Thursday, May 14, 2015

Memorialize This: Calling for Resurrection

Crusty again takes a break from being on deadline for his church history book (stayed tuned for more!) to bring everyone's attention in Crustyland to a Memorial that he helped to craft.  You can find a link to it here:

This memorial was drafted several weeks ago, and we had always planned to release it on Ascension Day (not Ascension Thursday, since Ascension is always on a Thursday, that's a department of
Always love the images of them staring at his feet.
redudancy department situation).  Yet Crusty finds it timely that it is released this week, when some of the flutter in the twitterblogofacesphere has been on a new report from the Pew Research Forum, which can be found here:

For anyone who's been following the work of sociologists of North American religion, there shouldn't be anything new in the latest Pew report.  The percentage of people affiliating with Christianity is declining, and it declining even more rapidly among younger Americans.  Crusty has opined on this situation several times before in this blog, and for once [I know, I'm always scared when I'm actually being sincere] is being sincere when he says we need to see how God is speaking to the church to be present in our new realities.  A theme of this blog, and an organizing theme in my upcoming book on church history, is that when society and the culture goes through massive change, the church does as
Emperor presiding instead of persecuting.
well.  As much as we like to lament that the church doesn't change, we also need to realize it does, and often does so rapidly.  Bishops showed up at the Council of Nicaea in 325, paid for by an emperor who had legalized and openly favored Christianity, showing the scars of a brutal persecution they had lived through.  Bishops who had been exiled to the salt mines in the 310s were now guests of the emperor in the 320s.  Anglican clergy in the 1770s in Virginia enjoyed a church supported by taxation and by the 1780s had seen the church disestablished, huge tracts of church land taken away, and the church beginning to dwindle almost to irrelevance.  We could go on.

We are in a similar process, probably have been for decades.  When students sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live through the Reformation in the 1500s, or be an Anglican during the turbulent 1770s and 1780s, I respond: You don't have to.  You're living through your own version of that.  Christians in 2200 will say, Gosh, I wonder what it must have been like to be a Christian in 2000.  Theologians, sociologists, historians, bishops, pastors, faithful lay people, and many more can testify to all the things that are part of our change: post-Christendom; globalization; the digital revolution; the demographic shift in Christianity towards Africa and Asia; and so on.  There's lots of levels of change we are going through, and some aspects of Christianity will look very different in 2200, while some will not.

The Memorial is an effort to call the church to that task of Resurrection.  This is why COD was not a fan of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) initially using Lazarus as an image in one of its reports.  Jesus' work with Lazarus was resuscitating something that will die again.  Resurrection is transformation into a new way of being.

We need to keep in mind Resurrection means some things will die.  When Crusty attended the TREC gathering last fall at the Cathedral in Washington, DC, this was at the core of the question he asked.  COD asked what we are considering letting go, letting die, so that new things might be birthed.  Change in the church has always involved leaving some things behind so that we might be transformed by embracing others.

The Memorial calls us to several things as part of this process:

  • Engage creatively, openly, and prayerfully in reading the signs of the times and discerning the particular ways God is speaking to the Episcopal Church now;
  • Pray, read the scriptures, and listen deeply for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in electing a new Presiding Bishop and other leaders, in entering into creative initiatives for the spread of the kingdom, and in restructuring the church for mission;
  • Fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly: training laborers to go into the harvest to revitalize existing congregations and plant new ones; forming networks and educational offerings to train and deploy church planters and revitalizers who will follow Jesus into all kinds of neighborhoods; and creating training opportunities for bilingual and bi-cultural ministry;
  • Release our hold on buildings, structures, comfortable habits, egos, and conflicts that do not serve the church well;
  • Remove obstacles embedded in current structures, however formerly useful or well-meaning, that hinder new and creative mission and evangelism initiatives;
  • Refocus our energies from building up a large, centralized, expensive, hierarchical church-wide structure, to networking and supporting mission at the local level, where we all may learn how to follow Jesus into all of our neighborhoods.
The group that met and drafted the Memorial also drafted some suggested resolution to begin the conversation around how we might live into this call of Resurrection.  COD didn't sign on or endorse any of the draft resolutions, in part because he's not a Deputy, and in part because the conversation is so much broader than what Convention may say or do.  There are some things Crusty believes we are called to do that Convention can do nothing about; there are, however, some places where our governance can make a difference, and COD will trust in the Holy Spirit guiding the church.

As a historian, too, Crusty must admit he is chary of memorials, in part because they often have not accomplished much.  The most well known, perhaps, is the Muhleneberg Memorial.  Its primary drafter was William Augustus Muhleneberg (GPE, greatest presbyter ever) who did insane things like
C'mon, would you disagree with this guy?
put flowers on the altar and didn't rent pews but thought church should be, you know, free.  He also thought the Episcopal Church was missing out on the opportunities for mission and evangelism in a rapidly expanding and rapidly urbanizing United States, at a time when the Episcopal Church had a clergy shortage for even the congregations it already had, let alone finding people wanting to go on the frontier or into inner cities.  He presented Memorial, signed by others, to the 1853 General Convention, asking the church to consider ways to better adapt to the new mission context in which the church found itself.

And the church did nothing.  The Memorial was referred to a committee, whose main suggestion (by and large) was not to require that Litany, Morning Prayer, and the Communion service be said sequentially, but to allow for churches to use either Morning Prayer or the Communion service.  That's it, in response to Muhleneberg's call for massive change, the Convention made a couple of tweaks to the liturgy. 

So on the one hand, history has taught Crusty that memorials don't always change the world.  On the other hand, history has also taught Crusty that change has come from people gathering together.  The Oxford Movement began as a bunch of disgruntled Oxford professors getting together and deciding to publish some pamphlets, and it eventually transformed global Anglicanism.  The American episcopate was born by some ticked off Connecticut clergy electing one of the unlikeliest people to take on a seeming impossible mission -- and it worked. May we be faithful, as generations of Christians have, to discern how God is speaking to us in our time and place.  Rather than be ruled by memory and consumed by fear, we can embrace this crisis, trusting that the Lord of Life will give us everything we need to spread the Gospel, proclaim the kingdom, and share the love of God. May God grant great joy in every city and neighborhood into which we go.

Friday, May 1, 2015

EpiscoNerd Oscars: The PB Nominees Revealed

Well, it’s Episconerd Oscar Day:  the Joint Nominating Committee for the presiding Bishop (JNCPB) released its slate of nominees for the XXVIIth Presiding Bishop.  And, just like the real Oscars, Twitter melted down with talk about slights, longshots, and favorites – well, a very small, tiny,
If only an orchestra started playing if bishops talked too long...
insignificant portion of Twitter that cares about the Episcopal Church melted down.

First, let’s review Crusty’s prediction from last year.  COD released his General Convention preview back in June of 2014, a full year in advance of Convention, and predicted a group that would be in the shortlist as follows:

“Crusty prognosticates that some combination of the following persons will be on the list of four nominees presented by committee:  Mary-Gray Reeves (El Camino Real), Eugene Sutton (Maryland), Dean Wolfe (Kansas), Ian Douglas (Connecticut), Daniel Martins (Springfield), Andy Doyle (Texas), and Ed Konieczny (Oklahoma). Right now Crusty is predicting either Ian Douglas or Gene Sutton as PB.”

Now, unforeseen events impacted these predictions – for instance the tragic situation in the diocese of Maryland (no way Bishop Sutton could possibly consider a PB nomination and walk away from the tremendous work of reconciliation needed in that diocese).  But overall, not a bad list of predictions.  Dabney Smith fits COD's Konieczny/Martins role, a centrist/right-of-center candidate, so COD sees Smith's inclusion a vindication of his prediction for that slot.

COD picked Ian Douglas not only as a finalist, but someone he thought would seriously contend for PB.  And Crusty still believes that.  He also thought Bishop Curry would be a strong candidate, and did not list him as a finalist in last year’s preview not because he didn’t think Curry would be nominated, but because Crusty thought Curry would not be interested/willing in letting his name go forward.   Once COD heard later in 2014 that Curry would be willing, he thought, “There goes that prediction.”  COD knew Curry would be a finalist and a strong candidate should he be willing to pursue discernment for nomination.

So, some initial thoughts on the nominees.

--Crusty is surprised they are all East Coast.  To be sure, the nominees have ties to various parts of the country and the church, including the West (Bishop Breidenthal went to CDSP and has Oregon roots) but the fact is, all four are bishops of dioceses East of the Mississippi.

--COD is not surprised -- though is bitterly disappointed -- that they are all men.  Crusty has said on this blog that we are actually taking some steps backwards in women in the episcopate – we had more female diocesans over 10 years ago than we do now – and this is yet another sign of that.  There are women who would have been fine candidates – Mary Gray Reeves and Mariann Budde, for instance.  COD has to think the committee would have given them serious consideration, and the fact neither is here must have to do with them not being willing to pursue the process.  My disappointment is not in the slate being all male, but that we continue to lag behind in having an episcopate that reflects the diversity of the church and our society but seem unable or incapable of doing anything to create a better process of discernment and election, and thus don't have a deeper bench of female bishops.  [Note: there are those who might think Bishop Budde is ineligible, since she was elected in 2011, and one needs to be a bishop for five years.  Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution says you need to be a bishop for five years before being elected elsewhere.  COD has decreed people who think this are wrong, in COD's mind, because Article II, Section 8, specifically refers to a bishop who may be "elected as Bishop..of another diocese."  The PB is not bishop of a diocese, so COD therefore decrees this Article is not in effect.]

We need more pork pie hats and ironic facial hair in the episcopate.
--Crusty is surprised none of the group that he refers to as the “hipster bishops” have been   the bishops on the younger side who have shown themselves open to looking at new models of mission and ministry.  This groups includes Greg Rickel, Jeffrey Lee, Sean Rowe, and Andy Doyle, among others.  Keep watching to see if any of these emerge during the petition phase....speaking of which,

--COD also thinks we need to keep our powder dry on prognostication because we still have the petition process, and it will be very interesting to see who emerges from that.  The petition process can indicate whether some likely candidates were weeded out by the JCNPB and are still interested, or have changed their minds, like Charles Jenkins did in 2006, first withdrawing his name from consideration, changing his mind, and being nominated by petition.

That said, we all know people read this blog to read Crusty’s crazy prognostications.  So here we go:

--at least one strong candidate will emerge by petition.  Crusty simply can’t predict who because of the nature of the process, but there is someone out there who was weeded out by the JCNPB or who changed his/her mind, and will be a strong candidate, finishing in  the top 4.

--when thinking about prognostications, remember: as one bishop friend told Crusty, only the House of Bishops actually votes, they often know candidates in ways the broader public does not, and part of their consideration is how they think the candidates will run the House of Bishops.   So Crusty predicts:

1.  Michael Curry
2.  Ian Douglas
3.  Strong petition candidate
The rest.

With an election on the 4th ballot. And BTW, we will know this, the PB election results must be released to the House of Deputies according to Title I, Canon 2, Section 1 (f) -- all results on all ballots.

--This ordering is in no way a comment on the worthiness of any of the candidates: they’re all fine bishops, smart, passionate, and committed.  Just looking at the process and who gets to vote, this is how COD thinks the numbers will break down.

As always, all predictions guaranteed or your money back.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Why I Boycott the Easter Vigil: This Service Will Not Stand, Man!

[Crusty takes time out from his book-writing sabbatical for a few thoughts on the Easter Vigil.]

In the C.S. Lewis Narnia books, there's a recurring refrain about Aslan the Lion, the Son of the Emperor Beyond the Sea and the Christ figure in the series.  It's regularly said about him "He's not a tame lion."  In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for instance, it's said, "It's not as if you can keep him...he's not a tame lion."  There's several meanings to this.  On one level, it means Aslan, while he
In "Taken V", Liam Neeson and Aslan team up to rescue his grandchildren.
may seem gentle and kind at times, also can be wild, exercising ferocious judgment when circumstances warrant.  On another level, it also means Aslan does not operate according to our own wishes or the way we may want him to.  C.S. Lewis was always pretty clear that the divine in the Narnia books was not an analog, or a "kind" of God: it was the same God that we have.  When once asked if Aslan was "like" Jesus, Lewis replied that no, he "was" Jesus: who was to say God would not have appeared in different form in a different context?  As Mr Beaver put it, "of course he has other countries to attend to."

"Taming" the divine is something not just confined to an image of God as some sort of beast.  It's something that many religions do, Christianity as much (if not more) than any others.  Though perhaps not a literal wild animal, there are things inherent in many religions that are so powerful and transformative that they are terrifying.  We tame religion not because it is dangerous, but because it can be threatening to our own, entrenched, entropic, at times sinful, ways of living.  Here's one example:  Francis of Assisi.  Francis is beloved by everyone, winner of a recent online popularity
That chasuble really held the service together, Dude.
contest.  The Francis everyone gets mushy about is the one we have tamed.  The real Francis took his life in his hands to go preach to Muslims to try to convert them.  The real Francis ordered his brothers not to even physically touch money, it was so corrupting.  The real Francis left a Testament was so onerous to follow it was quickly circumvented by his successors, as the order created by the Francis who lived in poverty within a generation became one of the richest and powerful religious orders in the world.  We don't remember that Francis much, instead reducing him to an animal loving Dr Doolittle crossed with a 60s Brother-Sun-Sister-Moon hippie Jesus freak, crossed with a kind of wisdom dispensing Dude from the Big Lebowski.  We could go on and on.  The Methodists in the United States who initially did not permit slaveholding who eventually caved when rich slaveholders began to join and abandoned the principle.  The Cross, the ultimate symbol of the overturning our conventions, has become such a fashion accessory that at times we cannot even grasp the depth of Paul's comments that such a symbol of shame and degradation had become one of victory. Our Christianity is not tame: it is a disrupting force that casts down the might from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly; chooses what is weak to shame the strong.  Christians, by and large, have desperately tried to suppress and transform that.

This is why, by and large, I boycott the Easter Vigil.  The Easter Vigil proclaims the craziest thing about Christianity:  that shameful, humiliating failure that is Good Friday is not the end, that God raised Jesus from the dead in a way we can never understand or comprehend, and that, in doing so, God rejiggered how we relate to one another and to God for all eternity.  That is f*****g nuts, people. Or, to paraphrase the ancient church theologian Tertullian, "I believe it because it is absurd." 
Here endeth Crusty's lesson.
In the movie The Untouchables, police officer Sean Connery asks plain-clothes treasury agent Kevin Costner why he's carrying a gun.  "I'm a treasury agent," he replies.  "OK," says Connery, walking away.  "You're not going to ask me for identification?" Costner protests.  "Who would claim to be that who wasn't?" replies Connery.  Who would claim this kind of narrative for a religion if one was trying to make it appealing?

The reason Crusty boycotts most Easter vigils is because they rarely communicate this.  Instead, they mostly have seemed to be just kind of longer versions of every other Sunday service.  COD grew up Roman Catholic in Boston in the 1970s, and there was no Easter vigil back then -- the liturgical renewals had not yet washed across Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, and other liturgical churches.  We did, however, have the tradition of a Saturday afternoon vigil Mass that we sometimes went to.  When my parents got older, that was the Mass they regularly preferred.  I called them one Easter Day and asked how church was.  "We went to the regular Vigil Mass last night," my father replied, "and for some reason it was really long and seemed kind of pointless."  They had gone to the regular 5pm Vigil Mass as they usually did; this time, however, the parish had decided to hold an Easter Vigil.  My dad's words echo in my own ears at a goodly number of the Easter Vigils I've attended.  They seem like longer versions of a regular service, with louder music. Now, I'm not saying that all Easter Vigils suck -- some of them suck much, much more than others.  A few (a very few) rise above our attempts to tame the message and actually communicate that something different, and crazy, is happening.

An aside: I should probably tell you about my first Easter Vigil.  As I mentioned, I grew up Catholic before the Easter Vigil became widespread.  The first Easter Vigil I attended was the semester abroad I spent in Moscow, Russia, in the spring of 1990.  The Communist government had begun relaxing some of the restrictions on churches.  There was a parish church down the street from my dormitory, and I heard the bells ringing late on a Saturday night, almost midnight.  I realized it was Orthodox Easter and put on my coat and walked down the street.  The church was so packed I could not even
Crusty, 1990, Moscow, Russia.  The church is to my left, your right.
get in through the door, I stood outside, looking through the windows.  Crusty could see people moving around, barely, the church was so dark.   Suddenly the door flung open and a stream of people came out, all holding candles.  Someone thrust a candle into Crusty's hand and we all circled the church three times, the priest in front, all chanting in Slavonic, the ancient form of Russian that was used in the liturgy.  We stopped at the door of the church, now closed.  The priest and the people were shouting back and forth and Crusty could barely make it out (Slavonic and modern Russian are kind of like Shakespearean English and our English, though not an exact analogy -- words and phrases are similar but they can have different meanings and be prounced differently).  The priest was shouting something I thought was, "Christ! Sunday!" and the people were shouting back something that sounded like, "Yes it is truly Sunday!"  It was then I realized the Russian word for "Sunday" is "Resurrection." [Aside:  Russian has the weirdest names for days of the week, alternating between boring counting numbers and jarring reminders of religious origins in an officially at that time atheist society.  Mon-Sun are, loosely translated, "First Day of the Week," "Second," "Middle," "Fourth," "Fifth," "Sabbath," and "Resurrection."]  They were shouting "Christ is Risen!" "Truly he is risen!" Then the priest banged on the door, it opened, Crusty was carried into the church by the crush of the crowd, and in the church was now blindingly bright and white, and a four-hour liturgy ensued.  Crusty stumbled home around 4 am.

COD has been to numerous Orthodox Easter vigils since,  and he still gets goosebumps attending.  For one, they are actual vigils -- never beginning much before 11 pm.  One still enters in darkness, and there's an actual freakin' tomb in the middle of the church: what looks like a coffin with a cloth covering it.  Jesus is dead, you see.  Most Western Easter Vigils one would be hard pressed to remember that.  Around midnight, the priest emerges, singing, in the voice of Jesus to his mother, "Weep not for me...for I shall arise and shall be glorified!"  

The cloth is lifted from the tomb, carried over the head of the priest, and the congregations processes outside and around the church three times, before stopping at the front door as I first experienced.  The pounding on the door by the priest is a ritual re-enactment of the rock to the tomb cracking open,
He's dead, Jim.
as he shouts, "Christ is Risen!" the doors open. You know when the resurrection happens in an Orthodox Easter Vigil.  Once you process back inside, the church has been completely redecorated and is dazzling white, and the service itself includes a whole host of prayers and hymns you never hear any other time, as well as the same sermon preached every year, as the Easter Homily of St John Chrysostom is read.  You could never, ever, ever mistake the Easter Vigil, as my dad did, as just a longer version of the regular Sunday service.

Crusty remembers the first Easter Vigil he attended as an Episcopalian.  It was in his field education assignment as a seminarian.  As part of supervision, Crusty was scheduled to debrief the liturgy with his supervisor/mentor as part of our weekly meeting.  He asked me, "Do you have any questions about the liturgy itself?"  "Yes," Crusty replied, "when was the part where Jesus rose from the dead?"  He looked at me, perplexed.  "Well, when we said Christ is Risen."  COD said, "Really?  That was it?"  It seemed to Crusty we just had an extra-long series of readings by candelight, then shouted Jesus was raised, then went into the regular communion part with just louder and more festive hymns.

We hold our services at a time that's convenient for us.  8 pm or so.  We have a little clicker that lights the new fire from an approriately pre-packed flammable pile.  We stay packed safely in our pews. albeit often with candles.  To this day COD still thinks the moment that we proclaim Jesus' resurrection to be pretty lame.  The sermon is usually along the lines of, "Welcome to our visitors.  Although this service is about Jesus' resurrection, I will avoid discussing that as much as possible.  Try to be as nice to other people as you can be.  PS visitors please come back next Sunday.  Amen." [Disclaimer: yes, COD knows not all Easter Vigils and Easter sermons are like this, and that there are great examples out there, just like he knows there's a host of problems with the Orthodox Churches and their liturgy even though they have a kickass Vigil.]

This is not always the case, to be sure -- as Crusty said, some Easter Vigils suck less than others, and there have been a handful of Easter sermons Crusty actually remembers.  A very few Vigils are amazing.  There was a time when Crusty Old Dean's Wife, CODW (today is the greatest of all festivals:  Easter Day and CODW's birthday! It hasn't happened in her lifetime, but, thankfully, becomes much more common, occurring again in 2026, 2037, and 2048.  By contrast, all Crusty has gotten is Pentecost on his birthday in 1985 and 1996 and not again in my lifetime) served in a church that did just the kind of gonzo Vigil that COD thinks is needed.  The Vigil at CODW's church started at 5 am with the lighting not of a hibatchi but a big freaking bonfire.  Rather than people reading Bible passage after Bible passage, instead, gathered around the bonfire, different people were tasked with telling, not reading, the lessons.  One year Crusty told the story of the flood by throwing a giant bucket of water across the parking lot and using hand puppets for animals in the ark.  Full-immersion baptisms followed, and, around the time the sun was coming up, we processed into the church for the first Eucharist of Easter.   When it was first proposed, people though the clergy leadership were nuts.  No one will come.  CODW's last Easter at that church there about 100 people in attendance and an entire family was baptized by full immersion.

Pretty much ever since leaving CODW's church that had the awesome early morning Vigil, COD has tended quietly to be absent from the Easter Vigil.  Often, COD will instead go to the Orthodox Easter Vigil at a nearby church, so he can experience what resurrection really feels like.

[Note:  CODW just asked, "Are you getting Crusty, or something?  Awfully quiet with lots of keys clacking."  COD: "Yeah, blogging about why I hate the Easter Vigil."  CODW:  Silence.]

COD sometimes wonders if the overwhelmingly majority of the Easter Vigils he has attended are symbolic, in some way, of the problems facing Christianity in the West: how we are finally reaping what we have sown in our endless accommodation to the society around us.  Christianity is f****g nuts, and we tend to try to do everything we possibly can to prevent that from being communicated.  Take baptism.  This is a ritual dying and rising again with Christ: as Paul says, as we have been baptized into a death like his, so shall we rise like him.  Full immersions that communicated this ritual passage from death to life passed into the dustbin of history.  Baptism became one's admittance into the citizenship of Christendom.  Today it's a sprinking with a little bit of water and a chance to coo at babies.   COD once noted someone who had been attending church where he served never received communion, but attended regularly.  Crusty asked, gently, why that was. "I'm not baptized," the person replied.  Oh, COD said, why don't we talk about baptism? "Why should I get baptized?" the person asked -- an honest question, this was an unchurched person who never grew up attending any kind of church and didn't know baptism from fraternity hazing. "Baptism is your full acceptance into the community," COD replied. "You mean I'm not welcome now?"  No, COD hemmed and hawed, of course you are.  "Will I go to hell if I don't?" he then asked.  More hemming and hawing, "Well, I don't think that, that's what Augustine thinks..."  Finally: "I just don't get why it's necessary," the person said.  COD wanted to say it was because we believe in a God who was one of us, died for us, and was raised by God, and in baptism we not only accept that faith, but we ritually re-enacted it ourselves.  But I didn't, because that would make me sound crazy and weird.  Crusty would tell this person what he really believes about why we should be baptized if he got a do-over.

The trappings of Christendom have fallen away: no longer can it be assumed anyone even knows, let alone cares, about the thousands-years-long process that adapted Christianity to culture so smoothly in what is now North America and Western Europe.  Where we tamed everything so that we could sit comfortably on Sundays and be reassured in our comfort and privilege.  We have tried to tame the lion.  We have obliterated the radical Francis.  We accommodated to slaveholding, and to segregation.   Simultaneously we wonder why Christianity is dying in North America and Europe.  COD has said it on this blog before, and he'll say it again:  Good riddance.  Let that Christianity die, let that adaptation to the caste system of our society wither.  Let's wander in the wilderness, let's remember that Christianity was called The Way by some of its earliest followers: a way to shape and live one's life, not a divine insurance policy that you make a weekly premium payment on a couple of Sundays a month so you can get into "heaven" as if we knew what that was.

That's why CODW boycotts the Easter Vigil.  At least until he gets his own church someday and can hold a gonzo, f****g nuts 5 am service, and do all full-immersion baptisms.

That's it for now, friends.  COD is still working on the book on the history of Christianity for church publishing, so is still taking a break from the blog to finish that.  Crusty promises he will be back and in full effect by June 1 with a series of General Convention preview columns.

Христос Воскресе! Воистину Воскресе!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Blogging the GOEs, Set 6: Closing it out with Axios*!

[Disclaimer:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These  blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumble across this site.  While Crusty thinks the GOEs need some pretty substantial if not radical revamping and restructuring, he's also a firm believer in them, or something like them, and feels we need to follow the process in place while having discussions about what changes might be needed.]

The day finally came when OCOCOD (official child of Crusty Old Dean) asked to see his comic book collection.  OCOCOD has been mainly introduced to superheroes through the Marvel superhero movie onslaught of the past decade or so.  Knowing a lot about superheroes has been one of the places Crusty has had some street cred with OCOCOD.  Anyway, down we went into the basement and COD unearthed the boxes with his comics from the 1960s and 1970s.  COD isn't a collector; the only comics he has are the ones he read as a kid, and they show the wear and tear of actually having been read again and again.  COD hadn't looked at his comics in years, and, thumbing through them, there were issues and titles he had completely forgotten about.  One was "Marvel Two-In-One," which
Oddly enough, they teamed up more than once.  Ugh.
featured The Thing teaming up with a different super-hero each month.  Sometimes this was awesome, as characters who would never interact in the Marvel multiverse had some cool adventures (like the ones with Daredevil, Scarlet Witch, Guardians of the Galaxy); it also had the potential to be extremely lame, with featuring characters in the spotlight that I didn't even care about; sometimes so lame even a 9-year-old could tell it was lame (Morbius the Vampire who wasn't even the coolest Marvel vampire; Golem; Moondragon). As we looked through them, OCOCOD said, "Wow, you were kind of a comic book nerd."  COD replied, "Kid, Crusty was geek before it was chic."  And lo and behold COD then found the box with his vintage 1978 complete collection of Dungeons & Dragons manuals.

COD had the same trepidation when he found out they were combining two canonical areas for this GOE:  Theory and Practice of Ministry and Studies in Contemporary Society (though this is oddly always shortened to Contemporary Society while the other canonical areas are referred to by their titles, even when they're kind of long).  Would this GOE Two-In-One be cool, like The Thing teaming up with Guardians of the Galaxy?  Or lame, like The Thing teaming up with Man-Thing (not once, but twice)?

Hey, say what you will about Crusty, he's always willing to admit when he's wrong (on the rare occasions that happens).  When he found out they were combining two of the canonical areas, he said (literally to no one in particular), "They better come up with a damn good question."  And lo and behold, they did:

Set 6: Contemporary Society
and Theory and Practice of Ministry
You are a priest in a city that, like most cities, has both economically privileged and economically struggling neighborhoods. One group of your parishioners wants to raise funds for a trip to Haiti to
support the building of a school there. Another group asks, “Why should we raise funds for Haiti when we have struggles right here in our own city?”

1. Write a 500-word essay that identifies and analyzes a tension present in this situation. Include in your analysis four key issues in contemporary society (such as political, economic, cultural or other social concerns) that could contribute to or exemplify the tension. Two of the issues should focus on the congregation and two should relate to the wider society.

2. Write a 500-word article for the parish newsletter that addresses the dilemma of this situation and provides a pastoral framework for the congregation to move forward. You may include thoughts or content from your first essay where relevant or important to your response.

Axios*!  Let is be shouted! decrees Crusty.

What's not to like about this question?  It deals with a real issue that most clergy will have to deal with, if they haven't already as church-going Christians or as seminarians:  Why should we help those folks over there when we have needy folks here?

One quibble with essay one is "four key issues in contemporary society," and then listing four examples.  If you want people to incorporate those four examples, go right ahead and ask them to.  Otherwise, readers need to be OK with what students identify as an "issue in contemporary society" since you don't define any parameters.

Another quibble is why the Axios!* ranking comes with an asterisk, indicating that this is a conditional Axios! ranking.  A concern Crusty has with this question comes around the setup to the question: there is hardly any context given for the place where you are ministering.  You are a "priest" in a "city" with "parishioners."  The assumption here, COD presumes, is that you are a Rector in an urban congregation -- though that is nowhere stated.  Another presumption Crusty has, since your parish is talking about raising money to build a school, is that you are rector (as opposed to an associate or curate) in an affluent congregation, since it has the ability to undertake fundraising for international mission projects.  But these are all "ifs", and COD certainly hopes that if no context is specifically given, the GOE readers are willing to let students shape the context to suit their responses.  This is why this Axios*! is conditional.

Then, after analyzing the situation (the "studies in contemporary society" portion), the student is then asked to suggest a pastoral way forward in a parish newsletter article (theory and practice of ministry).

My only beef with essay two is that, like the liturgy question, this exercise of ministry seems to take place in a vacuum.  What is the role of any committee structure in place in the church, or lay
Don't you dare contradict Ralph Wiggum, grammar police.
leadership?  Some mention of how this "pastoral framework" you're suggesting emerged from engagement with lay leadership would seem to be crucial here.  There's nothing to prevent someone from doing this, naturally (though the context of a parish newsletter article would require some verbal gymnastics to demonstrate process, though not unpossible), but COD would like to see it required, since the practice of ministry is exercised in cooperation and collaboration with lots of other groups in the church.

And that's all Crusty really has to say about Question 6.  Though he has a few quibbles, it is not enough to knock it down from an Axios! rating.

Results for #GOE2015:

Two Axios! questions [albeit one with is an Axios*!],
Four "Meh" questions,
And, happily, no WTF! question.

This is, without parallel, the best scoredcard in my four years of blogging.  Give credit where credit is due!  Well done, GamesMakers of the GOE, in your Quarter Quell.  There's still areas to improve, to
COD doubts GOE GamesMakers have facial hair like Seneca Crane.
be sure, but let the General Board of Examining Chaplains feast tonight as they receive their grades from Crusty.

Some other thoughts:

Crusty was, overall, pleased with the changes instituted in the GOE Quarter Quell.

--He thinks the "open resources" aspect was, overall, helpful -- but it will also depend on how this impacts readers' evaluations.  Having "closed resources" for everything but liturgy and Bible, as in years past, a) severely limited the scope of questions that could be asked, and b) had the potential to hamstring students who may not be as familiar with what is being asked. He hopes students didn't feel the pressure to write perfectly researched papers, and hopes the readers do not expect them.  "Open Resources" should serve to lower the anxiety, not raise it.

--He was pleased with what clearly seem to be efforts to ground the essays in a context of engagement with real people, issues, and concerns that will emerge in ordained ministry.  No "think pieces" this year, and a consistent emphasis on students' providing answers in the context of ministerial engagement -- newsletter articles, etc.

--There still seems to be a tendency, at times, simply not to be clear what is being asked, evidenced this time around by the church history question.  But, given some previous exams past, there is, overall, a marked improvement, though there is still room to grow in this area.

--It's abundantly clear to Crusty that we need to revamp the canonical areas as outlined in Title III.  Since the exam needs to reflect the canonical areas, a way to get a better exam is to revise the canonical areas.  There's been lots of changes in church, the world, and higher education since the last time they were revised.  If we're going to be serious about competency-based education for a future church, we will continue to be limited by the current canonical areas, and COD would rather revise them than have the GBEC, in effect, do so on their own.  Then again, as Crusty has said repeatedly, the General Convention, the only entity capable of revising the canonical areas, hasn't given a rat's ass about theological education for almost a generation now.

COD repeats his wish from last year: that the GOE would address perhaps two of the most critical issues in North American Christianity, on which it has been silent for years: for one, the issues of diversity and globalization in 21st century Christianity and how it is impacting the Episcopal Church; for another, anything theologically or ethically the church might want to say about the most significant economic meltdown since the Great Depression and the staggering economic and income gaps that are only increasing in our society.  Can the Church speak to these massive, society-changing issues?  If not, why study history or theology or ethics?

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset on this year's GOE blogging, or at least downstairs to the GOE After Party.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, though COD is continually perplexed as to why anyone cares what he thinks about anything.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry.  Crusty thinks something like the GOE is an essential component of a competency based system for training people for the ministry.  That said, we need to admit where current aspects of the system need overhauling.  We put a lot of time and energy in writing, administering, and assessing an exam when, in the end, it's the diocesan board of examining chaplains and local bishop who make the call.  COD has suggested before that the GBEC simply write the exam and let dioceses administer and assess it, since they're the ones whose opinion matters in the end.  But there clearly needs to be a broad discussion, with broad input, other than complaining about the same old system every year.

And Crusty freely admits he's had some hard words for how these questions have been posed at times, both this year and in past years.  He doesn't apologize.  People who have little agency in this system -- the students taking this exam -- are the ones whose processes towards ordination hang in the balance.  COD doesn't think students should be the ones holding the bag for poor questions.  Part of Crusty's reasoning for blogging the GOEs is to provide at least some transparency in what is an opaque process.  Opaqueness in a process benefits those with the power; transparency benefits the process as a whole, and especially those without agency in that process.  One of the reasons Crusty started blogging the GOEs was because taking the GOEs was one of the loneliest and dis-empowering things he ever had to go through: get question, walk home, write question, hand in question; repeat.  Spend evenings nervously wondering that you were the only person that wasn't sure about your answer.  Then get an envelope in the mail and everyone was afraid to share their results, either ashamed they didn't do well or guilty they did do well.  Crusty swore that if he could one day make the GOEs a less opaque, anxiety-inducing, dehumanizing and lonely experience, he would do it.  And yea, it came to pass.

[BTW Crusty had the last laugh...he was deemed "nonproficient" in Liturgy, Theology, and Church History -- which are, of course, the three areas he has taught the most as a professor!  When Crusty finally made it far enough along in the ordination process to talk about demonstrating competency in the canonical areas, it was 2009, or fifteen years after he'd taken the GOEs.  The bishop said, "Well, you need to come up with a proposal for how you will remediate the three non-proficient GOE areas."  COD replied, "OK, how about I submit all the syllabi for courses I've taught in liturgy, history, and theology, and we can discuss those with the diocesan Board of Examining Chaplains?"  The bishop said, "I think that should work."]

As for saying some hard things; well, too bad, sunshine.  Crusty has worked for over 15 years full-time in the church, and drafted documents and resolutions and concordats and proposals, and has had people say worse things than anything written here.  Crusty's been told he doesn't understand Anglicanism, that's he's a raging liberal, that he's a brain dead conservative, that "he has sold the apostolic heritage of Anglicanism for a mess of Protestant lentils," and so on.  Crusty's always been willing to be held accountable for what he has put before the church, and expects nothing less from others.

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.

Blogging the GOEs, Church HIstory: Riddle Me This

[Disclaimer:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These  blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumble across this site.  While Crusty thinks the GOEs need some pretty substantial if not radical revamping and restructuring, he's also a firm believer in them, or something like them, and feels we need to follow the process in place while having discussions about what changes might be needed.]

Remember a post or two back when Crusty said that he always recommended people taking the exam outline the question, because often the questions asks for specific and detailed responses?  Well, COD hopes all of you were paying attention, because that's exactly what we get in the Church History question for today:

Set 5:  Church History
The Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries produced effects that remain important today. Enlightenment thinking affected the Christian church as well as the Western world. Some of the hallmarks of Enlightenment thought include:
  • • The importance of individual autonomy rather than the authority of society and the state;
  • • The preference for human reason over received tradition;
  • • The importance of empirical observation rather than divine revelation;
  • • Progress as a result of human achievement;
  • • An optimistic view of the future.
1) Write an essay of about 750 words in which you discuss changes that occurred in the church as seen in the writings and ministries of Bishop William White of Pennsylvania or John Wesley as the result of the Enlightenment. Select three of the five hallmarks listed above and give one example for each hallmark as exemplified in White or Wesley (choose only one of the two).

2) Identify an issue confronting The Episcopal Church today and in approximately 250 words discuss how the influence of the Enlightenment contributes to the way in which TEC shapes discourse on this issue.

Normally when Crusty reflects on GOE questions, he usually jumps right into it; normally COD finishes these posts pretty quickly and then has to wait until the West Coast exam is over before posting them.  But this one was different: COD really had to ponder this question, balancing what he likes about it with elements he finds concerning.  Some initial thoughts on the question itself:

--Crusty always tells students that Church History questions very often will ask you to talk about something in the past and apply it to a more modern context; this question certainly falls into that
Thinking of incorporating this into GOE prep.
category, with the transition from essay #1 to essay #2.  In general, COD thinks this is a fine way to ask people to demonstrate competency in church history.  We're not trying to produce church historians (though, like Moses' words in Numbers 11:29, as a church historian himself Crusty wishes that all God's people were historians), but ideally apply insights and learning from the past to the current practice of ministry.  So, on a phenomenological level, COD likes this question.  The Enlightenment was undoubtedly an important movement (though what the hell, exactly, it is is certainly up for discussion and debate), and it clearly had an impact on the church at the time, and there are effects which still shape us today.  OK, no beef with that.

--We can again see here the place of Open Resources in shaping both the question and the response; Crusty sincerely doubts this question could have been asked in a closed resources question, since the Enlightenment is a complex phenomenon and the two exemplars chosen are not ones which many church history courses in the Anglican tradition devote significant portions to (though nobody takes an Anglican church history class from Crusty without reading at least some Wesley and White).

That said: the first essay students are asked to write brings this question close to receiving a WTF ranking.  Scroll back up and read what is being asked in the first essay.  Then come back down to this part.

OK, now continue below.

What are you being asked to do?  Did you outline it?  Crusty hopes you did.

A)  Thoughts on Essay #1:

You are not being asked how White and Wesley are influenced by the Enlightenment, or what ideas or concepts of theirs have been shaped by the Enlightenment!  Please, GOE takers, tell me you outlined the question!  Because you are actually being asked to discuss "changes that occurred IN THE CHURCH as SEEN IN THE WRITINGS AND MINISTRIES" of White and Wesley which are a "RESULT of the Enlightenment."  This is a pretty convoluted way of asking something.  Reading a GOE question shouldn't be like Batman interpreting a cryptic message from The Riddler.

--So you are being asked to talk about "changes that occurred in the church".  Specifically, changes that are a result of the influence of five aspects of the Enlightenment outlined.  OK, but when?  The "church" is pretty ambiguous.  If you mean in the 17th and 18th centuries, then say so. 

--Then, how those changes are seen "in the writings and ministries" of John Wesley and William White.  OK, unless people have read White's Memoirs (which are fascinating, to be sure, but not widely read) COD is guessing, hoping, that most have read White's "A Case for the Episcopal
His Memoirs were not a big seller.
Churches, Considered."  Crusty is pleased he assigns this in every Anglican & Episcopal Church
History class he teaches, though, if you're encountering it for the first time by virtue of Open Resources, you're a bit screwed because it's kind of dense.  On the other hand, there's Wesley, who has left an absolutely immense corpus of writings.  But remember: you're technically not being asked how Wesley or White shaped changes in the church because of Enlightenment influence, you're being asked how they reflect changes in the church because of the Enlightenment. You knew that, right?

--Therein is what bothers Crusty: the way Essay #1 is phrased bolloxes up a perfectly good concept.  For one, as noted above, it's needlessly confusing and complex.

--For another, perhaps more importantly, this marks the second year in a row that the church history question elides church history and theology.  Last year they had the history question be about a theological evolution of an understanding ordained ministry.  This year we have one on the impact of the Enlightenment on the church, but in the church history question, not a theology question.

--For example: say you chose Wesley.  You could talk about his organizational rules for Methodist Societies, establishment of classes, roles for lay preachers and women, as an example of how the church was impacted by "importance of individual autonomy..."  Then, you could, conceivably, talk about his theology of Christian perfection reflecting the overall impact of the Enlightenment emphasis on "progress as a result of human achievement."  However, Wesley's Sermon on Christian Perfection and his Rules for Methodist Societies are different documents, one is pretty clearly a theological text.

Please note:  Crusty is not opposed to this; history and theology are undoubtedly intertwined.  When Crusty took over teaching Anglican Theology and Anglican History at another seminary, he changed them from two separate courses into a two-part "Anglican History and Theology," because Crusty believes theology is always contextualized.  The Enlightenment, as a movement with roots in science (which at the time was called "natural philosophy"), philosophy, theology, and a number of other disciplines is a perfect example of how theology and history can be intertwined; aspects of this movement had real, tangible impact of the structure and development of the Christian Church.  Crusty has said previously in blogging this year's GOE that, really, you could make a case for arguing that any canonical area could be combined with any other canonical area.

So if Crusty has no problem with this pedagogically, why does he note concern about it on the GOE?  Several reasons.

--COD is concerned about the way church history might be taught, and whether students have been prepared to move back and forth between historical and theological texts; Crusty knows there are still seminaries which have separate "development of church history" and "development of Christian theology" courses.

--The canonical area says church history, just like we have separate areas for Theory and Practice of Ministry and Studies in Contemporary Society.  The place to change the canons is to change the canons, not for various groups in the church to decide on their own.  Two years in a row we've had a church history question that incorprates a significant theological component.  Not sure we want to start playing fast and loose with categories that are canonically defined.  At least Crusty is consistent on this, and feels this way about communion of the unbaptized (why do we get to ignore some canons and depose people for others?), and various groups of people trying to define certain things in contradiction to what is laid out in the Constitution, and pretending to accept renunciation of orders of bishops who didn't really renounce them  Crusty would support canonical changes to allow for greater flexibility, or to empower the General Board of Examining Chaplains to do so, so long as these are clearly communicated to students as to what to expect -- not that some years church history questions will be about church history, and other years they will be about historical theology.

B)  Thoughts on Essay #2.

Like COD says, he wasn't opposed to this question in principle, just thinks they have bolloxed it up.  Essay #2 isn't as bad as Essay #1 in terms of the bolloxing, but it's close.  The student is then asked, in 250 words (basically a long paragraph) to "Identify an issue confronting The Episcopal Church today and...discuss how the influence of the Enlightenment contributes to the way in which TEC shapes discourse on this issue."  Time out!  Another M. Night Shymalan situation here, with a totally new concept brought in at the tail-end of the question, like those damned plants in The Happening
As they said in South Park: That's not an idea, that's a twist. We need ideas.
(yes, COD has seen too many M. Night Shymalan movies): students are asked to identify "an issue" in the church and "how the influence of the Enlightenement" shapes the discourse.  They moved from very specific requests in Essay 1 to throwing the door open to, conceivably, any issue.  Frankly, COD would have preferred to err on the side of simplicity and simply asked them to point out where they see one of the five elements outlined in the question impacting an issue in the Episcopal Church.  This logically makes Essay #2 flow from essay #1, and allows for more emphasis on applying insights from studying the Enlightenment on the current issues facing the Episcopal Church than the other way around.

Crusty gives this question a "meh", but on the low-end of the "meh" scale.  When COD was at Yale Divinity School, they only had three grades:  Honors, which was basically an "A."  High Pass was anything from A- to a B- or thereabouts.  Pass was basically a C.  You can see in this grading system there's an incredible middle ground, with anything from B- to A- being the same grade.  This caused frustration among some students, as you'd bust your ass on a paper and fall just short, getting an A-, whereas if you half-assed something and got a B- on a paper, in the end it was the same result.  This resulted in the common phrase among students, "This, too, will high pass," when you were going through the motions and knew you could turn something in and still get a High Pass.  "Meh" is not that different, in that it encompasses question falling just sort of "Axios!" with questions that barely are a step above "WTF."

This question gets a "Meh" because it's needlessly confusing.  It doesn't get a WTF because the thing being asked is an important one: take a significant movement in church history, explain how it impacted the church at the time, and how it still effects the church today. But they took a potentially interesting question and bolloxed it up with how they chose to present it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Blogging the GOEs, Question 4: Liturgy and Church Music: Does this alb make my butt look big?

Crusty did a couple of stints as an interim, and one of the things he found most enjoyable about being an interim was the ability to make changes without any concern about consequences.  Crusty once served as interim at a two-point, yoked ELCA congregation in an undisclosed, very rural location that was undergoing deeply rooted and systemic conflict.  The pastor once removed had left the ELCA, moved 100 yards away, and opened up a new church, taking 2/3rds of the congregation(s) with him.  He then promptly retired and left town six months later.  The previous pastor had been on a contract, and at the conclusion of the contract both of the congregations had to decide whether to call the person as a settled pastor, not on a contract but open-ended.  One
Actual photo of Crusty talking with bishop.
congregation did.  The other didn't.  That's when the assistant to the bishop called Crusty.  Despite the character that COD plays here, in real life, Crusty's actually pretty calm and strives for non-anxious presence, which is why, COD guesses, the ELCA bishop asked him to step in. "What do you want me to prioritize?" Crusty asked.  "Remind the two congregations they need each other," the bishop said, "because they're blaming the dysfunction on the other instead of dealing with it and now want end the yoked arrangement they've had for 100 years."  "OK, anything else?" COD asked. "Yes," the bishop said, "gently bring them into the 20th century.  They're living in denial in a Garrison Keillor fantasy, they only stopped using Norwegian in the 1970s, only started using the Lutheran Book of Worship, which came out in 1978, in the 1990s."  Since this was a half-time interim, and the bishop had already laid out two massive things that needed to be done, COD didn't ask any more questions of the bishop, since, as Jules Winfield once said, "If my answers frighten you, then you should cease asking scary questions."

First Sunday on the job, Crusty noticed the altar in one of the congregations was up against the wall, so COD celebrated facing the altar, back to the people.  Now Crusty knows there's all sorts of deep theological reasons for facing the people versus facing the table, has heard all of the of pros and cons, but the reality is, when Crusty does this, he can only think about one thing: "Does this alb make my
Bringing liturgical booty back! Tell all you lowchurch suckahs that! No, COD just playin'.
butt look big?" Afterwards, Crusty was talking with one of the old ladies on the altar guild, helping clean up.  He said, "You know, this is the only ELCA congregation where I've seen an altar up against the wall, it's fairly unusual these days."  Crusty had assumed this was some stone table that was built into the wall when the church was constructed a century ago.  "Oh, we only started doing that when Pastor X came," said the little old lady, referring to the pastor who had formed the breakaway congregation across the street.  "He only wanted to celebrate communion once a month, he thought preaching the word and reading the Bible was more important, so he just pushed the communion table up against the wall so it would be out of the way. We got tired of moving it back and forth so we ended up just leaving it there."  Crusty walked over and tapped the altar, covered in a white cloth and hangings -- it wasn't stone at all, it was a threadbare wooden table. "What did Pastor Y [the pastor who followed Pastor X] say about it?" Crusty asked. "She didn't mention it at all, come to think of it," altar guild lady said.

Crusty thought then and there: this is where we begin to deal with both issues identified by the bishop.  For the bishop's first goal,  moving the altar out would be a way to begin to get this congregation to move on from Pastor X, whose decision it had been to move it and marginalize the celebration of communion, and who had been gone for three years.  For the second, Crusty resolved to start slowly by beginning to celebrate communion every other week and pull the congregations  into the liturgical mainstream of the ELCA.

COD lifted up the table and moved it quite easily back from the wall.  He stepped back and asked the altar guild lady, "What do you think?  Do you think anyone will be upset about this?"

"Why would they be upset about where it was for 95 years before it got moved?" she replied, matter-of-factly.

COD went home and told CODW his plan.  She asked about possible reaction from the congregation, despite what altar guild lady had said.  "What are they going to do, fire me?  Let them, I've got a day job and they just fired your last pastor," COD replied. 

Next Sunday, nobody said a thing.

Crusty was reminded of this incident as he read through the Liturgics and Church Music question.

Set 4: Liturgics and Church Music
In the summer of 2015 you are hired to serve as vicar of two yoked mission congregations. The diocese plans that in two years these two congregations will be merged into one. You have been charged with preparing the congregations for the merger.

The missions are within twenty miles of each other, each with a steady average Sunday attendance of 30. One congregation is accustomed to a Prayer Book Rite II Eucharist and has volunteer song leaders, a guitarist, and a pianist. The second parish is accustomed to texts from Enriching Our Worship and has a part-time paid organist. All of the musicians are competent.

Liturgical planning and execution always need to build on a foundation of liturgical and sacramental theology.

In an essay of 1,000 words, develop a liturgy plan for your first Advent season with the intent of moving toward a single worship pattern, anticipating the merger. Giving a rationale for your choices and explaining the liturgical and theological reasons, present your choices for liturgy and music. Include specific selections in three areas. Choose one from the following: hymnody, service music, Eucharistic prayers and other variable texts; and choose one from the following: actions, non- verbal behaviors, and spatial arrangements. The third choice can come from either list.

You're making this hard on me, #GOE2015: like Inigo Montoye was in the revenge business so long he didn't know what to do with himself when it was over, Crusty does know what to do with this year's GOE.  For the fourth straight time, Crusty likes this question (though, as usual, has some quibbles).

--For one, it again deals with a real issue facing the church: issues of church consolidation, closure, and revitalization are ones that we are facing now and will increasingly face moving forward.  That's just the reality, for a number of reasons.  COD has said previously on this blog that decisions we make in the next 10 years will help determine if we close or consolidate from 25% up to 50% or more of our churches. Crusty isn't particularly in despair about this, we need to see it as opportunity to recalibrate how we do ministry.  The church does this every millennium or so, the house churches of Dura Europos eventually gave way to gothic cathedrals. 

--COD likes this because it takes something the church must address and frames it around what is often one of the more hot-button aspects in a congregation, namely, liturgy.  COD has often seen issues around liturgy come up in conversations around church consolidation, especially if that conversation involves ecumenical partners, since every congregation thinks its liturgy is normal and/or normative, and informs a sense of identity and place.  COD loved nothing more when supplying at congregation and asking how they handle the logistics of celebration and distribution of communion. "Oh, pretty straightforward," is always the reply, when, in fact, there are often dozens of slightly different ways this happens.  To give just one example, COD was once elevating the host for the fraction anthem, about to break it, when suddenly the organist kicked in and the choir sang a verse from a hymn, which they did every week none of which was in the bulletin or had been disclosed to him. 

--COD enjoys that the setting is Advent, which somehow seems appropriate for beginning this two-year journey with these two congregations.

Crusty has some concerns about a couple of aspects of the setup:

--There needs to be a little more about context, mainly:  Do these congregations know about the plan for merger?  Are you being asked to introduce the whole concept, or begin the process?  For Crusty this is simply crucial and would fundamentally shape any liturgy plan.  Let's hope the readers are OK with how students may incorporate their own interpretation of this aspect, since it is absent in the setup.

--COD is pleased that the musicians are "competent," but feels the need to note they are not the only factor that comes in with liturgical planning.  He would have liked some element to the setup that mentioned how lay leadership was involved in worship planning, or whether these were congregations that looked to the priest to do all the planning.  That's kind of assumed here, since it's not mentioned and you're the one asked to come up with a liturgy plan, including potentially picking hymns and service music, but it's not something COD necessarily thinks should be assumed about smaller congregations.  Crusty served as interim in a different small congregation where the organist would never presume to let the pastor choose any hymns (not saying that's a good thing, mind you, but that was the context into which COD stepped).

--Crusty is always wary of being asked to describe how he would do things that are pretty vague, as he opined on in the liturgy question a few years back.  Crusty in this case would always lean towards the specific -- spatial arrangements, he knows what that is -- rather than trying to parse the difference between an action and a non-verbal behavior.  The last thing Crusty wants is for a reader to say, "The student described an action which is really a non-verbal behavior," when there's no standard for what is what.  [A friend of COD was told by a GOE reader in a comment, "The person indicates very little awareness of youth ministry," when that person was working as a youth minister and the whole matters was only a small part of the answer.  A GOE reader told Crusty he "Seems to show little understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy," when Crusty lived in Russia for six months and attended an Orthodox Church.  This is not an unfounded concern, COD has major issues with the times, admittedly not common, that readers extrapolate from very small samples.] What's the difference between a non-verbal action and a non-verbal behavior?  Rather than take the risk Crusty would stick with choosing spatial arrangements, please.

--Perhaps more importantly, there's not even lip service here in saying *how* any liturgical changes would be communicated to the congregations.  Given the situation where he served as interim, COD made the conscious choice to move the altar one his own authority because of the particular context.  However, all the other liturgical changes -- celebrating the Eucharist twice as often, introducing hymns and service music from the new ELCA worship book, to name two -- were done in consultation with lay leadership and musicians.  Crusty knows there's a lot to be done in 1,000 words, but perhaps there could have been some trimming back on the liturgical plan (maybe only pick two instead of three things?) to allow for some mention of how this worship plan would be unveiled.  "Liturgical planning and execution always need to build on a foundation of liturgical and sacramental theology," to be sure, but liturgical planning and execution also doesn't happen in a vacuum.

Overall, this question receives the "meh" ranking: while Crusty likes the way it incorporates liturgy as part of a broader conversation around congregational revitalization, there are some issues in the setup that prevent it from receiving the coveted "axios!" rating.  Now don't get me wrong, intertubez:  "Meh" is a good ranking!  It means there's a lot that's good, just that a couple of things hold it back from receiving "Axios!"  There will be no grade inflation on this blog, perhaps the last place in the
I think you'd make a great Dread Pirate Crusty.
world where there isn't.  The context of why it receives a "meh" ranking is important, just like the context for when Massachusetts people say "Pissah" is important.  As a native, bilingual speaker, COD can identify about a dozen different meanings for Pissah.  There are lots of different "meh" ranking, and in this context, "Meh" means this is a pretty good question.  Plus COD always tries to provide helpful feedback in what would give the question an "Axios!" rating.

Overall, COD continues to be pleased by the overall direction of #GOE2015.  If I can't be in the revenge business, maybe I could become the Dread Pirate Crusty, like Inigo did.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Blogging the GOEs, Question 3: Nuke a Gay Whale for Jesus!

As Crusty has mentioned a couple of times over the years, the GamesMakers of the GOEs, the General Board of Examining Chaplains (as opposed to the loser, local boards of examining chaplains?), do mix things up occasionally.  They've tweaked the evaluation system to a simpler "sufficient" and "insufficient," and this year they've made everything open resources, for instance.  The last few years they announced ahead of time what would be covered during what sessions. Frankly COD liked the olden days when you never knew what canonical area you were going to get on any given day, when Crusty took the GOEs it made me feel like I was a spy waiting to get my mission for the day, though unfortunately the questions didn't self-destruct (because we got them in hard copy back then) and the self-destruction, when it does happen, usually seems to come when students try to submit their answers, not receive them.

Thus we already knew this morning's area is Christian Ethics and Moral Theology.  At the seminary we have Morning Prayer (or celebrate the Eucharist when the Epiphany falls during the GOEs, which it inevitably does).  After Morning Prayer, there's a Hill Street
Be careful out there.  And aways answer the question as it is asked!
Bllues-esque moment (old man alert) when Crusty tries to impart a little advice for the day.  Today COD was honest: "I'm not gonna lie to you," he said, "the Ethics and Moral Theology questions are often the hardest."  Crusty didn't think last year's question was terribly clear or helpful, as he noted at the time.

Crusty doesn't hate this Ethics question, but he also doesn't love it, either. 

Let's run the disclaimer before getting to the question:

[Disclaimer:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These  blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumble across this site.  While Crusty thinks the GOEs need some pretty substantial if not radical revamping and restructuring, he's also a firm believer in them, or something like them, and feels we need to follow the process in place while having discussions about what changes might be needed.]

Set 3 Christian Ethics and Moral Theology


You observe two bumper stickers displayed together on a car in a university neighborhood. One says, "Save the Whales." The other says, "Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.”

Choose one of the following ethical approaches: Virtue Ethics, Feminist Ethics, Teleological Ethics.

1. In your own words, provide a 250-word, working definition of the chosen ethical approach as practiced in a Christian theological context. The definition should be appropriate to what might be given at an adult education forum in a parish.

2. With direct reference to the definition given in 1.), provide a reasoned, 750-word argument for how the messages of these two bumper stickers, taken together, do or do not represent a morally coherent world view, consonant with your understanding of Christian responsibility.

First off, Crusty was reminded of that great ethicist, Nelson Muntz, resident bully on The Simpsons.   When Lisa Simpsons is over at Nelson's house, she notices a "Nuke the Whales" poster on the wall of his room.  She says, "Nuke the whales?  You don't really
At least he's coherently consistent with the nuking worldview.
believe that, do you?"  Nelson replies, "I don't know.  Gotta nuke something."  COD would have preferred that this be the basis of the Ethics question this year, unpacking Nelson's and Lisa's respective ethical world views, but, then again, COD would have nothing to write about since that question would be AWESOME.

But back to this question.  Crusty think the General Board must be populated by people who live in college towns, since the theology question was set up around a college student who comes home doubting their faith, and this morning's question setup involves you observing bumper stickers on cars in a university neighborhood.   Crusty wonders if the next question's setup will be, "While driving through campus and listening to NPR on your way to yoga class, you hear a story..." 
Assuming the next question will be on schweddy balls.

On a side note, Crusty thinks the question could have used a little proofreading: in section 1 the student is asked for a "250-word" definition, and in section 2 a "750-word argument."  The word limits are almost always phrased as "no more than 250 words" or "about 750 words."  Either they are going to be sticklers about these sections coming in at exactly those word counts, or they should be consistent with their word limit instructions.

There are a couple of things Crusty likes about this question.

--Once again, it's grounded in a context of encounter -- not as direct as in questions one or two, but the bumper stickers themselves do represent ethical positions held by a fair number of people.  Unlike some of the more esoteric ethics questions of years gone by, this one, at least, is more directly connected to ethical positions held by individuals, and ones which pretty much every clergy person will encounter or address in ministry.  The fact that it's centered around the bumper stickers, and not persons holding the opinions, perhaps gives a slight remove from the issues themselves.  Guess they didn't want to jump right into "You're sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table and your sister announces she's working for Planned Parenthood because she thinks abortion should be safe and legal, and your brother the Roman Catholic priest just returned from the March for Life rally."  COD in general approves of questions which ask students to address the canonical areas in contexts they might actually deal with, so this is encouraging.

--We also see how Open Resources can be helpful here.  In previous years, it felt, at times, that the questions were asking students to address or name specific components -- like being asked to name "three forms of justice" one year.  When it was just you and your brain, and for whatever reason you didn't happen to know what they were getting at, it put students squarely behind the 8-ball in answering. Open Resources allows greater flexibility for both the question and the answer; they could specify which ethical approaches they wanted students to consider, because, well, you can go look at your notes from Ethics class or scramble to find a secondary source to brush up on what these approaches are.  Even Crusty had to look up "Virtue Ethics," to remember exactly what it was.

--In section one, they also give a context for the form of the definition asked, that it be appropriate for a parish forum.  Again, COD welcomes the parameters that the GBEC seems to be providing, since, as COD mentioned in his comments on the Scripture section, while clergy will often be asked to apply what they learned in preparation for ordination, they will rarely, if ever, be asked to do so in any formal academic format. [This is one of the reasons why Crusty has an oral component in every single class he teaches.  Usually this is an extensive class presentation, but at times it has also been an oral, one-on-one final examination with me.  When students have grumbled at times, COD has replied, "You'll rarely write academic papers after you graduate but you'll constantly be talking with people, so this is a way to apply what you've learned in a different context and format."]

--COD is a little perplexed by the end of Section 2.  Students are being asked to do two things here. [BTW in GOE prep Crusty often tells students to outline the question, since oftentimes very short questions can ask you to do several different things.] 

The first is whether "the messages of these two bumper stickers, taken together, do or do not represent a morally coherent world view."  Crusty is OK with this, I guess, since this is the kind of stuff ethicists spend their time thinking about, and if you ask enough ethicists, you'll get people who say things that can directly contradict the other.  It's one of the things Crusty likes about Ethics -- you gotta love a theological discipline where the point is to muster enough logic and precedent to support most any position.  They seem to be leading us a bit here; the plainest interpretation is that we are being asked to address an ethical conundrum.  One bumper sticker expresses a commitment to preserving life (saving the whales), the other involves ending one (keeping abortion legal and safe).  One could, of course, make an argument from any of the three ethical perspectives for
Crusty literally owes everything he knows about Ethics to Dr Farley.
either option, namely, that they do represent a morally coherent worldview or, conversely, not morally coherent.  [Crusty would have chosen Feminist Ethics, since he took that class from Professor Margarte Farley at Yale Divinity School, and would kick this question's ass with a morally coherent ethical argument for both.] Again, that's the perverse pleasure Crusty derives from Ethics, that you can make a reasoned argument about pretty much anything.  This was how Crusty got the only Outstanding on his GOEs in Ethics (back when they graded them on a four point scale from "Outsanding" at the top to "We pity you" at the bottom), when COD had yet to take a single Ethics class before taking GOEs.  Crusty got his only outstanding in Ethics because, in case you haven't noticed, bulls******g and arguing are second nature to Crusty and served him well in making stuff up as he went along in his Ethics GOE answer (and BTW Crusty failed the history question when he took it).

But while they seem to be setting up the parameters of the ethical conundrum, they're also giving the student the option to take either side, so long as they are able to back it up from their particular ethical perspective chosen in Section 1.

--But then they throw in an 11th hour curve:  "consonant with your understanding of Christian responsibility."  Whoa!  Where did this come from?  Do the students need to define their understanding of Christian responsibility (as they were asked to define their ethical perspective in Section 1)?  How does that relate to the ethically coherent worldview they've just been asked to describe?  This just seemed, frankly, an unnecessary and gratuitous twist at the end, like an M. Night Shymalan movie.  Crusty doesn't see how it adds to the question, and would have been fine with ending things with a period after "worldview."

Overall, Crust gives this question a "Meh."  

On the plus side,

--It asks students to grapple with ethical issues they will most certainly face in a ministry setting (abortion and concern for the environment/animal rights).   It provides some clear guidelines by specifying the ethical hermeneutics available, and open resources allows students who may not be familiar with any of them to not be at a disadvantage.  That's all good. 

It gets a "meh" however, because

-- It's a bit of a coput to make it about the bumper stickers and not the actual people who believe passionately about these issues and whom we encounter in our lives and in our congregations (and ethical standpoints that we ourselves hold).  It's also a bit of a copout that these reflections don't go anywhere: you see these bumper stickers, then write up this definition and this argument, but there's no context for what you do with them.  Do you write them in your journal, or, if you're particularly unbalanced, post them on an inappropriately named blog chock full of pop cultural references where nobody cares what you think?  Most of Crusty's conversations about the ethical aspects of abortion and animal rights/stewardship of the environment have not been journal entries where he has pondered bumper stickers seen in the Whole Foods parking lot.  It was in relationship and encounter with actual people.  In talking to an avowed feminist friend in college about the abortion she was debating whether to have or not.  It was letting the door-to-door Greenpeace canvasser into the house to call a taxi because the people in the neighborhood were hassling him, and we talked about why he took the job in the first place. [Crusty donated money to the Greenpeace canvasser, in part because the guy had been having such a rough time in the working class neighborhood of Somerville where COD lived at the time, and in part because he appreciated Greenpeace making France look bad when they sunk the Rainbow Warrior.]

--And it gets a Meh because they go M. Night Shymalan by throwing in a twist at the end by adding the requirement to include a reflection on one's "understanding of Christian responsibility."  But even that's a bit unkind to the GBEC, since that twist doesn't suck as much as
Still bitter I wasted two hours of my life on this.
Shymalan's last movies have.  Like "Signs." Really?  Water?  Aliens invade earth and are deathly vulnerable water? Didn't they know it's COVERED BY WATER?  Thanks for wasting my time, M. Night.

So far, so good: one "Axios!" and two "Meh" responses and we're halfway through the exam!  No WTF question yet, even.