Bearing Witness to Tragedy and Thanksgiving
Posted July 20, 2014 @ 9:31am | by Tripp
A fog sits upon the Berkeley hills. You would think that this is a daily occurrence, but it is not. The years of drought have taken their toll. But it is summer here and that means morning fog.
I can see the hilltops over the apex of the roof of the church building next door. Those who worship early have arrived. There is a small but steady stream of people walking into the chapel. The religious habits of Berkeleyites are a mystery to me even after three years of worshiping among them.
I am making breakfast. The aroma of coffee keeps me company as I listen to the radio. They are still talking about Gaza and Kiev. No one has the courage to ask if the world will go to war again. Perhaps it is simply a stupid question. Of course there will be no world war. There's nothing in it for the global powers. So, we will watch the Ukraine and Israel tear themselves or their neighbors apart.
Recently there was a story about Israelis sitting along hilltops watching the shelling. They were eating popcorn. So many were astonished at the callousness. There is nothing new to this, of course. People packed picnics to watch the siege of Petersburg in the American Civil War. And though I want to, I cannot pass judgment. I sit here in my California kitchen listening to the news and doing nothing. A vicarious life is the life we have crafted for ourselves.
It is the fruit of broadcast technology.
The most we can do is bear witness to the tragedy of others.
At best we remember.
Like my Berkeley neighbors, this morning I too will walk into the church. I will partake of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, thanksgiving for what God has done in the world. Even there, with a necessarily sacramental twist, I will bear witness to resurrection and reconciliation. I will partake with bread and wine, but even then it is witnessing.
We are participant observers, recipients of the grace we witness in memory and sign.
Waiting for The Music
Posted July 15, 2014 @ 5:14pm | by Tripp
I am waiting for the music to return, the sonorous graces of laughter and kitchen clinking, of bird call on the hillside.
I am waiting for the music to return, the precarious arrangement of hope and memory that uplifts and guides.
I am waiting for the music to return, the band, the orchestra, the seisiun, the jam, the people who make and craft sound.
Instead, I am stranded in an eschatological posture like pause on my mp3 player. The Wifi Spirit does not respond and even if I could connect, the playlist I have randomized is sore lacking. I miss the people who make these sounds. I miss their voices.
Have you ever sat in a small room as somebody made beautiful music? Maybe for you it's the singer-songwriter. Or maybe it's the saxophonist. Perhaps it's the kora. I'm not so certain it matters what, but more where and who. Have you ever been in a place where the music surrounds you and the musician stands close? Have you ever been graced with that attention?
I've been the recipient of such a gift. I've also tried again and again to offer it. I've stood in bar, sanctuary, nave, and concert hall. I've sounded my barbaric yawp until I was hoarse. I have strummed and plucked until I bled. I have listened for the sudden, astonished intake of breath and the breathless beer-spilling songster alike.
The attention that comes from being lost in the space, the time, the sound, in one another, grounds me like none other. I feel each breath. I lean into each sound. I hear the room, the hall, the cathedral, the space between us, and I hear all of us as we join one another in a symbol. I feel my own voice or the resonating instrument strapped to my chest. I listen for all of these. I breathe with all of these.
We craft a symbol in which we may all dwell a while, not transported, but graciously made aware of who we are and to whom we belong. "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live," so the old Irish proverb goes. "Ubuntu!" exclaims the bishop from South Africa. "We are one body in the One Lord," the editors of that hymnal remember for us.
"Ever-present" is the Lord God, the Almighty. Right here. With us. You. Me. He. She. We. Them.
Not "out there" or "far away" in some other place above and beyond this one, but so "further up and further in" as to feel elsewhere when all the while we are being awoken to what is always and ever right here, right now.
Right here, right now. Jesus Jones was right. . . on Earth as in Heaven.
We are building a sonic theology. Those who have ears, listen.
The Hills Stand Vigil
Posted July 11, 2014 @ 6:28am | by Tripp
There is no accounting for time and space
As the blue mist settles on the morning hillside
I imagine the hills of another place
Still bathed starlight and moonglow
The one whom I love is there
I am here as the hills stand vigil
summer in orkney springs
Posted July 9, 2014 @ 10:27pm | by Tripp
fireflies dance amid the trees along the hillside
all the while children chase across the field
as the sun sets becoming starlight in the night sky
friends are hand-in-hand talking through the day
while the the clatter of dishes in a sink interrupts
There Is No Solo PhD
Posted July 6, 2014 @ 5:58am | by Tripp
I never watch as much sports coverage as I do when I am at my father's house. ESPN is always on. Baseball is Daddy's present obsession. The season is hot and the Yankees are spotty. His blood pressure is high. There is no mistaking the cause. It is Sunday and I'm preparing to go to church, but it is clear to me that the religion here is baseball.
There is no sadness or shame in this realization. If I could stay home and watch the finals at Wimbledon, I would. But I am called to do other things today. I am off to Church of The Holy Comforter in Richmond, VA. Martha Buford is the music director there and an old friend. Then I am off to Shrinemont in Orkney Springs, VA to participate in Family Camp.
Yes, I am going to camp. Fortunately, this camp comes with wrap-around porches.
Listening As An Act of Love is the title of my five-day program. I am responsible for providing something for the adults each morning. I have been taking my PhD research and reworking it for different contexts. I've presented at a conference and written an essay. I've preached it. I've offered a 45-minute lecture. Now, let's see if it serves as a spiritual retreat. Of course, to do this right, I am calling on some help. Ana Hernandez will be with us on Tuesday. If I could call on more friends, I would.
These projects, I am learning, are never solo acts. And let's get real, no solo act is a solo act.
We never really work alone.
Listening and Sacrifice
Posted July 2, 2014 @ 7:56am | by Tripp
Listening as an act of love, not surprisingly, is often sacrificial.
To listen to someone who opposes you, who wishes you to diminish in some way, is a kind of sacrifice. This listening, as difficult as it is however, is no less necessary if we are going to find a to live together that reflects the deepest loves of our aspirations.
We propose arguments. We offer various logics. We rant and rage. But do we listen? Do we hear that person whom we disagree with? Do we hear ourselves as we rage? And do we hear the person when they say, "I hear you, but. . ."? Do we recognize that we have been heard, and still the person before us cannot join us in that song.
How do you face that kind of heartbreak?
There is this prevailing concept of "difference" that still haunts many of us. Perhaps we don't like the feeling of loneliness that comes with discovering someone is not like us. Perhaps we are so certain of our rightness/righteousness, of our way of being in the world, that we are simply unable to hear anyone who may walk through the world differently. We do not need to go to the polarities of society to find this dynamic at work. No, we can go to our closest kin, those most like us and still stumble over the difference, finding them insurmountable.
So often I find that the discourse around difference focuses only on the furthest polarities. So, of course we cannot imagine sacrifice. There is too much ground to cover between us. There is too much at stake. We cannot imagine serving one another in equanimity; the differences are too painful, the distinctions too great. This scenario, however, is quite rare.
The truth of life is that more of us are similar than radically different.
What does it mean to listen? And might that listening cause one of us to diminish while the other increases?
What does it mean to hear in such a way that makes room for another in our world view and allowing ourselves to expand and change in the process? How might this look in our own lives?
I am not you. You are not me. We have established this time and time again.
Nevertheless, are we still willing to listen, or has that time passed? Is it too late?
Is our love to be forever unrequited?
Corporate Golems: We Are Market Places
Posted July 1, 2014 @ 7:44am | by Tripp
It's never the particulars of the law that trouble me. It's always the various and conflicting guiding principles that trouble me. This is one of many reasons why I would make a terrible lawyer. I simply cannot bear the distraction of the details. Instead, I find myself consumed by the ideologies at work.
Why would anyone wish to grant a corporation the same legal rights that an individual posses? What is to gain? What is to lose? Why would we continue to engage in such ideological foolishness? Well, it is to our advantage. You see, the corporation is a legal entity that exists to protect us from the government's punitive legalities. The corporation may go bankrupt. I don't have to. The corporation might dissolve, but I am whole. This is an interesting set of privileges we can grant ourselves. I see the benefits and I see the dangers.
Of course, many people are now wondering how much more of this thinking we'll see in the near future with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby and health care. I understand that the details of the case are numerous, that Hobby Lobby still invests in some of the companies that create and sell the very products they do not cover in their health care policy. I understand that the details "complexify" (one of my favorite made-up words) what is an already complex set of institutional structures where employee benefits are concerned.
My problem is simply that the creation of the notion of "corporation as citizen" leads directly to this tipping point. We have yet to go over it, but we're teetering on the edge. Some satirists have already begun imagining how to convert corporations to their religion. Can we baptize Monsanto? If so, can we excommunicate Monsanto? If Monsanto has a right to uphold its faith, who is it's bishop and can that person discipline Monsanto in some way? How will I, a minister of the Word and Table, administer the sacraments to Monsanto?
It's insane, really, this whole legal notion of corporate selfhood. But there it is. The legal shield of the "corporation" is now a golem shambling through our streets. This is what bothers me. The vitality of the corporate entity will now trump the vitality of the individual. And that is, of course, not all.
If Hobby Lobby is a "Christian corporation," we will witness an even more transparent process of people gathering beneath the corporate entity in the name of ideology. We will organize behind such power. This court decision is another in a long list of events that demonstrate the dissolution of the institutions we have used to name ourselves and gather and how people are experimenting with other means to gather and claim shared identity.
Shopping at Hobby Lobby is an identifying practice just like listening to Christian radio or buying produce locally. And now we more clearly have the legal means to protect our practices from one another.
We are market places. This is who we have become.
Posted June 29, 2014 @ 6:46am | by Tripp
It is a warm and humid Sunday morning in northern Virginia. Alexandria is still quiet, though the men and women in their Sunday finery are slowly making their way to church. Navy blue is the color of baptismal robes here; a bold tie, the anointing of the Spirit. The holyman's vestment is a grey suit.
This visit to Virginia has had a more measured effect upon me than last year's. I am no less enthusiastic to return home. I am, however, simply more aware of the need for patience in this. There is little I can control. As my brother said, in the end, I will have to go where the work is. This is true. And yet, I still have dreams of being at work no matter where I am. I may be a fool. But I still see myself here.
I have made an idol of the hills. Alas.
The latest and perhaps more sane thought has been around Smithsonian Folkways and the collection of religious musics that came to the fore through their collection. Some of it has been sampled by artists such as Moby or Enigma. They are, of course, just two of scores of artists who have borrowed sounds from the collection. The economic ethics of the practice has been a subject of much analysis over the years. Heavily criticized, I think it is worth exploring again. This time it is to gain a greater understanding of how such sounds have been deemed "authentic" and how musicians have utilized them in worship settings to craft an "authentic" experience of God.
After a century of transmission, have these musics become a new canon to which church music professionals are responsible?
I would love to spend three summers here in order to find out.
Posted June 26, 2014 @ 4:18am | by Tripp
Ordo amoris, the ordering of affections, of loves, is a notion attributed to Augustine of Hippo, the north African bishop and saint from the fourth century. I've been pondering this idea all night. There is so much out of order. Margaret Guenther was on campus to deliver a lecture and answer some questions. She's really quite astonishing as were some of her insights into the spiritual life.
Spirituality is, in the most simple terms, the ordering of our loves. There are then many, many spiritualities out there. Some are beneficial. Some are not. Some are saintly. Some are dangerous. Often there is overlap. Often we're working several spiritual paths simultaneously. A great deal of self-awareness must be developed if we are to navigate these waters.
Though she said nothing "new," this is spirituality after all, she said some things in ways that I had not heard before and that was helpful. This Augustinian notion especially was helpful for me in my work. How does Naomi Cumming's idea of "listening as an act of love" immesh with "ordo amoris"? There is much to consider.
In other news, it rained last night.
Again You have come in the form of the Sraban,
You have enveloped Yourself in a cloud veil.
The sun is lost,
Lost too are the stars;
In the darkness
they lose their way.
Waves surge up
in the river water.
The whole sky, the whole earth
are filled with the message of pouring rain.
My dark night rings out madly
with the constant drumming
of battering sheets of rain;
in every vein of mine.
One more thing from last evening: You cannot give what you do not have. If you wish to give love, you must cultivate it in yourself. If you wish to give peace, cultivate it within yourself. If you wish to offer wisdom, insight, humility, you must cultivate it within yourself.
This thing that we do, this "religious life," this "spiritual path," is no joke. It is not a plaything. It is not simply a tool for self-improvement. It is, instead, a means of understanding how we are all, in the end, part of one another. There is no other life than life together.
Pondering The Nature of Regret
Posted June 24, 2014 @ 2:29pm | by Tripp
I am still procrastinating. I am piling up the distractions with great skill. Distraction upon distraction upon distraction dissuade me from completing the work at hand. There are no external deadlines; there is only the simple fear of regret. Sadly, regret has never stood much of a chance against my ability to quit.
I have never found much problem with quitting either ethically or psychologically.
So, here I sit in the library trying to think through the quitting, past the distractions, so that I can get this goddam work done.
Yeah, whatever. Bite me.
"It's not a hill, it's a mountain when you start out the climb."
Why won't Bono leave me alone? Take your Irish enthusiasm elsewhere, Paul.
I hate heights. I do. And I don't climb. Relatedly, I have never felt the elation of achievement, on the the inevitability of completing the task at hand. So, what's my motivation here? I am struggling to find my get up and go (it done got up and went).
I am sharing this struggle not to seek some kind of compassionate response but as a road marker for those who might be considering a similar path. My friends who have gone this way left me similar markers.
So, I leave this for you.
Understand these words well:
You absolutely must achieve freedom!
You definitely must go down the path that leads to the shore.
With an undaunted heart and singing
with a bold strong voice you will cross over.
You will have to breast the waves cheerfully
in spite of the storm's blasts.
Even if the entanglements of illusions
cause you to reel in bewilderment
you will still have to get release.
On the path there are indeed thorns;
trampling on them, you will have to go on.
Don't die fearfully
while you hold dreams of happiness
tightly in your embrace.
In order to have your fill of life
You will have to sustain the blows of death
What Shall I Blog?
Posted June 23, 2014 @ 8:33am | by Tripp
There are several nascent posts scurrying about my mind right now. Here they are in no particular order.
1. Seems that there was (after I left, of course) a long conversation on the problem of liturgy at the Summit for Change hosted by Sojourners. The liturgies that we have at present inscribe empire, reinforce the same structures that the rhetoric of the faith seeks to turn upside down. From hipster swat or grey suits to the senatorial robes of the high church traditions, various empires (political, corporate, etc) are given privilege of place in our worship.
2. Similarly, there was a conversation about music for which I was only partially in attendance. Forty percent of the Psalter is a lament of some kind. The average hymnal? Fifteen percent. The CCLI database? Less than five percent. Are we singing our faith or singing what we like to sing? Lament, some of the presenters suggested, is a key component of Christian social action. It builds humility and expresses compassion. Our present worship music does not, nor does it help us have a transcendent experience of the One God (this was an accusation made at charismatic as well as mainline traditions, so...). Music, instead, is put to use to help fulfill the first post option above.
3. I suck at playing mandolin, but that's okay.
Have a good day. Be excellent to one another.
On A Train With Yvonne Delk
Posted June 23, 2014 @ 7:04am | by Tripp
the flatland of Virginia
flows by as the train
blares its horn into
(my brother will
meet me at
the station )
while I sit again
something else responsible
for my movement across
space no longer a sojourner
but someone simply
along for the ride
all the while another
Virginia (Rev Delk was
the first African-American woman
ordained by the UCC )
works beside me
pondering her next move
(all I have for her