Monthly Archives: April 2007

No Regrets Coyote

Last night, at about 4:30 AM (I don’t know what time that is UTC), Margaret and I woke up to a mysterious sound that called to mind an infant being dismembered. The uncanny cries showed no sign of phonetic articulation, so we were that hesitant to think it was a human voice — but if we were hearing a person in torment, perhaps their pain was so great that they no longer could form the cry “Help,” and even then, could we afford to take a chance?

Pippa staggered into our bedroom, and that settled things. All three of us made our way downstairs; I realized that the sweat pants that I’d grabbed on my way out of bed were in fact a sweatshirt, so I dashed back to grab something to cover my boxers. As Margaret and I cautiously approached Seabury’s West Garth, we spotted a coyote slinking across the street, headed north.

Margaret spent the next hour or so researching coyote sounds online, finding nothing that perfectly replicated the sound we had been hearing. Still, the evidence suggests that coyotes’ range of vocalization might include a sound that curdled our blood and lured us out to help a possible innocent sufferer. And we won’t be letting Beatrice out alone at night for a while.
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Discussion Question

This morning, I woke up with a strong inclination to listen to Belle and Sebastian’s “She’s Losing It” — presumably in conjunction with my having begun to re-reread Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home for next week’s Beautiful Theology class. So out sets I, dog a-leash, and I appreciated the song in many different ways.

As I was listening, my iPod shifted to other selections from Tigermilk: “We Rule the School” and “The State I Am In,” before beatrice accomplished her mission and I returned home. Now, granted that I’m in a frame of mind to see beautiful-theology connections among all the different things I see and hear, I was surprised to hear the persistent subdominant theological themes in these songs that I had known mostly as interesting twee pop. So, for 25 points on the exam, what’s up with Belle and Sebastian and the gospel? And isn’t Tigermilk a lovely album?
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Visions

Pippa calls my attention to this informative poll from The Onion, which (as Josh Marshall points out) has its finger ahead of the pulse of the day’s news.

By the way, I’m very positively impressed with the way Josh has implemented video segments — there’s no reason someone couldn’t be doing comparable work in responsible theological, educational communication. Plenty of institutions already have more ample facilities than Josh’s; all it would take is the determination to do it.
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Monday Indeed

Yesterday afternoon I drifted in to Seabury, knowing that I was scheduled to say the Easter Monday mass at 5:00. I stopped by the chapel on my way in the door just to make sure I wasn’t scheduled to preach — well, you can guess where this is going. I sat down and concentrated on working out an Easter Monday homily, and managed to put something together before a student dropped in and whiled away the rest of my afternoon.

This morning I realized that that was my last sermon at Seabury for more than a year. I’m not scheduled to preach any time in the remaining seven weeks of the academic year, and then I’ll be on leave till September 2008.

That feels odd; I certainly don’t need more to do, but preaching constitutes an integral part of my vocation, and Seabury is the primary locus for my exercising that vocation. I’ll try to concentrate on the “time off” angle, and not the “invisible man” angle.

Anyway, here’s my homily for Easter Monday. . . .
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I Second The Notion

The Christian Century website reproduces an article by Nancy Ammerman from the current issue. Ammerman argues that the (uh-oh) “mainline churches” don’t devote enough energy to religious education, especially for older children and teenagers. That should probably be uncontroversial; I know of relatively few Christian education practitioners who would say, “Golly, we’ve got a thriving program that our congregation supports unstintingly, that actually teaches young people about the Bible and the faith.”

Ammerman recollects memorizing passages from the Bible as a positive, as “a formidable reservoir of memory to call on, with words and images that remain a powerful part of my psyche.” “[W]hen we commit something to memory, it sinks deep and often resurfaces in surprising ways to meet new situations.” These points strike the exact mark I aim at in my biblical theology course — a mash-up of Nancy Ammerman with Gary Klein, extruded into a practice of Christian halachah and haggadah, not in the tractionless idiom of “I like to imagine that” or “She must have thought,” but in rich, dense, durable continuity with the reasoning of generations of saints, preachers, activists, and sages.

Mainline churches have, I suspect, become so fearful of proof-texting, brain-washing, and imposing ideology that they, we, have defaulted on the opportunity to develop a profound theological infrastructure for whatever “more sophisticated” spiritual maturity we aspire to. But that’s just plain folly. First, the decision not to “impose” religious teaching conveys the clear message that religion is a consumer choice; unlike (for instance) traffic safety or, frequently, which political party to support. Learners recognize the unstated message that “we say this topic is important, but it’s not ‘important’ in the sense that we really insist you take it seriously.” Religion-as-choice makes doctrines and practices into the spiritual ornaments by which we always accessorize the really important parts of our lives.

Second, if churches want people to deal with Scripture and theology on a level more profound than just bandying catch-phrases, they/we need to move people through that phase, not just hope (wishfully) to leap-frog them over it. And there’s no time more suitable for learning to proof-text, so as later to grow beyond it, than childhood. That doesn’t require that we jettison the exquisite work done by the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd; it does require that we/they offer more than pizza, movies, earnest discussions of nascent sexuality, and encouragement to doubt everything. And for heaven’s sake, we should at least start with Catechesis (or something as good)! From the good start that Catechesis makes, we can then draw children with us deeper into the world of Scripture, the rationales of the faith’s teaching, the marvelous lives and testimonies of our forebears.

This being Easter week, I’ll forbear speculation about whether congregations (and leaders!) would support such a commitment, and why not. But by abstemiously refusing to teach our children, we escalate a spiral of ignorance that does nothing whatever to advance the faith we at least notionally pretend to uphold.

Years

I think that 5:30 AM gets earlier every year. Having gotten out of bed in time for the Seabury vigil service this morning (no small feat, requiring some complicated cognitive labor relative to what that beeping sound might be and, having recognized it, figuring out why I set the alarm at so manifestly inappropriate an hour), I’m groggily staggering through the rest of what I hope id for you, and everyone, a joyous and blessed Easter Day.

Post Traumatic Chant Disorder

Happy Easter, everyone! That’s what’s most important.
 
Of less significance was my experience this evening singing the Exsultet for the Easter Vigil. It’s my favorite point of the church year, and Jeanette very kindly invited me to chant the Exsultet this Easter. I practiced and practiced it, which was fine with me because I love the setting — gave it three run-throughs just before the service. Then, in the dark of the service, with only the Paschal Candle and the hand candles of the congregation, my music went missing. The Master of Ceremonies leaned over and suggested that I go ahead and start it from memory.
 
It would be inexact to suggest that I panicked; “panic” would imply chaotic behavior, shrieking and so on. I sang the bits I remembered, and I interpolated notes for the bits I didn’t, and non-musicians who didn’t know what had happened didn’t notice. The musicians (who could tell a mile away, I’m sure) were very patient and generous with me, and in the end, all that really matters is that we proclaimed Christ is risen! with fervor and joy.
 

Surrexit Christus! Christos anestê!
Alêthos anestê!
   Vere surrexit! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!