. When bitterness grows from remorse, and it will from time to time, turn to your guide and companion. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind. Be good.
Today is the seventh day of Christmas. The sun has risen above the frosty fields of Hanover county. The baby was kicking last night. Daddy will be making breakfast. I can smell the coffee.
Have a great day, all. Merry Christmas.
8The sunlight is bright through the trees. I can hear the clock ticking and my father trying not to awaken the rest of the house. The bed is soft and warm. Someone in Berkeley will need to ship my books to Virginia.
Last night's feast still lingers in my memory. I'll hold the company and the hospitality in my heart.
Merry eighth day of Christmas, y'all.
9On the ninth day of Christmas the winding down begins. The feasting may be done but The Season is not. We will renew some old friendships today.
The sojourn to Virginia has been remarkable and I am more grateful than I can express. My mind is spinning with all we have been given to consider. But we're just winding down. That is all. I'm going to retreat to the porch.
Deep breaths, all. Christmas is far from over.
A quick jaunt to RVA
To see old friends brought us to
Dot's with Scott and a happy
Run-in with Jim "Pa" Smith-Parham.
There was cocoa with Shenandoah
at Can Can of Carytown.
The trip to Richmond Hill meant
Ben and Annie time but the bonus
Was Haley and John who we
Know from Berkeley. Goodness,
But the mischief was deep and
Wondrous to behold. So was
the tomato pie. Again, much
Christmas, day nine. Amen.
10It amazes me how long a twelve day season truly is. There's something about paying attention to All The Things, you know, that helps stretch the perception of time (while intense focus can have the opposite effect).
This morning finds me wishing for more time, of course.
There is simply never enough time in spite of eternity's claims. I am too aware of the end of the season. Day ten, you are a hard one.
11It is the Second Sunday of Christmas, the Season's eleventh day, and I am churching at the kitchen table of good friends. The Vigil began late last night with conversation and coconut cake. This morning's Table Meal includes oatmeal and strong coffee. There are two little girls running about the apartment crashing into furniture and giggling. Spouse and I cannot help but wonder what our lives will be like when Mixtape is the same age. Tonight we fly back to California.
It is the eleventh day of Christmas and I have been given the kind gift of wonderment.
Merry Christmas, all.
12Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Tomorrow is Epiphany, a day of enlightenment, astonishment, and other such gifts. I am writing this as we prepare to board a flight across the country to return to Berkeley. I am aware of many gifts of friendship and love this morning. On this the last day of Christmas I am especially grateful for my friends and my family, for the rare opportunity to spend the entire holiday with my wife, and for simple acts of generosity.
Merry Christmas! Berkeley, here we come.
Filed Under: prayer
So goes the state's marketing slogan. You can find it on coffee mugs and bumper stickers in gift shops across the state. Virginia Is For Lovers.
Berkeley is for working on my comps.
I wonder if I will ever find a way to just "be" in California.
This morning I arose before sunrise to try to get my head wrapped around the last times comprehensive exam I have to take. It's scheduled for January 12. I am thinking about eschatology, eucharist, and some free church notions of pneumatology. It's all too grandiose for comprehensive exam questions, but there they are. Questions.
So very interrogative.
I brought books with me to read and outline. I have done more work than I imagined I would, certainly more thinking than I imagined I would. This is all good. But in the process I have ground to a bit of a halt. It's all so big.
Geoffrey Wainwright has written hundreds of pages on the eucharist and eschatology and he's just one of four scholars I'm trying to shoehorn into an essay I have 90 minutes to write. Go on, grab the thesis and run (woo hoo hoo).
This is my life.
I am overwhelmed by the joy of being home with family, the warm hospitality of my mother's house, the easy laughter with my brother-in-law, and the playfulness of my nieces. With our own child due in April, the pressure to move back is mounting. There are more variables to navigate than can be collated here, but it's something we're thinking through.
I don't have a whole lot of faith in something like that working out without our making enormous financial sacrifices. I am entirely willing to make them, of course, but that's what it will take. To leave Chicago like we did just over three years ago for the Silicon Valley of California (Cal Berkeley and the GTU, mon freres) made some sense. Well, a little. I am old, you know. Old for a PhD. Nonetheless, there's a logic to it.
There are even better reasons to return to the east coast than money and the "logic" of the decision. But these things still must be handled in some way.
We'll know more once the infant child is born. He and I are already tangling with one another. His mother says, "Come here! He's kicking." I dutifully touch my wife's belly to discover nothing. Nothing. The kid is still in the womb and is messing with his father. This bodes well.
I pray he will have a generous sense of humor.
He's gonna need it.
Okay. Back to the comps. #occupycomps
There are no words. I have plenty of words for how there are no words, of course, but the short of it is that there are no words for the things deep down that I wish to share. There are no sounds. There are no songs. there is only silence and feeling.
And that, my friends, I cannot express.
And so I blog and instabooktweet all the day long in orbit around these things for which there are no words. It is vanity, really, that keeps me going. I am convinced I can find the words. I am convinced that there is something to say about this stuff that enfolds me. But, no.
I got nothing.
This is why I am still writing. I have nothing to say.
This morning I am sitting in my mothers living room. There is a bay window that looks eastward. This morning's sunrise was obscured by low-hanging clouds that promise rain later today. The bare branches of the trees frame the grey sky. Today is Sunday and I am not in church.
It is the fourth day of Christmas, the first Sunday of Christmas, and preachers have to tackle the difficulties of King Herod's political mind. He's a genocidal fiend in the biblical tales. He's the bad guy and the echos of Egypt and Ramah are strong. The children are to die. It's a heavy day to be in a pulpit.
So, as I said, I have nothing to day. Didn't you notice?
I just said a lot of nothing.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
Perhaps you heard the news. Students staged a seven-day occupation at University of California, Berkeley to protest tuition hikes. The already inflated tuition rates at what used to be one of the best funded state college systems in the country will, once again, be raised. UCB is no longer a "great deal." It's an expensive investment on par with some of the most expensive private school educations in the country.
Perhaps you are saying, "Yes, we know, but have you seen the news in Ferguson? Who cares about their tuition?"
Of course. People held rallies here in Oakland to support Ferguson. And they rallied on campus and downtown in Berkeley. Even the local seminaries gathered together in downtown Berkeley.
Black lives matter.
What I have not seen, however, is anyone making the obvious connections about the increasing cost of such social goods as higher education with the increasing obfuscation of racism in our country. There is a correlation at work in this that I believe demands our attention. But our efforts are divided. Our attentions scattered.
It seems to be a season of protest. Advent is a protest time.
How do I know? Well, the soundtrack, of course. For me it all begins with Mary's song. Every Advent I have to listen to this song.
So, I muster up the courage to listen to her again. She is a prophet echoing other prophets. Luke remembers her song for us, some scholars argue. Others suggest that this is the beginning of the defense of Mary's place in the leadership of the early Christian community. Do you want to know what Mary thought about Jesus' ministry? Well, Luke would have you listen to this song.
I, of course, want to contemporize it in some way. I want to turn it into a protest song, a folk song. “Folk music...requires you to live it if you’re going to sing it.” But that would be an anachonism that might cause some undue harm to Mary's legacy.
If the stories are worth telling, Mary is not some disenchanted first century suburbanite. No, she's poor. She's disenfranchised in ways that I cannot begin to understand (though not in the typical ways that get bandied about). So, comparing her to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell isn't what I'm after. It's such challenging music.
So, like I do with a lot of challenging music, I listen. I listen deeply. I listen to it again and again. And I just let it sit there. Or, more accurately, I sit there in my silence as the musician sounds in my presence. I listen to Mary sing.
My protest is to be in silence while Mary's song reverberates across the cosmos.
So, I sit this Advent season in silent protest.
No one needs my voice in this. We need to listen to Mary. I brought my banjo if she needs it. Otherwise, it too can stay in its case.
My protest this Advent is my silence.
I want people to hear Mary's song, not mine. I want people to hear Ferguson's song, not mine. I want people to hear Eric Garner's song, not mine. I want people to hear Emmet Till's song, not mine, Rosa Park's song, not mine, Nelson Mandella's song, not mine.
Your song, not mine.
I simply need to keep silent vigil while the world sings, while Mary sings.
It is Advent. An angelic choir approaches.
This blog is one of the #staywokeadvent series of blogs. Learn more here.
Filed Under: Advent
The grand daddy of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, once proclaimed, "Here I stand, I can do no other." It has been offered again and again as a proclamation of faith, of the immovable certainty of what one believes. I want to offer it an apophatic utterance, a statement of uncertainty, the certainty of uncertainty. Cogito ergo dubito?
Hell, I dunno.
I need to get back to my reading of John Smyth. I should probably eat lunch, too. But I am wondering what I believe. Why is it that I despair about my work so easily? Do I not believe that Jesus is present in this process somehow redeeming me?
Whatever that means this week...
The answer is clearly, "No, Jesus is not present in this." That's what I'm experiencing and what I am proclaiming in my actions. Jesus is in no way present in this process. He's not even in the seminary debating Midrash with me. He's not standing next to me with his double bass offering up some slap-kick jam. Nope.
Jesus is high upon some throne somewhere deaf to my cries because my cries are drowned out by a sycophant quire singing, "Holy! Holy! Holy!"
The sun is out. After several days of rain, it's a friendly face hovering in the sky. Our drought is by no means over, but the generous rains have been graciously received even if they did flood some underpasses.
I am sitting at my dining room table trying to motivate myself to get at these two comprehensive exam questions on liturgical history. There's a latte beside me that promises assistance, but I hold no hope in such things these days.
My friends have been generous and kind, so encouraging. I cannot express my gratitude for your ongoing support, y'all. Truly. My own psyche would never allow me to finish this process. By allowing me to borrow yours, even if on Facebook, you are empowering me to continue. I would never do this on my own. I don't have that kind of strength.
Never have, really.
This is one of the great realizations of my life. And it is one that I am constantly re-encountering. I can do nothing alone. Nothing. This dependency is a gift. It undermines my false sense of accomplishment and ability. It undermines my ego.
Well, sometimes it undermines my ego. Ha! I'm not a consistent person. My ego oft gets in front of my best intentions to receive the gifts of support and encouragement. Shocking, I know.
So, today the exam begins. That's the thing about comps. I have framed these questions, beginning to answer them in the process of creating them. And, though the exam is timed (four hours on a Wednesday morning), the truth is that I am writing the damn things in my head as I work through these books. The post-it notes are a technicolor draft of what I will finalize in the four-hour exercise on Wednesday.
Right. Here we go. I hate this.
You can correct me with your calendrical fundamentalism until you are Advent blue in the face. I really don't care.
Christmas is upon us once again. It looms on the horizon, a clove-scented spectre festooned with ribbons and baubles. I am, as always, become the Scrooge, the Grinch. It must be the second week of December and I must be feeling the stress of the church calendar combined with comprehensive exams and office deadlines.
Please know that I know before you read the rest of this.
I know. I am aware.
Still, I find this time of year to be burdensome. The complexities of managing All The Things in order to make room for All The Other Things has never been joyful for me. I try to let the joy in. I make time for family and friends. I make room for my wife and I to get the greenery and festoon the apartment as best we can. I do my best to not let the season get to me so that I am pleasant company. There is always a Christmas pizza on December 6.
But once a year I have to let it free. I have to vent a little and share how much the present disconnect between the lives of some congregations and the prevailing culture create a tension that is painful for me to manage.
You see, Advent is a time of year when the church keeps me away from my family. To be at church is the loneliest thing in the world during Advent and Christmas. I used to like it. No longer.
Yes, I'm whining.
I take no pride in my spiritual tradition this time of year. I take no joy from it. It is laborous. Cruel. The spiritual riches of a season of preparation is a sword and not shepherd's staff.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. (Mt. 34-36)
Somewhere in the liturgical nostalgimania around Advent and Christmas we forget the eschatological promise of division and estrangement. The great eschatological reveal also reveals our divisions. The eschaton is a time for decisions.
Religion doesn't bring people together any more or less successfully than music or a good Thai restaurant. And Christianity may well be designed to pull people apart.
Have you considered that in your eschatological musings this season? What follows in the wake of the birth of the Christ is not peace and prosperity, sugar cookies for small boys and girls, but civil unrest, Herod's war crimes, a life of struggle, execution, and the dissolution of the Jewish state in the first century.
Why is it that we insist on enshrouding the story with cherubic choirs and friendly camels? Why is it that we sing the liturgical equivalent to "Shiney Happy People Holding Hands"?
Okay. This is an inarticulate mess. Bring the eschaton. I am by no means ready, but whatever.