Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A quickie: Looking ahead -- a "Christmas devotional" guide?

Something that first started to vex me last year, and seems to be returning this year: do any of you six or seven readers out there know of anyone or any organization or church (considering that churches aren't always that organized ;-) ) that puts out a "Christmas devotional guide" in the manner of the Advent devotional guides that many such groups produce and/or use?  By this I mean something targeted to the twelve-day orbit that begins on Christmas Day and continues up to Epiphany (yes, the "twelve days of Christmas").

Follow-up: were one to design or plan such a guide, what scriptures would one recommend for inclusion in such a guide?  The Nativity narratives from Luke and Matthew would be obvious choices, and John 1:14 seems needful; are there other texts you think should be included in such an orbit of devotional reading and contemplation around the Nativity event?  In what order should texts be arranged?

I don't know if this is something I am about to try and do or not.  On the one hand, my health issues may well interfere; on the other hand, presuming surgery is forthcoming, I may have a lot of time on my hands where getting around is unadvisable, so maybe it would be something useful to do once exams are past.  At any rate, beyond a naked plea for comments, I do think there is something to the idea of developing a long view of the Christmas season, particularly when one has spent much time and energy recovering or emphasizing a full Advent season.  So maybe it is something I want to develop.  And yes, I do really want your suggestions, by whatever means you care to make them.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wars and remembrances

In one of those seemingly fluky bits of flotsam and jetsam in the course of history, this decade provides a cornucopia of opportunity for Americans to commemorate a round-number anniversary of wartime engagements this country has experienced.  I doubt that there will necessarily be a huge effort devoted to the 250th anniversary of that pre-independence conflict that went down for many years in the history books as the French and Indian War, back in the 1760s (though if I'm wrong by all means let me know), but it was a noteworthy war if for no other reason than giving young George Washington some of his first military experiences and probably fraying the bonds between colonies and mother country a bit.
On the other hand, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is in full swing, and hard to miss if you live in certain parts of the country, like this part.  Of course, Richmond and Virginia are swimming in Civil War history, and also are possessed of a disturbing number of people who still seem to be fighting that war.  Still, it is hard to overstate the significance of the conflict, and it should be marked well.  I could wish that the commemoration were a little more cognizant of how the ideals behind that war were still floating around in modern political and civil discourse even today (perhaps Steven Spielberg can help with that).
While Virginia has occupied itself with marking the anniversary of the Civil War, its neighbor to the north has seized upon an earlier conflict.  All you have to see is a license plate from that state to know that it is capitalizing upon the War of 1812 and its bicentennial, due largely to the presence of Fort McHenry, the battle over which in that war gave birth to Francis Scott Key's poem that, more than a hundred years later, became our national anthem.  The War of 1812 is one of those buried conflicts in American history, its origins and causes hazy to most Americans and its most famous battle fought only after the war was over, technically (though news of the treaty signing had not necessarily made its way to the US yet).  In its own way it was a test of the still-fledgling country, not even fifty years old yet and not entirely accustomed to the international stage.  It wasn't exactly a conclusive war (aside from the US not being re-conquered by the British) and aside from the aforementioned post-treaty battle and Fort McHenry and the burning of the White House, not possessed of the most memorable events.
Later in the decade I'd guess we'll start hearing a lot about things that happened fifty years prior, during the Vietnam War.  The tenor will be different, I'd assume, with at least as much focus on things that happened on the homefront as on events in the war itself.  It will, of course, be well within the memory of some of those who observe it, unlike others.  The World War II generation is starting to pass from the scene; yes, the 75th anniversary of that conflict will come to pass in this decade as well, but for whatever reason I don't quite consider seventy-five to be such a round number as anniversaries go.  Even those that fought in the Korean War will be starting to pass from the scene as well.
And of course, the World War I generation is gone.
The past five or so years have seen the deaths of the final few veterans of that conflict.  Frank Buckles, the last US veteran of that war, died over a year and a half ago, and the last remaining veterans of Britain have passed in the interval since.  I assume there are some individuals still alive who lived through the war as civilians, probably as children, but none remain who saw the battles and the horrors that motivated such poets as Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon, or inspired such novels as All Quiet On the Western Front.  No one who experienced the remarkable Christmas truce, with soldiers of both sides remembering their humanity for a few hours.
I suspect the commemoration will be fairly muted in the United States.  We only entered the conflict officially in 1917, and most of that year was spent getting up to readiness and trying to raise combat forces enough to amount to anything.  And to be blunt, the US did not acquit itself so well on the homefront in that era.  It was not a good time to be a person of German origins in the US, to say the least, and it frankly did not matter what stature in society you might have held -- pastor, politician, orchestra conductor or performer or concert artist or dead composer -- you were likely to face repercussions.  The insistent flogging of "God Bless America" at public events in the days post-9/11 had its predecessor in the use of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (not yet officially the national anthem at this time) as something like a weapon at public events and in public discourse.  Once the US finally did get integrated into the war effort in Europe, only a little time passed (or so it seemed) until the armistice was declared.  US participation in the war did generate quite a bit of popular music -- "Over There," "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag," and the like -- but in many ways the effect was ephemeral, and both culturally and politically we seemed to learn all the wrong lessons from it.
You might guess that I've had more than a passing interest in World War I, and it is true; some of my old musicological research involved that war and its consequences in American musical life.  I learned enough to be very curious as to how the centenary of that war will be observed, to the degree that it is at all, in this country.  I learned enough that I might have to figure out how to make a trip to Europe during the period 2014-2018.  I learned enough to doubt that a country can go to war and not lose some part of its civilized-ness in doing so.  I have learned enough to know that I will never learn enough.

[Shameless plug: if you are in Kansas City, go to the National World War I Museum.  Just go.  You may thank me later.]

Ernst Kunwald in custody of US Marshals, 1917:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Trying to spin a web

I should be exegeting right now.  Exodus isn't going to exegete itself.  Or I should be writing a sermon for Tuesday's class.  But a quick moment to update some things seems in order, since it's been a while.

This past week was my first full week off of the radiation/chemo regime.  Oddly, in some ways it was a harder week than most of those past (I'll spare you the details), but I got through it.  An odd swelling in my general cheek/jaw area made the week a bit of a pain (and was painful enough to miss class Tuesday, the first time that's happened for anything other than doctor's appointments or procedures--but you better believe I got out of bed and voted), and my system inside seemed strangely to miss the regime.  Still I got through the week o.k.

I also took my turn as a student representative to Union's Board of Trustees.  I'm obviously not going to divulge deep dark secrets about the seminary (for one thing, they go into executive session to talk about those, meaning I wasn't present for that), but it was fairly illuminating both in procedure and substance. I was also reminded that all through my career in academia I never did attend such meetings; the last time I did was the last time I was in seminary, a much less pleasant experience with a much more bitter and hateful cast to it, rather like most election discourse these days.

This was nothing like that, thankfully, and was among other things useful at helping remedy one of my great deficiencies in this entry into Presbyworld.  I have some definite talents for this fool's errand.  I have some shortcomings, too, but none that can't either be overcome, worked around, or used as a means of learning.  But one shortcoming that was particularly troubling, and one I couldn't simply write off or make better on my own, was one that I also recall having to work at in my previous career.  I don't have a lot of contacts, or to put it another way, I just don't know that many people.

In many ways PC(USA) is a small enough denomination that, once you decide to pursue a pastoral vocation or at least enter seminary, having or making contacts becomes rather a big deal, pretty much like any other vocation on the planet.  In musicology I had to learn that in order to do such things, you had to "put yourself out there"; attend academic conferences, make presentations on your research at those conferences, get things published, and so on.  I did plenty of that as a graduate student, gradually increased my "network" of contacts in the field, and over time managed a relatively decent mini-career that actually got me to a school and position I could have happily continued for the rest of my life if this pestilent calling thing hadn't gotten in the way (that was a joke, people).

Entering seminary and a new vocational path, I wasn't all that clear on how to spin a new web of contacts on this new path.  Sure I have some connections from past churches; I used those quite extensively in choosing a school, and will continue to do so in the future, but I haven't been to that many churches in my past.  As far as I know there isn't quite the same opportunity for conference networking as I employed in the past, and some of the opportunities that do exist are difficult to do on student income or schedule.  So, finding creative ways to meet people has become one of the major secondary challenges of my current situation (behind, you know, going to school, trying to get some church experience, fighting cancer, all that stuff...), and this short-term experience with the Board of Trustees may well help with that.

So, yet another part of this long strange trip reveals itself.  I learned new things, I met good people, and I might have found some help along the way.  Not a bad thing.