Journey

This is about my spiritual journey and trying to find what God is calling me to next.

Faith Formation Networks

One of the most exciting ideas I’ve come across so far in my studies at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) is the Faith Formation Network. John Roberto, in chapter 3 of his book, Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century presents this idea of Christian education in the context of digital media, connected learning, and personal learning networks. This is an idea I’ve had that I’ve been trying to find words for and an example of for a long time.

For me, this is something very different from parishes using social media to market their churches or even organizations using digital media to create and curate content. These are both components of a faith formation network, but merely components. The Faith Formation Learning Exchange gets us much close to finding faith formation networks, but if a faith formation network is based on a personal learning network, then it must be something individuals create for themselves.

There are various starting points for a faith formation network, and it seems as if many of the starting points right now seem to be focused on extending existing resources, like a church or seminary webpage or social media presence. It seems like we need some other starting points.

To illustrate this, let me relate an old marketing adage. People don’t by shovels, they buy holes. People buy things because they want or need it. They don’t need a shovel. They need to get a hole dug. The shovel that will be most helpful getting that hole dug is the one they will buy. We need to be thinking about experiences of the divine the same sort of way. People want to experience God. They want to experience forgiveness, acceptance, love, community, and many other things that we associate with God. For many people I know, church is probably the last place they would look for these sorts of things, with seminary coming in a close second.

Those of us who are drawn to God who wish to draw others to God need to think carefully about how people are invited into their faith formation network. To illustrate this, let me explore a little bit of my faith formation network.

I will start with one of the churches I currently attend, Grace and St. Peters in Hamden, CT. While not everyone will start there, and where you start probably doesn’t especially matter, especially if you are thinking of a faith formation network in the context of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, it is where many people start. There are a few important things to point out about the church I attend on most Sunday mornings. We started attending that church because my wife was friends with someone from that church in an online community and that friend invited us to church. It was an example of someone from one online network inviting another person to another network, which in this case was not online.

Another thing to notice is that I mention Grace and St Peters as one of the churches I currently attend. On Thursdays at lunch time, I attend a Eucharist service at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, CT. On Saturday evenings, I attend vespers at Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia, CT. I also attend a dinner bible study and worship on Thursday evenings with people from Andover Newton seminary at Yale Divinity School and participate in their closed Facebook group. In a faith formation network, people find many similar and competing resources across the religious spectrum.

As part of being a member of the CDSP community I help maintain and participate in the CDSP Virtual Daily Office. This is a digital resource which ties back to digital communities. I’m in a small closed Facebook group with a cohort of students who first arrived on campus in the summer of 2018. We talk about the daily office there and the cycle of prayers that is currently being used in the daily office comes from that group.

I am also part of a small group that I started on Facebook for people seeking discernment. Given the difficulties of my own journey, I started the group and it has grown. One person from that group has started studies at CDSP. All of this illustrates the interconnectedness of groups and resources in a personal learning network.

There are numerous other resources that are part of my faith formation network. A high school classmate whose blog I subscribe to. A friend from my young adult days in New York City has a blog, Water Daily that I subscribe to. I subscribe to some of the better known resources online, like Brother, Give Us A Word from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. There are a lot of resources like this that I subscribe to and I should probably find time to curate this list and make it more available.

There are also the various live streams on Facebook that are part of my faith formation network. Right now, one that I especially appreciate is Pop-up Prayer with Canon Katie. She identifies herself as ‘your Facebook priest’ and ends each pop-up prayer reminding people that they are “so loved by God”. It is a wonderful ministry and exemplifies much of what it means to be a node in a faith formation network. Another group of Facebook resources that I subscribe to is live church streams, perhaps best exemplified for me right now with Dallas West Church of Christ. This is the church where Botham Shem Jean attended and I started watching their streams as they remembered Botham’s life and called all of us to action.

Dallas West Church of Christ illustrates my point about shovels. I started watching their stream, not because I was looking for a church. I started watching their stream because I was praying for justice and their prayers and my prayers came together.

Next week, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching at Western Mass Revival. I have been talking with the organizers about what happens after the revival. I’m particularly interested in this in terms of faith formation networks. We’ve set up a Facebook page for people who will be attending the revival, either in person, or watching the live stream. If you are attending the revival and want to join with us in a faith formation network, check out WMA Way of Love.

I hope to build upon some of this for a project for Postmodern Christianity and learn more about the role faith formation networks will play in my journey and the journey of those around me.

Hineni and Seeking to Please God

At the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, I heard various singer-songwriters talk about being part of songwriting circles. They introduced various songs as ones that had started as a response to a songwriting prompt. I thought about how much I would enjoy being in a sermon writers circle following the same sort of idea. It would be easier because most of the sermon writers I know have a weekly prompt called the Revised Common Lectionary.

When I returned from the folk festival, I contacted a few close friends who I thought would be interested and we set up a little group on Facebook. It was partly for this group that I wrote my recent blog post, Humbly Confessing our Participation in Abusive Systems of Power.

As the summer winds down and my wife and I begin discovering what it is like to be empty nesters, we went to the beach Saturday afternoon followed by an early dinner at a local clam shack. While I was waiting for the meal to be ready, I checked Facebook and found a discussion about my blog post.

One of my friends asked a question I was struggling with in my blog post and a question that we all need to be asking ourselves, how do we as members of cultures that allow things like this to happen respond?

I’m not sure there is an easy answer. Part of the answer in the Episcopal Church was to have a Liturgy of Listening at General Convention. I encourage everyone to check out that liturgy.

In the online discussion, my friend mentioned the Hineni prayer. I don’t know that prayer and went out to find more about it. The first version I found was from Velveteen Rabbi. (What a wonderful name for a blog!). The blog posts links to a more traditional version of the Hineni prayer. Another version I found was at A New Translation of the Rosh Hashanah Hineni. Others link to Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker.

Since I took Biblical Hebrew this summer in seminary, I thought I’d try to find it in Hebrew which led me to A Chazan Sings: Hineni. This, in turn, led me to Hineni He'ani Mima'as, which then led me to Piyyut and finally to trying to find various
Readings and Prayers for Jewish Worship in the Biblical Studies software I use. (If any of you know any good sources for such readings and prayers online, please let me know.) I also read briefly about Jewish Prayers in Jewish Prayers and Liturgy 101

All of this also reminds me of the Merton Prayer

I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing

One of my hopes for the sermon writers circle is to find people that I could engage in discussions with about my sermons and other people’s sermons. Hopefully, I can use my blog and social media to make some of these discussions more broad based.

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Fallow Lands

After I handed in my penultimate assignment for the summer intensive semester of seminary, a translation from the Hebrew of the first chapter of Ruth, I posted on Facebook about it. A friend and classmate who took the course on Sabbath responded, “Your time of fallow/exhale will be well-deserved”.

It got my thinking of fallow ground. Things still grow in fallow ground, things the ground needs to replenish itself as opposed to things needed for others. Sometimes it might be a volunteer plant grown from the seeds of an earlier plant or that a little bird dropped from somewhere far away.

What will grow in my fallow mind before the next semester starts? I think of my classmates who had it much rougher than I; one who had to take a leave of absence due to a health issue, another who lost a loved one. I wish I could go hang out with them for a little bit.

Others have started posting what they will be doing to celebrate and unwind; trips to Tanglewood and Maine. I wish I could grab my grieving classmate, drive up to Tanglewood to meet another and then the three of us drive up to Maine to gather with a couple others.

I think about my time at the beach. Most years, my family and I head out to Cape Cod for a week. I think of the long walk out to Race Point beach. We would take off our sandals and walk down to the water and I think of Moses and the burning bush.

“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

I often quote a piece of Jewish wisdom I heard a couple years ago. The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed.

As we walk down to the beach at Race Point, we look off across the water. Will we see seals today? Whales? A flower floating on the waves? The miracle is every time we take off our sandals to walk on holy ground, noticing the beauty around us.

My classmates are beautiful. My family is beautiful. My coworkers are beautiful. I am blessed.

I take a moment to look at Exodus 3:5 in Hebrew. וַיֹּ֖אמֶר Qal imperfect third person masculine singular with the vav consecutive of the verb “said”. “And He said…”. My friends who know Hebrew grammar can correct me if I conjugated that wrong. It feels good to read the Hebrew even though for this first word, there aren’t any great insights.

There is a difference between studying something because you have an assignment due and studying something for the love of studying it, even when what you are studying for an assignment is something that you love studying. Now that my classes are over, I can return, more leisurely to topics of interest. I can start preparing for my fall classes leisurely, exploring those areas of most interest to me.

I’m planning on taking Theology 1 and Post Modern Christian Education. I’ve started downloading some of the books for these classes and looking at the prefaces, introductions, and additional resources.

I’ve also been thinking about what I do with my papers so far. Do I put them up online somewhere? Linked to in blog posts? A page of their own? Perhaps a page with papers from some of my classmates, if they’d be interested in sharing? A sort of open journal of my classmates? How much editing do I do of the papers I handed in before making them available this way? Do I share some of them on ResearchGate? I wonder how many of my classmates or professors are on ResearchGate. As I stopped to see what was going on, I found that one of the theologians I stumbled across last fall whom I really like, Musa Dube has followed me on ResearchGate. Maybe I need to up my game there. I find two of my classmates there and see how I can upload my working papers.

Meanwhile, at work we recently had Saichin Jain, CEO of CareMore Health. One of the topics that was discussed was the loneliness epidemic. He spoke about how CareMore was addressing this epidemic. It made me stop and wonder how churches might address this epidemic as well. We talked about it briefly during our dinner ministry last night.

There are lots of other things to think about, read about, and write about, but for right now, I am preparing to be offline for a little bit.

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2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Day 1

This morning, I woke up at the usual time of five. In the distance I heard a train whistle, reminding me of the train whistle I often here in the mornings back in Connecticut as well as the train whistle of long journeys.

Unfortunately, it was five Eastern Time. I tried to get back to sleep without success so I got up, did a little work, and then managed to go back to sleep for a little bit more. On the first day, we moved from the orientation to the academics and the daily schedule of worship.

I started off with a walk, playing a little Pokemon, shower, and then breakfast. Morning prayer was beautiful. The chapel was filled with strong faith filled voices. I then headed off to my first class, Hebrew.

Hebrew is a small class and everyone was feeling a bit overwhelmed with what we had been studying so far. The professor talked about different approaches to the class. Some people are talking it to check it off the list. They may not remember use much Hebrew ever again. Others may be taking it to strengthen their exegetical skills. I’m aiming for that, as well as trying to use Hebrew in my daily devotions.

We did have some good discussions about theological implications of how different texts are translated. We also managed to have some fun. All in all, it was a really good first day of Hebrew. I arrived expecting Hebrew to be the more intellectually challenging class. It currently feels like a large but manageable challenge.

Like Morning Prayer, the noontime Eucharist was also wonderful. The food and fellowship at lunch was very good. Not much more to say about that.

My afternoon class, Foundations for Ministry, is going to be much more challenging spiritually. I believe I am the only person in the class that is not a postulant in the Episcopal Church. I am also, perhaps, the person most inclined to challenge underlying assumptions, especially around binaries, hierarchies, boundaries, etc. We also talked a bit about intercultural issues and ideas about adapting to different cultural contexts.

All of this fits together for me in terms of living in liminal boundary spaces. There is something about welcoming and accepting fellow travelers into these spaces. I remember something the Dean of the Chapel said on Sunday about creating and holding a space for worshippers to experience the divine.

There is a tension between welcoming people and holding space for those welcomed to experience the divine. We talked about this around issues of Baptism and Eucharist. There is a lot more to explore around this.

Evening prayer was also wonderful and then I went and had dinner with some of my classmates. I have spoken about some of my struggles and others are sharing parts of their struggles as well. It is a wonderful group of people I look forward to travelling with.

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2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Orientation

My dear Theophilus, it is Monday morning after my first day on campus for my summer intensive at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. I am awake early as I try to adjust to Pacific Time and I have been struggling with the best way to write about my experiences so far. I have chosen to write my initial thoughts publicly in my blog and send it to various people who have been important in my journey here. I have chosen to start with the greeting from Luke by addressing it to Theophilus, or beloved by God, since it is a wide range of people who are with me in spirit while I am here.

Part of writing in this blog format is that I’m mostly going to just write what comes to my mind, with minimal organization beforehand or editing afterwards. Tomorrow, I will see what I have time, energy, and calling to write.

I arrived on the Campus of CDSP Sunday morning at around 1:30. The flight was uneventful, and I took an Uber pool from the airport. I had a good discussion with the driver and another person in the pool about travels.

When I arrived on campus, I followed the instructions on where to pick up my room key and how to get to my dorm. I was a little worried about the details of an arrival in the middle of the night, but everything went without a hitch until I got to my dorm room. I tried the keys but could not get them to work. I called the afterhours number. They directed me to the dorm captain whom I had met in the fall in Old Testament and who would be taking Hebrew with me this summer.

I managed to wake her up and apologized for doing so. She had a master key and unlocked my room. I got in and went straight to bed.

A few hours later I woke up and went to All Souls Episcopal Church. Those who know me are aware of my struggles with the Episcopal Church. I have, what feels to me, an undeniable calling by God to the ordained priesthood. I don’t fully understand the whys, whats, whens, or hows of that calling just as I do not fully understand the inner workings of the Trinity, but it is something I know deep inside of me.

Unfortunately, the commission on ministry at my local diocese has not affirmed that calling, so I have been exploring the possibility that God is calling me to other diocese or denominations. I have gotten so much from my more congregational friends at Andover Newtown Seminary at Yale Divinity School and have wondered to what extent I am being called back to the faith of my childhood. I have started attending an Orthodox church on Saturdays and have developed a great love for their liturgy, traditions, and community. I have spoken in my latest Ember Letter about how if God would grant me my greatest wish it would be to be ordained both as Episcopal and as Orthodox. I have problems with both organizations but I also have great love for both organizations. I don’t see how that could happen, but a year ago, I didn’t see how I could end up at seminary.

There is a story about the foundation of the Russian Orthodox church when St. Vladimir sent emissaries to Greece who wrote about the Orthodox service saying, “we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth”. In many ways, I felt that about being at All Souls.

Walking down the street to the church was a beautiful view of the church and the bay in the distance. At the church I saw their prayer request board in front of the church. I saw a sign talking about how not only are guests welcome, they are expected. Yes. It felt like I was expected, like they have been waiting for me. I glanced at the welcome area in the narthex and saw some of the materials they have for younger guests, including copies of The Sunday Paper written by a good friend of mine. I heard a woman introduce herself to another talking about being here for the summer intensive. It was one of my classmates introducing herself to one of the CDSP instructors. Before I knew it, I had met innumerable people and was sitting with four other newly arrived CDSP students.

I was also struck by elements of the Orthodox service that had been incorporated into All Souls. They dropped the filioque from the creed. They sang “Many Years” when they celebrated the birthdays and anniversaries of parishioners. They used a modified version of Eucharistic Prayer C, chanting “Glory to you for ever and ever” at key points. They sang the Rimsky Korsakov setting of The Lord’s Prayer. They gave a departing staff member an icon of St Cecila.

The adult formation group at All Souls is starting Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I would have loved to stayed for that, but instead of reading a book about people that God puts in our lives I needed to live it so I went out to breakfast with my four new classmates. I checked in on Facebook at the coffee shop saying, “eating breakfast with fellow pilgrims in my tribe”, or at least that was what I wrote before autocorrect mangled it.

As is the case with so much of my journey, I don’t exactly fit in. The orientation was for new students. I am a new student in that this is my first time on campus, but I’ve been taking courses at CDSP since the fall, so I’m not really new. I was told that I was welcome to sit in on the orientation or go do other things as seemed best to me. At a later point, the new students broke into groups, one for CAS students and one for M.Div students. I’m a CTS student so I don’t really fit in either category, but I am looking at transitioning from CTS to M.Div and I was told I was welcome to sit in with the M.Div students.

When I started at CDSP, one of the books I was told to read was Radical Welcome by Stephanie Spellers. I heard her speak at Missional Voices a couple years ago as well as Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford a year or so ago. Radical Welcome is a very important book to me. After one of these events, I sent her a friend request on Facebook. Yesterday, she accepted my friend request as I thought about how radically welcomed I have been by the folks at All Souls and at CDSP.

One of my spiritual disciplines is that I wear a prayer bracelet and seek to pray without ceasing. Often I pray the Jesus prayer or the Trisagion. At one point during orientation, we were talking about people who had brought us, spiritually, to CDSP. I thought of my new classmates and as they introduced themselves, I prayed for each one, thanking God that God has put these people in my life.

I also spent a lot of time thanking God for everyone who has helped me get to where I am right now. For my wife and family for giving me space to purse this calling. For those at work giving me similar space. For those who have walked along side me and encouraged me as I faced what seemed insurmountable odds.

Orientation ended with a cookout and with the students from all the cohorts, including many friends I’ve met online and were now meeting for the first time face to face.

As I prepared to come out here, my spiritual director and I spoke about how full my time has been recently, and about “the fullness of time”. I arrived on campus full of hopes. I know that I have a lot of work I need to get done over the next few weeks so I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to write again personally about my experiences, but for day one my hopes have been fulfilled and I am incredibly joyful. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this happen.

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