From Andrews to Andre 3000

I posted this on March 3rd, 2006. 

Where do I start with this one? Do I mourn the fact that I no longer purchase music the way that I once did? Or that I haven’t kept up on purchasing classic recordings? Do I sheepishly admit that I haven’t revisited this Monk/Trane collaboration in years? Do I bemoan the many typos in this relatively short post? 

Or should I just dive into the life is like jazz thing? In the comments, my friend BJ mentions the work of Carl Ellis, stating that Ellis, in his book “Free at Last?: The Gospel in the African American Experience” claims African American theology is more like jazz while European theology is more like classical music. I see the point Ellis was trying to make, but a great theologian can make jazz out of anything. 

One of the all-time great jazz tunes is John Coltrane’s version of My Favorite Things. He takes the very.. European… Rogers and Hammerstein’s tune and infuses soul and rhythm to it that I can’t imagine the original composers ever imagined. My Favorite Things is actually a wonderful example of what I tried to get to in my original post. The first version many of us heard of that tune was Julie Andrews singing it in the Sound of Music. Growing up, I heard a version sung by Diana Ross that inexplicably is featured on the Motown Christmas album. It’s not a huge deviation from the original… well…, it’s as big of a deviation as Diana Ross’ voice is from Julie Andrews’! The instrumentation is different. More big band, more swing to it. I heard Coltrane’s version in high school. It’s so long! Every instrument gets time to shine. Coltrane plays with this tune in ways that frankly just shouldn’t work. He’s dissecting the melody, investigating its innards. And as far away from the original as he seems to get, he always comes back home. When he actually comes back to the bridge  (“when the dog bites…”), the tune is nearly over and you’re suddenly reminded of this epic musically journey you’ve just been on, but now the captain is announcing that you’re about to land. Ahhh… so good!

In 2004, one of favorite hip hop groups, Outkast, did a pretty ballsy thing. The duo released a double album, two different albums really, allowing each of them to take center stage for an entire cd. Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx is a straight-forward rap album. I don’t mean that to be reductionist. It’s really good and it holds well ten years later. Andre 3000, on the other hand, went a bit more experimental. There’s hip hop, there’s R&B, funk, and soul. And then there is sweet instrumental of… you guessed it, My Favorite Things. Clearly influenced by Coltrane, this is slimmed down, fast paced, almost breathless interpretation. It has electronic elements that make it feel like it’s been in the hands of a master hip hop producer, but it also has this driving bass and piano solo that grounds it in jazz tradition. 

It probably seems like I should revisit Ellis’ thesis here now that I have discussed how three black musicians have expanded on this “white” tune. Instead, I’m coming back to Julie Andrews. What shouldn’t be lost in all of this is the fact that these other musicians were inspired by a beautiful piece of source material. The lyrics are uplifting. The tune is as bouncy and catchy as anything pop music has ever produced. I dare you to think of Julie Andrews singing this song and not smile. It’s so good! Add to that a classic cinematic set piece and you begin to see why musicians would want to revisit and reinterpret this tune over and over again. It echoes across decades in a way that only the best of our artistic culture can. 

What would have happened if we would have codified the Julie Andrews version of the song? What if it would have been universally accepted that this piece, as it stood in 1965, had attained a perfection that isolated it from critique, revision, or reinterpretation. What if we would have decided that the Sound of Music was inerrant and Julie Andrews infallible? Think of what would have been lost if we would have closed to door to interpretation. 

We play one tune: Love God by loving people. There are as many different interpretations of that tune as there are expressions of lived experience. As long as we come back home to that recognizable bridge that connects us from where we’ve been to where we’re going, why should we fight against any one else’s improvisation?

Mark 9 

38 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’39But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.40Whoever is not against us is for us41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

 

Revisiting “A Good Seminary Day”

When I started this new blogging endeavor this week, part of the intent was to edit and rewrite some old thoughts. 
So far, this has been more commentary on my old posts than edits. Today's is no different, but I am adding commentary
 within the original text. 
The original post was found at http://faithsedge.blogspot.com/2006/03/good-seminary-day.html and was posted on March 2nd, 2006.

A good seminary day…

 …despite all of my bitching, I do have good days here. Today was one of them. Some interesting discussions were held in my early classes (exegesis and gospels), but mostly I was blessed by my preaching class. I feel really privileged to hear my friends’/colleagues’ sermons. I’ve been amazed at their quality. My own sermon went very well today. I know it was the Holy Spirit because it felt very flat and uninspired on paper. I love that when we give God our best, even among our weakness, that grace makes things happen.

(It is hard to describe the joy that I feel seeing a friend in the pulpit, especially a friend I know well. I know what they are carrying up there with them; their joys, their pains, their pride, their insecurity… their joy. I know their sense of calling. I know their sense of finding themselves in the words of the text and the action of delivering those words. This began in seminary and continues to this day. 
Every Sunday I offer up a prayer for my preacher friends and then post that I am praying for them on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t think anyone who hasn’t done it knows how terrifying, and exciting, and holy, and totally profane the act/art of preaching can be. We can certainly make of it more than it is, but it has potential to do so much good… and so much damage. It is a sacred responsibility. As I take this season away from the pulpit, I am keenly aware of the weight my friends carry with them into the pulpit and I trust that they will open themselves to the Spirit of Inspiration. I pray that they will let the best of themselves come out… and the worst, if that is what their people need. I pray for the soft hearts, open ears, and attentive eyes of those who will experience the sermon. And I pray for the families… the kids and spouses who were neglected while the pastor wrestled with some ancient text. You never go into the pulpit alone. 
I miss preaching so much. It is a burden. It is a privilege. It is an art-form unlike any other. And I’m good at it. I miss feeling good at something…)
I want to post a quote from one of my textbooks. it is concerning the significance of the eucharist and the “cleansing of the temple”:
“The meaning of ‘last supper,’ then, actually evolved over a series of meals after Jesus’ occupation of the Temple. During that period, Jesus claimed that wine and bread were a better sacrifice than what was offered in the Temple (he’s referring to the animals being sold for sacrifice by the moneychangers): At least the wine and bread were Israel’s own, not tokens of priestly dominance. No wonder the opposition to him, even among the twelve (i.e. Judas), became deadly. In essence, Jesus made his meals into a rival altar, and we may call such a reading of his words a ritual or cultic interpretation”Bruce Chilton “Traditio-Historical Criticism and Study of Jesus” from Hearing the New TestamentChilton’s observations struck me as significant this morning. It’s a rethinking of two major Gospel events. It is ironic to me, however, that Jesus was challenging the oppressive control of the religious establishment in his time and to honor Him we created an oppressive religious establishment.

(Yes! This is why I loved seminary! There is so much more in the texts than we realize. There’s so much more to why certain texts are placed aside each other than we often notice. It’s so much more rich and complex than we give it credit for. 
The end of Mark is Jesus leading an assault on Jerusalem. You have to read it that way. He is walking into enemy territory on a suicide mission. He is there to blow up the temple. But unlike other occupiers, Jesus actually has a transition plan in mind. The temple will be replaced with the table. There we will find the sacred stuff of life; bread, wine, conversation, fellowship, common story, laughter, tears. There we will find what has been forged with our own hands. There we let go of the day’s struggle. There is intimacy and love. The temple… the religious/political/economic control structure… what Borg and Crossan call in “The Last Week” the “domination system”… can’t provide these things. We need way more table in our faith communities and way less temple.)
Another interesting thought coming both through my exegesis class and gospels class is the idea of why Jesus needed to be baptized in the Gospel of Mark. From our reading of the Gospel, Jesus became the adopted son of God only at his baptism. You’ll note that Mark doesn’t include the virgin birth. So why did Jesus need to be baptized in Mark? The text makes it seem that Jesus had sins to repent of and to get baptized for. How does that sit? Could you preach that? If you were doing an adult ed. class on Mark, would you teach that? Those questions are kinda directed at me, but if you’ve got answers…
(I have preached this. I have taught this in adult ed. The sky didn’t fall.)

Spiritual co-traveler

This was originally posted here.

It is difficult to read how cynical I was of my seminary experience in these old posts. It was a difficult time. I was deeply depressed. But I was also learning a lot about myself, meeting some of my favorite people, and developing as a thinker in some ways that I think have been lasting in and important. SFTS gave me a great deal and I don’t want to take that for granted.

What’s really funny about this post is that I remember the clearness committee experience so much differently than what I expressed then. It was, in fact spiritual formation and leadership in ways that are beyond what is considered normal but maybe in ways that are more of what the world needs right now. It was non-hierarchical. It was question-focused instead of being answer focused. Maybe most important, it was built around a tension between silence and community. Yes, we mostly sat in silence, but I felt very connected to the people in that circle. I held their anxiety. They held mine. We loved each other through questions. We probed deeply into each other’s fears and expose pieces of identity that we might have preferred remained hidden. It was a spiritual experience.

I don’t think the spiritual leadership the church world needs right now is of the variety to which we have become accustomed. I don’t think we need more talking heads. I don’t think we need more answer people. I don’t think we need more people standing in front of us telling us which way to go and how to get there. We don’t need more experts.

I’ve always liked the idea of being a spiritual sherpa.

sherpa

 

Someone who walks the path with you, knows the path well themselves, and can be on the journey alongside you. That’s a fairly westernized vision of what a sherpa is and does, but that’s what I got. I still like this image and prefer it over the image of spiritual CEO that is so often seen in the religious arena, but I don’t know that that’s who I am or the kind of leadership that I want to model.

There’s a meme that I’ve seen on Facebook a few times. It is an image that contrasts a boss vs. a leader The boss the worker stands above the workers barking orders while the leaders goes in front and pulls alongside the crew.

boss-vs-leader

I like this. It feels like it’s almost there. And if spiritual leadership is about getting tasks done, then this is the image that is required.

I think the image of leadership that we need looks more like this:

muppetmovie-11

Two friends driving down the road, being on the journey together. Yes, this is light and airy, but no one can deny that Kermit was a leader. He is the quintessential order muppet. Kermit is loved by those in his charge because he travels along with them. How many of the Muppet movie adventures involve travel. Kermit is never in first class. He’s in among the zanies. He goes through it with them. He’s trusted because he’s on the journey with the others and they know that he too will have to bear the consequences of whatever decisions are made.

I think I went into seminary with the model of a CEO pastor. Sure, a hipster CEO, but a CEO none the less. I really don’t think there is an open niche for any more of those. Sherpa’s a re good guides because they are experts on the terrain. I’m not sure that will ever be obsolete. Leaders who get dirty with the team and pull the load are awesome. Both of those images require that someone be out front. I’d rather lead, banjo in hand (metaphorically speaking) from the passenger seat.

The more I learn the less I know. The more that I try to pretend that I know, the more I set myself up to fail. At best I have insights, but I don’t have answers. I want to be on the journey with whatever community I lead next. Not as an expert. Not as a boss. Maybe not even as a guide. But as co-traveler on the journey, improvising harmonies as we’re moving right along down the road of life.

 


 

 

 

Still on edge.

The following was originally posted here

Feeling on edge

So why “Faith’s Edge” for the title of this blog. Well, I guess it is more of a feeling than anything else. The feeling I’ve had for the past year and a half. The feeling of being pushed to the edge of what you believe. The feeling of standing on the edge of a chasm waiting to swallow you up. The feeling of being pushed (intentionally or not) to the fringes of religious traditions: not reformed enough, not Presbyterian enough, not emergent enough, not black enough…

Right now there is an episode of The Simpsons on where biblical stories are being parodied. They should call this episode seminary. (Or maybe just San Francisco Theological Seminary)Doesn’t matter, right? Those stories are all myths anyway, true? I miss the feeling of certainty I had before I came to seminary. I suppose it was a false sense of certainty at best. From the edge I can see the faith I used to have. I know I can’t go back. I know it is being changed, but I can’t see where it is going. Is this where I’m supposed to be? Not understanding? Rebuilding my faith from scratch? Constantly feeling uncomfortable? Sleepless?

The people I respect the most are the ones who have the most questions, not the ones that have the most answers. Maybe that’s where I’m headed. I want to use this space to explore the questions and maybe to figure out how I’m going to live my life in light of the unanswerable. Like any Lenten journey, the edge leads to the cross…

 
This from my very first blog post. I decided to blog for Lent in 2006. Blogging was the cool thing back then. All the hip ministry types were clogging the intertubes with their theologizing. I wanted to carve out my piece of world wide web, and so I started here. It’s funny to think about the ways the world has changed since then, not only in my personal life (more on that later), but in the world in general and specifically in the world of technology. When I started this, social media wasn’t nearly as advanced. People were on MySpace, Facebook was for early adopters, and there was no Twitter. While certainly a form of social media, blogging was somewhat cannibalized by its sister platforms. Why waste your time with those pesky paragraphs when you can reduce your thoughts to 140 characters? Or better yet, a meme? Anyone who knows me, knows that I love social media. I certainly think that love has caused blogging as a discipline to suffer for me, but it serves some of the same purpose that these early posts served for me back in the day. I processed thoughts, I wrestled with deep struggles. I attempted to be humorous in the process. LIttle has changed. 
 
It feels a bit odd to point out the ways in which I resonate with a younger version of myself. I no longer feel the cynicism about my seminary education. I’m actually quite grateful for the experience I had at SFTS. I no longer feel the angst I once did around wrestling with ancient texts. I longer mourn the certainty of a past faith. I’m learning to embrace ambiguity in a way that a younger version of myself might have mocked. I don’t need answers. It’s in the asking of questions that I experience the tension that is characteristic of an experience with the Divine. But what I do still experience is the feeling of being on a precipice. The feeling of standing on the edge of a tradition, not centered or grounded in a certain set of doctrines or list of dogmatic statements, but tiptoeing along the edge of many different spiritual expressions. Had you asked me 8 months ago, I would have told you that I was agnostic. Maybe now I would say Universalist. I don’t feel any need to jettison my Presbyterian identity. I have struggled much for it. I still primarily speak the language of Christianity. They are stories I know and many of them still move me in the deepest ways possible. But I am searching. I now find that I get great inspiration from language outside of my tradition of origin. I love to hear others speak of their experience of the Divine nature. I love to hear others wrestle with the great mystery because therein my own wrestling finds greater meaning. My journey still feels like something of a tightrope walk, teetering between the rigidity of certainty that once was comfortable and the chaos of nihilism that often has a magnetic pull. The tightrope no longer feels perilous, but inevitable. Either I will walk it or I will simply cease to be. 
 
There’s a despair in this original post that seems so obvious to me now. I couldn’t see a way ahead and it depressed me. It’s a feeling I know well. It’s a darkness that has been common to my lived experience. It is a part of me. I was depressed in ’06. I had been since the fall of ’04. I felt lost. I felt like I had lost something. I see it so clearly now. I blamed external things ignoring that I was restless inside. I have a restless, wandering spirit. That is inborn for me. I will always carry some sliver of depression with me because I’ll always live in that gap between the world as I imagine it could be and the world as it is.
 
The difference now is a peace with the questions, a peace with the sadness, a peace with the wandering. I stand on the edge still. It’s where I live. It’s where I was meant to live. It’s on the fringes where I believe the Divine can be found and experienced. Happy or not, that is where I want to be. .