Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I'm having an Arts Concern

So today I attended my first chapel (non-Catholic). And we're closing up the event with a rousing old Fanny Crosby hymn. Everyone is singing along enthusiastically until we get to the chorus the second time. Then suddenly the woman singing turns into a reasonable fascimile of a gospel singer, taking the melody all over the place in rhythm and pitch, basically denying anyone in the congregation the ability to follow her lead. So eventually everyone dropped out, and she did a solo for the rest of the piece. We simply couldn't compete.

What was that? Did I accidentally wander into Season 2 of American Idol? Why the sudden diva-vication of what was supposed to be worship time? How in the world can anyone think about God when there's a person howling like a cat in heat - on a mic?

The sad thing is that she really wasn't bad. And maybe in her heart of hearts she intended to create a worshipful space for those present. But it just drew ALL the attention in the room to her. All thought of God was pretty much driven away from our minds. Some appreciated her vocal gymnastics and others just looked around, confused.

This, dear readers, is bad worship. This is what causes people to be bored with church. There is no flow. It doesn't have to be "out there" - it doesn't have to be explained or justified. But it does have to be there. Somebody has to PLAN. Somebody has to think about what is appropriate, what is uplifting, what goes with what else in the service.

Why do we spend hours in classes learning to preach, learning to exegete the Bible and come up with cute applications to everyday life, and yet there is no required course at this school on liturgy? (I use the term loosely; not that everyone has to do high-church style, but every church does have a liturgy or ritual whether they know it or not, and if they don't, they really need to get one)

How can one be a shepherd of a flock, a leader of spiritual seekers, the mapholder on the journey, if one cannot bring out the most basic inborn relationship of one's congregant's to God - that is, their natural capacity to worship? I take that back: we are great at encouraging that attribute, but it is rarely directed to the correct person.

Because if you're singing and you're thinking how to "jazz things up", or if you're in a service and find yourself marveling at someone's musical ability, that's it. You've completely lost why you are there and you might as well go home or go to a rock concert.

Monday, September 27, 2004

First day of school (officially) (classes, I mean)

Okay, I am already getting too busy to keep this up! Whoa. What have I missed? There are a few things of note, and unfortunately I don't have time to go into a lot of detail. Maybe someday when I write a book about this. Anyway here's a snapshot of day 1:

- I met a woman who studies Israeli street fighting. I resisted the urge to ask her if she anticipates running into a lot of Palestinian militants in California. (I am cheating-I met her last week but forgot to write about her)

- I learned there is a "emergent" church in my area called "Tribe". Just take that in for a moment. Tribe. And yes, they do beat drums together.

- There are people driving up to and over two hours to come to my Greek class. That is two hours of driving (leaving at 6 am) followed by four hours of class (with a one-hour chapel break in the middle) followed by another two hours to drive home. They are insane.

- My Greek professor actually expects us to spend 2 hours outside class for every 1 hour in class. My Greek class is 12 hours a week. That's 24 hours of outside studying. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

- Translating Greek is really a thrill. The words are close enough to English words that most things aren't too hard to figure out. Or maybe we're just on the really easy vocabulary.

- There is a dude in my Greek class (note that Greek is my only class) who talks way too much. I am all for questions but this guy does not shut up. He is one of those who asks questions that show off how much he already knows. That is a seriously annoying thing to do. He also looks about 25 and says he has 3 kids with "one on the way". He must take to heart the command to "go forth and multiply". Can I call him a know-it-all sex freak or is that going too far? Probably not appropro for a feminarian. But I can hardly help myself.

- There is a guy in my class from Transylvania. I have an uncle from Transylvania. Who knew?

- During chapel break I took my stuff with me because I didn't know if the room would be locked and god forbid I lose my new pda. And some guy took my seat! He actually moved into my desk! Which was larger than the others and had a comfy chair. I was a bit shocked.

- Speaking of chapel, I visited Roman Catholic chapel. It was so cool. I loved it. And I was very naughty and took communion even though I am not Catholic. The father said it was okay but my husband tells me I still shouldn't have done it. I told him I trust the priest's judgement more than his.

I can't think of much else right now. I am learning greek letters (alpha beta gamma delta epsilon zeta eta theta iota kappa lambda mu nu omicron pi rho sigma tau upsilon phi chi psi omega) (shit that's only 23 - I am missing one). That must become my full-time job now.

I will write you when I can but don't expect a whole lotta lovin until I got some Greek down.

Me (oh yeah: xi!)

Friday, September 24, 2004

Now is the right time

I think it might be a good time to be at feminary. The women I am meeting are fired up. They are excited about being leaders. They love to preach and teach. They want to change things. They are not content.

I met a priest from the nearby episcopal church, who offered me spiritual direction. This is a direct answer to prayer. She also asked me to sing for her services, and said I answered a prayer she'd offered asking God for a new student at my school who would be able to participate. Possibly a coincidence. But interesting that we met, and happened to talk about the right things, and happened to offer each other the right part of ourselves that met the other's need.

I visited a great used bookstore and got my Greek-English Lexicon for $25! This is a $100 book. That was a thrill. I also got a shirt with my school's name on it, at the official bookstore that is, on sale. I am a sucker for a bargain.

Speaking of the bookstore, the staff at mine was quite poorly trained. Their "help" only made things more confusing and complicated. Being frightened and feeling out of control, I reverted to a rather demanding - dare I say bitchy? - side of myself. Incompetence drives me up the wall.

But then I visited a Taize service, which is one that offers great periods of silence for reflection. And I realized that in the eternal scheme of things, I probably was pretty petty. I figured out the situation on my own and there was really no need to dwell on the mistakes of others. Then I thought about how they were playing the music too quickly, and how out of place the little tribal drum was in such a service. Ah, my real nature returns. That saintly moment lasted all of 30 seconds. Brought to you by the fine monks of Taize.

Where have I ended up now? I began by celebrating my sisters in seminary and have turned to a self-examination. Such are the thoughts of those who seek God. One minute we are amazed by the world around us, by the creatures and our own marvelousness, by the creator who gave it all. Then the next we realize how utterly unimportant and unworthy we are in the scheme of this, in the eyes of one so magnificent. The life of God work is necessarily contemplative. How incomplete we would be without knowing ourselves! Without knowing our own nature, how could we possibly understand another's, let alone that of the eternal One.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A petty rant

Yesterday there was a panel discussion with three faculty members as part of the welcome activities. One of the faculty members attends (or attended) a church I used to go to, and I had always thought he was a bit arrogant. He came off a little better during the panel, and I thought it wise to give him another chance.

But one thing he said bothered me, which was that the church needs to stop having petty arguments amongst its members. I get his point, and his example was a silly one (what musical instruments to use) that hopefully would not split a church.

But I wondered: how is one supposed to tell what is a petty argument? What is petty to one woman is, to another, a salvation issue, or a real worship block, or at the least something that makes her uncomfortable while she is trying to find God. I don't think we should discount those feelings.

Like, for instance, my rant about the music used in church. I should clarify a bit: I can deal with the rock-n-roll, even like it; I am more bothered by the lack of care which goes into worship planning. This is well explained in Robert Webber's book Worship is a Verb, so I won't go into it here. Suffice to say that as a person who is particularly interested in liturgy (whether a church calls it that or not), I am distressed by the seemingly random way that much music, and other worship events, are chosen throughout a church service.

So although it seemed to the faculty member that his example of musical instruments was benign, in fact it was something that, when really thought about, can become an issue. Not that I think we should be creating issues in the church. But I also think that the church is the best, safest place for us to debate things--if it is done with respect and openness. It should never be a place where everyone agrees. Unity doesn't mean agreement.

And also it bothers me that he used this example as if everyone in the room agreed upon the "right" way to do things (or agreed that arguing about this topic is silly). From what I have seen of singing opportunities so far at school, there is a particular way of doing things - with the rock band, and the soft-pop style, and the modern rhythms (most annoying on hymns) - that is supposed to be acceptable to all. I haven't heard them even trying to do anything differently yet.

But of course, there are many chapels to come, and many opportunities. I hope to see more diversity in the worship experience - and not just diversity within the boundaries of what is accepted for evangelicals.

First Day of School

Yesterday was my first day of school; or rather, "Welcome Week", which turned out to be a weeks' worth of activities crammed into one veeery long day.

At breakfast I met a woman who is middle-aged and getting her MDiv because she feels called to being a pastor. She is already a speech therapist, and seems happy with her work. It makes me wonder how many people are still stuck in the false belief that the only way their vocation can honor God is if it is in full-time church work? It seems to me that speech therapy--freeing people's voices--is incredibly important, life-affirming, God-honoring work.

She seemed to really enjoy the next sessions, laughing and singing. She enjoyed them a little too much for my taste. The jokes were not really funny. The music wasn't that great. I'm not trying to be the cynic, but I do believe in being critical of what is set before me. Just because it has the label "Christian" on it does not make it good (just look at our president).

I personally was pretty bored. My music biases will come through loud and clear in this blog so I may as well say right now that I hate "praise" music: that is, church music that is created to sound like soft pop (and is about as deep). My usual pet peeves were being pricked all over: the music didn't seem to fit in properly at the points it was sung in the service, the singers were showing off their voices, the instruments were too loud and not conducive to a worshipful atmosphere. And Etc. So I'm always already a little pissy when I walk into something and there are guitars at the front of the room waiting to be played ever-so-meaningfully.

It was encouraging to see that they had a piano and a violin. I can only pray that they will drop the rest of the band. Actually, I shouldn't pray - I should get on the committee that makes these decisions. Action is the word, not manipulation, not just hoping for things to go my way. That's so womanly, isn't it? To rely on someone else to do something because of our passive-aggressive hinting, complaining or threatening. No! If I want something, I'm going to do it myself.

But I am way off subject. Let's see....waiting in line for lunch I met a man who attends St. James in Newport Beach. "Ah," I said, "the church that broke from the Union" (meaning the Anglican Communion). "Yes!" he replied proudly. "And how do you feel about that?" I asked. "Well, it was their only choice," he responded, with particular emphasis on the word "only". Unfortunately we were interrupted before I could ask him why the option to wait for the findings of the Archbishop's Lambeth committee (which is currently working on the "gay issue") wasn't considered.

We Anglicans, our whole thing is that we worship in communion. We don't agree on much else except the articles of the Nicene creed. And that is okay! The important thing is that we stick together. And in my opinion, God's command that we love one another (eg the Church be unified) trumps most anything else. Oh, I think that was Jesus' opinion too. If I'm reading the Golden Rule correctly.

Leaving that depressing conversation (although I look forward to getting into it with the conservatives on the "gay issue"), I sat myself at a table for lunch with a female professor whose work I admire and another female student. The three of us spent most of the lunch talking about ways to invigorate the women on campus, honor those who made strides before us, and take it all to the next level. It was postively wonderful. I look forward to working with the campus Women's Concerns Committee. What a great thing that they have a Women's Concerns Committee (and that it is a separate thing from the Wives' Support Group--HA! And hey, where is the Husbands' Support Group?).

Throughout the day, I kept meeting women who were doing MA's in Theology (not as rigorous as the MDiv) who said I was "brave" for tackling my degree. And all I'm thinking is that the men I've met doing this degree are mostly not rocket scientists (some seem barely communicative). Why is it that any old man, dumb as a post, feels just fine getting himself and MDiv, but bright, vital women fret and worry and wonder if they are good enough? Does it go back to Barbie stating "Math class is tough"?

The women I met in the MDiv track were, for the most part, sure of themselves, their call, and their future. And many of them, to my surprise, said they want to be pastors. Good for them!

I can't wait to get into class. I have a feeling that it will be the students, not professors, who will be the most combative on these issues. Of course, my first class is Greek. Probably won't be too much rousing debate in there.

Oh, one more thing: during his address to the students, the President of the school talked about the advances the school has made since its first class of 47 white north american men graduated in 1947. He ticked off a list of groups that the seminary has opened up to, and concluded with this: "Praise the Lord, now we have TWO genders!"

I led the applause.

Why Feminary?

I've decided to keep this blog to track my journey through seminary. At the moment I am thinking I'd like to keep this anonymous, although I am sure that eventually the identity of my school, and even myself, will become obvious to those paying attention.

Nearly a decade after finishing my BA I've decided to go back to school. This in and of itself is a big step in life, but what I've chosen to study--theology--takes it to a different level altogether. And yet, this is the only thing that I could study. I never wanted to get a graduate degree because I feared getting bored with my subject. But God, being eternal and boundless and bottomless, seemed to be a topic that could hold my attention throughout life.

There are other reasons, of course, than just this practicality. I come from a line of preachers. Grandpa had a doctorate and pastored a church for 33 years. Dad went to Dallas Theological Seminary, was ordained Southern Baptist, then went into youth ministry for 20 years and has only just taken on his own church within the last 10 years. Nobody in my generation seemed to be picking up the baton, as it were, and since I already felt "called", I obliged.

The idea had been buzzing around my brain, in fact, for many years. Now and then it would come strongly, when I had an idea for a sermon, or a church service, or counseled someone. Last year it became intense. I visited a monk for spiritual direction and he wasn't shocked by the idea: point 1. Then I went on retreat and was remarkable all weekend. What I mean by this is that words were coming out of my mouth and I don't know where they were coming from, but somehow I kept knowing exactly what to say to people. I was able to talk to their situation even when I didn't know it. People kept marveling at my wisdom, and I myself was amazed. This was a great feeling. I wanted to keep doing it.

And so shortly after that experience, I spoke to my favorite priest, who said he could see the call on my life. He called me a colleague. That's a goosebumpy thing to hear.

I applied, I got in, and now here I am. I haven't nearly gone into all the details of why I chose the particular school I am at, or why I even chose to go at all. But I'm on the verge of boring myself, so I am going to move on to the next topic. Which is...

Why am I calling this Feminary?

See, I am, I think, a feminist. At least in the sense that I believe women and men are equal. And in the sense that I believe women are still repressed in many ways. And in the sense that I believe many women don't care enough to change that and that saddens me.

Besides being a cute name, proclaiming my studies "Feminary" is putting front-and-center my attitude, the objections I've heard or perceived, the goals I hope to accomplish, and the motivation which will fuel many of my choices. Everything I do in seminary will be informed by my voice as a woman. I can't help but be constantly aware of my femininity as I start this adventure. How does my double-x chromosome fit into a calling to ministry? Why must I be hyper aware of my girliness?

I was raised in a church that repressed women. My father's church still argues over whether women can be ushers. Despite whatever gains have been made, it seems that in much of the country, and especially the world, the church is still a patriarchial society. I must be aware of what I can do to reform this.

My brother works as a music minister at a church, and occasionally preaches. Somehow, from my dad at least, I get the feeling that my brother is the "minister" in the family. I am afraid this will not change, even when I have a piece of paper that says Master of Divinity. I want to carry on the mantle. But will I be recognized as the one?

At school, I see many men, but also many women around me. I can't help but wonder, how many of these women will get their MDiv then go on to do nothing with it? They will get jobs doing something less than their calling. And they may not even realize that they are not living up to their potential. Why? Because women so often see their calling as serving others. Serving our families is noble, to be sure, but I can't help but wonder if it has become so because of what the Bible teaches or what culture has instilled.

It was only recently that I caught myself almost giving this degree (that I want so badly) up in favor of my husband's life. Thankfully, he told me to do my thing and he would sacrifice for me. Wow! After 8 years of putting him through school, I had become so used to being the breadwinner that I'd forgotten that I was neglecting myself. My sense of responsibility for my family was trumping my own inner voice, which was crying out for stimulation and purpose. Thanks be to God for giving me a man in my life who honors my calling.

This seems to be getting rather random, and I am sure I will have more thoughts as things progress, so I will stop now.