Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MLK on the Essential Role of Character for Education


I am reading The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education (Willimon and Naylor, 1995), and the quote that begins the fourth chapter - entitled "Meaninglessness" - seems worth sharing here, especially in light of last week's post on The Value Added of Campus Ministry, which begins to get at, if indirectly, the larger question before the university: "What's the point of it all?"

Here's the quote, from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (emphasis mine):
The function of education,...is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but no morals. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration but worthy objectives on which to concentrate. 
...We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.
Echoing these words, Coach K (Duke Basketball) often talks about presenting his players with goals worthy of the efforts the goals will require. Such a determination necessarily entails moral judgments that require character to discern. When Christians remember that character is integral to education and, even more, that the character of Christians - that story and skill set belonging to Christians - is a character belonging to a people called Church, "created by a God who sets our way"(1), we begin to see, maybe, why Morning Prayer has everything to do with maximizing one's undergraduate education - indeed, with making such it possible to call the undergraduate experience education in the first place - and certainly with engaging questions about the point of it all.

That's right, meaning - even at a university.
_______

(1) Hauerwas 2003, p582

Monday, July 29, 2013

Speaking the Truth in Love

On the heels of a post on truth-telling as the value-added of campus ministry (and Christian community, broadly), I read this quote from a good friend's blog, that I think helpfully furthers the conversation; it speaks to the mutual interdependence of truth and love. The quote comes from a letter of Karl Barth:
I do not detect in your work the slightest trace of what is called in holy scripture the peace of God that passes all understanding. 
You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is said kindly is true. You do not speak kindly in a single line.
"Speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) is a value at the heart of many, especially more evangelical, traditions of the Christian faith, and it is a great gift and reminder to the universal Church; it is the presentation of a wonderful opportunity. Sometimes, though, the Church misrepresents the words behind this value when we mistakenly present truth and love as opposing weights on opposite ends of a balance. But Barth reminds us that truth requires love for its very truthfulness, and love requires truth for its loveliness.  

During my time at Duke Divinity School, the image of friends sharpening one another "as iron sharpens iron" (Prov. 27:17) was one offered those of us within the Anglican/Episcopal House of Studies. It was invitation to an imagination toward holy friendship with one another. Importantly, the holy friendships to which we were invited located "speaking the truth in love"within its context in Ephesians, as oriented toward the end of building up the Body, "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." 

This is how the desert fathers came to teach that my salvation is caught up with my neighbor;  that truth for others can never be abstracted from the love that is both my calling and God's gift to me; that truth is never not of one piece with my own patient, faltering steps - my discipleship - following the one who alone says in truth to his friends, "I am the truth and the way and the life."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"How Do You Pray?"
A Guest Sermon for SFH
by the Rev. Dorota Pruski


This evening, St. Francis House celebrated Holy Eucharist at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Madison, where we were joined and welcomed by St. A's recently arrived Associate Priest, the Rev. Dorota Pruski. A blessing. With Dorota's permission, we reprint her homily here on the blog.

Which of you, by a show of hand, would say you are a good prayer?
(however you define that – praying often, having rich prayer experiences,  willing
to pray with others or lead others in prayer)

Without a second thought,
many of us let others sit in the passenger seat of our cars
as we drive 60 miles per hour,
but to have someone at our side as we address God directly?  No way.
Even talking about our prayer life can be difficult and often embarrassing.

Why is that?

I think many of us, myself included,
feel as though our prayer life falls short
of what the Christian life “should” look like.

We may feel ashamed that we don’t pray enough,
or we don’t pray for the “right things” in the “right way”,
or we don’t pray as well as someone else,
or we don’t pray as regularly as should, or for as long as we should, or as fervently
as we should…
We don’t think of ourselves as good prayers.

But none of us are alone in feeling this way, as we saw just now.

And all of us here are in good company with Jesus’ disciples when it comes to
prayer.

Today’s gospel reading, like our readings from the past several weeks,
comes from Jesus’ long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Today, one of his disciples sees Jesus
returning from the place where he had been praying
and says, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

It’s a beautiful and tender moment in Luke’s narrative.
Here we have these disciples, whom Jesus has been teaching  
how to heal the sick and cast out demons,  
how to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God,  
how to be a good neighbor,  
how to be good disciple…
And after all this time spent learning these skills
and participating in miraculous healings,
what the disciples really want to know
is how to be better prayers.

So Jesus teaches them.

 “And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’”

Sound familiar?
These words (in a slightly different form)
are words we pray together every Sunday,
words many of us learned as children,
words some of us will remember long after our memories begin to fail us.

This prayer is extraordinary
not only because of the content of the prayer
but also because of the tone.

The words of the Lord’s Prayer may sound comforting to our ears,
but the Greek is actually a bit jarring.
It is written as a string of five imperatives—
basically they are five demands.

One Lukan scholar translates this using exclamation points at the end of each line.
Give us bread! Forgive our sins! Do not lead us into testing!
By teaching prayer in this way,
Jesus is giving his disciples and us
permission to let go of our shame about how we measure up
against whatever the “right way to pray” is.
Instead, he suggests we be honest. real. raw. and utterly shameless before God.

To highlight his point,
Jesus follows the prayer with a parable
in which a man knocks on his friend’s door in the middle of the night
asking for food.
Rather than denouncing the man’s behavior,
Jesus lifts him up as a model for how to pray.

He credits the man’s shamelessness—
rendered ‘persistence’ in the NRSV— as the
reason the man receives what he needs.
“The one who knocks (and knocks shamelessly) will have the door opened.”

I am not sure the lesson here is to try to be rude to God in prayer,
but what Jesus is teaching
is that prayer is more than what we think it is.
We are being invited to consider
that God is ready and waiting for us to knock at the door—
to engage in honest, shameless prayer that worries not
about style, length, or approach.

One of my favorite poems, written by Margaret L. Mitchell, speaks
to this point. It goes like this:

“Sometimes,
when it is all, finally, too much,
I climb into my car,  roll the
windows up,
and somewhere between backing out the driveway
and rounding the first corner,
I let out a yell that would topple Manhattan.
How do you pray?”

How do you pray? Putting aside questions about
often enough / long enough / eloquent enough / conventional enough
how do you pray?
Does it help to be on your knees? on your feet?
in the bathtub? in your bed?
What if you fall asleep during prayer, is that okay?
Would it help to read prayers from a book?
speak freely from your heart? not speak at all?
Do you pray for specific outcomes?
Do you light candles? incense?
Do you pray by singing along to your favorite song?
listening to music on your iPod?
laughing so hard your stomach hurts?

Does your joy in taking that first bite of a homegrown tomato count as prayer?
What about the worry that gnaws at you for the health of your friend – is that
prayer?
And what about your hobbies/activities – working out, going for a walk, reading,
studying…
Can those be part of your prayer life?

I think the answer to all these possibilities must be yes. A resounding yes.
There is no right or wrong to prayer, there is just prayer –
the narrowing of distance between ourselves and God.
That’s it. That’s prayer.

And so we dare to pray shamelessly, un-self-consciously, and honestly,
bringing the truth that is on our hearts to God,
trusting that God is eagerly awaiting our knock at the door.

And because a sermon about prayer would not be complete without prayer,
I invite you to pull out your bulletins.  Later in the service we will recite the
more familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer, but for now
let’s pray together Luke’s version (Father – trial).

Let us pray:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial. AMEN.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Revisiting Alcoholism and the Episco-Baptist Tradition

In May of 2012, I attended a workshop in the Diocese of West Texas on the impact of alcohol on families, churches, and clergy life. Shortly after attending that conference, I wrote a post called "Alcoholism and the Episco-Baptist Tradition." In that post, while affirming the goodness of creation and defending the Episcopal teaching of "all things in moderation," I observed that, in and of itself, drinking "is probably a dangerous reason to prefer one denomination to another."

One of the statistics presented at that workshop was that 75% of us in the Church experience the disease of alcoholism and its effects, whether personally or through a close friend or family member. A year and a half later, that number - 75% - still staggers me. 

Today, I came across an equally staggering statistic (from 1995) in Willimon and Naylor's The Abandoned Generation: Rethinking Higher Education: "More than 300,000 of today's 12 million undergraduates will ultimately die from alcohol-related causes - more than the number who will earn MAs and PhDs combined."

More than the number who will earn MAs and PhDs combined?? 

Heart-breaking.

Since transitioning to campus ministry, I have both 1) been keenly tuned in to the role of alcohol on campus, and 2) sometimes struggled to know how to talk about it. This past Pentecost, I preached about alcohol for the first time. I observed in the context of the homily that Scripture gives us theological resources for talking about alcohol as Christians, and that these resources have found physical expression in the appearance of our tradition's chief shepherds, our bishops:
The story of [Pentecost] and [Peter's] sermon is remembered in the physical appearance of our bishops. Our bishops wear purple shirts, rings with purple stones, and other purple things. The color is a particular shade of purple derived from the amethyst stone. Amethyst, from the Greek, meaning “not drunk.” Not drunk being a witness to the Church’s self-understanding: we may look goofy, sure, but it’s not what you think; the Spirit in our lives proclaiming Christ, and him crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles... 
...the not-drunk/amethyst tradition gives Christians something other than old-fashioned moralism to consider in our relationship with alcohol. It’s a theological issue. At stake is the credibility of the Church’s mission and witness, especially when living the life of Christ leaves us, in the eyes of the world, looking foolish. If we are drunk, we lose the opportunity to account for our upside-down lives by proclaiming Christ crucified.
To the extent that alcohol abuse especially afflicts those who "feel they have no incentive to delay gratification because they place so little faith in an uncertain future that has no meaning for them" (Willimon and Naylor, 13), the simple preaching of a meaningful Gospel is a meaningful response to the Gospel. Indeed, a positive articulation of the compelling Gospel we've been given is foundational and essential.

But.

And.

We must connect the dots.

We cannot assume that the meaning of the Gospel obviously speaks on its own to the meaninglessness alcoholism seeks to mask. As a Church, we must risk making this connection explicitly. We've gotta talk about it. On a regular basis. The statistics should encourage us in this regard - what other affliction - short of sin and death, generally - can you talk about on Sunday with complete assurance of its relevance for 75% of the hearers?

More than the number who will earn MAs and PhDs combined?? 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Value Added of Campus Ministry


Some months ago, a campus ministry colleague began a fascinating conversation when he asked me what the “value added” of campus ministry was. In other words, what does participation in campus ministry add to the value of a student’s university experience that might justify the cost of commitment? 

A good question. Walking together down a sidewalk dappled with sunlight and shade, we began attempts at an answer:

Community, certainly. Friendships, good friends, and everything that comes with them, all a part of the gift of campus ministry - though not exclusive to campus ministry. A free, home-cooked meal each week is a nice bonus. Perhaps campus ministry participation will look good on one’s resume, especially if there are volunteer components involved. I would love to think that campus ministry offers an opportunity for Christian leadership development of a kind that one would not find elsewhere. Networking has the potential be a piece, especially for a storied program with vast numbers of alumni. As the conversation rattled on, I found myself both energized by the question and feeling like a bit of the mark had been missed.

“What if the truth is our value added?” I asked, surprised to hear myself asking the question. 

“What if,” I explained, “the thing about campus ministry that gives value to one’s collegiate experience is we promise to be people who speak the truth with one another? What if I told you as your campus minister that, as you share your life with this community, I promise to always tell you the truth?”

That question asked, a couple of subsequent caveats put flesh on the bones of the commitment to be truthful:

First, to assert truth telling as value added names the obvious, namely that such a commitment is rare. At a school as large as UW, students are fortunate to land regular access to counselors, much less counselors who know them personally, and so who are capable of speaking as truly as they otherwise might. And that's before we name the deeper reality that the social, commercial, and other circles that constitute so much of life thrive on deceptions that are the opposite of truthful speech.

Second, the promise to always speak the truth is either absurd or insincere unless it includes a commitment to the true words "I don't know" and "I need your help." My promise to tell the truth is not the same as the promise to always have an answer. But I promise to risk the words "I don't know" and "Will you help me?" and also to share whatever resources I do have, alongside the vast resources of the Christian tradition throughout the centuries. I commit to listening alongside those in the Church for the voice of God and the wisdom of the community of faith. 

Third, most importantly, and at the risk of going all theological: for Christians, truth, is not an abstract concept but a concrete person: Jesus, the Son of God born to Mary, who was crucified and is risen. As Stanley Hauerwas once wrote: "Only in the person of Christ are we encountered by the one who can unmask our illusions without utterly destroying us.  In Christ we are made intimate with God, making possible a nearness from which we do not flee." In Jesus, the truth of God and friendship with God intersect, making it possible for us to be truthful friends to one another.

A community centered on the one who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life," cannot help but pray to be made truthful. Another way to say this is the first step toward becoming truthful is worship.

Months after this conversation with my friend, I learned that one of my heroes, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski - Coach K -, tells his players as a part of the recruitment process he will make them two promises: to 1) always look them in the eye, and 2) always tell them the truth.

Coach K's players sign on because they see the value added of such a commitment. They realize that it can be life-giving and empowering to walk with someone who listens to the goals of your heart and honors them - honors you - with feedback that is true. This is truth with the power to make you more truly yourself - the best version of your self. To be sure, truth of this kind - by its nature - is challenging, but also never separable from the love that would remind you of this truth, also: that you are God's child, God's beloved.

“What if the truth is our value added?” I asked, surprised to hear myself asking the question. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Reflecting On Yesterday's Move

Yesterday, St. Francis House began the good work of moving back onto her grounds, which have been a major construction site for the better part of two years. It’s a pretty exciting time. A season of return and also of change. A moment that both continues a ninety-year relationship between the University of Wisconsin and the Diocese of Milwaukee and rightly names a new beginning.  

Annie and my parents on the St. Francis House grounds.
Reflecting on this past year without a home of our own on campus, I can appreciate how we learned to be resourceful in ways we will no longer have to be. I was up to 20 miles or more a week, walking the campus and the distance between our temporary offices at Grace Church, the student unions, and various coffee shops (my many offices). Some days it was a beautiful and healthy discipline. Other days, it was nearly 10 o'clock at night and I was twenty-five minutes from the car, with the temperature, in single digits, dropping. I found much patience in the discipline of walking - the practical theology of footstep following footstep, no goal so grand that it doesn't need and begin with a footstep. And I find myself (at least on this particularly brutally hot day) immensely thankful even for the long, freezing walks in the glow of the moon with the light reflecting off the ice around me. 

Our students were incredible during this time, many walking a mile and half for the opportunity to worship together. You say, “Sure. They’re young!” And so they are. But think about it for a second... This Sunday morning, consider parking your car a mile and a half from your faith community. Now imagine it's January. Our students were amazing. On weeknights, they prayed in unions, on terraces and patios, their faces becoming familiar to the university staff who began to learn their rhythms and expect them. Our students with cars quickly reached out to the students who did not have cars. We had lots of conversations - some good, some hard, always honest - about the challenging call of the Church to be God’s visible people. I cherished the year without a building because, as the students heard me say often, “You don’t have a building yet to confuse you. You are the Church.”

Now the walks will not be as long. The public presence will not be a given, will need to be re-chosen, no doubt, with great intention. Still, there is much excitement. I cannot wait to see how the Church will use this opportunity to bless the larger university community. The building of St. Francis House has the potential to become a vibrant public presence. We are wedged in the middle of a wonderfully bustling campus. 

I do suspect, and hope, the lessons of the past year will lead us beyond the building walls with frequency - I still intend to office out of coffee houses. Every bit as importantly, however, I pray the past year has given us a new imagination for how a building, belonging to a church, might not signal retreat, or hiding behind the walls of faith, but rather would be a vehicle of faith's expression and a tool for the generous living out of the Gospel. I pray that our space risks a missional commitment, would become a mission outpost, existing for the care and support of this university and, most especially, for her students.

All of which raises a question I am learning to ask a lot these days - I ask it as often as I can think to - and even to those who do not see the relevance of the question for their immediate contexts, different from my own: “What does it mean to be ‘for students?’” Not abstractly. Here. In this place. In your place. At this moment. Just now. What does it mean to be for students?

I love this question. This question is why I am so deeply excited for the present moment before us at St. Francis House.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hope For Adult Picky Eaters
(And Leaders In The Church)


Last week I wrote a post I called "The Delicious Discipline of Eating Well (and why it may be at the heart of the Gospel)." In the wake of that post, the thing that has most surprised me is the generous reading the post has found among the nutritionist community. After all, in a real sense, I don't know what I am talking about. I have read and practiced much of Ellyn Satter's work, especially in my role as parent, but nutrition is not my "gig." Even within my family, my wife is infinitely more knowledgeable in these matters than I am. So I am encouraged that those who are better positioned to see the potential of the questions and connections I am trying to explore see these questions and connections as worthwhile.

That I am not a nutritionist may explain why it has taken me so long to learn to ask these questions. I have been following Satter's work since the birth of our firstborn (she'll be 4 in August), and have been a priest for going on six years now, but - strangely, I think - I have only recently begun to see Satter's work as a gift with much to teach the Church - especially the Episcopal tradition - in which our central act is the sharing of a common meal. 


[Note: the centrality of the Eucharist for Episcopalians leads me to believe the connections I am making with Satter's work are more than merely analogical. One could argue that Christians are a people whose primary calling is to learn what it is to eat well. When I read Ellyn's definition of normal eating, my heart is thinking bread and wine and words like "satisfied" and "abundant life."]


A few days after The Delicious Discipline, I think the one thing in all of this that I find most hopeful for the Church is the conviction that leadership that grows can be healthful - indeed, that leadership is measured best by the health it promotes. This may sound very basic - like not a very ambitious thing to hope for - but there is so much essential life in it. Many are the examples of growth at homes and in churches by coercion, guilt, false obligations, and shaming - that is, by appeals to the default scripts we adopt in our heads and which Satter works so hard to silence. I met a man once in a parish who asked me if I knew he had become the scheduler for the church's lay reader ministry. I told him I had. He asked if I knew what had happened to the last scheduler before him. I said no. "What?" "Twenty-six years he did it. Couldn't get out. Then he died." A long silence. "And now I'm him."


With my own children, I like to think I am beginning to have a handle on *mostly* replacing these unhealthful scripts with a trust in the the wisdom of their bodies. But what about adults like my friend (and including myself), in whom these destructive scripts are all put framed on the mantle of the heart?


With that question as my motivation today, I found and read Satter's short article entitled, "The Adult Picky Eater." She lays out the challenge this way: 
Everybody dislikes some foods. For most, it isn't a problem. It becomes a problem when you like such a short list of foods it's hard to get the nutrients you need. It is even more of a problem if you feel singled out, shamed and criticized by others for your food preferences. Your picky eating most likely comes from too much food pressure when you were a child, lack of exposure to unfamiliar food, or both. You, like many children, may have been especially sensitive to taste and texture. However, you could still have learned to like a variety of food had you been repeatedly exposed to unfamiliar foods without pressure to eat them.
Exposure without pressure. Yes. The Church must be about this.

Ellyn goes on to replace the old scripts and their pressures with these new norms:
At mealtime, it is socially acceptable to:
  • Pick and choose from what is on the table
  • Decline to be served.
  • Eat only one or two food items.
  • Leave unwanted food on your plate.
  • Take more of one food when you haven't finished another.
It is not socially acceptable to:
  • Draw attention to your food refusal.
  • Request food that is not on the menu.
And I think about the teaching of the 1979 Prayer Book, in which children may receive the Eucharist from the moment of their baptism, which, if they are like most Episcopalians, they will be too young to remember. In other words, they will be too young to remember a time in which they were not trusted to eat or refuse to eat without drawing attention to their refusal.

Additionally, feel how Ellyn's new norms depersonalize what might otherwise become highly personalized conflicts. It is acceptable to pick and choose, to decline to be served, to eat only your favorites, to leave food on your plate, to go back for more. It is acceptable. Feel how these norms begin to decrease the penalty for adventurous choices - or non-choices. My father-in-law likes to say of "pot lucks" that they are so named because of the treacherous amount of luck involved. See how these new norms, in the context of the Body of Christ, offer a freedom consistent with the love and trust and grace of the Gospel. "Once you have learned to say no," says Satter, "you can learn to say yes."

It is acceptable. 

I wonder about my friend and his realization that he was serving a sentence that would end with his death. I wonder about the fear some leaders carry, that their ministry won't be perpetuated after they move on. What scripts prevent them from letting go of these fears? I wonder about the anxiety that fills our hands as we lift them up to receive the bread. It is acceptable. 


Dare we believe this? Dare we lead out of it?


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bombs Bursting in Air:
Listening to Tchaikovsky on the 4th of July

My earliest memories of the 4th of July are conflicted. On the one hand, I remember July 4ths with disproportionate and glad clarity, even joy, relative to other days. I remember the friends and family with which I've shared America's Independence Day through the years. I remember the shaded picnics, fantastic displays along the Potomac River and at the Cotton Bowl, knee high with chiggers in the tall grass in front of my great-grandparents' place on White Rock Lake. 

I remember loving Roman candles, especially, and, as I grew into high school band nerd-ness, the music that accompanied the fireworks displays. I remember the moment in which the lights went out at the minor league ball park, that great moment of anticipation before the show, the stadium filling with flashbulbs. 


In all of these, I remember my abiding gratitude for the possibility of my country and the prayer that "we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace" (from the collect for the day as it appears in The Book of Common Prayer). 


I also remember, long before I had heard of Hauerwas or Yoder, an ambivalence about the fireworks themselves. Yes, I admired them. Yes, they were beautiful. The miraculous combinations of colors produced by the different elements fascinated to no end: I would watch the embers of each one until they died against the black backdrop of the sky. Still, it seemed strange. I would watch the embers die and remember my grandfather, whom I never met. He died before I was born; liver disease, as a result of drinking. He drank to cope with his memories of war. I am told he never spoke about the wars. I wasn't yet a Christian pacifist, but being one seemed an unnecessary prerequisite for asking why we yearly reenacted the visual of exploding bombs to celebrate our freedom. 


I thought I might be exaggerating the strength of the firework-bomb connection until, one day after school, I saw footage of the war in Iraq and the green and purple lights exploding behind the buildings in the foreground. It seemed to be the case that our patriotic displays could only be seen as celebrations because of our certainty that real bombs don't fall on America anymore. And, yes, fireworks were used to celebrate independence in other countries long before ours, but the choreography of the explosions with the words "bombs bursting in air," in combination with the unparalleled military strength of my country, stirred in me a lasting sadness that I carried throughout the celebrations.   


I was sharing some of this with Rebekah this morning. She's a good listener, though she doesn't share my sadness about fireworks. Actually, that makes her patient listening all the more remarkable. 


Anyway, we finished talking, and I went over to the computer to put some music on for the kids. July 4th, and the high school nerd in me kicks in: Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture - a favorite tune for fireworks displays. I shared this irony with Rebekah, and we both laughed. But then, I listened and began to remember. The opening of that piece so very, very familiar. 


A google search suggests that the opening melody of the 1812 comes from the Troparion Tone 1 Melody, originally sung as the Troparion to the Holy Cross:

O Lord, save your people,
and bless your inheritance!
Grant victory to the Orthodox Christians
over their adversaries,
and by virtue of your cross,
preserve your habitation.


According to Wikipedia, "This is literally the fight song of Orthodox Christians. Often used in battle, the phrase "the Orthodox Christians" (or often, "thy people") has come to replace "the righteous and God-fearing Emperor (or Tsar) N.." The Tone I melody used in many Russian churches can be heard in the background of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Today the hymn is typically understood to have a primarily spiritual meaning."

Beautiful. But here's the problem: the Troparion of the Holy Cross is not why the opening of the 1812 sounds familiar to me. Take a listen.


Instead, the opening of the 1812 sounds, to me, like the gospel sequence my church would sing, when I was little, on Epiphany 4A and sometimes on All Saints' Day. The opening of the 1812 sings the Beatitudes to the front of my heart:

 
I don't know what Tchaikovsky was up to. I don't know the history of both pieces sufficiently well to suggest that Tchaikovsky was intentionally bringing the two songs together. But, at least to my mind, he does. So doing, he paints the possibility of the Beatitudes as the fight song of the People of God: 

Then [Jesus] began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Mt 5:1-12

If this is the case, or even a possibility, listen again to the 1812. This is where Wikipedia gets it wrong: the melody does not appear in the background of the 1812. It appears first as the central melody; as a whisper, certainly, but that's all there is, in the beginning. As a hope. Then the bombastic, combative, roller coaster of struggle. And, finally, after that long, long, melodic spiral, the return to ourselves - or perhaps the descent of Christ into hell, to pull us back to himself - then the bells. The glorious bells. And with bells ringing wildly, the return of the Song, this time with volume and surety. It's as if the gates of heaven fling wide in this moment. For sure, the canons are not quite gone, but no longer is the tenor dark and ominous, but overwhelmed by light. 

Tears of joy. 

And light.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Delicious Discipline of Eating Well
(and why it may be at the heart of the Gospel)

I have been calling these past seven days The Week of Long Lost Friends. 

It started at a campus ministry conference I was attending in Chicago, with a friend from San Antonio - call him 'Long Lost Friend #1.' At the conference, I ran into #2, a fellow campus minister from Texas - not so unexpected, but still good to see. Then, a few days later, things began to get crazy: my best friend from grades 2-4 (we hadn't seen each other since grade 5, 1992) shot me a note to say he and his wife were in Chicago, that night, traveling on business. Could I meet them just now at the wine bar downtown? I glanced at my watch - 10:57 p.m. Google Maps reported that the bar was twenty minutes away. "Sure!" I said. And was very glad I did (LLF#3). 

Two days later, Sunday, between supply work and the evening service at St. Francis House, we had dear friends over for lunch (LLF#s 4, 5, and 6 - and a recently born #7, whom we hadn't met before!). They live in North Carolina, and were visiting family in Wisconsin. In addition to being really wonderful friends, 3 and 4 are UW alums. On Wisconsin! 

As I talked with 4*, he told me about the good work he and others are doing at Church of the Holy Family - where Rebekah and I attended during grad school, from 2004-2007 - and especially in his area of responsibility as the youth minister of the congregation. Paul talked about the identification and integration of implicit curricula - something like a rule of life - to order and structure the external curricula - or specific content - of the ministry. Plainly, the students keep predictable, simple, and intentional rhythms to their time together, and these rhythms become as formative as (or more than) the explicit content of a given gathering. 

To this end, one day Paul and the students sat down and looked at their meal time on Sunday evenings and asked one another what that time could learn from the central characteristics of their shared eucharistic meal. Among other things, the students decided that, because the Eucharist is shared around one table, they would likewise eat around one table. One, big, unwieldy table. And it's been very good.

On Monday, the LLFs continued: #8, a priest friend from the Valley in South Texas, visiting in-laws in Madison; and then #s 9, 10, and 11, dear friends from North Carolina (part of the dinner and prayer group we also shared with friends 3 and 4), moving to Minneapolis. The yellow moving van gave them away as they drove up the street.

10 is a nutritionist who, back before Annie was born, gave us a book that altered the course of our parenting lives for the better: Ellyn Satter's Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. (Ellyn lives in Madison, though I haven't met her/had the chance to thank her yet.) Her book gets at a lot more than this, but basically, the gist is that eating involves a division of responsibilities. Parents are responsible for providing an array of good foods; children are responsible for eating them, including any/all decision-making subsequent to the parents' providing the food. Practically speaking, this accounts for why I did not say anything to Annie last night when she turned beautifully colorful taco night into "bowl of yogurt and cheese night." Says Satter:  
You can't control or dictate the quantity of food your child eats, and you shouldn't try. You also can't control or dictate the kind of body your child develops, and you shouldn't try. What you can do, and it is a great deal, is set things up for your child so she, herself, can regulate her food intake as well as possible, and so she can develop a healthy body that is constitutionally right for her.
Satter frees children to listen to and learn to trust the wisdom of their bodies. 

So we got to talking to 10 about this last night. If listening to and learning to trust the wisdom of bodies is good for children, and if parents seemingly can't talk about food without messing this up ("Two more bites...for Papa...), is there any hope for silencing the unhelpful scripts that dictate so much of our decision-making as adults - scripts predicated on narratives of guilt, shame, and unhelpful judgments, many of them fueled my society's commercial interests -  and, subsequently, for opening adults to listen to and learn to trust the wisdom of our bodies?

8 smiled and shared with us Satter's definition of normal eating:
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. 
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
And I went to bed wondering. If Paul's youth group can shape their mealtime around the Eucharist to the enrichment of their mutual life in Christ, is there something in what Satter has discerned around the eating of food, our meals, that speaks a eucharistic truth not quite forgotten, but not fully learned, either, by the Church. On the left and on the right, within and without the Body of Christ, we talk so much about what the others ought to do; we sometimes forget that the single most compelling, the least destructive, and most faithful persuasion is the witness in the simple joy with which we eat.

"[Christ] is a rich treasure, for his bread is rich...Therefore this bread has become the food of saints."
Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, 340-397.


Paul Cizek, a previous guest author on the blog.