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


The Academy Has No Room for Us

Posted February 2, 2018 @ 11:45am | by Tripp

Now, many already know this about getting a Ph.D. Most of those “many” happen to be women because, let’s face it, no matter how you slice it, a Ph.D. program was designed for single men. Hell, it was designed for monks, but let’s not confuse things. 

A Ph.D. program in the US is two to three years of coursework, comprehensive examinations of some kind, and then a dissertation. My school, Graduate Theological Union, claims that the average completion time is seven years. By comparison, the University of Chicago is 9.5 years. So, yeah. Anyway, for people keeping track, I’m still scheduled to complete within the window. Who knew?

Here’s what I have always known but have experienced first hand in my program. The quintessential successful student is either single and well-resourced, or is supported by a spouse who is able to pick up the vast majority of the financial and logistical burden so that the student can concentrate on being a student. This does not mean they have it easy. Not at all. It’s hard as hell even with all of the support. Such success still comes at a great price.

Most students don’t have such an experience. Enormous sacrifices are made. Marriages are tested (some fail). Massive financial debt is accrued. Psychological health is put at risk. This is all just so one can finish the degree. I’m not going to even touch the job market. That’s another can of worms entirely. 

As it stands, though I will finish, I will not enjoy all the possible benefits of the program.

If you have other responsibilities like work or family to attend to, a Ph.D. can be almost impossible to achieve. The program isn’t designed for you. It’s not. There’s no time to make dinner or to nurse someone's cold. There’s no money for childcare. There’s no time for romantic dinners and vacations with a spouse (see: monks). None. Not if you wish to make “satisfactory academic progress.” And we have to or we’re done.

Here’s where someone will say, “But single mothers….” Yeah. Do you know what it costs them emotionally? Spiritually? Physically? They may choose it, but it’s damn near criminal that we ask it of them. It’s a sign of society’s depravity that we laud it and praise these women as opposed to apologize and fix the problems. Their success is an act of rebellion against a system that has no desire for their success. Instead, we should be doing all we can to support them. It should cost them nothing. Health insurance should be cheap or free and child care should most certainly be free. 

Instead, accrediting agencies demand such “rigor” of schools who in turn demand it of their students. We call it “formation.”

I whine about my experience all the time. I know. It’s therapeutic for me. But more realistically, here is what I’ve discovered. 

This process assumes my wife is waiting on me hand and foot and that, in the end, she will move wherever the next job is. It assumes that, if there are children, she is the primary caregiver and I, the student, am still in a library every day for eight hours. It does not assume that I, the student, does most of the cooking and other kitchen work, takes a very active role in parenting our child, and cannot afford regular daycare. I do all this because my wife also works and has passions that need her careful and conscious response as well as my active support. I cook not because I am exceptional, but because I’m home to do it. I parent because I’m a parent. 

But, that’s not the deal we signed up for. The deal is that the only thing you do is your doctoral work. It is your only love. It is your only obsession. At student orientation, spouses and partners were told we would spend 70 hours a week on our program. That’s by design. By design.

If it were all I did, then I might stand a chance. If I were single, then I might stand a chance. As it stands, though I will finish, I will not enjoy all the possible benefits of the program. I will complete it. That is all. 

And no one person is to blame. Everyone I speak with sees the problems and wishes it could be different. No one is empowered to change things. No one. It’s astonishing. 

The program is not designed for my success. It is not designed for my failure, either. It’s simply not designed for me at all. Married? Parenting? Nope. Not for me at all. 

Women, of course, know this already.

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Such Is Baptism

Posted January 17, 2018 @ 11:20am | by Tripp

You have sought me out
and have found me. Again.
Again. I am undone.

Waves crashing upon a shore
Eroding the land,
Pulling at each loose stone,
Pushing at each crack.
Enraging the stolid
Shoreline become soul
Dragged, ruined, beneath
The water. Such is Baptism.

It is Ruin.
It is Collapse.
It is Destruction.
Only to become the sand
Beneath the waves
Upon which dappled
Sun might dance.

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Unpacking Sonic Theology.

Posted January 12, 2018 @ 11:50am | by Tripp

The church musician is an icon of the holy. She represents style, genre, tradition, and the complexity of local practice. She represents the theological convictions that people bring to singing in worship. She represents the theological convictions and spiritual insights that people bring when they listen to music in church. She also represents herself. The semiotic snowballing that the church musician represents is an aspect of liturgical celebration that is often ignored in liturgiological research.

We often examine artifacts such as books and candlesticks. We examine architecture. We even examine compositions. We examine practices. And when we examine people, we often examine the laity rather than the clergy. This impulse is generally to prevent us from front loading our analysis with “officialdom.” But let’s not assume that the clergy or the church musician necessarily or only represent official theologies of any given worshiping tradition. 

She represents much more. 

She represents the musical and spiritual desires, the multiplicity of expectations that the entire worshipping community brings with them. 

I’m slowly unpacking this notion of sonic theology. God help me. 

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The Power of Doing It Over

Posted January 10, 2018 @ 11:01am | by Tripp

We don't really get do-overs. That's not how life works. Still, I find it a helpful metaphor to understand what it is that I'm doing with my life right now.

Once upon a time, I believe I was 24 (that was a busy year), I visited a friend in Austin, TX. She was working on an MFA and I was floundering having recently abandoned my M.Div. at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. I was working, praying, and learning, but I was also floundering trying to find my way in the world as a young adult. I visited my friend hoping for a little respite from the morass of confusion in my head.

What did I do? I went to the reference library at University of Texas and looked at graduate program catalogs. I kept coming back to this thing called Ethnomusicology. For the life of me, however, I could not find my way in. I couldn't imagine it. My undergraduate career had been a mess. That's being generous. On one hand, I had a background in religious studies (my major), anthropology, and music. On the other hand, I had a 2.something GPA thanks to some questionable choices I had made with my time and attention.

And there was (and still is) this pesky call to ministry. It's relentless.

Here I am twenty-four years (And an entire lifetime?) later trying my hand at this thing again. I'm more grateful than I can say for this chance. It's different, no question. I am not the same and the world has changed in many ways (I took this picture of the phone booth off I-5 in Oregon.). And yet, it's a kind of do-over.

I am now doing the work of living into the call to ministry with my passions along for the ride as opposed to assuming that I have to give up my passions in order to follow God's strange call.

It's another day, O Lord. I have no idea what the hell I am doing, but, well, here we are. Amen.

"There’s nothing the matter with his mind. He just does things in his own way and in his own time." Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle In Time

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Posted January 6, 2018 @ 10:03am | by Tripp

Sometimes I like to imagine that the magi were a jazz trio. Bass, marimba, and some kind of tar. Oud maybe? Anachronisms abound, but here I am wondering what kind of soundscape rightly colors our earnest astrologer sages. Polyrhythmic, chromatic, microtonal, and imaginations that were exceptional 2000 years ago and cannot be reckoned in our own day could have fashioned some mighty music in praise of the God of earth, sea, and sky, a Cosmic Denizen that had an angelic choir herald their way and yet were born in the muck and mire of a stall. The Creator come to Redeem. 

Shit. Piss. Wet hay. Dry earth. Sweat. Tears. Fear, fecundity, and love. 

It’s all there and The Powers That Be are terrified, as always, shitting themselves when divinity arises. 

We hope for a divine resonance, a kind of cosmic sounding by which we all come to know ourselves and one another as part of the whole of creation. This hope is what we call Music.

Music. Let me say it again. Music.

In my imagination, the three visitors from a faraway lands are musicians. Maybe not literally, though I hope someone brought pipes to play along the journey, they still had that kind of sensibility. They were seeking the sonorous, the deep resonances of the cosmos. They were listening for Truth. They had eyes for God. Colors rang out as they sang glorias with the seraphim. Sound was flesh to them. Breath was bone to them. A bow on a string was creation itself to them.

Music. That’s what they found. Music. 

Rather, the found hope and it grasped their fingers as with the hands of a small child still nursing at their mama’s breast. Then, looking to Hope’s parents they gave of themselves and returned home by another route. 

The day of the Powers That Be had come to an end.

Millennia have passed. The Powers are done. And we who will not hear or see cling to their corpses. 

We too must give of ourselves if we are to live. We too must turn around and re-turn home by another way.

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I Am Powerless #12Stepping

Posted January 4, 2018 @ 6:25pm | by Tripp

I keep applying for jobs. This is part and parcel of academic life, I'm told. Just keep applying. The pool of applicants is enormous. The pool of positions is wee small dinky. So, yeah, I don't math, per se, but even I would hazard to guess that's a bad situation. 

I am not in control. Again. As if I ever was. Still, I like to pretend that my plans matter and that my chewing on my thoughts and dreams and aspirations makes an iota of difference. 

Can it not be said once more and once more again that one's deep desire for control of one's fate, perhaps even one's so-called improvement is a kind of hubris? Healing is one thing. Lord knows we are in need of healing. All of us. But healing comes at the hands of a physician of some kind, one who offers salubrious tinctures for body, mind, or soul. Certainly, the patient is to participate and follow the instructions of the physician, but I wonder if the constant barrage of "improve yourself" messages we receive give us a false sense of control. 

Can it not be said once more and once more again that one's deep desire for control of one's fate, perhaps even one's so-called improvement is a kind of hubris?

In the Twelve Steps programs I've been known to frequent, the first half of the first step is to admit one is powerless over one's addiction. Otherwise, you would have done something about it by now. Perhaps you would still be married or employed or whatever else it is that you lost that was the reality of hitting bottom. You would still have your physical, mental, and spiritual health if you weren't powerless over the Stuff. 

But the Stuff is powerful. More powerful than you are. 

The Stuff is more powerful than I am. 

And here I am again renewing the lesson. This time, it's not an addiction but a life situation over which I am powerless. What will happen after I finish my dissertation? No one can say. No. One. There's no one clear next step. There's no one clear right move. There is no right answer. 

There is only us. Me, my family, and my friends trying to keep the hustle (as the kids call it) alive. I am powerless over so much of the next things. My hope is not to over-reach. My hope is to know what I can control and what I cannot before I do something significantly stupid. 

Ah, PhD life is the life. 

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Christmas: Day, The Fifth

Posted December 29, 2017 @ 9:23am | by Tripp

There is no rose of such virtue..." These words have been haunting me all season long. Since Advent, really. " is the rose that bear Jesu." It's a charming bit of music and a telling bit of theology. There's no one more beautiful than the God-Bearer. There is no virtue greater than what she displayed in her willingness to bear God into the world, to carry, birth, and raise the burbling incarnate Divinity. None. 

And one cannot separate that virtue, that ability to say yes, from all that made her and her family (see: Joseph, Elizabeth, and various others) willing companions on a most difficult journey. Finally, when all is said and done, parenting never ends. She carried him from the Cross as well. She bore her son to the tomb. This is the virtue of which we sing. This is the virtue of the mother of God. Gaudeamus. 

Jesu, Son of Mary,
Have mercy
upon us,
Jesu, Son of Mary,
Make peace with us,
O, with us and for us
Where we shall longest be,
about the morning of our course
Be about the closing of our life,

Be at the dawning of our life,
And oh! at the
dark'ning of our day,
Be for us and with us,
Merciful God of all,
Consecrate us
Condition and lot,
King of kings,
God of all,
Consecrate us
Rights and means
King of kings,
God of all,
Consecrate us
Heart and body,
King of kings,
God of all,
Each heart and body,
Each day to yourself,
Each night accordingly,
King of kings,
God of all,

In his ethnographic collection of prayers, Alexander Carmichel records the preceding words. His volume is full of prayers that situate Jesus' identity in the identity of Mary. He is the Son of Mary just as often as he is the Son of God. Unlike the Protestant traditions that so often wish to erase her after the Nativity, she is the ongoing bearer of Christ's identity. As a statement of Christ's relationship to humanity, this is telling. Add the Magnificat, and suddenly Mariology is a liberative strain of Christian theology which bears Jesu throughout his life, through his death, and into his Resurrection and Ascension. The King of kings is always the Son of Mary. He is always and forever birthed, human, glorified by the womb of a human being. 

Today is the fifth day of Christmas and I awoke from dreams where my grandfather visited me. We were in his old house pondering what it would be like for me to inherit it, how we might preserve a way of life that is being over-run by big box stores and widening highways. We walked down to the local gardening center and spoke to the proprietor about his failed crops of blackberries and how the old homes were being "given away" to developers for $15,000. Further down the road was another gardening center. The woman there had bins of composted seeds germinating right there in the midst of the dirt and shit. Pumpkin seeds were most plentiful. In the dream, Trish and I drove or walked about this bastion of agrarian life in the midst of expanding suburbia. I spoke again and again with my grandfather, a terse and belligerent man, about how things had changed. He was having none of it. Pappy was like that. He also had a garden out back of his house. In the dream, his famous fig tree was gone and the house was in terrible disrepair. 

I awoke from this dream pondering ordination and the geography of call and wondering if it's possible to be called to ministry only for a time and a place and then no more. 

My mind is spinning this morning from dreams of fecundity and loss. 

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Christmas: Day, The Third

Posted December 27, 2017 @ 12:25pm | by Tripp

Ilove the fog. The fog is thick in Berkeley this morning. We just watched it roll in from our kitchen windows. I can see maybe one hundred yards up the hill from our apartment.

I love the fog.

On the kitchen table is a bowl of sweet oranges. The bowl is red like a poinsettia's flowers. Made at Emerson Creek Pottery, it is a kind reminder of home in Virginia. The oranges, however, a pure California. I am coming to enjoy this holiday hybridity. Even some of the cuisine we are pondering for New Years Eve reflects this hybridity. Crabs and tamales? You bet!

I am trying to spend a little time tidying up the grade sheet from the spring semester. Then I can look at the history chapter of my dissertation for four minutes before Trish and Elias return from a brief outing.

I love the fog.

It is a kind reminder of the embrace of friends and opportunities here in California. It is a hug.

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Slow your roll, Messiah.

Posted December 20, 2017 @ 1:39am | by Tripp

Iconfess that the liturgical gymnastics of trying to fit in the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas Eve causes me great amusement.

”Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” we pray.
“Okay!” the Nazorean responds. “How about now?”
“Woah! Slow down your roll, Messiah!”

Yes, it’s our piety at work, our rhythm of prayer and I’m right there wishing for an extra few days just like so many others. Yet, I keep hearing this same response to prayer, “How about now? Is now good?”

The folding of liturgical time in upon itself is a lesson all its own and a rather obvious one at that. God’s future visits us whether we are ready for it or not. So, “people get ready” is not just a great song (Yes, it’s a great song.) founded on some eschatological nuance in Matthew’s Gospel. Nope. It is the immediate clarion cry of the jubilant God Come Down. 

People get ready. Time is folding in on itself. Our piety is no protection. The liturgical calendar itself is God’s Own Creature. It does not belong to us after all. 

Who knew?
Really, who?


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Posted December 17, 2017 @ 3:58pm | by Tripp


In that upside down time before time began, when the swirly whirly gyre was all there wasn’t, there was breath. A deepening groan. An exhalation so fraught with purpose that the very cosmos shuddered and what made no sense suddenly became sensible. Divine interruption. Time was made of no time and the swirly whirly gyre became a street known as Straight; a river flowing from breath to life. The trees that grow by its banks feed all creation. Injury is healed. Sins are pardoned. Grace is a fruit that drops into the palm of the expectant hand. Why then, O Soul, are you so bitterly alone? Why are you starving? Why are you thirsting? 

Why would you not simply hold out your hand? Gaudeamus.

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I want a corn dog.

Posted September 28, 2017 @ 1:52pm | by Tripp

There's no hiding from the truth. My favorite foods are com prised of things that are    bad for me. Corndogs, steamed crabs, hushpuppies, a roast chicken, brownies, pie (the entire category of foods called pie), bar-b-que, bread, and curries. I love these things. I will eat vegetables, of course. Some of them I enjoy, but the foods I go running to when I need more than basic nutrition are the aforementioned. I also like breakfast.

I share this as a follow up to my previous post about how I some how still fit in my pants. I am grateful that I can still do so, but the time is growing short and my waistline is expanding. I whined. That's the truth of it.

But now, I want to move past the whining. Let's talk about Karin, Annie, and Bobby.

In the last post, I mentioned a yogi who has already been an influence. Karin is her name and she's one of those people I just clicked with online and hope to meet in the flesh one day. She does the "holistic" thing better than anyone I have yet read - so much so that I hate to use the over-used term to describe what she's about. It's yoga. It's a religious practice. As a teacher, she has not forgotten this truth. The poses are not simply physically challenging. To challenge the body is to challenge the soul and mind to grow and stretch and strengthen. When we encounter physical pain, we may quickly discover an accompanying spiritual pain. Lastly, we are always beginners. Always.

Annie is an acquaintance I actually have met in the flesh. Gracious and brilliant, she is the paragon of hard work. She is motivated to be healthy. The joy she has discovered in being healthy is written all over her face. She has a coach. A good coach. She knows how to set goals, create a network of support to achieve those goals, and give herself grace when her expectations may not precisely be met as she hoped. Then she works again. Our lives and bodies change. So must our expectations. Incremental changes lead to enormous gains sometimes well beyond what we expected.

Lastly is Bobby McFerrin. He has been a hero for some time. I don't know how he does what he does, but I know that his body is his instrument. He cannot make the music he makes without his body being in peak condition. Diet, exercise, self-care of all kinds goes into his daily routine. He prays, chants, stretches, eats right. He sings. Singing is great exercise. He has made a lifetime's discipline of it.

So, here's an obvious take-away. I need to sing more. Yes, sing. Breathe, stretch, walk, but more than anything else, sing. There's the adrenaline rush, that flow that a friend mentioned. Nothing else is like it.

In the singing it will become clear to me what else I should do. Singing orders my senses. It orders my soul. Breath upon breath upon breath leading to harmonics. These are not concentric circles, per se, but ripples of concord and discord at play. Homo ludens, it seems, is my lot.

Always an amateur, a novice, a beginner, I will need to begin again and again if I am to do this well. There will be stretching (literal and figurative; a curious word, figurative). I will encounter wounds. I will shy away from them. But I need to keep singing. "With a bold, strong voice, you will have to cross over." Indeed.

This will take friends to succeed. The changes will come slowly. I will need a coach. A good coach, one who understands that the soul is at work, that the body is art and craft, that sound is grace and fraught with disillusionment.

Musicking is hard. It just is. I'll need to set fair expectations.

And I have a lifetime to keep singing.


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The good news is that I still fit in my pants.

Posted September 27, 2017 @ 12:00am | by Tripp

Recently, I received a phone call from my doctor's office to remind me to schedule my annual routine check-up. No problem, I say to myself. I'm in reasonably good health for a guy pushing fifty. I mean, I'm not paragon of athletic virtue, but I can walk for hours with a toddler on my shoulders. That's not nothin'.

And that's when it hits me. The kid. Right. I can't phone in my physical health. Certainly, there's no staving off death. It comes when it comes, but there's a way of living well before Death claims us, right? I suck at that.

I like biscuits and coffee and pie and bread and cookies and...all too much. I don't like vegetables near well enough. And there may be nothing less satisfying than a salad or as mentally cruel as a weight room. Let's not talk about running. Some experience a positive endorphin rush. I experience nothing of the sort.

Truth is, I don't even like being outside all that much. Sure, sitting on the porch, but exerting myself in some way? I dunno.

Then there's the Boy again. He loves the outside. Loves. It. He runs and plays and runs and plays and watches other people run and play as he enjoys his snack before he runs and plays some more. I really don't want to be the dad that says, "Go play by yourself" all the time. I want to go play, too. I want to see him run. I want to be able to say, "Sure! I can go play," when he asks.

I also realize that as a musician, teacher, preacher, and general active person, I need to care for my actual person. Have you ever notice what Bobby McFerrin looks like? Astonishing.

I keep looking for inspiration. The Dude-Bro Machismo Machine is singularly unhelpful. That is precisely what I don't want to be. So too is the California Healthy Body Zen Buddhist Temple To Your Next Great Start-up. "You deserve better" is hubris. Dwayne Johnson is uninspiring in his super-human positivity and work ethic. "Good for him," I say as I knead the biscuit dough. "But he's obsessed and I'm just not willing to be obsessed. Not about that."

I have some acquaintances who are yoga practitioners and teachers. I love the way they wear their fitness. Truly, I do. Sometimes my jaw drops when I see their casual, comfortable health. One, in particular, astonishes me in how she connects spiritual and physical well-being in a gentle web of grace. Truly. There’s some inspiration.

Then there's another acquaintance who, in her 40's, and because of her own need to manage chronic pain, has taken on an incredible bodybuilding regimen. She lives without pain now. It's remarkable. I admire her to no end. More inspiration.

And there’s Bobby McFerrin. 

Yet, I don't know where I'm supposed to find an hour a day for three to five days a week to do anything, really. 

Yes, there are always excuses and I'm full of excuses, reasons not to exercise and change my diet. 

It's expensive. It's time-consuming. It's uncomfortable. It makes me unhappy. Competition, even with myself, is a constant downer. I really love dairy. And bread. Lord, but bread is good. 

It's also what my doctor wants me to do so that I lose the 30-40 pounds that'll make other things better and, perhaps, my ongoing quality of life a positive one as the years progress.

Again, the good news is that I still fit in my pants. 

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