Talkin’ ’bout My Generation
My household now contains two teenagers. Well, maybe three since Mimi, our pet ferret, is four-years-old and I have no idea how old that is in ferret years. But with our second, and youngest, child turning thirteen this month and our oldest holding steady at 14 1/2, we have two teenage boys in our domestic stable.
Generation is the one designation in life that transcends race, culture, nationality, religion, ethnicity, and any other label you could possibly come up with. You can’t control when you’re born, of course, and so your birth year determines your generation. As much as I might admire those in what we call the Greatest Generation — people who grew up during the Depression and fought in World War II — I can’t become a convert from my own Generation X. And I could take computer classes and play XBox until my eyes fell out but I’d still never be a Millennial, as we call the first generation born into our hyper-connected world.
Generationally, we’re stuck which is generally not a problem because we all think our generation is the best generation. The generation before us is full of out of touch dinosaurs and the generation after us is populated by entitled young whipper snappers. It’s the generational circle of life.
There’s nothing like having a couple of teenagers around to remind you of your incompetence, poor fashion sense, lousy cooking, inability to help with homework, and general cluelessness. Such is this stage of intergenerational living, which is all perfectly normal, of course. It’s part of the teenage “job description” as they grow, mature, and start seeking their own identity in the world. Fortunately, my entire self-worth isn’t based on their teenaged perception of me — if so I’d be spending most of my time on a therapist’s couch.
What’s too bad, though, is that in many ways we live in a generationally segregated society. Multiple generations used to live under the same roof but advances in transportation changed this as families scattered all over the country. Today, there are very few truly intergenerational places left. For instance if you live in a retirement community you may not see a child running around for days at a time and if you’re a young stay-at-home mom you may go all week without interacting with anyone over the age of 55.
One of the things I love about the Church in general and my own parish in particular is that it’s one of the last places in society where different generations gather and interact on a regular basis. I love looking out on a Sunday morning and seeing every generation imaginable out in the congregation. It’s a sign of the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth as we all gather to pray and sing and give thanks to our Creator before mixing it up over coffee and conversation afterward.
I also love watching the whole congregation come up to receive communion with outstretched hands. There are small hands still awash in colorful paint from the latest Church School project; arthritic, wrinkled hands; rough hands that have worked hard all week; lotion-smooth hands adorned with rings; nondescript middle-aged hands that might have a paper cut from shuffling papers; hands I recognize and hands of visitors and newcomers. Yet everyone is reaching out to receive the same thing: divine relationship through Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to be intentional about reaching over the generational divide in your own life — you’ll be richer for it. And in the meantime, for any parents of teenagers out there, maybe introduce them to the Pete Seeger song “Be Kind to Your Parents.” It ends with these words: “So treat them with patience and kind understanding, in spite of the foolish things they do. Some day you might wake up and find you’re a parent too.”
Response to the Cathedral nautilus conversation has been, well, spiraling out of control. This is an apt metaphor for the chambered nautilus so perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone. In the “all publicity is good publicity” department, the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston is thriving. Granted not all the responses have been positive and some have even been malicious but, hey, people are talking about the Episcopal Church so there’s that.
After posting my thoughts on the new artwork gracing the long-vacant cathedral pediment and inviting the Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev. Jep Streit, to do likewise, the whole issue has gone a bit viral.
First, The American Conservative’s Rod Deher tried to stir up some controversy in true Fox News fashion with an article titled Episcopalians & The Way of the Seashell. His most offensive, vaguely racist comment was:
Sounds like the inside of a Twinkie has a more solid core than the cathedral community’s theology, though it’s probably not as white.
Surprisingly some of the 50 online comments that followed were actually balanced and a few were even in favor of the nautilus.
Jim Naughton of The Episcopal Cafe posted quotes from and links to both of our responses and also saw the value of open, honest disagreement in “One man’s beauty is another man’s fish house.”
Two people of good faith are having a respectful disagreement, and I find this such a refreshing development in our church that I feel obliged to call attention to it.
The usually balanced Religion News Service posted this comment under the headline “The old rugged seashell“
Favorite story of the day:St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedralin Boston has finally filled in the triangle-shaped pediment on its facade with … wait for it … a giant nautilus shell that’s lit up at night like a Vegas show girl.
Real Clear Religion (whatever that is) tips their thoughts in the headline “Episcopalians Trade Paul for a Seashell.” The good news? They didn’t refer to us as “Episcopals.”
First Things went with the neutral “The Nautilus on the Cathedral.”
The key takeaway in all this? Religious symbols are powerful and elicit strong emotional responses. I’m still convinced the Church must first stand up and embrace its own Christian identity — that’s at the heart of this conversation for me. We can and must embody an inclusivity that flows directly from the foot of the cross out into the world. Much of Jesus’ ministry involved shattering the barriers that divide us one from another. The Good News of Christ’s gospel still has the power to do just this.
There was a lot of reaction and (mostly) thoughtful commentary after I posted my response (The Heart of the Nautilus) to the new artwork on the pediment of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. Since then I’ve been in contact with the cathedral’s gracious dean, the Very Rev. Jep Streit, who naturally doesn’t share my opinion on this.
I’ve invited his deanship to post a response here on Clergy Family Confidential as a Guest Blogger. Although he’s the first ever GB on my little slice of the internet, I’ve assured him this is a very prestigious honor. In all seriousness, I’m grateful for his willingness to engage on this issue and I appreciate the vulnerability of his position in opening himself and the cathedral community up to every art and ecclesiastical critic to ever stroll across Boston Common.
Guest Blogger: The Very Rev. Jep Streit
I’m grateful for his generous offer to respond to his posting as a “guest blogger” on his site, which only underscores my appreciation of how he engenders reflection and discussion in a thoughtful way.
In our video the artist remarked that he wanted to create art for the pediment that was not “too religious,” which of course alarmed some people, as though he were articulating our new mission statement. Remember, he’s the artist, not the Dean. I simply thought he was trying to articulate, in his imperfect way, his experience of the Cathedral as a place with an expansive vision of God, “not just for Episcopals” as he put it, and so he attempted to create something that would be broadly inviting.
At St. Paul’s Cathedral we celebrate the Eucharist eight times a week, keep our church open all day for anyone to come in and pray, hold a weekly meditation group and have welcomed and fed hungry people every single Monday for thirty years. I don’t worry that we aren’t Christian enough.
I was a little surprised at how dismissive people seemed to be to the nautilus as a symbol of our faith. It may not be an immediately self-evident symbol, but neither was the cross when it first was used. I can imagine people wondering, “Why are they glorifying imperial Roman instruments of torture and execution?”
After two millennia the cross is now an unmistakable symbol of Christianity, it’s something everyone expects to see on a church. But isn’t God the One who surpasses our expectations, not the One who just meets them? Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” Is it unfaithful to imagine a new symbol for our faith? It may not be immediately clear exactly what a nautilus atop a cathedral means, but that ambiguity can invite thinking and conversation, much more than if we had done something less provocative, as evidenced by all the responses to Tim’s blog.
For the record, here is why I think a nautilus is an appropriate symbol for our faith:
- A nautilus is ancient (half a billion years old), just as our faith has ancient roots and traditions. Both the nautilus and our faith are open-ended, ever-expanding.
- A nautilus grows by forming new chambers is it outgrows old ones, it can never go back, just as the God leads us on our faith journey into new places, deepening our conversation. The Holy Spirit is dynamic, not static.
- The spiral of the nautilus shell is universal, an elemental form found throughout creation, from galaxies to weather patterns to the growth of plants to sub-atomic particles, just as we believe God is universal and unlimited.
- Jesus gathered disciples by inviting people who were curious about him and what he was doing. “Come and see,” he told Andrew, who then brought his brother Simon. My hope is that our nautilus sparks curiosity and welcomes exploration.
The nautilus works (or perhaps doesn’t work) as a symbol on these and many levels, but for me it is beautiful and inviting. I love it, and I think it does not require an explanation to be appreciated. Of course everyone doesn’t agree with me: one man’s beauty is another man’s fish house.
The week after the official dedication of the nautilus I received the following email from a total stranger. In it she confirmed my hope that our new artwork would be engaging and inviting to people who might not otherwise care or even be aware of St. Paul’s and our ministries, and she offers her own reason why the nautilus is a good fit for our cathedral.
Walking through the Common from Beacon Street tonight, I saw the Nautilus sculpture lit for the first time. It is thrilling, and one of the most redemptive architectural feats I have ever seen, bringing the building into new light and new light into the city.
I read about the inspiration of the Holmes poem, but I want to comment also (surely I am not the first) that the nautilus’s many ‘rooms’ evoked John 14:2. As I read about the multi-faith ‘homes’ provided by the Cathedral, not to mention room for the ‘homeless;’ whose room has been on your porch for many years, the verse echoed in my mind. I am not Christian, but I am a great appreciator of this new and marvelous work.
Thank you and everyone connected with the gift.
Finally, a couple of respondents have noted the limits of the cathedral building itself; poor sightlines, dim lighting, inadequate handicap access. They are right. This is why we are not only adding sculpture to finish our pediment but renovating our interior space: bringing in light, installing a full size elevator, adding a chapel, removing the pews to make our space more flexible and installing an efficient heating and ventilation system.
But when all is said and done, what is true is simple: our ministry is our message. I’m proud of our ministry, the gospel witness we make every day. I’m also glad for the conversation we are having about our new façade. Of course there are many viewpoints, just as in God’s house there are many rooms.
All are welcome.
If you haven’t noticed (because you don’t have an internet connection), social media is abuzz about the death of singer-songwriter Pete Seeger. In fact, if one more person posts a picture of him, Facebook may actually explode.
So rather than doing likewise, I thought I’d offer tips for incorporating Pete Seeger songs into your Sunday worship service. Yes, folks, this is the Seegcharist (the term coined by my archnemesis Scott Gunn).
Celebrant: Bob Dylan
Preacher: Arlo Guthrie
Lector: Joan Baez
OPENING HYMN: The Bells of Rhymney (This is an obvious choice as bells are often used to announce the start of worship. Also it has this great line: “Even God is uneasy, say the moist bells of Swansea.”
COLLECT OF THE DAY
Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us Pray.
I’ll arise at early morning, When my Lord gives me the warning, That the solar age is dawning, And it’s good enough for me. Amen. (last verse of Old Time Religion)
Lector: A Reading from Pete Seeger: In His Own Words.
People: Thanks be to Pete.
Turn, Turn, Turn (Technically it’s a song but it’s basically a reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes)
SERMON: Arlo Guthrie (as posted on his Facebook page)
I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep – Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That’s the great thing about thoughts and prayers- Y…ou can go or be anywhere.
I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time. I’d grown up that way – loving the Seegers – Pete & Toshi and all their family.
I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I’d been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trite or plain stupid. “They’ll say something appropriate in the news,” we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night.
“Arlo” he said, sounding just like the man I’ve known all of my life, “I guess I’ll see ya later.” I’ve always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. “Pete,” I said. “I guess we will.”
I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away.
“Well, of course he passed away!” I’m telling everyone this morning. “But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.”
THE PRAYERS: Free form petitions (naturally) with this line from If I Had a Hammer interspersed: “It’s the hammer of Justice,
It’s the bell of Freedom, It’s the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters, All over this land.”
OFFERTORY HYMN: Michael Row the Boat Ashore (along with the collection plates — Hallelujah!)
EUCHARISTIC PRAYER C (duh) — including “At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.”
CLOSING HYMN: We Shall Overcome
WARNING: Don’t even think about actually using this on Sunday morning!
This time of year many parishes hold their Annual Meetings. I love taking a step back and reflecting on the year that is past, something tough to do in the midst of ministry. Though preparing for the Annual Meeting is something else — I swear I spend more time getting ready for Annual Meeting Sunday than any other Sunday of the year. Including Easter. Unfortunately among clergy, I’m not alone in this which may mean some priorities need tweaking.
Nonetheless, you’ll hear a lot of grumbling about the Annual Meeting as a necessary canonical evil. The rector gives the state-of-the-parish address, the budget gets presented, vestry members get elected, and a lot of people quickly leave before the meeting starts. It’s the one Sunday many people take the Dismissal literally and mutter “thanks be to God” as they sneak out the side entrance.
Most Annual Meetings are anxiety producing for clergy and boring for parishioners — at least that’s the common perception. But I think we can change that – the Annual Meeting simply needs a marketing makeover. Here are just a few suggestions for drumming up attendance. I’d give you more but I need to get back to preparing for the one I’m running tomorrow morning.
Bring your infant to the Budget Presentation and he/she will be out in seconds.
Come put your arcane knowledge of Robert’s Rules to the test by calling for a recount after the vestry elections.
While some of you may find this hard to believe, I hesitated before writing this post. A lot. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the ministry that takes place at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston. Under the current dean, they have a long history of reaching out to people on the margins which is, at heart, what Jesus’ gospel message is all about. Bishop Shaw says he is “especially proud of the cathedral for doing the work of Jesus Christ — feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger.”
The recently released video about the artwork that now graces the cathedral’s long vacant pediment, however, speaks to me about the disconnect between that very gospel message and the very public portrayal of it. If you’ve been down Tremont Street along Boston Common, perhaps you’ve seen it — it’s a giant nautilus that, at night, gets illumined with blue backlighting.
The original plan called for a relief sculpture of the cathedral’s patron, St. Paul, preaching to King Agrippa (Acts 29). This idea was scrapped when the money ran out and the pediment remained empty for nearly 200 years. I’m still not sure why Paul was pushed aside for a seashell.
Sure, I’ve mocked the nautilus occasionally in the months since it went up. Mostly it was good natured. Mostly. Things like telling everyone I now refer to it as St. Paul’s Fish House & Raw Bar since it looks more like the entrance to a fancy seafood restaurant than a cathedral. Granted the Greco-Roman architecture made it appear — pre-nautilus (PN) — like a bank. St. Paul’s Savings & Loan, perhaps.
The nautilus is supposed to be a metaphor for spiritual growth, based on an Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem titled The Chambered Nautilus. I actually don’t mind the sculpture itself — if it was on the facade of a contemporary arts museum it might even entice me to go inside. But labeling it a symbol of spirituality feels contrived and as empty as one of its chambers.
But what really set me off was the artist’s description of his vision — a vision the cathedral community enthusiastically embraced. He says in the video that the cathedral is “not just a church for Episcopals.” Okay, ecclesiastical grammar aside, I understand the cathedral sees itself as a House of Prayer for All People (Isaiah 56:7) — a Biblical slogan popularized by the Washington National Cathedral. They live into this motto by offering a place of prayer for the local Muslim community on Friday afternoons and opening their doors to “all sorts and conditions” of people.
Yet, unless you first place your stake in the ground as the epicenter of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, a community of disciples following Jesus Christ, this slogan can easily delve into “A House of the Least Common Denominator for All People.”
The artist goes on to say, “I was trying to think of a symbol or an image that would be spiritual but not be religious.”
What?! A Christian cathedral by its very nature is and must be “religious.” It should be a beacon of the gospel and, as the dean says in the video, “the spiritual heart” of the diocese. If our core is this theologically squishy we may as well just tear down all of our crosses and erect nautili (what is the plural of nautilus?) on all our parish churches.
This video did make me reflect on what I envision as cathedral ministry and for this I’m grateful. I would love the cathedral to be the spiritual heart of the diocese but in order to do so, I believe, it must first be clear about its Christian identity. As a parish priest and simply a Christian, this is what I seek in a cathedral:
I want a cathedral that is both spiritual and religious.
I want a cathedral that inspires — liturgically, theologically, and spiritually.
I want a cathedral that is a powerful sign of the Christian faith, boldly proclaimed.
I want a cathedral that preaches Christ crucified and risen with reckless abandon.
I want a cathedral that is a beacon of hope amidst a sinful and broken world.
I want a cathedral that, as the bishop’s seat, is engaged in a ministry of Christian teaching and formation.
I want a cathedral that is a place of prayer and spiritual refreshment.
I want a cathedral that ministers to those on the margins of society.
I want a cathedral that is relevant to its urban context.
Yes, that is a lot to place on one community and its leadership. I am not a dean and so it’s easy for me to put expectations upon a cathedral community. I understand that and I understand it is impossible to be, as St. Paul himself said, “all things to all people.” It’s hard enough in parish ministry without having the priests and laity of over 160 congregations looking to you for inspiration and who may all have slightly different interpretations of what a cathedral should be and do.
There are certainly things at my own parish, St. John’s in Hingham, Massachusetts, that could and should be improved upon — we just finished up a strategic planning process that was revealing, challenging, and hopeful. Every parish church and every cathedral has strengths and weaknesses that must be taken together when looking at the whole.
It’s also quite possible I’m wrong. Maybe the nautilus will be just what the cathedral needs to invigorate its mission and ministry. Perhaps people will indeed “come and see.” The question remains whether they will come and stay.
Most of America was shocked when sideline reporter Erin Andrews interviewed Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman in the aftermath of his game-saving pass deflection in yesterday’s NFC Championship Game. You could feel the adrenaline, passion, and violence coursing off his body as he brashly and threateningly proclaimed he was the best defender in the NFL and trash-talked 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree with whom he had tangled throughout the game.
The interview was brief, intense, and led to an instantaneous backlash on Twitter. He was immediately labeled a sore winner, thug, and much worse. I jumped into the fray as I’d been tweeting a bit throughout the compelling NFC Championship Game. I tweeted the following:
Richard Sherman. Now THAT’s showing grace in victory. #yowza
Can somebody please test Sherman RIGHT now? #roidrage
Actually, who am I to judge? I act just like Sherman at coffee hour after I preach a killer sermon.
Fox sticks a microphone in Sherman’s face AGAIN? Who’s producing this fiasco?
This was nothing compared to some of the racism (both subtle and overt) spouted off after the interview. The image of an angry, fired-up black man with dreadlocks standing next to an upper-middle class white woman with a microphone played into many people’s darkest fears. Never mind that this played out on the eve of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Later, the Stanford-educated Sherman was much more eloquent but the damage to his reputation had been done. Of course this being sports in America, all will be forgiven and forgotten if Seattle wins the Super Bowl in two weeks.
But I admit I’m complicit in this whole scenario. Not because of my tweets (and it’s not as if I have that many followers) but because I’m an avid football fan. We expect our warrior/athletes to act like animals on the field and cheer them vociferously for it. Yet two seconds after walking off the field, we expect them to be transformed into model citizens. “Leave it all on the field” means more to us than playing their hearts out — it means leaving the adrenaline-fueled violence out there as well.
We cheer, adore, and financially reward football players who act like gladiators on the field and excoriate these same men when they display violent tendencies off it. It’s no wonder that the two teams with the most suspensions for performance enhancing drugs this year — the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will be playing in the Super Bowl. By rewarding and glorifying this behavior we are all complicit in Richard Sherman’s response.
It’s no surprise to readers of this blog that I’m an avid football fan — I even flew down to Baltimore with my two boys for last year’s Ravens victory parade. But I admit the game is slowly losing its appeal. Every time I see a jarring hit I now envision the brain whipping around the skull. The acronym CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) takes its place amid other familiar ones like TD, FG, and QB.
While the NFL continues to be the most popular and profitable sports league in the world, the game is changing. I’m not sure what the future will hold for professional football but I do know that when we revile the actions of players like Richard Sherman, it’s important to remember that we created the very monster we condemn.