Aldon Hynes's blog

Home Cooking and Theological Questions

This fall I am taking Theology 1 in seminary and struggling greatly with it. Some of this is because I do not yet have a sufficient theological language to respond to the questions being asked. Because of this I can only respond with statements of belief and analogies to try and help explain my beliefs. Another part is because it feels like many of the underlying theological questions are superfluous.

We are asked to say why we think theological questions are important and what is at stake with them. To me, mostly they seem fairly unimportant with little if anything at stake. It seems like the response acceptable in class is, because God is this or did that, then we should do something in particular. Because God created the world ex nihilo or out of chaos we should care for creation. Because we hold a social trinitarian view of God when should love our neighbor.

These responses seem to me to be at best superfluous. I care for creation and love my neighbor because of my loving experience of God.

As an illustration, I will turn to my mother’s home cooking. We are approaching the sixth anniversary of the death of my mother and I will say something it may seem incredible for a loving son to say, but my mother really wasn’t a great cook. There was often not enough food. Spices were a luxury rarely used. The meals were often utilitarian and boiled to blandness.

Yet it was also, other than my wife’s cooking, the best food I ever ate. The spices or lack thereof did not really matter. What mattered was that the food was prepared and served with love, with a deeper love than I could fully comprehend. My mother wasn’t looking for praise for her cooking. While she might have gotten some pleasure if I said I really appreciated the way the flavors complimented one another, what she was more concerned about was that we were nourished. If anything, the response that meant the most was, “Thank you, mommy. I love you.”

The Psalm 51 says

Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

For me, the key theological question is, “how do I praise God from my place of brokenness”? Starting anywhere other than “Thank you God, I love you” seems superfluous.

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Christian Education and Brett Kavanaugh

Recently, for the Postmodern Christian Education class that I’m taking at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, we were presented with several case studies. An affluent white man who has always been involved in church but not in Christian education is facing retirement and about to become a grandfather. A group of urban singles and couples in their twenties who grew up in the church but are no longer involved in church struggle with their multicultural friends to find stable jobs and housing. A retired African American social worker in her eighties who has always been involved in her church and now many of her friends are passing away.

We were invited to think about where they are on their faith journey, the issues they face, and how we might design Christian education opportunities that meet their needs. I thought of these scenarios as another played out on the national stage; a highly successful white man in his early fifties about to be awarded an incredible honor, a lifetime appointment to a job that will help shape the course of our country, who sees his success threatened by a ghost from his past.

It has been a tough week. I have seen friend after friend post on Facebook about their experiences of sexual abuse in years past. I have read about record call volumes to rape crisis lines as the unfolding news triggers painful memories. I have read about seeking self-care during this time.
For me, some of this self-care has come in spending time in my studies. I look at what is going on in Washington and then I read about theologians thinking about important attributes to the concept of God. I wonder, “what can we do about the moral crisis our country is in?” Then I read about reflective, liberative, and transformative pedagogy. I am incredibly blessed to be in seminary right now.

A friend of mine posted about the Kavanaugh hearings. She spoke about his testimony about getting into Yale and Yale Law school.

From the way he spoke of it, it sounds as if his academic journey was hideous and soul-destroying, and only to be justified by a very specific reward, dangled in front of him for decades, and now to be inexplicably, outrageously, snatched away by conniving enemies.

It is a stark contrast to my experiences in seminary. One of the texts we are using for Postmodern Christian Education is Parker Palmer’s, To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education. In chapter 3, Palmer talks about the “hidden curriculum”. He quotes Schumacher,

Meanwhile, world crises multiply and everybody deplores the shortage, or even total lack, of 'wise' men or women, unselfish leaders, trustworthy counsellors etc. It is hardly rational to expect such high qualities from people who have never done any inner work and would not even understand what was meant by the words

This takes me back to the exercises in Postmodern Christian Education: How might we design Christian Educational opportunities for Brett Kavanaugh and his friends?

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Ember Letter: Practicing the Intersectional Presence of God

For those not acquainted with ember letters, they are a quarterly letter, normally written by postulants to their bishops. I have found writing them a valuable spiritual practice, so I do so, even though they are not formally part of my journey right now.

A lot has happened since I wrote my last ember letter back in May. In June, I attended the Summer Intensive at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It was a most wonderful experience in many ways. I had an overwhelming sense of ‘this is absolutely where I am meant to be right now’. I met people face to face that I had been in classes with for the previous two semesters and I met new people who have been become key members of community and support group.

I had started at CDSP in the Certificate for Theological Studies program. I was trying to get a sense of if I, a college dropout from years ago, could manage graduate level studies while working full time, supporting a family, and being involved in my community. I also thought it might help my credentials if I had a certificate from seminary, no matter where my studies led me. However, it became very clear to me that this is where I was meant to be and so I changed from the online CTS program to the Low Residency Masters of Divinity program. I now identify as a Low Residency Bi-Vocational Seminary Student.

I took Biblical Hebrew, which was a great challenge. I hope to keep up regular reading of the Hebrew scriptures along with other sources in Hebrew. I have been doing it sporadically since I finished my translation for that class, but not as much as I would like.

I also took Foundations for Ministry, which was a struggle for me as I try to get a better sense of the ministry God is calling me to, and where God is calling me to that ministry. When I had first written to the local Episcopal bishop about the current phase of my journey, I focused on the unexpected nature of it. I continue to live into unexpected uncertainty and I pray for those around me that they might be able to embrace more unexpected uncertainty.

This semester, I am taking Theology 1. It is helping me clarify in my own thoughts and language who and where I am. More later on this, I’m sure. I am also taking Postmodern Christian Education. I don’t want to jinx things by saying how excited I am about this class, but I’m really excited about it. Two of the texts we will be using that I am most interested in are Mai-Anh Le Tran Reset the Heart: Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope and Anne Streaty Wimberly Soul Stories: African American Christian Education. It is great to be taking the course online because I am so interested in digital pedagogy.

I continue my worship at Grace and St. Peter’s in Hamden on Sunday mornings, Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown Thursday’s at lunch time when I don’t have conflicts at work, the Emmaus dinners with the Andover Newton folks at Yale Divinity School on Thursday evenings, and Vespers at Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia. I went on a pilgrimage to St. Tikhon’s Monastery over Memorial Day weekend, and I continue to serve with Dinner for a Dollar, Arden House, and with the altar guild at Grace and St. Peter’s.

Yet all of this is preamble to some of my current thinking. In the past, I’ve mentioned my interest in Brother Lawrence and practicing the presence of God. During Bible study at the Emmaus dinner the other week, we discussed a reading from Jeremiah which led to talking about social justice. A phrase came to my mind, “Intersectional prayer”. What would it be like if our praying without ceasing were more intersectional. When we pray for a person who is suffering, do we pray for others who are suffering, perhaps as a result of similar but different forms of oppression? Do we pray about the systemic causes of this oppression and confess our own role and culpability in this systemic oppression? If we take this further, how do we live in constant awareness of God’s awesomeness and the awesomeness of God’s creation while at the same time holding up the concerns, both individual and corporate about suffering?

How do we practice an intersectional presence of God?

This also brings me back to the issue of embracing uncertainty. How do we make ourselves as open as possible to uncertainty? How do we embrace kenosis and theosis in daily life?

Please, keep me in your prayers as I explore this over the coming months.

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Whatever is right...

This week, I’ve been reached out to as the administrator of two different groups where things were getting divisive and nasty. In one group, I closed the comments and posted some thoughts. The original post ended up being taken down by someone else. In the other group, I simply deleted a post and shared my thoughts about the purpose of the group.

One of the groups is about the town I grew up in. I posted,

I remember growing up near the top of Henderson road. I often felt a social awkward and like a bit of an outcast. I remember when people picked on me. They called me names and threatened me. More often, I remember the kindness of people in a beautiful village overlooked by a majestic mountain.
The name calling and threats were not appropriate in elementary school and they are not appropriate here. Please join with me in helping make this place on Facebook as beautiful as the village we grew up in.

This resulted in a wonderful discussion. A few people shared memories of my late mother and we had a good time reminiscing. A few people spoke about having been bullied in school. One person confessed to having bullied people and asked forgiveness.

To that person, I responded,

Thank you for your response. I suspect that if we are honest, pretty much all of us have bullied people in the past, often in response to peer pressure.

The second group is for Christian seeking ways to share their faith in new ways in our secular world. I person posted a political video which started an argument about the current political administration in the United States. I posted,

I would like to remind people of the goal of this group. To quote from the description from early on, “Episcopalians need to get out more, talk about why they love the church, and have a pioneer spirit…we should seek out places where the church isn't known and plant seeds of hope and love.”
While our faith calls us to speak out about political injustices as we see them, this is not the place for it. Instead, this is a place where we should be exploring how we love our neighbors as ourselves; our Republican neighbors, our Democratic neighbors, and most importantly, our neighbors who are searching for God in this secular world, even if they wouldn’t use such language.

A friend of mine who alerted me to the post said in a private message (shared with permission),

I’d hate to see our little community just turn into another churning sea of discord. Perhaps it’s inevitable?

I responded,

I don't believe it is inevitable. Instead, I believe we are called to stand up against the tide of discord. To do this, we need to be intentional.

So, this is an invitation to all of us to intentionally stand against the tide of discord, to love our neighbors we disagree with, or, to quote Philippians,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

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Postmodern Online Seminary Water

This is a discussion post for the class Post Modern Christian Education that I’m taking at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, adapted to the blog. The references are to James K.A Smith How (not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor and John Roberto Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century. The discussion questions

To me, the enlightenment and modernity with their focus on rationality presented a greater challenge to Christian Education than postmodernism. I tend to think of God as being so much greater than what we can approach rationally. We need stories and metaphors and with my strong leaning to apophatic approaches to God, I wonder if that is even enough. Postmodern questions of our ways of understanding, challenges of binaries, and promotion of counter narratives provides rich ways in which we can expand our experience of God.

A good illustration of this right at the beginning of Smith where he asks, “Where should we look for the ‘thin spaces’ that still seem haunted by transcendence? Or have they disappeared…?” (Smith, 1). The idea of “thin spaces” doesn’t seem very modern or enlightened either in terms of rationality or in terms of the dominant narratives. Postmodernism allows us to talk about other narratives that go beyond rationalism to make space for the transcendent.

Smith goes on to talk about the secular “shift in the ‘conditions of belief’” (Smith, 22) which he does in the context of David Foster Wallace (Smith, 14-17). Many people know Wallace through his famous 2005 Commencement address at Kenyon College, this is water. The ‘conditions of belief’ are the water we find ourselves in. The full text of Wallace’s speech also talks about an atheist and a religious person discussing God and what it takes to believe.

This leads to Roberto’s list of forces affective religious identify formation in the twenty-first century. Roberto mentions the “increasing impact of digital media and web technologies”. (Roberto, Kindle Location 173). The fact that I reference this from a Kindle in a post to an online discussion forum illustrates this point.

Wallace talks about the water of the modern human condition. In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about “living water”. How do we talk about this living water in a Postmodern digital world?

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