Ember Letter December 2017: Crossing Boundaries

There is a tradition in parts of Christendom for those on certain spiritual journeys to write quarterly letters about their journey. I’ve taken this up as one of my disciplines with my own unique imprint on it. This includes posting them on my blog and emailing them to various people that have been involved, in one way or another, in my journey recently.

Much of what follows may sound dry, scholarly, or analytical while at the same time only briefly exploring the ideas. I enjoy the analytical, and there just isn’t enough space to go into all that I’ve been thinking about. I know that at times of stress, I can retreat into intellectualizing things, but I don’t think that is a significant factor here. Instead, it is more about how exciting my studies have been.

To put things into the proper context and framework, however, we must remember our starting point. We are called to serve a Loving Creator. We are called to share our Creator’s love with those around us. I continue to do this with ministries through church to the lonely, hungry and elderly. I continue to do this with my friends on the street near where I work.

I also continue to experience God’s love through each of you, as you share excitement about my studies or concern over the health of members of my family. Know that I have felt comforted and loved, through your words and actions. Thank you. Your words and deeds have meant more to me than you realize.

Besides the sheer joy of intellectual pursuits, my studies this fall have had a flavor of courtship in it. Remember those early days of a great earthly relationship, when you spent hours on the phone talking, when you drove great distances to see your new lover, when you constantly wondered what new and exciting things you would discover about your new lover?

This is part of how I am experiencing my studies. God is our lover, whom we can never know well enough, either intellectually or affectively. Our heavenly lover is greater than we can ever understand and that there are always exciting things to discover about God, no matter how learned we might be.

As I mentioned in my last letter, this semester I took Introduction to the Old Testament and News and Religion. They were both very good courses which gave me a lot to think about around ideas of context and identity.

Perhaps the most obvious idea to explore was the historical context of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s a pretty common thing to think about and we used David M. Carr’s book, An Introduction to the Old Testament as a key text book.

Yet Professor Carr appears to be, like myself and many who have shaped my understanding of scripture so far, a cisgender heterosexual white male of European descent. One of my hopes for the course was a chance to gain new perspectives. The course provided some good opportunities. We read various commentaries that were post-colonial, feminist, queer, African American, indigenous, and so on. I had great discussions with classmates that represented a various sexual orientations and gender identities. We explored masculine, feminine, and queer aspects of God.

We read a commentary on Daniel by Mona West in The Queer Bible Commentary. She spoke about Daniel’s ability as a court eunuch to cross boundaries and compares it queer people‘s abilities throughout the ages to cross boundaries. I wonder about my abilities to cross boundaries on my spiritual journey.

I also have been thinking about what the post-establishment church can learn from post-colonial theory. I suspect that this thinking may lead me to reading an odd collection of Stephanie Spellers, Martin Copenhaver, Roland Allen, Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, Musa Dube, and who knows whom else.

In the News and Religion course, I explored context from a different perspective. Mark Silk’s book, Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America provided a nice starting point for exploring religious frames in U.S. news coverage. The course involved a fair amount of writing, some of which I shared on my blog. I hope that it has improved my writing and to keep up aspects of that writing on my blog.

All of this leads to questions of my own identity. I now feel comfortable identifying as a seminarian, even though I am an online seminarian who is also working full time supporting a family. I don’t get to hang out with other seminarians as much as I would like, and even when I do, I am aware of how different my experiences are.

In one discussion with a fellow seminarian, I spoke about being a bi-vocational seminarian. Various people talk about the need for bi-vocational priests, and I wonder how well we can prepare people to become bi-vocational priests if we don’t embrace the idea of bi-vocational seminarians. There is something about crossing boundaries in this.

Likewise, I have spent time pondering how to respond when someone calls me a priest. I get that a fair amount. I don’t want people to think that I am currently ordained, but in most cases it doesn’t make sense to get into details about ordination or the process. One friend recommended I read Carter Heyward’s A Priest Forever. With all my reading for my classes, I’ve only gotten a chance to read a small section of it, where she talks about the days right before her ordination and discussions of being an “ontological priest”. There is something here I am exploring as well, something important for many of my friends who are ontological priests that have been damaged or rejected by the process. There is something here about crossing boundaries as well.

This leads me to another question about my own identity. I was baptized, brought up, and confirmed as a Congregationalist. In college, I was received into the Episcopal Church which has been my denominational home for decades. This past year, I have been spending time with folks from Andover Newton at Yale. I had an opportunity to travel with a couple seminarians and a dean up to a UCC church in Massachusetts where the dean was preaching. It was a truly wonderful trip up and back, with the four of us talking non-stop the whole time.

As an advent discipline, I’ve been attending Great Vespers at a local Orthodox church. I also went to a concert at another Orthodox church sung by seminarians from St. Tikhon’s seminary. My wife and I had a wonderful time talking with the seminarians after the concert.

These ecumenical explorations have been important to me as I try to find the communities I am called to.

It leads me back to important metaphors about the journey, about being a peregrino, a pilgrim. It is a wonderful journey and I am thankful to each of you who are walking along side me. I look forward to the vistas on the next leg of this journey.

In Christ,

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