Monday, January 5, 2015

Blogging the GOEs, Questions 1 and 2: Let the GOE Quarter Quell Begin!

We've had a good run, interwebz, and all you loyal readers out in Crustyland.  Crusty Old Dean never thought anybody other than close friends or family cared much what he had to say, and only started this blog because it beat yelling at the TV for its historical inaccuracies.  Example: Saturday night COD, CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) and OCOCOD (Official Child of Crusty Old Dean) took in the new "Night at the Museum" Movie (the scene where Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt says goodbye to Ben Stiller's character was moving in ways they could never imagined when they filmed it, given the way events transpired in the real world with his suicide...).  Afterwards, walking back to the car and sharing various parts, we noted a scene
They would be buried in ash before any lava got them .
where the museum's diorama of the Pompeii eruption started spewing lava.  As we walked to the car, Crusty said, "You know, the Pompeii eruption was primarily an ash eruption, not a lava eruption."  CODW said, "You know, you need to let some things go."  That's what this blog is for, people!  So I can take out on the interwebztwittoblogospheretubes the things Crusty can't let go! And we've had a good run; you all have enjoyed the occasional hate-read here as Crusty has put on his alter-ego's hat and spewed forth over-the-top, insider-church histrionics intended to be a mocking metanarrative of much of the actual hyperbolic rhetoric other people write for realz.

No, Crusty's not retiring, it's just that he doesn't know what to do looking at the first two GOE questions!!  But first, let's run the usual GOE disclaimers:

[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.]

Plus an additional note:

[This year, COD's postings on the questions will take place one hour after the conclusion of the test periods on the West Coast.  Since all of this year's questions are open source questions, allowing students to use any resources, print or electronic, COD will wait until after the test period closes before posting, since he in no way would intend for anyone to suffer from reading anything written here.  Thus the morning session is from 9:00-12:30 pm, meaning it ends 3:30 pm West Coast time, which means no posting until 4:30 pm West Coast time, just in case extensions have been granted.   Plus, since I'm taking questions 1 and 2 as a whole, for day one it means no posting until 8:30 pm, when the afternoon West Coast test period is well over.  Though this note doesn't make much sense since by the time you're reading it it's already been posted.  Well, think of the zen koan about the master throwing a brick at the novice and unlearn your linearity.]

And now a quick review of our ranking system:

WTF:  an ungodly sh*tstorm of a question.

Meh:  good, but not great, could have been better phrased or framed, but clearly not a WTF question.

Axios! (Greek for "worthy", what is shouted by laity at ordinations in the Eastern Orthodox Churches):  a question which actually does what it's supposed to do, provide an opportunity for a student to demonstrate competency in the relevant canonical area.

OK, one last introductory comment:  The General Board of Examining Chaplains seems to be celebrating some kind of Hunger Games-esque Quarter Quell with this year's exams.  In The Hunger Games books, every twenty-five years the autocrats of Panem tinker with their battle-to-the-death
Let the GOE Quarter Quell begin!
selection of young people.  On the 50th anniversary, they recruited twice as many persons, 48 rather than the usual 24.  On the 75th, they made previous victors the pool of candidates.  Similarly, the GamesMakers of the GOEs are mixing things up this year with their own Quarter Quell, and have instituted some changes.  COD hoped they would bring back the infamous coffee hour questions (when COD toook the GOEs he  had to write out the coffee hour question answers in a blue book by hand in a room with all the other GOE takers, then make a photocopy of the blue book under the eye of the proctor, hand the photocopy to the proctor, then go home and type up the blue book answers on his computer that night, then bring in the printout along with the original blue book the next day, which was the day off, and hand them in), but apparently that's not meant to be.  But what are they doing this time around?

For one, all questions will be Open Resources.  When COD took the GOEs, the questions were a mix of resources, from "no resources" to "limited resources" to "open resources."  The last several years, nearly all the questions (with the exception of liturgy and Bible, which were limited to specific written resources, no electronic resources) have been closed resources, with no outside resources.  Or, as COD likes to call the closed resource questions, Homer Simpson questions, since one is forced to rely on one's brain.  As Homer once said, "All right brain, I don't like you, and you don't like me, so let's just get through this and I'll get back to killing you with beer."  This year all answers are open resources.  Hallelujah!  Crusty has thought it absurd that there had been no open resource questions, in particular with liturgy (when was the last time anyone planned a liturgy without consulting a single electronic or online resource?).   COD only hopes students realize that open resources doesn't mean you need to write a perfectly researched paper -- open resources is to allow you to double-check on some of your facts or concepts, not to delve into tremendous background on any particular aspect.  Crusty's hoping students budget time and wordage accordingly.

For another, two areas have been combined into one.  They will have a single question cover
  • (5) Theory and Practice of Ministry Theology of vocation and of all forms of ministry; ministerial roles of laity, diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate; duties and responsibilities of clergy in the contemporary church; nature and significance of pastoral care; knowledge of the practice of the following: preaching, counseling, spiritual direction, the education of all ages, parish administration, stewardship, evangelism, polity of our church, and national and local constitutions and canons.
  • (6) Studies in Contemporary Society, including Racial and Minority Groups Current social issues and problems (poverty, homelessness, hunger, racism, injustice, addiction, crime, illegitimacy, child abuse, environmental pollution, war and peace, etc.); ways in which the church and Christian individuals have addressed and may address these; current concerns particular to major ethnic groups in the USA.

To be honest, COD isn't particularly thrilled about combining these two areas.  For one thing, in reality, couldn't ANY canonical area but combined with another?  Could we not have a history question which deals with theological concerns (oh wait, we did, last year's WTF history question!)?  Couldn't theology and liturgy be combined?  Couldn't Scripture be combined with just about any other category?  For another, it combines the areas which deal with some of the most important aspects of ministry (everything from pastoral care to dealing with social justice issues!) and combines them into one, while preserving classical, academic theological disciplines.  Theology and Ethics continue to be separate disciplines, yet these two areas are combined into one.   They better have come up with a damn good question for those areas they're combining -- you're on notice, GBEC.  The seven canonical areas are in dire need of revision, and rather than revise them we just find ways to add things to the current seven.  In recent decades there have been enormous changes not only in church and society, but also competency-based educational systems and theory.  We desperately need a revision of the canonical areas, which, naturally, we'll never get to, because General Convention stopped giving a damn about theological education decades ago.  COD just hopes the General Board of Examining chaplains isn't creating some kind of de facto reorganization.

OK, enough introductory stuff.

Thus begins GOE 2015: The Quarter Quell!

And after reading the first two questions, Crusty had to seek solace in Taylor Swift and remind himself that the haters are supposed to hate, hate, hate.  Yet even after listing to TS, COD found
TSwift, COD usually sides with the haters.
himself feeling something very strange....namely, I DIDN'T HATE THESE QUESTIONS.

I know, interwebz.  I'm scared, too.  But everyone, let's be cool and calm down, there are still two more days and four more questions left.  So:  onward to the first two questions:

Monday 9:00am
Set 1: The Holy Scriptures

John’s Gospel, as a whole, has been criticized because of its perceived attitude toward the Jewish people. Some believe that as the inspired and infallible Word of God, the Fourth Gospel condemns the Jewish people as those who rejected and ultimately put Jesus to death. Others believe that the language used to speak of the Jews in John is inherently anti-Semitic, and as such the use of John’s Gospel by the modern church is at the least anachronistic.

Each year your parish reads John's Passion account (John 18:1-19:37) as part of the Good Friday Liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer. Now a member of your parish Worship Committee has questioned the lack of sensitivity toward the Jewish people in continuing the practice of reading John’s Passion narrative on Good Friday, asking that John’s Passion be eliminated and another Passion narrative be read in its place. You have chosen to address this in a major article in your parish newsletter.

Using your knowledge of Holy Scripture, grounded in an exegesis of John 19:14-16, in 1,000 words create your parish newsletter article, explaining the practice of reading John’s Passion as part of the Good Friday Liturgy.

· Your article should be based on an exegesis of John 19:14-16.
· Your article should incorporate an understanding of John’s use of the term “the Jews.”
· Your article should be accessible to a lay person while demonstrating your ability to interpret Holy Scripture accurately.

Your exegesis should utilize material from the Old and New Testaments.

Your article will be evaluated on the clarity and accuracy of your argument and its conciseness in providing Scripture-based resources for your congregation when addressing this situation.

Crusty just didn't know what to say at first.  I like this question.  It's exegetical, but one that deals with real theological, liturgical, and pastoral questions.  Theological, in that Christians cannot simply ignore the anti-Jewish elements of the Scriptures.  Crusty served as Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer of The Episcopal Church, and did a doctoral comprehensive exam on the history of Christian-Jewish relations, so he's dealt with this a bit over the years.  We lose credibility with our inter religious partners if we simply ignore or pretend we do not have inherent anti-Jewish tendencies in our Scripture, liturgy, and theology; like white privilege, it's a form of Christian privilege to presume we can forget or ignore or explain away aspects of our past.  Pastoral and liturgical, because this is read in the context of our liturgy and brings up powerful emotions in some people.  When COD worked in a congregation, someone once approached him and asked if we could edit out the passage in Matthew's passion where the Jewish people shout that Jesus' blood should be on them and their ancestors.  We had a long talk, and I said my opinion was that we should not edit this out, because that would be avoiding the subject -- that rather we should engage in conversations about this.  We did, and after doing some sessions on anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in the Bible and in Christianity in the congregation, we eventually expanded to include conversations with a local synagogue on issues of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.  COD firmly thinks we cannot hide from those aspects of Scripture which are difficult.  This questions asks students to show they can exegete, but to do so on something that is an important liturgical, theological, and pastoral issue.

Plus they put it in an appropriate context: the parish newsletter.  The fact is, once you graduate from seminary, chances are you'll never write an academic exegesis paper on Scripture again.  Yet seminary graduates are constantly exegeting: in sermons, in conversations answering people's questions (What did Paul mean in Romans 1:28?), in pastoral encounters (Crusy had someone in the hospital once tell him they felt like Job), and so on.  This question places the exegesis in an appropriate context for practice of ministry.

Further, they also gave some clear guidelines -- it should be based on John 19: 14-16, should deal with the key exegetical issue of "the Jews", and should include OT and NT material.  Rather than hinting they were looking for specific things as in some questions past, here they're direct and clear about what must be addressed.

Wow.  Good job, GBEC.  A question which addresses an important aspect of Scripture, but does so in a clear, manageable way, and grounded in an exegetical context that most seminary graduates will be asked to engage.

Question 1, you receive the rare and coveted Crusty Old Dean ranking of: Axios!  Worthy!

Then on to question 2:

Mon 1:30pm
Set 2: Christian Theology

Several young parishioners return home after their first year in college and announce that their academic work has convinced them that belief in God is not reasonable. They ask how you justify your continued belief in God.

Offer your considered response in an essay of 1,000 words, providing at least three arguments for a reasoned belief in God, and then explaining how the Christian faith as you understand it accords with those arguments. In your answer make reference to at least two Christian theologians (one of whom must be Anglican) who have addressed the issue of belief in God. You need not agree with the theologians’ arguments, but you must engage them.

An interesting question -- how do Christians justify their faith in an increasingly non-Christian world? But Crusty has some issues:

--First there's the lazy stereotyping here.  It perpetuates the young person going off to college and questioning their faith motif.  Crusty was a religion major, and sure, there were people who suddenly may be announced they didn't believe in God after reading Feuerbach -- but disbelief in God is not something that happens suddenly, and, in my own experience as a college chaplain, was almost always combined with other things people are going through in their lives (a friend's illness; their parents' divorce; self-differentation or rebelliousness; feeling unwelcome in their church; bad or even abusive experiences with a pastor or church; rejected because of their sexuality; and so on).  The whole notion that taking a science class or a philosophy class can shatter one's faith just seems like a tired kind of trope (their "academic work has convinced them") and not reflective of how and why people leave the church of their upbringing.  And it's not just something that happens to young people.  Crusty has talked to parents who lost their faith after losing a child, to people incarcerated and who have lost their faith.  COD just would have liked to seen a different, and less hackneyed, setup that takes into account the complexity of why people tend to give up their belief.

--Also, this is primarily a pastoral, not an academic, matter.  As a college chaplain Crusty talked with a fair number of people questioning their belief in God, and the one thing I never did was come up with arguments for believing in God.  I can't imagine something which would be less helpful, to be honest.  The last thing COD wants to do is be quoting C.S. Lewis and Kierkegaard with a student who would be quoting Spinoza and Marx and Bill Maher.  COD always asked about what the person felt was important to them, the kind of life they wanted to live, and then I would share how I felt being a Christian was important to me, and asked them if they thought Christianity was in any way helpful to them living into the kind of principles they had articulated.

OK, that said, COD appreciates what he thinks is the overall intent of the question.  It's not something mind-bogglingly vague like in some previous years -- like the famous "explain why the Trinity is relevant question." This is at least a theological question grounded in encounter, and one that COD ventures will be a quite common one, as people are unchurched in an increasingly post-Christian culture.  Christianity can certainly no longer assume any kind of automatic place in society.  Having to articulate who we are and why we're here is something we must be able to do. COD is also pleased they actually ask respondents to include an Anglican theologian in their answer; in previous years, only about half the time are students asked to include an Anglican theologian or perspective in the theology question.

Overall, then Crusty gives this question a Meh! ranking.  It would have been Axios!, but the doubting-college-kid stereotype and the "arguments for a reasoned belief in God" setup are what knocks it down to a Meh!.

If the GOEs keep up these kind of questions, could Crusty be like Inigo Montoya after the Six Fingered Man has been killed, or like the Red Sox after finally defeating the Yankees in 2004?  What happens when one's nemesis is no longer a nemesis?  We shall have to wait and see what the next days hold...or Crusty may wind up Greenland!


  1. "Well, think of the zen koan about the master throwing a brick at the novice and unlearn your linearity."

    Doesn't every zen koan involve a brick being thrown?

  2. The Former Academic bows to COD's thoughtful exegesis of The Princess Bride.

  3. Crusty, looking at this question particularly, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on whether the All Open Resources approach is constructive for the GOEs. My experience in taking exams is that open resources tend to benefit the folks at the bottom (who have no idea how to answer the question) and those at the top (who were pining for the exact right quotation from an obscure source). For those of us in the middle, does the option of hitting the library before writing the essay raise expectations across the board? How does having total open resources affect the real-life quality of a question like this one, where the hypothesis involves a priest answering a question off-the-cuff, without the opportunity to duck into the parish library for a quick glance at Hooker and Barth? I'd love to hear your opinion, thanks!


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