Various writings from my experiences in Seminary

Writing and Thinking - Fiona's First Day at Simon's Rock

There were times around the dinner table when my eldest daughter would say, “I think I feel a blog post coming”. It was the world they grew up in, a world where we talked about life, education, religion, politics, music, poetry, and grasshoppers. These discussions helped shape all of us.

Now, my daughters are scattered. The eldest is currently working a doctorate at Doshisha University in Japan. The middle is building a community of artists around Boston and the youngest has just started at Bard College at Simon’s Rock at the other end of the Massachusetts.

Besides the discussions around the dinner table, we have sought to give all our daughters educational opportunities to nurture and develop a lifelong love of learning. They have been brought up in families where this lifelong love of learning is multigenerational. It is in their DNA.

At the break of day Saturday morning, Kim, Fiona, and I set forth from our home in Connecticut. I am working on a Masters of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific. So, as my wife and youngest daughter mostly slept, as I listened to The Vocation of Anglican Theology by Ralph McMichael on my Kindle. What is theology? How important is it for theology to be systematic or critical? What makes a theology ‘Anglican’? How do we think about other forms of theology? Reformed? Roman Catholic? Eastern Orthodox?

It isn’t so much about learning new information. When did St. Augustine of Hippo live? it is about being transformed by what we learn. What will Fiona learn at Simon’s Rock? How will it change her? How am I being changed by my studies at CDSP?

We went through all the check-in processes and then started moving Fiona into her dorm. We had a great lunch together and then headed off to the opening convocation. The sky opened up pouring down tears of sadness as parents prepared to say goodbye to their children and tears of joy at the prospect of the adults these students would become.

The students went of to their first writing and thinking workshop and the adults stuck remained in the auditorium. I whispered to my wife that the kids would probably have a better time that we would. I suspect that many of these students are apples that have not fallen far from the tree and their parents would love writing and thinking workshop.

To my pleasant surprise, the adults were given the opportunity to do a little bit of a writing and thinking workshop themselves. I thought and wrote about education. I will need to write a paper about this for the Postmodern Christian Education class I’m taking this fall. What is my theology of Christian Education? My current teaching philosophy? My learning goals for the semester?

These are great questions. Some I have clear thoughts on, others are more vague. I am influenced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. My thinking follows the shape of a rhizome; interconnected without a clear starting point or endpoint. My goal is transformation, and I’m open to being transformed into something unexpected. I hope my daughters are seeking similar transformations.

Later in the afternoon, we all returned to Fiona’s dorm to finish off the unpacking and say our goodbyes. Fiona spoke about a poem they read, which Miranda immediately recognized, Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day which ends asking,

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I look forward to seeing Fiona’s wild and precious life unfold at Simon’s Rock. It made me think of Robin Williams telling his students, Carpe Diem, Seize the Day. It is my hope that Fiona will seize the day at Simon’s Rock. It is my hope that Fiona will “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” as Thoreau says in Walden.

At the end of the day, (yes, another metaphor our schedule gave us), after we left Fiona at college, we headed off to visit my father in a nursing home. Much of his short-term memory is gone and he’s had a rough few days. We got there and one of my brothers was visiting with him. Despite his health issues, he was lucid and coherent. We had a pleasant discussion, often returning to the same topic. In the background there was another patient who simply repeated “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella. It had the feeling of a strange absurdist play being performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

On the way home, we received a text message from Fiona about “Air Traffic”. We didn’t have the context and weren’t sure what to make of it. We found out it was a reference to the book, “Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America” by Gregory Pardlo.

It is hard to face our mortality, even if it comes simply in the reminder to seize the day. It can be harder to face the mortality of our parents, especially if our relationship with our parents is complicated, like Gregory Pardlo’s was with his father. Do I see Gregory’s father in my father? Do my daughters see Gregory’s father in me? These are perhaps some good questions for us all to think about but may also be beyond the scope of this blog.

This morning as I was preparing for church, Fiona messaged me asking my opinion about St. Augustine of Hippo. It is hard to go into details over Facebook Messenger, especially without knowing the context. I noted his important role in church history and his writings about grace. I am reading Christian Theology, An Introduction by Alister E. McGrath. McGrath focuses on Augustine’s view of grace, salvation, and original sin. He contrasts this to Pelagius in an either/or, black/white sort of way. It reflects a common view in Christianity that talks about Pelagianism as heresy. However, it seems like often both sides views are exaggerated. I think about the great quote from the Pope in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, “In our obsession of original sin, we too often forget original innocence”.

Fiona and I are also very interested in the Eastern Orthodox church and there is a lot we could explore on various Orthodox views of Augustine, but this is more than long enough already.

Now that my daughters are all off in different locations, I wonder to what extent we can have some of the old dinner discussions in longer form online posts. I am wondering if others want to join in.

What are you thinking? What are you writing about? What are your reactions to these thoughts?

"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.

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.

Meeting The Identified Patient at The Border

Yesterday in class we started talking about Systems Theory and the work Murray Bowen around the Identified Patient. I cannot stop thinking about ways in I have been the identified patient in various systems. It causes me to stop and think, who is the identified patient in in our national system?

Yesterday was World Refugee Day. During Evening Prayer we used prayers from the Episcopal Migration Ministries. It is tempting to see the current anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States and other countries as a reaction to globalization and climate change. It is tempting to see this in terms of economic pressures and the loss of national identity.

Yet I wonder, are immigrants in the United States also the initial patient in confronting national issues around our history of racism and ill treatment of the inhabitants of the land when European settlers arrived? If so, how might this shape our response to what is going on in our federal government today?


“I am the son of a polygamist.” “I did not know my father.” “I grew up with my grandmother.” These words echo in my mind as I think back to class yesterday. Winnie Varghese was talking about speaking with a bunch of seminary students in Africa.

She spoke about how she didn’t recognize how meaningful those words were. It is part of the context of people being made second class citizens because of circumstances around the marital statuses of their parents when they were born. We need to understand this when we think about how various Anglican churches in Africa that about the blessing of same-sex marriages.

We need to think about this in terms of how we welcome people who are different from us to our churches and to leadership roles in our churches. I think of this in terms of the Orthodox ordination service where the people proclaim “Axios”. He is worthy!

To me, this a key part of my understanding of Christ. In the Episcopal Rite I Eucharist, we say the prayer of humble access,

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins,
to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept
this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits,
but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord

In the Eucharist and on the cross Christ responds to us saying, Axios. Christ has made us worthy.

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