Monday, June 27, 2005

weird hymns

I spent the weekend in Jekyll Island Georgia for the Conference on Communication and the Environment (about which I hope to blog more later) but I first need to tell you-all about the church service we went to on Sunday morning. Jekyll Island has a number of denominations, Kathi and I chose to go to the 8:30 episcopalian service because of the convenient timing. We were by far the youngest people in the place, (we knew things were gonna be interesting when the vicar began the service saying "it's good to see you all alive and well") It was traditional anglican liturgy, straight from the prayer book and the lectionary I assume, but we sang this really weird hymn, which left me in the pew feeling a little bit horrified and whose lyrics I found online to share with you all:

They cast their nets in Galilee just of the hills of brown;
such happy simple folk before the Lord came down.
Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful,and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,homeless in Patmos died.
Peter who hauled the teaming net, head down was crucified.
The peace of God it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod.

Yet let us pray for just one thing the marvelous peace of God.

So, um, I didn't know quite what to do with that one. It made a bit more sense when the gospel reading for the day followed, but still, it deals with some tough ideas in a trite and inadequate way. This seems some weird mix of the "family values" christianity that just wants everything G-rated (contented peaceful fishermen) and Mel Gibson brutalism without much explination. I know the hymn didn't leave me thinking the peace of God made any sense at all. And maybe it doesn't, but it seems like something we can't just sing to a jaunty tune and then say "thanks be to God," sit down, and hear a loosely related homily. There's more to life in Christ than "strife closed in the sod" right? I mean, I guess that's part of it, but... wow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Barbara Brown Taylor has written a lovely piece about the Sabbath for Christian Century. Those who know me or who pay attention probably know that I'm a fan of keeping Sabbath, although my observance isn't as strict or as consistant as Taylor's seems to be. She has a beautiful way of putting things, and a compelling suggestion: that we all observe Sabbath as a community as a form of resistance. I especially like this part:

If we paid as much attention to Leviticus 25 as we do to Leviticus 18, then we might discover that God is at least as interested in economics as in sex.

and this: One day each week I lived as if all my work were done. I lived as if the kingdom had come and when I did the kingdom came, for 25 hours at least.

I love the idea of one day a week being a sort of imperfect incarnatin of the kingdom that is already-not yet here.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Why Men Hate Going to Church"

I noticed this article in the GR Press today, and I am not entirely sure what to make of it. The author is writing mainly from a book called Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. Now, I am neither a man nor a person who hates going to church, which is why I am hoping to get some insight from my friends and readers on this article.

This article seems to resonate with some of the ideas that are coming out of the Promise Keepers movement and John Eldridge's writing. And some of it, I think, has merit. I think it is true that much of contemporary christianity is taking the edge off of Jesus and off of God. Being a Christian becomes about being nice and meek and non-controversial - family-friendly even. And I think these authors are right to say that this is misconstruing the Bible and the christian life - the calls to justice and radical dissent from culture are everywhere in the Bible, and it is by no means a clean, sweet, suburban story either. I wonder, though, if talking about this tendency in gender terms is doing us all a disservice - perhaps it's not so much "emmasculating" Jesus and scripture as it is de-humanizing. I understand that there are gender differences, inherant and socialized, but being a woman isn't as sanitized as some of this work would make one believe.

The other thing that bothers me about this article in particular and similar work is their apparant definition of what it is to be masculine. This sentence in particular got to me today: "While men who are good singers and teachers are thriving in the classroom model of church, more masculine men are left looking for something else to do." So, apparantly, the arts and communication are un-masculine? The article goes on to point to things like a car-fixing ministry which sounds wonderful (I could use that sort of help) but I think dividing gifts into male and female so clearly is dangerous.

So I'm still not sure exactly what to think. I understand that some of these gender ideas are imbedded in our culture whether I like it or not, and the church needs to respond, but I wonder if the church should be the place where we discuss what's really "masculine" or "feminine" and what's a strange caricature. I think there's a trouble the church needs to deal with in a different way - a more countercultural way - when I read things like "The fruits of the Spirit that Jesus upholds in the gospels -- gentleness and humility, for example -- are not things to brag about on a job resume. " Is this really how it is?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Women in Church Office

I've been in the academic bubble (and ecumenical conversations) for so long, I had forgotten what the general deal is with the CRC (my denomination) and women, but was reminded of it again because it came up at synod this year.

I have considered myself a feminist since I was about 10 years old, and this issue, ten years ago, was important to me. I thought it was outrageous that the church would stop people from church leadership simply because of their gender, and I continue to be amazed at the slow speed with which our denomination changes. I was blessed to see the first women elders installed at our church when I was old enough to understand the significance, but seriously, what is taking so long? When many other denominations moved to allow women to have positions of leadership (including clergy) long ago, why is the CRC still dragging its feet with silly distinctions (ie women can be a synodical deputy, but not a delegate), and distrust? In my own theology and ethics it has long been a presupposition that some women are gifted with leadership, and of course should be allowed to exercise that. I guess I'm just surprised that so many do not hold that presupposition.

For a while I thought I might go into ordained ministry. I think the call to academia was pretty clear, at least for now. I guess God saved me from the hurt and headaches but also the glory of being a ground-breaker. But especially as someone who thinks about church leadership a lot, I have nothing but appreciation and respect for the women who have followed their gifts into ministry, in spite of silly obstacles. It's not an easy job for anyone, and if your authority is considered suspect, that's even tougher.

I think its time for the CRC to move ahead on this more than we already have, but it seems I am not really in touch with the denomination as a whole. I'm glad they took more small steps this week, but I don't think they went far enough. And I also think that the church body as a whole needs to change their minds and call women pastors, and leaders.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

death of the album?

I was listening to the new Coldplay Album on itunes in the office today, and I found out that I inadvertently listened to the songs in the wrong order. This is not a huge event in my life, by any means, but it did bring to mind some of the thoughts I’ve been having about the form of an album. I am a big fan of listening to an entire album, in the order the artist put the songs. I figure that thought went into what songs got on and the order they are in. Also, one song from a particular artist is not usually enough for me – I want to spend some time with an artist, even if they’re just in the background. This is why I don’t listen to a lot of mixes, and why I don’t do shuffle and why I feel guilty about wanting an ipod.

I wonder if the popularity of ipod (especially ipod shuffle) and the ability to buy one song at a time, soon the idea of an album as a whole work will go out the window, and the concept album (one of my favorite ideas) will also be a thing of the past. I think this would be sad. I like the way songs work together in an arc. I like the way it lasts about an hour. I like noticing particular structural details. There are other things I like about buying cds too. I like the trip to the store and holding the thing in your hands, and looking at the art and reading the liner notes. I love liner notes. I sure hope with the coolness and convenience of itunes, we don’t loose the things that are cool about whole albums.

Maybe I’m just a sentimental nerd (well, surely I am, but maybe this idea is particularly over the top). I am aware that a good mix cd (or playlist) is an art, and there are some mix cds I love dearly and DO listen to. So probably the shuffle music culture and the album music culture can coexist in, uh, harmony. But that’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


So I’ve been trying to make up for the incomplete reading of Gilead that I did when it was assigned for class and reading it sincerely this summer. It’s one of those books I have to read slow (which explains why I didn’t do it justice during the semester) it’s the same thing with Annie Dillard. Anyway, one thing I like about it is the way every sentence seems to glisten with intention. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is what the book says about visions. The narrator keeps coming back to a sort of every day moment of sharing a biscuit with his father in the ruins of a church that was struck by lightning. He says “it seems to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment” (96) and “I truly believe it is a waste and ingratitude not to honor such things as visions, whether you yourself happen to have seen them or not” (97). So I’ve been wondering what those visions are for me – what are those moments. And whether it is something inherent in the moment or the way we think about it afterwards that makes it so defining.

Well, I haven’t settled on any major life visions, but lots of small moments of profundity. Or at least of joy or grace or awareness. How postmodern of me, I suppose. And some of the moments are that because I wrote about them later. So maybe the writing is what makes them important. For example, today I had a moment when I was walking home from getting my dinner. Here’s the poem:

walking home with Chinese takeout
warm through the bag in my hands
in the sunny early-summer heat
I feel the first drops of
is that rain or am I only imagining
the cool drops touching
my shoulders soft like
the way he looks at me sometimes
or like blessing falling surprise
out of the sky

so was it a moment because it was, or because I thought about it and then wrote about it? I’m leaning toward the latter, but there was something in the rain and the sunshine or I wouldn’t have written about it in the first place. Does God give us the vision, or the attitude to look for the vision?