conjectural navel gazing; jesus in lint form

Don't lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone. Don't rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God's help. Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say "gently" because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety...I recommend you to God's mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love. - Francis de Sales


Bob Jones Is Your Spirit Animal: On Christian Higher Education

Posted February 13, 2016 @ 10:50am | by Tripp

Daniel Kirk (someone I respect and, dare I say, love) is a distraction and, to make things worse, I am easily distracted. He wrote a post about the death (or mortal wounding) of Christian Higher Education, Jack Levison responded, and Daniel countered. I am now completely derailed from writing my comprehensive exam essay.

So, to get myself back on track, I offer this brief response to his response to the response to his post from using a little tidbit from my essay on Güngör. 

Often, and sometimes with great vigor, a "Christian musician" will proclaim that they are just a musician who happens to be Christian. Such a claim is usually predicated by some complaint about the Christian music industry as being banal and rife with mediocre talent. The bubble that the "Christian music" industry created insulates mediocre talent from the greater talents (various and sundry) of the wider global music industry. Such logic, for example, is part of why U2 did not sign with a Christian label. Such logic is why some claim Sufjan Stephens to be a Christian artist while others say he is an artist who happens to be Christian. Such logic is why when Amy Grant "switched genres" she was called a musical Jezebel by her enraged Christian fans. 

There's a post on the misogyny of the entire Christian Contemporary Music Industrial Complex out there somewhere. Find it for me? Thanks. I'd appreciate it. 

At any rate, Michael Gungor of Güngör fame penned then deleted and then discovered it has been resurrected a now-infamous screed about the Christian Music Industry. In it he offered:

The point is that the industry that labels things as Christian and sells them to you has far more to do with marketing than Christianity. They are marketing to the mixed bag of values that has created the Evangelical Christian subculture. It’s a mix of some historically Christian values, some American values, and a whole lot of cultural boundary markers that set “us” apart from “them.” This sort of system makes us feel safe and right, and it makes some of its gatekeepers very wealthy and powerful.

The effect is then the filtering down of this subculture to people that don’t necessarily want to think through the viability of every one of these boundary markers, but in their simple desire to belong to what they consider the good guys, they acquiesce to the rules handed to them. At least in public. 

Gungor accused the culture makers of fear, dishonesty, and of killing all hopes of creativity. It was a busy day for him. 

Let us let Christian music be analogous to Christian Higher Educations, shall we?

Harvard was founded as a seminary. So was Yale. Heck, so was the little liberal arts school I attended back in the day, the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA. The cultural history here is essential, but I'm going to trust you and your imaginations to walk with me here. 

Somewhere along the line, a small subgroup of American society began to use the word "Christian" as a modifier for everything they did. In the process, they created the illusion of safety and isolation for their followers. The power-holders sheltered their children from such evils as feminism, Punk Rock, Pabst, gravity, and quantum mechanics. Many still blame Darwin to this day, but that's bunk, too. 

Let me sum up.

There is just Higher Education. Any modifier that narrows the potential scope of inquiry such as "Christian," especially if that modifier is all wrapped up in a cultural power struggle, immediately undermines the very project that is Higher Education. Please note: I include STEM in this. But that's another post. 

Daniel is right to push and moan and grieve. But where he's wrong, and I offer this with all the charity my addled heart can muster, is assuming that any institution of Christian Higher Education is anything more than a small bubble of protective pedagogy managed by power-mongering ner do wells wrapped in a myopic view of scripture and so-called Christian culture. 

It enrages me to watch my friends wrestle and recover from the sins of the powerful. 

Of course, Gordon, Wheaton, SPU, and even Notre Dame are conservative. Of course they are. They were built to protect impressionable young people from the unclean world Jesus died for. They were established to create a pure Christian, whatever that is, and to create a power base in American politics. 

There is no culture war. At least not in the way many have been told. There is no "secularization." Stop it. You're falling for one of the oldest power grabs in human history. Billy Graham owns a mountain. What happened? The Falwells own half of Lynchburg, VA. This is not "the blessing of the Lord." This is politics and rampant capitalism writ Jesusy.

There are just people. There is culture. There is society. There is Higher Education. 

Let's talk about that. Please?

Daniel, your grief is real. And I want to honor it. But you said, "Speak!" and here I am. I love you. 

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Please vote.

Posted February 11, 2016 @ 3:06pm | by Tripp

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

A Quick #occupycomps Update

Posted February 10, 2016 @ 6:59pm | by Tripp

Okay. I can do this. One. Last. Essay. 

The Music of Emergence Christianity: Michael Gungor's “The Creation Liturgy” 

    Genre-defying musician, Michael Gungor has received critical and popular acclaim from within and outside the Contemporary Christian Music scene. Gungor describes his music as "liturgical post-rock" as an attempt to name a kind of music that exists between the cracks of secular and sacred contemporary popular rock musics and pokes fun at the present day Christian music industry. In the process of navigating these complicated commercial and social realities, Gungor has sought creative "authenticity." His understanding of authenticity is musical, theological, and devotional rooted in negotiating the demands of his faith community as well as the Christian and secular musical industries. 

    This paper will analyze and critique Gungor's 2010 live album, "A Creation Liturgy" by interpreting the liner notes, album cover, and published interviews (videographic and print) as well as Gungor's book The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse: A Book for Creators, and personal interviews held with Michael Gungor. Through this analysis we may come to a better understanding of the complex relationships between the music, musicians, and listening communities as they relate to the complicated concept of authenticity.


I. Introduction
II. The Crowd: Holy People
III. The Critic: Ambiguous Markets 
IV. The Muse: Mysterium Tremendum?
V. Conclusion

Filed Under: Comprehensive Exams |   | Permalink

Are you not entertained?

Posted February 9, 2016 @ 8:15am | by Tripp

Filed Under: current events |   | Permalink

Saved by A Hot Lick

Posted February 8, 2016 @ 11:44am | by Tripp

Here I sit and here I ponder. Here I scribe and here I wonder. Can enough be said that says the things yet unsaid? Can I write All The Things in such a way where only the few words on the page insinuate what is not written? Brevity is the scholar’s bane. Relatedly, since when did forty pages become “brevity”? And yet, here we are. 

Sonic Theology rests on my desk. The introduction taunts me again. What is the theological language that the protestant Christian West employs to describe it’s musicking? There is no single language, to be certain. But this does not mean that there is no language. Far from it. We are theological polyglots where our musicking is concerned. Implicit and explicit meanings careen around our sanctuaries and from our head phones every minute of every day without so much as a “howdy do.” We love to music. We love to make the meanings. All of ‘em. Even the ones we don’t like as long as they sound good. 

“My style is real Lightnin’ Hopkins lowdown blues. I call it hard classic blues, stompin’ blues, railroad smokin’ blues.” – Beverly “Guitar” Watkins.

Say it with me: Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not good theology unless you are playing slide guitar and then, damn, son, but that’s a hot lick and if Jesus didn’t save me from my own damned self, I’d still be in that ditch. The sounds save the words and then our own salvation is revealed to us. 

I hate it when the sounds prove me wrong about the words. 


The eye of the great God be upon you,
The eye of the God of glory be on you,
The eye of the Son of Mary Virgin be on you,
The eye of the Spirit mild be on you,
To aid you and shepherd you;
Oh, the kindly eye of the Three be on you,
To aid you and shepherd you. 


Filed Under: Comprehensive Exams |   | Permalink

Sermon: Transfiguration Sunday

Posted February 6, 2016 @ 11:04pm | by Tripp

A sermon given on the last Sunday of Epiphanytide, often called Transfiguration Sunday, at All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, CA. You can listen to it here.

Do you hear voices?
Can you tell fiction from reality?
Do you hear voices?
Have you seen the visions?
What drives you from the mountaintop into Jerusalem?
What are you going to do along the way?
Heal someone.
Care for a stranger’s child.
Reconcile with your neighbor.
Love your enemy.

I think we’re going to need more scripture if this is going to happen. So, let’s back up a little in our Gospel reading and pose a question: What sayings? “After these sayings,” it reads. So, what sayings?

Luke writes:

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of [God] and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God." Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray.

Oh. Those sayings.

I see.

No wonder Peter, John, and James go to the mountain to pray with Jesus. “Where does he get this stuff?!” They must have been concerned for their friend and teacher.

So up the mountain they go. And, in a bit of literary foreshadowing, they fall asleep while Jesus is praying. The Passion of Christ is being lifted up before us in this story and in Jesus’ sayings.

I invite us to use our imaginations to listen for what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about up there.

I imagine Jesus filling the other two in somehow.

“Yeah. I told them what I have to do. All of it. The whole thing. I’m not sure they get it yet. Everyone is still talking about when I turned water into wine. I went back home and my old neighbors tried throwing me off a cliff. This is going to be much harder than I imagined.” Looking to Elijah, Jesus asks, “How did you do it?”

“I didn't. Not at first. First, I went into hiding, remember? I hid in a cave.” Moses nods. He offers a stuttering response to Jesus' question, “I did it barefoot. And it took forever.”

We cannot kid ourselves. This is the glory of the Lord and it isn’t easy. There is light, and there are clouds, and from the clouds emerge a voice. “Listen to him,” it demands. Encourages. Insists.

The magical realism of the Gospel comes alive for us today. And it’s just what we need for what comes next in our story. We need the magic of the Gospel to give us courage to do the work of the Gospel. Otherwise we’re likely to try to freeze time in order not to move forward in response to an encounter with God.

Instead, we build something.



Honors and who knows what. These are examples of the very temptations Jesus faced in the desert.

His friends tempt him.

This isn’t an example of the problem of building churches (unless you are also tempting Jesus to stay here and not go to Jerusalem). It is an example of the all to frequent human habit of trying to capture a moment.

This is coming from the guy with several thousand pictures of his son. Every moment gets its own digital tabernacle. Every time the glory of God is revealed, I post something on Instagram. So, I say this with some authority. I’m trying to freeze time.

But Jesus wants us to see it through instead. He doesn’t want us to build something. Not yet. We’re not ready yet. Not yet.

We won’t be ready until after Easter,
until after the whole thing is revealed and we have come to believe
that the story of God,
of the exodus,
of the prophetic witness,
of the Messiah
is the story of Jubilee,
of healing,
of peace making,
of reconciliation.

The first thing Jesus does when he comes down off the mountain is heal someone. A child. So let’s let’s follow that moment.

According to The National Center for Children in Poverty, “More than 16 million children in the United States - 22% of all children - live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level - $23,550 a year for a family of four."

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess where the effective poverty line is in a place like the Bay Area.

There’s a Jubilee to be had. There’s no doubting that.

Recently in Nigeria, Boko Haram burned 86 school children to death. We must find justice. Are there not enemies to pray for? Is there not peace to be made?

Do you hear voices?
Can you tell fiction from reality?
Do you hear voices?
Have you seen the visions?
What drives you from the mountaintop into Jerusalem?
What are you going to do along the way?
Heal someone.
Care for a stranger’s child.
Reconcile with your neighbor.
Love your enemy.

We carry the memory of a sound with us. “Be not afraid.”

“Listen to him.”

Play it again and again in your memory. Make it part of your spiritual soundtrack. Embrace the magic of the mountain top and the healing of the child. Don’t split them apart. Hold them together. See that it is the same God in Christ Jesus who reveals the Glory of the Holy Spirit in this way.

Of course, this is hard. It’s so difficult that Jesus’ own disciples cannot do it. Jesus calls them faithless. We have a frustrated Messiah, to be certain. But his frustration shows us again why we need to get our acts together before we raise a memorial.

Do you hear voices?
Can you tell fiction from reality?
Do you hear voices?
Have you seen the visions?
What drives you from the mountaintop into Jerusalem?
What are you going to do along the way?
Heal someone.
Care for a stranger’s child.
Reconcile with your neighbor.
Love your enemy.

Then we can ask...

What happens next? What happens after the work of healing and reconciliation? Where do we go?

We go to the cross.

Having picked up our own crosses in the form of healing and blessing and reconciling with one another, praying for our enemies and making peace, we go to another hill top. We go to Golgotha.

And the tomb.

Only then will we go to Resurrection.

Only then can we make our song “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Lent is upon us, Friends of God.

Tuesday we will dutifully (one hopes joyfully) eat our fill of pancakes or gumbo. Fasting doesn’t make sense until there’s a feast, you know. But then Ash Wednesday will be upon us and we will remember the dust. We will remember over the course of weeks the journey that is Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem for we too are on that same journey. We too are caught up in a passion.

But first, let us come down from the mountain top. There is healing to give and receive. There is peace to make. There are enemies to pray for, to love. This is the Jubilee of the Lord. 


Filed Under: liturgy |   | Permalink

Top Five Posts of 2015

Posted February 6, 2016 @ 2:32pm | by Tripp

At the end of every year or sometimes in January, I try to share the top five posts from the year that has come to an end. The top five posts are decided by the number of visitors. There's no other stat at work, no preferences played on my part. These are the five posts that had the most traction. 

Here we go. 

5. I will 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. 

4. To Be Seen

They see us on television and on-line. They see us in the bookstores. There is a global spiritual marketplace and it’s enormous and they see us everywhere. We’re right there next to Ram Das and Scientology. They see all of us: Pope Francis, Shelby Spong, Rob Bell, Diana Butler Bass, Mother Teresa, Joel Osteen...we’re right there to be seen all the time...Our problem is not one of visibility.

3. And so it continues

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."


2. "...a fragile sense of self."

To say I have "a fragile sense of self" is to define addiction. For me the alcohol was a way to mediate a perceived deficit of character. My sense of self is oft precarious. Thus, therapy. Lots of therapy. And professional mentors. Through out my ministry I had mentors and a therapist. I was candid, perhaps overly so for some, with leadership in the churches I served. It simply became part of what I navigated as a pastor. Everyone has to manage something in their lives as pastors. I am no exception...nor is addiction an exceptional challenge. 

1. Love is the Alpha and the Omega

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.

And that's the top five posts from 2015. It was a good year. My blog didn't get the attention it deserves from its author, but things seem to be turning around of late. We'll see how the year really shapes up.

Thanks again for being one of the readers. It seems that people still come here for something to spend time thinking about. I am all astonishment. 

Be excellent to one another. 

Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink

Popping Collars? You betcha!

Posted February 6, 2016 @ 2:13pm | by Tripp

It was an honor to get to hang out with the podcastery nerds from Popping Collars. We talked about Rickman and Bowie, grief and virtuality, and Ben Hur. These things happen on Teh Intertubz. Enjoy. 

Filed Under: current events |   | Permalink

Hombrewed at GTU

Posted February 4, 2016 @ 12:02pm | by Tripp

Well, it finally happened. Someone convinced Tripp Fuller to make a stop in Berkeley to host the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. Church Divinity School of the Pacific, The Pacific School of Religion, and American Baptist Seminary of the West have joined forces with the Graduate Theological Union proper for this event. I'm looking forward to it.

You can catch it on Livestream if you can't get up to Holy Hill.

Yes, I've read Fuller's book. His signature humor is all over it as are some good theological insights. I'm going to interview him tonight about the book as well as the entire series he's editing for Fortress Press.



Hello, Homebrewed Christianity! Tune in and turn it up! #theology

A video posted by Tripp Hudgins (@anglobaptist) on

Hope to see you all there!

Filed Under: theology |   | Permalink

And yet.

Posted February 3, 2016 @ 8:05am | by Tripp

There are countless articles written about the process of completing a PhD. From the economic viability of such a pursuit to the emotional and spiritual toll it can take, the articles outline warning after warning. “Don’t do it if you can imagine yourself doing anything else at all,” is a constant refrain. What I have discovered is that all the warnings are precisely true but pale in comparison to the joy of rigorous intellectual pursuit with colleagues who share your passion for learning itself. 
You see, the PhD isn’t about knowing something or being qualified to teach at the university level. The PhD is about the passion for learning. To get a PhD is to avow oneself as a perennial learner. It is to be an academic. 
To be an academic is to avow oneself to the act of learning with the deepest of intentions. It is to embrace the complexities of what it means to know anything at all and then live into that complexity with the purpose of offering your own passion to the world. 
It is to hold a mirror up to humanity and say, “This is who we are. This is where we are.” 
To be an academic is not to escape into some cloister. It is to dive into the complexities of human knowing itself and share what one gleans from that project with everyone else. 
This is what I am finding as I wrestle with all the warnings and the truths they represent. There is no time. There is never enough time. There are not enough resources. It’s incredibly expensive. The Academe is in a state of flux just like every other institutionalized expression of human flourishing. These things and others are true.  
And yet. And yet. 
Thanks to you, O God, that I have risen today.
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to your glory, O God of every gift,
And to the glory of my soul likewise. 
O Great God, aid my soul
With the aiding of your own mercy;
Even as I clothe my body with wool,
Cover my soul with the shadow of your wing. 
Help me to avoid every sin,
And the source of every sin to forsake;
And as the mist scatters on the crest of the hills,
May eash ill haze clear from my soul, O God. 
Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink

On Sausage, Rain, and Banjos

Posted February 2, 2016 @ 11:47am | by Tripp

Have you ever noticed just how delicious the crispy edges of breakfast sausage can be? Truly marvelous. 

The rain falls yet again in Berkeley. This has been our first actual rainy season since we arrived in 2011. Unlike the heavy Chicago skies of late winter and early spring, there is something comforting about the rains that fall here. The clouds sit low across the water and enshroud the hills in their chill. The rain is gentle. The emerging green is lush. It’s such a contrast to the golden browns we’ve experienced thus far. Flowering bushes are in bloom. 

It is spring in Berkeley. 

I’m finally making that turn to the internal work of comprehensive exams. This is the bandwidth issue I speak of from time to time. When my brain is preoccupied with other things such as work or an infant or even the poor showing of the Dallas Cowboys over the last several seasons, I find myself unable to let the ideas I have about my work roll around in my head. I’m unable to compose thoughts, sentences, paragraphs as I might otherwise. But I seem to be making a turn. 

Yes, of course, staying away from social media is helpful. And I’m doing a modicum of that. It’ll take some doing to disentangle myself from those deep habits. I’m focusing my attention on Instagram and Buffer right now. That seems to be helping.

There are some things I’d like to share if I survive this comprehensive exam process. I want to write about mental health and the unimaginable stress of working toward a PhD. I want to write more about the struggle of seminaries to maintain themselves specifically as that struggle relates to congregational decline in the mainline traditions. There’s been too much press about the struggle as if it were a stand alone issue. 

Higher education of every kind is integrally related to every facet of our shared social lives. You cannot talk about NAFTA without talking about community college and liberal arts education any longer. It’s unconscionable. 

Then I want to write some about banjos. I know. You’re thrilled. 

God's will would I do,
my own will bridle;

God's due would I give,
my own due yield;

God's path would I travel,
my own path refuse;

Christ's death would I ponder,
my own death remember;

Christ's agony would I meditate,
My love to God make warmer;

Christ's cross would I carry,
my own cross forget;

Repentance of sin would I make,
Every repentance choose;

A bridle to my tongue I would put,
A bridle on my thoughts I would keep;

God's judgement would I judge,
My own judgements guard;

Christ's redemption would I seize,
My own ransom work;

The love of Christ would I feel,
My own love know. 

Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink

The Power of Failure

Posted February 1, 2016 @ 12:55pm | by Tripp

And so we begin again. I have such a positive attitude about these things, you know. Ha! Please bear with me as I share my muddled anxieties here amidst various musings about authenticity, music, liturgy, and semiotics. You're going to see both over the next few weeks. I'll be less directly present on the usual social media outlets and more present here on the old long-form blog. I am in the final throes of my comprehensive exams. They come at an incredibly busy time of year at work and at home. So, yeah. I'm freaking out again. Much of my work now is really simply getting out of my own way so that I can write the sixty pages I need to write between now and February 14. 

Right. Write. I'm gone. I'll be here from time to time. Thanks for the love and support. 

Thanks to you ever, O gentle Christ,
That you have raised me freely from the black
And from the darkness of last night
To the kindly light of this day. 

Praise to you, O God of all creatures,
According to each life you have poured on me
My desire, my word, my sense, my repute,
My thought, my deed, my way, my fame. 

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink
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