Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Blogging the GOEs, Last Question: GOEs Go Medieval

Crusty can't quit you, #GOE.
All is forgiven, GOEs.  Crusty knows you and I have had our ups and our downs, our ins and our outs; the Syd to my Nancy, the Mr Roper to my Jack Tripper, the Adam Trask to my Aron Trask, the Doofenschmirtz to my Perry the Platypus, the Vrsonky to my Karenina, the Bert to my Ernie, the Jordan Catalano to my Angela.  COD couldn't spew out considerably more words than candidates spent writing these questions if he didn't care so much.  You got me started with that WTF opening question, and Crusty had a bumpy first two days with this GOE.  But you pulled it together and banged out a couple of good questions, and topped it off with a real whopper.

And here it is:

Set 7: The Holy Scriptures

LIMITED RESOURCES:A printed one-volume annotated Bible, a printed one-volume Concordance and a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer. NO electronic or Internet resources.
A reminder: This is not a liturgical question; it seeks, rather, a careful discussion and application to contemporary faith and culture of a biblical mandate for repentance.

A. In both Old and New Testament writings a call to God's people for repentance is clear and undeniable. In an essay of 500 to 750 words, explore this call through exegesis of the following texts:

          Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 and Matthew 4:12-17

Your essay should address the literary, historical, and theological highlights of each text and set forth the biblical case for repentance as represented by these texts.

B. As an ordained person, you have just attended the monthly meeting of your Ecumenical Community Clergy Council. The topic discussed was "Preparing for Lent." One member had suggested that the group consider sponsoring "Ashes to go." She remembered some media coverage on Ash Wednesday 2012 showing clergy imposing ashes on street corners in the downtown business district and suburbs. She recalled that there was a great deal of positive reaction to this practice, stressing the theme that the churches were "meeting people where they are," and commenting that with people's busy lives, this was a visible way to reach out to the community. Another member was strongly opposed, asking, "What would be the biblical basis for this?" The group then had turned to you for your position on your colleague's original suggestion.  In an essay of 500 to 750 words, address the following questions:

1. In what ways does such a contemporary practice ("Ashes to go") respond faithfully to the call for repentance as articulated in Joel and Matthew?

2. In what ways does it not?

The GBEC, and the people who take their exam.
COD was tempted to title this blog post Law and Order:  GOE Unit.  Because, despite what we may think, the General Board of Examining Chaplains are not a bunch of collective Professors Binnses from Harry Potter, the History of Magic professor so boring and divorced from reality that he died and came back to teach class the next day as a ghost, and nobody really noticed any difference.  When it wants to, the GBEC pays attention, and often comes up with questions which are relevant and timely.  Last year they had a question on developing a social media policy for one's congregation, as well as questions exploring "church" and "state" issues (which didn't surprise Crusty given an election year was coming, and the prominent role religious issues have played in previous election cycles).  So like Law & Order episodes which are more or less cribbed from real-life legal cases, the GOE can sometimes take real-life issues and turn them into questions, albeit with a significantly longer lag time (imagine if Law & Order was only on TV one week per year!).

Here the GBEC crafts the question for the Bible area of canonical competency around an event which received some buzz in the Episcoblogosphere last year: the whole concept of "ashes to go," with people standing out on street corners or positioned in other various places to administer ashes on Ash Wednesday, apart from the normative liturgical context.  At the time last year when Crusty saw some of these reports about this new, innovative ashes-on-the-go thing, he scratched his head and initially mumbled, "I thought we already had this, and it was called the Catholic Church."  When Crusty lived in New York City, walking to work he would see people duck in and out of RC Churches on Ash Wednesday, with an elapsed time of maybe 20 seconds; when he was serving part-time as college chaplain, one year the Catholic chaplains more or less stood just inside the front door of their chaplaincy and administered ashes as people walked in and out.  Heck, last time Crusty attended a RC Church, the whole service seemed to be a form of communion on the go: with people coming in late, listening to a 5 minute homily, perplexed by the new translation of the Nicene Creed and turning the new Mass card with the translation over and over as if it were some kind of Rosetta Stone, whizzing through a prayers of the people with maybe three intercessions, then dashing out the second after receiving Communion.  The people sitting next to COD collected their things as they went up for Communion (COD did not receive) so they could leave directly after receiving.  Now, COD knows not all liturgy can be extrapolated from limited data sets or experiences, but the examples above are true.  But I digress.

The beauty of this question is severalfold:

First, the GOE takers are on a roll with their wording.  Last question had the hilarious (to Crusty) "thus broadly construed" and endless use of air quotes for "council."  This one has "A reminder: this is not a liturgical question it seeks, rather, a careful discussion and application to contemporary faith and culture of a biblical mandate for repentance."  Two LOL question wording moments in two consecutive questions!  Always important to begin with a disclaimer like this given how quickly Episcopalians can quickly disappear down liturgical rabbit holes -- though again COD shudders to think if any students blew past the disclaimer in their anxiety to get to the question and went into an exegesis of the Ash Wednesday liturgy.

Second, they finally seem to have kicked their addiction to vagaries in wording which have plagued previous questions.  This one had some of the strongest and clearest language EVER: it actually said there was something in Scripture "clear and undeniable."  Crap, getting Episcopalians to agree on anything as "undeniable" is nigh impossible!  And COD certainly hopes we could all agree that there is a call to repentance in Scripture; on what, exactly, we're called to repent...well, that'd be more interesting, but remember, folks, you're not being asked that!  While clear, this is a complex question because, like in church history, you're being asked to do at least seven, and maybe eight, things:  "address the literary, historical, and theological highlights" -- that's three things -- "of each text" -- times two -- and set forth the biblical case for repentance (a fourth thing).

Then on to section B, and the ashes to go.  Remember:  this is not a liturgical question.  The whole issue around McAshes is framed in a Biblical context, as one of the colleagues in clergy group, clearly not another Episcopalian, demands to know the "Biblical basis."  And again, COD loves the fact that the candidates have to be reminded of something they have just read about: "In what ways does such a contemporary practice ("Ashes to go") respond faithfully..."  What other contemporary practice could it be?  Why not just say "Ashes to Go"?  Is it just Crusty or am I the only one who finds this funny? 

The original going Sic et Non medieval on your...
And then the GOEs save their best for last:  they get medieval on the candidates, going all Sic et Non on their asses.  They are asked to reply from BOTH perspectives.  They are to point out how Drive Thru Ashes (mark COD's words, it'll happen) is  "faithful to the call for repentance" as found in Joel and Matthew (remember: this is not liturgical question!) as well as how it is *not*. Crusty found himself thinking they should have put this question into theory and practice of ministry set, since most Episcopalians seem to have lost the ability to see things from any perspective but their own.  To go truly medieval, of course, they then should have asked the candidates to give counterarguments to each point they made, and conclude with Section 3, "But I say..." and give the definitive answer to one's clergy colleagues, who clearly seem to be looking to you to provide some guidance.  Funny how in GOE questions people are always looking to you to make cogent, extended, and detailed theological statements.  Like those Elvis movies when a band appears from nowhere and he breaks into song, in the GOEs it's the opposite, the music stops and people turn to you.  The Vestry did so in Question 4, your colleagues in this question.  Maybe for a change of pace they could say, "As the conservative Baptist and the UCC minister start arguing with each other, in the 150 words you can get in edgewise before the Unitarian fed up with yet another intraChristian debate at clergy group gets up to get lunch which has arrived early and the overworked Catholic priest who is the sole clergy person at a parish bigger than all of yours combined dashes out to give someone last rights, explain how his practice does and does not respond faithfully to the call for repentance as articulated in Joel and Matthew while still making sure you still get one of the the box lunches which has chips and not the useless fruit."

So that's all, folks.  In general, in COD's mind, a mixed GOE.  Some problematic questions, largely in terms of phrasing and framing, not in principle.  A great WTF question out of the gate.  Hard, but overall fair, questions in theology, church history, and Biblical studies.  Some really great turns of phrase in the questions themselves.

Signing off until next year:  This was Part II: Electric Boogaloo.  Tune in in 2014 for Blogging the GOEs, Part III: The Search for Spock.  Live long and prosper.


  1. Thank you as always for your labor in this particular vineyard...

    I love the image of the scramble for the box lunches. "Relate this to the Khodynka Tragedy and its implications for the Czar's role as defender of Orthodoxy..."

  2. What do you expect when Russians find out there may not be enough beer to go around?


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