Sunday, December 22, 2013

Disruptive child

Hey, I got published this week!

No, I don't mean this little measly blog that maybe twenty people ever read.

This past Wednesday an article (by me, yes) on creation and the new Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal was online-published in the PC(USA) journal Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice.  (I was also involved in a piece that appeared the next day in the same journal, but my role there was more provocateur than author.  True confession: the Facebook status that triggered the conversation was not posted after the service that morning.  I blame Adam Copeland.)

It was an enjoyable piece to write, giving me lots of excuse to spend time plunging into the new hymnal and spending lots of time reading hymns and having lovely internal debates about how this verse or that phrase related us to the creation of which we are a part.  It's a project I may want to revisit in the future, as the hymnal and its new content becomes more familiar.

After it appeared in e-print, some new thoughts started to seep into my mind.  One was that even in ministry/denominational involvement, so much still comes down to who you know.  In this case I was fortunate that the relatively new managing editor of the journal was a recent Union grad, who remembered me as having some brains and competence and increasingly taking more and more interest in creation and liturgy, as the previous four blog entries here might suggest.  More to the point, she remembered those things while she was looking for someone to write that article.  For good or for ill, making contacts and all that still matters.  One hopes church leadership makes a habit of casting as wide a net as possible, but at the same time it's on me to make as much contact as possible in order to have that kind of opportunity.

The next thought that slipped in when I wasn't looking was "gee, it's kind of fun to publish when perishing isn't the only alternative."

There are times I almost forget my academic past.  Not really "forget," but I become so involved and engaged with where I am now and what I am doing now and what I am preparing to do in the future that I don't necessarily spend much time thinking about that academic past.

On the other hand, there are times when that memory is yanked forward in my mind.  For example, this past fall I had the opportunity to teach a class, or part of one, on the subject of music in the church for the Preaching & Worship course here.  (I actually do have a master's in church music and had taught courses in it at one of my academic stops, not to mention all the other degree work and teaching experience in music, so it's not totally lame.)  The preparation was actually a bit nerve-wracking; it had been a couple of years since I had taught a class, and even longer -- more like six or seven years -- since teaching one on anything relating to church music, and frankly I felt a bit out of date at times.  Still, given only an hour I was freed from the need to get to specific and could offer up a pretty general, even philosophical take on the subject with some practical guidelines as the framework, and that helped me to come up with something useful.

What I didn't expect was how I felt afterwards.  It almost felt as if I were indulging an addiction again after having been sober, so to speak, for years.  (I can't really know what that feels like, thank God, but how I felt after teaching that little session seemed a lot like how that might feel.)  It was in my head again, and I liked it, and I wanted more.  It reminded me that I really, really found a lot of joy in the classroom (other stuff about academia, meh) and a lot of joy in research and in good colleagues and in seeing students become scholars (and maybe playing some role in that).  I didn't walk away from KU because I didn't like my life.  Never forget that part if you are a regular reader here (both of you).

Between that experience and the little article above, that whole academic past came creeping back into the forefront of my consciousness this fall, even as I remained conscious that it is the past.  There's no future in teaching that subject in Presbyland, and I have no desire to leave Presbyland or to give up this fool's errand.  If there were some way to do it in the PC(USA) context I'd certainly have to think about it.  It may not be a perfect metric on calling, but Frederick Buechner's line about calling at the intersection of your great joy and the world's great need has a lot to recommend it, and there is a crying, screaming need in the PC(USA) for pastors who are not completely lost and uneducated about music in the church.

But still, that is my past.  And it wasn't one I was looking to leave.  I was all set to stay in Lawrence as long as they'd have me, maybe even long enough to be able to afford tickets for men's basketball games at Allen Field House.

That I am here instead, on the cusp of seeking certification and filling out forms and starting the search for a call in earnest, is testament (here's the dramatic shift in subject) to why I often find Christmas annoying.

No, this isn't a rant about commercialization, though I wonder if that might play a role in it.  It isn't even a call for holding on to Advent through, you know, the whole season of Advent (neither of the churches my wife and I attend right now managed it, alas), though maybe that plays a role as well.

No, I am actually thinking about how we do Christmas in the church.  At this point in my life I can't help but react viscerally to the fact that it's too, … too predictable.  Too safe.  Too tame.  (My head is now filling up with Chronicles of Narnia references to Aslan being "not a tame lion.")

In those years when there's any kind of attempt at a live nativity in any service in which I'm involved, I find myself hoping a real live infant is being cast in the role of baby Jesus.  And if so, then I find myself rooting for the child to start squawling like, … well, like a baby -- a real baby -- at the most inopportune time possible.  It would at least make the service a little more appropriately disruptive.

This is a child who, merely by being born, utterly disrupts Herod's kingdom to the point where that vile king commits mass murder; who, at age twelve, blows off the fam and enrolls in the Temple and starts blowing the minds of the priests with his questions, before the parents can drag him back to Nazareth.  And that's before he's even an adult.  Then he utterly uproots at least twelve lives (at least I had a year-plus to prepare to come to seminary; none of this dropping nets or leaving tax tables and immediately following) and probably many, many more; completely hacks off the religious establishment of his day; upsets the ones with many possessions by telling them to give them all away and follow; hangs out with sinners -- even eats with them! (horrors!); and so on, and so on, and so on.

And I just don't see that Jesus anywhere at all in the typical Christmas Eve service.

It's all "Silent night" and "infant holy, infant lowly," and "little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes."

True enough, the lives of Mary and Joseph have been turned upside down by this point.  Mary enters the ranks of unwed pregnant girls, and Joseph has to have an angel talk him down from the ledge.  But you don't have to be "little Lord Jesus" to do that to a couple, even today.

Baby Jesus is, as most babies are when they're sleeping quietly, rather easy to love.  Say what you will about the twice-a-year church types who will turn out in force this Tuesday, but they're a pretty good metaphor for the life this child would end up leading in this world.  It's easy to be there for the baby, and easy to disappear when things start getting demanding.  (And then easy to show up when all the ugly stuff is over and everything is triumphant, I suppose.)

So in the end, I'm the one who roots for disruption, because I've certainly known it (and I haven't even gotten into the whole cancer business).  If baby Jesus starts bawling right in the middle of "Silent night," don't you dare be upset.  Just take it as a sign of the bumpy ride ahead if you have any designs on following this child seriously.

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