Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Know, I Miss This Blog

Reading just the "recent" posts here I find that while I love facebook, my fl has grown so large, so many people from work, etc., that even though I have created a little sub-list in fb to talk about more personal things, I am not even sure that is private.

This, this place, this place feels great.

My tone in my posts here is different from either facebook or my new, under my actual name, blog.

Perhaps I will post here again. Who knows. Right now, buried under work and dealing with a lot of issues personally. That is a sucky teaser I know. The recession sucks; my wife is lucky to be working; discernment, priesthood, seems years off, seminary, if ever. I want to write a memoir. Should be writing more poems. My friend J and I even talked about a screenplay today.

Whatever, it is good to write naked, and that is just how this feels.

love to all. more later I hope.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Facebook

For a long time now, months, I have been using facebook to blog and have even created a blog using my real name and workplace. I don't know if anyone who read this blog is not already in my facebook, but it's funny: I find myself checking up on blogs I have not seen in months or years. If anyone reading here wants access to my "real" blog email me at this address.

I may use some of this content here, so much in draft form, cleaned up and republished. We'll see. In the meantime, know that I and my marriage are doing well, and much love to all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Just a Share

Just an update post.

The last two weeks, since my back injection, have felt like a year. For one, the initial lidocaine injection into the facet worked; I came around with no pain at all. That lasted for a few hours, and it wasn't until Sunday night, two days later, that the sharp pains returned. And then what a ride.

Because Monday was absolutely hell. It caught me so off guard. My pain must have quadrupled, and it was much more constant. I was so shaken up I forgot to take enough vicodin, hardly any. Then Tuesday it was the teeniest bit swollen and I laid on my back for several hours grading online papers; that caused about 3 hours of exquisite pain Tuesday night. Why am I so puritanical about taking Vicodin? I don't know, but if I ever have another injection I am sure as hell going to plan on spending a week on it.

Maybe all the stories my dad told me about how my grandfather got addicted; he lost his hand in some machinery and used to ask my dad to inject him with morphine or some other narcotic. Somehow, after some time, he simply kicked it by himself. I haven't thought about that in years. Obviously, taking a few vicodin is not the same as shooting fucking morphine.

Because the other thing was that I became a bit...stimulated, animated, as if I had a couple cups of coffee. I was just a little bit jittery, and more scared and emotional than normal. I'm not sure, but I was told the steroid can do that too. Who knows. I am feeling less jittery, less nervous, and sweating a lot less during sleep. All good, but all side effects I was not told about ahead of time.

The sad thing, truly, is that while the lidocaine worked and acted as a diagnostic tool the steroids did not. I don't think I received any relief from those meds. I called my "second opinion" ortho, the guy who suggested the facet block, and left a message with his assistant. She called me back but we haven't spoken yet. There are a couple things we could do that I know of:

1) since this injury was the result of trauma I want to know if we need to xray or mri or ct scan the actual facet to see what happened to it; that may not be the case, but that is my first question

2) a facet rhizotomy. this is where a needle is inserted and the two nerves in the actual facet joint are basically cooked using radiofrequency pulses...oddly, this only provides pain relief about 50 percent of the time, but the pain relief can be significant, even total, and can last as long as two years; typically, maybe a year, but then the procedure can be repeated. my concern with this, after my injection, is an increase in pain. that can happen I read and can last not a few days but a few weeks though it is unlikely to happen

3) there are less dramatic treatments, physical therapy mainly, working with the injury to minimize discomfort and to strengthen the muscles around the spine; this is the thing I'd like to talk about first...this injury has never completely gone away, but it has been essentially pain free or close, felt like a tightness in the area, for months at a time. if I could get back to that place I think I'd be alright with it and there is no surgery involved.

On my back, that's about it for now. It flared up a bit yesterday. I think I stretched it too much, went too deep, on my inversion bed. I have been walking almost every day...ran twice at the gym on a treadmill and while that felt fantastic overall the second time irritated my back a bit. My son tells me to swim and that is not a bad idea.

Oh, and there are other treatments like accupuncture and other alternative treatments. One thing I am glad about is it does not seem to be a disc...that is even harder to treat, often, than what I have. But this is about all I know; I will learn more as I go.

The emotional impact has been real. I am going to see the therapist I saw this week next week and if she works out I'll continue to see her for a while...I just have so much going on!

My three days working from home alone has gotten more annoying than ever. I am finding ways to cope but I hate it. And now that I am involved in campus governance and come down a third day...this would be less, but my back has caused me to miss some meetings because driving (for the first time in 2.5 years) has become an aggravating factor.

My wife and I do want to move closer and I'd love to do that this summer, even half the way closer, but with my son in his final year of high school next year, and even more, me considering commuting part time to seminary from near my job...this decision is very difficult. Buying a house halfway down he could still go to his high school, I'd be closer to work and so would my wife; but if I want to go to seminary in one or two years part time it is farther, harder to do, maybe impossible.

On that topic, will my back injury effect my discernment? It might, but I don't want to get that far ahead. Driving has only been an issue for a few weeks, about a month, actually less. This flare up may lessen and driving may be a non issue again. But still, why be that much farther from the seminary? I am overwhelmed, because the benefits of being closer are vast to me personally, emotionally, even, probably, economically. One more year up here, though, and we could move anyplace, including very close to my campus. That puts me closer to sailing and closer to the seminary...closer to work and all the good that entails.

Sighs. Only time will tell.

That is about all I have. I won't call this rant, I'll call it 'sharing.' If I can't do this on my blog, what can I do? I need direction or a good decision making process and right now feel short on both.

At least I have a good job which isn't going anyplace; I am not dying or in danger with my injury (a 34 year old friend of mine is dying of leukemia) and my spiritual life has strengthened since I entered discernment. I have a new therapist who might be okay with other names if I want to continue to shop. I am exercising again, even if it's just brisk walking up and down around my neighborhood for 40 or 50 mins. I have a loving family; this is priceless beyond measure. My wife and stepson have done more for me than anything ever.

Well, that's enough for now. I was so mountaintop when I was at the seminary just, what, five or six weeks ago? It feels like a lifetime. May God grant me my desire to one day go there one way or another. May he draw me closer to him. And, somehow, may my back get better.

Love to all, including me :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pee girl gets the belt...

Listening to Hole's Live Through This today on an old, burned cd. When that album came out all I could think was, Courtney didn't write this by herself. The lyrics, sure, but not the music. Whether Kurt helped her or not (and how the hell would I ever know) that really is a hell of an album. It reminds me of the days when physicality was my salvation; when going downstairs, numb with pain, and hitting the punching bag till I was exhausted kept the death-wolves at bay. I remember doing that, beating the bag, and screaming to Lithium from Nevermind. I didn't know how to box then, or evenif I had any vague memories, I just swang away...

And running. Before I became a true gym-rat, a stairmaster regular (I didn't really lift then, only a little) I would beat the bag and sometimes run. Not run far or well, but run, and listen to Courtney's album...

For what it's worth, when I saw Kurt on MTV unplugged, half of the time having a fight with Moll on the phone, when I saw him, I had enough recovery then to know, what did Burroughs say about him...there really is something wrong with that boy. I knew he was emotionally unstable, angry as hell, and depressed even more. When he was dead that next year I was shaken up but not stunned.

God, I loved that music. In Utero was my favorite album for a long time...replacing the Pepper's Blood Sugar Sex Magick for a time even. My other favorite band then (and I am embarrassed to admit I was in my late 20's) was Bikini Kill, the raging riot girl poet punk band. That music helped me as I saved my own life.

Which brings me to today. I have been therapist hunting again. I am not in serious depression, anxiety, or obsession. The biggest issues in my life now are, well, real: the isolation of living so far from work, way up in the wild woods, continuing growth for my marriage, discernment, and dealing with my back (which is doing better, more on that later; I may always have to manage that but my hope is for better if I put in the work). I am not in crisis, but it's great to have someone out there to connect with, and I realized after just two visit with two different people (it really is a nice feeling to shop therapists) that I have trauma I still need to process. A lot of that processing happened way back in the early days; shit, a lot of it happened listening to punk rock music, to Nirvana and Hole and many other bands. In my garage and even at clubs, screaming and wheeling. But now that I am older, a homeowner, a tenured professor, now I find a need to still go back. A lot of things that happened to me I just wasn't strong enough to handle at the time. I did not have resources, or even know what resources were. And OCD, even if it lends survival power, a mild insanity instead of the real thing, OCD blocks the process of real emotion. Now, I think, I'm ready.

Granted, I may not be beating on a bag with my back (but who knows). And I tried running on the treadmill yesterday and that final set caused my back to tighten and hurt a bit. But I can walk briskly, and often do; that can be used to process. And I can write. And talk.

Damn, I miss Sharon, my last therapist. The one who retired...So far both of the women I've met have been good, one early in her career, the other much farther along. One does EMDR and I am curious about it's application to trauma; the other is all old school feeling based work, and I know that stuff works. I am living proof.

Before I forget, on my back injury: the injection proved the source of the pain, the sight of the injury, my lowest left facet joint. But the steroids did not work for long term pain relief. But walking, and my new inversion table, and watching posture and using heat...all that is helping. I don't know why it recently flared up so dramatically and awfully, but it did. Of course, the injection did not help...heh. I was sore from that for several days. Driving is hard but getting easier. This is good, as I can get to campus easier and that means less isolation.

So, there you go. Just an update on life. I have a facebook now with over a hundred "friends" and when I post there I got comments, many respond...here I have a smaller audience, I guess. Who knows. But I can say whatever I want here, mostly, and not worry about that information ending up on my dean's desk, or higher up, or worse, on the Bishop's desk...hah. Not that that would be the end of the world, but I like the anonymity here and long have.

Oh, Moll contacted me on facebook. I never got to write about her in my ongoing Estella saga of long ago. I will; I deserve to talk about it. I politely declined her friend request but did give her an email. She was an 8 month girlfriend, while I was going through my divorce, and I have to admit a place I leaned emotionally and sexually. I deserved that too. The problem with Moll was that she was, and is, nuts. I mean, what is it called, attachment disorder. Sexually charged but incapable of emotional bonding or intimacy or even normal attitudes towards those things. I thought maybe because she was so young then, 22, 23, that that she was just immature. Based on what she wrote me, not much has changed. She has not responded since I sent a longer email telling her my experience with her and I, not a mean email, but an honest one; I don't think I will hear.

Oh, any honeymoon I might have had with NTW is over. His attitudes towards homosexuality are unsupportable, as is what he says about the larger scriptures. I still have not found an NT critic that matches my own feelings on the bible, or what I'm reaching for. Not Borg; he is close but goes too far (looking for symbolic meaning in the miracle accounts, and ruling out the miraculous all together). Not Wright who is a fantastic NT critic but something of a closet fundamentalist when he feels like it. Not Moo and his gang who really are fundamentalists as far as I can tell. Maybe LT Johnson comes closest. I am very interested in reading Barth on the bible. Eventually.

Well, enough for today. This has been a good post for me; I can feel my emotions, like heat, just below my skin. What a gift it is to access them so freely now, so easily. In spite of all my trauma in and out of therapy. Note, I only see women therapists now. But I'm sure I've talked about that.

burn the witch, the witch is dead,
burn the witch, burn the witch,
just bring me back her head...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Of Nerves and Men

Many people who are in my facebook know most of this story; but here, in blog, I can tell is at leisure and include more intimate feelings. This I like.

As I note in the post below my back pain has indeed flared up. Ironically, it was the week I saw a specialist 90 minutes from my house. That week I was on campus 3 days, and it was driving home that 3rd night that the pain really hit: like a fire below my skin, really, a burning, awful pain. With rest from pressure, either directly on my back or sitting, that eased and I was able to go back to work the next week though I missed my department meeting. What that visit with a genuine orthopaedist led to (as opposed to the utter idiot that I saw twice near my house...the ortho who just kept telling me: exercise, no matter what it is, it will get better if you exercise) what the genuine orth did was set me up for my second spinal injection. I had an epidural to one of the nerve roots three or four months ago and it did nothing. This shot, though, was different; the anasth doc (no idea how to spell that) injected two shots into one of my lumbar facets on the painful side. An simple idea, when one thinks about it. Diagnostic as well as potentially therapeutic.

I woke up Friday from the injections (no memories of any of it) completely pain free. That is very important because it tells my docs where the pain has been coming from all this time: an injure facet joint, wounded 2.5 years ago in that grappling match with that fool who hurt me.

But that is not all the news. The fact that I was pain free for a few hours, actually the pain gradually resurfaced until about two days later when I when the pain came slamming back, this is good to know. But now the longer acting meds, the steroids that are also injected, get their chance to work. Some people are pain free for several months. I am a bit disappointed here; it's been four full days and so far no long term relief. Yesterday the pain really flared up horribly as the anaesthetic was gone and no steroids were working...it was the very worst ever and it caught me off guard and I was panicked and not taking enough pain meds. Today is more like a normal bad day in the last two weeks. I took Monday off work and today missed a meeting but plan to drive down tomorrow.

So, the steroids may yet kick in; if they don't within a few more days though it is apparently unlikely. Luckily, the steroids are not the only option for long term management of my symptoms. There is a procedure called rhizotmomy where a doc goes in through a tube, I guess a kind of scope, and uses radio waves to cook the two nerves in the facet that cause the pain. That sounds pretty scary, but if this injection fails to help I would consider it unless they want to do another injection and see if different meds do the job. I hope so.

The rhiz, if it works, is supposed to work for a long time, maybe a year or more until the nerves grow back. Still, it's a newer procedure and spooks me.

I am very sad the steriods are not (yet) working from this recent injection. I think they should have by now, but I know it depends on the person, etc.

Well, at least we know what is broken. It makes me very sad I did not know this earlier. Sitting compresses the discs but also the facets, and I sat an awful lot the 18 mos. I was in second life. If I knew I had a structural injury I would never have done it. I don't know how much difference knowing would have made in the long term, but there it is. I think I would have really tried to strengthen the muscles that support my spine, etc., had I known the problem was on the spine itself.

Damn. I did have a few truly pain free hours. I could not sleep Fri and Sat night because all I could think about was working out: sparring, lifting, all the things I used to do. I wanted to run again, most of all kickbox. Now, I'm not sure. The orth did tell me cardio is helpful in healing back injuries, and I did walk 3 days straight this weekend, a brisk walk, up and down around my house.

I've also relaxed about taking the vicodin. Sorry but it doesn't seem that strong. It makes me tired like cold medicine, maybe a bit spacier, sure, but it helps with the pain. Not as much as I'd like with the amount I take, but it helps. It seems totally fine to use that to manage the flare ups like this one.

Last fall, walking 3 times a week and not sitting, I managed to get things feeling a lot better by December, and that includes all my driving. Then, I spent 30 hours in SL or so, crouched in front of my computer in January during break, and that was the beginning of the slide. fuck. that does piss me off.

Well, the docs seem optimistic, at least my primary doctor, now that the problem is isolated. I ordered one of those inversion tables cause I heard that helps with facet problems and it just seems like a great stretch anyway. who knows, it might help a lot. It shipped today from amazon.

And that is it right now, gang. A mixture of news good and not so good. At least it doesn't seem to be the disk causing pain. Those are harder to work with, I think, depending on what the problem is.

Right now, it hurts pretty good though. Burns. Is that bone on bone or muscle in spasm? It reminds me a bit of the pain of levator...I don't know. It's much better than yesterday though! That pain, coming off having a needle stuck in there and stuff injected, that was the worst. Sorry for the graphics....

Keeping up hope.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The 5

The back injury I have had for two and a half years has flared up and in a bad way. Now, driving hurts it. I live an hour from my job and this is suddenly a critical issue. As much as I enjoy being on campus more, going down 3 days a week for Senate, last week I came home after 3 days going back and forth and was in genuine pain. So much so I saw my doc the next day. I'm trying some new meds, celebrex and flexeril (just one a day) and have yet to touch the vicodin he gave me for times it really, really hurts.

On the plus side I saw a different orthopaedist, convinced the one up here by me is a complete idiot. I drove a long way, almost 90 minutes, but the guy was worth it. This Friday I get another injection into the spine (woot that shit) but in another spot, a different spot. And he's not done with me if that doesn't work; there are a number of other things to try. Thank God.

Oh, and if it really IS just a very oddly unhealed tendon injury from so long ago (which should have healed two years ago) he assured me...eventually, it will get better. He thinks that likely the spine or a disc or nerve is involved somehow, he did say more than once that he was mystified, but I could tell he was thinking-mystified and not tossing his hands up mystified. Good. I have hope.

We plan to move closer to my work, maybe right next to it! But not while my son has another year of high school to go. So for now, I am looking at all other options. Living near campus I wouldn't have to drive much at all; I could walk year round, etc. Walking helps.

And besides all this (and why did it suddenly start killing me when I sit in a car...it didn't do that before all this time) the stress of discernment continues. Rather, the fear. My current job is a good one; it provides flexibility and almost ultimate security. I'm big into security. When I went down for my first Senate meeting a couple weeks ago, well my second, I realized how much I loved being there, even if the things we were talking about were not critical things, really, parking problems and such. Just the intellectual community. Then, drinks after with a half dozen colleagues...it was great. So, I admit, was my lunch in between with a priest who runs a parish right by my college. Another place I am sharing and listening. But sometimes my job seems hard to leave; other times, it seems far from vital to who I am as a person.

As a practice for ministry, I want to do a book study at my parish this summer on a novel, maybe Till We Have Faces. Then, in the fall, perhaps a study in Mark where I can inject literary discussion (the synoptic problem, marcan priority, the marcan "sandwich," his use of irony, etc.) along with the usual kind of thing done at bible studies. And I am thinking: at a big or medium parish, a parish with larger numbers of educated people, that kind of thing might fly well. Will it even work at my parish? I think again of what one staff person at the seminary I visited said: "If you can learn to minister to all kinds of people, to just about anybody, you've learned the single most important thing." How much I agree with her. My little mountain parish fits that bill rather directly.

Underneath all, all of it...fear.

I did make an appt. to see a new therapist this Thursday. I had some depression a couple weeks back, home alone by myself, nothing harsh or major, and it lifted each evening when my family came home. It was only two days. But it reminded me that I am going through a lot with the discernment process, shaking and changing in my core, and it cannot hurt to have someone I can see every couple of weeks. I'm not thinking weekly, unless at the very first. She uses the same waiting room as Sharon, my other therapist (yes, transitional objects can be rooms) and I think it's okay that I drink that in. She seemed nice on the phone. The funny thing was she said Sharon used to text with her clients, take calls late, be more available outside the office time and this new person can't do that so much. I had to laugh because I never talked to Sharon outside the office. I think Joy's boundaries are okay as I am not in crisis. I have done my crisis days, rather years, and that is behind me, I believe, barring a major life loss or some such thing. And even then. I have changed who I am on the inside through years of therapy. No, I need maintenance. Anyway, it was a good move on my part to set something up so I can have someone "out there" when and if I need her.

***

And I end with this: the 5. The psalmist sounds self righteous in some of these lines, and he seems to have specific persecutors in mind, but what a poem. If this were all we had...it would almost be enough. This is the genuine outcry of a man in need; it is my prayer to my Father this morning. Fear, pain, these are humbling. And sometimes, the KJV simply dominates, whatever its shortcomings.

Love to all; please read this with me to the end:


Psalm 5

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.

Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.

The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.

Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.

Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.

Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.

For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Week of Ash Wednesday 09

I have posted before on Ash Wednesday (or during that week). I'd like to continue that mini tradition. As always on blog, I break all rules of writing process and begin with no idea where I'm heading. Kinda like therapy :)

I begin by noting that the post below is mostly rant. That is fine. If I had time, I'd estimate what percentage of the Psalms could be labeled "rant." A fair chunk, I think. So, I continue that tradition, as well.

My spiritual health has improved since I entered discernment in November; I have no doubt. I have more faith, a stronger connection to God (or if you wish, the Divine) and I feel motivated to begin things at my church, a book study for example, where before I had only nebulous goals and a less focused motivation. This summer I'm thinking of using a novel with religious themes; maybe doing that again in the fall or perhaps doing a gospel study. I'd love to do a blended academic/devotional study of Mark where we read the text as scripture but also raise some of the academic framework (its role among the synoptics, Mark's apparent rhetorical devices such as irony and the famous "sandwich," etc.). I know I have to teach to the audience, and my priest tells me our parishioners don't always "do their homework." We'll see. Also, there is such a delicate balance when it comes to introducing academic perspective, including even a little skepticism perhaps, to a community that is not used to it.

But I am rambling. The gist is that my spiritual life has come unstuck and for that I am very grateful.

Yesterday, at Ash, when the priest (a woman) put the host in my hand, she held onto my fingers just a bit, a very loving, very nurturing touch/grasp; I have not experienced that before and it was so powerful I think I gasped. That is the essence of the Eucharist to me, God and the priest expressing love to the communicant. I have always enjoyed communion, but that experience, and the Eucharist at the convention in November that sent me into discernment (after years of kicking it around)...those were peak moments. I believe I have a stronger spiritual sensibility. I remember when I entered discernment telling God, quite pragmatically, that I needed more faith if I was going to do this. So far at least that has happened even though I realized it long after I had forgotten that prayer. My faith is moving beyond the academic thrashing I know so well and into something with texture and depth.

All this is very wonderful, and I should be focusing on this. But I admit, as in my prior post, that the difficulties between me and ordination, let alone a job in ministry, seem enormous.

The commenter below suggests participation in shared ministry. That is a term I have heard before, and it is not a bad idea. Shared ministry means active, dynamic lay involvement. It might even mean unpaid ordained persons assisting, or lightly paid, ordained people with other incomes, but that latter model I don't know about. Shared ministry is a good thing, but will it ever fulfill the desire I feel now to represent God directly to the community as a priest? Maybe.

Anonymous also notes that the E church has been shrinking for some time. This is true, probably since the 60's or 70's. I think it is also true of many of the mainline Protestant denominations (Methodists, Lutherans) but there I have no data. TEC has surely been hurt by the installment of Gene Robinson in 2003, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, and, in my view, by the flaccid response so far coming out of Canterbury. I have mixed feelings here. Those who are not tolerant of gay persons, who are not willing to be educated and approach the bible realistically....how much have we really lost? Should we have asked gay persons to wait another generation or two or three for open acceptance as they pursue their own calls? I don't think so. I know the questions regarding unity of the communion are powerful questions, and I grieve at these losses (my first two priests, the ones who married us, have left over this issue), but if one is going to use the bible books to claim homosexual love and sex are outside God's will, then, ripping off C.S. Lewis I'll say it again: those who cannot read books written for grown-ups should not try.

My sense is that in the long term (and sadly, long term is likely to take all my life and longer) gay persons will be accepted, fully, by Christianity on a large scale. In some parts of the world that may never happen or may take centuries, but eventually, the fact that these persons have been marginalized for millenia will be obvious. This means, to me, that the fundamentalists in America, the many, many evangelicals who read the bible as the direct words of God, eventually they are going to lose the argument or better, realize they have already lost it. It is so clear that every document, including the biblical documents, must be placed in their historic contexts. They must be read and understood in this way. Sadly, changes in the church take a very long time, but I think TEC is on the right side, the Christian side, of the question. Unless some new information surfaces regarding gay orientation...and even then; I just can't see why God would care about the sex of the person we decide to commit our lives to. Sin must always defined as that which hurts another, and we as a race live and breathe in that activity as our atmosphere. But actions which are meant to enhance love I cannot see God opposing.

So why is TEC shrinking? Is it really a bad investment for my future? This is a fascinating question; I confess I like challenges, but I'd also note that many parishes are thriving and growing. Even in the first link Anonymous gives below, while the rector notes that pledges are down because of the economic crisis (something to be expected), she also notes that every year pledges have been increasing annually for some time at that rector's parish. One problem may be that TEC is not as, I want to say, as flexible, as the independent evangelical churches. I mean flexible geographically and architecturally. The old TEC parishes, many of them, go back to the second war and long before. So we find buildings meant to hold small numbers of people, often a half dozen churches in a single city. I think the city where I teach has at least four within fifteen minutes of each other, and more within easy driving distance of the city center. The, often newer, evangelical churches begin in a junior high some place and then build the buildings they need. People shift in and out and between the larger evangelical parishes. TEC is geographically and architecturally structured for a bygone era.

But what else? We don't often do outreach or evangelism. We don't have a simple gospel package message (though the Alpha class is doing this, and other programs) and probably the liturgy and our more formal, and participational, style has become remote for the average American. I am sure someone is studying this; I'll find out more later. Maybe we just need better bands...better and more dynamic presentations...

What do we have in our favor? Tolerance, for one! An intelligent (may I say modern) attitude towards the bible and science (sometimes). A gorgeous liturgical and symbolic tradition (depending on the diocese...some are still rather low church). A strong commitment to social action and charity many of the evangelical churches (polluted, in part, by social conservatism) seem to be only now discovering (pushed in part, I know, by the interaction of liturgicals like Richard Rohr with pastors like Rick Warren). The "emerging" church, exploding in numbers, is emerging in a social and doctrinal direction where TEC has been for decades. And again I stress, many parishes are thriving, consolidating into larger communities which represent the religious experience of many contemporary Americans. No, for now at least, I have great hope for TEC. And if the Anglican communion kicks us out, tragically, then so be it, though I would never wish it. How will they look to church historians in 200 years? How will those who choose to oppose gay marriage but allow remarriage for hets (out of pastoral care) look in 200 years?

The TEC does need to reinvent itself in some ways, ways I don't yet know, and frankly, I want to be part of that. I have for a long time. I want to reach the younger generation with the same practice/ritual/community/prayer book that has had such a dramatic impact on me. I guess that, too, is Call.

***

So, there it is. My wife and I tried to be more frugal this month and we still spent almost everything we brought home. She still has loans. My son still starts college in 18 mos. Even with "plan C," the only plan I can envision at the moment, where I move close to my college teaching job and then take the train or drive to the seminary campus (and that I can do; it is less than 90 minutes) there are tons of questions still. Could I really do my job and take six units of seminary a semester, even if some of that was online? Do I even WANT to take any of my seminary education online? There are a few summer courses and that is hopeful, but less than I'd like. Even if I could physically/practically handle the workload (and I have real doubts; my career keeps me pretty busy) could we then afford it? At least I would have my salary; we might be able to swing the costs loans; remember, my son starts college in 10 mos.

Of course, with Plan C, I will be even older when I come out of seminary. And the dark shadow of retirement reality rises...priests do have a retirement, as do teachers, but I think if I retire early from the college, before 55, it might have a big impact on what I collected. And I'm sure if I put in 30 years as a priest I'd do fine, but I will not be able to do that. Even if I work till 70 as a priest, and I might be able to do that (my own father is very healthy; he's 72 and still likes to work)...even at 70 I might, stress might, be able to do 20 years if I trot off to seminary full time. If I go part time, it will be less. Maybe 15 or 18 years at the very most...you see, I have lots of fears, lots of questions, lots of unknowns. My wife and I need to cut back even more on our spending and we are already trying. If I become a vocational priest, we probably will have to do that for the rest of our lives even when her career fully begins. Oh, and I'll work every Sunday and holiday for the rest of my life.... :)

Sighs.

Well, there you go. In closing, I still love Ash Wednesday and Lent. I am dust and to dust I will return. I appreciate the chance to reflect on my spiritual journey, party less (or not at all...still haven't decided if I will not drink at all this Lent but that is likely). So I welcome this Lenten season as a chance to grow as a spiritual person (another great thing TEC has: the Ecclesiastical calendar).

Errata: oh, my back injury is bothering me again...I did yoga and didn't give myself enough time to rest and soak after. Odd how that works. I'm supposed to see another specialist on Monday...it seems to be a soft tissue injury which still hasn't healed completely. Prayers appreciated.

Also, I really should find another therapist. I'm doing fine, managing well, not obsessing. But as my doctor says, it's nice to have a therapist out there someplace, even if I don't see him/her often. I've been out of therapy completely since last May...it's something I need to address. It costs me almost nothing with my insurance.

love to all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Seeing Seminary

I visited a seminary recently, an Episcopal seminary, and those of you who are in my facebook (which is most of the margin) know the gist: well, part of the gist. Overall, the experience was very powerful, deeply communal, and even though I was scared half the time I was there I felt very centered, very home. I thought again: man, this is what I should be doing, this is where I should be using my gifts.

Since I entered Discernment my spiritual life has clearly improved. I was mired in doubt-dialectic, the obsessive alternative to spiritual experience and faith, but discernment has kicked me into a solid spiritual place for the most part. My wife and I are putting more energy into our little parish; we have decided to stick it out and dig in for now. And I already want to use it as a sort of early field education...in the M.Div., one has to do one or two years of field ed, often at a parish, sort of playing priest-ette, assisting, and getting support during the process. On the job training (without a paycheck of course). I plan to do at least one book study this summer at my church, you know, branch out and be involved. It's good for me anyway.

The dirty dark of the seminary visit was what my wife described as "sticker shock." And there it is: the awful rub. She just finished graduate school and a long educational path. So far, her salary is low and job insecure as she builds her MFT hours. But she has student debt in the upper 20's. With the loans consolidated and at a very low interest rate that is not hard to manage for us at all, not with me still teaching and her salary only going to go up. But seminary could easily cause me to have to borrow more than that; 40K for an M.Div in debt is not unusual. And here everything spirals out of control: what about my retirement, what about our home, how good are the medical benefits for priests. In short, I have plenty of "temporal concerns." With my son graduating and going to college in a year and a half, even with his father sharing the costs with us and him choosing a State school...frankly, I feel pretty fucked right now. I have found something which has drawn me in many ways since I was in my early 20's; back then, I was trying to decide (with very little information about either) between seminary and English graduate school. I pulled off one of those careers rather handily, holding tenure and a good paycheck. Now I want the other? hah. But the Episcopal church, the energy I experienced this weekend, it is an entirely different culture from the evangelical world I knew in my 20's. The beauties of the service and the liturgy; the tolerance; the intelligent positions one finds on the bible; the deep commitment to the sacred. I am totally sold and believe in my heart I would make a good priest and even, with great luck, a good college/seminary instructor. I know I am a fine teacher and think I could learn the ins and outs of priest life.

But the rub returns. When, when, when can we afford this? And while I came back from the seminary with a different view of material things, feeling that the nice home is passing away, the clothes...needing only security and, sorry, good health care for my family...I do not know how my wife and I, who have never been bad with money but also never great with it...how could we become as fiscally conscious as one has to be to do what I want to do?

Right now, while part of me is hoping to enroll at least part time the same semester my son begins college, fall 10, part of me thinks it may take much longer than that. That we need to pay of my wife's debt first, get my son halfway through college or more, maybe even work longer and save...I should be happy, I am growing spiritually and have found a sense of vocation I have only glimpsed before (I used to talk about the call feeling like a lighthouse beam...it would hit, then pass, hit, then pass; lately I feel the light is much more consistent and surprisingly gentle.)

It also makes me angry, as it must make priests who are trying to make a living while pledges remain low angry (and that is a hypothetical scenario) that the tremendous wealth in the ECUSA community, the people who attend the Episcopal church and have substantial means and they are many, that more of that money is not directed towards Christian education, i.e. priests in training. Is this a further outgrowth of the serve-me-for-cheap culture we all are getting used to? I hear about building projects from time to time and certainly people need buildings, but someone needs to make the seminarians a priority. How difficult to borrow 40K or more (and the student I spoke to this week has noticeably more but he did 4 years) and then come out and make whatever beginning priests make...not much. Even full rectors, not much in the many smaller parishes which are part of the EC. Our denomination, one of the wealthiest, has less resources for its postulants than any other mainline group (or so I have read). What the hell is wrong with this picture?

And so there things sit for now. I have stuff to do and must get ready for work. I loved seminary, loved visiting and sitting in on classes, loved the community and the staff and faculty I met. I should have been there when I was mid 20's and not mid (yikes, just barely) 40's. But my head had to be put together and that took a long time, a long time. Again, I should be content: I am reasonably happy and well and spiritually growing; I already have a great job. Why I am not feeling called into the diaconate where I could keep my day job? I might at some point in the future feel that, but not at this time. Right now, it's all about getting that theological education and going into ministry in some form. I would never have believed I was writing this post 6 months ago; heck, not even 4 months ago. Still, there it is.

I tend to write long blog posts I know. So I'll cut this for now. But I woke this morning feeling anxious, scared, discouraged. Even if I get into seminary and I believe I would, even if I get through the diocesan discernment and I believe I have a good chance, even then...no one is going to hand me a check. A couple I met this week is getting financial help from their diocese back east. I don't think it happens out west. Again, a lot more money in TEC on the east coast.

So I ask again: how the hell do the people who take so much from TEC, from its liturgy and symbol and beauty and intelligence....how do they expect to continue to be served if money is not provided to help seminarians as educational costs rise and rise? We get what we pay for in this economy.

Oh, yes, and speaking of this economy, we still have equity in our home (thank God) but not very much...enough to pay for seminary three times over has evaporated in the last two years. Funny that I get my call now, so strong, and not as strong then. But then I have been putting my family first: getting wife through graduate school and making sure my son is well dressed, supported in his sports, always has money when he needs some. Sacrificing for others, for my wife's education. Now, wtf. I am angry a bit, mostly dismayed. The future does not look impossible, but it looks hard and it looks long. I fear if I wait too long, graduate at too late of an age, I will not be able to get a rectorship. But now I am far ahead of myself. I am a good leader and communicator...I will always have those skills.

all for now. peace and love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More From the Rough

I went back and read the post below and really don't like it. If I am going to bring in Paul's comments in Corinthians I feel I should have a library of secondary sources behind me...I don't. But I want to say one more thing (and I really do wish I had more time for this):

As I note below, some of the more moving (for me) ethical passages in the Torah come when Israel is reminded that they themselves were delivered from slavery and oppression. To me, a very similar thing is critical to understanding Paul.

Paul really does seem to say (and I find Horsley's notes in my Oxford study bible very thought-provoking) that singleness trumps marriage unless the sexual passions are just too powerful. Now, this may be in response to some ascetic sexual practices among the Corinthians as Horsley maintains. But it's hard not to see Paul elevating the unmarried state, and suggesting that those engaged (or maybe, I think I read elsewhere, with virgin daughters) remain celibate and single if they could because of the imminence of Jesus' return. This is all to be found in 1 Cor. 7. When Paul says the present time is short, it seems clearly eschatological (and, I'd note, dependent on or at least fueled by Jesus' own apocalyptic proclamations). What I find here is a very early Christian, an apostle, one who has seen the risen Jesus, trying to figure things out and provide humane guidelines to a rather disordered community in light of what he felt to be the historical picture. Is the suggestion that it is better to not marry (though Paul is very clear both marriage or non marriage are perfectly fine) a contention the church continues to hold up outside of Roman Catholicism and monasticism...not that I know of. But this is the point I was trying to make below: Paul does his best, but he is limited by personal and cultural and even local conditions.

Now, look at chapter 8. Here the issue of eating meat sacrificed to pagan idols is brought to his attention. Again, my sources are limited, and I have heard a range of readings on this, from one source saying that almost all meat offered for sale in the market in Corinth would have been previously offered to a pagan deity to Horsley's reading that this meat would have been offered in the "temple environs." It doesn't matter. Paul does not seem to care. He notes that there is only one God anyway, the idols are not real deities, but his central argument is that one must never do something to injure the conscience of another. Now, I am not sure this principle can be universally applied. If it "stumbles" (as we used to say) another Christian because I wear earrings, I am likely to keep wearing them figuring, in the long run, this will be better for us both. Me, because I am not doing anything to harm anyone, and the other person because I am causing him to grow in his spiritual reflection. But Paul does not say that here: he says the most amazing thing: if "food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat."

That is simply extraordinary. He doesn't just say meat sacrificed to idols, though he might mean that. He just says meat. And my sense is Paul is giving us a foundational principle of behavior based on the sacrifice of the Son of God; he is willing to go to whatever length to not injure his brother or sister (and, pragmatically, he is perhaps chiding the Corinthians and getting them to let go of the topic).

I share this because I do not want anyone to think that just because I find problems in Paul that I do not also find glorious, essential, sublime material as well. Paul is strongest when he is moved by his own sense of Jesus' sacrifice for him. That awareness of God's love enriches his ethics the way the redemption from Egypt enriches the Torah. But I still think Paul's letters are Paul's letters and I do not need to dig out every ethical precept (let's find a new Law we can use to control people whether it is good for them or not) and then enforce those today.

***

Sighs. I spent much of today thinking how weak my prior post was, and I will likely spend the rest of the day thinking about all the problems with this post. NT studies reminds me of wine. Yes, I said wine. Sixty years ago, a century ago, there were only so many great houses in Europe one had to know to be wine literate. Now, sheez, there are hundreds of good wines coming from all over the world. It is very, very hard to "know" wine unless one works in the business full time, and even then! The same thing has happened with NT studies! I (again) envy BW3 and those that can dedicate so much time to immersing themselves in the sources so necessary to make sense of such ancient documents. Me, heck, I'm just trying to read through the bible and figure out what do to with it as I go. As I said below, it's part of why I don't post so much.

The things I know well, my recovery from depression and ocd, these I have yet to write about in any detail. I can't think where to begin or what to call the series. When I get around to it, it will do more good than my NT posts I am sure. For I developed a powerful personal tool set that brought me from violent major depressions and crippling ocd to a normal life. Yes it took more than a decade of therapy, but I take no meds and am very proud of who I am now compared to how I suffered. Someday, I'll get to writing out my personal toolkit here in the hope that it might help someone.

Really have to go. Love to all.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Some Opening (Rough) Thoughts on the Bible

It seems the only times I get time to post is when my wife is in bed and I am up later, an infrequent thing. But here I am, at only 10:00, been reading about Rob Bell at BW3's site for an hour (and much on homosexuality); a friend gave me Velvet Elvis and I have read a little. The funky format bothers me, but will read more when I can.

So, this little post is not about Rob Bell.

Nor is it a full treatment of the Bible, homosexuality, or any of the other things I have said I would write on here. But is is a beginning. A snapshot of my current struggle/thought.

My understanding of the Bible must begin with how I read the NT. I am no NT scholar, but I know its contents decently well, with maybe a weakness in Hebrews...for some reason I have never gotten around to reading that entire letter. But the four gospels I know, and the epistles, decently. And let me just say this: I think Paul's letters are just that, Paul's letters. Did Paul have a miraculous conversion experience (are they not all miraculous)...sure. Did he actually perform miraculous cures...he claims in the first person to have done so. Did God reveal himself to Paul in some direct way, in short, give him the "gospel" directly as he emphatically states in Galatians? Paul surely believes this, and I have not reason to deny that some kind of special, direct revelation occurred (whether that involved any interaction with the earliest Christian doctrines, the kerygma itself, is open for discussion....Saul thought the Christians were heretics for some reason). But does this mean that every word Paul wrote back to the churches he founded, every letter to support them, encourage them, and address specific concerns, does that mean that GOD wrote each line of those letters, that every bit of advice given and viewpoint taken are Divine? To me, such an assertion is preposterous. It is not only preposterous, the letters themselves neither claim nor support such a view: they reveal an apostle (and those with him) reconstructing the Jewish faith in light of the radical news of the resurrection and the growing reverberations of Jesus' teaching/life-impact. To illustrate this would take some time, and I must assume it has already been done in detail.

To wit: Paul's emphasis on the eschatological eminence of singleness...of (according to my NRSV translation anyway) not marrying one's fiancee because singleness allows to one to focus more directly on the things of God...this is a very personal position. I will say idiosyncratic. It violates, to me, much of what Ben Witherington (a scholar in whom I find much to like even if we disagree on about everything I am going to say in this post, and whose name I have long just typed out as BW3) says about the imago dei as a critical procreative union. Paul really did seem to think Jesus would return within his own generation, or easily could (evidence, if nothing else, that he was utterly convinced of the resurrection and ascension). In light of this, Paul recommends individuals who can remain single do so.

This seems rather odd two millenia later. I am not even so sure the single person can be more focused on the things of God than the married person whether the return of Jesus is immminent or not. My family has had enormous positive spiritual impact on me. In short, Paul was wrong in my opinion. He was expressing a personal perspective, and while he may be right for some, while those words may lead some to lives of tremendous spiritual accomplishment, they surely do not apply to most.

This is one small example. But in fact there are many. BW3 and others in the long threads at his site on Bell are right: the Bible condemns homosexual activity between men in the Torah and between men again in Paul and calls it unnatural, condemns it implicitly (probably, am thinking of Romans 1) for both sexes again in Paul. And I have to echo the quote attributed to Marcus Borg on BW3's site: we just know more about these things than did the Biblical writers. I have, have to agree. Even if gay orientation is set aside, the NT letters absolutely bleed human influence throughout. Do they contain the gospel as we know it? Sure. But plenty besides.

The four gospels are even more complex. NTW (N.T. Wright) rather sidesteps the synoptic problem (something BW3 mentions someplace) by arguing that the four gospels may simply rely on many tradition strands for their sayings content, hence their differences (and no need for Q). He might be right, at least with Q (though the order of that material is rather suggestive) but surely, the four gospels represent four different collections/interpretations of the words and deeds of the most extraordinary figure in human history. They do not agree on every detail or point, divergent sayings traditions aside! To argue that they do is simply silly. I have read some of Geisler on this, on that need to make every detail of the NT and (worse, for me) the OT products of the Divine voice and I find these efforts completely fruitless.

Let me close with two things (and my time is so short for these posts, let alone the time I get to read sources). One, I completely understand the need for believers (and we see this in several large religions) to feel they can place their sure faith in something concrete...in a book. A perfect, divinely authored book from the sky. When I explain my views on scripture (as embryonic and amateur as they are) to Christian friends I often see that anxiety well up, or see it quickly shut down. Or better, they simply cannot conceive of Christian faith without having a God-written book we must spend our time decoding. Without the Book, what do we have? It's easier to reach this point with liturgicals, it seems, as we can always look to the Eucharist, or the church structure, or tradition, but I think those things are also simply vehicles God uses to reach us. So let me say, and I will say it many times on this blog: I understand the need, the emotional need (in my view, though it is often cloaked as theological/intellectual necessity) for a perfect Book. I'm sorry, but we don't have one. The NT is a remarkable record of the life of Jesus, but is is culturally time-bound as any other human document, or at least culturally influenced. I can assure any reader, very honestly, that I have no ancillary motive for this. There is no personal sin I need to justify by seeing the NT as a human product. This is simply how it reads to me after years of reading it.

Does that make it the same as the other religious books in the world? For me, no. It is the historic ripple of the God-man himself.

Which brings me to point two as in closing: just because I do not believe the NT to be inerrant, or infallible, or Divinely written on every line, just because I think the writings are human productions does not mean I toss the entire thing out. This is the sad case of things, it seems, in North America. I tell friends I don't think the entire NT is God's Word and they assume I am a Jesus Seminarian. Far from it. Responsible literary scholarship leaves me very optimistic that we can know many things about Jesus, and certainly the central things: Jesus lived, healed, taught as no one else ever has, died and rose from the dead. At the very least, this was the message carried forward by his earliest followers (and Jesus is Divine even in Paul...that belief entered monotheist Judaism so fast via Christianity even I can hardly believe the speed with which is appears in the record).

For NT buffs, I find myself firmly on the eschatological highway. Wright is very strong here, though I admit I am not as widely read as I should be among those on the "wredebahn," those who view the gospels as ahistorical not just in terms of the miraculous but also in terms of Jesus' teachings, deeds, even passion account. No, I think the core events and certainly the teachings, even if imperfectly depicted in the four gospels we have, those are as the gospels give them to us. And I think historical immersion the finest, the first and most significant, way to read the gospels. Here, again, I agree with BW3 and NTW, both men with higher views of the bible books than me.

So, I see several things coming out here: one, the bible, including the NT, is NOT one book but a collection of writings; and I find those writings, on repeated examination, rife, rich, absolutely soaked in the cultural contexts which produced them. Do I think God himself enters the texts at any place? That is a good question, and one I will have to save for another time. But you see, this is why I do not find the last word on homosexuality to be what the biblical writers have to say by any means. Nor, despite some pretty creative attempts to the contrary, do I think Jesus addressed this specific issue. Nor, and now I really go out, do I think every word that came out of Jesus mouth was necessarily Divine will either...Wright is strong as he suggests an extended struggle/growth period within Jesus as his ministry and mission came into focus. Jesus was also a human being; we cannot forget that.

Still, God was with/in/was Jesus in a way unique in all history, and that is why I unabashedly place the gospels over any other texts in the biblical record. What Jesus says (via Luke, say, or Mark) is much more significant to me than what Moses tells me, or Paul, or Peter, or any other biblical writer.

This is something of a via negativa, and I know this. All I have mostly said is what the bible is not: a single divinely inspired book; or left one with the impression that the bible is no different from any other religious text. Here is where I want to get a hold of Barth on this issue. For the Bible is God's Word when he uses it as such. It contains the Great Thread, the writings of those who were interacting with the Divine in a very special (if not perhaps unique) way. I do not want to get into the Torah in this post, but one thing that strikes me is that when the ethical teachings of the Torah seem most elevated (and really, Deuteronomy is a bit of a revision of other materials, or a differing application anyway) is when it reminds the Hebrews of their own release from slavery: you will treat the alien well for you were once aliens; you will treat the slave well for you were once slaves until God rescued you...that experience they had, that belief that God rescued them from oppression leads to some of the most empathic moral content in the Torah. We see the same thing happening in the NT in my view; we see the same thing happening now as our knowledge of God and his love for us grows. The Bible is not a Divine rule book to whose authority we must bow on every point; rather it points to the One for whom our treatment of each other matters the most.

Now, bear with me with this analogy please: in Bruce Lee's film Enter the Dragon, he tells a student who is not kicking him with the right energy, that if one points at the moon and concentrates only on the pointing finger and not on the moon, he will miss "all that heavenly glory." To me, the Bible is a little like that. I have not read this essay in many years, not since my (re)conversion in 99, but I think of C.S. Lewis' essay "Second Meanings in Scripture" in Reflections on the Psalms.
I recall thinking the Bible is something like that. I know I need to branch out, read Borg and others who hold a similar view to mine with a lot more education, but I have not yet done so.

I realize this view raises as many questions as answers, more, but if there is one thing I feel strongly about at this time, or rather certain about, it is this: I apparently hold to a "low" view of scripture though I hate that term. I am all for getting as deep a cultural reading into the Torah as I am the gospels; we must have this to understand what the material is trying to say. But we must also be open to the cultural limitations such study reveals! Just because something leads us to the Divine does not make it a perfect divine revelation. Believe me, I wish it were so! We would not really need apologetics. But the book we have, the collection of books, is not perfect, not authoritative in my view in the way BW3 and others keep insisting. That does NOT mean an end to what I still consider orthodoxy; it certainly does not mean an end to Christian faith.

More later. Late now and very tired. I rant and rave all day to my students that they must pre-write, you know have some notes of where they're going, draft, and then EDIT their essays. I have done none of that with this post nor most of the rest of the stuff I toss up here. Tomorrow, if I have time, will take a second look (all writers need to); for now, up this goes as is. It is a start, at least.

Love to all.

Wind Moving Through Branches

I'm sitting in my office at work with about fifteen minutes before I'm "on," teaching Frost and talkin bout writin. My gig. Not a bad gig.

But I wanted to say a few things: one, I am moving toward a fuller committment to writing on this blog. It's good for me, mostly. And it is something I enjoy. As I've been sorting out what I can and can't do in ministry now and in the next few years, one thing I know I can do: spew here. Having to read the entire bible for Discernment is extremely powerful...it is like being immersed to my neck in a fast moving river of ideas; I can't help but need to sort through that. I don't attempt formal apologetics here; well, maybe I did years ago a little, but now I would like to say some things on that topic (main point: in my experience, belief and lack of belief in religious experience go much deeper than clean reason). Oh, well, I just want to write more here is all. I'm not BW3 and will likely never be (what a job...read and write and talk about the NT for a living); and I am always painfully, painfully aware of the limitations of my own posts. At least I have been for some time. I think that's part of why I haven't been writing.

All that said, it's good for me to express myself here.

And my wife and I do have a seminary plan that just might work. She is recently finished with graduate school, building hours herself, and there are some student loans though she worked through that time and of course I did. But we are thinking: when our son goes to college in 1.5 years we could move out of the hills and down near my job; I could, just maybe, commute part time to a seminary that is not all that far away. Perhaps continue teaching for two more years, then go live on campus for the final two years of my M.Div. I would not lose my teaching job that way. I can take a leave of absence and return in case there are no priestly type jobs in the hopper when I graduate. It's just an idea, but it's the most financially feasible one we have found yet.

It also means years more of doing this. Self-educating, writing here, and waiting, somewhat wincingly, for the chance to live in an actual Christian graduate community. I crave, crave that. Oh, one other advantage to moving near my job would be we could go to a much larger, read, full sized, Episcopal congregation. That would assist with some of our struggles, I think. I have learned that where two are three are gathered...God is there. But sometimes, it's nice to have a few more bodies around, at least when one grew up in the big city.

Well, that's not much. But I just wanted to say hi and to share the new seminary idea. I visit this school in a couple of weeks and will surely blog about that experience. I wish I was 24 and could start all over in NT studies, do the Ph.D., be in active ministry (one of the things I admire about NTW...world class scholar, actual acting Bishop) but that is not the path I have walked. Actually, considering many parts of that path, things I have only hinted at here, it is amazing I'm even on my freaking feet at all.

Have to run. What the heck is a hopper anyway? Just sounded right.

Love to all. More here when I can.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Back Again

I am again up later than my wife; we have fallen into the cycle on the days I work from home (3 a week). I work on the computer, do laundry, clean the kitchen...maybe run errands or shop. She comes home and dinner is usually ready (often from things she has already cooked, especially lately) she has a cocktail/glass of wine or two, we watch tv for too long, she goes to be early reading. I read with her, sometimes fall asleep sometimes come out here. I am the househusband with the full time job, the primary bread winner, but working from home can be rather lonely as I used to say up here a lot (before I was in second life I guess).

I took most of last semester off from sl, mostly so my back could heal (it suddenly flared up in the fall and it seemed very connected to sitting at that computer for two or three hours at a stretch). The old injury which had never healed completely, what I am sure is a soft tissue/tendon injury (not my spine, which has been mri's and xrayed and even had an injection) suddenly became very irritated from all the sitting and very painful. Lying down helped, of course, not sitting, and so I pretty much left second life. Overall, much for the better for me as fun as that place can be.

This winter break comes around; most of it, or at least half, was spent out of town, but then the last week I was back I peeked back into the grid. I had great fun running around shooting arrows at people, etc...you know, the old combat sims. And I tried to limit my sitting to 3 hours at most per day; maybe I did that five days over a week or so? Not sure. Anyway, my back got sore again, after some improvement from walking and stretching and limiting my sitting (I do most of my schoolwork on my wife's laptop now, stretched out and back-supported, as I am now). I decided yoga would help, it seemed to help a little long ago, so I went back to a class last week.

And my back did feel better, a lot, for two or three days after. Of course, second life was again history for me, even more than before. Then it seemed my back started hurting again so I went to yoga Wednesday morning. It's great, but I had to drive a lot that day and that may have aggravated things. It felt more sore today. And then I did one of those elliptical cross trainers at my house; my cardio is sadly neglected. After that, it really hurt.

So here I am. I well know a soft tissue injury should have been better two years ago. I have waited, and waited, as I was told to do; seen an idiot specialist twice. Finally, I called my HMO last week about getting a second opinion with an orth doc in the valley who has a good reputation. They said they'd get back to me, nothing yet. I have to call tomorrow. My doc said he'd send me to physical therapy again, but I was waiting to meet with an orth.

Fact is, the orth may not be able to tell me anything except what they all keep saying..wow, this should be better by now. I can't say. And yoga seems like physical therapy on steroids...such deep stretching and strength work in the core. But PT may be where I end up; don't know.

I know that tonight my back hurts. I'm long out of mobic, need to get the refill. Did take a valium as that seemed to help lately. I try to think positive: maybe this pain is something healing...no idea.

So, there you go. The loneliness of the long days in the mountains alone is hard once again. My wife and I are trying to reach out to our friends more. We have something Sat. night and for the superbowl. I love that. Dinner with friends at their place or here. Love it. Sunday I am the EM, or chalice bearer, and what an honor that is. It should be a good weekend I remind myself. The papers have not begun to slam in yet; I am working on my online class but it doesn't take all day. Reading Boadt still on the OT; reading a fascinating book about Barth. His view on scripture interests me. Also reading NTW's Simply Christian. I could write about that for an hour, but the simple answer is there is much to like and much I don't like. His section on the bible I especially don't like. The little I read from Barth on scripture was encouraging. I have simply come to believe the Torah is not "God breathed" in the particular sense; meaning, the larger themes, quite possible; but the individual rituals and laws. Sorry. Parts of it, maybe; the experiences which produced it, possibly, sure. But so much of it is just ancient practice, so brutal I don't know how fundamentalists deal with it; well, I do know: the holy and judging God. the God of stoning. Save that for another time.

And as I ramble: the back thing is hard because it's not defined. If they said, oh, you have a nerve root inflamed, or a messed up disc or something...there are therapies for that. But this unknown, undiagnosed injury....the primary doc just sends me to the specialist who is only interested in my spine MRI. Detecting a soft tissue injury, no dice. And he says nothing can be done for those anyway....they just get better with time. Yeah, we'll see. Not as long as the time I've waited.

oh, I am ranting and so tired now. good. sleep is good.

I miss vigorous exercise. I miss weights. I miss all that because I'm hurt. martial arts most of all. I know this thing could resolve in a year; maybe sooner with help. maybe it will always be like this. I surely can't say. but while it's usually not too bad, tonight it really hurts. could take some ibuprofen I guess, but ready to sleep now that it's midnight.

no news on discernment. same. I keep looking at the good parts of the job I already have. and the bad parts. but I am trying to talk to at least one other priest, and I visit the seminary in three weeks. that, I think, will be great. I imagine it to be the very opposite of lonely.

love to all and peace.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Late, not Sleepy

Hey all. I've been working on a longish post on the Torah, and I am finding it difficult. Parts of that collection of books moves me with an ominous fear of a moral Divine...parts of that collection strike me as nothing more than very ancient, and painfully human, moral and ritual codes. I ordered two (cheapish) Intros to the OT and am reading Boadt. I like his approach so far. He notes what could only be expected: cultural similarities in the Torah what little we know of that region and time. I read much of the famous Code of Hammurabi, and do not find the regulations in the Torah any more humane; in fact, in at least one place, cursing a parent, the COH is more lenient. It also concludes expressing concern
"that the strong might not injure the weak, in order to protect the widows and orphans." Sure there are things in the COH that I find morally deficient; likewise the Torah. I really am trying to consider the fundamentalist viewpoint, the position the text itself takes in many places: that what we have in the Torah is close interaction with an utterly ominous and judging moral God; that may in fact be true, but I still can't believe all the ritual/moral/purity instruction is God-given even if the books themselves claim to be.

I know the Divine nature is whatever it is, and I do not want to bleed too much into the longer post I'm working on, but frankly I find all of this very frustrating. Personally discouraging.

Getting into the Episcopal war blogs again today a bit: they are almost all about homosexuality, though some deal with salvation questions. I have been reading the "conservative" side. For them, it all gets back to the book, the collection of texts we call the bible. It doesn't really matter, or doesn't seem to, if homosexuality turns out to be the deep seated orientation it seems to be, that gay relationships can be loving and committed...what matters to the conservatives are those verses in that book. And they are very creative, arguing that dietary laws were clearly set aside by the NT but not the moral laws of the Torah. Okay. So when do we start stoning people? Maybe the famous story of Jesus saying, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone" is apocryphal, showing up in some odd spots in the old manuscripts and missing in most that we have from John. But I just cannot believe that ALL biblical books are not culturally bound. That God is breaking through uniquely in Jesus, but that the composition of the books, whatever God was trying to say through them, was shunted through a very human author who made sense of his revelation and religious experience in light of his cultural norms.

Look, we didn't put women on juries or let them vote or hold public office for MILLENIA. Does that mean the civil rights movement for women and minority groups, newfangled as it is, should be discarded in favor of the "traditional faith." Oh, I know what the conservs would say; I don't even want to get into it here. But right now, the Torah is challenging my faith. The best solution really seems to be that God was expressing himself through various religions in the region, and that somehow the Jews got involved with him in a more direct way. But even the stele with the COH on it shows the King bowing to a god, maybe the god of justice, and it declares the King to be delivering the law at the behest of the gods. This, of course, is centuries before the Mosaic code. The Torah does not strike me as markedly more enlightened. Enlightened in passages, yes, concern for the alien and the poor and the oppressed figures largely in many places. But so much of it is culture dependent: death as punishment for crimes large and small, ritual sacrifice as atonement for sin, an extensive purity cultus, food restrictions which cannot be fully explained for health reasons and of course, the blatant marginalization of women...even if the social classes are compressed in at times remarkable fashion (the years of jubilee, lending without interest, etc). At least, if one was living among the Hebrews, there were some noble protections. But it seems to me law-writing, much of the ritual practice of ancient Israel, was drawn from surrounding phenomenon.

Now that in itself proves nothing. God could use any kind of ritual program for his work. Providing a written moral code must have been revolutionary for these societies (depending on the code, I guess). But again, reading these laws and histories as the Word of the Divine God...I just can't see it that way. Certainly, Jesus acted differently. But now I am well into my still in draft form entry here.

A long, long day at work. S is asleep and I'm couching it because I'm up so late and will be snoring likely...wonderful time to read and write, coveted time, but no clear focus tonight.

And on discernment: I'm 44 with a great job; my denomination is struggling within itself...a low point in the journey for me tonight. I visit the local seminary in Feb.; still looking forward to that. Would LOVE to talk over some of these questions with a professor of OT. Anyway, before I get incoherent with sleep, love to all.

:)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Onto Dangerous Ground

I don't know much about politics; I know even less about the modern middle east. But one strange phenomenon I see, a result of reading the Bible, specifically the HB, as the literal words of God, is that events in modern day Palestine are interpreted through the lens of the Torah.

And it is quite clear: according to the first six books anyway, Palestine was given to Israel, to Abraham, forever; when they re entered the land after the Egyptian captivity they were to butcher entire cities because of Canaanite religious practices (offering children to Molech and other much less heinous things like tattoos). In the OT story, the Israelites are the intended heroes. Obedience to the Torah their ticket to being a global witness for their God. If a few small civilizations get wiped out, including in some cases the children and animals, so be it. The Holy God has spoken.

Now this is a very, very interesting perspective. And Christians have to concede, for whatever reason, the Savior was born into a Jewish family, in Israel, though centuries after the alleged events of the conquest of Canaan.

I have a number of problems with this story line. For one, I am not sure the ancient Jews were the only people God was speaking to and through. Did they have a special covenant or agreement with God? This is possible. The stories in Exodus and Leviticus about God's Glory settling on the tent of meeting, participating with and among the people...these are powerful stories indeed. But there is much content in here I would be surprised to find unique: extensive animal sacrifice, the altar, perhaps even the general structure of the tent itself, the graduating levels of holy regions, the garments and sacred lots the priests wore. Did all these rise out of nothing among Israel? Direct commandments of God? Here my skeptical self kicks in again.

But this is what this short (and largely uninformed) post is about: I think that even if the special covenant with Israel is accepted, it's pretty clear they blew it as a nation. Their own texts admit it via the Babylonian captivity and one could argue the Roman occupation. If Jesus was in fact the Messiah, only a portion of the nation responded, and, whether by accident or Divine purpose, the Temple was laid flat in 70 by Titus and diaspora became the norm until a few decades ago, when Israel was restored and, unfortunately, Palestinians were thrown out of their homes with a tone rather reminiscent of the original conquest literature in the HB.

Now, I find many Christians supporting Israel as if they are still God's chosen vehicle to reveal Himself to the world. With all respect to my Jewish friends and to Israel itself, Christians have to see the Church as having been handed this role. Paul says (oh, where) that a true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly. The new religion (our religion) opened its boundaries to include Jew and gentile. From that moment on, any special status Israel may or may not have held must have shifted.

All that said, I still don't think God told the migrating Jews to butcher entire cities. I know they believed that He did, and my well-arguing fundamentalists friends will tell me that a Holy God was using Israel to exact judgement on nations He considered immoral, and to keep Israel from falling intermingling with such people they had to die (they intermingled anyway).

It is easy to forget that Jesus, in any fair reading, began to work outside the temple cultus completely. He forgave sins personally; he rewrote portions of the Torah in his speeches; he re interpreted the ancient codes. He distilled them, as some of the other prophets had done before him, into loving action. We do not see Jesus arguing for enhanced Temple ritual; his action in the Temple (and scholars debate what to call this) seems, if anything, a prophetic gesture directed towards the predicted end of the Temple cult and quite clearly the Temple itself. If nothing else, Jesus was right about that. The Temple was destroyed and within the lifetime of some of those who heard his prediction.

It is typical for ancient peoples, nearly all I know, to see divine action in historical events. A natural or military disaster must be the action of God or gods, and hence a reflection on the religious purity of the clan or nation. What did we do to bring this on ourselves? Ancient Israel clearly believed they held a special status with God and other nations were to be either eliminated or drawn to God through their example, depending where one reads. I really do not know if I believe this, but I very much think it is dangerous to apply this reasoning today. I have seen this idea transferred to my own country: America is viewed by so many Christians as the chosen nation, the new Israel, and to me that is simply absurd. It has been used to justify aggression against innocent persons. I know of one massacre of native Americans (including women and children) during colonial times that was later defended using those same examples of wholesale slaughter from the Torah.

From what little I know, I do not think Israel is innocent in their treatment of Palestinians from the 1940's on. Nor do I support, of course, terrorism or missile attacks or suicide bombings, especially of civilian persons. I am a believer in non-violence whenever such is possible. But what little of the mess I know over there tells me both sides need to make concessions, need to seek peaceful resolution; find an end to the hatred. I cannot believe Israel continues in some special status with God over and above any other people, including the Palestinians. Anti-semitism I find repugnant; what thinking person would not. But the fundamentalist view that Israel is still God's chosen people, that they have a right to that land at any cost...that they are innocent or justified in all that they do in Palestine as they are still God's holy warriors...this view I find very troubling.

***

I want to write a series of posts; heck, I'd like to write an article or two if I had any idea where to send it and how to do the necessary research considering where I live, on Jesus' comments on the Hebrew Scriptures. His positions are not unified or always clear; some redaction must be accounted for. But I have always found it interesting, when the divorce question comes up (and as in so many cases, Jesus is answering in a manner to confound his would-be confounders) Jesus says that Moses wrote this because of the hardness of your heart. Now, the passage from the Torah his interlocutors quote is supposed to God-given law, the Divine instruction, without error; Jesus does not read it that way in this context, as he goes deeper than the old commandment and stresses, as my brother notes, the nature of the heart. That all hearts are adulterous, all lust, all fall short of the loving ideal of the lifetime companion. Some in reality, some in thought, it does not matter to God. But, in this passage, Jesus seems to toss out a small portion of the Torah. He says equally puzzling things in other places, and there are hints he does not keep all the ritual practice. Whether, as I have heard argued, he only sets aside the oral tradition (and what makes that less important; the Jews saw it as equally important and many still do) and keeps the written Torah is an interesting question. In short, it is a complex subject and if anyone knows of any books on the topic (Jesus' statements regarding the HB and especially the Torah) I'd dig reading them. As with anything else in NT studies, my guess is the answer is going to be complex. Even the historical use of the HB during Jesus life was complex, I know.

Well, enough for now. I am going to go and darken the door of my gym for the first time in about a year. My back injury is not healed (and I need to plod to another specialist) even though I am told soft tissue injuries always heal in time; mine should have been fully healed a year ago. Anyway, it seems to be doing well enough that I can work out some. I miss the gym very much. Exercise has been important to me since my late 20's, and I could write an entire post on the ruined cathedral of what used to be my personal fitness. There is nothing like it for stress; and I find weights, and sometimes cardio, lots of fun. Oh, do wish I had not lost my ipod. It blows working out without an ipod.

Well, love to all. Being on vacation I have no excuse not to make the 30 minute drive to the gym. Wish me luck. I will be careful, take it easy, lift lightly (so my arms don't snap out of socket) and try to get in the all critical cardio. Sighs. Been a tough year without any serious working out.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Christmas Rappings

S and I spent two weeks away, Christmas and New Year's, most of it with family in so. cal., three wonderful days in San Fran including New Year's Eve itself. The odd thing is that I got food poisoning my first day back with family (ate out twice, can't say which place) and was sick with that for two or three days. Then a cold set in just a couple of days later so I was sick the entire time in San Fran. Not real sick, a cold only, but not that has (as always) settled into my chest. I beat bronchitis this time, remarkably; I get the wicked bronch. But I took a dose of narcotic cough syrup last night and tonight to help me sleep without hacking still, and my snoring is so bad my poor wife ended up on the couch last night and I volunteered tonight. She goes back to work tomorrow; I'm off for another week or so though I have some work to do to get ready for the semester, not much for at least a week. Heck, I don't even know the exact day school starts. Nice job.

I have a ton of things to talk about. I want to babble here; I love that I can. So, babble on.

For one, I went to a great Episcopal church in Long Beach, St. Luke's. The rector there manages to have traditional worship and music (and a stunning choir); all the formality I have become familiar with. But more importantly, the parish is very diverse, highly welcoming. A gay men's spirituality group, gay couples, straight couples, all ages and colors. A very nice thing to see in any church but especially my own denomination. We visited twice; my hat off to him. I hope I can speak with him some day in more depth to see how he did and does it.

For two, I had a couple of great phone conversations with Sandalstraps. What a remarkable man he is. I am glad we spoke, and I at least hope to make that semi-regular.

For three, I spent some great time with family and friends; S and I had to dig pretty deep in and through our own stuff (and how much farther I have to grow is continually apparent). As always, I love time in San Francisco. What can I say about that town? Eat, drink, walk, eat and drink some more; MOMA, architecture...authentic Italian for a two hour lunch and French for a three hour dinner. As I always say, it is a great place to bleed money. If we had more, I'd go more often than I do. And it was great to spend New Year's Eve in a little hotel room with good friend, eating great munchies (if fresh bread, camembert cheese and truffle salt count as munchies). Even sick, I love the City.

But now for the rest. As I said, a lot of my vacation was hard emotional work. Within my relationship, yes. We came out stronger, but two weeks vacation with so many family of origin moments is challenging. I feel good about my love right now; it feels much stronger, or I do anyway within it, than when I started this blog. I thank God and lots of therapy and a loving wife for the outcome.

Oh, the cough medicine is making me a bit sleepy.

Discernment was very hard over the last month or so. It did not feel like a relaxed and organic God-supported journey; it felt like shit. Fear mostly. Lots of fear. My mom tried everything to talk me out of it when I told her; she means well in her frantic terror way, but she told me stories about how congregations turn on pastors, etc. If I have time, I'll rewrite the conversation up here. What I just said does not do it justice. It seems every part of me is getting squeezed in a garlic press. My own doubt/faith issues; more so the last few days, as I relax on my long Christmas vacation and watch my paycheck roll in, the amazing nature of my own job. I do not have a shitty job. I have a great job. There are things about it which grind, yes; too many papers! And it keeps me so busy I feel intellectually limited. I mean I need something more: more education, a real attempt at a writing career, something. But let me say, teaching community college pays well enough and gives me a real life most of the year. Much of it is interesting and fun. Why chuck that for so much uncertainty? And at my age, now mid 40's? Those continue to strike me as very good questions.

What is wrong with financial security, with lack of drama? I am one of those people who never stops re inventing my self; someone who never wants to stop growing and learning and changing. I would do more of this if I did not live to far from colleges (including my own) where I could take French, philosophy, things I missed as an undergrad. Is the priest thing just another curious journey? If so, why toss my livelihood for it? I could surely travel as the years go by and S begins to make a full salary and my own salary goes up. Yes, these are good questions even if I have raised them before.

So right now, I feel awfully cautious about entering ministry. Is that the word? Maybe exhausted from the emotional stress of seriously considering it and taking a break. That might be the best description.

Oh, I've read Genesis and Exodus and am almost done with Lev. Very interesting. I read them before, in EFM, but my mental background was pretty fundamentalist and I was overwhelmed, shocked even, by the human content of the OT. Now, coming back and reading from the other side, with a "low" view of scripture, I find much of interest. I also had some very good discussions with my brother who is an evangelical, fundamentalist I guess. No, I'm not going back, but I have put all my energy into NT studies and find the Torah exponentially more complex than the gospels.

And finally, my own little parish continues to struggle. It needs help, every body that can contribute must, and I have contributed a lot already. Enough said there. I want to visit a parish or two not that much farther than mine. If I left my parish I'd feel like a complete ass. But I know my son has suffered from not having a genuine youth community; my wife has felt the lack of community; so have I. There are some very sweet people there, people we like, and maybe they are enough. I can't imagine the original house churches were much different in size than what we have (30 or so) in our later service. Well, I don't really want to go into details here, even on this blog.

Oh, enjoying Made Men on DVD. We saw season two before season one, and working through one now; recommended fiction, that.

And this is really all I have. It's late; I haven't been able to blog while away, even when I really needed to, so this is my sort of catch up. More focused posts to come later.

Love to all.