Personal

Personal reflections, comments about things I've been doing, etc.

Summer Reading and Listening

Yesterday, I handed in my last paper of the summer semester, so now, I have a few weeks of where I can read and listen to stuff for fun before I start reading for the fall semester. It seems like there is a lot on my list, so I thought I’d try to organize a little bit of it and perhaps draw others into a discussion about some of this.

Listening

In a few days, I’ll be heading off to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, so I’m listening to play lists of performers who will be there, especially those in the Emerging Artist Showcase and who will be appearing on The Lounge Stage.

Also, last Thursday was the feat of St. James the Apostle, which got me thinking about caminos. I found a podcast I’ve started listening to, The Camino Podcast. It’s worth the listen.

Preparing for Sermons, Eulogies, and Sabbath

Unfortunately, I’ll miss the Performing Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge this year because I will be at a memorial service for my father. He enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost, so I’ll be re-reading a bunch of Frost’s poems as I prepare to say a few words there. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be preaching on texts related to Sabbath. A couple of my classmates recently read Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann, so I’ve started that. Another book one of my classmates recently read is Soul Tending: Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath by Anita Amstutz. I’ve added that to my “Want to read” list.

Poetry

As I mentioned above, I’ll probably re-read a bit of Robert Frost Hopefully, I’ll add some others into the mix, like Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sarah Kay, and maybe even some T.S. Eliot or Christina Rossetti. Suggestions are always welcome.

Dissertations and Syllabi

The reason I mention Christina Rossetti is that a friend of mine wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Anglo-Catholic quality of Christina Rossetti's apocalyptic vision in The Face of the Deep”. I have that on my reading list, but I suspect I may not get to it this August. Likewise, one of my professors wrote his dissertation on Sin and Brokenness, Passage and Purpose: Reforms in Recent American Lutheran Rites for the Pastoral Care of the Sick. He also sent me the syllabus for a course he teaches on “Theology and Liturgy in the Digital Age”. It has a great reading list I will have to explore later.

Racial Justice

A couple friends have recently mentioned books they are reading related to social justice. One person mentioned Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by by Lenny Duncan. It is high on my reading list for August. Also around racial justice is the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. These are both books that it seems would be best read in a discussion group. I’m wondering about online discussion groups, either on Goodreads or Facebook. Anyone up for such a group?

Affinity Groups Online and other reading

I recently finished reading Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (Connected Youth and Digital Futures) by Mizuko Ito et al. I’m especially interested in discussing this book. I’d really like to talk about it in terms of personal learning networks, faith formation networks, and the future of the church.

The idea of online reading groups around racial justice is one such place to explore this. Another would be around climate justice. There are few books on this list, like one by my Christian Ethics professor, or another that friends are talking about called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Preparing for the fall

And, when I get through all of this, assuming nothing else pops up on the list, or around mid August, whichever comes first, I’ll start reading for my fall courses. Some of those texts I’ve probably already read, and either need to be re-read, or read for the first time.

So, what are you reading?

Faith Formation Networks

One of the most exciting ideas I’ve come across so far in my studies at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) is the Faith Formation Network. John Roberto, in chapter 3 of his book, Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century presents this idea of Christian education in the context of digital media, connected learning, and personal learning networks. This is an idea I’ve had that I’ve been trying to find words for and an example of for a long time.

For me, this is something very different from parishes using social media to market their churches or even organizations using digital media to create and curate content. These are both components of a faith formation network, but merely components. The Faith Formation Learning Exchange gets us much close to finding faith formation networks, but if a faith formation network is based on a personal learning network, then it must be something individuals create for themselves.

There are various starting points for a faith formation network, and it seems as if many of the starting points right now seem to be focused on extending existing resources, like a church or seminary webpage or social media presence. It seems like we need some other starting points.

To illustrate this, let me relate an old marketing adage. People don’t by shovels, they buy holes. People buy things because they want or need it. They don’t need a shovel. They need to get a hole dug. The shovel that will be most helpful getting that hole dug is the one they will buy. We need to be thinking about experiences of the divine the same sort of way. People want to experience God. They want to experience forgiveness, acceptance, love, community, and many other things that we associate with God. For many people I know, church is probably the last place they would look for these sorts of things, with seminary coming in a close second.

Those of us who are drawn to God who wish to draw others to God need to think carefully about how people are invited into their faith formation network. To illustrate this, let me explore a little bit of my faith formation network.

I will start with one of the churches I currently attend, Grace and St. Peters in Hamden, CT. While not everyone will start there, and where you start probably doesn’t especially matter, especially if you are thinking of a faith formation network in the context of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, it is where many people start. There are a few important things to point out about the church I attend on most Sunday mornings. We started attending that church because my wife was friends with someone from that church in an online community and that friend invited us to church. It was an example of someone from one online network inviting another person to another network, which in this case was not online.

Another thing to notice is that I mention Grace and St Peters as one of the churches I currently attend. On Thursdays at lunch time, I attend a Eucharist service at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, CT. On Saturday evenings, I attend vespers at Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia, CT. I also attend a dinner bible study and worship on Thursday evenings with people from Andover Newton seminary at Yale Divinity School and participate in their closed Facebook group. In a faith formation network, people find many similar and competing resources across the religious spectrum.

As part of being a member of the CDSP community I help maintain and participate in the CDSP Virtual Daily Office. This is a digital resource which ties back to digital communities. I’m in a small closed Facebook group with a cohort of students who first arrived on campus in the summer of 2018. We talk about the daily office there and the cycle of prayers that is currently being used in the daily office comes from that group.

I am also part of a small group that I started on Facebook for people seeking discernment. Given the difficulties of my own journey, I started the group and it has grown. One person from that group has started studies at CDSP. All of this illustrates the interconnectedness of groups and resources in a personal learning network.

There are numerous other resources that are part of my faith formation network. A high school classmate whose blog I subscribe to. A friend from my young adult days in New York City has a blog, Water Daily that I subscribe to. I subscribe to some of the better known resources online, like Brother, Give Us A Word from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. There are a lot of resources like this that I subscribe to and I should probably find time to curate this list and make it more available.

There are also the various live streams on Facebook that are part of my faith formation network. Right now, one that I especially appreciate is Pop-up Prayer with Canon Katie. She identifies herself as ‘your Facebook priest’ and ends each pop-up prayer reminding people that they are “so loved by God”. It is a wonderful ministry and exemplifies much of what it means to be a node in a faith formation network. Another group of Facebook resources that I subscribe to is live church streams, perhaps best exemplified for me right now with Dallas West Church of Christ. This is the church where Botham Shem Jean attended and I started watching their streams as they remembered Botham’s life and called all of us to action.

Dallas West Church of Christ illustrates my point about shovels. I started watching their stream, not because I was looking for a church. I started watching their stream because I was praying for justice and their prayers and my prayers came together.

Next week, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching at Western Mass Revival. I have been talking with the organizers about what happens after the revival. I’m particularly interested in this in terms of faith formation networks. We’ve set up a Facebook page for people who will be attending the revival, either in person, or watching the live stream. If you are attending the revival and want to join with us in a faith formation network, check out WMA Way of Love.

I hope to build upon some of this for a project for Postmodern Christianity and learn more about the role faith formation networks will play in my journey and the journey of those around me.

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.

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, Eevee, Opa!, Happy New Year

For the past couple years, I’ve been trying to write a blog post on the first day of each month, starting my title with “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”, harkening back to those childhood days of saying Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit to bring good luck for the coming month. My blog writing, like my poetry, have been taking a back shelf to my seminary studies and my posts here have been less frequent as a result.

However, classes don’t start for me until Tuesday. I’ve done a lot of my reading already for the first day of classes and I find myself with a little bit of time to reflect and write before the new semester starts.

I continue to play Pokemon Go, taking moments here and there throughout the day. They’ve added various new features to the game since they first launched it. One is missions. You need to accomplish various tasks in the game. One of these tasks is trading Pokemon with other players. I made a trade with my youngest daughter today, so I accomplished that task. I also need to evolve one of the Pokemon, an Eevee, into its next evolution, and have a bit of walking to complete for this.

I did contact another Pokemon player via Facebook about making a trade, and we were going to do it either just before or just after Vespers this evening. We didn’t manage to connect, but the other player was asked by a priest at a neighboring church why he has hanging out at the church. We talked about this a little on Facebook, and I wrote:

A lot of priests I know have no idea what to make of Pokemon, especially when the gym which also happens to be their church has a legendary raid. Many churches have a blessing of the animals (usually in early October). Maybe a good 21st century church needs a blessing of the Pokemon.

For those who don’t play Pokemon, a “gym” is a location in Pokemon where key activities take place. They are often at important sites, including churches. A “legendary raid” is one of those activities where a group of Pokemon players gather at the same time at a gym, and play Pokemon, looking intently at their smartphones. I will save the discussion of theology and liturgics of a blessing of the Pokemon for a different time.

This being Labor Day weekend, Kim, Fiona, and I went to the Greek festival at the local Greek Orthodox church. We’ve been doing it for years. They always have great food.

With all of this going on, I still managed to make it to Vespers. I did not realize that September first is the liturgical New Years in the Orthodox church. Happy New Years everyone. In a few days, we can celebrate New Years again with our Jewish friends.

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?

Syndicate content