Wednesday, February 24, 2010

VOICE

There are many joys to being in seminary, and most people would agree that chapel is one of them. For me the greatest joy is, definitely and particularly: singing in chapel and not being too loud.
I was warmly welcomed back on the first day of the semester, in Seminary Singers rehearsal, with a rocking gospel solo to sing. And a tambourine to play. All in a week's fun? Perhaps, but it was particularly dear to me.
Don't get me wrong - I loved the classical vocal training I received in Lostine. I loved learning new tricks and methods of control. But for the most part last year, excepting the several Stained Glass Bluegrass gigs, I was hushed to match the volume of my choirmates, so as to not stand out. This is one way of achieving a nice balanced choir sound. But the other method is to challenge everyone else to sing as loud as I do, and that's what the St Andrew Presbyterian choir director does. And Seminary wants me to be loud, to claim my voice. Tonight in Preaching class, J. Alfred Smith Sr led us in our affirmations, with fists raised high for emphasis:
I am a preacher!
I AM a preacher!
I did not come to seminary to become a preacher!
God made me a preacher!
I came to seminary to become a better preacher!
(etc)
And in chapel last week, 3 or 4 of us wailed out on the high descant of Holy Holy Holy... I felt it work every muscle in me, down to my very toes. You can do this when everyone in the large crowd around you is giving their all, down to their toes, alongside you.
Last week (I wrote this blog on paper when this was "today," but promptly lost it. Last Wednesday), ashen-faced and reminded of my mortality (to the earth you return) I did not crawl or crumble (as certain Catholics are so fond of doing in dance class) but I stood up straight and belted out the closing hymn. "Jesus, keep me near the cross!" with all I had, and in the crowd of seminary strength, energetic flow, pastoral power, it was not too loud.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

dance!


Once upon a time I told an elderly church lady that I was going to take a liturgical dance class, and her jaw dropped as she sputtered "you mean... dancing ... IN CHURCH?" When she recovered, she thought it was a brilliant idea. She'd just never really considered it an option before.

I enrolled in Liturgical Dance with Carla DeSoles at the GTU and, despite the professor's tendency to speak in poetic fragments (interspersed with sudden motions and bits of silence) rather than in well-structured prose, I am loving it. I knew I would like it, but am surprised by the "fit" it is for me. I'm even considering taking my dance beyond the doors of the classroom someday.

Today, a rainy Berkeley afternoon, in bright Ugandan garb, I performed my original dance to the tune of Presbybop (Presbyterian jazz! yes, really!) telling the story of Jesus changing water into wine. The presbyboppers went all out on the story. It's obviously a party, and there's obviously alcohol involved. I danced accordingly. My audience giggled at a few points, as I danced the parts of Mary, Jesus, servants, chief steward in rapid succession. But no one giggled and I think I even heard a gasp of revelation as I danced the final line "Jesus showed his glory." Or maybe that was me.
The message? That this ancient story was Real Life, quite a party, joyful, abundant, unabashed. Yes, dancing in church. Yes, yes, yes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

giving up shoes for Lent

On Ash Wednesday at PRS chapel I got ashed and was told "from the earth you came, to the earth you shall return." It was a small change of words ("earth" and "dust" don't have that much difference in meaning) but hit me square on. I like it.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" may be a time-honored tradition, especially at funerals, but it is not Biblical. The closest is Genesis 3:19 "from dust you came and to the dust you shall return," and the "dust" word means any kind of dry soil.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer funeral service actually includes the word earth: "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;" but we often forget this.
By choosing to remember the words "ashes" and "dust" we focus on the ruin, the destruction, the undoing of our bodies.
By choosing instead to remember the word "earth" we focus on the cycle of life, the nourishment and beauty provided by God's creation, and the organic way that the earth swallows up and re-incorporates us after our death.

Yesterday morning I rose and stretched and went outside barefoot... I laughed out loud and told myself "I'm giving up shoes for Lent."
I then spent a thoroughly ridiculous day in bare feet, thrilling at the bitter touch of cold earth beneath my feet, mincing around stones, wondering what people's strange stares meant, and answering questions about the whereabouts of my shoes just about every five minutes throughout the day. Some people were genuinely concerned for my well-being, and others just incredulous.

So, no, I'm not giving up shoes for Lent. That is ridiculous.
But there was something real there. Something more than a funny joke, more than a way to disorient all my friends and neighbors and force us all into wondering.
It's something aesthetic, sensual, about enjoying the feel of the earth beneath me.
A piece of it is also about pace. You must slow down when you walk barefoot. No powering through like I see so often from the Serious Runners who share my lake trails, for whom the wilderness is a thing to pass through fast.
But the biggest piece, I think, is a yearning for connection. A yoga teacher told us to "plant our feet in the earth" but there was a floor, and beams under that, and a cellar and a foundation, and a BART train running underneath that, so my feet could not really plant. I want to plant them in the soft ground when I can. My ethics teacher says "as we work to heal the earth, the earth works to heal us." I can feel (or at least imagine) that healing happening, as my body connects to what is around me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Blogging Identity

Earlier on my Epic January Tour (which, all told, was awesome), I had what is now one of my favorite experiences of the whole Amtrak narrative. A fellow PC(USA) blogger approached me in the Chicago Amtrak station asking if I was indeed Madame Future Moderator. The wearing of a clerical collar in such a non-clerical setting was obviously what gave me away. That was its own kind of amazing - the world is indeed that small, especially the PC(USA), but after he and I had our brief conversation, I was left to the astounded query of the woman standing next to me in line -- you mean, he recognized you from your blog??
Left, that is, with the statement to mull over: I am a blogger.
That used to be more of a statement than it is today. I did not make the "early adopter" cutoff, back when Livejournal was populated almost exclusively by artsy angsty college kids, but I joined in 2002. My version of blogging fame back then was that my grandmother would print my public entries on the Prague Blog (a study abroad semester) and read them aloud with a group of friends in the retirement community. I still have a blog over at lj - from our time in Uganda - chronicling our service for Children Of Uganda. That blog hit a wider audience, up to 50 hits a day (back in the day before Google Reader, you see, people had to actually visit the website, whereupon you could count them). This blog was discovered by our cousin's girlfriend, off in Peace Corps, who passed it on to said cousin as recommended reading - not knowing we were family.
These days I get fb friend requests from blog readers, and I actually kind of freak out about that. Facebook used to be a small world, like the livejournal community of yore, but suddenly it's almost indistinguishable from the Real World -- the walls are disappearing.
Recently I was at a dance where a conspicuously awkward man went around archiving the evening on a handheld video camera. If that video makes it to YouTube you'll see me making horrible faces at the camera, because I felt so uncomfortable with that idea. The next day I ferociously organized all my facebook friend lists, privacy settings, search settings, application settings. I may not have ended up any more anonymous than I started, but at least I felt in control.
For the most part, however, I am not troubled by the expanding walls on the world of blogging. This is a little world where I'm actually rather confident -- the playground of words, sentences, verbal blocks of meaning.
Wordle: Presbybug