Wednesday, September 25, 2013

New Hampshire, My HP Sermon Illustration, and Several Annoyances

So, I'm back in the swing of things after a nice weekend in New Hampshire. One of the highlights was taking a tour of of the Robert Frost Farm. We (including Sarah, TK, and Sawyer) had been there in the winter, but the actual farmhouse was closed. This time we got a tour of the farmhouse and some anecdotes to go along with it. One interesting one: Frost developed his linguistic style by eavesdropping on his neighbor's phone calls by picking up the phone (which was shared between 8 houses) even when it wasn't for him. When we got back on Friday night, Amy wanted to watch some TV via Netflix. She asked if I had any suggestions, and I recommended Parenthood. So, needless to say, by the end of the week we had finished the first season. I think I pretty much got them hooked. Sunday I did preach, and I think it went well. I thought I would include my HP reference for those who were interested. It's on the power of story in our lives. I've used it before at ResCov, so it may sound familiar to some:

And when talking about the power of story in our lives, the first story that came to this good pastor's mind to illustrate this point was the apocryphal Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  In the book, there are these evil creatures called dementors, who are spectre-like black-cloaked creatures that guard the wizard prison but also can cause severe damage to those they come into contact with.  As member of the Order of the Phoenix and one-time professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts Remus Lupin describes them, “They are the foulest creatures that walk this earth...they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them....Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.  It it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil.”  Harry has several encounters with the dementors where he begins to lose hope, every good memory he has vanishes, and he is paralyzed within the hopelessness.  

However, there is also a spell that will dispell the dementors: expecto patronum.  Expecto patronum is a spell that casts a patronus, a burst of light that takes the form of an animal and protects you from dementors.  Yet, it’s not easy to produce.  As Lupin notes, “In order for [the spell] to work, you need to think of a memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory...allow it to fill you up...lose yourself in it and then speak the incantation, expecto patronum.”  Expecto patronum is actually latin for “I await a protector,” and the good memories serve as a shield and protector, they give hope and meaning once again in a world that seems meaningless. I think J.K. Rowling got it right on this one. Especially as Christians, our story becomes our protectors during times of hopelessness and despair. Negative memories paralyze and can only be combated with the deep, good, and powerful memories; it is the memory of the story we find ourselves in - the redemptive story that hinges on the life, death and resurrection of Christ - that becomes our protector, our patronus against those forces that would seek to draw us into despair."

One woman came up to me after the sermon and said, "Thank you for your sermon. I thought it was so interesting how you took even something like Harry Potter and made it fit." I managed to swallow my retort, which would have been something like, "EVEN Harry Potter? This is the order of reference for my sermons: a) Bible, b) hymns, c) Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia, d) biblical commentaries" (okay, okay, commentaries are usually second...).

You know what annoys me? When the baby-boomer and older generation says things like, "I heard that on my first album; you're probably not old enough to know what an album looks like!" or "We used to have rotary phones, but I'm dating myself. Kids these days wouldn't even know what to do with them!" I was reminded of that today while listening to NPR. The interviewee made the comment, "For those of you old enough to remember Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild...". Now, what person has not heard of the song, "Born to Be Wild?" Do they think that songs, inventions, or books magically cease to be a part of human existence once they are no longer contemporary? I mean, unless your Brendan Frasier's character in Blast from the Past or a feral child raised by wolves, you've probably run across such things as rotary phones, 45s, and "Born to be Wild," along with other pop hits from the last 50 years.

Things that only happen in New England: Today one of the older men at church (during choir practice) looked back and noted that I was flipping through flashcards. I told him I was studying Latin, to which he replied, "Isn't that a little late in the game? Shouldn't you have done that in high school?" The man next to him chimed in, "Yeah, I did it in middle school." In Northern Minnesota, you'd be lucky to have two languages to choose from at your high school, but Latin is definitely not one of them. I would be surprised if any school (at least public school) north of the Twin Cities had anything besides German, French, or Spanish - let alone Latin.

On Friday I'm picking up Joe Schupbach and heading out to Cape Cod (or, "the cape," as they call it) to his mom's (Kathy O'Donoghue's) house. She already has a great itinerary planned, and it will be my first time on the cape! Speaking of which, there is a sign near BU's campus that shows a beach with the words "Leave for Provincetown and arrive the same day" superimposed upon it. For me, this seems like a bizarre ad since Provincetown is only 2 hours away. If it said, "Leave for China and arrive the same day," that would be something to talk about. If you leave for Provincetown and don't arrive the same day, you're either walking there or have a major problem.

Well, I think I've done enough for one morning. Maybe I'll celebrate with a nap!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lectures, iPhone Evolution, and Guns

Okay people, it's Wednesday, and I'm really feeling the effects of hump day. It was one of those days when my alarm goes off and I wake up completely disoriented wondering what is making that horrid noise. After reorienting myself and figuring out who/what/where/why I am, I then was overcome by a depressive lethargy (I am a slothful 9 after all) that cried for me not to get out of bed. After five minutes of inner struggle and negative self-talk, I was able to drag myself to the bathroom to begin my day. I'm definitely looking forward to a weekend away in the wilderness of New Hampshire. All I have to really finish is the sermon, so I won't have to do it while trying to socialize this weekend.

This week in the Intro to Christian Worship class I get to lead discussions on the Church Year. All the students read Laurence Hull Stookey's Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church (which I think is one of the best pastoral books written on the subject) and then we're walking through the year from Advent to Christ the King Sunday. I mean, who can ask for a better job than getting to explain Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc., to people? Then, two weeks from Tuesday I'm giving a lecture on why hymnals are still important for the Christian faith. I'm just hoping other students and people in the larger Boston area don't start a stampede in their clamor to get a seat in the room.

So, I've noticed that there's definitely an evolution of thought and feeling after purchasing an iPhone. The first two months I was simply flabbergasted by all the stuff it could do, especially when it would sync up automatically with my computer through the iCloud (whatever that actually is). It was directing me all over the city, finding good restaurants in the area, and letting me send a quick email by voice if I wanted to. Then it became the new normal, and I took it for granted. Lately, I've found myself getting frustrated when the phone doesn't read my mind. "Why hasn't my notes synced up to my iPhone? I wrote it at least 13 seconds ago! If Steve Jobs was still alive, he would never let this atrocity stand. That's it! I'm switching to the Samsung Galaxy!"

It's so tragic that we're getting to a point in U.S. society where mass shootings are becoming the new normal. How many people have to be sacrificed on the altar of the second amendment? Do we ever get to the point where it might be good and right to give up some of our "rights" for the sake of human flourishing? My question for Christians is will there be guns and armaments in the kingdom of God? If not, shouldn't we be working toward that type of kingdom "on earth as it is in heaven?" I think we as a Christian community in the U.S. need more idealism and imagination and less pragmatism/cynicism in facing evil and violence and injustice in the world. We have enough people saying, "This is just the way things are," and not enough people imagining new ways of living. I just don't think Jesus is like this (aesthetically, ideologically, and racially):

But at least Grand Theft Auto V is coming out because I'm sure our culture's glorification of violence in the media has nothing to do with the increased level of violence around the country.

I'm going to change subjects fairly rapidly, so I thought I would put in this sentence so it wouldn't be quite so jarring.

Can I just say this weather has been absolutely wonderful. I could only ask that it would be a little bit colder so I could break out the sweaters and flannel (you know, my love language is cold weather clothing; buy me a sweater or flannel and I'll be loyal to you for life).

Oh, I had my first Latin class...and proceeded to get chastised in it. First, I was already feeling unprepared because apparently he had sent out an email (which I didn't get because it's a BC class and not a BU class) to read chapter 1 and do the exercises, so I was pretty much winging it from the beginning. Then I brought the text book in - John Collins' Primer for Ecclesiastical Latin - and since I had tried to go through the book before, I also had an answer key for the book so I could check my answers. During the middle of the class, the teacher spotted the answer book on the table and exclaimed in a stern voice, "Never bring this book to class again. It is not by the author and should not be used. It's full of mistakes." He acted like I brought Sauron's ring into the Shire. So, I thought it was a really successful first day of Latin. Luckily, I talked myself off the ledge by finishing the next week's assignment the next day and reminding myself that this comment did not mean he hated me or had it in for the only Protestant (and Evangelical at that!) in the room.

Well, I'm off to my Pentecostalism class! Later.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Greek Tragedy of Minnesota Sports, Denise Levertov, and Abraham/Isaac

So, yesterday I had to watch the Vikings blow another close game in the last minute. If you don't know this, the Vikings are renowned for their ability to blow late games. When they kicked the field goal to go up by 6 with around 3 minutes to go, I was pretty confident we were going to lose that game. As they say, the prevent defense usually prevents you from winning. Yet, you still cheer, even as you watch the other team drive down the field against a lackluster defense and wait for the inevitable touchdown. As I was ruminating on it, I realized being a Minnesota sports fan is like cheering for Sisyphus. If you don't know Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a deceitful king during his life, so his punishment in the afterlife was to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down right at its apex, forcing him to start the whole process over again. This is the perfect metaphor for being a Minnesota sports fan. Even when you're cheering, there's always that place in the back of your mind that is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I guess it builds character. After the heartbreak of the '98-99 season and that terrible NFC championship game, I was ready to face life's varied adversities. Just ask our good friend Marshall:

Sorry for ranting. Life's just been really tough every since Elisabeth Hasselbeck left The View. Her cogent, educated right wing propaganda just got my day off on the right foot every morning. Now who am I supposed to get that from? Megyn Kelly? So, I decided the best way to get over the multiple heartbreaks was to have ice cream for dinner. Nothing gives you that end of the weekend boost like cookie dough drizzled with dietary self-loathing.

However, I do have to say, upon arriving at the Vikings bar the table next to me was discussing the merits of Labyrinth and The Wiz, so I was duly impressed. They also enjoyed when I broke out in "Dance Magic Dance." Speaking of the Muppets (Henson Studios did all of the Labyrinth puppets), there's this:

So, I'm reading (well, listening) a very interesting (audio)book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time about a boy with Asperger's who tries to solve the case of his next-door neighbor's dog who was killed. It's all written in first-person from the perspective of the boy, and it is really marvelously done. Although, after watching Parenthood, I can only picture the boy as Max Braverman. I feel like I'm stereotypecasting, but that's the mental image I conjure, and once that mental image is there, it's impossible to erase. I mean, how many people can read the Harry Potter books now and not picture Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, etc?

So, over the past year or two, I've been loving the poetry of Denise Levertov.

She was born in Essex, England to Jewish parents who had later converted to Christianity. Her dad became an Anglican pastor and specialized in Jewish-Christian relations. She started writing early, and when she was 12 she sent her work to T.S. Eliot for critique (he responded graciously with a two-page letter encouraging her to keep writing)! She moved to the U.S. when she was a young adult and continued writing. In the 60s and 70s, she got very involved in the anti-war movement and started writing scathing poems against the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam. Later in her life, she surprised all of her friends and converted to Catholicism and began writing beautiful religious poetry. Anyway, I thought I would share two of her poems (and maybe more in later posts) that I think are great for grad students or anyone who finds themselves overwhelmed by stress, work, and the many demands of life:

I can lay down that history
I can lay down my glasses
I can lay down the imaginary lists
of what to forget and what must be
done. I can shake the sun
out of my eyes and lay everything down
on the hot sand, and cross
the whispering threshold and walk
right into the clear sea, and float there,
my long hair floating, and fishes
vanishing all around me. Deep water.
little by little one comes to know

the limits and depths of power.

and another:

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and waters bear them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain 
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

I think all of her stuff is great, but her later poems that wrestle with faith and life are truly brilliant (in my opinion).

Speaking of wrestling with faith, this week I have to preach a sermon on Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac. How do you preach a sermon when it seems that God is acting like a cruel monster in the story? Is there more to this story? How do you stay faithful to the biblical witness while underscoring the atrocities that have occurred when people thought God was talking to them? It may be a long week. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. The one thing I'm not going to preach: God wants us to give up our idols. I guess I'm off the opinion that children are not idols like greed, unhealthy patriotism, materialism, etc. So, I'm hoping to finish before Thursday so I can enjoy the weekend up on Daigle compound (as I attempt to forgive Amy her cruel joke about using hymnals as coasters) and the following weekend on the Cape with Joe Schupbach and Kathy O'Donoghue. Let's do this!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's Been a While

So, I just realize this is my 201st post since I switched to blogpost (RIP Xanga). I realize I haven't written in a while (since I left Duluth), but rather than focus on the negative, let's accentuate the positive! My time in Chicago was absolutely wonderful. I got to see so many wonderful friends and eat, do fun things, and eat at my favorite restaurants (most importantly), it reminded me why Chicago is my adult home. It was hard leaving, but it was great to be reminded that I do have indeed have a social life in some cities! Here's some of the pictures from the Chicago trip.

One of my many trips to Tre Kronor.

Trying to explain to Charlotte how to cast the spell "Wingardiaum Leviosa!"

Finally, this is a picture with some of my new friends at the Hymn Society Annual Conference. I know that it makes me sound completely nerdy to go to a Hymn Society conference, but I have to tell you, it was one of the highlights of my summer. Think of all the superstars of hymnody (I know you're listing off all the many names that come to mind), and put them in one place: that's the Hymn Society conference. Every day began with worship, moved on to the plenary speakers, and was rounded out by individual sessions on various hymn-related activities. I gave a paper on social gospel hymnody that went pretty well (at least from my perspective). I'm just finishing up the negotiates on the contract for the movie deal - stay tuned. Then, each night there was a hymn festival, which is basically a big hymn sing. Let me tell you, during the first hymn of the first night, I couldn't even sing because I was simultaneously choked up and shivering from goosebumps. To hear 300-400 composers, church musicians, and hymn enthusiasts sing with all their heart in four-part harmony is truly incredible.

And of course you want to see pictures of my incredible nieces, so here are two that were recently sent to me. First, Daphne. She's not a morose child, but I love this picture because I can almost hear her asking, "Why do I have a fricking flower pot on my head?" Plus, she really reminds me of Jessica in it.

And, as usual, Paisley is all smiles!

So, now I'm back in Boston trying to get back into the swing of things. I just finished the second full week of classes, and I think it will be doable. The big difference this semester is my TA responsibilities. The nice thing is sometimes you get randomly assigned to classes to TA, but I got lucky and was assigned to Intro to Christian Worship. So, the learning curve's not quite as steep. My first lecture is the first week in October on why hymns and hymnals are still relevant. I think I'm going to have an altar call at the end and hand out hymnals to all who respond. My latest favorite portion of a hymn is from the last stanza of Fred Pratt Green's "For the Fruit of All Creation":

"For the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us,
thanks be to God."

Oh, I forgot! I also attended Elise and Ben Steel's wedding in Seattle! Although it was my second time in Seattle, it was my first time really seeing the city, and I have to say, I was impressed. I could definitely write a dissertation there. So, Seattle people, find me a job. The wedding was beautiful, and it was great to see Ben and Elise preside at communion as one of their first acts as a married couple. In fact, the only part of the wedding that I got a little choked up was when Elise was praying the prayer of blessing/epiclesis over the elements. I guess that goes to show that I'm a liturgical romantic.

Well, the weekend is upon me (no classes on Friday!), and I have a nice reading weekend planned: rites of passage, the liturgical year, and quinceaneras (the rite of passage I was assigned to study). Next weekend I head up to one of my favorite places in New England: the Daigle household. Until then, another episode of The X-Files. Later!