2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Day 3

They call it the Wednesday Wall. After orientation and two days of classes, you’ve settled into the rhythm: Morning Prayer, class, Eucharist, lunch, class, evening prayer, and then time for dinner, fellowship and studies. It almost has a monastic feel.

The amount of work yet to be done becomes more apparent. You see the stress starting to crack the faces of some of your new-found friends, some to the point where they start leaking around the eyes.

After my afternoon class, I headed back to my room to drop off my books and computer. I was very tired and was trying to decide whether to just go straight to bed, find something to eat, or find someone to eat with. I really just wanted to sit, surrounded by classmates, in prayer.

Then, the chapel bell tolled. I had forgotten about evening prayer. It would be starting in fifteen minutes and was exactly what I needed. I walked over to chapel. I saw the wearied faces of some of my friends who had already arrived. Behind me, I heard a body collapse into a pew with a giant sigh. I let the whole service wash over me, cleanse me, nourish me, and sustain me.

Afterwards, I walked with friends to get food, to share friendship, and to just simply walk. I do my best studying and writing in the mornings, so I went to bed and slept deeply.

2018 Summer Intensive at CDSP: Day 2

My body is starting to adjust to Pacific Time. I’m starting to get my daily rhythm back. Classes are going well as we move past the orientation and introductions. It continues to be a wonderful experience. At the same time I am being reminded of the struggles of life. Recently, two friends have had to have surgery for detached retinas. Two friends have had trees fall on their houses and have had to move. Another friend is being admitted to the hospital. I hold all of these people in my prayers.

I am also struggling with how to engage in intellectual discourse, a favorite activity of mine, in a manner that is part of praying without ceasing and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It feels easy when I do this in discussions with my family members; it is part of our family culture. But it is a challenge in more academic settings where discourse feels more adversarial and competitive.

There’s a lot more mulling in my mind right now, but I should let it steep for a little bit.

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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Ember Letter, Pentecost 2018: Who Would Jesus Love?

Another semester has come and gone, as has Pentecost, at least in the western church, and so it is time to sit down and reflect on my journey over the past few months. I write this as a spiritual discipline modeled after Ember Letters, but I write it for myself, and anyone who is walking along side me in my journey right now.

Saturday morning, I woke up from a dream where we were singing

If you believe and I believe
And we together pray,
The Holy Spirit must come down
And set God’s people free

What if we really dared to believe that? What do we believe and are willing to pray together about, for our churches, for our denominations, for our communities, and for our countries?

…so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

Who will dare to believe with me? Who will get together and pray with me?

The previous week had been rough; a tornado in the neighboring towns, another school shooting. On Friday night, we gathered at church for our weekly dinner ministry. We spread the word about it for anyone who was still without power and need a meal or companionship. During dinner we talked about doing a breakfast in the morning. I suggested we start off with a royal wedding watch party. I had heard that Presiding Bishop Curry would be preaching and I was pretty sure that it would be a sermon not to miss.

Saturday morning, about half a dozen of us gathering in the church undercroft. We watched the wedding, and then had breakfast together.

imagine a world where love is the way…
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more.

Who will dare to believe with me that God could use us to bring about a world where love is the way? Two weeks earlier, I had the opportunity to preach at church. My text was John 15. It was also the text that I wrote my final paper for New Testament in. In the farewell discourse, Jesus tells us,

This is my command: Love each other.

Who will dare to believe with me?

I love intellectual discourse. Comparing and contrasting a post-colonial interpretation of John 15 with Calvin’s interpretation is enjoyable to me. Yet at the same time, I love talking about God’s message to us with my friends on the street of Middletown. I spoke with my spiritual director about the challenge of taking a scholarly paper and making the ideas accessible to these friends and she observed, “You do this, because you love them”.

It is the sort of comment one might let pass with nod. But for me, it struck home. It brought back my memories of that conference on Poetry and Workshop a few years ago where God and I had a serious discussion about my life, and why I never got around to going to seminary and becoming a preacher. God reminded me, not only of that long dormant calling, but also that my whole life, my poetry, my politics, my work, my family, was all about showing God’s love.

The morning after meeting with my spiritual director, I drove to work. I let a woman cross a line of traffic in front of me and looked at her. I thought, for a moment, of that old saying, “What would Jesus do?” Perhaps, we’ve been asking the wrong question. Perhaps the question we need to be asking is, “Who would Jesus love?” Of course the answer to that is pretty clear; everyone. Can we see each person the way Jesus sees them?

Who will dare to believe with me?

I participated in services each day of Holy Week at the Episcopal Church I attend most Sundays and led one of the Holy Week services. After Easter Sunday, I then went to Holy Week at the Orthodox Church I attend most Saturdays. It was liturgical whiplash; Holy Week, Easter, back to Holy Week, and then another Easter.

The Orthodox Holy Week services were very powerful and I talked about them at a liturgical planning meeting at the Episcopal Church. A friend asked, “We’re not going to lose you to the Orthodox Church, are we?”

I don’t know. I feel very strong ties to both churches. A few weeks later, my youngest daughter was received as a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. A retired Episcopal priest who now attends that church said to me, “You know, the same thing happened with me. My daughter became Orthodox before I did.”

Do I dare to believe, if I asked the Father to lead both the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church to ordain me? Could I be bi-vocational and bi-denominational? Could I help bring love and reconciliation to two different branches of the Jesus Movement?

Yet at the same time, between the Church History course I took this past semester and my interactions with various ecclesiastical employees, my doubts about the Anglican Communion continue to grow, despite how much I love the Episcopal liturgy and the Presiding Bishop.

This weekend, I will make a pilgrimage to St Tikhon’s Orthodox monastery and seminary. Two weeks later, I will head out to Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Between the past few months and these coming trips, the metaphor of Camino remains crucial and an old hymn comes to mind.

I know not where the road will lead
I follow day by day,
or where it ends: I only know
I walk the King's highway.

Pray for me on my journey as I continue to pray for those around me.

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