What do elves, Tom Coates,

What do elves, Tom Coates, a mallet quest, dwarves, St. Paul, and ninjas have in common?

They all have parts in today’s sermon (posted below in the “extended” section). Tom brought the typology of dwarves/elves and pirates/ninjas to my attention; St.Paul wrote the epistle on which my sermon concentrated (with constant attention to the Torah, from which the Old Testament reading today was the Ten Commandments); and an interlocutor online suggested that I incorporate the phrase “mallet quest” into my sermon. It did not make it per se, but the words “mallet” and “quest” appear in relatively close proximity to one another.

You may question the spiritual wisdom of my accepting a challenge such as this, and I see some warrant in that question — yet if we take preaching seriously as an exercise in sacred rhetoric (and few people take it more seriously than do I), the aspect of rhetorical artifice always constitutes both a dynamo of spiritual semiosis and the glittering lure of worldly showiness. I frequently resort to rhetorical gimmicks to dislodge conceptual logjams when I’m working on a sermon: making acrostics of the initial letters of the sentences in a paragraph, omitting or including certain letters (in an Oulipian mode), embroidering the words of particular songs or poems into sermons.

There are some rough, forced transitions, and some points I’d wish for more time in which to expatiate — but part of the point of my attending to rhetorical ornamentation is to distract me from my temptation to deliver academic lectures on my pet theological themes. At least to that extent, I think the device worked out all right for today’s sermon.
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Beyond. . . .

The seminar for which I’ve been preparing came up this morning, after the keynote presentation by Prof. Gary Dorrien, and a presentation on the psychology of religion by Prof. Lallene Rector of Garrett. The morning presentations were satisfactory; Prof. Dorrien’s talk started later and went longer than scheduled, so Prof. Rector hurried through her talk, and I had to leave early to get ready for preaching at the communion service.

Now, the service planning operated on several planes. All I knew was that the fellow who had organized the seminar hoped that I would preach, emphasizing the New Testament, on a topic pertinent to the conference. “OK,” I thought, “ ‘Beyond Dichotomous Theology’ is a plausible neutestamentliche topic.” I thought about other services I’d attended, and figured I could fit in to that mode of worship. I asked various Garrett contacts about what I should wear in worship, and all of them demurred — whatever I felt like. (Since I was preaching, not presiding at Eucharist, I brought my cassock and surplice.)

What I didn’t anticipate was that the conference organizer would assign my sermon a title that derived from the topic: I was expected to preach a sermon whose title was, “Liberal and Evangelical Viewed from the Discipline of Biblical Scholarship.” Oh!

Moreover, it turns out that (listen up, Jane and Susie and Frank) Thursday is Praise Worship Day. A rollicking praise band was rehearsing and the PowerPoint screen was warming up as I trundled in wearing my cassock and surplice. I think I might have been able to look more out of place, but I’m not sure how.

I took a quick read of the circumstances and doffed the surplice (the Keanu Reeves/Neo look). I followed the projected lyrics for the first few hymns, and when it was time to read the gospel, I used the terms that Garrett’s President Ted Campbell taught me. (No one responded, except Ted.) Then the sermon began.

I think that no one was disappointed that the sermon departed from the title that had been assigned. It went by fairly smoothly, and one of the very positive effects of the Praise setting was a smattering of “Amens.” (I’ll post the sermon in the extended section.)

Now, it’s the afternoon and we’ll have presentations from Prof. Nancy Bedford of Garrett and Dr. Marti Scott of the Northern Illinois District of the UMC. Then Prof. Dorrien will conclude the series of presentations, perhaps responding to the other presenters, and we’ll have a panel discussion. After that, I’ll collapse in a heap.
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Ordination Day

I saved up a couple of ecclesiastical topics to flesh out my post relative to today’s sermon, but the headline story is that Jane has been well and truly ordained. She is a priest, and many of us have vivid, joyous memories of a wonderful service.

We pulled into St. Paul Church a few minutes late; our car had followed all the directions pretty much exactly, but with one small catch: we turned off onto Calumet Road from I-90, not from I-94/80, so the “about one mile” till the left turn Jane instructed us to make turns out to be more like four or five miles. We, meanwhile, rolled to and fro on Calumet until we discovered a street with the name Jane had given us — except that there was a median strip between us and the turn she instructed us to make.

At this point, we stopped and assigned Reverend Ref the task of asking for directions: “Hi, I’m from Montana. . . .” Once we cleared up our confusion, we got to the church with no problem. The rehearsal went fine; the sermon (complete sermon below) was received with kind warmth; the music (although not as exclusively stodgy as I prefer) was admirably uptempo, and the musicians played with lovely sensitivity to how they might swing the meter subtly to keep the music rocking; in short, the service touched and delighted me and (I believe) a very sizable crowd as well.

Seabury Group Photo

One reception, one house party, one smooth drive, and one leisurely leftover dinner later, I’m parked at my desk for the evening. Here I see a link to which Jordon called my attention, featuring a choir’s sung protest against their pastor’s despotic rule, and another link to which Margaret pointed me, which engages both my technological interest and my fondness for the varieties of iconography: the tapestries of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (be sure to follow the links to the north and south tapestries). Margaret saw a lecture in which the artist, John Nava, explained his technique and projected examples of the tapestries. Nava depicted the saints in the tapestries not as stylized or idealized human figures, but as actual humans, standing against a background that he photographed and digitally remixed from actual stone walls in Jerusalem. He then sent digital pattern-files to weavers in Belgium to execute the designs (the iomages on which were pre-distressed to suggest the appearance of aging frescoes).

The technique strikes me as a smashing success, though I wonder about what’s implied by the decision to use digital manipulation to create precisely-woven tapestries that simulate decaying frescoes. Some of the costuming ideas seem odd to me, too (the bishops wear contemporary episcopal regalia, regardless of when they lived). But on the whole, I appreciate the execution, I wish I’d been there for the lecture, and I would enjoy arguing out the ideas with the artist. Well done!
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Wednesday, Four Lent

After fretting, editing, rejecting, fasle-starting, staying up too late and getting up too grudgingly, I put together a few minutes’ worth of homily for this morning’s service. I’ll tuck it below the fold, as it were, in the extended portion of the entry.

Now, I have to mark out a heap of papers (I’ve already marked them, but I need to explain what my cryptic annotations mean, and what grade the paper amounts to), catch up on emails on which I’m culpably behind, catch up on certain other correspondence on which I’m criminally behind, and whip up a final exam for the New Testament class — at which point I’ll be pretty much done for the term, apart from grading the exams, determining final grades, and everything else. . . .
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Recap and Return

It’s been a busy weekend, with limited net access, but with lovely times with Margaret and Juliet and John. The wedding-blessing went beautifully; Margaret wrangled some relatives to be a server and an usher, and Juliet and John could think of no reason that their wedding could not be blessed, and everyone could hear me. There was a threat of rain, which would have dampened both flesh and spirit, but the greater climatic threat turned out to be a persistent gusty wind — especially problematic since the communion vessels were light.

Vigilance and piety prevailed over the brute force of nature, and Juliet and John are married in the sight of God as well as of the State of New Jersey. I’ve added the wedding sermon in the “Extended” part of this entry.

Yesterday we spent the morning at the beach, where I did my best to avoid ruining my library pallor while Margaret toasted herself. I did step out into the light to swim around with my goggles on — it was like snorkeling lite, or like a National Geographic video special for the easily terrified. I swam along with a school of fish that looked about as exotic as haddock. In fact, haddock look positively ferocious compared to these innocuous marine travelers. It was a treat, though, to see through the clear water, to swim around with little fishies, and then scamper back to shore to curl up in the shade with a copy of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. I grudgingly agree, by the way, that Butler ought to write more gracefully; unless I misunderstand her by a long margin, she could have made her points in much more vivid, clear prose.

An Anglican family who had come to the wedding wanted very much for me to bless their home, so Margaret and Juliet and I wandered over to give them a blessing. Their son was particularly concerned that we bless the space under his bed, so I was liberal with the holy water for his sake.

Today we leave for home; Margaret and I separate in Miami, and I’m scheduled arrive home in Chicago at about eleven o’clock (getting back to Evanston around midnight). I’ll be trading marital companionship and tropical leisure for full-time workand broadband access. Hmmmmm. . . .
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My Trip to Montana, Part Two

I woke up Saturday morning a little stiff, but well-rested and comfortable. Bobbie, my host, filled me with coffee, banana, and fresh-baked bagels, and I set out bright and early to ride with Rev Ref, Mrs Ref, the Kid, and Rev Ref’s mom, on the two-hour drive from Sheridan to St. Peter’s Cathedral, Helena.

Rockies From Above


Originally uploaded by AKMA.

You may say, “A two-hour drive cooped up in a small car?” You may, but you would be overlooking the entertainment value of observing all the towns (read: “wide spots in the road”) we passed through, and the rippling ridges and peaks of the Rockies among which Todd piloted the coupe.

Joelene Dressing Todd

Vesting Todd

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

We encountered favorable driving conditions, got to the cathedral on time, and we all helped Todd get ordained.

Uh - - -

Bewildered Preacher

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

No one stomped out during my sermon, even though I made fun of the bishop a little, and Todd seemed satisfied that his preacher had done OK. I’ll append the sermon in the extended part of this post. I received from Todd my second new-priest’s-first-blessing (Andrea Mysen blessed me after her ordination, too), so bolstered by their sanctity, I have no excuse for my on-going impiety.

The service was not short, and the festive reception was also leisurely, and the trip back to Sheridan was no shorter than the trip from Sheridan to Helena had been, so we were pretty tired when we got back to the rectory. Todd showed me and his mom around the church in Sheridan (we wouldn’t be worshipping there Sunday, since the furnace has quit; sunday worship in Sheridan took place in the parish hall). Joelene (not “Jolene,” print shop!) fixed an artichoke lasagna that couldn’t be beat while we watched the CNN special about The Two Marys, and Fr. Ed, the Roman Catholic priest who lives next door, stopped in to congratulate Todd. We then staggered off to our various rooms to rest up for a very full day of church on Sunday.

But before I turned in, I went to plug my cell phone into the outlet, and discovered that Bobbie’s cat had chewed through the cord in several places, and had taken a nip out of my computer’s power cord for afters. This left us with a challenge for Sunday. . . .
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