Sweet Virginia Breeze
Posted June 19, 2013 @ 6:03am | by Tripp
Feel compelled to talk about coffee. I haven't enjoyed the privilege of making my own coffee the last couple of days because I am staying on campus at Virginia Theological Seminary. I get up in the morning and get ready for the day. Then I make my way over to the campus refectory where there is a hot breakfast and hot coffee waiting for me. There are morning people present as well. It's delightful. I have a good conversation a couple coffee and some breakfast. All of this happens before 8 AM. It's perfect.
I have been having to remind myself that I am not on retreat. I'm not on vacation. I am working. The fun in all this is that the work I'm doing is the work I want to end up doing when I am done with this PhD. I am working with Dr. of Ministry students discussing the present and the future of the church. I am sharing their excitement in ministry. I am sharing their enthusiasm about transformation and change. I am also the chapel coordinator.
There is a noon prayer service every day while we're here for these three weeks. We have an ecumenical student body, so I am working to expand the students' experience of liturgy. The local musicians are all very sharp. They are easy to work with. People are in a rather creative frame of mind so I get to tinker a great deal. And I have met people like Ellen Clark-King, the Archdeacon of Vancouver.
She's a feminist theologian, hymn writer, and all-around interesting human being. Ellen is also teaching here for the summer. Last night we spent some time pondering the liturgies that are left to us during our time here. We talked about ways to change some of the language that we use. We talked about ways to expand the theological thinking of the students here.
It's great fun. That I keep meeting people who know people that I know is icing on the cake. Friends from 20 years ago here in Virginia are shared acquaintances. Colleagues in California are also mutual friends. These first couple of days have been a wonderful entry into the life of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Mumford and Sons: Eschatological Banjos
Posted June 12, 2013 @ 12:43am | by Tripp
Aweek ago I posted about Mumford and Sons. I suggested that the Wednesday concert was, for me, a festival of devotion. Friday's concert, however, was something else. It was an eschatological event. Not transcendent, though others have used that word to describe it, but immanent, apocalyptic, eschatological. There we were gathered all in one place, as the Bible story goes, and the place exploded. Cathleen said more than once that the Holy Spirit was present. I love it when shows differ from night to night. I love it when the audience brings something new. I also wonder how such a noticeable distinction at a concert can be a helpful reminder for all of us who plan liturgies.
My wife is an actress. She will do the same show five or six times a week for six to eight weeks. The same play. Every night. But what she will also say is that it is never the same play every night. Actually, she has said that if you do it right it should never be the same piece twice. There is no such thing as a repeat performance if one understands repetition is not exact duplication.
Similarly, a live concert is not a track on a CD. One does not show up to a concert and press "play." No, it is a singular performative event. Even when, as with Mumford and Sons, the set list is similar and the choreography (yes, even Mumford and Sons have a couple of staged bits) is the same, the concerts still feel different. Why? Well lots of reasons, but mostly because they are different.
It is the audience. It is the particular night. It is the mood and energy level of the musicians. Heck, the barometric pressure. There are more variables at work than can be listed easily. This is why I want to steer clear from "transcendence" as an adjective for a performance like a concert or even like liturgy. You see, the variables are material, physical, emotional, personal...inevitably "real." Their confluence encourages attentiveness or awareness. The awareness feels "otherly" because it is rather exceptional, but the truth is that what we feel as transcendence is actually presence...our presence in the moment, in the performance of music or liturgy.
The escatological is not transcendence. It is, instead, the awareness of the whole of creation including our own place in it. It is awareness.
One example would be the act of listening intently. At the Friday concert, just like on Wednesday, the first piece in the encore set was "I'm on Fire" by Bruce Springsteen. The band switces things up. They unplug their instruments and gather around a condenser microphone (seen here, photo courtesy of Sara Gunter who was present at the same concert). Then Marcus does the unthinkable. He asks the amped up audience to be quiet so they can hear. He says, "This is not your time to make yourself known." Invariably someone hollers or shouts. Marcus is adroit at making even that interruption fun. But his goal is for deep listening. On Wednesday this was pretty effective. On Friday it was incredible. People listened. People sang along in parts quietly. It was profound. At the end the band were beside themselves. Marcus responded with complete gratitude. "Thank you so much. That's the best we've ever done that song. It is all because of you. Thank you so much!" He was effusive.
The audience (or the congregaton) brings so much to any performance (or liturgy). As the people of the earth can enter into the city of God bringing what they have (Rev. 21) so too does the congregation bring all that they are to worship.
Spouse took this footage. Just thought I should share. One last thing...for those who think that concerts are just for listening and that we have lost the tradition of singing in large groups, I hope you heard all the singing. If that's not enough, behold:
Yeah. There's just too much to say here.
Posted June 11, 2013 @ 10:34am | by Tripp
That's a really wonderful title for blog post, "Unpacking Community." It's a shame that this post is just about unpacking moving boxes.
Hi there. It's been a little while since I've been able to post something. I have been packing and unpacking. Spouse and I have moved to a new apartment. It is just five or six blocks away from where we were living, but it is part of an intentional community connected to a local Episcopal parish. I'm excited about being here. I have lived in community before and found it life-giving and challenging. We loved where we were living, too. But this is just a little bit different. There'll be a daily prayer service and weekly Eucharist. I will participate in the life of the church as well.
I will still participate in the life of First Baptist Palo Alto. We have two interns working with us this fall. That's good news. It'll allow me to work here and work there and participate in the life of a Catholic community as well. This is going to be a very busy year.
I will be leaving in a few days to go to Virginia in order to teach at Virginia Theological Seminary. I will be there for three weeks as Assistant Instructor and chapel coordinator in the Doctor of Ministry program there.
It is a full week that will lead into a full month.
Okay, back to the boxes.
Here We Go Again
Posted June 7, 2013 @ 1:27am | by Tripp
So, it is late. I should be in bed. Instead, I am sitting up watching a little television and wishing these boxes would pack themselves. I'll pack one or two more before I go to bed. I'm at that point where I'm packing things like aluminum foil and Tupperware. So, all things being equal, we're doing pretty well.
Maybe it is just me, but have you ever noticed how moving can bring out the worst in people? It's stressful. It's unmooring. You leave your home and move into a new place that won't feel like home for months. And, if you're living like I am, you know you're going to move again in another 12 to 18 months.
It is disconcerting.
I think about Abraham and his wife and all of those other people who were with them and how they moved and moved again and moved again. Sure, maybe we like to think of them as nomads, but Abraham left a city life in order to wander rather endlessly for a time.
He made mistakes. He made terrible mistakes.
But hidden in that uprootedness was grace...
...grace and angelic visitors,
laughter and strangers at dinner
a king and a slave
each a means of grace
Do you think Abraham noticed or was his silence after that hilltop sacrifice indicative of how he spent most of his life? Was he a silent wanderer or did he really talk to God?
"There goes old Abraham talking to himself again," she said.
"They say he speaks with God," the man replied.
"How do you tell the difference?" she asked.
"I don't know."
This is the thing about moving. One never really knows if you're responding to the leadings of God or if you are simply talking to yourself.
Happy Birthday to Uncle Walt!
Posted May 31, 2013 @ 6:50am | by Tripp
I Hear America Singing
by Walt Witman (1819-1892)
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
hand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morn-
ing, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
Mumford and Sons: A Festival of Devotion
Posted May 30, 2013 @ 1:30pm | by Tripp
Vocal Music is an Art of expressing rightly things by Voice, for the sweet moving of affections and the mind...Singing...directeth the understanding...The end effect of it is, a sweet moving of the affections of the mind. For exhilarating the animal spirits, it moderateth gratefully the affections, and thus penetrateth the interiours of the mind, which it most pleasantly doth affect.
Mumford and Sons is in town. They are playing three shows at The Greek on the campus of Cal here in Berkeley. Wednesday's show was the first. I think there are a few tickets available. You need to get yourself one and go to the show. It's remarkable. I had the good fortune of attending with Cathleen Falsani. More on that another time.
So, maybe you know some of Mumford's tunes. Maybe you know they won the Grammy. Maybe you know that they were interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine. You might even know they have been criticized by a few religious leaders for being lukewarm in their faith. Yeah. It's all out there for you to read. I encourage you to do it. Then I encourage you to go to the concert and let me know if you still think that they are lukewarm about anything.
I have never been to a concert that was so...quiet. I mean, the band...they rocked. Sure. They gesticulated as rockers do. There were big video screens set up and everything. It all read "rock concert" except that the volume read "accordion played here" or "have you seen my banjo?" And that was just the beginning of the night that said again and again..."Yeah, it's a rock concert, but it's not."
The music does not lend itself to ear-blistering volume levels, so they don't do it. It ain't Mastadon. Mumford and Sons asks you to listen, to pay attention, to lean in a little and hear what they are singing, the lyrics and the music. They ask you to devote a little of yourself to the moment, to give yourself over. To surrender.
In 1680, the Synopsis of Vocal Musick published this little pedagogical missive about singing and the affections (read it here). It read, "Vocal Music is an Art of expressing rightly things by Voice, for the sweet moving of affections and the mind...Singing...directeth the understanding...The end effect of it is, a sweet moving of the affections of the mind. For exhilarating the animal spirits, it moderateth gratefully the affections, and thus penetrateth the interiours of the mind, which it most pleasantly doth affect." Well, my understanding was directed and my affections were moved.
In a much more recent collection of essays, Christian Scharen writes of Charles Taylor's notion of "the festive" and how this aspect of religious life has been swept away in American religious life. Protestant ritual sensibilities, according to Taylor, govern most religious expression in our culture which leaves people to find alternative locales to experience "the festival." Scharen points us to rock concerts. Both of these things were afoot last night. The sounds of devotion, of affections, and the festive. This is why rock concerts "feel like church should feel." We can bring our affections to bear. We can listen with the heart and the mind simultaneously. Our desires are reframed. Candor is offered up. Devotion is a full-out activity with others led by people who have a confessional musical posture. Joy. Grief. Shame. Jubilation. That it blends the so-called secular and sacred is what makes it typical of our time (and others, but that is not important here).
Mumford and Sons opened with a little introit called "Sigh No More" then a call to worship, "Roll Away Your Stone" and so we did. Understated and, dare I say it, reverent. Polished and yet still "honest" (this is a hipster liturgy, after all), the boys did a great job offering their work to us. They spoke with the audience. Marcus jumped off stage to give a beer to a woman celebrating her 21st birthday and then led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to her. Welcome to a living room that seats 8,500.
The band played most of their published stuff, took a bow, and walked off stage. The encore set is what took it home for me. The stepped away from their usual set-up, unplugged their instruments, stood around a condenser mic and then sang. They dragged us back into devotion. Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" followed by "Sister" sung a cappella did me in. A benediction? Perhaps I'm reaching.
They closed the night with "The Cave" which had people jumping and singing along. You can find a set liste here.
After the concert, my Facebook feed lit up with "it was just like church" or "that was church" by several people including some ordained church types in attendance last night. The Vineyard background has not been wasted, not by any stretch. It has been given a new venue, a new form, a venue where the truth can be sung in quiet tones, where no name is taken in vain or otherwise, where wild passion is replaced with festal devotion.
What I saw and heard last night was devotion. That there was no stated object of devotion will trouble many of those who balk at equating rock concerts with church services. I understand. But that's the reality in which we live. Nonetheless, people were shushing one another to hear the quiet a capella singing or singing along with the rowdy anthems, enjoying friendships, and holding their loved ones. There was what Taylor calls "ordinary human flourishing." It was a festival of devotion.
It's been a week or more since I posted anything. It was the end of the term and I got busy trying to finish things up. Thus ends my coursework. Now on to the hard stuff. I'm excited to be over this hurdle. I've learned more than I thought possible. My brain case is big, but the brain inside is lacking. I'm thrilled by the experience that I've had thus far. Your prayers as things continue would be, by me, appreciated.
Posted May 22, 2013 @ 12:04pm | by Tripp
Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise Thee;
In my heart, though not in heaven, I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort to enroll Thee;
E'en eternity's too short to extol Thee.
~ Geo. Herbert
Hey. If a band can call themselves "Fun." then I can call this post "Purgation.". What's one more period, really? No reason to use a comma when a period can be used like one. I'm working on a paper and it's gestation period is almost up. These things live in my head for some time before they are finally birthed onto the paper. This one is a 25-30 page beast. I am hoping I won't have to break my skull open to get it out.
What am I writing about? Well, that's an excellent question. I know and I don't know. This is the very rough outline/breakdown that I had yesterday.
History of a Baptist Ordo
The Scandal of Particularity: Congregational Freedom
Sacramental Poetics and Baptist Spirit
The plan as it presently stands is to write three "sermons" that make up the body of the paper. The introduction and Conclusion will be written last. I know. It's a terrible method to many of my colleagues. I just can't get there any other way. I need to jum in the middle. The subject of the essay is liturgical theology. The object of study is a worship service held at First Baptist Church in Palo Alto, CA that focused on the poetry of George Herbert. Herbert's poetry served as spoken and sung text...call to worship, invocation, prayer of confession, hymns, etc. There are reasons to explore and a "poetics" to engage.
It's not the first time a Baptist congregation has done such a thing. James Weldom Johnson's God's Trombones has also been used in a similar fashion. What I'm going to try to do is give a particular and localized example of how Baptist "freedom" is the aesthetic for crafting liturgy. This freedom is a gift of the Spirit, a particularly Baptist gift, perhaps, in response to the immediacy of the Holy Spirit. As such, and this is where many will disagree with me, the craft of liturgy is a sacramental practice. Regina Mara Schwartz writes beautifully of a "sacramental poetics" arguing that as the sacramental left the table it found its way into the world. The table is not the font nor is it the summit of sacramentality. The world itself is. The genesis of this project can be found in my previous post entitled "Blessed Ambiguity."
I will need some help from Baptist theologians and liturgiologists like Molly T. Marshall (pneumatology), Christopher Ellis (ordo and eschatology), Brad Berglund (crafting liturgy), and James William McLendon (post-modern systematics) to make this happen. Also, if you haven't read Melanie Ross' work, I suggest you get on it. Lastly, I have David P. Nelson's dissertation sitting here staring at me, too; "In Spirit and Truth: The Holy Spirit and The Interrelation of Doxology and Doctrine with Implications for Evangelical Congregational Worship."
Lord help me. Let the purging of this thing from my brain commence.
Clearing My Brain
Posted May 20, 2013 @ 10:28am | by Tripp
I am thinking about race, critical theory, preaching, and how some people make much hay out of their own racism to get attention. I am also thinking about how speaking from a place of social privilege about the sins of communities can be done well.
"When you purchase peace at the cost of enslaving others, you are doing nothing but living a lie." - The Rev. Ben Campbell.
Reverend Ben Campbell Selected as Richmond’s 2013 Peacemaker of the Year. He spoke about “The Price of Peace in Richmond” at RPEC Dinner on May 16th.This essay is worth your time.
That is all.
And another thing...
This. This right here is everything. Want to know an eschatological aesthetics for music? Well, what if it's this? This is what I'm after. Yeah..."So, let it go and so fade away/I'm wide awake!"
Transition: Is This Thing On?
Posted May 17, 2013 @ 11:48am | by Tripp
God comes to you disguised as your life. - Paula D’Arcy
here are many things that I do not comprehend. Chemistry, for example, eludes me. I mean, I get solutions and mixtures. Sure. But once those pesky numbers enter in and we have 10^23 of anything and...well...yeah. Whack a mole! That's what I say. This week has been a week of whacking moles.
I am in this strange intellectual holding pattern. I have a sense as to why. Transition with a capital-t is at every turn. We're moving into community. This is a great thing, but it still involves packing and schlepping. Then there's the transition out of coursework into comprehensive exams. Then there are the little transitions for work this summer. At church we're bringing in two new interns. There's just a lot of transition, change, making room, packing, thinking, pondering, and - this is the hard part - articulating. It's the articulating that's being onery.
So, I get up in the morning and I'm not wondering if life is happening. I'm only rarely bored. It happens. I'll be honest. But mostly now I feel stuck in a feedback loop of my own making. I'm tempted every day to pull the plug, but it's just not an option. I think that even if I were to jerk the power cord right out of the wall the system would still be screeching at me. wheeEEeep!
So, is this thing on? You bet your ass it is.
Posted May 13, 2013 @ 8:08pm | by Tripp
I keep trying to find something worth writing about. All I have are my own thoughts. Well, those and anxiety. I am surrounded by people who appear to have more organized minds than mine. On one level I know that my mind is not particularly well-organized. On another level I am aware that I tend to idolize my colleagues.
I have this paper to write for my liturgical theology class. I'm plagued by it. Why? Well, because philosophy and theology, if they are related disciplines, elude me. If theology is instead an artform, then I have a chance. Poetics rather then noetics. I can paint a portrait but I cannot make an argument. Of course, the field requires an argument. I can honor that. I don't have a particular problem with that. But here I am wondering how I can perform the task that sits before me.
A friend recently joked that my theological posture involves porches and stringed instruments rather than St. Augustine and good dogma. There's no reason at all why these two postures need to be in opposition to one another. We don't need to value one over the other; we simply need to value both equally.
Okay. Back to the salt mines.
Connick, Grohl, and Knowles
Posted May 8, 2013 @ 9:22am | by Tripp
Blessed are you, O Lord, Redeemer God.
You destroyed the bonds of death
and from the darkness of the tomb
drew forth the light of the world.
You led us through the waters of death,
and made us children of light
and dancing to the music of new life.
Have you seen the article about Harry Connick Jr.'s frustrated lecture on American Idol? Take a read here. It's been a very popular piece. Harry is on a tear about understanding what you are singing before you sing it, about having more than one musical trick up your sleeve. I can tell you that Spouse and I had a lively conversation about it here at the Arts Collective and Book Nook. Honesty, understanding, talent, and skill...these all go into any performance. Paul would say "spirit and understanding," but I think we'd be on the same page.
I found the whole thing intriguing on many levels: aesthetics, industry, gender, privilege, and, well race. Yes, race. Remember when Beyonce Knowles sang at the Presidential Inauguration and the world went insane for a brief shining moment because she sang to a recording of her own voice (a common practice)?
It's all so damn complicated now. Western Classical snobs have weighed in on the American Idol news. Jazz snobs have weighed in. And even David Grohl weighed in...well, he did so well before Harry, but it bears sharing no less. He's perhaps my favorite of the rock and roll snobs. Yes, he's a snob. Just because he uses profanity and I happen to agree with him (as do many others) doesn't keep him from being a snob.
I find this inspiring and rather prophetic, but it is also a kind of snobbery. It's the same kind of snobbery that keeps schools like Cal Berkeley from having a rock n'roll track in their music department. I mean, it's Cal, people. Really? Really? But there it is. Rock n'roll comes from the garages of America. Brahms from it's universities and conservatories (a curious word), and Connick's "Great American Songbook" from the clubs of New Orleans, Chicago, and New York.
What makes a musician? Regionalism, racial politics, and industry heavies all have their legitimizing weight in all of this. Is it luck? Sticktoitiveness? Talent? Production and distribution? Is being a musician simple a sense of self no matter how middlin' small one's talent and ability are? Perhaps so.
The snobbery that I see at work is our holding one path above any other. Whenever you hear "there is one way to be a musician" be warned. Even in Grohl's witness, he slips into the same trap. Yes, we should be wary of the American Idolizing by the Music Industry. Yes, making someone a "star" doesn't make them a "real" or even "successful" musician. Not by a long shot. But let's be honest...some of us won't buy drums from a yard sale and suck. Nope. Some of us will take lessons and spend years in conservatories. Others of us will sit next to jazz masters in clubs. Others of us will invent a cappella arrangements on street corners. Some of us will upload and download YouTube videos. Some of us will only ever sing in church choirs, the light of fame and fortune shining elsewhwhere. It is all available to us. It's all music-making. Why do we privilege one kind of music-making over another?
The value of such polemics does us all a tremendous disservice.
It is, after all, just music. There's no reason to hold it above the people who make it.
Politics and The Spiritual But Not Religious
Posted May 8, 2013 @ 8:55am | by Tripp
Recently we were discussing the genesis of this "Nones" or "spiritual but not religious" obsession. It was at church during our session after worship (call it "spiritual formation" if you like). I was on a tear per usual. I find this time so damn exciting and I can get so frustrated when congregations stare in confused wonderment, or fear, or ignorance, or, or, or...I just can't help but think it's good news.
Anyway, we've been talking about the "shift in the American religious landscape" in churches for more than a decade now. I find it helpful to remember that the "None" obsession really hit it's public peak at the time of the last Presidential election. Why? Well, pollsters went to track voting patterns one way and discovered a Whole Other Thing at work. There are a bunch of religiously unaffiliated people out there...and they vote.
If you would like to listen, it's only 2:30 long. Easy peasy.
It's brief, maybe too brief, but that's never stopped me before. The point is that if the research is at all accurate, you can watch the political rhetoric change. I'm very curious who the first SBNR candidate will be and how they will campaign. Will it be akin to Obama's American Civil Religion inauguration speech? We'll see.