Advent in a time of lament

Advent is a time of waiting . . .

. . . waiting for the Christ to come.

Our world
a world broken by gun violence, mass shootings,
a world marred by racism on every level and deadly violence leveled against black bodies, brown bodies, where black lives seem not to matter much

a world bitterly divided between politics of the right and the left,

a world where hate crimes against those on the margins appear to be increasing
a world that continues to be marred by all of the ongoing suffering, starvation, war, poverty

The litany is too long, too heart-rending to go on.  If we take seriously even a small slice of the concerns of our world, it can be overwhelming.

And of course there is much good, much hope, much love, much goodwill in this same world.

And isn’t that how it has often been?  A world of remarkable achievements yet marred by the crushing reality of suffering.

What is the good news of Advent in such a world? Is it just a countdown to Christmas?

I hope not.

We need more from Advent.

Advent is the cultivation of our faith, as we await the coming of Christ.

Advent is allowing Christ to come not only in the Last Day, but today and every day.

Advent is being Christ to those around us, in a broken and suffering world.
Advent is seeing that Christ is already here.  Already in the suffering. Already in the brokenness, the violence, the division.
That Christ who binds and heals and advocates first and foremost is present.
Present in those who hunger.
Present in those who are systematically oppressed.
Present in those black bodies and brown bodies that our society seems hell-bent on destroying.
Present in those most affected by acts of hatred and the worst impulses of humankind.

Come, Lord Jesus? Indeed.  We long for Christ to manifest that ultimate power, that final authority, to restore and put all things to rights.
But first we must learn to see the Christ who is already among us, in the faces of those who suffer.

Advent is much more than a way to countdown the days to Christmas. Much more than a store-bought calendar, with a chocolate waiting for each day.
Advent is participating in Christ’s ongoing redemption of the world,
as we work towards that Last Day
when suffering and brokenness and hatred find their match in our Risen Savior.
Or it really isn’t much of anything at all.

Open the daily Advent Calendar windows, by all means, but remember the urgency of the work that Christ has given us.
Take that Advent Wreath each evening, as dusk falls, and light a candle in the darkness as a reminder that the light shines and cannot be overcome.
But do not neglect the work of Advent, the work of redemption, the work of justice.
Do not neglect seeing Christ in the face of someone different, someone other.
Do not neglect seeing the call to the work of Christ in your own daily life.
Christ is calling.  Christ is coming. Christ is here.

Advent is a time of waiting . . .

. . . waiting for the Christ to come.
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NAAL Epilogue – January 4, 2015

While in some years past, NAAL would end with a Sunday morning breakfast and the Berakah response, we wrapped up everything last night. Today, however, offered an optional excursion to St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville for mass and a tour. Liturgical Press makes its home here as well, which is significant for folks in the Academy. The library here is also a significant research site for liturgical studies.

After a 90 minute bus ride, we enjoyed the hospitality of the Benedictines, providing hot coffee to counter the subzero temperature. The liturgy today was The Epiphany, as per the Roman Catholic calendar. The worship space seats 1200 and was designed as a modernist structure in the late 1950s, prefiguring Vatican II reforms in significant ways — large baptismal font in its own environment, free-standing altar, no altar rail. The liturgy was well done and simply so. The preacher referred any interested in a detailed history of the Feast of the Epiphany to talk to any one of the dozens of liturgists in attendance from NAAL. Texts in the service employed light imagery in a space that had its own testimony to light.

After mass, we enjoyed brunch in the Dining Hall and wee offers tours of the library or the church art and architecture. Though the space is modern, it also contains some interesting historical elements such as a crucifix and a madonna and child sculpture that are each several hundred years old.

Back on the bus to the airport to wing our way home — Houston next year.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4741.jpgExterior Bell Banner


/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4720.jpgAbbey hallways

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4722.jpgThe Great Hall was originally the Church





/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4715.jpgThe Baptistry

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4744.jpgA gaunt John the Baptizer

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4717.jpgNave and Sanctuary

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4746.jpgAccordion structure provides support – no pillars

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4749.jpgExtraordinary stained glass wall, evoking the liturgical year




/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d78/11195622/files/2015/01/img_4754.jpgFun to find The Hymnal 1982 in the monks’ seats.

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NAAL Saturday – January 3, 2015

Saturday began with morning worship at Westminster Presbyterian Church, the large Presbyterian Church across the street from the conference hotel.

(Photo credit: J. Barrington Bates, Episcopalian)

Liturgical Theology seminar convened and considered a paper by Joris Geldhof on “Liturgical Theology in German Romanticism” which raised for the group interesting questions about the role both of Enlightenment and Romantic influences in the 20th century liturgical renewal movement.

Our second text for the day was to discuss Melanie Ross‘ book Evangelical versus Liturgical: Defying a Dichotomy.  Ross, unfortunately, was not able to attend the seminar as originally planned.   Her approach is to try to find ways to relate two different forms of Christian worship practice in the US (evangelical and liturgical) to one another, to translate the values and norms of each to the other.  Her text includes two in-depth case-studies and members of the seminar very much appreciated how well she conveyed the evangelical sensibility.  Relating the so-called liturgical side favorably is more challenging for this text, but the book raises important questions about the breadth of Christian practice.  Much of the discussion focused on identifying other fruitful ways to describe the American landscape of worship practice.

The morning plenary session provided the Rev. Dr. Hugh Page, Jr. of Notre Dame as a Keynote speaker.  Page also plays harmonica and provides lead vocals for the Oblates of Blues band, which played the previous evening.  Page provided a very strong address on “Biblical Lament, the Blues, and the Music of Prince,” especially appropriate as we were in Prince’s home town of Minneapolis.  Page provided an analysis of lament and then identified structural and systemic connections to the blues experience, especially within the African-American community in places such as Minneapolis.  Further, he identified Prince’s music as constituting a similar response to injustice and oppression as both Blues and lament.  He used some music selections to underscore his presentations, including “Detroit Moan” by Victoria Spivey and Koko Taylor’s “Bad Avenue.

A summary of some of Prince’s music that Page identified as useful for this discussion:prince-art-official-age-500x500
1999 – an inversion of the apocalyptic genre, party as haven from cataclysm
Free – Freedom as reality to be celebrated
I Would Die For You – love as divine hypostasis
When Doves Cry – abandonment, human and divine?
America – critique of consumerism
The Ladder – midrash on Genesis 28:12
The Love We Make – human responsibility for love and nurture

During lunch break, NAAL Archivist Ed Foley conducted a workshop for current graduate students and recently graduated students to assist with job searches, postdoctoral applications, and publishing.  This is a new initiative for the NAAL and a welcome addition to develop the field of scholars.

After lunch, seminars resumed and we concluded discussion of Ross’ book and turned to make plans for the 2016 in Houston.  The Academy business meeting was mostly uneventful — the aforementioned Ed Foley assured us that the Archives were secure, by way of his report, and we all rested easier.  At one point Secretary Troy Messenger inadvertently declared himself President of the Academy, much to the surprise of actual President Maxwell Johnson.  Joyce Ann Zimmerman was elected Vice-President and Gennifer Brooks was elected Delegate for Membership.  Twelve new members were admitted, without incident, as well during this meeting.  The costs of the conference last year in Orlando were higher than expected and it is increasingly difficult to keep conference costs low. Don LaSalle stepped up to begin his tenure as President at the conclusion of the meeting.

Table 23 was the place to be at the banquet at the close of day – with such luminaries as Laura Moore, Jill Burnett Comings, Barrie Bates, and Ruth Meyers. 


Ruth Langer was honored as the Berakah award winner and gave an excellent address on issues of hospitality within Academy worship from a Jewish perspective, highlighting the challenges of being able to find ways to worship together graciously.

The primary portion of the conference concluded with prayers following the meal and an offering taken for an interfaith agency that works to end homelessness  in downtown Minneapolis.



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NAAL Friday Part 2 – January 2, 2015

Returning from lunch we finished discussing Barbara Hedges-Goettl’s essay on Calvin and Up before turning to Mark Taylor’s paper recounting the experience of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle and their Sunday 5 pm service, an intentionally emergent service in an Anglo-Catholic context.  The two starting points for their service design was a seating plan that oriented the congregation in a circle around the altar, facing one another, and an intentionally dialogical sermon. They have also authored a Eucharistic Prayer that has been approved by their bishop for use at this service.

Our final paper for the day was by Matthew Pierce’s work on a theology of place, drawing on Gordon Lathrop‘s work in Holy Ground.  This led to a fruitful discussion of contrasting concepts of juxtaposition, interplay, and inter-animation.  Issues of “hereness” and “thereness” related to the assembly and the Eucharist led to discussion of hospitality and the role of host, guest, insiders, and outsiders.

The seminar concluded for a free evening.  A special performance by the Oblates of Blues band, which includes Academy president Maxwell Johnson, capped the evening.

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NAAL Friday Part 1 – January 2, 2015

The Academy began the day gathered for breakfast, introduced candidates for membership, and awarded the Godfrey Diekmann Award to the Rev. Dr. Virgilio Elizondo.  The Diekmann Award is given to non-Academy members who have had a significant impact on the field.

Seminars convened and each did a form of Morning Prayer within the seminar meeting.  Though there are numerous seminars within the academy, my usual location is the Liturgical Theology seminar, so that’s what you get to read about here.  It was a pleasure to run into the Rev. Matthew Olver, formerly in Dallas, visiting NAAL for the first time.

Following the Morning Prayer liturgy, we began with a discussion of Maxwell Johnson‘s book, Praying and Believing in Early Christian Doctrine: The Interplay between Christian Worship and DoctrineJohnson’s careful consideration of Prosper of Aquitaine’s famous dictum regarding belief and worship/prayer led to a framing of several theological loci and their liturgical implications.  Max, also currently President of the Academy, was a lively guest to the seminar and the group had a good discussion.  Of particular interest was identifying that in Prosper’s own context, the “law of prayer” was one of several arguments against semi-pelagianism, after Scripture and Doctrine, and not as high a view of liturgy as a definitive source for belief as many have construed it to be (such as Kavanagh).

In the morning session we also began to examine Barbara Hedges-Goettl essay on the use of “up” in Calvin’s writings, particularly as related to his Eucharistic theology.  My extraordinarily abbreviated take on her argument is that Calvin’s description of the believer being “lifted up” to Christ is his version of a process similar to theosis — though with attendant difficulties in Calvin’s material dealing with the flesh and the body.Calvin - up

Lunch break intervened – headed to a local pub for a bit.

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NAAL Opening Evening – January 1, 2015

Our Academy meeting began a few blocks from the conference hotel at the Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis.
56036852It’s massive.

IMG_4691Cool ceiling tiles

IMG_4690Nave and Sanctuary and a gargantuan Advent Wreath


It is, apparently, the largest Lutheran church in the Western Hemisphere . . . they do have a very significant ministry to the poor, the hungry, and the homeless in the downtown area, which is encouraging.  Interestingly, they have two different modes of worship — synoptic and Johannine.  They gather for eucharist (synoptic) in their regularly Sunday services, but they also have a service during the week that practices footwashing weekly (Johannine).  Interesting.

The opening liturgy was well put together and executed (which sometimes is not so much the case at these gatherings) with lots of music, including organ, piano, clarinet, cello, and vocal offerings.  Of course, we included our annual remembrance for Academy members who have died in the previous year, this year including David Power.

Vice-President of the Academy, Don LaSalle gave the Vice-Presidential address entitled “The Poiesis of Time” which identified several issues of how we experience and process time both in our culture and in the liturgy, including acceleration and the commodification of time.

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Anglican Colloquium Pre-Meeting – January 1, 2015

Our time was somewhat more limited than in some years – owing to having to begin on January 1st I suspect.  We gathered at noon-ish in the Minnehaha room.  Neither of our co-conveners could be present, but The Rev. Dr. Elise Feyerherm ably kept us unruly Anglicans on track.

We began with the short office from Daily Prayer for All Seasons for Sext (Noon), singing “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” along the way, which was enjoyable.  About 15 people were present, a lower number than usual.  Several members of this colloquium arrived after the pre-meeting concluded.

Our primary conversation was regarding proposals for General Convention 2015 from the outgoing chair of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers.

She discussed the work of the preceding triennium, including the publication of the aforementioned Daily Prayer for All Seasons and also the process of gathering responses to the “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship” (part of “I Will Bless you and You Will Be a Blessing“) through a survey and live consultations.

The SCLM will be offering revisions to this resource including a revision of the rite previously included to clarify how to include language of marriage.  They will also propose including an adaptation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer marriage rite using gender neutral terminology and an adaptation of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer marriage rite.  These changes are intended to address the concern that the initial rite was a form of “separate but equal” for those who desired a marriage rite.  They also are proposing that the Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship be directly authorized in all dioceses by General Convention and that the other materials be provisionally authorized, depending on the local Bishop Diocesan.

This text also includes supporting resources, pastoral, theological canonical, which have been revised.  The theological resource now includes six response essays from a variety of perspectives.  The canonical resource has been removed and replaced with a discussion of the history of the marriage canon as an appendix.

The SCLM also intends to recommend that the divorce canons apply to relationships established by these materials.  Additionally, the Task Force on Marriage, established by General Convention 2012, has put together responses and materials based on their own work, including some possible revisions to the marriage canon.

Other proposals include a further revision of the kalendar, which is a further step in response to Holy Women, Holy Men. The chair of the subcommitte, Derek Olsen, has written about this at some length, including here.  Primarily, the existing Weekday Eucharistic Lectionary will be published in a separate volume, along with the Various Occasions, and the kalendar commemorations will be published in a volume called A Great Cloud of Witnesses.  This volume will have resources for commemorations, including collects, biographies, and an expanded set of common propers to provide readings.  Additionally, the lesser feasts would be removed from the kalendar printed in The Book of Common Prayer, leaving only the so-called red letter days (Major Feasts, Feasts of Our Lord) on that kalendar.  This new approach would also delete 16 commemorations from Holy Women, Holy Men and begin a process of expanding the number of women commemorated.  Some 55 names have been generated, historical and more recent, as possible additions.

The SCLM will be proposing creating a resource for materials related to creation, including special rites for rogation days, animal blessings (approved in 2012), thematic Prayers of the People and Confession of Sin texts, and a Litany for the Planet.

An overhaul of the Book of Occasional Services will be requested and criteria for determining what rites to include have been proposed.  The task force on music in the Episcopal Church has been working on ways to simplify the introduction of new music into Episcopal Churches.  Additionally, they hope to provide some financial support for the Leadership Program for Musicians in Small Churches, which has been a very helpful program.  Addressing Christian Anti-Judaism is a continuing project and resources can be found for that here. The SCLM has also developed criteria for authorizing biblical translations in an attempt to clarify that process of approval.

Looking ahead, the SCLM hopes to develop a new volume of resources for Christian Initiation, including background material and draft rites.  Additionally, they hope to see new translations of the Book of Common Prayer in French, Creole, and Spanish, all of which need improvement.  A clarifying revision to the Constitution is necessary to continue to authorize additional liturgical resources, which will take two conventions to approve.  There may also be some impact from the TREC report, which suggests adding “Theology” to the name of the SCLM and the elimination of almost all other standing commissions.

We also had a report from Canadian members about ongoing work in the Anglican Church of Canada.  Principles of revision are beginning to shift the work there from production of texts to liturgical formation.  A recent set of proper prayers to follow the lectionary has been produced.  An engagement with catechumenal instruction has found a new form in “Becoming the Story we Tell”.

Our session closed with the Nones (3 pm) brief service from Daily Prayer for All Seasons.


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