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

 

Mountaintop Quandary

Posted March 2, 2015 @ 9:01am | by Tripp

How do you solve a problem like Lady Gaga?

Is she the mother of monsters or is she Julie Andrews' biggest fan? Did you see her on television singing a medley from The Sound of Music? The internet exploded with commentary. Lady Gaga, with much less fanfare and show than people might expect from the performance artist who has been known to wear a meat suit, stood before the audience and delivered. She had trained for months to develop the vocal technique similar to Julie Andrews. She retooled. Changed. She moved to where she needed to be in order to connect with new people especially her hero. It was an incredible gesture.

There's a kind of artistic humility in this. And a kind of courage and confidence. From piano bars to "Little Monsters," to Tony Bennett, and now The Sound of Music, Gaga has managed to reach countless people. Her twitter account alone has over 44.6 million followers. Her reach is astonishing and, truth be told, so is her artistic courage.

She has also failed. She has produced absolute drek. Maybe you saw her Thanksgiving special of a couple of years ago. Or the Muppet Holiday Special?

Then she gets up and tries again. She has elevated spirits and given those who thought they were on the outside of society a sense of belonging and place. And, now, she presents us with something new and powerful, an homage to a hero, a new sound, a new embodiment for her music. Unafraid of old sounds or new sounds, of one generations music or inventing the music of a new generation, she places herself at the intersection where Tony Bennet and Jim Henson's Muppets cross over with drag queens and people who simply want to dance.

I could talk about her for a long time. I'm a big fan.

And I know that much of what she presents publicly is marketing show. No more. No less. And yet I wonder what we, the Church, can learn from Lady Gaga's fearless risk-taking positioning of herself at the intersection of generation after generation of music-lover.

Has she seen that it is a small world of connection in which we move and are loved and are held by one another? And have we, the Church, somehow forgotten?

Baptist minister and sociologist, Bob Dale has written that this is the first time in history (as far as we have bothered to track this kind of thing) where six generations are alive in the church at one time. Six. The church is not simply made of Boomers and Millennials. It's not made up solely of young families, or elder leadership. It is made up of 90 year olds. 80 year olds, seventy year olds, ten year olds, one year olds. All of the generations are at the intersection of society that we call "Church."

This is not a problem to be solved, but it does present a quandary, a challenging reality in which to live. It's a mountaintop quandary.

This is the holy ground upon
which Moses stood all those years ago.

This is the place where
the burning bush still burns
if we simply have the eyes and hearts to take note of it.

This is the place where God says,
"Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go.
All the people.
Not some of the people,
but all the people the old and the young."

No wonder Moses trembled on that mountaintop. It is so much easier to market ourselves to a certain kind of people, to people who remind us of us.

But Moses.
Moses was asked to go get God's people.
People who he did not know.
Strangers.
And set them free.
Not for his own benefit.
Not for wealth or fame or honor or position.
If we've learned anything in the last few decades in the church it's that wealth, fame, honor, and position are fleeting. At some point we started looking more like Empire and less like God's People. God calls us to the work of liberation not Empire-building.

Where we, the Church, stand today is on the mountaintop where there's a burning bush and we have gathered to ordain one of our own to pick up this charge in which we all share: "Set my people free."

A few weeks ago I was in Norfolk, VA. for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. Dr. Proctor was one of Dr. Martin Luther King's mentors. The conference is an annual event where progressive African-American seminarians, pastors, and educators gather together to speak about the shared work that is set before them. It's an incredible event.

This year there was a panel of speakers who shared their experiences ministering in Ferguson, MO. One was a young woman, a seminarian at Eden Seminary. She has been very active in the #blacklivesmatter movement in Ferguson. She has been asked time and again, "Who is the leader of the movement?"

It's a question that infuriates her because it misses a central facet to the movement itself. This is a people's movement. She started to preach right there with everyone looking on from this passage about Moses and the burning bush and she asked us to imagine for a moment that Moses wasn't alone. Just for a moment, she said, imagine.

Moses is not alone.

Leadership, she said, in this day is not about any one person.

Leadership, she said, is a collective effort. "There are so many of us standing before the burning bush. And this time it wasn't just one person who said, 'yes' to the call but a people saying 'yes.'"

It was a powerful moment as she everyone in the room to respond to a shared call - not a solo call of rebuilding the status quo in our own image, but to the liberation of a people.

It is a world of connection in which we move and are loved and are held by one another. We are called not just to liberate ourselves but the Empire from itself in the process.

Liberation that does not liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor is no liberation at all.

It is simply the building of a new Empire.

It is astonishing to me how Dr. King's message, one he preached from this very pulpit, is still so relevant today. It astonishes me that so many years later a message given before I was born is still needed. Dr. King did not see his work taken to its fruition. We have not seen this work taken to its fruition. And I see now that I too must be humble and recognize that I too may not see this work taken to its fruition.

You see, this is the thing about mountains and mountain tops. Mountains are a kind of quandary. Like society itself, not a problem to be solved, per se, but something to be navigated, something to be understood and engaged, to be taken seriously, but you can't fix a mountain.

Just like we cannot fix the reality that there are six generations alive and present in the Church. We cannot fix people's opinions of us. We cannot fix what other people do. We cannot fix geography.

So Moses didn't fix it.
He climbed it.
He scaled it.
He went to the top of it and there,
there is where Moses met God.
Moses discovered his own liberation
and the call to liberate others.

You cannot have the mountain top experience without the quandary that is the mountain itself. Dr. King himself had to ask, "Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?"

Dr. King did not fix the problem of racism.
Instead, he showed us liberation.
He did not fix The Church.
He called the Church out on its need to be Empire
and asked us to be participants in God's
liberating message.
Some of us left Egypt.
Some of us didn't.

But that didn't stop Moses.
It didn't stop Dr. King.
It didn't stop Jesus on his way to the cross.
God never stopped loving everyone and neither can we.

All God's people are beautiful,
Disco studiful
Square rootiful
Old cootiful.

People of every
walk,
shape,
color,
ability,
orientation,
musical taste,
those who love men,
those who love women,
those who wear drag,
those who march,
dance, rally, praise,
weep,
love,
and desire love.

The work of liberation takes striving and time. It is the work of generations...all of us at once serving the future, the generations yet to come. It's a daunting task, but that cannot stop us from proclaiming the mountain top truth of liberation of all people that this world is a world of connection in which we move and are loved and are held by one another.

And this, Rev. Jessica Abell, is your charge.

Be an extremist for Love.
Proclaim liberation to the captives
and the captors.
Live. Learn.
Join the throng in Denver
and Ferguson who are
Standing before the burning bush.
Stand on the mountain top
and in the intersection
and breathe deep with them, my friend.
Learn how to sing again. Retool. Create.
You will need to catch your breath,
take your time,
for it is the long game of God
that we call ministry.
Take courage. Be humble.
You will not see the end of it.
But you can participate
in God's work in us.
You can call us
to God's liberation.
Some will join you.
Some will not.
Some will even respond
violently to the call of liberation.
But you still must stand
for the ground you stand on
is holy. And you are
not alone. We are with you.

Amen.

The sermon for the ordination of Rev. Jessica L. Abell at First Baptist Church of Denver, CO; she is the first woman to be ordained by the congregation in FBC's 150 year history.

 
Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Lisa Gungor and Finishing My Degree

Posted February 25, 2015 @ 1:12pm | by Tripp

I am listening to Lisa Gungor's album, "From the Ground." I have always liked her voice. And her collaboration with Michael Gungor (her husband) in the band Gungor is always interesting. Still, he gets the majority of the attention there. His guitar is prominently featured. Lisa's album, on the other hand, is about her voice and the lyric. 

Now, I am not one for lyrics. What does that mean, you ask? I like the sounds over the words.  A good melody is great because of the melody and not the lyric. There are scores of tunes I know but still cannot recite the lyric. Lisa's stories are compelling. Wrapped up in the silky voice and the stark instrumentation, she provides just enough sonic scaffolding to tell the story. 

Righteous stuff. 

That said, or writ, I have yet to write anything for my comps. They are due next Friday. Between now and then I'll be flying to Denver to preach a friend's ordination service. I'm elated to do so. But, you know, there's just not enough time this side of the eschaton for me to do what I need to do. 

Right. You knew this already, but I whine. I'm whining now. I'm wasting words on my blog that might very well belong in a comps essay. My study skills and habits are proving troublesome. So is my personality. 

God made me this way, some would say. I don't know about that. It's more complex, I'd gamble to say. Still, here we are. I'm whining. I'm imagining not completing this program. I don't experience it as a loss, per se. It saddens me to no end, but it's not a loss like in winning or losing. It's not a failure, either. It's just hitting the edge of my limits. I can't dunk a basketball, either. 

I am no less valuable a person. Those aren't my hangups. I have many hangups, but that ain' one of 'em. I'm awesome. But I'm limited. 

This may be the limit for me. I just can't do this work. 

Is that so hard to imagine? No.

And I need to imagine it if I stand any chance of completing the degree. 

Can you imagine that? Imagining completing it is not helping me. It stymies my ability to do the work. Imagining not completing it is much more realistic somehow, much more helpful. Ah well.

I'm just tapped and I want to disappear.  

One last thought. Some will say that I should not share such wrangling in public. They are smart people and likely right. But I'm doing this to work out my own stuff. If such wrangling offends, I am sorry. But, if I am honest, I find it scandalous that public speech about failure would be such an anathema. So, there's that. I will speak openly about failure. Know that. 

 
Filed Under: hymns |   | Permalink

Challenges, Coffee, and the Lack Thereof #occupycomps

Posted February 24, 2015 @ 9:11am | by Tripp

Clearing the cobwebs this morning. First thing that comes to mind is that social media is proving too much a distraction. Usually, it helps with my more extroverted thought processes. It also helps by providing a little (or a lot) cognitive white noise. Not now. I have too much to do in too little time. I have to get this shit done.

The other thing that has come to mind, the second thing, I guess, is that I am out of the big post-its. This is a great sadness. I’m going to have to find another way into these essays. No biggie, but I kind of liked the post-its.

Anxiety.
Despondency.
These are always in careful interplay in my mind.
Some people rise to the challenge,
I find it a personal affront.
Life is hard enough.
Add a “challenge”
and I want
to quit.

But today is a day for other things. Again, my limitations are being tested and without the post-its to help me through this process has become more difficult. I still don’t know what kind of work I’m actually doing. Quality is ephemera. “Correctness” is a myth. I had forgotten how much of the humanities is institutionally approved opinion about the ineffable. Theology is more so.

There is a significant voice in my head that disdains the entire project for that reason alone. Sound and fury signifies nothing unless you get a grant. God, I love this stuff. Why is that?

I should get a cup of coffee.  

 
Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Taxonomies Hurt My Brain

Posted February 23, 2015 @ 12:25pm | by Tripp

Soundscape: n. the sonic environment, the sum total of all sounds within any definitive area which surround us as a result of certain historical, technological, and demographic processes. see also: keynote sounds, sound signals, soundmarks (R. Murray Schafer), pious soundscape (Charles Hirschkind), and acoustemology (Steven Feld).

The trouble comes for me when colleagues begin to devise and then employ taxonomies to the creation of or participation in soundscapes. I seem to have an allergy to taxonomical approaches to anything.

As an anylytical approach, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a taxonomy. They are entirely neutral as tools (until they aren’t). So, what gives?

Well, here’s my problem and why I fall into the ethereal arms of semiotics all the time. There is no taxonomy complex enough to navigate the social or interpersonal nuances of music making. And once we start shoehorning all the nuances into categories or classifications (sonic genus, anyone), then we miss the opportunity to experience the music in all its glorious ambiguity.

Unless there’s a classification named, “shit we just don’t grok.” That’d be okay.

I’m sitting here trying to get this paper apart so I can put it back together again and it just keeps getting bigger on me. It is getting away from me.

Music alone, music and ritual action, music and text, music and text and ritual action...simple enough classifications for the liturgiological ethnomusicologist and yet...the sonic icons are bigger than this, more efficatious on a per case basis. Ethnography shatters even these most vague classifications.  

Soundscapes are created and navigated by individuals within societies that maintain and contain ritual aspects only some of which are religious. In this, religious acts are not closed semiotic systems. Rather, they are moments of attention, interpersonal accretions that are either incorporated into the conscious experience of the participant or ignored until something novel or profound or irritating and offensive captures the conscious attention of the participant. 

It is possible that something unconscious is also occurring, but that's above my paygrade today. 

 
Filed Under: liturgy |   | Permalink

To Be Seen

Posted February 18, 2015 @ 5:21pm | by Tripp

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them

And here goes Jesus hamstringing us before we even get started. How, O Gentle Savior, are we to grow and expand our influence if we cannot practice our piety before others? How will they see us? How will they know us? This is the challenge of the 21st century church in America: the desire to be seen by the communities in which we live. Yet here is Jesus...“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them...” but I get ahead of myself.

It was spring of 1995 and I was one of the musicians at another Episcopal parish, the Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, VA. It was the Easter Vigil and we, the choir, were standing in the choir loft behind the nave. From our vantage point we could see everyone gathered. At the other end of the nave were the altar and sanctuary. It was the middle of the Vigil, that turning point after the litany of the saints and as the lights were raised revealing flowers and garlands and brightly colored fabric. Faces shone as brightly as the decorations. Then we sang...

Bright morning stars are rising
Bright morning stars are rising
Bright morning stars are rising
Day is breaking in our souls.

Then. It was right then that I finally got it...in the midst of song and light and flowers and gathered humanity...in liturgy...I finally *got* it.

“Oh. Here is God. Here is resurrection. This is what it means.”

And I wept. I was done. Having been found I was done in by God.

I was (and in many ways still am) one of the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious. I had been working as a church musician for a few years. I even had a degree in religious studies (with anthropology and music wrapped up in there, too). And even though I had been baptized at St. James the Less Episcopal Church in Ashland, VA., church was never really our thing as a family. It was never really my thing. Spirituality...yes. Absolutely, but religion? Specifically church? Oh no.

I could never see God in it. And these insane stories about the resurrection? You must be kidding me. There were better more sensible options out there.

But I had a musical skill set and it was Richmond in the early 1990’s and Christendom was still the place to be. So there I was deep in it and still...I had no clue what any of us were talking about. I saw the people. I liked the people. I sang with the people. We even marched together to end gun violence in the city. But I could not find God in it.

I was looking...seeking as they called it back then, I was seeking God wherever God may be found. I was looking for the resurrection as we recite in the Nicene Creed every Sunday.

I saw everything else.
I saw piety...but not God.
I had other places to go for God.
Until...somehow the liturgy, the symbolic action of the people of God, that craft of the gathered many, pointed me beyond...to God.

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know what was different that night. There is no formula for revelation. But revelation does happen and...we see.

We see that we have always been seen by God.

God holds us and beholds us even when it can be so hard for us to hold and behold God.

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them...”

It seems we’re stuck in a bit of a quandary. We know this story. We know the questions of relevance and meaning and how the church has lost its social location. We know all this.

The quandary is this: how can we hear this word from the Gospel and take it seriously when we have been rendered strangely invisible in our present time and place?

This is a good question. It’s a necessary one. And yet we are challenged by this passage today to reconsider our desire to be seen. It’s as if the call that we have been given - to see the needs of others; to see them - has been usurped by our own need for others to see us.

We keep asking, “But don’t you see us?”

If we’re honest, the answer is yes. Of course people do. All the time. It's a media and information storm.

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.

The ethical ambiguity of the spiritual marketplace gives a provocative context to today’s readings...we blow our trumpets and call our solemn assemblies to announce the glorious coming of...who? The author? The popular? Ourselves?

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them...”

The honest truth is that every time I tweet, blog, or update my Facebook status I am hoping others will see me. It's a mess.

As Michael preached just a couple of weeks ago, our struggle is with that terrible notion “evangelism.” We keep trying to change the world around us into our own image when all along it is we who have been called to simply reflect God’s image.

We have been called to be a sacrament, an icon of the Most Holy fully present in the world.

Our work is the sacramental craft of showing people God and not ourselves. This is the heart of Jesus' admonition. Jesus would rather us pray in a closet than offer one more self-referential rite.

So, preacher, where is the Good News?

Well, it’s this: “now is the acceptable time.” Now is the acceptable time. Now. Revelation is always and ever now. This is the day of the Lord, the always and not yet sounding of trumpet, our reason to call a solemn assembly.

We have been given this time and not some other.
We have been given this day and not some other.
We have been given this moment and it is an acceptable time to the Lord.

And what better time in history than this acceptable time to show people God through sign and symbol?

This is a time when people actually know how an icon works. They know how symbols function. They carry scores of them in their pockets - touch them (reverence them) and they show you something more. They point beyond themselves toward something...other.

Today’s quandary is not that the general public has forgotten how symbols work. Instead...and work with me here, it is perhaps we who have forgotten how symbols work.

In our anxiety around the present state of being church in America we have short-circuited our symbols, putting ourselves in the way somehow when it is God who people wish to see. Can it be that we keep redirecting the icons, the symbols, the sacraments back to ourselves? Somehow we must become invisible. Not absent but mysteriously transparent.

How does that start? Well, we, the Church, can say to the world, “We see you” rather than ask, “Do you see us?”

We see you. Like God sees you we see you.

We see you being sold across the globe.
We see you imprisoned. Detained. Sequestered. Segregated.
We see your bodies lying dead in North Carolina, Missouri, California, Libya. Lynched. Defiled. Your dignity stripped from you. Our hearts break as God's heart breaks.
We see your bodies like we saw Jesus' body those many years ago.
We see it all.

We see your uncertainty
your pain
your struggle
your fear
your gratitude
your joy
your success
your life
and we see your death for we share in it.

And that is not all. We know that’s not enough. No. We know that God sees you. God sees you. God loves you. God is here now in the middle of all that you endure and all you celebrate. God is here. God’s face is ever turned toward this world.

And we are doing all we can to be present as you too come to see that God holds and beholds you...

...for we see God through you.

And so we begin again this Ash Wednesday. We begin again with Lent. I know Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, but this, for me, is always the beginning. Ashes. Bodies. God. Ash Wednesday reminds me that we are one with Creation and not separate from it.

If a Baptist preacher may be so bold, this rite is a sacramental reminder that God sees us, our bodies, our mortal lives, all of who we are. God’s imprint is already upon us body and soul, and these ashes with the hands that place them upon our foreheads, are a sign of that reality.

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.

Made in God’s image, we are dust and sacrament.

It is we who are the icons, the symbols.

And we point to God.

 

This was a sermon preached at All Souls Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, CA on Ash Wednesday, 2015. Listen.

 
Filed Under: liturgy |   | Permalink

"...a fragile sense of self."

Posted February 5, 2015 @ 9:03am | by Tripp

To say I have a fragile sense of self is to define addiction.

Some of you might be downright shocked to know that many clergy have to undergo a three-day battery of psych tests as part of the ordination process. If a significant issue is discovered, say, addiction or something else (you can imagine what denominations are looking out for), one's ordination process can be slowed down or halted all together. When I was going through the process, I too went through these evaluations.

The result? I have "a fragile sense of self."

What does this really mean? Well, I'm an alcoholic. It's true. I've spoken about it as part of my faith journey (read: testimony; yes, I have a testimony). I don't wave it around like some flag, but I'm not shy about telling people. And I have certainly told the congregations and other organizations I have served about my history with addiction.

Keeping this stuff secret, for me, is poisonous.

At any rate, there it was, "a fragile sense of self" on my evaluation. This caused everyone to pause. The ordination committee had a ton of questions for me. They did the obligatory background check (this is perfunctory; everyone gets one). They checked my references, etc. They did their due dilligance to make sure, as best as anyone could, that I was not going to fall off the wagon.

Of course. No one can promise that. Not really. 

And let it be known, if I do fall off the wagon, there will be ramifications appropriate to the fall. Addiction is not a get out of jail free card. The addict is responsible for all their actions. Three minutes in an AA meeting and you will hear people talk about being responsible, making amends, and taking ownership of their own actions and all the implications therein. Falling off the wagon isn't an excuse for hurting someone else.  

Again, I haven't. I promised my wife I wouldn't. I promised my churches I wouldn't. And, well, I haven't. But that's never the whole story, is it? Again, you can't really promise that. Addiction is not some behavioral on/off switch. It's far more complicated. 

The committee did their work. They made sure that I had a strong safety net. They connected me with mentors and networks. They took my personal challenges seriously. They were vulnerable with me. They were honest. As was I. This is how we were able to move forward. 

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. 

None the less, to be who I am and be a pastor means being candid with those to whom I am closest. To be a pastor by definition is to be close to people. No secrets. No "special friends." Candor. Vulnerability.

Fragility. All the time. 

Thus my public whining about my PhD on Facebook, too. It's all there. And, yes, I am in therapy. I talk with other alcoholics. I rely on grace. Don't we all? 

There has been a great deal of hubub of late regarding clergy and addiction disorders. We do need to spend more time as clergy discussing our own challenges. Denominational gate keepers need to be more aware of what addiction is and find health to manage the call processes of their clergy. Lives are absolutely on the line.

But I percieve a lack of charity in so much of the public discourse on the issue. I see a lack of love, of hope, of a belief in healing and grace. If we believed in healing and grace, then we would not be afraid to set high standards. We would believe that through grace and healing an alcoholic would make a fine priest, pastor, nun, or bishop. We would address it openly. We would not stigmatize it. 

But I am afraid that is precisely what we are doing. We are stigmatizing addiction and addicts. It troubles me deeply. 

Every time I see a picture of a clergyperson on the news and "alcoholic priest" is written below, I am terrifed. For them. For myself. For my family. Watching these stories unfold is an assault on my senses.

I could fall off the wagon. Statistically, I will without question do so. I hope to defy those statistics, but I have to take them seriously. 

And I am afraid. I am afraid that I too will become a paraiah. 

There's more that I could say about this. I'm rambling and have no idea how to end this post. So, I'm just going to stop writing. If you comment on this or share it, be generous. Be vulnerable. I'm trying to be so here. And if you find it to hard to be so, then simply close your browser and start over. 

Thanks. 

Thanks to Sojourners for picking this up.
 
Filed Under: theology |   | Permalink

Stalled: A PhD Moment

Posted February 4, 2015 @ 9:58am | by Tripp

I do worry about being buried under hundreds of books.

Have you ever been to an air show? You know, one of those spectacles where daring pilots test the limits of their skill and aeronautical savvy? "Machine and humanity pushed to the limits!"

Usually these events don't get any real press unless something terrible happens. Death defying becomes, simply, dying.

When I was a boy, I used to attend the shows. I still love them even though I haven't been in many years. I had a brief obsession with the flying team called the Blue Angels. They flew their F-4's in impossibly tight formations performing rolls and loops together. Synchronicity was the name of their game.

I also enjoyed the propeller planes, the small little humming bees of the aeronautical world careening around the skies spinning and looping and diving every which way. To be honest, these were my favorite.these were the inheritors of the barnstormer legacy.

One of the more exciting tricks they would attempt would be to point the aircraft straight up into the air and go as high as they could as vertically as they could. Eventually the plane would stall. The air would be too thin and the engines would choke. Then the pilots would have to somehow restart the plane as it began to fall back to earth. For the sake of theater, the pilots would dive to the ground in their aircraft pulling up at what appeared to my young eyes to be the last possible moment. Foolish? Dramatic!

Well rehearsed.

Yesterday, a friend of mine mentioned "stalling" as an academic or a PhD student. She expressed concern that I might stall out. Immediately I thought of these aircraft and their pilots. The difference is, there is little that is particularly daring about getting a PhD. Well, not in the same way that piloting some specialized aircraft is daring. I do worry about being buried under hundreds of books.

Still, one can stall out. One can, while exploring the rarefied air of academia, stall out. There is simply not enough air or not enough skill. The balance is a tricky one. And sometimes the machine simply isn't up to the task.The student then dives to the ground and those who are bothering to pay attention will wonder if they will pull it together in time. Foolish? Dramatic!

There is no rehearsal.

A PhD program is like an air show. There are times when the next trick is to stall out the aircraft. I do believe I am at the apex of this particular trick. I have no idea if I can pull this together before I crash into the earth.

 
Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Semiotic Snowballing (Brevis) #occupycomps

Posted February 3, 2015 @ 8:30am | by Tripp

My hope for this essay is to demonstrate through ethnography and semiotic theory how one might begin to articulate in a Christian context what ethnomusicologist Guy Beck calls "sonic theology" in his book, Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound published in 1993. Relatedly, in her book, The Sonic Self published in 2000, Naomi Cumming explores listening in the development of a semiotic understanding of “listening as an act of love.” Also, Thomas Turino’s concept of “semantic snowballing” serves as a great tool for understanding how a single musical unit such as the hymn “Blest Be The Tie That Binds” might symbolize various and even competing meanings simultaneously and over time. Finally, I will begin a rudimentary sketch of Christian sonic theology utilizing Augustine’s theology of the Trinity as multifaceted loving. 

Before you get too excited, this first (of three) essays is just barely coming together. I still love this paragraph, though. The prose could be better - more engaging - but the ideas are there. There has been a surprising consistency in my work over the last few years. I'm astonished, truth be told.

I gave up two hours of working time this morning to sleep. I thought I would get up at 4:30 and start tapping away. Instead, I lingered and dozed. The earlier hour just hurt too much. So, here I sit. Blogging. Processing, really...thinking into the Great Stream that is the internet.

I must slow down and focus. The vortex that is social media like Facebookistan is too much a barrage of content for me to focus like I need to. So, let's dial back on the bandwidth there. I have so little to spare in the first place.

Back to this paragraph to your right. This is the kernel of it, really. This is my work. I use phrases like "eschatological musicking" to get at these same ideas. There are several paths that can get you here. Semiotics. Perichoresis. Ethnography. Polyvalence. Hell, Dave Grohl is a fucking genius about how music functions in society. Don't let the profanity and flannel fool you. And if he is not convincing, read Questlove

The prevailing mistake that I find again and again, and that I find it again and again in troubling, is the notion that of all the rich symbols employed in liturgical life, we insit that music is somehow the most clear communicator of them all. It is certainly a direct communicator, but is it clear? Of course not. And yet, we keep at this systemetizing of music through markets or forms (like Gregorian chant, CCM, hymnody, Gospel, or Taize). If we find that one way to communicate the truth of the Gospel musically, we'll tame this thing called "music." We'll rein it in in some way. 

I say bollocks! Embrace the complexity. Let the snowballing come. Bring All The Things. 

But first, I need to write. 

That.

Sound itself is a theological language. Word, song, instrumentation, and ritual movement all provide layers of theological meaning. In focusing my future study on the sound specifically I propose that we will there discover another potent vehicle for encounter of the mysterium of God that can carry the varying and competing experiences of individuals and communities in a dynamic system of creation and reception where sound is a principal tool for embodying our fullest selves. Listening, passion, intimacy, our bodies and our communities, all of these are components of religious ritual performance and communal meaning making.

 
Filed Under: hymns |   | Permalink

Imagine The Man: On Binaries

Posted February 2, 2015 @ 3:22pm | by Tripp

Imagine the man you wish to be. Imagine the woman you wish to be. Imagine who, what, where you wish to be. Erradicate the binaries or embrace them, I hold no strong opinion about binaries. Binaries happen. Genders are constructed. Ph.D. students are distracted.

Or is it distractable? I can never remember. One or the other.

I am imagining who I wish to be in the midst of being who I am. To that end, I have a thought or two about imagination and being a Ph.D. student.

  1. Prepare yourself to have to strike a balance between imagination and reality. Now, if you are a Ph.D. student, you will likely wish to critique me for employing such a binary. Imagination and reality are two concepts that actually overlap quite a bit. One doesn't need a Ph.D. or a seminar in aesthetics to grok the truth of that. Still, it helps to make an awareness of the relationship between what you imagine this thing to be with what this thing actually is.
     
  2. Find a way to feed yourself and understand it will cost you more than your milk money. You know, each of these steps will reflect the first step to some degree. You have to eat. The income for that can come through scholarships, loans, or employment while you work on the degree. I've chosen a combination of loans and work. I work my ass off and then take out loans to make up the difference. Here in the Bay Area, that ain' cheap, but it's worth it. That said, it stresses me out. I am in comps and I work full time. So. Yeah. You may imagine that food happens, that you can live on ramen for a decade, or that your spouse/partner/parent/family will take up all the food prep and earning slack. You may be wrong, too.
     
  3. Make friends. Do it now. Don't wait. You need friends. No one else will understand what it's like except the other insane people who are in this program with you. And when they vanish because they too are in comps, go find them. Make them coffee. No one is sleeping anyway. You won't regret it. They are the only people who will understand your tears of frustration, your poor decisions, and why binaries bother you so much.

    You: "Stupid binaries."
    Them: "Yeah. I know."

    You both cry. You both imagine being done. You both go back to writing.
     
  4. Make your spouse/partner/family/pet an essential part of what keeps you sane. You will be tempted to place these people on a to-do list of some kind. You'll schedule in a date for every Monday or some such thing. At first this will seem wise. And it will be. At first. But then they become something else to do in your ever-increasing list of things to do. This is not good. This is bad. Good/bad binaries suck, but sometimes they are helpful shorthand categorizations of what's going on for us. Get your beloved off a list and into your life. This way when you say "Stupid binaries" they will say, "Yeah. I don't care, but I know you do and that matters to me." 
     
  5. Know your tolerance for gittin' 'er done. There are two kinds of people, those who can work their asses off without a perceivable break and those who cannot. Know which one of these you are. Know what pace for work serves you. Do not be ashamed of extensions. Extensions happen. You can be Someone Who Took An Extension. That's okay. Just git 'er done.

This is my advice about imagination, reality, binaries and the Ph.D. and how they can be useful and kill you at the same time. You are who you imagine yourself to be at the same time that you are not who you imagine yourself to be. It's a brave post-post-modern world out there except when it's not. Be brave. Cry.

 
Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink

In Need of Language

Posted January 27, 2015 @ 8:26am | by Tripp

All of these words careening about my head - helpful and kind, intriguing, pedantic, imformative, and some cruel - all have been beqeathed to me at some point. I have, in turn, made them my own. As much as I wish to say, “these words are my own,” I simply cannot. It would be false. These words bear my mark, but they have been gifted to me malused though they may be.

Today it begins. This is the last stretch. I need to breathe deeply and let the writing come. Semiotics, music, theological aesthetics, authenticity and liturgical post-rock all gladsome burdens to me now, will be words upon paper soon enough. They will appear sedintary, but the truth of them will be more complex if not more virtuous.

My wife sleeps in the bedroom. Our unborn son is likely awake. Do children in the womb ponder the darkness of predawn hours?

I want to say something profound. Many of my friends have made the effort and succeeded. I’m just biding my time, I guess. The sheer terror of fatherhood often overwhelms me. I’m not sure when the excitement and elation will come in. I have felt glad. Happy even. But mostly I am overwhelmed. Truly. There are no words here, only feelings, vague enormous feelings. I am awash in them.

But, back to the papers.

I have alphabetized the books and the record albums. The iTunes mix is all set. I need to stop by the library to pick up some more books as we move forward, but not until then. There is much to do. Much to write.

Papers. “Comprehensive” papers.

We need better language.  

 
Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink

Of Things Unseen or Unsaid

Posted January 23, 2015 @ 6:06pm | by Tripp

Words. There have been so many words today. Words upon words. Telephonic. Facebooked. Tweeted. Spoken. Unspoken. Seen. Unseen. Words upon words upon words. I'm at a loss with what to do with them all.

5:00am: My day starts off the same almost every day. The cat, Mike, awakens me by trying to open the closet door. This is challenging enough for a cat, but with Mike it's even more difficult. The door is already open, but as it stand open against the adjacent wall, he thinks it needs opening again. His is a difficult life. I pick up my phone. The words pour out.

7:00am: I start my drive to my first appointment. I take a photo from the vista. I call my father and leave a voice message. More words. The radio. The voice mail. Words.

8:00am: The appointment. I talk. For an hour. I barely breathe this time. Saving it all up for once visit a week isn't working. Words tumble out upon words. It's terrible. There are no words unattempted. Many unheard. Mostly by me. I'm angry. Again.

9:00am: Texting. "Pancakes?"

10:00am: Texting and then a phone call to my brother back in Virginia. The words reach across a continent. Texts. Voices. Much left unsaid.

11:00am: Emails.

12:00am: Emails and Facebook.

1:00pm: Emails and Facebook.

2:00pm: Emails, Facebook, a text or two, a conversation

3:00pm: Conversation with people in the room and more emails and texts and Facebook.

All the words. The day is more than half over, but I wonder if the words are.

 
Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

The Wounded Heart Is A Resilient Heart

Posted January 20, 2015 @ 2:36pm | by Tripp

There is a wound in the heart of the world. Scarred over, we tread upon that injury in all that we do. Every blessing and every curse made upon the wounded heart of the world.

I cannot say how the wound came to be, by what illness or act of violence.
I cannot say how the healing happens, by what medicine or act of caring and grace.

Yet, I know this wound. I know its edges. I know its depths. I know that this same heart pours blessing upon blessing upon the earth and all the earth's inhabitants.

It is the heart of the world. It is resilient.

#occupycomps

 
Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink
 
 
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