Saturday, January 5, 2013

Blogging the GOEs, Question 5: OK, Start Splainin

[Hello all:  beginning with a disclaimer.  Crusty seems to have touched a nerve with my first post on GOEs (one of my most-read postings).  Apart from being perpetually stunned anyone cares what he has to say about anything (he mainly does this to spare CODW his rantings and provide an outlet), Crusty does want to say one thing.  He's not opposed to GOEs, and sharply criticized the decision to defund them in the original draft budget proposed last summer.  He would, however, like to have a discussion about a thorough overhaul, and you can read some of his previous thoughts here.]

Maybe Crusty is being covertly recorded by the General Board of Examining Chaplains.  Why?  Question 5.  The seminary holds a number of prep sessions in the fall for GOEs, orienting students to the exam process, reviewing the canonical areas.  As part of the test overview, Crusty usually tries to soothe anxious students by saying, "Don't worry, they won't ask you to do something like explain the Trinity."  This is one of COD's standard examples of the kind of question you won't be asked on the GOEs, because, well, nobody could answer it.

So you can understand my paranoia:

Set 5: Christian Theology and Missiology

LIMITED RESOURCES:A printed one-volume annotated Bible, a printed one-volume Concordance, a printed 1979 Book of Common Prayer and a printed Hymnal 1982. NO electronic or Internet resources.

Dorothy Sayers famously observed that if people depended upon the Church to answer the question, "What is the Trinity?" the vast majority of people would respond: "'The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.' Something put in by the theologians to make it more difficult - nothing to do with daily life or ethics."

Drawing on the allowed resources and your own understanding, write an essay of approximately 1,500 words explaining how the doctrine of the Trinity is relevant to "daily life or ethics."

Here's one option.
Well, now, this is interesting:  they went there and did ask people to explain the Trinity.  As Ricky Ricardo would say, "Start 'splainin, Lucy."  Crusty also enjoyed Ricky's use of the imperative rather than gerundial form,  "Lucy, 'splain." (Note:  he never said the oft misattributed "You got some splainin to do." And yes by using an I Love Lucy reference Crusty has thereby validated the O in COD.)  Speakin of splainin, Crusty's PhD was in early Christian theology, specifically the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, and Crusty ended up writing about how people wrote about the Trinity rather than the Trinity itself because he didn't think it was worth wading into that quagmire.

On second thought this is better for yesterday's question.
And you might be surprised to hear that COD is glad he was being bugged, and pleased with this question.  Because, after all, they aren't asking students to explain the Trinity itself.   Rather, they are being asked to explain why the doctrine of the Trinity is "relevant to daily life or ethics."  Now that's interesting.  

Crusty was reminded of a conversation he had when he was Ecumenical Officer with a Christian from another tradition.  COD was pointing out that The Episcopal Church didn't demand other churches accept the ministry of bishops, but rather saw bishops in historic succession as a gift and a means of furthering the unity of the church.  "Well, why are bishops so important for the unity of the church?" his skeptical colleague asked.  "If you can't explain to me why it is, then it's not a gift, it's an imposition." Crusty was reminded of this response here, and thinks the question is actually framed properly:  no splainin of the Trinity itself, but why it is relevant to daily life or ethics.  This is why one of COD's mantras in GOE prep always is:  answer the question exactly as it is asked.  Reread it, underline it, outline it, do whatever you have to do, but make sure you answer the question they are asking.  So Crusty thinks this is a nice wrinkle:  after all, if you say something is important, but can't explain why it's important, is it really important or just something you're demanding?  So COD loves that students are not being asked to explain the Trinity, but rather explain why it isn't pointless.  This is the only thing we really should try to do; COD was once in charge with adult formation/newcomers' classes, preparing people to be received or confirmed in the Episcopal Church.  In those classes you never wanted to go down a rabbit hole in an adult formation class of trying to explain the Trinity to people.  It either can't be done or you end up using lame images like three matches burning together in one flame.  Besides, people really don't want to know what it means; our default mode is to think if we understanding something we will understand its efficacy.  Part of being a person of faith is, at times, letting go of that desire of certainty and understanding that somethings things operate on something more that our ability to know or not know.  Crusty sometimes thought that even when people would ask him what the Trinity means, what they really were asking, like Sayers' quote, is why it matters.

So Crusty likes the question.  Something ever Christian should have to reflect on, and, for clergy, something they will be called to do time and again, if not in baptismal and newcomers/confirmation classes, but yearly in the bane to preachers, Trinity Sunday.

And this is a limited resources question:  students have a Bible, Prayer Book, and Hymnal.  Think of all the different ways you could go with this!  COD immediately thought of the hymn St Patrick's breastplate.  He thought of the baptismal liturgy, thought of Paul's description of baptism as dying and rising with Christ.  Thought of those long nights working on his PhD (Crusty preferred starting his homework around 8pm, working till 2 or 3 am or so, and rolling out of bed at 10 am to go to Brewed Awakening for a custard danish and a large coffee -- shout out!! where my Bay Area peeps at!!) reading Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus.  Times late at night when he realized the Trinity wasn't only something to accept on faith, it finally dawned on him that it really did matter that Christians believed in a Trinity and really should inform how we look at the world.

But really all you need.
However (where would COD be without a few howevers or pointless digressions?):  why tack on "or ethics"? Why not just leave it at "relevant to daily life"?  This would seem to be a nice counter to the sentiment expressed in the Sayers quote, trying to prove that the whole concept is not irrelevant.  Crusty is just plain old confused as to why "or ethics" is tacked on.  It sounds like it's almost in contrast to daily life -- daily life or ethics, as if it's either one or the other, when COD always thought an important understanding of ethics is how we live out our beliefs in daily life.  A minor point, perhaps, but something which, in context, has come up over and over again in this year's GOE:  the way in which the framing and phrasing of the questions are phrakking foggy.  This has been a recurring theme in this year's test, a perplexing predilection to perturbation, which prompts the pontificating and pedantic COD to perpetuate this point.

Yes, it's been a long week.  So, in sum, COD thinks this is a good question, just has continued concerns about the way the questions are phrased and framed.


  1. Yes, good question. And I am sure that all rectors are relieved to know that the curates they are preparing to hire are well situated to take on that dreaded Trinity Sunday sermon. No summer vacation, seminarians, Trinity Sunday comes early this year!

  2. My newest favorite visual aid and metaphor for the Trinity, as helpful as the above graphics are, is that diagram of Turducken that was going around as a meme a few weeks ago. When you think about it, it works as well as most metaphors for the Trinity and better than some. So, since Trinity Sunday is often the week of the parish picnic in the parish where I am a Priest Associate, an event for which they sell tickets in advance and then serve fancy *catered* BBQ, (no potluck or picnic baskets for this crowd), next year I shall suggest the caterers bring some turduckens.

  3. As for your assertion that priests will get stuck doing Trinity Sunday year after a licensed lay preacher, I thought Trinity Sunday (as well as Christ the King Sunday and any Sunday with really crappy texts) were the times the smart priest calls the lay preacher at a time he/she is nowhere near the lectionary and says, "Hey, you haven't preached for a while...wanna preach next Sunday?"

  4. Thumbs up on the Trinity part. Thumbs WAY up on the custard danish from Brewed Awakening part!

  5. This really is the best question so far! One could actually answer the question and have fun doing so!

  6. So, Father Eric, let's hear your answer!

  7. i actually was asked a similar question this sunday... in children's chapel! and brewed...bleh. nefelli's!


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