A corporate experience

Paul Tillich as a Chaplain in World War I was comforted by Botticelli’s Madonna and Child with Singing Angels (Plate 2). “Writing many years later, Tillich declared: ‘That moment has affected my whole life, given me the keys for the interpretation of human existence, brought vital joy and spiritual truth’” (Brown, 1990, p.91)

“Clearly we should add, however, that perhaps some art allows one not only to think more but also to feel more, and that in both of these ways together it manages to mean more, possibly even letting one be and become more.” (p.92) I have been reading Frank Burch Brown’s Religious Aesthetics - where the preceding quotes come from - for a paper and have been thinking about what visual art means to us.

Therefore, I have an idea for an experiment or experience whichever you prefer. I have this theory that visual art can help us connect to something deeper in our lives through engaging the senses, imagination, and language centers of our brains. What I am proposing to do about this theory is post a picture a week on this blog (assuming I can find a good place to host them). What I would ask from you (my two or three readers) is that you write about the picture. This could be creative fiction, theological ramblings, experiences, whatever comes to mind when you see it.

I would love to hear what speaks to you when you encounter something visual. My plan is to post the picture and then follow up with my own thoughts a couple days later, to allow a blank slate for those you who wish to try the experience. I would propose that you post your story, thoughts, ides, or experiences on your own blog with a trackback or link to the picture so that I can read what you have written. If you don’t have a blog, then feel free to post it here in the comments. I would just like the opportunity to read what people have written and comment if possible.

This is a process that I want to engage in for its creative potential and the possibility of reaching the depth of our emotional and mental processes. My hope is that some of you might take the journey with me and see what comes. Don’t wait for someone else to write one first, I will do my best to be that first person. Whatever comes to the surface of your mind through this process is good material to work with, be it happy, sad, joyful, painful, depressing, or so on. Your thoughts and experiences are as valuable as mine and I will respect what you have written as if it were my own.

If you have any thoughts let me know, I will try to post a picture or a link to a picture at the beginning of next week.

grace and peace

Catching up

It is really amazing how easy it is to get caught up in school. I can read for days on end, especially books that appeal to the disciplines I identify with: pastoral theology, arts, and formation. I can sit in front of books- thick, heavy, weighty tomes –and only come up for food, water, and to grunt at passers by. I love exploring new ideas, thoughts and theologies. I am, at this moment, in the middle of six books dealing with things from process theology to religious aesthetics to philosophy. It is sometimes hard to keep them straight, but each holds my interest in different ways.

We are assigned pretty close to a book a class a week. This week it was neurobiology and pastoral theology, care and counseling, it was fascinating. The idea of neuroscience and its relationship with narratives, memories, rituals and imagination was really interesting. We spoke with the author of the book via conference call for about an hour, looking at the finer points of his arguments and then peering out over the horizon to the new science that was occurring as we spoke.

It is a different experience reading someone’s passion and then being able to ask them questions about what they have written. We then spent another two hours talking about the implications of this research with communities that have experienced a life of oppression. I did not realize that pain experiences actually have the effect of shrinking the brain physically, shutting down processes that could be utilized to help pull people out of the ensuing depression, pain and grief. We discussed this in the context of Katrina and the neurological implications of the devastation on the mind.

The professor had a surprise task at the end of our three and a half hour discussion. Basically, we had to answer a comprehensive exam question with two minutes of preparation and be critiqued by our colleagues. My heart leapt at this task, anxiety maximizing its presence in my mind and manifesting itself as a pronounced stutter. I survived, and even passed according to the professor. Being put on the spot like this has never been one of my strong suits. I like time to reflect and organize my thoughts; silence to weigh my words and collect any stray wanderings. This was not my element, but watching another do it gave me the confidence to let all hang out as best as I could. At the end, it was good and exciting and actually relieved some future stress related to the whole idea of comprehensive exams.

The quarter is winding down here, and there are only four or so classes left. I am working on several things including: a short paper on the study of religion from the viewpoint of Emile Durkheim, a syllabus for an entry-level undergraduate class in comparative religions, and a paper on Pastoral Theology and Visual Arts. I am also trying to figure out what I will take at the beginning of the year. I think it will come down to three classes, an unbearable burden according to many. I think that I may try Existential Theory and Therapy, Theodicy and Tragedy, and an independent study related to Pastoral formation culminating in a co-authored article with one of my professors. The professor hasn’t decided whether or not to do the article so I am not sure if that one will come through.

This first quarter has been a busy one, full of affirmations and frustrations. My world seems petty and small compared to the things that have happened in “real” life. The national unity in the face of Katrina is beginning to wear off. People who were not directly affected are starting to forget the devastation that has occurred. This is not a bad thing, but it can’t be all good either. My wife and I are looking forward to entertaining family soon. Her parents will be the first to visit us since the move and it will be nice to encounter friendly faces from back east. We continue to miss our friends and colleagues back home. I have the month of December off, and need to figure out what to do other than study Spanish and my LCSW material…

grace and peace

yes and no

One recent evening my wife and I were driving in northwest Denver. We turned onto an east-west street just as the sun set behind the mountains. My only remark was that it was different from any other sunset I had experienced. It took a moment, but I realized that I had rarely, if ever, seen a sunset over a jagged skyline. I also realized that for the next few years, almost all of my sunsets would be similar. There would be no flat horizon, no sun setting over the marshlands and beaches of the east coast, everything would be different.

Yesterday, I sat in my professor’s office and handed over two paragraphs that described the paper I wanted to write for his class. Over the next thirty minutes we discussed the topic and talked about the words I used to describe this topic. I will be the first to admit that I love to read; I love the knowledge and wisdom contained in the pages of books and novels. I also realized how far behind I felt in a subject I thought I knew.

My two paragraphs blossomed into a page full of notes and corrections with arrows pointing willy-nilly connecting word to phrase to author as I sought to keep my head above water. The subject is a good one, and the ideas will contribute to the field in the long run, but the run will be long. Along with the four or so hundred pages a week I read, articles and books have been added to the list in order to catch up. This is a long way from sitting in my office in Richmond, Virginia, pounding on the keyboard, editing and creating a sermon or a bible study.

I realize today, these new things signify the end of some older things. With every “yes” there is a corresponding “no” that must be examined, must be grieved before the “yes” can be fully experienced. This is a lesson I learned a while ago, but never fully understood until this day. I am not turning away from where I came, nor am I forgetting my past. I am merely attempting to own up to my responsibilities. I said “yes” to the life I now lead and must attend to it fully; I said “yes” to maintaining friendships with people I care about in Virginia and I must also attend to that. I said “no” to living close to friends and family and must grieve the loss I feel. I said “no” to flat horizons and grieve the comfort they have given me all my life. But through this grief I can celebrate what is before me and look upon each new day and the choices I will get to make.

When we forget or choose to ignore the things we need to grieve, we choose not to fully greet the present and future. When I was a child I used to draw sunsets. Every single one that I can remember pictured the sun setting between two mountains. My ideal sunset is the one that I can enjoy here in Denver. However, if I am always lamenting the sunsets of Virginia or South Carolina or Florida or Georgia I will never be able to fully grasp the beauty that sets before each day here. I have the opportunity to enjoy my ideal, but if I am lost to what used to be, I will miss the very things I see. So, I grieve for the opportunities that I will miss, not being with those I love and care for, so that someday I might celebrate the new life that is before me.

I would caution those who are finding their way in this world, those whose footing has been shaken, whose journey seems shrouded, whose pathway has disappeared. I would caution you to grieve for what you lose when you make a choice or take a step. This doesn’t mean that you lie weeping in a heap on the floor, just that you recognize the decisions you make or choose not to make. It isn’t easy, but no one ever said that living an examined life was…

doctoral days

It is reading so quickly that the words run together and form a stew in your mind. It is using and discussing words that you are not quite sure what they mean, but you know they fit the context. It is questioning the questions, debunking the theories, and grappling with issues of identity, hope, and care. For me, this is doctoral work.

I read Emile Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of Religious Life and then discuss it for four hours straight. I read essays in Feminist/Womanist Pastoral Theology. I read books about Black Pastoral Theology and then have a conversation with the author over the phone. I sit for four hours and discuss the condition of various cultures in the United States. I talk about my lack of identity as a white male. We discuss why there has never been a “white pastoral theology” and the implications therein.

Sometimes it feels like an exercise in mental masturbation. Sometimes, like today, it is fruitful and it makes you step out of your comfort zone and realize your perspective is not the only one and it is especially not any more valuable than anyone else’s. I could do without the massive amounts of reading, but then I would miss so much of the conversation, of the growth that happens when we encounter the opinions of another.

Doctoral work is the right place at the right time for me. I may not always believe that, but I am learning, I am growing, I am coming into contact with who I am and who others are as well. I can imagine that there will be times when I will gripe and moan, but at this moment it feels right, and my mind is clicking on all cylinders. While this is happening, life continues, and I aim to remain a part of it.

I feel the pain and the fear of the world as catastrophe after catastrophe decimates the children of God. I sense the hopelessness of the poor and futility of depending on an inept government to make any significant changes. I wonder how the lives of the grief-stricken move from hour to hour, imagining that many of them merely walk the earth numb and unfeeling. I know that it is not enough to talk, to imagine, we have to care and care enough to make changes.

It was reported today that congress plans to pay for the rebuilding of New Orleans by most likely cutting spending for food stamps and Medicaid. I could not think of a more racist or elitist way of building policy. It is outrageous that one would even think of rebuilding a city on the backs of the poor, while those with means get tax cuts.

If this seems outrageous to you, then email or write your congressperson and tell them so. While I am on the subject, I have to wonder what policy in this country would look like if the makeup of congress went by percentage of population according to the most recent survey. This would make congress actually look like the United States rather than look like the white guys from the populous regions. How differently would this country’s priorities look with a make up that represented us along gender and ethnic status rather than whoever had the most money and got their name in the press without screwing up too badly? Just a thought...

grace and peace

Hello Denver

What's black and red and white all over?

My snow shovel...

Welcome to Denver, we are supposed to get 3 to 6 inches of snow. That doesn't mean that it will happen; but for an east coast boy who rarely saw snow growing up, the threat is enough to make me wonder about this wonderful Denver weather...

grace and peace

A statement of faith

When I was ordained almost three years ago, part of the process included writing a statement of faith. Since that time, this document has been edited as my beliefs changed. As I look out over the work that I will do the next few years, I can only wonder how it might change and evolve during this time.

My desire to post it comes from the work that McKormick started tonight. He is trying to write a collaborative creedo for post evangelicals, an admirable task. Having never been in the evangelical church, what I can contribute is ideas and places to begin. Here is who I am, or atleast who I was two months ago. Feel free to comment or question anything written in here.

I believe in God, Abba, Yahweh, Author of heaven and earth, who created us for relationship and community with God’s self. In turn, we have been endowed with a desire for community with one another. This same God loves and seeks us out so that we might be reconciled. Why? No one knows save for the love that the Creator has for his creations. In the person of Jesus, we come to sense the love and care God has for all of creation.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, sent among us so that we might know and be redeemed to God. Through the life of Jesus Christ our Lord, we find the true mystery of God’s power. In the form of a servant, Jesus spread a message of love for God, obedience to God, and hope for all who lay their burdens before God. In Jesus the Christ, humanity found redemption and reconciliation, judgment and concern, life and love. Christ’s death and resurrection offers us the chance to hope and believe in a love that is greater than the bond of parenthood, a power that is greater than death, and the life ever after that God desires for us.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, who reveals God to us, sustains us, and inspires us daily as we attempt to respond to God’s grace. The Holy Spirit is among us, continually creating and renewing us, so that we may be open to the action of God taking place around us. The Spirit “sets us free to accept ourselves and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church” (Book of Confessions, 10.4, 55).

In a world that often seems more broken than whole, I believe that God actively seeks, inspires, and calls us together so that we may have abundant life. It is in this broken world that the Body of Christ should stand as a place where wholeness might be found. Through the preaching of the Word and the enactment of the Sacraments we unite ourselves with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout all of creation. Our Sacraments connect us with the living God and community around us. They offer us the chance to celebrate, hope, love, and renew our lives and devotion to the God who first loved us. Through the words of scripture, we encounter the Word of God – timeless, revealing, and ever-present. In the stories we read, we gather a sense of the drama that unfolded between God and God’s creations. In these words and through the life of the living Word we find the never-ending message of God’s love, justice, and desire to renew and reconcile with the creations God so dearly cares for. As the Body of Christ encounters God in worship, scripture, preaching, teaching, and the enacting of the Sacraments, we can only be reminded of a God who lives and seeks to be known by all of creation.

As I come in contact with God’s good but broken creations, I believe in the need for acts of reconciliation and messages of hope for all of God’s creations. I have felt God’s pull, call, and tug towards ministry for many years. As a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, I understand my life and vocation to be service at the pleasure of God, and as God calls, there I will go. Where ever I am called, I hope to offer a place of safety where the living God can be encountered; and where the living God is encountered, people can find the healing, hope, and courage of a God who seeks them wherever they are.

As the Body of Christ we rejoice because “nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (BOC, 10.5, 78-79). However, we must not stop with mere rejoicing. Faith requires action, and our faith in God requires that we take our experiences of God into a world that needs the message of a Creator, the healing touch of a Redeemer, and the inspiration of a Sustainer.


If, as I believe, there is no God without art, music, dance, and nature...

...then why do we elect a President who is a "faith-based leader" but only concerned with test scores.

If creativity is the mother of invention, and artistic tendencies bring that out...

...then why are schools cutting programs for art and music so that children can pass standardized tests that measure retention at the expense of other forms of intelligence.

When did an "eye for an eye" replace "love God, self, and neighbor" as the overarching theme of the Bible?

Why must "non-defense" programs that aid people be cut in order for us to keep the promises of an incompetent leader with no oratorical skills and little common sense or regard for others?

Why is the political leadership of this nation, both Democrat and Republican, devoid of any creative ideas to help us be a nation of equality rather than a nation of haves and have-nots (maybe they spent too much time on the standardized tests)?

Why do we, the voters of this nation, continue to elect incompetent inbred politicians whose greatest redeeming quality is the ability to not answer questions or hold themselves accountable for what they do or say?

I listened to the "speech" of the President this morning and left feeling dirty and disgusted. I am not sure what to think anymore; where are the ministers who speak out against the injustices in this nation?

Where are the ministers who know better than to believe that war is only and best option?

Where are the ministers who rally against poverty and the inequitable policies of the government towards those who are poor?

Where are the ministers who know that gays and lesbians deserve the same rights and benefits that all citizens of this country claim?

Where are the ministers who open their doors to the oppressed of this country so that they might find peace and solace?

I know that Jim Wallis isn't the only one out there who thinks that real Christians fight poverty, not just on the local level, but by electing people who will create and vote for equitable and fair policies that benefits the "least of these" in our midst.

As a heterosexual, priviledged, white male I am as much of a contributor to this dilemma through my silence, I don't know what I am going to do about that yet, but this is a start. These are theological questions that I ask, and they demand theological answers. When you read them and thoughts run ramshackle through your brains, remember one thing:

God is love.

Then formulate your theological answers. If you post them here fine, just so they are honest and thoughtful. I don't write a lot of political things because I feel like it is a waste of energy. This is different because I think the church is called to be the conscience of the state, and we are doing a pretty poor job of articulating good theology in the realm of public policy. Advocacy is also one of the tasks of supportive Pastoral Theology. One of the ways in which we care for one another is by changing the power structures in place that oppress and devalue our fellow human beings. If you don't think that happens, then you haven't been watching the Katrina coverage...

grace and peace

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