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


Holy Poverty and The Seminary

Posted July 29, 2014 @ 5:13pm | by Tripp

Paul said, "the foolishness of the cross" not "the stable middle class lifestyle," if you want my opinion on seminary education, the changing economy, and baptismal identity in general. We bear a responsibility to care for one another as Christians (and beyond) that we have abdicated to the persnickety "marketplace." It's time to talk about holy poverty again, I think.

I can hear my free church friends and colleagues now, "But we don't take a vow of poverty!" It's true. We don't. We remember this historical movement away from the monasteries and the cathedrals, the parish system and the state church. This is an issue of ecclesiology, no question. What I wonder, however, is if in our attempts to not fall into the traps of the past, we simply have settled on the marketplace as our model for ecclesiology. I assume we have. 

My degree is a "professional degree" yet within its conceptual framework the notion that I am "professed" is easily lost. I am not called to earn, but to labor, to serve. My work is "worth" nothing. Instead, it is a response to a vocation that in many ways we all share. The wealth of the community affords me the opportunity to respond to that shared call in a particular way. I am not your employee. I am your pastor. I am poor. Any wealth I may posses comes directly from the pockets of others. 

Seminaries are places for the formation of pastors, not employees. I am afraid, however, that we have lost the sense of that. Seminaries, once considered part of the Church, are now often perceived to be outside agencies or even adversaries of the congregations they were designed to serve. Communities once shared their wealth to establish institutions of learning (again, a kind of formation) so that they would have a place to send those in whom they perceived a call to the work called "pastor." 

But that has changed. It has. There's no way around or even through it. 

So, when I read about the fear of the loss of the middle class status of clergy, I am not surprised that some of us are shocked. Yet, we have been warned that this would happen. Even recently, a prominent pastor warned us about why we should seek this work. 

So, if any of the following inform or narrate your impetus for pursuing professional ministry, I’d like to ask you to take a step back and reconsider your vocational choice:

— I work to live. My job is how I make money.

— I’ve got my diploma and I’m done with all those books forever!

— I’m hoping that being a pastor will make me popular/please (or shock) my parents/make me seem super holy.

— I’m a lone ranger. I’ve got this ministry gig down and I don’t need any help.

— I’m doing this because I need emotional affirmation and I’m too scared to go to therapy and figure out why.

— I love to talk but I hate to listen.

Indeed. Have we lost our middle class status? I wonder why we had it in the first place.

No seminarian should graduate with debt. This is true. I agree.

Holy poverty is not the same as economic destitution. 

This should have nothing to do, however, with economic class. Instead, it should reflect the sense of responsibility we all share as Christians to provide servant leaders for the church. This is not about having a nice line of work. No. This is not even about the larger issue of economic justice. No, this is about whether or not individuals, congregations, and larger ecclesial bodies value ordained ministry any longer. 

I am afraid that we have our answer. 

This is the challenge seminaries face. 

Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink

A Long, Strange, Academic Trip #occupycomps

Posted July 28, 2014 @ 10:39am | by Tripp

My glasses are in another room. It seems I need to get my eyes checked. I cannot wear my glasses for anything other than walking across campus or driving the car. If I need to read or work on the computer, well, then they become a painful distraction.

Lately, I have been struggling with content management. It’s a simple malaise, really. I’ve been posting crap online. Some of it has been here. Some of it has been on Facebookistan or Twitter. Either I am picking a fight or I am vapid. Neither will serve.

Merlin Mann’s post about better user-generated content keeps coming to mind. It’s not that trolls won’t come. It’s not that we sometimes bait them. This happens. It is simply the premise that we can do better. We don’t have to fall into the trap of creating more digital white noise. There’s enough of that going around. Instead, we could compose a symphony or play the internet’s version of the gamelan. We could improvise through various forms and patterns seemingly independent of one another but, in truth, all framing the same unheard tune.

That’s what I’m trying to do. I am trying to be better.

Of course, that takes more thoughtfulness than I have recently been willing to give.


So, here we go again. I am going to try to be more thoughtful in what I present. I will try not to take the bait when my friends and others post inflamatory stuff (intentionally so or not). I have too much to do and I am woefully behind.

This means that I have to write about what I need to write about. #occupycomps

None of you will read that stuff. It’s so damned silly. Truly, it is. But I have convinced myself that there are a dozen people on the planet remotely interested in what I am interested in. Most of them live here.

What a strange trip this academic life is. Strange.  

Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink
Tags: occupycomps, better, Facebookistan, Twitter, trolls, my desperate need for affirmation and attention

On Global Weirding

Posted July 24, 2014 @ 9:49am | by Tripp

As surprising as this may be to some of you, July is not supposed to be a warm month in the Bay Area. July is supposed to be a rather cool month. "The coldest winter I ever spend was summer in San Francisco" is not only a little bit of pith; it's a meteorological truism. The marine layer rolls in from the Pacific in response to the hot and dry weather in the Central Valley and it just sits here. It's a natural refrigerator. A rainy one at that.

Not this year.

Don't get me wrong. We're not suddenly experiencing a sub-tropical heatwave. Not at all. But the Berkeleyites have been wilting. Many of the buildings aren't air conditioned. On July 4th, people watched fire works in their parkas and scarves. Today, people are wondering if they can convince their boss to let them wear shorts and tank tops to the office.

You would think the issue of office dress would vanish in the Silicon Valley. Alas. No. Office casual is giving way to summer swelter.

I am sitting here in the kitchen listening to the radio announcer proclaim highs in the 90's. Insane.

What? Is it October already?

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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 witness.

We are participant observers, recipients of the grace we witness in memory and sign.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

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.

Bodies sound.

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.

Filed Under: Comprehensive Exams |   | Permalink

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

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

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

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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.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

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?

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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.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Thinking Ahead

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.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Ordo Amoris

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;

It throbs
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.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink
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