Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Gospel according to Professor McGonigle

Apparently, to learn everything I need to know about Theology and the Church, I'm going to need a little more than an NIV bible and a borrowed copy of the BCP that accidentally became stolen property when my "visit" to Austin turned permanent. Whoops.

I came to this startling conclusion after my class on Early Christianity where Professor McGonigle mentioned about three thousand different texts that didn't make it into the Bible because…get this…"they didn't flow" That's right. We could be missing hugely integral parts of our spiritual heritage because the editors thought these things lacked pizzazz (p.s. how cool is it that I'm learning from a Professor McGonigle? I'm just like Harry Potter! Except…you know, not a magical, fictional pubescent British boy)

So I got a little amazon happy and bought a whole mess of books on the early Christian texts. Some were recommended, some merely interesting. Hardest to find? Ye Are The Body, an out of print 1950's text book that comes highly recommended from both P. McG. and my Rector who says it's used by seminary students for cram sessions.

  • The Q Document (a novel about the legendary Q --quelle-- document)
  • Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms
  • The Writings of Justin Martyr
  • The Didache
  • The Lost Books of the Bible (Gnostic writings)
  • The Close: A Young Woman's First Year of Seminary

Interesting reading and reference, no?

this post was brought to you by almost irreversible eye strain

"So um, you want to be a priest?"

Brown eyes. Blank stare. Thoughtful rub of stubbled chin. That's my friend Chris. He's been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and has the brooding classical beauty of a Michelangelo sculpture that'd been scolded roundly and sent to bed without dinner. In other words, he's every emotionally unavailable, brutally talented, too-tender-for-this-cruel-world guy I loved when I was 19 and stupid.

Since he likes my work, I asked him for me a letter of recommendation to the English Writing and Rhetoric department of a local private university. We met, by chance, in the mailroom this afternoon.

"So, um…what am I supposed to say in this letter?"

"I don't know, that you think I have potential as a writer or something" (note: I *wanted* to say "say exactly what you said at that party right before we started to do shots out of a ladle" except I wasn't entirely sure he'd remember calling me an "autodidactic genius" and it's not really the sort of thing that one wants to prompt.)

"I'm going to have to Google a form or something" he said.

"Well, if you don't want to that's okay, it's just that they won't let me into seminary without an undergraduate degree and …" I petered out

"Wait. Seminary? So you…want to be…a priest?" Confusion. Absolute bewilderment.

I wish I could have said "Yes. God has called me to a life of service in the ordained ministry and I figured I should damn well get to heedin'." But I didn't. Because Chris is an atheist (or at least a strongly dogmatic agnostic) and I didn't want him to lose respect for me or think me stupid I bunted.

"Yeah, well…I don't know if it will work out. There are a lot of committees and things…I really want to get inside the system and help people think. They're not doing themselves by believing what they're spoon-fed just because that's what the guy in the fancy collar says"

and yeah, I guess it's true. Generally speaking I think if you don't have to work and struggle for your faith, you're missing a whole big chunk of it, but even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I felt like I was denying a big part of Christ and his followers, and a lot of the faithful have earned a reputation for blindly following ridiculous biblical interpretations that they've pretty much earned themselves, but still. I felt wrong, and I felt ashamed.

This post was brought to you by Saint Peter's Rooster-brand Amnesia pills.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Michael. Finally.

Okay, before we get much further I probably ought to talk about Michael. There are a lot of things I'm not going to talk about, but I will try to tell you what you need to know.

Michael was my mentor from August 2002 to August 2005. We met through an act of Las Vegas God (Las Vegas God: a message from God so blatant that it practically has a giant flashing neon finger pointing to it) He was 49 and I had just turned 23. For three years he was my personal professor and I was his protégé. It was the most spiritually enlightening time of my life.

Oh, and I was madly, wildly in love with him (who's shocked? show of hands. noboy? nobody? moving on). Not just in love, but hero worship too, and that spells trouble y'all, big time. Of course I knew the heartbreak was in the mail from the very beginning. There was simply no way to avoid it and still learn all I needed to learn from him. So I held my breath and jumped in, knowing full well that when I surfaced, my lungs would burst and I would just about die.

Well, I tell you friends that I did die, but in the most wonderful way imaginable. I died to that last chain that was keeping me in a holding pattern instead of fulfilling my destiny. Of course it ended in a pretty foul way. The very afternoon of my personal road-to-Damascus experience (The Labyrinth Walk, coming soon to a post near you) Michael dropped a "oh, I met a girl 11 days ago. She's German and has amnesia, but I want to marry her" bomb right on my head. I lost feeling in my arms and legs for three days.

I won't talk about how I cried and cried for six weeks straight, or how I sat in the dark watching the entire first three seasons of The Gilmore Girls over and over again. I won't talk about how my friends, upon hearing the news got me good and drunk and I ended up at an all night diner eating bagels with two rockabilly boys from California who had adopted me and suggested we all go to Vegas. That's all regular break-up stuff, par for the landmine-laden course. I knew it had to happen sooner or later, the Strudel Incident was just a quick way to rip off the band-aid.

See, my God is a jealous God and I loved Michael way too damn much. I would have married him had he asked me. I would have given up the priesthood and everything had just said the word. It was obvious. If I was going to fulfill my destiny with God, Michael had to go (interesting note: his ex-wife who left him after 19 years of marriage is now in seminary.)

So that's Michael. He's behaved dishonorably since, which is disappointing; but I'm not going to talk about that. I still miss him but in the end I had to decide between mortal love and divine love. I'm pretty sure I made the right choice.

This post was brought to you by 26 boxes of Kleenex, 10 pounds and a two-month supply of Paxil.

Shanghai'd by Jesus

It's been a big few weeks. Ever since I came out to a priest about my call to ordained ministry it's all become terrifyingly Real. Real as in Real Work and Real Consequences, plus, there are the ghosts of Kristin and Jason. Kristin and Jason were two of my college room mates; they are both priests who had it "all figured out" by their senior year in college. Can you imagine having it all figured out at 22?

I don't know much about Kristin's journey, I left before she really got started; but I was there for the beginning of Jason's discernment. Jason was smooth. Like, Clinton smooth. He could have gone into politics just as easily as the priesthood and I'd be surprised if he didn't become a bishop someday. Hell, if we had a pope he'd probably be that. He was great, a wonder to watch. Jason wasn't just likeable, he was electable, and that's what worries me: Am I electable?

Okay, backstory: I like to call the time before I moved to Texas "The Crazy Days" It's easier than explaining the whole bizarre family/mystery illness/time of trial thing. I just say I was nutso, C'est tout. Of course, I wasn't crazy; I was different. While my friends were taking the path most traveled by --a very good and difficult path, to be sure--I was blind folded, thrown into a sack and dropped into the middle of the woods left with nothing but the voice of God (was it God? Am I sure? How do I know? What if I'm wrong? p.s. how Abraham/Kierkegaard is that?) saying "C'mon, it'll put hair on your chest"

So I've spent the past few years getting a metaphysically hairy chest and now that I'm ready to start putting my chest to work (there's really no good way to say that, is there?) I'm terrified those Crazy Years are going to come back and haunt me. Like somehow I won't be able to make people understand that I wasn't nuts then and I'm certainly not nuts now. Sort of like John the Baptist, but without all the locusts and silver platters.


This post was brought to you by fear, trembling, and two bottles of Nair.

The pitch is back

I used to have a great voice. Not the greatest in the world. No one was going to confuse me with Beverly Sills or Maria Callas or anything, but great none the less. People assured me I could go professional with some small opera company or another and make a living with my voice.

I just never wanted to, never had the passion. I would sing because I enjoyed the sound of my own voice. Not in the professional chorales, I never did get a taste for that; the pro thing was too proud, too much ego and competition and it turned me off. Taking pride in my voice seemed silly. It would have been like taking personal credit for Emmylou Harris' voice just because I bought a copy of her CD. My voice was something I owned, not something I earned, and y'all, when it came to developing friendships with the other singers, it was more heartache than it was worth.

But in Canterbury, my campus ministry, things were different. There was no competition. We sang simple songs, not arias, and we would make up the harmonies as we went along; not to prove our cleverness but because they sounded beautiful. I loved hearing my voice, a snow queen soprano cutting through the handsome baritone of the rest of the group. I would have loved it if it had belonged to someone else. It really made no difference to me.

Then, overnight, I stopped singing, just completely clammed up. Things had gotten bad in Canterbury and the ugliness of competition and pride had seeped in without anyone noticing. Paradise was lost, the joy, the sense of community were gone and I couldn't bring myself to sing any more than I could bring myself to wear horizontal stripes or drown a kitten, and for--gosh, almost seven years -- I hadn't uttered a peep. Until now.

For the past several months I've been attending a 5:00 p.m. Celtic service at Saint David's and recently I've begun to sing. The songs are simple, more traditional than at Canterbury, but beautiful and with a Gaelic bent that suits my voice (I never did like all that vibrato and coloratura and things, seemed like gilding the hell out of the lily to me). For once I'm enjoying singing. Not because I know I'm good; seven years of not singing has put quite a limit on my range and I'm no longer completely confident in my tone or pitch; but because I feel a sense of community, of purity and honesty and I don't feel that I'll be judged by my voice, for better or worse. It's just a simple, honest communal joy at being part of the Body and Blood, and if that isn't worth singing about, I don't know what is...and there's not a gilded lily in sight.

This post was brought to you by a steaming cup of hot water with lemon in it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

College now

So obviously the beta tester version of college was a little buggy. Now I'm going to go back and by gum I will make it stick, even if it is almost ten years later (sidebar freak-out: Ten years! how is that even possible? People who have been out of college for 10 years are grown-ups! They have spouses and kids named Tyler and Madison and Hannah. They listen to Norah Jones and drink $6 cups of coffee in which no actual coffee is involved. They are not on hugging-basis with all the big scary bouncer guys on Red River; their dogs are not known by every body-piercer and tattoo artist on Sixth Street.)

I'm in the process of enrolling in Saint Edward's University, particularly their New College program for non-traditional students, and this time I'm going to do everything that I didn't do the first go 'round: take classes I want, have a major I like and take my own sweet time. Back at James Madison I unquestioningly took classes I was told to take, had a major that interested me in theory but not in practice and, my first semester, had something like 21 credits. I wasn't really actively involved in my education. Big mistake.

Now that I'm getting a second chance (I hope, I haven't actually been accepted yet) I am going to take a page for Ol' Blue Eyes book and do it my way. Plus, at $550 per credit hour, I'm not going to waste my time or my money on classes that don't interest me. I'm going to take professors, not classes and do what I darn well feel.

My intended degree plan is a major in English Writing and Rhetoric (fun because I love writing, yet sensible because I work at a newspaper and already write for them in a limited capacity) with a minor in Religious Studies. Now all I need to do is get accepted, shake several thousand dollars out of that great big money tree that grows in the spare bedroom and commence to commencing. Piece of cake, right? Right?

This post was brought to you by a number two pencil and an apple for the teacher.

College then (the abbreviated version)

If you cast your memory back to that over-simplified To Do list, you'll see #3 was graduate college. That's right I never got around to graduating. Sure I got into college, a great college, all paid for and everything; but instead of gaining 15 pounds and losing my virginity to some no-neck guy in a North Face jacket-vest I decided to become really pretty spectacularly ill, and lose just about 4 years of my life. Brilliant, no?

Only thing was, I didn't actually realize I was sick until, oh, about two years into it. I just figured not being able to eat, throwing up several times a day, fainting a lot and not sleeping for nights on end was the way most people reacted to stress. Apparently not.

When my grandparents discovered I was sick, they decided that maybe I shouldn't be in college (where I hadn't been actually attending classes...whoopsie) but in, you know, a hospital. They moved me to Texas, I got well and that was about the end of my college career, until now.

This blog has been brought to you by a gown that just a liiiiittle too breezy in the back.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Confirmation part II: electric bugaloo

So to be confirmed you gotta take classes. I'm down. I'm the first to admit that I lack liturgical book learnin'. That's the downside to not being a cradle Episcopalian. They've got years and years of vacation bible school and youth groups and stuff. I've got a hungry mind and eight years of pretty regular church. Oh, and I like gin, that's gotta count for something.

After Canterbury, I pretty much stuck to myself; I never really got involved in the pastoral side of church. I lean towards lone wolfdom anyway; not because I'm antisocial or shy, I'm just perfectly happy hanging out inside my own brain and with a single exception; all of my great spiritual revelations have come to me while I was on my own, so I think I'm on the right track. (I'd like to give a Strunk and White-style shout-out to the semicolon, the most maligned of punctuation, for helping me with that wickedly long sentence)

That being said, I'm glad I'm in a class, especially because I'm in the situation of I don't know what I don't know, and the only thing I DO know is that I don't know a damn thing. I can say damn, by the way because the dean emeritus of ETSS said it. If I wore socks he would have rocked them right off and I surely learned more from him in an hour and a half of round-table discussion than I learned from anyone in college ever.

After class I was in such a prayerful and scriptural mood I headed straight home (well, actually I stopped to get a tuna sub first, but I think that sort of counts, loaves and fishes and all) read half of Galatians and went "aaaah ha!"

This blog has been brought to you by the ministry of misunderstood punctuation.

Confirmation part I

I was raised atheist. I'm not saying that's how I'd raise my kids, but I think it worked out well for me. Sure I'm behind on my beatitudes and I missed all the fun lock-ins and things, but I started searching for God when I wasn't even remotely sure he was there to be found and I think that makes the taste of finding him everywhere even sweeter. I was baptized in the small upstairs chapel of Canterbury Episcopal Campus Ministry in Harrisonburg, Virginia across the street from the campus of James Madison University, where at that point I was a struggling freshman. I didn't stay at JMU long enough to be confirmed at Emmanuel, the grown-up Episcopal church in town, and in reality, I wasn't ready when I was there. I was still on the wobbly fawn legs of faith.

When I suddenly found myself in Texas I felt uprooted and lost. The sickness that had so stealthily taken control of my mind and body weakened my faith. Focusing on nothing but survival (and sometimes not even that) I pushed God out of my mind, except for reading the compline service to myself every night. Compline (rhymes with "gin") is a late evening prayer, which doesn't require a priest, and is still my favorite service from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). I'll write more about compline later.

Once I was well and living on my own again I church-shopped in Austin and although I attended services pretty regularly; first at All Saints and then at Good Shepherd I never really felt like I had a church home, never felt like I had a communion with the other members. It was like Goldilocks, except with Anglicans instead of bears. All Saints was too small; when I tried to join, I got a pretty strong message that I was not welcome as part of their college-age groups. Good Shepherd was too big. I got lost in the shuffle and never found my niche. All Saint's and Good Shepherd are both wonderful organizations, but they weren't the churches for me. Saint David's is. From the moment I set foot on the Labyrinth, I knew Saint David's was the place for me, and so, this is where I want to be confirmed.

This blog has been brought to you by the Grace of God and a questionable childhood.

To Do

So the waaay oversimplified to-do list goes like this:

  • Get Confirmed
  • Become beloved, loyal and faithful member of church
  • Graduate college
  • Convince committee on Holy Orders and Bishop that I would be a good priest
  • Go to seminary
  • Graduate seminary
  • Become junior woodchuck priest
  • Get assigned to a church (I think)
  • Fulfill mission from God.

Right now though, I'm just trying to focus on the first three things. Confirmation, Integration and Graduation (check me out, yo, I rhyme) which I would do even if someone sat me down and said "Rhiannon, you're just never ever going to be a priest and there's not a damn thing you can do about it, so you might as well give it on up right now."

I would still gladly go through the work and inner turmoil (and it's plenty of both, y'all. This whole religion thing isn't just wine and crackers) I mean, I would cry and cry and drive out into the desert and spend 9 days walking aimlessly though a small New Mexico town just trying to figure out what it all means, but I'd still do it. I'd still go through everything, even if I never got the collar.

Right now though, it's all about the groundwork. I'm in a confirmation class, and I'll write about that a bit later, and I'm in the process of going back to school, which will also get at least one entry if not a million and getting involve in the church, well, that I think is the most exciting and subtle of all.

This blog has been brought to you in 9 not-so-simple steps

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Seminary: not just grad school (who knew?)

So there are 11 Episcopal seminaries in the US; I'd heard of about half. I figured I'd probably attend the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest (ETSS) which is here in Austin and about a mile from my apartment, but that was before I found out a little more about the discernment process.

The discernment process is the process of discerning (duh) whether you are right for ordained ministry and if ordained ministry is right for you. There are committees. I don't know how many committees, but it was made very clear that there are many. My first one, I think, is the Committee of Holy Orders. These are the folks in my church who decide if I'm suitable to continue the process. After that I meet with the bishop and then the committee folks individually (I think) and El Bish again and if I get the go ahead (this is all after I've earned my bachelors, of course) then it's Seminary Road for me.

I had thought that going to Seminary was like going to a special God Grad school, but as usual I was wrong as white pantyhose (y'all know the only people who can get away with white hose are actual, no foolin', blood-drawin' nurses, and only then because they're sort of scary and have access to needles and things). Apparently, once you get the big okay from the bishop and the Holy Orders folks, you get a letter from El Bish telling you where to go, and you pretty well jump to it.

I'll go, of course, because wherever I'm sent is where I'm supposed to be but I sort of hope that wherever I'm supposed to be is within a 5 mile radius of where I currently live. Not because I'm all that attached to Austin (which I am) or that I'm loathe to abandon my grandparents who raised me, just when they need me most (which I am) but because I'm almost completely sure that there are no good breakfast tacos to be found around Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

Yale, can you imagine? That's in Connecticut! Connecticut!!! That's not even IN Texas. Also, the grandfather who raised me? Harvard man. Big ole Harvard man. Can just imagine the horror if I got sent to not only a Yankee school, but a Yankee school that wasn't Harvard? Scandal!

Also, I can't leave my dog, so Lord, if it be your will, please send me to a seminary where I can live with my dog and be near my grandparents and also get really good migas any time of the day or night (this last one is important).

This reminds me of my favorite petition prayer which goes a little something like this:.

"Accept and fulfill our petitions, we pray, not as we ask in our ignorance, nor as we deserve in our sinfulness, but as your know and love us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

This blog has been brought to you by someone who has no desire to be in King Aurthur's court.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What's going on

My name is Rhiannon. I'm 26 years old, I've lived in Austin, Texas for 6 years and believed in God for 10.

I want to be a priest.

I mean, I've wanted to be a lot of things; a rock journalist, a pastry chef, a fringe-covered 1960's gogo dancer but mostly I've wanted to be a priest. Well, not just wanted --called-- and that's where the discernment process comes in.

See, it's not actually good enough that I feel God calls me; the Church needs to call me as well to make sure I'm fit for a life of ordained ministry; that I'll be a good, dutiful, useful member of the clergy. This is all fine by me. I can't rent a video without a background check, and being a priest is at least twice as much responsibility as borrowing a copy of Spice World for five days (note: I love Spice World, love it. Not as much as Jesus and Chocolate, but a LOT. Also, for the record, Ginger Spice is my favorite, also, I've worn through two vhs copies, but don't tell anyone)

So I'm using this journal to document my joy, my frustration and probably my borderline addiction to chocolate truffles all along the way.

This blog has been brought to you by Jesus and the fine folks at VanLys chocolate company
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