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July 21st, 2018

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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July 8th

What I Really Want for my Birthday

I’ve always been difficult to get gifts for. As a child, I always wanted something special, something I couldn’t describe or put a name on, and I was disappointed that I never got it. I grew accustomed to that disappointment and came to expect it on Christmas and my birthday. As an adult, I’ve generally not been one for possessions. If I need something badly enough, then I go out and get it. If I don’t need it that badly, in most cases I’d just as soon do without.

At times, I’ve gotten gifts that have been meaningful or have been something I really needed but hadn’t gotten around to getting. I’ve always appreciated these efforts of my loved ones.

However, this year is different. I have received so many great gifts over the past year. My wife has gotten a great new job that she likes and that makes a difference in the world. My eldest daughter got her Master’s Degree earlier this year and has started her Doctorate. My middle daughter is doing wonderful work to reconnect art to daily life. (Find out more and consider donating on the website for Miranda’s Hearth). My youngest daughter is in Thailand learning about rescuing and carrying for elephants. (Learn more at Loop Abroad). Big thanks to everyone who contributed to her fundraising to be able to afford this trip.

I too, have had a wonderful life changing experience this past year. I started seminary last fall and last month went out to my first summer intensive. I have met some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met in my life. At this time when we look at all that it messed up in the country and the world, the people I’ve met and my experiences at Church Divinity School of the Pacific have brought me great hope and joy.

So, what is left to desire for a birthday present? What I want is for each person reading this post to discover how they are called to help make the world a better place, whether it be through advocacy around prison reform, studies around the nature of gender, reconnecting art to daily life, learning how to better care for all of God’s creatures, or wherever my journey is taking me. What I want is for each person reading this post to feel some of the hope, love, and joy that has made this past year so special for me.

Thank you, everyone.

July 7th

A Way of Love for Aspiring Non-stipendiary Priests. #GC79 A007 and #MeToo

I pause briefly from my studies in the history of the 1789 American Book of Common Prayer to read the latest dispatches from the Episcopal General Convention. How does The Way of Love that Presiding Bishop Curry spoke about, the Liturgy of Listening in response to #MeToo, and the work of the Committee on Ministry relate to me?

I became an Episcopalian over forty years ago back when I was in college but my relationship with the denomination has been a bit rocky over the past few years.

I had started college believing I was called to ministry and planned to major in religion, go to seminar, and become a preacher. I changed majors to philosophy, dropped out, and ended up working with computers. Yet that sense of calling never left no matter how hard I tried to ignore it or make up excuses about how it just wasn’t feasible for me.

A few years ago during a guided meditation at a conference on poetry and worship at Yale Divinity School I had a strong sense of God telling me that my whole life has been about showing God love and that I really needed to answer God’s call. So I started the process, only to be rejected by the Commission on Ministry. I was never told why and not given any support in dealing with this spiritual crisis.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a college dropout in their fifties who needs to support a family to become a priest.

A few spiritual guides told me that I would not be happy until I went to seminary and taking their advice I searched around for a program that might work for me. I had taken an online continuing education course with Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) which I got a lot out of so I looked to see if they might be a fit for me. I decided to apply for their Online Certificate of Theological Studies program thinking it would be a good opportunity to see online seminary life was a fit for me.

After completing my first two semesters, I headed out to CDSP for a two-week summer intensive. The research I’m taking a break from is for one of those courses. I wandered the campus, met my classmates and professors, and was overwhelmed with joy. CDSP was exactly where I was meant to be. I put in my paperwork to change programs and am now officially part of the Low Residency Masters of Divinity Program. I am still not sure where it will lead, but sometimes it is more important to know you are in the right place heading in the right direction than to know where you are going.

One of my fellow seminarians who is at General Convention share a link to a blog post about the ”Liturgy of Listening”. I made sure to watch the livestream of the liturgy. It was incredibly powerful bringing up complicated reactions.

The wounds I carry from ‘the process’ are very different from the wounds we heard about in the liturgy and I want to be careful not to diminish in any way the stories of those hurt by sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation, yet as I heard the stories, I thought to myself, “In my own way, #MeToo”.

Another blog post, by the same author, And Then, Silence: Reflecting on the Liturgy of Listening gave me a way of thinking about this that was very helpful. My wounds from ‘the process’ and the wounds of many others that I’ve heard about over the past few years are not as bad as the wounds of sexual abuse. In this context, my wounds are “not too bad”. Yet as the author writes, “Not too bad is a tragedy. We must be better than this.” I hope and pray that the “Liturgy of Listening” will move the church forward in addressing issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation. I also hope that someday the church will address the issue of those who feel called the priesthood, especially to non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priesthood and don’t see a way forward.

One way the church can address this is to seriously consider Resolution A007 Establish Committee to Study Relationship of Episcopal Seminaries with General Convention, One Another and the Wider Church. Objections to this resolution can be found in Deans Oppose Seminary Investigation

The Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, dean and president of General Theological Seminary, said a top-down approach would not lead to good results. But he said the plan might have some promise if properly modified.

From my own experiences I can see problems with a top-down approach. Yet starting with a “Liturgy of Listening” to small parishes seeking non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priests and to people that feel called to such a ministry might be part of the modification that is needed.

The church does need to think more seriously and more creatively about how priests are called and formed in twenty-first century America, and Resolution A007 sounds like a very important starting point on our journey together on The Way of Love.

July 4th

"I lift up my eyes to the hills"

Yesterday, I was talking with some of my classmates from Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and the topic of ‘re-entry’ came up. “How have you found your time re-entering daily life after the two week Summer Intensive?”

People told stories of coming back from CDSP and being asked, “How was your vacation?” It is a hard question to answer. The Summer Intensive was incredibly challenging, and at least for me, it was also incredibly wonderful. I usually just tell my friends it was wonderful. If the ask more questions, I go into details of the daily schedule. A recurring response has been that I am “glowing”.

I remember being told once that the real miracle of the burning bush was not that the bush was not consumed. The real miracle was that Moses noticed. So, I try to keep my eyes open for the daily miracles around me. I pray that God might “help me see the burning bushes around me”. Perhaps I am carrying a little bit of that glow that Moses had after he came down off of Mount Sinai.

Yesterday, the psalms appointed for morning prayer included Psalms 121 and 122.

I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?

I remember standing on the campus of CDSP and lifting my eyes up to the hills around Berkeley. This verse would often come to mind. I would stand in the same place several times throughout the day and look up to the hills. Behind me were stairs going down to some of the classrooms and to the refectory where there were snacks and fellowship.

My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

The strength to make it through another hour and a half of Hebrew class when my mind felt like mush came from the Lord. It came in part in the fellowship of classmates as we ate snacks together and talked about our classes.

It also came from another key part of my experience. Across the courtyard from my Hebrew class was the chapel. Most days, we would attend services there in the morning, at lunch time, and in the evening.

One day after my afternoon class, I was so tired I went back to my room. I just wanted to go to bed. There was so much that I was trying to process that I also wanted to be with my classmates and to be in a worship service. The chapel bell rang and I was reminded it was time for evening prayer.

I was glad when they said to me, *
"Let us go to the house of the Lord."

Now, I am back in Connecticut. I’m struggling through papers and Hebrew translations and I look back at my time at CDSP and it was wonderful, and it is great to be carrying some of that wonder with me at home and at work.

June 24th

The Low Res CDSP Branch of the Jesus Movement

The past two weeks have been two of the hardest, yet most wonderful weeks of my life. I have formed deep friendships. I have studied hard and prayed hard, all as I get messages from friends at home struggling with their lives and as our nation struggles with its morality.

My schedule for most days has been Morning Prayer at 7:30, Hebrew Class from 8 until 11:30. Midday Eucharist, lunch, Foundations for Ministry Class from 2 until 5:45, Evening Prayer, and then time for dinner, fellowship and studies. It has been challenging. It has been exhausting. It has been a great time of growth.

Over the next month, I have various assignments to complete. More importantly, I need to process all that I have received.

An underlying theme we talked a lot about was that of Anglican Identity. I was received in the Episcopal Church over forty years ago and mostly identify as an Episcopalian. More importantly, I identify as a Christian, or to use Presiding Bishop Curry’s phrase, a member of the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.

At the same time, I have issues with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I love the idea of taking ancient practices, contextualizing them, and bringing them into the current vernacular. It feels like the Church of England did a good job of this in the 1500s and then spread that contextualized Christianity through colonialization. It feels like the Episcopal Church did a good job of contextualizing what it received from the Church of England as it established its identity after the revolutionary war.

It also feels like this ongoing contextualization got stuck somewhere along the way and the Episcopal Church is struggling to contextualize our faith and spirituality in a secular consumerist twenty first century. Is there hope for the Episcopal Church? At times, I have my doubts. One of my classmates spoke of someone who quipped that they felt like they had ceased being fishers of people and had instead become a keeper or the aquarium.

These past two weeks have met my doubts with hope. The online and low residency programs at Church Divinity School of the Pacific give me great hope for future of the church. I was surrounded by people of deep faith trying to find ways of sharing our faith in our current cultural context. I was surrounded by people whose faith appeared to be rooted in deeply living out the baptismal commitment to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”.

I have seen God’s love shine through my classmates and I was surrounded by people trying to grow deeper into their baptismal commitments as they continue their work in their daily lives. That is the struggle for all of us right now. I see great promise for the Episcopal Church in the lives of my classmates.

For me right now my work is to process the experiences of the past two weeks. It is to grow more deeply into an identity based on being a member of the CDSP Low Residency branch of the Jesus Movement.