Ash Wednesday Expectations
Posted March 5, 2014 @ 11:07am | by Tripp
Ashes to ashes, dust into dust
Buildings will crumble, bridges will rust
Mountains will disappear,
rivers will dry up
And so it goes,
with everything but love."
--John Denver and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
There have been too many meetings about the future of insititutions. Well, I’ve attended more than my fair share. Then again, maybe I need to reconsider what a reasonable share is. Given the “societal drift” and rampant re-institutionalizing that is afoot in the world, one’s fair share may have increased quite a bit in the last decade.
Still, this is what I do. I attend meetings about the future of institutions...churches, theaters, arts organizations, and schools. I’m getting quite good at it. As it is Ash Wednesday, however, I feel compelled to reconsider my attendance at such meetings and the expectations I have attached to the outcomes of the same.
I’m giving up my expectations for Lent.
I know. I should have done this long, long ago. Hell, I’m usually the guy who is reminding others that at least half our problem is found in our expectations. We need to redefine success. We need to shift our expectations. Think of it like a coke bottle you are blowing over to make that nifty hooting sound. You can expect the bottle to resonate when you blow across the opening. Yes, you can. The pitch may change given the volume of air versus liquid. You cannot expect the same pitch if you are messing with the contents. Similarly, the contents of society have shifted, and though we still know the mechanics of making it “sound,” one cannot expect the same pitch to occur.
Your results will vary.
That’s just the way of things.
And it’s true for every human institution. No one knows what’s going to happen next, what will survive or what will pass.
Mindi Welton-Mitchell shared an old John Denver video today as a meditation for Ash Wednesday. He’s performing a tune with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (love them!). The chorus is the pull-quote above.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in meetings. I’ve been spending a lot of time ruminating with fellow pastors and students. I am beyond the quest for hopefulness or the feeling of despair. I’m in this place of “unknowing.” Ambiguity is my new friend. Sometimes I feel like I should go back to baking to earn (and make) my daily bread. I don’t want to be a burden upon an already burdened system. Often I believe that I am simply in the way, a relic of another time and place.
It’s absurd. I’m too young for that. Or am I? Does it have anything to do with age or even knowledge and familiarity? I’m not sure it does.
Sometimes I think I might do more good if I let go of all the expectations and simply see what unfolds. It’s such an obvious sentiment, but with all of these meetings and conversations, I forget.
I am controlled by my false expectations.
Posted March 3, 2014 @ 2:07pm | by Tripp
There’s nothing to report except that reporting is something even when it is a reporting of nothing. I keep rearranging the deck furniture these days. That’s what it feels like. I’m working through a variety of responsibilities and opportunities all in some vain attempt at forestalling the comprehensive exams which I have yet to schedule. When I first started on this journey, I was hoping to have one under my belt by now. Alas, no.
My get-up-and-go has got up and went.
The Tuneless Dark
Posted February 24, 2014 @ 9:31am | by Tripp
We'll crowd thy gates with thankful songs,
high as the heavens our voices raise;
and earth, with her ten thousand tongues,
shall fill thy courts with sounding praise.
Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1707,
as altered by John Wesley (1703-1791), 1737.
Tune: Old Hundredth
Finding a way to begin - at the very beginning suggests one songster - is not as easy as I had hoped. Sometimes one has to begin right in the middle, to dive in nose first, and simply hope to surface at some point.
I have not been able to write since Robbie died. Since Siobhan died. Since Connor died. Since Fritz died.
Other than Facebook (once again, someone is wrong on the internet), I have not been able to read or write. It’s all been too much. My heart breaks for my friends who have suffered incredible loss in the new year. My heart breaks for my family who have suffered great loss in the new year. We have all born witness to a lot of death in 2014 and it’s only February.
Let it be done now, please.
I have all this reading stacked up on my desk. It’s all stuff I love. Truly. Music and cognition (I could read Alva Noë all day long), bell hooks, even DeNora’s After Adorno looks to be fun. And I need to read it. I do. I have a presentation on Wednesday. I’m supposed to be working on my history comps. Damn, but the books just sit there.
Someone will say, and quite rightly, that I need to allow myself time to grieve. This is true. But time to grive does not mean taking time away from work. Somehow I need to do both.
I’m just stuck.
I cannot sing. I cannot shout. I cannot read. I cannot write.
I am a melodramatic fool, an author of overwrought prose.
This is all I have right now.
Posted February 15, 2014 @ 12:57pm | by Tripp
I have little to say on the matter except to say that suffering and death happen. Death, at this writing, is inevitable. We all get to do it. We may wish to live as if that were not true, our own mortality being too terrible a burden (understandably) for many. But today I am holding death up to the light and saying, once again, God does not give you suffering. God does not send you tests. The death of a loved one is not a test from the "God who so loved the world." No. Never. Stop. Don't do that to the one whom God loved so very much.
We serve a God who suffers and dies every day. Suffering and death are not tests. They are never tests. Nor are they "gifts."
"God never gives you more than you can handle" assumes a great deal about what God gives us in the first place.
God does not give us suffering. God does not give us death.
God suffers and dies. Every day.
Are Worship and Intimacy Compatible?
Posted February 13, 2014 @ 10:02am | by Tripp
In a recent post on his Prietly Goth blog, Larry Kamphausen offered a lengthy reflection on the relationship between intimacy and liturgy and asked if the purpose of liturgy is intimacy with God. It's important, he suggests, but not the purpose of worship. He wrote, "I don’t mean to say that intimacy with God is unimportant or that all “worship” must be earthshaking, psyche rending, overwhelming with mind bending beauty and awe described by Isaiah, Ezekiel and Saint John the Apostle (though we probably need more of that kind of worship than current American Christianity offers). There are ways to develop intimacy with God, I just am not convinced the worship of the gathered people of God is the best place to foster that intimacy."
He goes on to write, "I would argue a more proper place for fostering intimacy with God is in the work of the Church known as the cure of souls, or in more contemporary parlance – in spiritual direction and the spiritual disciplines."
To put this in baptist parlance, there are devotional practices and there are worship practices. They are not the same thing.
So, being the obedient slave to social media that I am, I tweeted Larry's quotation and received several responses. By far the most popular response (retweeted a bit, etc.) was by David Lewicki.
@anglobaptist I think of worship the way I think of the dinner table or a live sports event. Communal, incarnational, meaning-making.— David Lewicki (@dlewicki) February 12, 2014
What is the place of intimacy in worship? Does it belong there, per se? I mean, it certainly happens there, but is that the purpose? I think what we're looking at are competing liturgical theologies, historical streams within the tradition that privileges to different degrees the place of intimacy in worship. This focus on intimacy reflects certain historical movements (rather recently, Pentecolstalism) and thier embedded cultural contexts. Whereas other traditions (Roman Catholicism, for example) reflects another "emotional aesthetic." Lots of ideas in this paragraph. They all deserve dissertations. No. Wait.
That said, I would like to know what you think. Because we are talking about culture and various movements within Christianity across time and their influence upon one another.
So, again, what is the place of intimacy in worship? How privileged a place should intimacy have? Is it the goal of worship or a happy accident? What do you think? Are worship and intimacy compatible?
Vulnerable Leadership During The Sea Change
Posted February 12, 2014 @ 3:15pm | by Tripp
You may have seen the image floating around the internet from the Public Religion Research Institute about the gradual shifting of religious identity in the United States at present. I don't know what it bodes for the future, but as someone training folk for ministry, I wonder ceaselessly about how to train people to lead in the present with an eye for what may be around the corner.
It occurred to me that Dr. Amy Butler, pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. is on to something. She calls it "Vulnerable Leadership." Here is a quick definition of a vulnerable leader:
"A vulnerable leader casts a compelling, prophetic vision from the heart, while exhibiting a prayerful, loving, transparent openness."
It seems ideally suited to our present situation. No one is above the fray. No institution is beyond hope or guaranteed to fail. There is a place for the Church in its myriad forms and others yet to be invented or imagined.
The only way forward is rigorous honesty and vulnerability.
Elizabeth Drescher has this great take on the above graphic: "True or False: Less Religion Means Greater Diversity?"
Church Attendance: You're Doing It Wrong
Posted February 11, 2014 @ 9:32am | by Tripp
Talking about church attendance is difficult. Whether people attend or not, they have a lot of themselves wrapped up in the choice. Of course they do. It makse total sense. But our public conversation around the issue (if Facebook threads about magazine and blog articles can be considered public conversation) often misses this element. People have something at stake, something big at stake.
People are choosing how to honor God...or not. They are choosing how to address something deeply important to who they understand themselves to be and express that. With as much cultural weight that has been given to worship attendance in the mid-twentieth century, it's still not easy or simple to discuss this stuff in public.
We sometimes shame one another. Civility can be a challenge.
People are vilified for attending. They are vilified for not attending. Say you attend because you love the music and someone calls you shallow. Say you find a biblical mandate, people (usually me) call you a fundamentalist. Proclaim the great tradition mandates it, well, you're just out of touch with the times, my friend. And though you can say that you do not attend because you do not believe, we who are believers still don't have any means of addressing that fact (or you) with any grace. We usually respond by prescribing more church attendance to fix your "unbelief problem."
This conversation is a white hot mess.
So, how do we have the conversation? With all of these ways of "doing it wrong," how do we talk about this whole attending church thing?
I am still stuck in Crisis Mode. I am convinced that all of this is coming from an anxious place for many people. The shifting cultural import (some argue acceptability) of religious practice is what is driving this whole thing. We're in crisis and we're flailing around in our communication streams trying to fix it.
Then again, I could be wrong.
What do you think is driving this conversation? How complex is it? I'd love to know your thoughts.
Monday Videopost: Moment of Surrender
Posted February 10, 2014 @ 3:17pm | by Tripp
It's been thirteen years. Sobriety is a pain in the ass. Have no illusions. It is the necessary struggle lest I forget myself and fall off the damn planet.
Why Does Anyone Go To Church?
Posted February 8, 2014 @ 12:05pm | by Tripp
Tomorrow is Sunday. You know, the day when most Christians who bother to go to church with any regularity will get up on a perfectly good non-working morning and give their time to an institution that may or may not do them any favors. Catholics may have already gone to Mass on Friday or Saturday. The same with some people at Willow Creek.
The great thing about belonging to a Catholic Parish or a Mega-church is not having to go to church on Sunday. Okay, maybe there are other great things, but I think it's pretty swell.
The above post has been circulating around Facebook again. So, out of some strange sense of digital obligation, I posted it as well. Hey, I'm interested in why people go to church or why they don't or why that phrase bothers some but not others, etc. I find the whole damn phenomenon fascinating. So, I posted it. Laura said, "Yes!" Thomas said,
"Narcissistic drivel, and boring at that - who cares? Go, don't go, for crying out loud this self-reflecting, self-justifying business is such a growth industry. I could probably write a book about my 'church thing' that would be a best seller, if only I could bring myself to draw some lesson from it other than that I'm a shiftless nitwit who won't just *go*. That, in other words, it is *my* problem, and not reflective of anything anywhere worth a damn thing. As for all these reasons to *go to* church (such a fraught phrase, that!), those all sound like good reasons to sleep in to me."
That's when I got clever (so ironical am I) and mentioned that these two comments pretty well summarize the challenge that many US congregations face right now. Both Laura and Thomas hit the nail on the head. They both got it.
I read the post and had this "Yes, but..." response because I don't like her taste in music. I like what she said about the music, mind you, but if I ever hear "Lord I Lift Your Name On High Again" I may hurt myself and others. I don't go for those funky evangelical worship services with pounding boots. It's just not my speed.
Clearly, the wonderfully articulate Sarah Bessey loves it. More importantly, she loves the people engaged in this practice with her. Now, not everyone is interested in that kind of "moving community." Instead, they are looking for other things entirely.
Maybe they go to church because they see it as their liturgical duty and they value duty and obedience.
Maybe they go to church because it's all they have.
Maybe they go to church because, well, there's nothing better to do on Sunday mornings.
Maybe they just like the music.
Maybe they are succumbing to social pressure.
Who knows why people participate in liturgical disciplines. This question of "why" stems from some kind of marketing habit, perhaps. Or maybe it's just feeding our sense of crisis about the institutional viability of the American church, and we love to be in crisis about stuff. Any stuff at all. We fear the ruination of the Church, well, more accurately, the abandonment of our congregations.
But what I think we need is a rhetoric about how it's entirely fine that people don't go to church. We don't need to obsessively share why we think it's so magical or why it sucks. Some assume that people are somehow lacking community, even spiritual community, just because they don't have a Sunday gathering (or Wednesday at Willow Creek, Saturday at St. Axnthony's). This is also untrue by any generalized measure. Nor does every church "get it wrong" in some horrific way.
The public conversation is painfully lacking in nuance.
What we Christians need is a gracious rhetoric that reflects God's graciousness about such things as church attendance.
And now . . . #occupycomps
Posted February 7, 2014 @ 9:51am | by Tripp
Words, various and sundry (two of my favorites), slip and slide across the page. The library books are stacked (most were overdue yesterday and are now renewed, resurrected or redeemed, the debt paid) on my desk. A history examination will be my first foray into taking the comprehensive exam. John Smyth’s fascinating theology of the Holy Spirit will take center stage. He believed that the hearing of the word was salvific. You. Me. Listening made a difference, a cosmic difference.
What a notion.
Then there’s The Didache, another curious little document. The question is one about scholarly method. Do scholars treat the ancient liturgical text as normative? Authoritative? These nuances matter in how we read one another’s scholarship. Decisions in the present-day liturgical lives of worshiping communities are made with such nuances in mind.
Sometimes the novelty of the past trumps the insights of the present. Sometimes they are so intertwined that we cannot separate the two. The past is the present is the future.
The dissertation will get a little more attention now, too. The kernel of a thought goes something like this: “The liturgy is a rehearsal of the eschaton. It is eschatological but it is not itself the Eschaton [the fulfillment of God’s reign]. It is a rehearsal where the sacred and profane collide.”
Lordy, but that’s a loose notion. Authenticity is the key. The term keeps me awake at night. Music. Authenticity. Eschatology. This is where I live.
So, this is going to happen.
Hell's Destruction and My Woeful Use of English
Posted February 4, 2014 @ 11:03am | by Tripp
Full to o’erflowing, my mind reels. There is grief and tales of addiction. There is injustice and frustration. No amount of cursing or blessing provides an end. There are instead broken heartstrings and tired instruments. Cut off, all too soon if we are honest, death has taken beloved children. One such child was ninety-four. Another in this litany of death, only five weeks.
Death comes for all of us. We reel (that word again, in what musical time do we live) in bewilderment as our world is shaken. Even love, we fear, may not be enough to see us through.
Sorry. I’m getting Jesusy. This is a bit of Jesusy processing. It’s too Jesusy for many. I get it. I’m not asking you to believe with me, but just to hear me out, to give me some space because I just don’t understand what’s happening around us.
That is to say that I know what is happening, but there has never been much sense to it for me. This is why I hunt for grace so aggressively.
There are children dying. The death of my friends’ children has shown me once again that children die every day. Every day. Every day. And still.
My denial of what is right in front of me is pretty powerful stuff.
I have invented for myself a casual fiction, one in which there is no addiction or injustice, where children all live into adulthood becoming obnoxious teen agers along the way. As if wishing it made it true.
I know the difference between this life and the one that exists in my mind. I know this invention of mine is fakery of the cruelest kind. But there I go slipping into it again. The old preacher once said:
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
Shit. Utter shit. It’s a hopeful vision, this fulfillment, this eschatological dream. But it is as yet a dream. And we who are yet living benefit none from this vision. We who are yet living are bereft. Destruction comes and comes again. I have never had much faith in visions.
That’s the “Hell” of it. When people ask me if Hell is real (it does happen from time to time), I ask these same people if they have ever experienced “Heaven on Earth” and if they say yes, I ask them, “Have you ever experienced Hell on earth?” I’m not trying to be clever. I’m not particularly clever. This is simply the path I personally took to get from one place to another (the road to perdition is well marked, you know). If there is Heaven on earth and we are so keen to believe in Heaven cannot we say the same thing of Hell? We progressive Christians are so dismissive of Hell. We are so dismissive of suffering, believing that we can somehow progress out of it.
Now, I’m not sure it has anyone in it. The old preacher said, “He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.” Emptied it, the preacher said. And then locked the God-damned door so no one could get in again. This is Hell’s destruction. It is locked, shut, and a rabbi, the God Child, has the key and he has no interest in giving it up.
This is Hell’s destruction but it does not prevent mine.
Maybe the truth of it is that Hell is closed and Heaven is “not yet,” but they are both present here with us now. Maybe they have collapsed upon one another and the denial of either is itself a lie. I cannot say. I don’t know.
How many angels dance on the head of a pin? Someone remind me. I have forgotten.
Again, at last, the reel. And so I am compelled to admit that I am powerless.