Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wikicreedia Is Happening!

Well, everyone, after a productive and encouraging meeting this afternoon, it looks like we have the technology; Wikicreedia is on its way!

What we need to do, concerned citizens and clergy, is meet to talk about the first steps, secondary thoughts, and real vision we want to bring to Wikicreedia.

In other words, it's time for the Wikicreedia Steering Committee. And by my adamant and inflexible timeline, we should meet at least once in August, so we can actually get underway in September. Possible issues for the meeting include:

What Should be On the First Page?
Should Wikicreedia's Timeline Be Changed?
Who Gets Access, Editing, and When?
What is the Role of the Clergy in Wikicreedia?
Should Wikicreedia Address the Technology Gap?
Statement or Story? Style?
When Should We Meet Again?

And of course, any issues you bring yourselves. If you've read to the bottom of this, by the way, you're officially nominated to participate. And you're more than welcome to invite someone else. If I can't get at least four people, I'll come around and nominate you personally. Possibly with Aron as backup.

The thread attached to this is in my mind's eye the place where we agree on a time and date to meet. I'll start by proposing we meet at Gethsemane the second Tuesday in August, 7:00 PM. One Hour.

You can reject this, but only if you have something different to offer. So have at it!

And Thank You, So Much, for The Interest!

Old School: Reverend Neville Tinker

And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead. And he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there, he would be there..."

- No Country for Old Men

During the tenure of Nevill Tinker, Gethsemane came for the first time to be on the border of an underprivileged neighborhood. There were several break-ins, as a result of which Tinker stepped up the community welfare program. He hired a director for the new Downtown Foundation and its recreational programs and basketball games. Finally, the church joined the Displaced Persons Project, and adopted a 17-year old girl from central Europe.

For the church itself, Tinker added a 9:30 service and enlarged the choir. He also taught adult education classes, and added an extra Friday Lenten service. Inspired, the Women's Guild increased their pledge. The whole congregation liberally contributed to missionary funds and church memorials.

In 1950, Tinker hired one Reverend Harlan Coykendall as curate, and it was Coykendall who took over Tinker's position as rector when he moved East one year later.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Old School: John S. Higgins

"And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead. And he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there, he would be there..."

- No Country for Old Men

The Reverend Higgins began his ministry by restarting the Parish Visitor and announcing a five-year plan to restore and preserve the now-historic church. Massive repairs followed, fiscally provided by the congregation. However, the repairs were not without controversty, as new memorial projects had to replace old ones. To resolve this, Higgins created the Book of Memorials, a permanent record of all memorial projects.

Meanwhile, WWII began, and the rationing of oil required Gethsemane to switch to coal heat. Higgins oversaw this change, and erected the first war memorial in Minneapolis, to remember those from Gethsemane who had given their lives, and to offer a place for prayers over the fallen of any denomination.

Yet in these sober times, church attendance continued to grow, requiring the purchase of new pews. Higgins installed a library for the Campfire Girls; in collaboration with The Eliot Park House, Gethsemane started a program for eight to twelve-year olds. After the war, the men's club restarted.

Reverend Higgins resigned effective August 1.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Editorial: Let Them Grow Together

Let Them Grow Together

“In gathering the weeds, you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”- Matthew 13

The Quaker John Woolman had a message from God. He had to stop supporting slavery. And he did, wouldn’t even buy the products. But the mission grew. He had to stop slavery altogether. He had to change the way that other people lived, immediately, entirely, and forever.

Now he was not going to accomplish this alone. So he took it to his church. And it seemed hopeless. John Woolman’s integrity and character were beyond question; his message was authentic. But his community was the thriving Quaker merchants and tradesmen of colonial New Jersey, growing prosperous on the very trade Woolman decried as the brutest of evils.

They lacked the will to change. So did Woolman. And Quaker meetings then and now only reach decision by consensus. No authority was going to produce a decree. No backroom brokering was going to shuffle out a deal. The decision had to be the product of Spirit creating consensus among equals. And it wasn’t going to happen.

So his church, even while upholding slavery, said an astonishing thing. They said, “Because of your authenticity, John Woolman, we will entirely support you and your family as you go out and preach your message among us, for as long as it takes. We will hold this tension, and see what new revelation you can bring.”

After twenty long, hard years of John Woolman’s itinerant preaching, the Quaker meetings slowly began to see the light. And Quakers soon became most strident Abolitionists- not because of their collective moral clarity, but because of this oddball decision: to pay someone to subvert them.

They decided to grow together.

Today we have a lot of weeds. I don’t know how many enemies we have, I don’t know how much that language resonates in a country so historically secure. But I know we have weeds. You do too.

You know who they are. They are those people. They don’t understand us. They irrationally cling to their beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence. They are petty and small- minded and bitter and vindictive and afraid. And they work to overcome and undermine us and the greater good. They make us want to pull out our hair. No matter what we say to or do with these people, they just will not see the light of day in spite of what is transparently just and fair and right.

You know them. They’re your neighbors. Not because they are right, but because they will not go away. We cannot get rid of them without in some way getting rid of us. So they will be there.

Now what are we going to do about it? In the parable, the premier itinerant preacher described the kingdom of God as a mess. It’s not going the way it’s supposed to. Some plants clearly shouldn’t be there. They’re the products of the enemy! The enemy! Even according to God!

Small wonder the field-hands wanted to go get them, yank them out and burn. But the Kingdom of God is not like that. The place we’re in is the place we’re in together. And what is Christ’s solution? Let them grow together. Wait till God can tell wheat from weed. Until then, everything must grow.

Did you catch that? Fields need tending. Harvests require water. Not only is Jesus telling the hands not to pull the weeds, but also to take care of them. They must irrigate the infidel! Not because everyone’s good at heart, and not because everything is helpful, but because we all share common ground, humus, the material of which human life is made.

Let them grow together.

The kingdom of God is not the domain of wheat. It is the power of God and the principality of love. So weeds get invited. Immigrating irritants sit at God’s table right along with us. So you might as well enjoy the feast, because everyone gets fed.

But what does this mean? People are not wheat or weeds. We have water and earth and sunlight, and we still don’t grow. We don’t live on these alone. We need more. We need to furrow our hearts. To see the kingdom of God we must irrigate our souls.

How? We’re Episcopalians! We know what to do. What we pray shapes what we believe, and the Kingdom of God is built upon belief. So over the next several months we’re going to be talking about prayer, having a conversation about contemplation. And we’re going to be doing it. No one else is, not here, not in this city, even though our culture needs, above all else, the stillness to hear a voice. It’s an exciting thing, and I don’t know where it’s going.

But I can tell you this. In the last five years, the best thing I’ve done, and that includes half a dozen careers and a full-length novel, the best thing I’ve done in five years is sit for half an hour in silence. And I’m terrible at it! I quit. I come back. I skip it on weekends. I skip it to see friends. I only do it half the time I should.

And that failure’s given me the Spirit in a new way, after sixteen years of Christian faith. I’m just tired of doing it alone. So we’re going to talk about prayer, we’re going to do it. And we’re going to invite others to join right in. New Monasticism, a movement that’s reviving ancient spiritual practices and putting them right in modern urban settings exactly like this, is chiefly populated by evangelicals.

Turns out they need silence, too. So we’re going to invite them. We’re going to invite everyone, quietly, because we’re plants in a field, or in a garden, if you prefer that language. And our objective is fertility: be fruitful. And we know that prayer in stillness is how that happens.

So let them grow together. We don’t know much about the Kingdom, but we do know two things: it is already here, and we already have everything we need. So we have a policy and we have a currency and we have some citizens. A few citizens. Okay, not that many citizens, but we’re looking for more. And we are, we are getting more.

Except that Jesus had some other things to say about wheat. The Gospel of John, Chapter 12: “Most assuredly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it.”

So we need to die. We need to pray, and then we need to die. Think I’m joking? Look at that window. Gethsemane. As a child, that was my favorite Scripture, which no one understood because it was so dark and scary. Maybe that’s why I liked it. But Gethsemane doesn’t feel that scary anymore. It’s a garden now. You grow your tomatoes and strawberries and take care of them and water them and it’s nice. You probably don’t think about death. I wouldn’t.

But we need to die. We need to die individually, and this church needs to die. We’ve died before, right? Before I came here. The doors were all but closed. Now we’re up and walking around again and wondering what to do. And that’s all right. We have other things like that. We have something that’s dead and reanimated by outside forces that gets up and stumbles around, walks kind of slow. But I don’t want to be a zombie church. I don’t think we are one. But I think we could be.

Yet that wasn’t the first time we died. In the middle of the Great Depression this church lost between two and four thousand dollars every year. That’s dying. That’s going the other way. But the fundraising committee, the fundraising committee, went around to every parishioner and asked, what can we do to help? And we opened up the church to let every misbegotten young man have a program here, entirely on our dime, just to get them off the streets. Not a survival strategy.

So you see there’s a way to die. You cannot die alone. What good is one stalk of wheat? No, you die for the field, for the harvest. Die unto yourself. Die for others. So where is the growth in Minneapolis? Surely there must be something. What are other churches doing for the kingdom of God? We need to find that out. What are they doing for children, for the poor? We need to find that out, and then we need to ask them, what do you need, and how can we help?

Let them grow together.

Now I understand we have enough money to keep this church going for two more years. That’s entirely too much. Gather no manna for tomorrow. So that’s another thing to ask the churches that get it right: will you take our money? Will you take our service, our people and talents? Even without our oversight? If they’re evangelicals, we need to help them evangelize. If they’re Pentecostal we need to help them sing. Because selves die for other selves. Churches die for other churches.

How can churches work together? To change the world we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to figure out how to steer. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet should not best Christ in partnerships.

See, it’s not that there are too few Episcopals. It’s that there are too few Christians. So how can there be more? How can we build church attendance generally? How can we make church better? Not by filling it up with us. I don’t know, maybe we can swap churches. Bring the Pentecostals or the African Methodists in once or twice a year. They come here, we go there. If a few people get confused in the shuffle, maybe all the better for the harvest. This is a beautiful building inside. It stops people. That’s why it cannot be for us. That’s why we need to pour it out, empty it of us.

Let them grow together. It’s a biological axiom that if you’re not growing, you are dead. The Christian rule might be that if you’re not dying, then you’re not alive. So we need to pray, and then we need to die. Not because I said so or even because the Gospel says so, but because in the words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks,

“We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. And we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cliff Notes: Saintliness

This lecture marks the begging of the second half of the Varieties, and we can sense, perhaps, where James is ultimately going when he reiterates the four fruits of the conversion process:

1. A feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world. In Christian saintliness this is always personified as God.

2. A sense of the friendly continuity of the ideal power with our own life, and a willing self-surrender to its control.

3. An immense elation and freedom.

4. A shifting of the emotional centre towards loving and harmonious affections, towards "yes, yes," and away from "no," where the claims of the non-ego are concerned.

The "yes, yes" and the "no," James refers to are the "pushing forward" of impulse and the "pulling back" of inhibition. In James' estimation we live always in a sea of these opposed forces, and our actions and decisions always favor one or the other. Apparently in James's view conversion means a shift toward the affirmative- presumably following our more beneficent impulses.

At any rate, the four psychic fruits result in four practical results:

Asceticism (self-surrender)
Strength of Soul (patience and fortitude)
Purity (psychic cleansing)
and Charity (tenderness for fellow creatures).

The rest of the lecture on saintliness consists of detailed exempla of all these eight practical and spiritual fruits and their combinations.

Thoreau gives us wider life, "in the midst of a gentle rain I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature. Every little pine-needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me." Christ gives us charity, "Love your enemies." St. Francis gives us Strength of Soul by kissing lepers. John Woolman gives us purity by refusing to wear dyed clothing, even hats, as dyes came from slave trade and labor.

And Saint John of the Cross gives us Asceticism:

"Let your soul therefore turn always:
Not to what is most easy, but to what is hardest;
Not to what most pleases, but to what disgusts;
Not to will anything, but to will nothing;
Despise yourself, and wish that others should despise you;
To know all things, learn to know nothing.
For to come to the All you must give up the All."

And here James quotes lengthy examples from Catholic asceticism, noting that the most extreme cases must be deemed pathological, as in the founder of the Sacred Heart order, who said, "nothing but pain makes my life supportable." Where the ascetic and purificatory impulses are married, the individual often "may well find the outer world too full of shocks to dwell in, and can unify his life and keep his soul unspotted only by withdrawing from it."

James concludes the lecture by mentioning to broader traits of saintliness he admits that he does not understand: the vows of obedience and poverty prevalent across religious orders the world over. Of obedience he notes, "it evidently corresponds to a profound interior need of many persons, and we must do our best to understand it." And of poverty he concludes, "Only those who have no private interests can follow an ideal straight away."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Excerpt: Saintliness, from the Varieties

For your edification, the account of Suso, a fourteenth-century German monk, as recounted by William James:

"He was in his youth of a temperament full of fire and life...and he sought by many devices how he might bring his body into subjugation. He wore for a long time a hair shirt and an iron chain, until the blood ran from him...He secretly had an undergarment made for him; and in the undergarment he had strips of leather fixed, into which a hundred and fifty brass nails were driven, pointed and filed sharp, and the points of the nails were turned always toward the flesh. In this he used to sleep at night.

Now in summer he would, when it was hot, and he was very tired and ill, and he lay thus in bonds and tormented by insects, cry aloud and give way to he devised something further- two leather loops into which he put his hands, and fastened one on each side of his throat, so that even if his cell had been on fire he could not have helped himself.

This he continued until his arms had become almost tremulous with the strain, then he devised something else: two leather gloves, and a brazier between them, studded with sharp-pointed brass tacks, so that if he should try to throw off the hair undergarment, or relieve himself from the gnawing of the insects, the tacks might then stick into his body. So it came to pass. If ever he sought to help himself, he drove the sharp tacks into his breast, and tore himself, so that his flesh festered.

He continued this exercise for about sixteen years. At the end of this time a messenger of heaven came to tell him God required this of him no longer. Thus he took all these things and threw them into the running stream.

Then in imitation of Christ our Lord, he made himself a cross with thirty protruding iron needles and nails. This he bore on his bare back between his shoulders day and night. The first time that he stretched out this cross upon his back his slender frame was struck by the terror of it, and blunted the nails with a stone. But he then repented of this womanish cowardice and pointed them again with a file, and wore the cross once more.

It made his back, where the bones are, bloody and seared...if anyone touched him unawares, or pushed against his clothes, it tore him. For penitence he devised means of pushing the nails deeper in his flesh by striking the cross.

Also at this time he procured an old castaway door, and he used to lay upon it at night without any bedclothes...hard pea shalks lay in humps under his bed, his arms were locked fast in bonds, the horsehair undergarment was locked round his loins, and he sent up many a sigh to God.

In winter he suffered very much from the frost. If he stretched his feet out they lay bare on the floor and froze. If he gathered them up the blood became fire in his legs and this was exceedingly painful. His feet were full of sores, his legs dropsical, his knees bloody and seared, his loins covered with scars from the horsehair, his body wasted, his mouth parched with thirst, and his hands tremulous with weakness. All this he suffered for Christ our Lord.

It was also his custom, during these twenty five years...never to go after Compline in winter into any warm room, or to the convent stove to warm himself, no matter how cold he might be...Throughout all these years he never took a bath, either a water bath or a sweating bath, and this he did in order to mortify his comfort-seeking body. He practiced during this time such poverty that he would never receive nor touch a penny.

For a considerable time he strove to attain such a high degree of purity that he would neither scratch nor touch any part of his body, save his hands or feet.

It is pleasant to know that after his fortieth year, God conveyed to him through a series of visions that he had sufficiently broken down the natural man, that he might leave these exercises off."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Old School: Reverend Austin Pardue

Austin Purdue became Gethsemane's eighth rector in August of 1931, on the very brink of some of Gethsemane's darkest economic hours. The budget dropped several thousand dollars each year of his tenure. Yet the church's woes seemed to become the congregants' opportunity to help one another. Rather than ask for money, the Every Member Canvas asked what it could do to help each parishioner. The Boy Scouts gave up their night in the hall to a neighborhood organization, and the organist practiced under a tent to save on heating.

Yet Pardue continued to draw large crowds on Sundays, and the sheer numbers of membership kept the church fiscally afloat- along with many anonymous donations. And Gethsemane continued to reach into the religious and social spheres of downtown Minneapolis. The church opened freely to social service work. More, Pardue opened the hall to every imaginable activity, lest the young linger unemployed in the streets: classes, sports, and musical gatherings, with all heat and electricity at the church's expense.

After this, and after the addition of accoustones in the church for the hearing impaired, just as the church seemed once again on the right economic track, Pardue resigned in March of 1938.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Cliff Notes: Conversion

As James continues his great Varieties, we learn that, not surprisingly given the previous two chapters, the process of conversion is the process of uniting two disparate selves into one. This is not switching one set of theological beliefs for another, but of moving from sinfulness to a conviction of sin. Rather than living divided between one set of ideas, and another set of ideas that understands the first to be harmful, conversion insists on one set of ideas about what is and is not harmful.

Marvelously, James names these sets of ideas "habitual centers of personal energy." And they are often moved, though never easily. In conversion, the center of energy that had been dividing us from its position on the periphery, moves dramatically into our core. This happens primarily through "eruptive emotions," like those commonly found in adolescents:

"Emotional occasions, especially violent ones, are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements. ... Hope, happiness, security, resolve, emotions characteristic of conversion can be ... explosive. And emotions that come in this explosive way seldom leave things as they found them."

Those incapable of these volcanic passions, are, in James' estimation not hysteric, but lacking. What religion does, increasingly, is shape these feelings toward self-surrender. The religious conversion is toward helplessness:

"From Catholicism to...quakers by the way, we can trace the stages of progress towards the idea of an immediate spiritual help, experienced by the individual in his forlornness and standing in no essential need of doctrinal apparatus or propitiatory apparatus."

This progress can be gradual, as in adolescence, but can be instantaneous, as in many Methodists. These instants of profound conversion can be traced to the psychic size of the area of subconscious activity of an individual. The more that goes on behind the scenes, James asserts, the more sudden the eruption of the whole act upon the stage. Not for the Methodist is the placing of one religious thought here and another there: they seem to emerge into the scene wholly formed.

James understands this largely Protestant conversional phenomenon to be wholly superior to any the Catholic tradition offers. This is so not because of the particular doctrines associated with it (which are very few or none) but because of the fruits this momentous psychic conversion produces. These are four-fold:

the loss of all worry and the perception that all is well with one's self
the sense of perceiving truths not known before
a sense of interior and exterior beauty
the ecstasy of joy produced

After this delineation and defense of sudden conversion experiences, James concludes by noting that the value of these experiences depends on neither their origin (either psychological or theological) or their duration, but only in their significance in the life of the individual.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Old School: Rev. Don Frank Fenn

"And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead. And he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there, he would be there..."- No Country for Old Men

Reverend Fenn became Gethsemane's seventh rector on April 1, 1922, and immediately impressed the congregation with his tireless energy. Fenn oversaw the congregation's period of historic growth. Beginning the movement were an endowment and publicity committee, complete with advertising budget and a mission to attract strangers to the church. Enlarging the church's capacity for services of all kinds, the church added a five-story building, a social service secretary, and a parish house to serve as a social and religious center for the downtown area.

Yet Fenn did not only rely on Gethsemane's own facilities. The Curtis Hotel, MacPhail School of Music, and the Church of the Redeemer all opened their doors to host church functions. It was doubtless precisely this kind of partnership that over 600 children to the church, including the Camp Fire Girls, the Boy Scouts, and an active young people's group.

After overseeing nine years of such robust growth, Father Fenn resigned to take the rectory at St. Michael's and All Angel's Church in Baltimore on May 1, 1931.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Old School: Rev.Stanley S. Kilbourne

"And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead. And he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there, he would be there..."
- No Country for Old Men

The Rev. Stanley S. Kilbourne, already being well established in Minneapolis, did not require the parish house on being installed as Gethsemane's sixth rector, and so freed that property to be rented and sold. Kilbourne saw the congregation through the difficult times of the First World War, the influenza epidemic, and the later recession and recovery. Throughout, he did not allow the work of the church to diminish, seeing the "Tuesday Night Club" installed to teach literature, French, piano, and other cultural subjects. More, the year 1920 saw Gethsemane free from its long-standing debts.

It was with great reluctance that Gethsemane accepted his resignation the following year, as he took a post at St. Peter's in New York.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Editorial: My First Time

I had a vision the summer after the seventh grade. I recount it below. Until reading William James, I bracketed this instance, this moment of exceptional clarity as apart and distinct from later and more overt experiences of God. This was natural. The moment lacked all theological content. It involved no beings loftier than myself and a girl from my English class. And it certainly did not happen in a church.

But no few of the events reported in the lectures that made up the Varieties of Religious Experience lack the same religious content. Some were in fact recounted by atheists. Given this, and given that the Spirit I now recognize seems deeply consonant with the energy of those few hours of my life, I now include my first vision with all the rest. They are one and the same, providing me with a deeper understanding of myself and my role in this world, and provoking me to learn still more.

Further, it is one of a string of encounters whose monumental import both stand apart from and influence all the minutes of my life. Things happen to us that are so great they flavor the way we encounter the remainder of our days. I suppose first sexual experiences might be such things. After them, we speak of having sexual lives. We have sexual thoughts, sexual impulses that flow as currents in the rivers of our consciousness. We can hardly experience anything without them.

It is no less so with spirit. So Anne, if you're still out there, thanks.

The moment came in the bed of my grandfather's pickup. The truck had a cap on it, over the bed. We were in the pickup going upstate to send our hunting licenses for that season. And I think it was because our Bronco was broke that we took my grandfather’s F150 and my pap drove and my dad sat in the passenger seat, and I sat for hours in the bed in the dark and tried to sleep but couldn’t, for the noise, and tried to talk to the guys up front and couldn’t because of the glass between us.

And I tried to stay awake to watch the lights go buy and couldn’t and lay down for a while to be comfortable, and couldn’t and tried to stay awake or asleep but the noise from the vibration of the truck was too much for either. We kept going and going and going so I just sat there through the thick August night neither hot or cold but the prickling, itchy place between, and I tried to sleep or stay awake or think about things or do any of it and my mind went blank and there was Anne Gority, the pale girl from my classes who sat behind me and was popular and always laughing, having fun.

And she was pretty, not in an obvious kind of way but in a haunting way like the moon on a lake or like music in your head the way I had found, that if my days held the rhythm of music, if I could catch the right tune in my head and let my mind fill with it, then I could be happy and the thoughts would pool inside me till they got clear all through. And suddenly she was there, right there, the girl who sat behind me in English and said how still I always sat:“Every time I look at you, you’re either sitting likethis,” she folded her legs Indian style “or like this”and put her feet rigid and on the floor.

And then she asked “How are you?” and I said, “Just peachy,” because she had said it once and it fit her cheerfulness and she thought it was funny so she kept trying to talk to me for a while but she always started by asking how I was, and I was nervous and awkward and too scared to say anything to her but“just peachy” and for a while that was funny but then I got afraid she’d get bored with it so of course couldn’t think of any other reply and then she did get bored and stopped asking or noticing me but she had shown an interest, a friendly interest that at least
didn’t seem mocking, and there she was now in my mind in my head in the pickup.

So I sat there Indian style because I had learned that I could really be quiet that way, quiet and still and after a while when I had decided to let myself be hungry too hungry to sleep too hungry to do anything but have a headache, that’s when she came in the long dead night so dark with fog that i couldn't even watch the lights go by, couldn’t do anything but sit there because the bed shook too much, made a humming numbing vibration that drowned everything else, the voices of my father and grandfather in the cab, passing cars, thunderstorms, everything but itself which simply continued forever over everything.

And so I sat there, thirteen, and pale pretty Anne came to me like music in my head and she looked like she wanted to say something. I had noticed her, she got the best grades in the class and played sports and did well, better than anyone and had so many friends and was that shocking shade of white with freckles but she laughed and smiled constantly and she seemed to understand something I didn’t, because for a long time I hadn’t felt like laughing or smiling very much and didn’t have very many friends but there was this girl Anne and she had noticed how I sat and commented on it.

And I had tried to explain that it was about being still and watching and nature and discipline and harmony and in the end had given up because it was like trying to explain two kinds of magic to each other, the words all tumbled and jumbled in front of me like a wall, but I had seen that she still found me amusing though it had come to nothing but now she came to me like a song in the back of the pickup in the secret night on the way to my family’s cabin and sat there for a while like she was ready to say something but was waiting.

My thoughts kept on pooling and swirling and then she looked at me then turned and laughed and turned again and I had seen somehow inside her, had felt for awhile what it meant to be her and happy and laughing because no matter which way she turned she laughed like a song in my mind, she never faltered but kept this serenity. It was okay with here, it was all okay with her.

She just sat there not saying anything but waiting in different positions laughing turned this way and that and was smart, sharp and quick and witty in class, which made me feel even worse because of the peachy thing and her hair, she had this striking black hair and pale skin and freckles and of course I had a crush, I knew what they were, but none of them ever came and sat with me in my imagination in the back of a pickup truck.

The way she flipped her hair or seemed so serene must’ve caught me because I sat there hung between waking and sleeping and seeing visions of her over and over and couldn’t stop it, tried to stop, tried to make it stop, she was so loud and clear and pale in my head and I couldn’t sit up straight or stretch out my legs because of all the other stuff in the bed so I sat Indian style, the way she was sitting ready to say something, and there was this girl Anne flipping around in my head along with the music over and over and when she had sat behind me in English she hadn’t thought me boring for a long time, longer than I ever thought possible.

And we sat there holding still and I just felt my breath and pulse and this went on and on for twelve hours or minutes or half-seconds, because in that moment quiet and discipline and harmony didn’t mean just gritting your teeth and bearing through but equilibrium, joy, the energy which had you feeling like you could run or pedal or laugh forever and she had that, she had that and I had that somehow in our shared joke, pale Anne behind me asking how I was and tolerating the lame joke about peaches for longer than I would have imagined and sitting there serene and somehow flowing with things, in balance, pale freckled Anne with the raven black hair.

So we shifted around barely moving just turning and laughing and something odd was happening, so weird no food or drink for twelve hours with laughing pale Anne till seeing her in my head made it clear that everything would be okay, that I would be balanced sitting like that and letting it flow and laughing and I could have fun and she thought I was interesting. So we sat like that and eventually she finally said it, I do not know why she said it, but she said it anyway and I did not know what it meant, had never heard the words before but would understand somehow all through, every part of me, sitting back still and laughing:

“Find your center,” she said.

And I could see her tongue and lips and cheeks forming the words and just seeing her there in my minds eye made me feel okay so that she gave me this without knowing, this living thing without ever knowing it, this pale freckled girl who somehow managed to be popular who’s probably by now forgotten my name and face and talents and surely a silly running joke about peaches

But she changed everything, everything, by those three words, though I don’t know which ones, the “How are you?” when she was really there or the “Find your center,” when she wasn’t.

Because if you think about? When someone asks you how you are? Find your center, and you'll know.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Old School: Rev. Mr. Foxwell

"And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead. And he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there, he would be there..."

- No Country For Old Men

Mr. Foxwell began his rectorship at Gethsemane in January, 1914. Under his leadership, the church purchased and installed a new organ. Redecoration of the church continued, and memorials grew more numerous. The memorials included marble steps and a brass rail for the pulpit; general improvements included new light fixtures.

Unfortunately, Mr. Foxwell took seriously ill in 1916, and was forced into early retirement- as situation which likely encouraged the church to subscribe to the Rector's Pension system.

And now, a question for my readers: what was Mr. Foxwell's first name?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cliff Notes: The Divided Self

In the last two lectures (and one summary), James explored the case of the sick soul, the one convicted of the insurmountable power of evil and sin; yet these "twice-born" are the very individuals who experience the most profound and complex elation in joy. In this lecture, James analyzes the nature of this process.

The essential dilemma of the sick soul is that of disunity, division, and discord. This can occur in varying degrees, from a shyness or embarrassment of character in awkward situations; it can also occur in the extreme, as in Augustine, or, one might add, Saint Paul. The most serious form of psychic schism of course results in torment, as with Henry Allein:

"I was now very moral in my life, but found no rest of conscience. I began to be esteemed in young company, and soon began to be fond of carnal mirth...I would make promises that I would attend no more on these frolics; but...I would find my mind elevated and soon proceed to any sort of merriment. I was one of the most unhappy creatures on earth."

The natural progress of character, we are relieved to learn, is away from such disparities and toward concord, "the straightening out and unifying of the inner self." The unhappiness of the twice-born can be viewed as the beginning of the process whereby the useful and erring impulses are sorted into a proper and pragmatic hierarchy.

The morbidity of much of Protestantism, then, is simply the translation of this movement into religious terms in the religious individual, into the terms of moral conscience and conviction of sin. "The man's interior is a battle-ground for what he feels to be two deadly hostile selves, one actual, the other ideal."

James concludes the lecture by relating vivid examples from history, including the aforementioned Augustine, several more obscure writers, and the great example of Tolstoy, who eventually determined that the cause of his unhappiness was not the world itself, but only his association with a vapid and amoral aristocracy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cliff Notes: The Sick Soul

William James continues his Varieties of Religious Experience by turning to that more explicitly Christian version of character: the sick-souled man, the tortured soul. To be fair, this "morbid" response does recognize the power and pervasiveness of evil in a way that healthy-mindedness does not.

Note that Martin Luther, known for his self-torment over perceived wickedness and unrighteousness, does not actually belong in the second category, but in the first: ""When I was a monk," he says "I thought that I was utterly cast away, if at any time I felt the lust of the flesh. I should have said to myself, as now commonly I do, 'Martin, thou shalt not utterly be without sin, for thou hast flesh.' "

Yet the sick soul seeks to maximize the impact of evil, not minimize it. The difference, in James's analysis, depends on where one locates the origin of evil. If one frees the original evil from God, if God had nothing to do with it, then evil can be in some way naturally expiated. Yet if one locates primal and systemic evil in any way in God, then there is no hope for one's character save help from that same God.

The first of these tend to be the Latin races, the latter the Germanic: James's take on Catholic and Protestant traditions. And to the truly tormented soul James feels we might do well to turn, lest pessimism offer up its insights unobserved: "Let us see whether pity, pain, and fear, and the sentiment of human helplessness may not open a profounder view"

Success, the pessimist tells us, is precarious- as obviously is happiness. Moreover, the happiest people are most often, upon closer examination, actually unhappy.

James regards this sober estimation as empirically correct. He notes the tend of many, many successful people to regard their own accomplishments as nothing, and nearly everyone's bleaker outlook when facing the inevitable stark horror of death. To these healthy-mindedness has nothing to offer, especially to those who are not already healthy-minded.

Failure, James reminds us, is more common than success.

So James sees the "once-born" of healthy mindedness as philosophically and existentially in a weaker position than the sick soul, the "twice-born." Greek stoicism, for its simplicity, cannot compare with the complex creeds and transformative ecstasies of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Islamic religions.

The point is precisely that these joys do not come easily. James points to the pathological depression of the twice-born. And their equally desperate need to make sense of things. Premier in his study looms the figure of Tolstoy, whose years-long struggle for completion in mid-life led him not back to his original state, but beyond it.

Thus, "The process is one of redemption, not of mere reversion to natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of conscious being than he could enjoy before." John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim's Progress, only turned the process outside-in, with worthlessness being inside, rather than in the world. The essential process remained the same.

True religion, even honest thought, James implies, must make sense of these experiences. So, "the deliverance must come in as strong a form as the complaint, if it is to take effect; and that seems a reason why the coarser religions, revivalistic, orgiastic, with blood and miracles and supernatural operations, may possibly never be displaced. Some constitutions need them too much."

Thus, comparatively, religions that offer the transformation of depression to exuberance in the sick soul must be rated superior: "The completest religions would therefore seem to be those in which the pessimistic elements are best developed. Buddhism, of course, and Christianity are the best known to us of these...They are essentially religions of deliverance: the man must die to an unreal life before he can be born into the real life." [p 165]

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What Exactly Is A Vicar?

Broadly speaking, a vicar is anyone acting as an agent for a superior; hence its application in the Holy Roman Empire for local representative of the emperor; the word may come from the Persian vezir. We know it best, however, in its function within Christian ecclesiastics and get a sense of it in the word "vicarious."

Baldly put, a vicar is a representative.

Originally in the Catholic church, a vicar represented any ecclesiastic- this sense of the term dates vicars back to the earliest church. The role evolved over time, until the Pope began to use the title Vicarius Christi, the vicar of Jesus Christ, in the 8th century. Since then, vicars have taken different forms in Catholocism, including apostolic vicars, vicars capitular, judicial vicars, and vicars forane- all with different roles and powers.

In the Church of England, vicar is the standard term given to certain parish priests. Anglican clergy have been divided into rectors, vicars, and perpetual curates. This occurred along the lines by which they were remunerated: of the greater tithes of wheat, hay, and wood and the lesser tithes of the remained, the rector received both. The vicar received only the lesser tithe. A perpetual curate, on the other hand, depended on the support of the diocese. Historical changes have modified these distinctions until the term vicar can apply to nearly any clergy in the Church of England.

However, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America retains the distinction on monetary lines. That is, the priest of a self-sustaining parish is a rector, while the priest of a missional parish, fiscally reliant on the diocese, is a vicar.

Famous sons of vicars include Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Hobbes, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Old School: Irving Peake Johnson

"And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead. And he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there, he would be there..."

- No Country For Old Men

On July 1, 1901, The Reverend Irving Peake Johnson became Gethsemane's Fourth Rector. At the time, there were 1,200 members; in 5 years, there would be 2,000. This may well be linked to Johnson's emphasis on social activity as well as Gethsemane's continuing mission work.

One of the first things Johnson did was to encourage parishioners to talk to each other after the service, and the effect was contagious. 1902 saw the addition of a bowling alley and a basketball court for the Brotherhood in Knickerbacker Hall. And Johnson converted one room into a parlor, increasing social space.

Johnson also opened up the building for other uses. Renters included a kindergarten, the Philharmonic club, and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Increasing the convenience and comfort of the facility, 1906 saw church electrification; Johnson also saw the full and final payment on the church mortgage.

At about this time, two splinter parishes enjoined Johnson for aid, and he responded, over the concerns of the vestry that he might overtax himself serving as rector for three parishes. As he did so, refurbishing and modernizing the church continued apace, with many improvements to the kitchen, basement, and sanctuary.

Despite the assistance of eight curates, Johnson resigned his position to become a Professor of Old Testament Literature at Seabury Divinity School on October 1, 1913.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Notice: I've Been Moderating!

This does not mean any kind of Clintonian triangulation of the blog.

It does mean that I've been trying to find ways to make it easier for you to comment AND for me to know that you have done so.

Currently, this should mean that you can leave a comment, no matter who you are. And it should mean that you can do so with a minimum of fuss- no word verification. Finally, I'll get a notice, no matter which post you comment on, which means that no one gets ignored, and nothing become irrelevant.

If there's any problem with the above, or if you think there's any way I might make this blog work more for you, please let me know.

Thank you.

Cliff Notes: The Reality of the Unseen

I failed to include in the last summary a crucial idea for James: that religious joy is chiefly a solemn joy, not marked by giggles or wry mischief- it is a rather more sober reaction to the joy of divine reality experienced. The notion remains important for the next three lectures, the first of which is about that reality that provokes the joy of authentic religion.

And the reality of that object is strange, because "the concrete objects of most men's religion, the deities whom they worship, are known only in idea." That is that religious experience offers a curious contradiction: that the reality which the religious hold in higher esteem is that of the abstract, the unseen, that without any physical manifestation. This counters our own tendencies in the West to hold the concede, the observable as the more ultimate reality.

And yet the primacy of the unseen is not unnatural, and not unprecedented. Religious belief, for James, is merely a particular expression of a broader propensity. Ideas have always powerfully moved and influenced the lives of many people. Our notions of beauty, justice, goodness, depend entirely on abstraction and cannot exist without them- as the Ancient Greeks knew through Plato and Aristotle.

So we find that despite the lack of positive content, abstractions matter more than the concrete. As Kant noted, we can behave as if there were God, and as if we were free, and as if we were immortal, only to find that this way of believing, this way of acting in good faith, can indeed radically transform our lives, especially in the moral sphere.

This mode of belief seems to work because humans have a "sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call 'something there,' more deep and more general than any of the special and particular 'senses' by which current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed."

This means that what James calls "hallucinatory" experiences become the prime religious experience, and he includes no few vivid examples worth reading in their own right. These moments mater because they are the points at which people access this 'something there' (or are accessed by it). And while it is not necessary to interpret these experiences of the 'quasi-sensible' religiously, it is certainly not unnatural to do so.

And it is, again, precisely these experiences which have radically transformed the lives of the religious- the various types of these transformations become the subject of the next several lectures.

Friday, July 4, 2008

How Do African Anglican Churches Get Their Bishops?

"Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease." - George W. Bush

African churches of the Anglican Communion get their presiding bishops and archbishops the same way that other Anglican churches do: Episcopal church governance, varied by tradition. Because Africa is obviously not a nation, but a continent, the Anglican church divides itself differently in Africa than in the U.S. Each of these divisions maintains the same authority over itself as the Episcopal Church in America does.

The main difference between African Anglican polity and that in America is that Anglican churches in Africa can be either provincial or national. If the church is national, than the Archbishop of an Anglican Church is typically the primate or metropolitan of the largest or most important city of the country. If the church is provincial, the Archbishop is elected or appointed over the entire region- usually by a house of bishops.

The other crucial differences between Anglican churches in Africa and America is that most African churches do not organize a vestry or Bishop's committe of laypersons to elect or influence the appointment of rectors and other clergy.

The divisions of the Anglican Communion in Africa run as follows:

The Anglican Church of Burundi, like most Anglican churches, organizes its polity around a system of geographical parishes grouped into a diocese. There are six such dioceses in the country, and the bishops of each of these chose the Most Reverend Bernard Ntahoturi as their current archbishop. The Anglican Church of Burundi does not participate in the World Council of Churches.

The Church of the Province of Central Africa groups its parishes into 16 dioceses in the nations of Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, with the primate of the Church being the Archbishop over the dioceses. Since the retirement of Dr Bernard Amos Malango, the Bishop of Upper Shire in Malawi, the seat of the Archbishop has been vacant.

The Province de L'Eglise Anglicane Du Congo is a provincial church. The Most Revd Dr Dirokpa Balufuga Fidele is the current primate and archbishop of the Anglican Province of Congo.

The Anglican Church of Kenya includes 29 dioceses. The Primate of the Church is the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Rev. Benjamin M. Nzimbi, chosen by the 29 bishopes. Each diocese is in turn divided into archdeaconies, each led by a senior priest, and each parish divided into subparishes, each led by a lay reader.

The Church of Nigeria claims 18 million members throughout 10 ecclesiastical provinces. Its Primate is Archbishop Peter Akinola.

The Church of the Province of Rwanda covers 9 sees, and the bishops have appointed Emmanuel Musaba Kolini as Archbishop.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa covers 23 provinces in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Saint Helena, South Africa, and Swaziland. The primate is the Archbishop of Cape Town, most famously Desmund Tutu.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan consists of twenty-four dioceses, each headed by a bishop. One of the diocesan bishops is elected to serve as Archbishop of the Sudan, and represent the province to the rest of the Communion as its primate.

The Anglican Church of Tanzania consists of 21 dioceses in Tanzania and Nanzibar, based out of Dodoma. Its current Archbishop is Vanetino Mokiwa, the Bishop of the Diocese of Dar es salaam.

The Church of the Province of Uganda contains 31 dioceses, each headed by a bishop. Its Archbishop is the Bishop of Kampala, Henry Luke Orombi. Its further divisions mirror those of the Anglican Church of Kenya.

The Church of the Province of West Africa covers 15 sees in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Its elected Archbishop is currently Justice Akrofi.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Editorial: Between the Sea and Land

"All you mystics end up chasing skirts"- John Updike

It's been said that there are only two kinds of mystics in the world: those who favor oceans, and those who favor mountains. And those who choose the ocean have a lot going for them. There's no better metaphor for the power and majesty and awe of God. It also marks our destination: unity with the Father. We throw ourselves into and lose ourselves and are buoyed up by infinite waters. And it was a Medieval mystic, I believe, who said that the sum total of all the sins we can ever possibly commit is but a drop of water in the oceanic love of God.

But I count myself among those who contemplate the transformative majesterium of mountains. The Greeks put their gods on a mountain, and many religions before and after them. Moses climbed one, and Jesus, too. From mountains we get the Law, and a revelation of Christ and the prophets so brilliant that it could scarcely be seen. Oceans represent surrender to divinity; mountains mark the gifts God gives to us. To receive them, we need not drown ourselves in abasement. Rather, we must put one foot forward, and remember where we're going.

Mountains make us more of who we are. To hide a body, you dump it in the ocean. To expose a soul, you grapple with an incline. No one ever mounted Everest in the name of self-deception. Mountains rid us of pretension. Climbing stills the clamor of our minds.

It might seem haughty, all of this ascending grandeur. Behold the mountaineer! and all the kingdoms of the world spread beneath him. But the true enthusiast knows that she does not go up to heaven: the mountain does. All we do is follow. Climbing is just an athletic form of walking- and when, I ask you, did Jesus ever swim? Look at the lengths he goes to to avoid it: boats and stilling storms and an entire water-bug routine.

Peter, Peter, ye of little faith, pick up your mat and walk! Christ eschews the Natatorium, a Jew until the end. It's all Mount Olivet for him. I suppose I prefer the mountain because surrender is the one thing God has never asked of me.

Mountains are the ragged edges of creation's torn wound. The planet's groaning for salvation must surely be of tectonic magnitude. They've been put there by and for our faith, our hope for volcanic transformation. What is the word that Earth speaks, to shake the 'scapes of the Pacific Rim? To cause the Cascades to leap into the sea?

Of course, I've not been often exposed to mountains so raw as those. My Pennsylvania offers a more venerable and ancient kind. Rain has washed the scraping parts away. But these too offer mystical experience. The Alleghenies extend their slopes for half a mile or more: creation on a slant. Because the tops are flat, they offer scarce vistas. The soul of these mountains is their slope, the winding paths that take us up.

Climb enough of these, and you realize that a mountain is not an argument. You do not leap your way unto the top. Rather, you propose a route. Then you take what the mountain offers. Sometimes you go sideways- dangerous because it's always easier to go down than up. Descent always offers its seductions. But this is a discussion, and you listen to the sweeter voice within, the you that's already up there, eating lunch.

So you go up, up- not because you're anything great, but because you're walking honestly and the ground can't help but rise beneath your feet.