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.