STOLPERSTEINE / STUMBLING BLOCKS

In many ways Berlin is a combination of two of my favorite places—Austin and Manhattan—stirred into one big sloppy stew: endless possibilities, wonderful cultural offerings, plenty of weird things, great restaurants, lots of young, creative people working hard, enjoying life, being hopeful.

But, more than any other city I know, Berlin also is a place that has been regenerated and rebuilt within the shadows and ashes of World War II. Continue reading…

Distinct Appearances and Different Angles

Writing a summer blog post in July in Wellington New Zealand presents an additional challenge because it is the middle of winter. Living in the middle of middle earth that means day time temperatures between 50° and 60°, a lot of rain and in Wellington a lot of wind. According to Maps of the World this is windiest city in the world.   As the rain blows horizontally past the window I believe that, and my memories of Austin’s heat wave of 2011(90 days in excess of 100°) become positively nostalgic.

As I prepared for Trinity Sunday this year  I was reading Kathryn Tanner,  The three therefore co-inhere, they are in one another, in virtue of this same essence or substance reappearing in them in different modes of existence…  They are like three distinct appearances of the same thing from different angles, … (JESUS, HUMANITY AND THE TRINITY, A Brief Systematic Theology, Kathryn Tanner)

Studying at Seminary of the Southwest opened my eyes to the value of not being the same. SSW expanded my perception of us – the body of Christ.  Down here we worry about all the same things you worry about.  As I try and navigate through all the contentious issues that confront the church here, I draw on that expanded understanding of us that y’all taught me. We are not the same but our unity is not  dependant on our uniformity, rather it is enriched by our difference. I don’t think I would know that as well if it wasn’t for the time spent with my mates at Southwest. “We who are many are one body…”

As a Eucharistic community doesn’t the idea of being in one another, in virtue of this same essence or substance reappearing in them in different modes of existence apply to us’all? (there has to be us’all if there is y’all) Being us is an unavoidable destination if you start listening to the words of the  fraction (in my prayer book) “We who are many are one body…”,  or Paul in Romans 12, or John 17: 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me (see! co-inherence).

At a family, parish, diocese, province, church, neighborhood, city, state, nation, whatever aggregation of humanity we identify ourselves in, aren’t we distinct appearances of the same thing from different angles?

Have a great summer!

tn_IMG_2645Stephen King received a Master of Arts in Religion from Seminary of the Southwest in 2012.  Now living in New Zealand, Stephen currently serves as the Archdeacon for Mission for the Diocese of Wellington and as the Vicar of St. Barnabas Anglican Church.

A Blues Brothers mystagogy

A Blues Brothers mystagogy was originally posted on The Living Church's Covenant blog on May 19, 2015.

My wife and I recently had a chance to entertain ourselves by watching The Blues Brothers, that 1980 classic, again.

Every other time I’ve watched this movie, the repeating theme wherein the “brothers” insist that they are on a “mission from God” came across to me simply as part of the joke of the movie or as a blasphemy (as it did to Aretha Franklin’s character in that famous scene), especially when I found myself in a rather pious mood.

This time I felt rather differently. Between the last time I watched this old comedy and this recent viewing, a lot of life, growing up, sorrow, and spiritual direction has intervened. I believe the brothers were indeed on a mission from God. And I believe it is “proved,” time and again throughout the movie by the constant intervention of grace.

Jake is released from prison to his “brother” (rather, fellow orphan) Elwood. Elwood has purchased a decommissioned police cruiser as the new “Blues Mobile.” The car will be a means for continued escape from the law (legalism?) throughout the film. Elwood will not allow his brother to lie to the nun who raised them. He must see her once freed from prison, as he promised. Brothers keep one another accountable. They discover that the orphanage they grew up in will be sold if a radical increase to property taxation is not met. But the nun will not accept stolen money, and she commands them to redeem themselves.

Upon departure they meet their old janitor (Cab Calloway). He makes it clear in no uncertain terms that ruling out the place of the Church in their lives simply will not work. Miraculously, they obey the summons. At an African-American church filled with gospel singing (James Brown), Jake finally “sees the light”: there is a legitimate way to help their orphanage. They must re-form their band and earn the money honestly (so to speak). Thus the real journey of the movie begins.

But was it not a simple parting of the clouds that led to Jake’s illumination through a stained glass window? Yes, of course. We who claim belief in a non-competitively transcendent God should expect no greater miracle in order to “see the light.”

Time and again the brothers are confronted with obstacles: the law, an angry abandoned bride, Nazis (yes, Nazis, of course), lack of money, Good Old Boys, etc. At every turn the brothers escape just in time. Often, they make their escape without knowing that they have escaped anything. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Do we give thanks enough for all those evils God saves us from, unbeknownst to us, everyday? Only one thing can explain this pattern. The brothers are indeed on a mission from God. God’s prevenient grace paves the way for them to save the orphanage.

But they are outlaws. They are “sinners.” They are liars. They curse. They manipulate. How could they be on a mission from God? How are any of us? My greatest hope is that the brothers were indeed on a mission from God. For I must somehow believe that despite my sin, my self-deception, my disobedience to God’s law, and my self-pity, I too, somehow, serve some purpose in God’s divine service.

(Spoiler alert, do not read the next paragraph in case you are the one person in the world who has not yet seen this movie.)

In the end, the brothers save their childhood home. They pay its price. “I will show him how much he must suffer for me.” In the final scene, the brothers, together with their whole band, bring joy and entertainment to their fellow prisoners singing a soulful rendition of the King’s (coincidence?) “Jail House Rock.” The movie does not end with the brothers and their band free and on good terms with the law. The movie ends with them, both of them, now, right back where Jake started: incarcerated. But they know that they fulfilled a mission from God. And that has made all the difference.

All of the above fails even to mention one major note of grace shot through the movie overall: that two grown up white orphans desire to be associated with the core expression of African-American angst, the blues. The continued racism of American culture is thus confronted with grace and humor in this classic. This also is, of course, no coincidence. It is rather grace upon grace.

Let us laugh and become real, and say with the Blues Brothers, “We are on a mission from God.”

Nathan Jennings is the J. Milton Richardson Associate Professor of  Liturgics and Anglican Studies.  Nathan attended University of Texas, Yale Divinity School, and The University of Virginia and has served at Seminary of the Southwest for 10 years.

The featured image was uploaded to Flickr by Pedro Rebelo. It is licensed under Creative Commons. 

Going Where Jesus Has Gone

In the accounts of the Resurrection, I have always resonated with these words from the angel at the empty tomb in the Gospel of Matthew: “He is gone ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him” (Matt. 28:7). These words arrest me because of the sense that Jesus is always going ahead, drawing us forward to the next part of God’s will for us.

Along the road to GalileeI have travelled the road from Jerusalem to Galilee. It is not an easy journey. You travel down from Jerusalem to the edge of the Dead Sea. Then you turn and travel along the Jordan River. It is a dry place, arid and dusty. The Jordan is not broad and deep.  It is narrow and muddy.  Surely there are good places to stop and rest, but to move from Jerusalem to Galilee takes a certain resolve.

To go to Galilee for the disciples would have meant going back to where their time with Jesus began. It was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John out of their boats to be fishers of men. Galilee is the place the disciples knew; Jerusalem was unfamiliar to them. And yet, when they arrive in Galilee after the resurrection, there Jesus instructs them to go out and make disciples of all nations. Although in familiar surroundings, back where their life as disciples began, they are sent out to do a new thing.

The work of following Jesus brought the disciples out from the familiarity of Galilee and back down to Jerusalem. The disciples gathered there for the festival of Shavuot, the feast celebrating the covenant made between God and Israel at Sinai. And at that moment, God offers a new aspect of that covenant – the promised coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. It is by the power of the Spirit that the disciples are able to come together, to be united as a body of believers. And in that divinely strengthened unity, the disciples are empowered to do what Jesus commanded them – to take the good news to Jerusalem, to Galilee and to the ends of the earth. The story of the disciples continues as it has since the beginning of their time with Jesus, moving between the familiar and the unfamiliar, called to trust in the power of God as they move forward.

Let this be our Pentecost story – knowing where our Galilees are but remaining faithful to the work of God in Christ to respond to the actions of the Spirit among us. Let us go, knowing that Jesus has gone there ahead of us.

Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski is the Duncalf-Villavaso Associate Professor of Church History at Seminary of the Southwest.  Passionate about sharing the story of Christianity with his students, he is also active in Jewish-Christian relations.

Marks of Love

Before Mom died in 2004, she and my dad lived in a beach house on the west end of Galveston Island. Afterward, Dad moved to Dallas, but the beach house stayed in the family, and a number of our collective belongings remain there—including Mom’s books.

Among them are many volumes I know she read: Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, Kathleen Norris’s Cloister Walk, and Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, to name a few. Others, I know she never cracked; they’re too pristine, lacking the warps and creases of beach-combed books.

Still others I know she only partly read. I know this because of the bookmarks she left in them.

Some of these bookmarks are of the Hallmark variety, with colored tassels and wacky sayings such as “Reading is Forever!” Others come from her travels with Dad (the Moby Dickens Bookshop in Taos) or her devotional life (“Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!”). Still others are faded dry-cleaning receipts or rumpled grocery lists.

No matter how mundane, though, each placeholder marks for me a sacred spot of time. It marks with great precision where Mom was—as both a reader and a human—and then wasn’t. It records absolutely where Mom’s hands, eyes, and breath last fell, at least within the world of a given book.

What the bookmark can’t tell me, though, is why Mom stopped reading precisely here. Did she abandon the book out of boredom? Was it interrupted by yet another round of chemo? Did it confuse her increasingly muddled mind? Did it terrify her, as the end drew near? (She only reached page 41 of Death Comes for the Archbishop.) Each bookmark is as mysterious as it is certain.

When I’m in the beach house alone, I often peruse these books, especially the marked pages. I might read them through Mom’s eyes, wondering what she thought about a given turn of phrase. I might inhale the pages’ scent, holding it in memory of her. Or I might read the pages tolle-lege style, hoping for a flash of insight or a word of wisdom or guidance.

Sometimes I decide to read one of these books all the way through. When this happens, I have to work around Mom’s bookmark with one of my own. It’s an odd sensation when I reach the page where she stopped—and an even odder one when I move past it. I feel a prick of grief, a twinge of sadness that I’ve left her behind. But I also feel that in reading forward, in completing a book she didn’t, I’m finishing some important work, performing some gesture of love, extending, in some small way, her life.

We think the dead leave us behind, but in fact we leave them. We leave their bookmarked moment of death—such a certainty, such a mystery—and live forward into more pages, read forward into more days. If love marks the page they left, though, we revisit it with thanksgiving. And as we read forward, we act as their eyes and hands and breath. We extend their story.

In this sense, every bookmark visit is an act of Eucharist, and every reading forward is an act of Easter.

Dr. Claire Colombo is the director of the Center for Writing and Creative Expression at the seminary and has served on the seminary’s adjunct faculty since 2012. As a freelance writer, she develops religion and language arts curricula for Loyola Press of Chicago. She is a regular contributor to their “Finding God” magazine and newsletters.

Out of the Waters of Baptism

We had just arrived back at my son and daughter-in-law’s house after the baptism of their first child at five months of age. On my mobile, I noticed messages from two of my cousins. Their mother, my mother’s only sister, my last surviving aunt of her generation, had died unexpectedly and peacefully the day before at the age of 97 years.

An hour earlier, in the waters of baptism, my grandson had died to the old life of humanity and been raised to new life in the Holy Spirit. Ninety-seven years earlier, my aunt had experienced that same death and resurrection, and a day earlier, she shed the last of her mortality and finished putting on the new life given her in the waters of baptism.

For her, the new life in Christ with which she had been clothed bore fruit in a life of service as teacher to generations of students, wife to two husbands, mother of six children. Her dying was a moment of “well done, good and faithful servant.”

My grandson’s life in Christ has only begun. We do not yet know the path on which he will be led or what fruit his life might bear.

Yet, in Christ, their lives are the same already. Because they belong to Christ, they already have everything necessary. In the waters of baptism, we die to self. We give up seeking life defined on our terms and in our image. We turn to new life defined by the love of God which embraces us.

From the experience of dying and being raised, from the experience of hearing the voice, “You are my beloved child, with you I am well pleased,” from the experience of having the Spirit descend and rest upon us, our new life begins to unfold according to the direction of that same Spirit. We will never comprehend the complexities of the tapestry of creation and humanity which God is weaving.

By faith, we take our place in the weaving of God’s life, each adding our unique brightness and darkness and color to the whole.

We give thanks for the brightness and darkness and color my aunt added to that life. We wait in hopeful expectation of what my grandson will add.

Parker Jameson is the long time associate rector of St. Luke’s on the Lake, Austin, Texas, and adjunct faculty at Seminary of the Southwest.

A Great Thanksgiving

After years of drought, this year’s winter and spring rains have brought almost unbearable beauty to Austin. I had gotten used to a minimal landscape, the trees calligraphic in their bare-branched simplicity – and then all of a sudden the world was shaggy and colorful and fragrant with blossoms on every branch. When I run in the neighborhood around the seminary, I find my head swiveling to take in a sweet smell or a brilliantly colored sidewalk garden.

In the midst of all this blooming, three of us realized that we had significant ordination anniversaries: Cynthia Kittredge 30 years, Kathleen Russell 25 years, and my 20, all adding up to a stunning 75 years of ordained life. We celebrated the occasion at noon Eucharist in Christ chapel on April 17, by remembering also the courageous women who went before us and made the path that we walk on. You can hear Kathleen’s beautiful sermon here. What follows is the Eucharistic prayer I wrote for the day, inspired both by the physical beauty that surrounds us here and by the beauty of the work that involves us day in and day out at Seminary of the Southwest: forming students to live and lead as Christ in all the contexts to which they are called.

The Lord is here.
God’s Spirit is with us.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give you thanks most gracious God,
for in the very particular creation of this place you have surrounded us with signs of your generous love:

the motte, with its ancient oaks whose roots and stories go so much deeper than our own;

this hilltop, that challenges us to see the city of Austin with your eyes;

this chapel, always drawing us outward toward the cross.

We thank you for the people you have called to be here before us: for John Hines and all who were here in the beginning of this place, for students, staff, trustees, and faculty who have hallowed the seminary with their work. For Nelle Bellamy and the first women students. May we have the grace to fit our feet into the paths of forthrightness, courage, and service that they have left here for us to follow.

We thank you for bringing us together to share a common life, for habits of confession and forgiveness that bind us more surely to one another and to you.

And especially today, we give you thanks for the ministry of women in your church, for the women who called each of us into ministry, women who were models of faithfulness, strength, intelligence, humor, wisdom, and tenacity for us. Together we name our holy ones:

[Here the congregation adds the names of women who have been significant to them as models of discipleship and women who called them into ministry.]

And so we join our voices with those of the saints and angels, as we praise you:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

We give thanks to you, O God, for your Word, calling women and men into holiness:

for the women who walked from Galilee to Jerusalem with their beloved teacher, who left families, husbands, and children to listen to Jesus’ teaching, to anoint him with fragrant oil, to stand stalwart at the cross, to witness the empty tomb, to proclaim their Savior’s resurrection.

Together with them,

We remember Christ’s death,
We proclaim his resurrection,
We await his coming in glory.

And we remember: at supper with his friends on the night when Jesus was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Accept, O gracious God, our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

✜ Send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts, that they may be for us the Body and Blood of your Son.

And grant that we who eat this bread and drink this cup may be filled with your life and goodness, ✜sanctified by your Holy Spirit to bear your life into the world.

All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ. By him and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Let us pray as Jesus taught us:

Our Father in heaven…

Fraction

Invitation:

The gifts of God for the people of God.

May we who share these gifts be found in Christ and Christ in us.

Jane Patterson is the Assistant Professor of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest.  In addition to teaching Bible courses at the seminary, Jane serves as co-director of The Workshop, a ministry that guides laity in using the Bible to discern how to live faithfully.

We Are An Easter People

The opening line of T.S. Eliot's masterful poem, "The Waste Land," reads: "April is the cruelest month…" For me and for my Easter Season reflections, Eliot so describes the fourth month as such because throughout nature, things are dying to be born. The knuckled bud on the branch is dying to bloom and then blossom. The bulbs planted in the Fall are striving to break the earth's crust in order to be birthed.

Nature reflects human nature. Sit for a cycle of seasons in your own back yard and watch the story of the human journey played out on a tree. The green turns gold, then brown and falls. The gray neutral hue of Winter anticipates the re-birth of color as the next season springs forth.

We are an Easter People. We know that the heart beat and breath drawn of the Body of Christ is, life-death-new life; beginnings-ends-new beginnings; creation-destruction-recreation. That is the beat of the Christian drum: Christmas-Good Friday-Easter.

The Easter Season reminds us of the archetype of re-birth. There are no deaths that the Divine Love cannot overcome. The bad news is never the last news. That is the Good News. Resurrection is not resuscitation. We are not brought back to life, but called to a new life.

Hope is the rope we hold on to, as we are called forward. Hope is not wishful thinking, but a conviction based on experience. The experience of the Easter People is that we can begin again at any time. Further, our sacred story reminds us that there are no God forsaken places and no God forsaken people. If Judas would have waited three days perhaps the Basilica in Rome would be St Judas' rather than St. Peter's. Betrayal was no worse than denial.

Easter Season reminds us that we not need be desperate, if we wait with hope, we know as Dame Julian of Norwich reminds us,"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

The Very Rev. J.Pittman McGehee, D.D. is the former Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Houston and currently a Diplomate Jungian Analyst in private practice in Austin. He is also adjunct faculty at the Wessendorf Center at the Seminary of the Southwest. He is the author of five books and frequent lecturer in the field of psychology and spirituality.

In Quietness and Joy: A Reflection on my Children’s Baptism

The evening of Holy Saturday my wife and I walked in procession with our children toward Christ Chapel. The Sanctuary was hazy with incense and dark like the Holy Saturday Tomb, like the face of the deep at the beginning of the world.

We waited there with Noah, with Abraham and Isaac, with Moses and Miriam, and with Isaiah and Ezekiel. We chanted the psalms together at the tomb of the Messiah and the tomb of the world. We asked for deliverance and reminded God of all those promises, knowing God’s faithfulness, but trying to forget for a little while so as to remember again.

Then, right in the middle of the chapel, in the middle of the people of God, we brought our children to the baptismal font, the headwaters of the cosmos, and Cynthia immersed them in the paschal mystery.

And they rose in forgiveness, in hope, in Christ.

The last few weeks they’ve been baptizing each other in the bathtub. Silas (age 3) dunks his green plastic 

tugboat into the bathwater and holds it up to Caison (age 8) and Jaren’s (age 5) heads. While the water runs off the tiny boat deck he quietly and joyfully repeats the baptismal formula, “I now baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is how their baptism is working itself out in their lives right now. They only have a small sense that their whole life is there in that imitation: the water, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the priestly vocation of all the baptized.

I have no idea how God will work their baptism out in the details of each of their lives. Watching them reminds me I don’t know exactly how God is working it out in my own life either, but quiet and joyful imitation of Christ is a great place to start.

Arlen Farley is a first year student in the Master of Arts in Religion program.  He and his wife, Andrea, have three children (Caison, Jaren, and Silas) and most recently served as church planters in Northern California.

Finding Voices of Hope

Reflection from a member of The Episcopal Church delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW)

On Easter morning we find Mary crying in the garden outside the empty tomb. She is so confused by the resurrection that at first she doesn't recognize Jesus at all when he asks her why she is weeping. It has always struck me as interesting that Jesus doesn't tell her not to be afraid, nor does he tell her to dry her tears. He asks her, "Why? Why are you weeping?" In asking that question he lets Mary find her own voice to explain her distress. Jesus knows it will be vitally important to the future of this fractured community that they find their voices–because they are the ones he is counting on to tell a cohesive story of hope to the world.

Attending UNCSW was a completely new experience for me and for many in our delegation. As a priest in the Church, I am used to raising my voice within the walls of my church, and even in my neighborhood. But speaking up as a person of faith at an international conference was completely new for me. To say it was a disorienting experience is an understatement. But for every moment of confusion, there is a point at which everything falls into place. Mary found her voice post-resurrection and became the first witness to the resurrection. Jesus continues to compel the Church to find our voice post-resurrection as well. The Church indeed has a voice to raise for the empowerment of women and girls at the United Nations and beyond. The Church has always been sent since that first Easter morning to testify to hope and to give a voice to women and men who carry the Good News we all need to hear.

My experience at UNCSW confirmed that the Church not only has a place in public discourse, but it also can provide a clarifying voice, as well. Advocacy for the empowerment of women and girls–half of the world's population–is necessary. The message of post-resurrection hope we proclaim includes access for women to health care and education; gender equality in representation in roles of power and decision making; and an end to violence against women in all its forms.

The mission of the Church is not only to raise its voice but to also amplify the voices of our sisters and brothers in distress As one of my fellow delegates, originally from South Sudan, put it: "I want to hold a microphone out for my sisters back home so that the world will know the suffering they are going through." Jesus is not just counting on us to be his messengers to those in need of good news, but also to carry the voices of those who will otherwise not be heard to the places of public policy making and public discourse.

You can be proud, my brothers and sisters, that the Episcopal Church and many other ecumenical partners have a voice at the United Nations. But as any missionary knows, I would be remiss if I did not also carry back a challenge to you to contemplate in your own context. How will you raise your voice and the voices of those who are marginalized in the public sphere? What message of hope is Jesus sending your congregation to deliver for the good of women and girls in your neighborhood?

The Very Rev. Stacy Walker-Frontjes is a 2006 Master of Divinity graduate of the Seminary of the Southwest.  She serves as the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in DeKalb, Illinois and as the Dean of the Rockford Deanery in the Diocese of Chicago.  In March, she served as a member of the first delegation from The Episcopal Church to the UNCSW.  Rev. Walker-Frontjes blogs about finding God in the everyday at http://cryoftheindigobunting.blogspot.com.