What Is Discipleship?
Posted October 19, 2014 @ 9:12am | by Tripp
Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus, "Can a person lay a new foundation every day?" The old man said, "If they work hard, a person can lay a new foundation every moment."
I'm sitting in my kitchen. Quebecois artists are featured in this morning's edition of the Putumayo World Music Hour on KFOG. Mike keeps following me around the apartment. One would think this is an endearing quality, but first thing in the morning it only serves to irritate me. I wish I found it cute, but I don't. He's just there. Under foot. At every moment.
Unless I pick him up. So you see where this is going, right?
I walk around the apartment in the predawn light of Berkeley, CA listening to Quebecois singer-songwriters with a cat in my arms.
What the hell has happened to me?
This morning, I find my mind spinning. The anxiety I experience while trying to prepare for my exams overwhelms me. So, in the attempt to return to something comforting, I opened my little volume of "Sayings" from the desert mothers and fathers. The book is tattered and is held together with a paperclip. I cradled the book in my hand as it fell open to the section on discipleship.
"I don't want to be a disciple," I said. "I want to be a student." Synonyms are curious beasts, no?
I feel the weight of religious discipleship, the tasks that are laid at one's feet. I've never felt ready for such responsibilities. They offend me in some way that I cannot explain. Or perhaps it is what we have done with them. I want to paraphrase the entirety of Jesus' teaching: "Please, in the name of God, try not to be an asshole. And when you are one, please apologize and try to make amends. Okay?"
It lacks a certain gravitas, I admit, but there it is. I want to leave the cosmological mojo to the Orthodox, Catholics, Neo-Calvinists, Quakers, and anyone else who has made such a claim. My previous desire to bathe in the mystical waters of my baptismal identity and Jesus' reconciliation of all Creation with its Creator has vanished.
Abba John said, "A monk is toil. The monk toils in all that they do. That is what a monk is." On the heels of this good news about laying new foundations, it it an important message. Laying a foundation is work. It is hard work.
Discipleship, student-hood (student-ing?); according to Abba Sylvanus, we can start over any time we need to which, to my mind, is a good thing. I need to start over all the time. Every day. Every moment. Abba John reminds me that it is hard work. Not in that Smyth-and-Helwys-protobaptist-workaholism fashion, but in that wake-up-and-smell-the-delusional-habits way. We never get it right. That's the point. Smyth and Helwys were on the quest for a new perfection, a puritanical end game, a rightness in the Lord.
There is no "rightness" to be found. There is only toil. There is only this strange paraphrase of Jesus' teaching.
This. This is it. No glory. No glamor. No satisfaction. "Don't be an asshole" is the sum total of it.
My attempt to find something comforting has failed entirely. All I can do is start over, the eternal beginner, the eternal student. This is discipleship.
I am still an asshole.
Posted October 17, 2014 @ 12:11pm | by Tripp
Have you ever worn a sweater, not because it was cold, but simply because the sweater comforted you? Today is one of those days. The sky is overcast. I am wearing an orange cardigan.
Matthew Gunnels has died. I wonder when wearing my orange cardigan became a way to grieve.
Pray for the Chicago theater community. They have lost another bright shining star.
Give Me Nerdistry
Posted October 15, 2014 @ 8:07pm | by Tripp
I miss school. I know it must seem absurd, but there it is. I miss sitting around with people and discussing what we are reading together or on our own. I miss discussing the Big Ideas. I miss those friendships and collegial relationships. I got a little taste of it today for the first time in quite a while.
A friend presented a paper at the Liturgy Area meeting. It was a great paper. She is a gifted scholar. There's a lot more I could say about that. The title is also great: “Ritualizing Hegemonic Masculinity and Homosocial Theology Through Music Ministry at Mars Hill Church.” In it, Maren Haynes analyzes localized musical and theological practices and asks, in a literal sense, what kind of voice...has voice in the liturgical life of the congregation. The notion of authenticity came up more than once. The implications for theology and spirituality are rather astonishing.
I live for this stuff. Truly.
And I miss the day to day work. I like what I do a great deal, but the day in/day out liturgio-musicological nerdistry is what I love more than anything.
The Return of The Blog - or - Wither Goest Facebookistan?
Posted October 14, 2014 @ 5:52pm | by Tripp
uaranteed to cause some kind of doobly doo on social media, I am hereby announcing my intention to do my comprehensive exams by February 27. This means, I know you will be shocked and amazed, a lessening of my time on Ye Olde Facebook. Yes, the land of Gen X digi-angst will be less a focus for me than it has been of late.
Now, I make this rather grandiose announcement to fulfill the apparent social norm that all digital communications decisions be Grandiose Announcements. So.
There you go.
I love you, Facebookistan, but I have to do my homework. So, I am moving my attention over to the blog here on the outside chance that I'll get some things done this way.
So, call it old school if you like. I'm blogging.
Wrestling My Brain
Posted October 7, 2014 @ 8:21am | by Tripp
My mind is not yet ready for caffeine. I know. Scandalous. But here I sit still jetlagged and wondering why my mind is spinning like it is. There are, as most know, multiple answers, all correct and all understandable. Still, I tire of the spinning - right round, like a record. It is excruciating.
Excruciating? Yes. It hurts.
The first thing I do every morning is wrestle my brain to the ground. Some mornings are more difficult than others.
I arise overstimulated. I'm trying to wean myself from my various news feeds again. Sometimes they contribute to the chaos between my ears. Too much stimulation, you know. "Someone is wrong on the internet!" I read the news feeds because it give my mind something to latch on to first thing. Otherwise it just spins and invents stuff for me to obsess about. At least with the news feeds I have something "real" to obsess about like ISIS or someone "coming out" humanist in the evangelical world.
Some day someone will have to atone for convincing so many that evangelicalism is the sum total of The Church.
At any rate, as I said, today is more difficult than most days. I have some serious external motivation to get my comprehensive exams done or take a leave of absence from the program. This is the real obsession, this is the real white noise behind all the flailing on my AP News app.
I need to decide.
And I can't.
Good morning, O Fair Intertubes. It's Tuesday and I'm crazy.
Posted September 29, 2014 @ 12:59pm | by Tripp
We spent the day visiting Chartres. The building is under extensive rennovation. Centuries of grime and pollution are beung removed and old color schemes are being restored. I posted several images on Facebook and I'll be certain to post some here as well when we return to the US.
This was my second time visiting. The first time was twenty years ago. Malcolm Miller is still a force to be reconed with. His tours are legendary. He still inspires me.
I wa struck by the beauty and ethical ambiguity that is the cathedral. Notre Dame de Chartres is perhaps the fifth cathedral on that hilltop (there are records of bishops in that town from the fourth century). It took more than thirty years to construct. An exonomy was fueled by its construction. Schools were errected in its shadow. A town flourished.
It is beautiful. No question. It is a work of religious art, of didactic devotion.
And next to it is the bishop's palais and another building that has the honor of hosting Henri IV and Napoleon.
So much ostentatious wealth. So much power in the church. So much beauty.
Egads, it was a good day.
A quick thought
Posted September 28, 2014 @ 11:05pm | by Tripp
Paris is ablaze with music.
Beyond The Feed
Posted September 21, 2014 @ 8:34am | by Tripp
The Academy is intended for anyone with a strong yen for music and a desire to be involved in its evolution. Whether you’re a producer, vocalist, instrumentalist, beat-maker, engineer, songwriter or DJ, you will be considered.
To join this journey, you don’t need to be able to compose a fugue for Juno-60, list the entire No Limit catalog backwards or know how to disassemble an SP-1200 using only a dime and a toothpick. What we’re looking for is a passion for learning and sharing, enthusiasm for music across genres and a truly global, open-minded outlook.
My feed is a'buzz this morning with news of the climate march. Preachers I know are speaking out about income inequality this morning as the lectionary appears to beg the question, "How much should we pay the laborer?" And Charles Blow's column in the New York Times is a memory of abuse and sexual identity certain to be met with accolades and disdain.
I find my various feeds to be curious streams of information. Sunday mornings are, as you might imagine given my profession, rather churchy. Not entirely churchy, mind you, but very churchy. What people preach, what they read, what they hear, the music they sing, the opinions the hold (some positive, some negative) about the preaching they hear, is all there in the feed. Alongside politics and promotions from the music industry, my morning is full.
But that's neither here nor there.
The feed. Right.
It's still dark out here in Berkeley. It's 6:30am and I assume the sky is overcast. Certainly the sun has not begun to clear the hilltop to my east. It is the first morning of fall and I just noticed that the summer has been drawing to a close all this time. Bay Area weather is so damned consistent it is easy to miss the seasons' coming and going.
In the feed this morning are wars and rumors of wars. People crying out for rescue or peace or diplomatic intervention or a targeted strike. It's all there in the feed. Jesus wants us to kill Islamists. Jesus wants us to lay down our weapons and offer our own lives up. Jesus isn't paying attention because his blonde likeness is being thrown out with the recycling.
Atheists are immoral, cry some folk. Religionists are immoral, cry some other folk. Oh, wait, there's some more music. From Bali. Nice. I like the puppets.
This is the feed this morning.
And I wonder why I arise confused and conflicted every morning.
There is more to this, of course. Much more of my life takes place outside the feed. Friends are visiting. I've been out and about. Life is a generous cacophony of experiences well beyond the borders of Facebookistan (be excellent to one another). And I am grateful for this life beyond the feed.
U2: Seeking An Ecclesiology
Posted September 16, 2014 @ 5:15pm | by Tripp
Let's try to figure out why we wanted to be in a band, the relationships around the band, our friendships, our lovers, our family. The whole album is first journeys - first journeys geographically, spiritually, sexually. And that's hard. But we went there.
By now you have heard that Apple gave you music. Free music. From U2. Now, they paid U2 a lot of money for those tunes and it's pretty clear that it's not the first time that someone paid a U2 a lot of money for their music so that you could have it for free as long as you were a loyal customer.
Some of us are rather peevish customers, it would seem. There have been numerous articles on the betrayal by either U2 or Apple. Don't they know that our iDevices are private property? Don't they know that we have put a fence around our little corner of the cloud?
Sadly the tech doesn't really work that way and the agreement you checked - we all checked, really - makes it pretty clear that they own the cloud and you merely lease space there. Your iDevice is a portal, no more, no less.
In my cursory review of the new album, I mentioned that Apple and U2 were trying to do something new. And I said, in short, that the real news is about music distribution and not the album itself. As strange as some of the news has been, it seems that I was right (kinda).
The music has been overshadowed by the delivery system. Who cares about the music? I mean, other than David Fricke (loved it) and Sasha Frere-Jones (hated it). We want to know how the hell the Ghost of Jobs managed to get music on our phones. What is he, a Jedi? He dies but not really?
No. It's just the cloud. This is where the information goes. You have the iDevice Air, then all your data is in the cloud and the owners of the cloud can add or subtract from that data rather easily. Thus, this Columbia House-like scheme on steroroids is possible. But that's not why I'm writing.
What I want you to see is this post from the New Yorker. Do we truly have a "Church of U2" and is it in the cloud as well as the arenas around the globe? Can they send their sonic tracts anywhere they want? With 33 million downloads, is this a form of evangelism or is it simply "offering something beautiful?" It is so wed with making money to support the mammoth (and fading) music industry, that it's hard to know where the market begins and the ekklesia ends.
Of course, trying to disentangle those two is always a right mess. Ask Henry VIII. It ain' easy.
But this is why I'm so damn curious about it. Even the New Yorker gets it:
The story of U2 might be this: having begun as a band that was uncertain about the idea of pursuing a life of faith through music, they have resolved that uncertainty. Their thin ecclesiology has become thick. Today, they are their own faith community; they even have a philanthropic arm, which has improved the lives of millions of people. They know they made the right choice, and they seem happy. Possibly, their growing comfort is bad for their art. But how long could they have kept singing the same song of yearning and doubt? “I waited patiently for the Lord,” Bono sings, in the band’s version of Psalm 40. “He inclined and heard my cry.”
Yeah. There it is. And the connection to the new album? Here: "It expresses a particular combination of faith and disquiet, exaltation and desperation, that is too spiritual for rock but too strange for church—classic U2."
There is our "authenticity." There is the new ecclesiology that we see emerging. It is not an institution in the brick and mortar sense. No, it is an aesthetic. It is "authenticity' that is too spiritual for rock (the pure market) but too strange for church (sorry, Pope Francis).
What we're seeing is four guys from Ireland with way the hell too much money showing us what we have been wanting all along: a new way of being the institutional church.
Thinking About Seminary Debt (Again)
Posted September 15, 2014 @ 6:51pm | by Tripp
In 1991, more than half of Masters of Divinity students graduated with no educational debt. This decreased significantly to 37 percent in 2001, but the rate of declined slowed to 36 percent with no educational debt upon graduation. The average level of debt, for those graduates who borrowed, grew from $11,043 in 1991, to $25,018 in 2001 and $38,704 in 2011.
Sharon L. Miller, Kim Maphis Early, Anthony T. Ruger, A Call To Action: Lifting the Burden, April 2014. pdf
Lately I've been spending time reading stuff from Auburn Theological Seminary's research about seminary debt, attendance, and connection to denominations. They've done a good job sketching things out. The quote to the side is from the most recent document to fall into my grasp. I've linked to the document if you are interested.
There are, as you might imagine, many factors at work here. I was drawn to this little tidbit for rather personal reasons. I graduated from college in 1992 with no student debt thanks to the generosity of my parents. Though certainly not easy, they made it happen. You could then.
In the fall of that same year I enrolled in seminary at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. If memory serves, I managed to wait tables and pay my seminary bills on time. After less than I year, I withdrew. I wasn't ready. But I had no debt.
In 2001, seredipitously, I enrolled at Seabury Western Theological Seminary which is now Bexley Seabury. Both Seabury and BTSR have, in the intervening years struggled financially. Some might be surprised to discover that Seabury exists at all. BTSR has been wrangling with debt, etc. and recently moved to a less expensive locale in order to make things work.
It was during my time at Seabury (2001-04) that Union Theological in New York sold its library to stay solvent. Things were already in free-fall in some places. Southern Baptist scaled back its PhD program in there somewhere, too.
I am now in a PhD program at the Graduate Theological Union and serve as the Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of The West, a member school of the GTU. Needless to say, we're all struggling now. And I can't stop thinking about it.
I just want to share all this to give a sense of how precipitous the change has been in such a short time. It was one person's young adulthood. That's all. It took no time at all. Congregations and denominations have not been giving to seminaries. The economy of higher education has become more and more expensive. The economy in general has changed rather dramatically in those two decades.
Sometimes I need to see the numbers - as much as it pains me to admit it (numbers, ew) - in order to get a better sense of what's at work.
In the vocational journey of a single generation of potential seminarians, everything changed. There is nothing slow about this. We can write of simplicity. We can write of taking our time. All of that is well and good.
I wonder, however, if we don't need to find the pace of the shift in order to better respond to it even if our response is slow.
U2: The Art of Hitting One's Stride
Posted September 10, 2014 @ 3:54pm | by Tripp
Perhaps you heard. U2 has a new album. You can download it from iTunes for free right now. Go. I'll wait. It's free.
Yes, free. This is what has my mind spinning right now. Bono wrote:
"It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers."
So, free to us thanks to the largesse of Apple. Why would that be?
"We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough… although I know I’ve said that before…"
Yesterday's barage of downloads actually gummed up the works at iTunes. Who knew that it would test the bandwidth like that? It almost crashed the Apple website. Another band I follow, Carbon Leaf, suffered the inconvenience of the negative effects on their crowdfunding project with humor. On Facebook they posted, "Due to U2 hogging all of the bandwidth, there was a technical glitch that crashed our pledge site prematurely. IT IS NOW BACK ONLINE TIL MIDNIGHT AND READY FOR LAST MINUTE PLEDGES. Eat it U2."
Welcome to the new musical economy...or something. One band gives their music away - a corporation payed for it; we subscribers to that corporation's product enjoy the new music for free - while another's crowdfunding efforts are delayed because of the strain on the digital infrastructure.
U2 and Apple are teaming up. They are out to "transform the way music is listend to and viewed." I've a professional stake in this particular proclamation. We'll see what happens. My advice, listen to this album with this statement in mind. Download it with this statement in mind.
U2's hit their stride. The album is a aural sampling of what they do best. It is a nostalgic reflective bit of lyricism. It is spiritual but not religious. It is precisely what four guys in their fifties who are masters of their craft should put out into the world. They aren't inventing or re-inventing. They are perfecting.
I'm not the first to suggest this. Like The Edge's love of reverb, these little reviews are echoing all over one another online. "DOO - Doo - doo. DEE - Dee - dee," Greg Blosser offered his thoughts. Rolling Stone is on it, of course, as are other larger news outlets.
The Guardian: "But the initial impression is that this album sees the band not so much still looking for something that they haven’t yet found, but rather treading old ground without much of a sense of how to move forward."
The Wall Street Journal: "'Songs of Innocence' reveals itself as a pleasing, subtly adventurous work by a great band that knows how to tweak formula and manage risk."
I love the album. U2 has offered up their usual rich soundscape, but harkening back to their post-Punk roots, it's clean, almost stark compared to an album like Achtung Baby.
What they were working on with Dismanteling an Atomic Bomb and No Line on The Horizon, they have truly perfected in this offering. Bono's voice is in full display. Larry and Adam are holding down the rhythm with their usual autodidact bravado. The Edge is more restrained. As Greg stated, you hear actual guitars on this album, wood and steel. It's quite beautiful.
Lyrically, the Bono and The Edge are doing precisely what they claim. They are sharing the band's past, their memories, their inspirations. The first track is a eulogy to Joey Ramone. With their usual spiritualizing habit, the call the sound of The Ramones to be a miracle.
Some will find this quotidian spirituality to be trite. Others will find it profound. Nothing is new here. Bono writes:
"I hope after listening to our new long player a few times, you’ll understand why it took so long. We really went there… it’s a very, very personal album. Apologies if that gets excruciating… actually, I take that back. No apologies if it gets excruciating. What’s the point in being in U2 if you can’t go there? There is no end to LOVE."
This is the thing about this album. There is nothing new here. If that's what you were hoping for, brace yourself to be diappointed. But if you were looking for something that demonstrates how four guys who have been in the business for 35 years have perfected their craft, then this is the album for you. What's the point of being in U2 if you can't be U2?
To make this all come together, they partnered with veteran producers, "The album was recorded in Dublin, Los Angeles, and New York, and was produced by Danger Mouse, as previously reported, as well as Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Declan Gaffney and Flood."
The gents know precisely what they are doing. They aren't 20 year old risk takers because they don't need to be.
Personally, I find it beautiful. It's a glorious album. But don't let the music distract you from what they are trying to do with it.
That's the real news. Pay attention to the transformation.
AN ADDITIONAL THOUGHT A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER:
“Who is U2?” Inquiring Twitter users want to know (my favorite of the three)
T'would seem not everyone is happy about having the album in their cloud or uploaded in their list of albums. The transformation of the music industry when some have the power to transform it rather...broadly...is going to be interesting to watch.