October 24, 2011
by Bowie Snodgrass
Like the kids in Glee, being part of a musical theater group in middle and high school helped me find a place where I fit in. And growing up a priest’s daughter, being in Godspell at age 14 made me feel like Jesus could be fun and cool.
Godspell shaped my teenage theology. There are still passages of Matthew that I hear and think of the corresponding Godspell scene, joke, or song; lyrics I see in the Episcopal hymnal and my mind clicks over to the Stephen Schwarz melody.
Godspell is an ensemble piece about Jesus’ love for his people, their love for him, and how Jesus teaches them to love each other (above money, hypocrisy, grievances, etc). “Come sing about Love! That made us first to be. Come sing about Love! That made the stone and tree. Come sing about Love! That draws us lovingly.” “So thank the Lord, Oh thank the Lord for all his love.” “Day by day, Three things I pray: To see thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee
more nearly, Day by day.” It’s sincere and simple (very little modern-day irony or Broadway glitz).
I really did love the rest of my troupe in the Olean Theater Workshop when I was 14 and twenty years later, we’re still friends, many now parents, some in ministry, spread-out and in touch via Facebook.
The show was already twenty years old when I was in it in the 90s. I used to listen to my parent’s copy of the original Broadway soundtrack on vinyl.
I knew the new production would need to improve upon the thousands of high school, college, and community theater productions out there for it to be worthy of a Broadway revival. And it was. Amazing. It kept most of the beloved original material, yet felt completely fresh with up-to-date cultural references and dance moves.
In last night’s production, lines struck me with new power. Lyrics resonated deeper. I cried, laughed, and clapped (in that order).
A few people I went with commented that Jesus was blond and John the Baptist/Judas was black, but I was struck by the diversity of the rest of the young cast: Latino, Asian, African American, Jewish, gay, straight, thick and thin. They looked like NYC and America. And it felt like they really loved each other.
In a Playbill interview about Godspell, composer and lyricist Stephen Schwarz says, “there’s a joy that comes from the story and also from the theatrical experience… actors and energy and words and music and the exhilaration that the theatre provides.”
I pray this production runs a long, long time, so that a new generation can be exhilarated by a fun, cool Jesus musical. And I want to go back once or twice more!
October 5, 2011
Guess what the old testament reading is?
making the golden calf.
and I quote:
So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” — exodus 32:2-4
just to refresh your memory if you have forgotten the story, God and Moses are not at all happy with this and bicker like a pair of exhausted parents:
God says those are “Your people who YOU brought up out of Egypt.” and tells Moses to stand aside.
But Moses says oh no honey, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?
thankfully Moses wins this argument, but the major issues at stake don’t seem to have changed for 4000 years.
What we worship matters.
when we worship what we build with our own gold, we forget about the love of God who frees us from all kinds of slavery. We look to wealth and security as real things, but they have no more power to liberate us than a golden idol.
December 12, 2010
For me, dance can be an act of prayer. In movement I can pray the longings of my heart for which I have no words. In the dance that I have posted below (music by our own Isaac Everett!) I was dancing out my sense of longing, a hopeful expectation, calling out and listening for a response, and finding myself turned around and heading in an unexpected direction. (Oh, and keep watch for the amazing spontaneously transforming sign.) At the beginning of this third week of Advent, I lean forward and look out into the distance, toward the coming of God’s kindom, when God will fill the hungry with good things, raise up the
lowly, set the
prisoners free, and lift those who are bowed down. May it be so.
December 3, 2010
Tonight is the third night of Hanukkah, which celebrates both the new found political independence of Judea from the Seleucid Empire, and the eight day reconsecration of the Temple of Jerusalem, which Antiochus the IV dedicated to Zeus, thus defiling the most sacred site of Jewish faith. The revolt began in earnest when a Jewish priest refused to sacrifice to Zeus, and killed the one who came to sacrifice in his place.
Tonight is also the sixth night of Advent, the season of anticipating the birth of a true king, worthy of homage, during the reign of a client king of an occupying power who claimed its political leaders to be divine.
We pay particular attention to joyfulness and giving this season. Giving usually means spending money somehow. And Americans are well practiced money spenders, so there should be no surprise at the level of commercialization during this season, though it’s sometimes overwhelming to see so many demands to buy products you haven’t heard before and promises that true joy and happiness follow their owning the new 5Gen WidGet!(tm) or that those who love you don’t really love you unless you get a Baloney MyBox, the bigger version of the MyKick you already have.
So between the historical roots of this time of year of enforced false gods and the contemporary sensation bombardment of chocolate
jesuses and soda-pop saints, I think it would be a good idea to reflect on Idolatry.
Before we make a differentiation between a true and false deity, let’s ask what a deity is. Here’s my best answer right now: the principal foundation of a human’s heart by which all other perspectives and behaviors will defer and accommodate. Kind of an abstract definition, but I can demonstrate:
That priest held the Lord so dear that even under threat of death he could not show worship to anything else, and murdered another out of distress that his victim was about to do what he risked death to refrain from. This man would become Maccabee, or Hammer, leading a rebel army and winning political freedom and the beloved temple back.
The unseen father of the friend in “Ferris Beuler’s Day Off” made the car the center of his life, with consequences on his troubled and terrified son, who ultimately took violent action against it
So a deity does not have to be a supernatural force, or have an inherently spiritual connotation. Well, an Idol doesn’t, at least. All an idol needs to be an idol is to seduce you thoroughly enough for you to act foolishly and dangerously for its sake, even so far as to alienate those who love you the most. Terrifyingly, this is the price of the true deity too: “If
anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother… he cannot be my disciple.” (l14:25-27) But fortunately, we can find the Lord in our neighbors.
An Idol, though, has no power. Or more accurately, it could have a lot of power, but only the power humans grant it. The car, no matter how cool it is, is only responsible for the family’s misery by the dad’s devotion to it.
We should all be for acting foolishly and dangerously for the sake of the Lord, and we naturally find it commendable and reasonable to act foolishly and dangerously for our family. But I (try) to draw the line at judo-throwing someone for the sake of a video game. Or mooning a live television camera for money (though a buttload of money might be tempting…) Or killing someone because a General said it was Okay.
Now WidGet!(tm)s are nice things. I have quite a few myself. And they actually could make nice gifts. But they are made by the hands of humans, to serve humans and to be dismissed by humans. Worshiping such a thing (whether it’s recognized as such or not) is not only stupidity, it is deadly. It either means that another human, who is a weakling sinner bag of flesh living in just as much uncertainty as you, is imagining themself your master, or you are ultimately worshiping yourself, which you can do until the horse you ride on gives you a good buck off a cliff and you realize you are subject to physics, not the other way around, and even the horse you think you controlled is stronger than you and decided it didn’t like your attitude.
Now next week I’ll write about the act of giving, the act of gratitude, and how to do them both properly (even when the gift is a WidGet!(tm)) without all these stupid idols screaming for our submission.
July 3, 2008
collected by Bowie Snodgrass
I asked a variety of people where empathy shows up in their interactions with people and how they deepen their sense of empathy? Some said empathizing is a deliberate choice and critical challenge. Others talked about ‚Äúquieting the noise of the world‚Äù to listen and be present to Christ in the Other. The quotes below show us many ways we enter into each other‚Äôs stories.
The Rt. Rev. Jeffery Lee
Bishop of Chicago, Consecrated February 2, 2008
The word empathy can easily become an effective way to cover up my own anxiety in the face of someone else’s suffering ‚Äì ‚ÄúI feel your pain.‚Äù The truth is the only pain I can really feel is my own. What I can do is to choose not to run away from your pain. I can choose to accompany you in it. I can demonstrate to you that I will not leave you and that together we might find a way through pain and suffering to new life. Empathy isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision.
President of the Board of The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts (ECVA)
Principle of MB Ahlborn Illumination, an artist studio opened 1989, San Francisco, CA
Empathy is a natural part of my creative process. It‚Äôs like an unseen rhythm, the tide that balances and shifts as I move through each day. If you could peel away the outer layers of my life as a working artist, you would see a lot of intention to listen to and join with the people that I work with, care for and serve. Empathy is walking a mile in the other person‚Äôs shoes, not as a glossy metaphor but as a warm companionship that leads to meeting and greeting Christ in each person I encounter. And like any spiritual discipline, empathy is a practice that grows, bears fruit, and casts its seeds into the wind.
Sister Diana Dorothea
Community of the Transfiguration, Cincinnati, OH
The difference between ‚Äúprofessional‚Äù empathy ‚Äì ‚ÄúI feel your pain‚Äù ‚Äì and God‚Äôs graced empathy is willingness. My need for empathy is greatest when I want it least ‚Äì facing another‚Äôs anger or hurtful behavior. If I can shoot a prayer between defenses asking for grace to understand in love, usually over the next few days or weeks, memories of my own similar behavior surface, with new insights, allowing true sharing of the other‚Äôs pain.
The Rev. Amy McCreath
Episcopal Campus Minister at MIT, Cambridge, MA
The students with whom I work, who are scientists and engineers, are very articulate about material matters and technical problems. But they often feel intimidated by discussion of the ineffable mysteries of faith. They grow quiet when asked to articulate their spiritual questions. As it turns out, I feel the same way about science and engineering as they do about matters spiritual: I’m intrigued, but intimidated. Drawn in, but inarticulate.
Once we named this dual reality, we were all able to relax and patiently start to learn the other’s language. Empathy has allowed me to be a better chaplain to them. It has challenged me to develop new ways of communicating my faith and God’s invitation to them. And while I’ll never *really* understand genomic biology or psychopharmacology, I know enough now to affirm my students as they live into their vocations in areas like these.
The Rev. Cn. Mary Moreno-Richardson
Canon for Hispanic Ministry, Diocese of San Diego, CA
Part of my
ministry focuses on the needs of Latina youth in the Guadalupe Art Program, as well as the pastoral crisis faced by detained undocumented youth and the victims of human trafficking. These children are on an incredible journey from brokenness to reclaiming their true identity ‚Äì knowing they are created in the image of the Divine. My sense of empathy is deepened by serving these injured souls and witnessing the healing power of the transforming Holy Spirit.
Engineer, Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
Pianist at San Judas Tadeo, Aibonito, Puerto Rico
`Lord, when saw we Thee hungering and fed Thee, or thirsty and gave Thee drink? When saw we Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and clothed Thee? Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?’ And the King shall answer and say unto them, `Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’
To demonstrate empathy is to perform the best approximation of the love of Jesus anyone can achieve. But to do so requires from us to detach from ourselves and act with honesty and commitment. Jesus actually wearied our shoes His whole life and committed to our cause to the end. But happens that there is too much noise everywhere. A deafening, entertaining, mesmerizing and almost omnipresent noise alienating our hearts from the rest of the world and obstructing us from noticing all the opportunities God insistently is giving us every day for showing the evidence of His love with our empathy. Empathy can show-up in our immediate environment in the most simple and modest things. Sharing our knowledge with our co-workers and helping them improve and do a better job is good example to begin with. Let us pay attention and be alert to notice and identify these opportunities, quieting the noise of the world with our prayers.
The Rev. Ian Mobsby
Missioner to Moot, A‚ÄúFresh Expressions‚Äù Community, in London, UK
Much of my work life as an Ordained Missioner in Central London concerns expressing unconditional love and understanding, as I attempt to live out what Christ calls us all to live in the New Command to love God and love our neighbor, which in reality is about trying to catch up with what God is already doing. London is not a very loving place, there is a harshness to the city, so living this way is difficult. But ‚Äì there are moments when empathy breaks in ‚Äì such as the good will between people that occurs in difficult times such as the London Tube Bombings several years ago, or when talking to the Homeless seller of the Big Issue by the local supermarket, the look on children‚Äôs faces at Holy Communion in the local school assembly, the look on people‚Äôs faces when you show kindness such as giving up your seat on the train or bus for an older person, encouraging those to keep going who suffer with depression and anxiety. It is in these little things, that real empathy is shared. So my ministry is about expressing empathy as God seeks to reconcile all back into restored relationship with the Godhead.
For me, empathy finds its origin in the Trinitarian Godhead. That the perfect love and justice expressed in the persons of Creator, Redeemer, and Companion is the source for all empathy. So for me, forms of contemplative prayer and worship are about God inviting us to join in this perfect community relationally that affirms who we are and enables us to truly love others through the love of God. So some of the ancient forms of contemplative prayer reframed into a postmodern context enable me to love in an overly busy and complex world. Additionally, for me, in the belief that the Holy Spirit is very present in our culture ‚Äì I meet Christ through conversations with those on the margins, the poor, the sick, and excluded. Shockingly ‚Äì I often meet God‚Äôs love through the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ in the Father in the faces and voices of the homeless and children that I meet ‚Äì this enables me to truly love.
Austin T. Tuning
Jubilee Officer, Diocese of Lexington, KY
We are all member of God‚Äôs family, created in His image. Although divided by race, culture, and geography, our lives are fashioned by a life time of human experiences, leaving each of us with our perceptions of justice. It is through these experiences that, hopefully, we come to interact with one another with loving concern and compassionate understanding. The latter is what I choose to call ‚Äòempathy‚Äô ‚Äì a sincere attempt to see and understand situations through the eyes and experiences of another person.
Recently, a grocery store clerk felt the need to tell me about the death of her sister in a house fire. At the time she had gone sleepless for quite a while imagining what it must have been like for her sister to die that way. Feeling her anguish, I suggested in a written note to her a few days later that she focus her attention on the love and joy that she and her sister shared; take time to write of those wonderful memories in a letter to her sister; and finally, be thankful that God was there with her sister as He is with each of us during every moment of our lives.
Showing we really care about the concerns of others is one of the ways we can deepen our empathy for others.
Executive Editor, $pread Magazine www.spreadmagazine.org
$pread Magazine is a quarterly publication produced by and for those that work in the sex industry and others that support their rights. The whole idea behind the magazine is to provide a space for sex workers to express for themselves what their lives are like and what they think about their work. We do this precisely because we are so critical of empathy, and of the idea in general that others who have never done sex work are capable of imagining themselves in the situations of sex workers. Many well-meaning people try to speak for sex workers claiming to empathize with their lives and experiences. But the only people truly qualified to describe the experiences of sex workers – the good, the bad, and the outrageous – are sex workers themselves.
As an editor of $pread Magazine, my job is to work with sex workers, many of whom are first time writers, to help them tell their story or give their experience-based perspective. For some people, this sort of writing is challenging on a number of levels. I try to listen very carefully to their voice in their writing and make sure that my editing of that writer’s contribution is still authentic to their experience. Trying to achieve empathy is important in that. The all-volunteer staff of $pread Magazine has a leg-up on that because the vast majority of us are sex workers, former sex workers, and the rest of us have worked with that community closely for a long time. The path to empathy must cede self-determination to ensure that empathy is not a buzz-word that “progressives” use to claim ownership overs someone else’s experience or story. For sex workers, that is an all too common theme.
TV Reporter and Producer, New York, NY
I find that empathy and good journalism are fundamentally intertwined. As a reporter and producer, I’m essentially a storyteller. It’s my job to imagine the world through someone else’s eyes, and give a voice to someone else’s narrative. It’s impossible to tell a good story–especially someone else’s story–without trying to understand the subject’s situation, and identifying with them as a sensitive and compassionate human being.
I think that empathy is the foundation for good journalism. And while I find empathy is my strongest tool in writing a good story, I also find it provides me the biggest challenges in my work. When I’m in the field, I’m constantly trying to nullify my own presence and perspective to ensure someone’s story is told without my interference. I find that difficult sometimes, only because journalism isn’t a science. Journalism is a craft involving human beings sharing stories with human beings. I’m always trying to earn someone else’s trust, and understand someone else’s feelings and motives and what makes them tick.
I find that my empathy for others has become more authentic and more rich the more I experience in my personal life and in the field. Studying empathy in a lecture hall in journalism school did nothing for me. I learn the most when I’m embedded in someone else’s day-to-day minutia or experiencing with them an extraordinary event. Listening, and practicing listening without judgment every day on every assignment is what helps me deepen my sense of empathy.
There isn’t one person I’ve written about or interviewed that hasn’t left a mark on me and shaped my perspective on things in some way. Some have resonated with me more deeply than others, of course, but none has left me unchanged. One thing I’m continuing to learn is that what binds us together is much stronger than what separates us. Each person’s story is different, but they are all threaded together with the same themes…love, loss, joy, pain, fear.
June 9, 2007
Not sure where or how I want to start this post to our group but having been on the east coast for a couple years now, being originally from California and having lived in London, my experiences of churches in these places has been really… eye opening…
I never realized till I left California (2 years ago) how different the traditional church there, is to my experience of church in other parts. A traditional church in California tends to have a group of people coming together in a strip mall shopping center where the church is renting some office space / store and has a number of chairs lined up side by side to look like pews. The people show up in anything from the really casual attire such as jeans and a t-shirt to slightly more dressy attire such as “business casual”. Or I think you call it “smart casual” if my memory serves. The traditional church in this part of the world tends to sing songs to a “rock band” in some form of contemporary worship and then the pastor will speak. This is such a contrast to “traditional” church in NY and England where there are pews and big gothic looking churches which remind you in their splendor how big God is in comparision with us. This form of traditional church has an actual priest in most cases who dresses in the traditional robes and communion is taken with real wine instead of grape juice. Having grown up in the first and not in the later, my concept of church tends to be more modern and contemporary in comparision with my later counterparts. In a church much like the second type that I speak of, I tend to get very uncomfortable and uneasy. It is hard for me to relate to and understand the ritual and liturgy of that style. I try to connect with it but I don’t know how. The thing for me here is that this style is not something I am accustomed to so I don’t understand why we need to go through each step of the liturgy to reach out and touch God because to me God is reachable whether or not we make those steps. If I want to speak to God right here and now I do not need to walk through each of those steps, I just simply call out. If I want to understand God’s thoughts and mind, I read the word. I don’t need an experience of God or have a ritual to tell me God is here with me, right here, right now.
June 1, 2007
After Wednesday night’s showing of The War Tapes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (see 2 posts down), I wrote an article that includes some questions I’ve been bouncing around for a while… about finding religious responses to this war, perhaps even from soldier saints of the past. It’s been posted to Episcopal Life Online as an Opinion piece.
January 30, 2007
When I was in my late teens, I was introduced to alternative Christian music, which began my “descent” into what I would call the alternative church.
Different than Isaac's definition of the Emerging Church, this type of church may have had an authority figure at the top, but from where it stood it was changing the notions of convention. It wasn't the dress-up-and-look-your-best-shop-talk type of church. Rather, to give an example, it was about 6-7 people dressed in all black, makeup covering their faces, looking edgy, some might say gothic, in a dark basement lit by candlelight, singing gothic worship songs (to this day I am not even sure I can describe that!), and talking about a particular passage in the bible. It was a place where people like this could feel safe and could meet God where they were in their lives without the criticisms of those whom were more “conservative” in style. This church and it's corresponding music reached out to a generation of young people whom weren't being touch by “conventional wisdom”.
The musicians – bands like Delieverance, Vengence Rising, Tourniquet, the Violet Burning, Echoing Green, and others – were ridiculed and called demon worshipers dressed in sheeps' clothing. Yet I couldn't tell you the number of people they reached. It has always stuck out in my mind. They stood out because they were different and in some form were an image of Christ on this earth. They were the outcasts who were reaching out to other outcasts and providing a spiritual form of healing through music.
One song in particular, which had a great influence on my life, was Steve Taylor's “I Want to be a Clone”. Steve Taylor's comments and criticism about the estabilished church reach out to the disillusioned and challenge those who “clothe themselves in righteousness” but forget the very foundations of Christ – His love. Thus, without further ado, the lyrics:
I'd gone through so much other stuff
that walking down the aisle was tough
but now I know it's not enough
I want to be a clone
I asked the Lord into my heart
they said that was the way to start
but now you've got to play the part
I want to be a clone
Be a clone and kiss conviction goodnight
cloneliness is next to Godliness, right?
I'm grateful that they show the way
'cause I could never know the way
to serve him on my own
I want to be a clone
January 29, 2007
by Bowie Snodgrass
reflections from today on Isaac's post below:
We can not just ignore the id
we must bless our passions
G – d made us as animals
who can never know it all
You can't control the wind
you can set your sails
Jesus calmed the storm
he walked on the water
We need some original
thoughts about religion
More voices, more vistas,
vantage points and views
Good people with new ideas
calling in this fresh new reign
January 27, 2007
So John MacArthur, a radio evangelist, recently released a fundraising letter/diatribe against the Emerging Church. Among other things he claims that the Emerging Church is a “threat” and that “the danger is real.” Dan Kimball, a pastor who identifies as emerging, wrote a lengthy refutation to this. Go read it at The Ooze.
The thing is, I actually find MacArthur's portrait of the EC to be much more compelling than Kimball's, which seems to be indistinguishable from traditional church (rigid authority structures, 45 minute sermons, modernist doctrinal statements, etc). If presented with a choice between the two, I'd take MacArthur's Emerging Church any day.
Take this one juicy bit:
“The result is a movement that thrives on disorganization, lends itself to mysticism, distrusts authority and dislikes preaching, feeds intellectual pride and recognizes few (if any) doctrinal or moral boundaries. You can see why the movement is so appealing to college-age people young people – it is fleshly rebellion dressed in ecclesiastical robes.”
Yup, this pretty much describes me to a T, minus the bit about the ecclesiastical robes – I can't say I'm interested in dressing my fleshly rebellion in anything other than what they're already wearing. I like it so much that I kind of want to paste it in the “about us” page…
Yes, we thrive on disorganization. We have abandoned rigid, top-down authority models in favor of a lateral authority model. Emergence is a term borrowed from Self-Organizing Systems Theory. I recommend everyone go read The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.
Yes, we lend ourselves to mysticism. Mysticism has been in the Christian Tradition for a very, very long time, and anyone who contests this should go reread Augustine, Anselm, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Keating, and Richard Foster. It is precisely the lack of mystery which makes traditional church unappealing to so many postmodern people.
Yes, we distrust authority and dislike preaching. When our culture is telling us what we need to value (wealth, power, status), advertising campaigns telling us what we need to buy (iPods, cars, soda), and our government is telling us who we need to bomb (usually people whose per capita GDP is less than a tenth of ours), do we really want our churches to be training us to be passive towards authority? Churches ought to be training us to be active thinkers, to critically engage each other, and to read our Bibles for ourselves.
Yes, we feed intellectual pride and recognize few moral and doctrinal boundaries. Well, sort of. We love it when people begin thinking for themselves and value intellectual diversity. We distrust systems of moral and doctrinal boundaries precisely in the way that the New Testament distrusts religious legalism. We rely on grace while we try to follow Christ: feeding the poor, caring for the meek, and welcoming the marginalized into our homes.
We are a fleshly rebellion. We affirm our bodies as good creations (good enough for Jesus, at any rate). We acknowledge that a Christian can be spiritual AND earthly in the same way that God can be immanent AND transcendant, Jesus can be incarnate AND redemptive, and communion can be body AND bread. We recognize that drawing closer to God does not entail a denial of the body. Dancing, yoga, exercise, and sexuality can be profoundly prayerful.
There was recently quite an active discussion around one of our early posts about what it means to be emergent, and I agree with our Lurker that the term is becoming less and less useful as it gets tossed around more and more. I think we're going to need a new word to describe those of us on the radical fringe of Christianity.