Category Archives: Random

Duck Mode

I’ve been in duck mode for about the past month or so. All is quiet, but there’s massive amounts of churn below the surface… Hopefully this will be coming to an end very soon. Here are some of the things in progress:

  • I’m finishing up a major software project which is where most of my time has been focused.
  • I’ll soon be debuting a brand-new code-base at the breviary. Most of the code changes I’ve made at the breviary over the years have been fairly small and incremental. This isn’t. I’m seeing more evidence of complications with the preferences, especially with iDevices. This change should resolve that and should make navigating the options easier and cleaner. I will retain the “classic” format as the main entry point to the breviary, but will put up copious links to the new method and invite input. Additions/corrections will occur there until I’m happy with it, then that will become the default. I will likely keep the classic version somewhere as a backup.
  • The St Bede Psalmcast will resume from its hiatus.
  • In concert with that, I’ll be posting a lot more as I dive head first into the Cassiodorus/Psalms book projects.
  • Speaking of books—I’m now hearing June from the Forward Movement folks on the prayer book spirituality book, but I’ve seen cover art and internal layout! It looks fantastic, and can’t wait to share more…
  • Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music meetings have been happening, I’m again co-chairing the Calendar subcommittee and have some things to say about that. I’m also part of the subcommittee to discuss a plan for the process of revising the BCP. And, yes, I have thoughts there too…

But remember, all of this is my “spare time” stuff! The day job continues, dance competitions are springing up all over the calendar, and M will be starting her new job as rector of a parish in the area on Monday!

Pray for us…

Good News/Bad News

Well, the good news is that between 9 AM this morning and now, I’ve mapped out a new book. It’s a collection of essays directly targeted for the “Spiritual But Not Religious” set from a “Spiritual But Then Religious” perspective. It wouldn’t be a strong linear argument, but more a collection of concepts to muse upon in terms of what a religious tradition is good for, how to use one and–ultimately–why I think one is necessary if we really are serious about being spiritual.

The bad news? I have absolutely no business doing anything with a new book now!! I’m right near the end of one, and not nearly as far on the others as I ought to be…

The Prayer Book book is moving rapidly toward being. We’re working up cover art concepts now, and I’m still dragging my feet as to whether the last chapter needs a transitional paragraph to start it out. Once the foreword, the afterword, and acknowledgements get hashed it out ought to be done and finally out sometime in Easter.

The Cassiodorus book is still lagging thanks to all sorts of busyness and that’s the one I really ought to be writing right now.

Oh well—into the idea file it goes…


Quick Thought on the Virgin Birth

Ok—here’s what I don’t get.

You have people who are fine with God creating the entire universe from scratch.

Think about that…

Galaxies, suns, gravitational forces, quarks (whatever the hell they are…), rain forests, viruses, the dance of subatomic particles: all of it. From scratch. The crystalline structures of minerals. The little bio-motors that power flagella. All of it.

Bringing forth life in a wild riotous explosion of varities of forms and shapes and colors and life-spans. And that’s just this planet…

They’re fine with all of that.

But suggest that God might fertilize a single human egg cell—this being the same Being that started the whole subatomic dance thing and decided that “fertilization” should even be a thing—suggest that, and suddenly they think you’ve gone a conceptual bridge too far?

Really? You’re fine with “everything from scratch” but one half of one cell is too much for you to conceive of?

(pun totally intended…)

The Baltimore Riots

Many readers know that I live in the northern part of South Baltimore. We’re less than a mile away from the Inner Harbor, the downtown area and Camden Yards where the Orioles play. While many people watching the events unfolding here can do so as spectators, it’s a little more personal for us.

So far, everything has been quiet in our part of town; the unrest has largely happened in West Baltimore although the activity in Fells Point was not far from here (it’s on the northern side of the Inner Harbor).  That having been said, we’re keeping our eye on things and will be particularly attentive on Friday when we expect more details about the Freddie Gray case to be made public.

A few thoughts, not necessarily coherently connected…

First, I object to media reports about demonstrators turning violent. This is imprecise and misleading language. There have been demonstrations through the week with an especially large demonstration on Saturday; in our Adult Forum Sunday we got a full run-down of the events there as two of the women from our church—who are lawyers with the ACLU—were present, one as an official Legal Observer. Their observations were that the demonstrators were predominately local people demonstrating peacefully and only a small fraction were violdent. Too, they said that there was a very heavy police presence but that it was marked by restartaint. Even when they saw demonstrators throw water bottles or rocks at the police, the officers did not respond to the provocations.

What happened yesterday was not demonstrating turning violent. Rather, it was the deliberate creation of opportunistic chaos. Most of the violence I saw on TV and heard about was done by juveniles. In the footage—particularly the day-time footage of activity near Mondawmin Mall—notice the prevalence of light blue and orange shirts; in that section of the city, orange is the school uniform for middle schoolers, and light blue is for high schoolers (middle schoolers wear green in my neighborhood…)   This activity was not protest at an unjust system as much as opportunistic criminal behavior to loot local (local!) community businesses under the cover of a larger situation of unrest.

Second, I think the situation here can help us ask some important questions. Is there an unjust system in place here? Yes. There is a serious problem in the way that policing is carried out in Baltimore. However, where the Baltimore system is helpful and instructive is the way that it differs from some of the other locations where unrest has occurred and problems have surfaced. Baltimore gives us the opportunity to see some of the more complex and worrisome dynamics that were masked in other places.

The chief narrative here is race. The key slogan is “Black Lives Matter.” And I totally agree with that. After Mass on Sunday, we collectively left the nave and stood by the well-travelled Highway 40 holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter” which prompted at least one motorist to yell back, “All lives matter!” Driving home the girls and I unpacked this. My take is that yes, of course all lives matter, but at this time and place the specificity of “Black lives” helps us to better see the generality of “all lives.” Because “all lives” are not threatened in the particular and systemic ways that attention is showing that “Black lives” are.  Therefore the focus on “Black lives” is helpful and necessary to accomplish the goal of “all lives.”

That having been said, the topic of race is Baltimore is more complicated here than in other places. Our police commissioner is Black. Our mayor is Black. Of the fifteen members of the Baltimore City Council, seven—including the Council President—are Black. I would guess that roughly half of the Baltimore City Police that I see are people of color; Wikipedia says that in the O’Malley administration (2 mayors ago, now), 43% of the force was African-American. According to the 2010 census, 63.7% of the city inhabitants are African-American. All that having been said, recent investigations into police brutality by the Baltimore Sun don’t make easy reading and the city has paid out $5.7 million in compensation to victims of police brutality. (I don’t know how this compares to other cities, though—and without a decent basis for comparison, I’m not sure what this number means except that it sure looks big!)

What this says to me is that 1) it’s not just about which individuals are in the seats of power. Systemic injustice can be a reality despite the current composition of the local government.

Furthermore, 2) an overly-directed focus on race can obscure the role of class which I think is a very important part of this conversation. Race and class are inextricably tangled in the American social situation and I wouldn’t argue otherwise; white privilege and the legacy of an unjust system that allowed White America to build wealth and pass it down through inheritance (enabling the emergence of and solidifying the American middle class) in ways largely denied to Black America is an essential part of this mix. I think that the reality of pervasive injustice and brutality despite people of color in the highest levels of city governance reveals  the problem here is not just race alone. Rather, it’s about how authority can be and is abused by those in power.

I don’t know much about city politics. What little I do know appears to back up a rather widespread perception on the ground that the corruption is a huge issue in the city government.  Who has power, how they wield it, and who has oversight is a more complicated set of issues and are far harder to tweet about than race but are major factors in the persistent inequity here.

3) The inequity and crime and some of the issues around policing are directly connected to our heroin epidemic; to ignore it or to say otherwise is disingenuous and misleading. We can’t deal with the issues here without addressing the drug trade.

Third, what is particularly affecting to me is that the burning and looting did not occur in particularly privileged sections or even in “common areas” like downtown, but in the neighborhoods that are already economically depressed. It was a big deal for West Baltimore when the Target and Shoppers moved in. It requires a certain amount of trust on the part of the corporations.  One of the main areas of media attention was the looting and burning of a CVS at North & Pennsylvania. Do you think CVS will be eager to set up shop there again? Will major retailers be willing to invest in these neighborhoods? Yes, the consumers are there, but will that outweigh the risks?

Furthermore, a lot of the looting happened to locally-owned mom-and-pop stores. So—the very people in the community who were providing economic opportunities to the area are now—literally—paying for it.

There’s much more to say, but this’ll be it for now… Please pray for peace in Baltimore, and work for it where ever you happen to be.

Drifting Thoughts

  • I think modern Christianity simply doesn’t get “allegorical” interpretation as practiced by the Church Fathers & Mothers and their early medieval interpetive heirs. At its heart, allegorial/spiritual/mystical (the last two were the terms they most frequently used of their own activities…) is an intellectually engaged form of spiritual play. It’s a game—but a reverent, thoughtful one. Spiritual Sudoku. A couple of passages here from Augustine that ground this for me:

7. But hasty and careless readers are led astray by many and manifold obscurities and ambiguities, substituting one meaning for another; and in some places they cannot hit upon even a fair interpretation. Some of the expressions are so obscure as to shroud the meaning in the thickest darkness. And I do not doubt that all this was divinely arranged for the purpose of subduing pride by toil, and of preventing a feeling of satiety in the intellect, which generally holds in small esteem what is discovered without difficulty. For why is it, I ask, that if any one says that there are holy and just men whose life and conversation the Church of Christ uses as a means of redeeming those who come to it from all kinds of superstitions, and making them through their imitation of good men members of its own body; men who, as good and true servants of God, have come to the baptismal font laying down the burdens of the world, and who rising thence do, through the implanting of the Holy Spirit, yield the fruit of a two-fold love, a love, that is, of God and their neighbor—how is it, I say, that if a man says this, he does not please his hearer so much as when he draws the same meaning from that passage in Canticles, where it is said of the Church, when it is being praised under the figure of a beautiful woman, Your teeth are like a flock of sheep that are shorn which came up from the washing, whereof every one bears twins, and none is barren among them? Song of Songs 4:2 Does the hearer learn anything more than when he listens to the same thought expressed in the plainest language, without the help of this figure? And yet, I don’t know why, I feel greater pleasure in contemplating holy men, when I view them as the teeth of the Church, tearing men away from their errors, and bringing them into the Church’s body, with all their harshness softened down, just as if they had been torn off and masticated by the teeth. It is with the greatest pleasure, too, that I recognize them under the figure of sheep that have been shorn, laying down the burthens of the world like fleeces, and coming up from the washing, i.e., from baptism, and all bearing twins, i.e., the twin commandments of love, and none among them barren in that holy fruit.

8. But why I view them with greater delight under that aspect than if no such figure were drawn from the sacred books, though the fact would remain the same and the knowledge the same, is another question, and one very difficult to answer. Nobody, however, has any doubt about the facts, both that it is pleasanter in some cases to have knowledge communicated through figures, and that what is attended with difficulty in the seeking gives greater pleasure in the finding.— For those who seek but do not find suffer from hunger. Those, again, who do not seek at all because they have what they require just beside them often grow languid from satiety. Now weakness from either of these causes is to be avoided. Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere. (Augustine, On Christian Teaching 2.6.7-8; copied from New Advent’s edition)

14. In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a man discovers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life—to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts for a great deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want. (Augustine, On Christian Teaching 2.9.14; copied from New Advent’s edition)

For Augustine, the interpretation of obscure parts of Scripture is about pleasure and delight—that’s the language he’s using here. The thrill of intellectual discovery comes when you figure out the puzzle. Have you learned something you didn’t know before? Well, no—not as he sees. it. The obscurities teach nothing that isn’t already said plainly; but it’s a lot more fun to find it in the obscurities!

The other key thing here is the place of memory. Read so as to memorize, and then you can ruminate on those passages that are obscure to you (or, sometimes, that you choose to treat as obscure even if they may have some easier referents…). Spiritual readings are the result of a lengthy process of mental mastication; you have to chew on them for a long time with great attention to detail.

There’s a lot more to say on this topic, particularly with regard to the aims and boundaries of interpretation—i.e., keeping readings on track and what constitute valid and invalid spiritual readings, that I won’t get into except to note that Augustine explicitly orients all good reading on an axis of either 1) promoting charity or 2) restraining vice and that he envisions it within a community of practice bounded by worship: the creeds and sacraments are the ultimate controls.

  • I’ve seen a number of references on Facebook and elsewhere to a Guardian piece on Matthew Crawford that you should definitely read if you haven’t already.   The key pull-quote here is: “Distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind.” When I read this, my mind jumped immediately to John Cassian’s Institutes. In his treatment of the eight principal vices and the corresponding virtues, he starts with Gluttony. I’ve been struck by this. Gluttony is one of the sins this least discussed yet most openly practiced by Western consumer culture. While Cassian tends to speak of it in the literal sense with regard to fasting and such, I read it in the broader sense to include all forms of unnecessary consumption. Yes, some consumption is necessary for life—this isn’t gluttony. Gluttony, the vice, is when consumption occurs for its own sake or for a purpose other than the legitimate needs of the corpus (whether individual or communal). I haven’t thought through this yet, but my subconscious informs me that there’s a deep link between what Crawford is saying about distraction and the spiritual ill that is Gluttony.
  • I saw a great image on Twitter today that I had to retweet.

    First, I love this page, its type, and layout! This is from 1896 and I see it in line with the whole pre-Raphaelite/Arts & Crafts/Morris movement that has ties into Victorian medievalism that buoyed catholic sensibilities in the C of E as well as the graphic arts. I can’t see this page without finding in it a great debt to the late medieval Books of Hours tradition. Again—it makes one think…

Sunday Services and Church Vitality

I have a clergy friend who will remain nameless. He’s had difficulty finding employment in the church of late. Like M and myself, he’s a pretty active guy and is into running and biking. Now—a lot of running races occur on Sunday mornings, as do many more informal join-ups to run or bike. When we chatted last he said, “You know, on nice Sundays I’ll often just go running or riding if I’m not supplying. To be perfectly honest, if I weren’t a priest, I don’t think I’d spend my Sunday mornings in church…”

I was reminded of this conversation after seeing this post on the decline of the Sunday morning church moment.

I don’t question my friend’s commitment or faith. I know him better than that. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m taking these kinds of statements more seriously.

Attendance at church on Sunday mornings is seen as the primary index of faith by a lot of folks—like governing bodies, for instance. After all, one of our primary metrics is ASA: average Sunday attendance. As many people have said in various ways over the past several years, this number both is and isn’t important. On one level, it is not a measure of vitality; on the other, it is a starting place to get into questions of trends of growth or decline that may well be driven by vitality, energy, or lack thereof.

But you and I know that attendance on Sunday doesn’t cut to the heart of the matter. Some people still go to church out of a sense of guilt or obligation. Others don’t attend who are far more faithful than I. At the end of the day, this is the heart of the matter: are we living in such a way to be ever more deeply immersed in God? Are we “hid with Christ in God” and contributing to such an experience in others as well?

I won’t say that Sunday morning has nothing to do with this. As a sacramental Christian, Baptism into and lived out within an embodied community is an essential part of the faith. As I read the Scriptures and the Fathers, you can’t be a Christian by yourself! Too, we are together most fully who we are in the Eucharist. In the sacramental assembly we participate within the interior dialogue of the Trinity at Christ’s own invitation and the Spirit’s enabling.

We cannot dispense with the sacramental assembly. But is that the same as Sunday morning?

In my study of the Daily Office; of the liturgical, theological, and spiritual application of Scripture; of patterns of lay devotion in the medieval Church, I do wonder if we have not somehow become fixated on Sunday morning to the impoverishing of other aspects of Christian life and practice.

As one deeply committed to the importance of and convinced of the fundamental utility of a liturgical spirituality, I believe that there are answers within our tradition that will help us address the the situation we find ourselves in. But I don’t think we’ve even fully defined that situation yet!

The Church is called to be counter-cultural. We are expected to live and behave in ways that reflect our adherence to a different norm. However, insisting on the primacy of Sunday morning all too often feels less counter-cultural than an insistence on retaining the norms of the previous generations. Too often it feels less “revolutionary” and more “sour grapes.”

Still pondering…

Generations in the Church

No thesis here, just some dot-connecting…

Something is pinging my brain about leadership, identity, who the Church is, who the movers-and-shakers in the Church are or ought to be, and generational vision. As you can see, this is a pretty amorphous mass! But I do want to put a few things in conversation with one another.

The first is Fr. Tim Schenck’s post Generation to Generation that fusses with generations in the Church and generations in leadership. It, too, seems to me to be an act of noticing rather than a thesis about the nature of generations and generational conflict in and around church leadership.

Another is today’s Daily Episcopalian from George Clifford on clergy as professional revolutionaries. I see this piece as an example of a certain deeply-held generational perspective of what it means to do and be Church. The opinions and perspectives expressed here exemplify a stereotype (well on its way to being a caricature) of an aging, politically liberal leadership that seems to hold creeds, theology, and spirituality loosely but holding politics tightly. (And, perhaps, a way to retain clericalism while stripping the role of anything clerical!)

And, of course, as I type this, I perceive my own bias in my reflection…

My sense is that, for Fr. Clifford and others of his ilk, they would heartily disagree with my phrasing and would insist that political action IS a spiritual act—indeed, is THE spiritual act.

Akin to this is the baffled Facebook post from the Cafe over the weekend that could not comprehend why a Cafe piece on Evensong was being shared multiple times but one on racism wasn’t.

Contrast that with Fr. Hendrickson on the eucharistic character of the Church. If I said that George’s piece represents a stereotype of a very visible perspective of a certain generational slice, I could say a similar thing about Robert’s… For Robert, Eucharist is THE spiritual act.

It’s easy to take these positions, harden them, and oppose them to one another. I don’t want to do that. I think we will be making a grave error for the Church if we do it or let others do it to us. What I am seeing here are two different theologies with their own spiritual implications. And there need not be as much distance between them as some would try to create. See, for instance, Robert’s reflection on the Harvard Black Mass that touches on matters near and dear to the political. And yet to say that they’re just two sides of the same coin doesn’t feel right either.

Two theologies, two generations. I don’t think they’re necessarily correlated, but I do wonder what the trend balance is.

The Beauty of Holiness

I was struck again this morning with the strong sense of the inter-relation between beauty, truth, and holiness. Beauty is a pathway into the soul. We need to be more attentive regarding the ways that we can work this truth into our daily practices of faith and life…


Brief Updates, Advent Edition

  • Advent is here. Yay!
  • Things are crazy, perhaps more so than usual.
  • I just drafted another provisional piece for discussion at the upcoming Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music meeting on the future of HWHM revision. I can’t say more about this yet, but I think we’re on the brink of making some very positive steps forward.
  • The spirituality of the prayer book (first draft) manuscript is done—except for about a third of a chapter. That would be the part where I directly tackle the content of the Eucharistic prayers. I’m not trying to say everything that can be said on the topic, but it’s daunting material to say the least!
  • The Kickstarter project write-up for the electronic Anglican Breviary is almost complete, I just need to finalize some of the business stuff and make a video. I hate the way my voice sounds on video…
  • However, I just got some great news on the Breviary front; I received a very generous offer last night from the Society of Archbishop Justus to host the projected Anglican Breviary as well as the St Bede’s Breviary on their servers free of charge! I’m thrilled, and very grateful for this offer which will solve the issue of on-going funding for server hosting.