Come, let us sing unto the Lord. It’s an ancient sentiment predating the Temple worship in Jerusalem. One of my favorite little bits of textual archaeology is to look through the old hymns from Babylon and Sumeria that exist and see how the Psalmists borrowed or used the same kind of language of praise.
Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before God's presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to God with psalms.
The language expands. We hear more about the Psalmist’s understanding of the nature of God and the worshiper’s realtionship with God.
Just as the texts were borrowed or framed similar notions of praise, so too were the concepts of the divine. The Psalmist’s understanding of God and how one responds to such a Being does not emerge out of a vacuum. They are culturally situated and interpreted. Traditions are at work. Architecture, soundscapes, instrumentation, and competing theologies all have their part in the composition of every line in the Psalter.
When I was in college, there was a temptation to present a historical through line that suggests progress. Humanity improves and thus their religious expressions improve along with them. Their theology improves. We can track this in scripture and history, I was told.
Yes, and no. I see improvements from my perspective, but I think that it is more helpful to simply think of these changes as simply that, changes. Yes, I know that human sacrifice is something we want to leave behind us, and I would agree that moving from a human sacrificial model to animal sacrifice to no sacrifice in our overt religious life is a good thing, I still want to challenge even my own thinking on this. Change. Not progress. Why? Because I think there is a kind of arrogance at work.
It is true that we no longer hold ritual sacrifices in the center of the city. We do, however, sacrifice ourselves and one another for other purposes every day.
For example, our military rhetoric still includes language of sacrifice. As such, we still have human sacrifice in our culture. Individuals sacrifice their own lives for the sake of their nation. The temple is the battlefield and the soldier is the priest according to the rhetoric. We do not say “the higher ranking officer sacrifices his soldiers for the greater good.” That’s impolitic no matter how accurate. Our rhetoric and practice of sacrifice has moved from the gathering for worship to the gathering for war.
Change, not progress. It would be arrogant to think that we have progressed. Instead, we have moved things around, changed them up a bit.
Again, I’m grateful we’re not sacrificing virgins on altars on Sunday mornings or Friday nights. I’m glad we’re not lining up slaves to be beheaded to satisfy the divine wrath of the whatsit high atop the thing every time we gather. But the rhetoric of sacrifice and bloodshed to satisfy something has simply shifted. Activists in the #BlackLivesMatter movement call the ongoing violence against black men a kind of sacrificial violence. American slavery as well. Anti-abortion activists use the same critique.
Thus, progress is not something mapped from 5000 BCE onward. It was just 150 years ago. It was just last week. It was just yesterday. Progress? No. Change. We still sacrifice, we just don't do it at First United Methodist Church.
We call one another barbarians. We call one another terrorists. We call one another supremecists. We call one another any number of things. Sometimes we call one another what we call ourselves.
But more often we call "them" the enemy. We sublimate their humanity and then we sacrifice one another to the cause of their erradication. We sacrifice them to their own ideology and ours. We sacrifice day in and day out in the attempts to hold the center.
No longer is the Temple the center of this universal equilibrium. No longer does Marduk slug it out with Tiamat. No longer do our rites and rituals serve this purpose. There are no grain offerings. Instead, it is the political realm with all of its various loci of action. It is the beach on Lesbos. It is the avenue in Bagdad. It is the alleyway in Paris. It is the suburban cul-de-saq in Dallas, Detroit, or Danville. It is the virtual flight deck of the drone operator.
Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to God with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great king above all gods.
In God’s hand are the depths of the earth,
and the heights of the hills are God’s also.
The sea is God’s, for God made it,
and God’s hands have molded the dry land.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For God is our God,
and we are the people of God’s pasture
and the sheep of God's hand.
O that today you would hearken to God's voice!
Where is your Temple? Where do you hold your sacrifices? Where do you bend your knee and why? More and more I see that we have not escaped anything. We have not progressed. We have merely swept our violence out the doors of the sanctuary and erected new monuments to human sacrifice.
This morning as I sang the Venite I was reminded of how tenuous it all is. We stand on the edge of the abyss at all times. There is no progressing beyond that.
Filed Under: hymns
The public speech online is terrifying. From all sides, it seems to me that we have lost the ability to listen to one another. I find myself firing off smartass quips rather than reasonable responses even to unreasonable statements. I wonder if we might not do better somehow.
Fear mongers abound. We are afraid of Syrians. We are afraid of angry young white men. We throw around statistics like they were meaningful data points. We prooftext holy writ as if that was ever a convincing argument to someone who disagreed with us. Words like "always" and "forever" litter my social media streams.
The fear is compelling. No doubt. And for some it is well founded. But what are the better responses to fear? I'm not convinced yet that shutting ourselves off from one another is the better response. I want to do better than that.
Threats to life and liberty are real. But these threats are not what or, more accurately, who we think they are.
The real threats to life and liberty come from fear mongers. No one political party or broadcast network can claim a monopoly on these thought influencers. We are being taught to fear someone else at every turn by people who benefit from our fearfulness.
We are being pulled apart and set against one another. Such divisiveness is a choice. We can do better.
So, here is my promise. I will refrain from fear mongering in my social media threads and in my conversations with other people (Yes, even in the library; I know, crazy, right?). I will refrain from dropping statistics like they were somehow convincing arguments. I will refrain from prooftexting holy writ as if that were a convincing argument. I will listen to you as you share your fears. I will try to offer such solace as I can.
And when we disagree, and we will most certainly disagree, I will love and respect you and stand beside you in our disagreement. We will share a table. We will gather and sing. We will do whatever we must to strengthen the bonds between us.
Some people want us separated from one another.
We can do better. I will do better.
My heart is heavy. I'm sitting here in my office at the seminary trying wrap my mind around what is the clear and present danger of the military trajectory of NATO and others against ISIS. I am watching my social media streams come undone over arguments over the Syrian refugee crisis and perceptions of national security. The rhetoric is more and more excited or extreme as people seek the limelight of viral status. Hashtaggery abounds. Retweets abound. Facebookistan is a noisey place.
My friend and colleague, Jennifer Davidson, posted on our faculty blog.
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on Baghdad! Have mercy on Paris! Mend broken hearts! Have mercy on Minnesota! Bring truth to light! Have mercy on Oakland! Help us dismantle white supremacy! Have mercy on Palestine! Liberate the captives! Have mercy on Israel! Heal the wounded! Have mercy on Kenya! Comfort those who mourn! Have mercy on Syria! Have mercy on Berkeley! Give us the courage to confront unjust systems. Have mercy on us! Have mercy on me! Have mercy on us! Loosen the chains. Have mercy. Have mercy.”
My boss, Dean LeAnn Snow Flesher, pointed me to Omid Safi's piece.
I'm sitting here wondering how I might be a better human being, a better example of how one contributes to the chaos of online discourse while still maintaining my sanity.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
People are afraid. They are afriad of what they do not know and what they think they do know. About ISIS. About liberals. About conservatives. The Election Cycle promises to feed on this fear for some time to come.
All I want to do is listen to music, to play with my son, to hold my wife, and write my dissertation. More and more I am convinced that "listening as an act of love" is not just some semiotician's dream, but a virtue of life together that needs attention.
And it demands my silent obedience.
Filed Under: mandodoxy
Little snores resonate beside me as my infant son snoozes in the early evening. There are little elephants scattered all over his pajamas. Cars roll past the window. My spouse is working down the hall. The humidifier gurgles from time to time.
This is the music that accompanies me right now.
It is music to my ears because I choose to make it so. I compose symphonies and mixtapes from the soundscape of my life. Chaotic soundings are arranged through the lens of my selective attention. Suddenly movements, beats, jams, riffs, themes, rhapsodic in their presentation accompany my night.
A neighbor's dog adds his percussive bark.
Commonplace noise is reconfigured by my imagination's ear into a polyphonic chant.
"O clap your hands."
Last Saturday I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church. I joked on Monday morning that Monday felt just like every other Monday I had experienced to date. It was a joke about Mondays and their all-powerful hold on me. Meh. Mondays.
Some folk took the post to a more serious place and shared how they had hoped that their confirmations would make them more holy or make them feel something at all.
Some suggested that I needed tea or to attend Evensong. Excellent and funny suggestions littered my timeline.
There was also the surprise I received from so many of the choisters at Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, VA. Some I know, some I don't, but they all welcomed me home or welcomed me back. It was an incredible gesture and I am grateful for it.
But not all the responses are positive. Some folk are hurt and, though it is not surprising, it grieves me no less. Being confirmed "un-Baptists" me for some folk. It removes me from this cadre of Baptist affinities and places me somewhere else. I wonder now how many of the relationships will hold up through this transition.
This is what confirmation has become for me. It is a road marker, a standing stone in the midst of a transition. It is a choice of direction. The bishop laid his hands on me (and called me George Vincent, but that's another story) and now I am somewhere else. It's not really the bishop's work, however, that causes the grief. It's my decision to stand there and receive his work.
Our decisions matter. Sometimes we don't know how much until we have made them. We cannot know the implications until we have made them. Will my Baptist family be able to receive me as an Episcopalian in their midst the way that some Episcopalians we able to receive me as a Baptist in their midst? It's not about theology (polity, believer's baptism, etc), but it is about affinity groups.
Does my decision to be confirmed into one people call into question my commitments to another people?
Filed Under: liturgy
No doubt by now you have heard the story of the red Starbucks cup. It seems that Joshua Feuerstein, a YouTube celebrity and former pastor, had some problems with the company. We could spend a good deal of time wondering why anyone would expect Starbucks to be overly Christian about anything. We could spend a good deal of time wondering why he cares at all. Suffice it to say that all of the media attention has brought this guy into the forefront. For example, he was on CNN.
Not a bad day's work for YouTuber.
I don't know about you, but my Facebook timeline directed with people upset by his proclamations. They were upset about his representation about Christianity. They were desperate for people to know about alternative voices. Some responded with humor. Some responded with unadulterated outrage.
All the while, I think we missed a more important story. Once again the Internet noise machine obfuscated a more important tale.
Three presidential candidates attended a conference held at the National Religious Liberties Conference hosted by Pastor Kevin Swanson. You may remember him for his statements about how homosexuality should be punishable by death.
Three presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz are courting the votes of people who think we should be killing homosexuals in this country. Three candidates for national office. Think about it.
Whether or not you think the LBGTQ lifestyle is appropriate for Christians, I'd like to believe that you are not one of those who think we should execute such people. But it seems that three of our presidential candidates are not so generous in their thinking.
Their attendance at this conference is a demonstration of just how desperate they are for votes. They are willing to court the votes of people who hold similar political beliefs as those who run ISIS. No, I am not exaggerating.
What is the appropriate Christian witness in a time such as this? Extremists are doubling down. They are putting money where they think they can generate the most power. They are desperate for influence because overall, some argue, their influence is waning.
What is the appropriate Christian response when national leaders, and political candidates are national leaders, court people who hold such extreme positions as this one?
I heard it preached recently here at the seminary that Jesus was an extremist for love. Jesus was executed because he loved. He was not executed because his violent regime came to an end. He was executed as an example of how we often refuse to love as he exemplified.
They couldn't accept a world where that kind of love would be made real.
We are witness today to the actions of people who refuse to love.
What’s next? I suggest more love.
On the third day Jesus rose again. Love is not only real, it is eternal. It is the Alpha and the Omega. We can refuse it.
But it is my belief that our refusal is not the end of the story.
As you might imagine, I have quite a few prayer books at home. It's an occupational hazard. I have prayer books from the last century or more. Some are Christian. Some are Jewish. I even have this neat old translation of some Sumerian liturgies that I picked up from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. It's all so damn beautiful.
One of the most treasured is the one that my maternal grandmother gave me when I was an infant after I was baptized at St. James the Less Episcopal Church in Ashland, VA in 1970. I love that prayer book.
That's right. I was baptized as an infant. No, I was never rebaptized even after I joined North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, IL.
As most folk know, I have tread the line between the traditions. As an adult, I've always done so. There are countless reasons. Some are personal. Some I have made quite public over the years. I have sung in Episcopal parishes as part of the music ministry there. Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, VA is still my home church in many ways because of my time there. They nurtured me and cared for me. They asked me to serve.
For whatever reason, I was never confirmed.
While I was there, I lived and worked at Richmond Hill daily praying morning, noon, and evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. I was there for four years. That kind of thing leaves a mark.
It wasn't until I moved to Chicago that I found a way to explore my Baptistness. My step-mother's dad was a Baptist preacher. I spent some time as part of the Baptist Student Union in college and even attended Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond for a semester. North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago nurtured me into ministry. That place has also left a mark.
So too did Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. I was formed alongside my classmates. Daily prayer and Eucharist as well as the blessed via media of the Episcopal Church kept me focused in an interesting way. I had to step into my Baptist identity all while being formed in an Episcopal identity. Tensions emerged. But it was all good.
As a pastor, I've served ecumenical congregations in and around Chicago. Ecumenism has been a cornerstone to my understanding of being Christian. It has been my work through the years. All the while I have been trying to stand in two places at the same time.
Over time, however, something has changed.
I don't know if it's the repeated celebration of the Great Vigil. I don't know if it's the love I have for liturgy (all liturgy, even the Baptist). I cannot underestimate the symbolic power of those old baptismal gowns my mother has kept all these years (my father's and mine). Then there's the prayer book.
Our Prayers and Praise.
This is a strange thing to share, especially on a blog. Confirmation is one of the most personally transformative things I have done. It is public and deeply private. After attending and studying All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, CA, for these past couple of years, I have decided to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church.
A friend said, "Why not? All the cool kids are doing it."
My confirmation is set for November 7, the eleventh anniversary of my ordination to the Baptist ministry.
I'm not seeking some kind of "cool." The ABC is plenty cool if you are a free church progressive. Diverse. Affirming. You really need to check out the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. There's some incredible theological heavy lifting happening in Baptist pulpits and classrooms. I am in no way disillusioned or disappointed by these Baptists. And I'm looking forward to bringing all of it with me.
It's simply a family thing. It's my son who will be baptized at the Great Vigil. It's my spouse who has wondered time and again why it has taken me so long. It's my grandmother and that prayer book. It's my mother and those baptismal gowns. It's those places back in Virginia, the old parishes that still have a hold on me, it's the rites and rhythms of the past, present, and future. It's those tendrils in the deep earth.
The Baptist tradition gifted me with much, but now I'm entering a season when I need to embrace more fully the Episcopal roots I have been given over the years by baptism, by hopeful intention, by my music, and by the work of prayer.
Another friend offered that I will "bring Baptist gifts" but I have "an ecumenically Anglican spirit." Perhaps. I hope to be such.
So it continues...I will always carry those glorious Baptist distinctives. There is no doubt. Shurden's Four Fragile Freedoms will sit next to the Book of Common Prayer. It always has. I was given family among the Baptists. One friend reminded me that the Baptists never really let you go. Indeed. Know that I love you and I'm not leaving. I'm just stepping over here and looking at this anglobaptist thing from another angle.
God help me, but there it is. Keep me in your prayers.
Filed Under: mandodoxy
Yeah, that is a little clickbaity. Sorry about that.
I am sitting in the rocking chair at home. EP is asleep on my chest. Today was the second of the three-day un-conference at San Francisco Theological Seminary. It is the third year I have attended and I am finding myself experiencing my usual overwhelmed malaise.
It happens at Wild Goose, Rob Bell Camp, and even some American Baptist Churches, USA gatherings. The zeal that so many appear to have for their work overwhelms me.
I simply cannot keep up with the gotta-produce-all-the-timeness of Christian leadership these days.
I am not saying others should slow down and produce less. Truly. I am saying, though, that I find that all the entrepreneurship sucks the air out of the room for me.
Goodness. It's so much to take in.
Whatever happened to being irrelevant and unproductive? You know, pray, sit, eat, read?
I need a cloister. I find the church to be too much.
Here we go again. Here is our national liturgy.
A young man walks into a building armed to the teeth. Students die. The police arrive. The young man dies in a shootout with the police. It is a complex and devastating suicide. So many lives are marked. A community is marked. And the media storm begins.
Our liturgy moves from the local to the international at the speed of the internet.
The National Rifle Association contra mundum, Liberals and Conservatives are squaring off, and Pundits are shouting. The beleaguered President Obama predicts that he will have to address the nation again before his term is over when there is another mass shooting. The media is on fire. For now.
The liturgy gradually comes to a close as our shared attentions are drawn elsewhere by the always updating Twitter feed.
Somewhere someone is making plans to kill or injure another score of people as an elaborate suicide.
We choose this liturgy every day. It is a service of our own devising.
We define it as liberty or freedom. We describe it as part and parcel of the American way. We insist that it is good and the virtuous. We insist it is godly and what Jesus wants for us. This is the highest good we can imagine, this life where every person has a handgun. As such, it is an utter failure of imagination.
The failure of the American imagination may be the defining sin of our time.
So often it seems as if we assume our imaginations are disembodied. Instead, the truth is that we pour billions of dollars into the actualizing of our imaginations. Our imaginations stretch across the oceans to other lands as we invest in natural resources. Our imaginations destroy cities in countries far away like Iraq. Our imaginations stretch into outer space and online.
We imagine ourselves as patriots. We imagine ourselves as virtuous heroes. Some of us imagine that the right to carry a concealed weapon is a reflection of the call to love our neighbor as ourselves. We imagine others as insane or monstrous.
We have, in these imaginings, forgotten that we are human beings and not heroes or monsters. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are, all of us, the ubiquitous signs of God on earth, the Imago Dei.
In my Missional Liturgy class we discuss the intersection of liturgy and ethics. We have been asking questions about bodies and what kind of creature it is that worships. We wonder if worship forms us or is it we that form the worship. There is, of course, a very complex dynamic at work as we form and are formed. But in the end, I hope we come away with a definition of what it means to be human; a rich, life-giving definition.
In light of yesterday’s event, I feel I should offer this beginning to a definition: Individually and collectively, as part of Creation itself, we are the very image of God.
Can we imagine this? Can we imagine that we are God’s image and not monsters or heroes?
President Obama asked us to do more than offer our thoughts and prayers. I echo that sentiment. We need to act. We need to show that our imaginations have flesh and that flesh is capable of more than apathy or violence. We know we are capable of those things. We have proven it time and time again. We have invested billions.
Instead, let us see if we are capable of putting new flesh on our imaginations. Imagine that you and your neighbor, the stranger across the road, are the very Image of God.
Then we can begin a new liturgy.
The Lord be with you.
This post was also shared on Missional Liturgy at ABSW.
Filed Under: liturgy
Filed Under: liturgy
Here I sit pondering how I can be in both Portland and Atlanta simultaneously. It's been that kind of September. As the month comes to a close, I wonder how I will begin to function anew after E.P.'s six month birthday. October 11th is when I promised myself I would start to work out the rest of my comps and start working on my dissertation proposal.
Today I am keenly aware that the PhD process is designed as a full-time job and not as a process to do along side a full-time job. Keenly.
If I could control All The Things, I would get up in the morning and spend the entire day with the people pictured here. I would do what you see us doing pictured here. We had just enjoyed breakfast. Then, on a nice stroll around the "Gourmet Ghetto" of Berkeley, we stopped into a couple of stores to buy books. I was having a good day. Books for E.P., books for the grownups. I was thinking about race and authenticity and music scenes because that's what I'm thinking about. Dissertations are peculiuar documents and the process of writing one is designed to make us think. A lot.
And E.P. is also thinking. All the time. You can almost hear his brain grow at night. He loves these little books full of images. Bold colors and deep contrast are totally his jam right now. It's an excellent foil to my need for nuance and fine shaded differences in meaning.
Boy clarifies my thinking all the time. But then the exegencies of life offer a contrasting and stark response. I'm torn between two spaces at once and in the process I am experiencing a single space warped by tension.
How the hell do people do this?
Filed Under: liturgy