In the midst of all that is going on, locally and nationally, I have been getting ready to begin the Proctor Fellowship at The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA for the Spring Semester, 2011.
The weather has conspired to change my original time line, which has been moved up a day. So, now it's 8 days and counting. One week plus one day. Today. So, one week from tomorrow, I will be moving into my apartment on campus.
Who, me? Excited? However did you guess?
It's been 25 years since I graduated from EDS. Twenty. Five. Years. !!!!!
I know it's cliche but I can honestly say that I don't know where the time has gone. As long as I'm sojourning here for a moment in the Land of Cliche, let me just say that the time has simply flown by.
"Time like an ever rolling stream bears all her sons (and daughters) away. They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day."
Well, I've not forgotten. And, I am delighted that EDS has taken the time to remember me. I'm even more delighted that they have not let the dream of excellent theological education die after I flew away to other Vineyards of the Lord to apply the things I learned there.
Wasn't it just yesterday that I was sitting in the refectory (now, called a cafeteria - sigh!), having conversations with the Proctor Fellow who was there when I was a bright-eyed, all full-of-myself seminarian?
I used to think I had all the answers to life's problems. Now, I'm much more interested in the questions of life's problems. That's because I have discovered that life's problems are not about finding answers. It's what Rilke said about being faithful to living the question.
I think I get that, now.
I remember "my" Proctor Fellow being a chap from Australia who was "particularly interested," he said - in the language of the academy where one is, of course, supposed to be interested in everything but having "particular" interests - in Christology.
I'm hoping to enroll in Patrick Cheng's course on "Contemporary Christologies" and either Bill Kondrath's "Creativity, Change and Conflict" or Ed Rodman's "Liberation Preaching". Actually, I've known Ed for years and, in my experience, just about everything that comes out of his mouth is a sermon about liberation. I'd pay solid money just for the privilege of sitting at his feet and listening to him talk.
Then again, Kwok Pui Lan's, "Spirituality for the Contemporary World" is very attractive to me, knowing, as I do, of her work. She's simply brilliant. "Prophets and Evangelists" also looks very interesting, but the course catalog doesn't yet list a faculty person.
There are also two courses at Harvard - just a 15 minute walk from my apartment - that I'm considering, which I can take through EDS's membership in the BTI (Boston Theological Institute).
I will want to take a look at all the required readings for each of the courses, which will tell me a great deal more about what I can expect.
I'm sure to learn more when I get there next week. Eight days from today. One week from tomorrow. But, who's counting?
As I read over the courses being offered this semester, I feel like a hungry person in front of a banquet table. I want to run wildly into all of the courses listed in the catalog and grab great handfuls of everything.
If asked, I guess I would have to say that I have a "particular interest" in the course "Contemporary Christologies". It's no secret that I love Jesus and I'm keenly interested in ways to talk about The Risen Christ with a generation that knows him, for the most part, only in the extremes.
Either he's the "Jeee-sssusss" of the Fundamental/Pentecostal/Evangelicals who casts out demon spirits of disease (and "dis-eases" like homosexuality) and magically answers prayers, but only those of "the righteous" - Or - His name is sung or chanted softly and mysteriously among billowing clouds of incense and contained within a round, tasteless wafer and a chalice of bad tasting wine.
No wonder people are either confused or anxious about Jesus. Our leaders are, too. Hence, I suspect, there's at least some "creativity, change and conflict" in Christian community.
I don't hear a lot of preaching about Jesus in Episcopal Churches. Oh, I hear a great deal of God-talk and a fair amount about the Holy Spirit, but not a great deal about Jesus, except in exigetical terms, wherein the situation of the gospel story is reviewed and critiqued.
More than one preacher I've listened to never mentions His name in a sermon. I've heard certain priests preach on the Hebrew Scripture, the Psalm and even the Collect of the day, with maybe - maybe - a passing reference to "today's scripture". But, not once have I heard from these clergy a sermon on the Gospel for the day, and certainly never a mention of the name of Jesus from the pulpit.
I can't say what's going on in pulpits of other Christian denominations - my experience is pretty much limited to Episcopal churches in the Northeast - but I find myself feeling a vague but growing sense of discomfort about what is beginning to feel like a trend or a style in preaching.
Sermons are beginning to feel more like a "reflection" I might read in a book or a religious magazine, or a "talk" I could hear in a Unitarian Universalist Church.
Not that there's a thing in the world wrong with either, God knows.
I once heard Dominic Crossan - at a Kellogg Lecture, in fact, at EDS a few years ago - slap his head and say, "It's a parable, stupid." He was saying that, when Jesus spoke, he was preaching a parable about the Torah, the scriptures of his day. Crossan's point was that most of the gospels are parables about Jesus that were written by his disciples - a sermon on the sermons of Jesus.
I think all good sermons do that. They answer the question that has been hijacked by the Evangelicals: "What would Jesus do?" They answer the question that is in the hearts of many in the pews: "Where can we find - where can we see Jesus - today? In our world? In our time?"
A good preacher will take the message of Jesus and His disciples in the scripture and preach modern parables. They not only have to be more than just a "nice reflection," but it has to challenge the listeners to some kind of action - even if only by raising provocative questions.
"Faith, if it hath not works is dead." James 2:17. Or, in the Canon P.D. Quirk translation of the KJV: "Do not leteth the grace grow under thy feet."
That message/sermon has to come from a place of truth in the preacher, or the congregation will sniff it out in less than a heart beat, and the preacher will not have any credibility.
Which is probably why Jesus said, over and over and over again, "Be not afraid." It's what every heavenly messenger says before s/he opens her mouth to tell you what God is about to ask of you.
It is a fearsome thing - something that still, after 25 years, causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble - to be an "alter Christus" in the pulpit or at the altar. One of the first pulpits I preached in - at Christ Church, Hyde Park, MA - had a small brass plaque attached to the stand where the preacher places her manuscript. It said, simply, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus. John 12:21".
That, I think, is what people really hunger for. To see Jesus. The Rabbi. Our Great High Priest. The One who has come to show us The Way to feed ourselves and each other "from the riches of His grace and strengthen (us) to glorify God in this life and the life to come". (BCP 531)
If we do not break open The Word as we do The Bread, how will the people of Word and Sacrament be nourished and fed?
I'm just wondering out loud here if part of the reason the church is in decline is that we've lost our center. Which, for my money anyway, is Jesus.
If we don't talk about Him, if we don't listen for and preach a relevant message about Jesus for God's people in today's world... well...how is it that we are to bring His mission into the world and "restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ"? (BCP 855)
Yes, personal piety is important - which is what I hear in the messages of most sermons - but it's the corporate nature of Christianity that is critically important for today's increasingly isolated world. I'm feeling, in these sermons, that something is a bit out of balance between the two.
Perhaps, in The Episcopal Church, anyway, it is a reaction to the evangelical seizure, capture and hostage-taking of Jesus, the ransom for which is the transformation of all of our images of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Ghost) into "their" images, and the conversion of the self into the ideal image that "they" have for us.
Their rules. No exceptions.
We don't want to be like "them", God knows - we of the most democratic religion in all of Western Christendom, who rest the theological foundations of our faith on the three-legged stool of scripture, tradition and reason.
We who are part of the "roomiest room" of all religions have heard far too many doors slam and lock shut as evangelicals and conservative "orthodox" alike hang signs on them that say "Boys Only" or "No homosexuals" or "Only really, really clean souls allowed".
In any event, I'm keenly interested in how to speak of Jesus in a contemporary world. Actually, I think I always have been. I'm still learning, thanks to the intellectual curiosity and quest for life-long learning which was instilled and nurtured in me at EDS.
I suspect the way to do that is to first listen to what is being said in a course like "Contemporary Christologies" so that I can learn the language and images and metaphors of the next generation.
I'm looking forward to keeping my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open. Well, in class, mostly (I can hear you giggling. Some of you know me too well.). I am also looking forward to conversations with seminarians and faculty in the refectory and classrooms and hallways.
I've been thinking, some, about how I might respond to some of the very questions I asked - in my time as a seminarian at EDS - of the Proctor Fellow and other visiting clergy who would stop by the seminary or audit some of the classes with us. What will I say when some of those questions - or ones I haven't yet anticipated - are asked of me?
I actually walk around the house and jot stuff down. I love that I have a voice memo 'app' on my iPhone which I use when an idea comes to me in the car.
I am collecting some of my thoughts, for another post at another time.
Right now, my energies are consumed by the excitement and anticipation of going back "home". To one of my spiritual "homes". To one of the places that nurtured me and fed me and gave me the foundation for 25 years of most an amazing priesthood.
Yes, you can go home. It won't be the same. I know. I'm looking forward to giving back a little of what I took from what EDS so generously offered.
Because, well, it's home. It's one of the places where I was empowered and equipped to do the work of the Jesus I know and love. It's where a piece of the heart of this priest is and will always be.
I am so very, deeply, profoundly grateful.