Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rant Addendum

It is so, so, so, good to hear from you FK. Yes, I am supposed to call you, and yes, I keep bloody forgetting to do it at a time when you would be home (i.e., the's always daytimes, like now, I'm sitting around working from home). But you are on my list, brother. I miss the few times we had before you moved, and hope your children and wife are all well.

And Doug, you know, thanks. It seemed at first like a little commercial, but your site is useful and interesting. And I would agree with some of those who post there, the Great Christians series is far from my fave...but it introduces me to Christian history I don't know and stimulates further reading. I want to read St. Anthony and the sayings of the desert fathers, and the rule of St. Benedict, two things I would not even be considering if I hadn't heard the course. There is a stress on the development of personal spiritual experience, and I need to hear that very much; the successful Christian life is not about having all the right ideas. As someone else notes at your site, Luke Johnson is a very good lecturer. He writes well, but his lectures on the gospels and Paul were completely first rate. So far, he is my fave.

Anyway, I love the Teaching Company stuff...I am merely glad I get to borrow it from the library and don't have to pay for each one as they are quite expensive.

And as rants go, of course, today I feel better. I had been sick all last week and pretty isolated, even with the holidays. Yesterday, showing up at school, looking at my students faces, being in a room full of human beings...well, it felt good to have company :) I still want to move down the hill when we can, when my son's education and the odd housing market cooperate, but the stars up here, the air up here, they are amazing. I have to enjoy the beauty while I have it. Someday I'll walk out into my front yard and be lucky to find Polaris.

I remain frustrated at work, feeling like I am not contributing enough outside the classroom (and why do I beat myself up over that!), but if I do not have opportunities clicking for me there, I seem to have them coming up other places. I believe I mentioned I met at the diocesan convention the woman who coordinates campus ministries in the town where I teach (there is a University and several community colleges) and now I am having dinner with her and meeting with the Board in a few weeks to see what they are up to. They offer free student housing, semester or year long intentional student communities which stress community service and spiritual development. I think that is fantastic. It would have changed my life completely at that age. I am willing to help them any way I can. Since everyone in my parish is pretty much over 60...being able to work with college students will make a nice balance if anythings comes of it :)

Well, this is all I have time for now. I did read the first third of so of Mark again as I begin moving through the NT. Part of me really wants to take my time, read slowly and reflect (like the monks do...something I wouldn't know apart from the Great Christians course). Without doubt, the Markan document remains the greatest historical puzzle in literature; I really think I can assert that. It is a long list of miraculous events, placed smack into apparently real geographical and historical time, with, as LTJ notes, "uncanny" details from the events themselves (the words Jesus used in Aramaic, the cushion in the boat he was asleep on, the reactions of the religious leaders) which seem to present a first hand origin for at least some of the material. More troubling for me, we get demons! Demons who talk...I have no idea what to make of that, but am certainly willing to withhold judgement on the historicity of any and all of Mark for certain moments on the intellectual level.

On the spiritual level, the level of the inner man...I again hear the Voice. Even though Jesus doesn't say much in Mark! What he does say! What he does do! The utterly real reactions of those around him! If ALL we had from the four gospels, I mean ALL, was the account of the healed paralytic...the man lowered through the roof. Here the Son of Man forgives sin, heals, elevates himself over the religious cultus...that alone would still be studied and read.

But I am getting ahead of myself...jotting notes for something I hope to write in then future to friends who have plenty to do besides read my notes.

Be well, all, my love to each and every. And God's peace to each, as much as we can know it in this difficult and fragile world.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mountain Living Rant

Funkiller has been very transparent on his blog about the difficulties of relocating from so. cal. to the PNW. My heart goes out to him. This is one of those days, one of those times even, when I am sitting here at home alone and thinking "why the HELL did we move to this dinky town an hour from the nearest real city?"

Wife and I know we are going to move down, probably when our son finishes high school and (so the plan goes) trots off to college. He is a sophomore now, and I know those two years will go fast, but I must say, while the mountains are stunningly beautiful, every changingand magic, while we have a lovely older couple around the corner from us, parents of one of my best friends (whom I hardly see, though he too now lives 20 minutes away) it is often very hard to be here. In short: we have to drive, a lot; I'm far from my work and that makes it very hard to feel integrated and even to do the 'extra' kinds of things one is supposed to do (though I think English teachers should give themselves as much of a break on the exra things as we can, especially for those of us teaching all baccalaureate comps); long held plans to move to the college nearer my house collapsed a couple years ago as my blog friends know (for now at least, with the Pres. they have); we are far from culture, art, and wide restaurant selection; and mostly, I am alone more than I'd like as my son expands his social life and my wife is gone so much, especially this last two years as she has hammered through her final years of graduate school. The culture up here is very different also! And it's different a good way down the hill from here. There are some very good things, families who really care about their kids and their time with them (it has been a great place to raise my son) but there is much that has been challenging, and that has been as true at my parish, older and slowly shrinking as it is, as anyplace.

I actually think living up here, being alone so much, has changed me, some, and not all for the better. I should have begun by reading the desert fathers and mothers and tried to make the isolation some kind of spiritual discipline (guess I still could try this) but I notice at work now I shut my door in my office. Mostly, that's to work without interruption; I pour myself out in my classes, I work very hard in the classroom, and the last thing I want is some student who is not my student asking me where room so and so is, or where is so and so's office, etc., and my office is positioned above the English floor and gets lots of traffic along its hallway. And, as I said, my English friends are not near me; they are one floor down. But I do have friends near me! The thing is, working alone, 'with the door closed,' has become natural, an instinct.

I think this is part of the pull for me to (some year) go to seminary. Two (if I were very lucky, three, but probably two) years living in a spiritual community! What a deal! What focus on my self, my spiritual self. For with my wife in graduate school more than ever this last year (and she warned me....this will be the worst semester) I spend all my time giving. Well, being responsible for the housework, the bills, etc. I guess that's normal! But it feels like giving because I can't really insist on any kind of parity, and mostly because I do most of it alone, when I'm home by myself. She works hard around the house when she can and still cooks probably as much as I do, but mostly I feel like I'm in a support role.

Above all, I feel strange at work. I have gone from skyrocketing local campus star six years ago to something very different, I do not even know what. Well, thank God for tenure:) I am still a very good teacher, better each year I think, and I am sure I can work out the details with my dept. over time. And we won't be up here all that much longer.

That's about it. I needed to share some hurt.

On another note, I was at my dear older friends' house around the corner (and they are more my parents than my parents, as I've said before) yesterday for even more Thanksgiving stuffage and A, the husband, had found my blog. He approached it very kindly; he was looking up material for a 'reflection' on the burning bush, googled the phrase, found Sandalstraps, and apparently a comment of mine. He said, 'it was your first name, your age, and it sounded just like your language.' I have no problem with A reading here, but if he can find it...I have to do something; maybe purify my old posts here a bit (there are some I should pull down) or build another blog. Heck, I don't have time to worry about it right now, but it is on my mind.

On another high note, and I think I mentioned this, I met the woman who handles college ministry for my diocese at convention, really quite strange that I did meet her and that she heard what I do for a living, actually. Anyway, they have an outreach across the street from my freaking campus! I have told her I will help anyway I can, for oddly enough, my faith is growing; my belief in Christ, my experience of God's love, is on the upswell again. I have always struggled with doubt, for emotional as well as intellectual reasons I am quite certain, and it is wonderful when that demon steps back and I can feel the clear fresh water of the gospel pouring through me. There were times this week I did feel that.

Reading Johnson is good for me, but so is listening to one of those Teaching Company Great Course lectures on the Great Christians of History (and I apologize I do not remember the professor's name; he is in NY someplace). My church has a bunch of these in their library (thanks to one very kind person who keeps donating them) and they really, really help my drive. I thought I would hate this Great Christians thing, that I would feel guilty and inferior compared to the 'Greats,' but the opposite has been true. Much of it has been very inspiring, though so far I'm only up to Claire of Assissi. The professor, who admits he is Christian and Roman Catholic, has been fairly open minded and academic, but today he mentioned that Francis of Assissi 'received the stigmata.' Now that is something utterly foreign to me. It is something I'd like to know more about, but even more, I'd like to know more about Francis' life and values. What a compelling personality as the prof represents him; such a committment to charity and direct spiritual living, to poverty and eternal values, to Jesus' own life as we can distill it. All I knew about Francis before was all those little stone garden statues with the animals around him I see everywhere. Goofy, but true. I spent so many years as a Protestant, I sort of assumed we had St. Paul, the Apocalypse of John, and then, oh, Luther on Galatians and the Institutes.

Anyway, online classes await. Thanks for letting me spill my insides out here! How I have missed it. And thank you Mrs. Fish for reading. I really am back, here, for good.

Oh, and go Packers!

Those of you who pray, please say a short prayer for me: for my job, for my family, for my life in the middle of the bleeping woods, for guidance for any future career/ministry decisions. Life is surely a struggle, no matter who we are. I am okay, I am not crashing emotionally, but the dark and cold mountain weather is here now, and it can be bloody lonely. Lonely like a presence itself. I may need to work on getting myself some company again, as I have done before with martial arts, etc.

Love to all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Almost Thanksgiving

Dear wife is in bed, I am sitting up with a headcold, looking forward to my second night on the couch. I have not been exiled of course; it's just that I can't sleep normally when I am sick, and I sleep better alone, out here, off and on, blowing my nose and propping my head up. I am looking forward to more reading as soon as I finish this. I am burning through Luke Johnson's Intro to the NT (actually something like, The Writings of the NT, an Interpretation). It is a good introductory text, fluently written, one I wish I had consulted earlier as I awkwardly continue to self-educate.

Some thoughts on blog:

It's good to be back. I was trying to think of a metaphor for my blog, and what I came up with was this: this blog is like being not quite ready for a dinner party, and the guests come early anyway. My t shirt is wet from the navel down, there is flour on my right jean leg, and I haven't shaved. But the food is mostly cooking, and the wine comes out, and everything ends up warm and comfortable regardless. That sounds over optimistic, considering how much I used to stress over my lack of prep time for my posts and the general lack of comments...but I think there is truth to that metaphor. Getting caught in the open as who I am. I have shared much of that here. What a journey. I have said some very meaningful things and some very silly things. Thinking back go my oldest posts, I see growth.

I am drafting yet another post, one I hope actually makes it here, something which mixes the reflective and the theological (or at least, addresses my personal struggles with an issue in the NT). I know that I cannot crack the puzzle of the NT and find the concrete phenomenon beneath. It does not work like that. Some study the texts deeply and lose faith, like Ehrman, or never really find faith at all. Some study the NT closely and their faith grows, morphs into something dynamic; I can name many scholars in this camp. Frankly, it is a difficult and at times stressful journey. And yet I must look. I have to. I am driven to do so, and hope at the end that my own faith survives in some orthodox fashion (and for me, orthodox pretty much requires belief in the resurrection in some form; belief that a Creator God acted dynamically through Jesus of Nazareth in history; that may not be full orthodoxy, but it is enough these days).

For scholars do and say strange things when they look up from reading the NT over years. I have long found some of the arguments for innerrancy remarkably strained (no, there were two demon possessed men really and one acted as spokesperson for the other); likewise (since Professor Ehrman's name has already appeared) Bart Ehrman's comparison of Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, and Jesus, I find equally strained. I struggled manfully through Philostratus' account of Apollonius, or most of it, certainly the parts where the 'miraculous' appears. Read it, friends; then go read the first few chapters of Mark. The first two chapters is enough. I see more difference than similarity.

What is it about the NT that affects people with such radical variance? Why does the impact of the gospels on a person change even over some person's lifetimes? These are potent questions that lie outside the realm of critical historical inquiry.

For me, entering the historical critical fray, I know there will be things I must bracket. That will be hard to do though I have done some of this already. Although I am willing to suspend judgement rather than take a position on historicity (and even that term is complex) when there is insufficient information. But even I will have presuppositions working in me. I am quite willing to believe a man was healed who had a withered hand; but demons rushing into pigs! Demons aren't real; they don't inhabit they? Certainly not in my experience. That is certainly embellished. You see, as is true for everyone, I arrive at the door of the gospels with plenty of luggage.

My plan is to read all of Johnson's intro and the respective NT books in the order he covers them. Sure I've read most if not all the NT at some point, but this will be more systematic and guided. The fact is, I love to do it. And the struggle rises in me once again: I am a good English teacher, though my campus activities, or service, could perhaps be more than they are lately (wife in grad school and distance from the campus, mostly). But the amount of free time I spent on my avocation, my NT self-education...well, it is looming large again. I would get much more done if my family didn't like to watch so much tv, but hey, I'm not going to lock myself in a room when they're home. That would be too much like a real scholar :) But how odd, that I finally have the tenured English position, and I spend more time reading NT studies than anything in literature. Well, at least the last couple of years. I suppose that is one of the luxuries of my job...intellectual variety.

Be well all. I am pooping out, sick boy that I am (echoes of the old social d. song). More to come, surely :) God be with all.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving! Wife is working and son is at his dad's....I'll be home on the couch blowing my nose and watching the green bay Favre to death.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Still Peaking...

I must share a few things:

One, note the date below...I am posting twice in two days! Feels like recovery to me. Oh, I laughed out loud at that.

Two, a publisher contacted me in the email here and asked me to review a Brian MacClaren (sp?) book on this site. At first, I was sure it was a bizarre hoax; but no, in fact, she is sending me a free copy. I used to do that as a part timer texts for publishers. But this is something utterly new. I told her I have not read a line of BM but look forward to doing so. I realize he is a popular voice among the emergent. However, I also know I tend to shoot straight, especially when "grading." Luckily, I am not being paid (except for the free book). Still, I feel quite honored to be considered and do not know what led her to this previously nearly defunct and quite humble blog. I promise, I'll edit that post for mistakes.

Three, I am still peaking from the weekend. Convention has had a profound impact on me, and I am seriously considering entering discernment for the priesthood or diaconate again. I've always known I wanted to trot off to Holy Hill to study the NT for a couple years (though I note, at this time, CDSP has no full time NT professor; well, I would not be there for a few years anyway; plenty of time for them to hire one). I have analyzed my experience at convention as I always do. But beyond all the personal psychoanalysis (and who says God does not work through our emotional selves anyway) I still have the insistent sense there was Something More present, moving among us, at the convention. My hair stands up as I write it; I am not referring to the gay issue in specific either. Simply the gathering of that many people all attempting to find God's will, of all worshipping the living and loving God....whatever, I am slammed to the floor. I have run and run (or is ran the past participle?) from any sense of call. If I have not made that clear on this blog, I make it clear now. I do not believe in calls in the traditional sense (well, okay, Paul is a special case). But whatever...I am feeling directed towards a larger sense of Purpose than I have ever known. I can say that. May God not lose sight of this one...may I live long enough to explore that Vision. May I not be a damned enough fool to utterly discount it. At the very least, may it inspire me to more ministry right now.

Finally (I guess this is four) I would like to do a little series on the gospels. Call it Blogspell :) Well, I won't call it that, promise. I would promise to edit my writing, ahem, and plan an outline for the writing. My idea is for an intro to an intro on the four gospels...on the synoptic problem, Mark, Matthew and Luke and John. For those really interested, there are many books on this topic by actual scholars! I note I really haven't read all that much scholarship myself. Still, I thought I might do a series at my church, and this is a place to begin. If I do so, though, I am starting a new blog where I reveal my true self, a public blog I can refer friends from church to, etc. I also don't know if I could begin drafting until summer comes and I am out of school, but who knows. Another long term goal.

I have been lifting again, too, and doing cardio. Shooting for three days a week. There is nothing like the steel, brothers and sisters. I love every set. Sick puppy, I know.

Be well, and love to all.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Peak Moment

I am considering more and more the future of this blog, and am pondering having two of these things; one I still keep anonymous, in fact more anonymous than this blog is now, and one which is public, made available to my church and others. If I do this, if I create another blog besides this one, I will note it here and anyone who reads this (all five of you sweet souls) can email me for a link to the public blog. For the moment this remains as is.

What a weekend.

Each year my church elects delegates to Diocesan Convention at the annual meeting. I have never considered running as it involves a weekend several hours from my home, and because I really didn't know what happens there. Somehow, this year, I suppose because I had been senior warden twice, I was nominated, said sure, and won one of the three delegate spots. It's never that competitive; a bit of good natured cajoling usually occurs. I never have had the sense anyone was that passionate about attending.

The annual meeting is in January, and in truth I forgot all about Convention until my rector handed me the info about a month ago. I put off making my hotel reservation (if you can call where we stayed a hotel) and ended up having a buddy who was gong get the room and sharing it with him. I had very neutral expectations.

I did not know what the resolutions would be until Friday afternoon. But I had a good week spiritually (in my own way) listening to LT Johson's lecture series on Paul, beginning to blog again, attending church. How much Johnson prepared me for what was coming this weekend I did not know until Saturday, but let me say: one of the resolutions involved the blessing of same sex unions. Our Bishop has already said he will not sanction any such blessings unless General Convention approves them when they meet again in 09. All this measure was asking was that we vote to ask General Convention to develop rites for same sex blessings. Meaning, it is a request that we be allowed, under the direction of the National Church, to hold them. It was not a vote to begin holding them. According to hearsay anyway, such a motion had been presented to the motions committee, but as the Bishop reaffirmed his unwillingness to allow same sex rites without consent of the Deputies at General, the motion was rewritten, or removed, in favor of what we voted on Saturday. Even though it was a conservative request in one sense, there was no doubt that it was still very radical and contentious. My diocese is large and there are many mixed feelings on this issue. A few churches have tried to leave the Diocese over this already as our previous bishop voted to affirm Gene Roinson's election by his diocese. Well, one that I know of. I do believe a few churches, and certainly a number of individuals, have requested no money go to the Diocese from their parishes or persons in the wake of that vote. Overall, though, the discussion has been open, honest, and good.

This Saturday was no exception. I was amazed that over 300 people could discuss the issue with passion, from both sides, and treat each other well during and after the debate. But debate we did. It was a remarkable time. The motion was almost tabled until next year; that vote came so close the tellers had to hand count the for and against. But I remember the proposer of the initiative quoting Martin Luther King in the hall: "if not now, when; if not us, who?" It was very moving.

I had decided at lunch I wished to speak myself. There were several microphones, and I got in line early with a few notes on a sheet of paper. But with many, many strong feelings.

I used to condemn homosexuality as a neurotic aberration; I certainly opposed gay marriage and the gay lifestyle. I was a Baptist literalist, after all, and didn't know any gay people. Or the ones I did know in the church were guilt consumed. My views changed very slowly, very slowly. At first from knowing a lesbian couple in southern california....hearing their story of walking down a street at night, unclasping hands as they walked into the streetlight light, then retaking them as they moved into the darkness between. Then I began reflecting on the issue on this blog and reading ohers who were doing likewise. For me, though I have held to an imperfect Bible in theory since my (re)conversion in 00, the deep seated myth of the God-written book has lifted very slowly for me. Not as the result of any abstract theological discussion, but as a result of actually reading the (almost) entire thing. I am well aware of the verses in Romans, Leviticus, and elsewhere in the NT. I am also aware of the verse in Deuteronomy (or time to look it up) where the illegimiate child is excluded form the Sanctuary for several generations. LTJ put things together very nicely for me in his series on Paul and the Gospels; I listened to the latter a couple of years ago. Still, I know the verses, I realize the import of this issue, I understand the pressure on the Anglican Communion. I did not approach my time at the mic lightly.

Yet, with an utterly clear conscience, I argued fully, passionately, and with all I could must (in 120 seconds) in favor of the resolution. I admit I am quite glad we have no comment from Jesus on this issue (any attempt to show we do is painfully forced in my view) and I find it quite easy to see Paul's writings, while deeply valuable, as quite human. Paul never addresses this issue except in asides anyway. Those he describes in Romans 1 are somehow gay, and otherwise deeply messed up, a a result of their idolatry. It strikes me as odd that some see the pressure to perform same sex unions as a symptom of our age, our zeitgheist, but think everything Paul wrote which has survived somehow transcends his own.

I told my own story. Jesus, rather clearly, forbids remarriage in the synpotics, or so it seems, yet when my girlfriend and i walked into an Episcopal church merely because it was cute on the outside we were warmly welcomed. My divorce was discussed, yes, but not in great depth (of course, the story is rather dramatic....but I did have a girlfriend during my separation, even if I was pushed into that). The fact that that church wanted to see us spiritually supported and nurtured, that it was the only one we visited that did want that, rather than just to make a few hundred bucks off the ceremony, was what got S and I attending church after both of us being long away. It led to us joining a parish in Nor Cal, attending Alpha Class, was part of what led to my reconversion, and the rest, well, is personal history. All the ministry I have done since or will do in the future is in part a result of the church's willingness to marry us though I was divorced and we were living together already. The heteros learned a few decades ago to cut themselves some slack....

And then I talked about King's letter from jail, his definition, drawn from Aquinas I believe, that a just law is one which uplifts human personality. I talked about loving gay couples I have known, about how a public blessing allows them to have the same support structure, even accounability, around their families I enjoy around mine. I was very scared, and said so; it was my first convention, I was fifty feet from the Bishop and in a hall with three or four hundred people. No one else from my parish spoke. But I will tell you: the entire blog has been worth it, it all has been worth it, for the little part I played. Many others spoke also, of course. But when the motion to postpone failed, and the motion to affirm the resolution passed, when the gay couples present began hugging those who supported the resolution....I say again, it was all worth it.

We too easily forget what Paul set aside when he insisted that Gentile converts did not need to conform to the law. Had they converted to Judaism, circumcision would have been required as I understand the times. But Paul, that deep student of Torah, set aside Torah in favor of a different law entirely, the law of love. It was very strange that the reading of the day, as part of morning prayer, was the famous (and infamous) passage in Matthew when Jesus says that the entire law must be kept, that the one who does not keep it and teaches others not to keep it is least in the kingdom. That is a very troubling passage for me; I believe it is unique to Matthew, and the church has surely disregarded it, except maybe the Matthean community (and the odds of Matthew being written by an actual eyewitness I feel are slim). Whatever that means, it stands in contrast to things Jesus says elsewhere in that gospel and the others, at least as Matthew has redacted it. And it surely stands in contrast to Paul. I do not mean to get off the main issue, but I feel I did God's work, was a small part of it, this weekend. If we are wrong then we have erred on the side of grace, and over committed sex with a lover, surely one of the least harmful things I can imagine.

After the motion passed, I was very impressed, moved, by the sense of family that remained in that room. Several delegates from another parish were at my table, all voted against passage, yet afterwards acted as if nothing happened; they were very warm towards me, even after my vocal position! It was remarkable.

And this entire thing has me thinking again......Deacon school? Seminary and priesthood? Something, surely. What a feeling to be a part of the work that the the diocese does. Their outreach to the poor, the hungry, the ill and mentally ill is astounding. And the sense of community there was so great! I know I have things to work out for myself and my own faith, but I cannot understate how powerful this weekend was for me. I would go again in a flash.

It is one thing to know I gave a good lecture, on rare days a great lecture, in a writing or literature course. But to use my speech for God's kingdom, to incorporate the outcast...that is truly something. I have so much to sort out (like the passage in Matthew!) but right now I am just basking in the beauty of being a small part of something so lovely. Of seeing so many small pieces fall into place, and such an important, even historic, issue proceed.

Well, I must run. Sincere love to all, and thanks to A for posting below, truly. That kind of honesty is where this blog sustains me still.