Seminarian Skills Test

seminary games inviteOver the next few days the folks at the NFL Network will try to bridge the gap between football and baseball seasons by televising the NFL Scouting Combine. The top pro prospects coming out of college are put through their paces under the watchful eyes of scouts for teams that may potentially draft them. Naturally, I thought it would be helpful for the church to have a similar skills competition for graduating seminarians. This way, freshly minted clergy could show off their skills while hiring rectors and search committees could get a sense of what they were getting before extending a call. Everybody wins, right?

One of the more controversial pieces of evaluation at the NFL Combine takes place off the field. The Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test consists of 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in twelve minutes. A score of 20 indicates average intelligence. I’m not sure if a player’s scores are supposed to be made public but they always leak out. Here’s a slideshow with some notable scores.

All of which is to say that we already have the Wonderlic (doesn’t that sound like a place Larry Bird might vacation?) equivalent in the General Ordination Exam. Equally controversial — there’s been talk of eliminating it for years — but overall a decent baseline indicator of fitness for ordained ministry. So that takes care of the academic/cognitive portion. Now on to the fun part: the skills competition.

The Triangletriangle
The marquee event at the NFL Combine is the 40 yard dash. It measures speed and explosiveness, two ingredients necessary to succeed in professional football. For seminarians, the most important event is The Triangle. At a simulated coffee hour, a “parishioner” holding a styrofoam cup of Folgers decaf corners the seminarian and says, “Great sermon today! Your sermons are so much better than the rector’s snooze-fests don’t you think? If you go tell the Senior Warden to insist Father Dim have you preach more often, I’ll support you.”

What do you do? Give a knowing nod of complicity and leave it at that? Approach the warden? Or say, “We all have different gifts but I think it’s important to hear regularly from Father Dim. I appreciate his approach to preaching but understand not everyone relates to every preacher. If this is such a concern for you, why don’t you go talk to the warden? I see her right behind that plate of stale munchkins.”

Naming Rights
100 people you’ve never seen before file past you shaking your hand and saying “Good morning” and occasionally “Nice sermon.” While they’re all wearing name tags (this is hypothetical) the first pass, they file past you again without name tags. How many can you name? How many do you even recognize? Did we mention they all change their clothes in between?

Preach It!
Each seminarian is asked to preach a sermon on the Trinity (they may as well get used to it). They begin with 100 points. Points are deducted for: every minute past the 12 minute mark; annoying tics like hair flipping or swaying back and forth; use of any of the following words — paradigm, missional, multivalent, or homoousious; and doctrinal heresy. 30 is considered an above average score.

vatCoffee Challenge
In order to properly prepare future clergy for long drawn-out diocesan meetings, having to stay up late on a Saturday night to finish the sermon because they had a funeral and a wedding earlier that day, and mornings following a late vestry meeting, it is essential to test their coffee intake skills. Unlike the individual challenges, this is administered in a group setting.

A giant vat of coffee is set up in the middle of a mock parish hall. Contestants line the walls. At the command “The Lord be with you,” the seminarians dash to the vat and attempt to consume Herculean (even though he’s a pagan) amounts of black coffee. At the end of 10 minutes, the winner will have consumed the most coffee (without dying). If you’re not sure how much coffee it will take to kill you, click here.

Let the games begin!

I’m Responsible for Richard Sherman’s Rant

 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.

screen_shot_2014-01-19_at_11.17.47_pmLater, 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.

richard-sherman-mask-800.jpg?w=800&h=533It’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.

Why the Pats lost: A pastoral response

NFL: AFC Championship-New England Patriots at Denver BroncosAs a clergyman, I am always sensitive to the pastoral needs of my flock. As a priest in New England, I realize that many in my congregation are grieving the Patriots loss to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. Yet as a Baltimore Ravens fan, I don’t really care about their feelings when it comes to football. So I’m torn in my pastoral duties. Since next week is the Annual Meeting and it’s best to keep the peace, I’ll err on the side of pastoral concern. 

In times such as these, many are left wondering why? Why did my team lose? Why did God do this to the Patriots? Is God mad at me? To ease some of the confusion, I thought I’d share some light on why the Patriots lost to the Broncos. Understanding why is an intellectual response and so Patriots fans will still need time to grieve. I’m sensitive to that and I will walk with them during this painful time. 

Here are the reasons the Patriots lost:

God’s wrath for cutting Tim Tebow after the preseason. (Of course he was also cut by the Broncos when they signed Peyton Manning but whatever. God’s complicated).

God prefers Anglicans (aka Redcoats) to Patriots (aka religious dissenters).

The continuing Wrath of the Cathedral Nautilus. This doesn’t explain the World Champion Red Sox but that was a beard thing.

Punishment for the globalization of Sam Adams Beer.

Aaron Hernandez.

Many patriots in the revolutionary age were Deists.

God’s anger at Patriots coach Bill Belichick who lives in Hingham and yet has never darkened the door of St. John’s.

The presence on the Patriots’ roster of linebacker Dont’a Hightower (of Babel).

Whitey Bulger.

Retribution for tossing all that tea into Boston Harbor.

Actually, I do know that when your team loses deep in the playoffs it feels like you’ve been slugged in the gut. I feel your pain — truly.




6 Reasons to Yell “Omaha” in Church

Peyton-Manning-Omaha1-300x198As everyone knows, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning uses the word “Omaha” while calling audibles from the line of scrimmage. This has gotten a lot of press in the hype leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Broncos and Patriots. The word has been trending on Twitter the Nebraska city’s tourism department has been milking it for all it’s worth (they have lots of cows in Omaha, right?), and Omaha Steaks has been using  Manning’s favorite word for marketing purposes.

I was in Omaha once. For five hours. In 1992 when I was still working on political campaigns for a living, I was hired to work on a congressional race in California. Naturally, I had to be there immediately so I drove from Baltimore to California in three days in my old 1985 Ford Bronco II. It was a crazy trip, though the only real blip came when I broke down just outside of Omaha. With all the miles I covered I was thrilled to break down only one mile from a gas station, where I sat for five hours waiting for a part to arrive. So, I’m grateful to Peyton for dredging up this wonderful memory.

Anyway, as I watched the Brady/Manning Bowl I started reflecting on ways the word “Omaha” could be used in liturgy.

At the end of the service the Verger could yell “Omaha” to change up the retiring procession. Perhaps indicating leaving one verse earlier in the hymn than originally discussed.

The Celebrant could yell “Omaha” if he/she decides to call an audible at the altar and switch from Eucharistic Prayer B to Prayer D.

The Congregation could yell “Omaha” if the sermon runs over 20 minutes.

The Rector could yell “Omaha” if he/she hears heresy in the Seminarian’s sermon.

The Choir could sing “Omaha” to Anglican Chant just to show off.

The Ushers could point and yell “Omaha” if a visitor doesn’t place anything in the collection plate as it passes by.

And if none of these work, maybe I can get the town fathers to approach Hinghamite Bill Belichick to persuade Tom Brady to start screaming “Hingham” before the snap.

Motivational Sacristy Quotes

sacristy quoteAs football season winds down (what am I supposed to do after church now?!), there will be a dearth of motivational quotes spouted by head coaches. While the only “motivational quote” I keep in my office is the parish mission statement, I think these are great.

But why should motivational quotes be the exclusive domain of football locker rooms? The church equivalent of the locker room is, of course, the sacristy. The liturgical players all gather here before kickoff cum procession. The priest offers a prayer/motivational speech with the acolytes and choir and off they charge down the aisle (at a decorous, stately pace of course).

I thought it would be helpful to offer a few motivational quotes to post in your sacristy. This will keep all the servers motivated and focused for the task at hand. I suggest putting up a new quote every time the church season changes so they don’t get stale and the acolytes start phoning it in. Let me know if you think of others. The church needs fired up altar parties!

There’s no “I” in Acolyte.

It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how the procession flows.

Win one for the Messiah.

Leave it all on the altar.

It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings the dismissal.

Let’s all give this liturgy 110% (which is the same fuzzy math as three in one and one in three)

It’s not the size of a crucifer but the size of the processional cross that matters.

Show me a bad liturgist and I’ll show you bad liturgy.

There is no substitute for preaching preparation.

It’s not whether the thurifer gets knocked down, it’s whether he gets up.

Communion isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

9 Perks of my team not making the NFL Playoffs

154531116_16x9_608A year after winning the Super Bowl and a run of five straight years making the playoffs, my beloved Baltimore Ravens are done. An ugly loss to the Bengals has sealed their fate and sent them packing. I’ve already pulled out my Orioles hat and sweatshirt (and socks, mugs, etc) and have figured out how many days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training (43).

It’s amazing how much some of us care about our sports teams — we’re passionate, loyal, and (healthy or not) find in them a piece of our individual identities. The highs are higher and the lows are lower when you care deeply. Thus, I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m rather depressed. Oh, I’ll get over it soon enough. I know intellectually at least that it’s only a game. But it still stings.

While no one has ever accused me of being a raging optimist, I have found the silver lining to the Ravens being shut out of the playoffs. Not having to endure emotionally draining games leading up to the Super Bowl means that…

9. I no longer need to work on my Sunday afternoon ulcer the way southern Californians work on their tans.

8. My post-liturgical Sunday afternoon nap will regain its place of primacy among afternoon naps.

7. I’ll once again be able to eat during games without fear of throwing up nachos when the offensive line gives up another sack.

6. The only people acting like sullen teenagers in my house will once again only be the sullen teenagers.

5. I can get back to wearing wear purple only during Lent and Advent.

4. I won’t need to go on blood pressure medicine as a direct result of yelling at the refs about the chintzy pass interference calls that are ruining the NFL.

3. When the lights go out at the Super Bowl I won’t entertain a JFK-like conspiracy theory.

2. Fewer football references and analogies in my sermons will make the pacifists and non-sports fans in my congregation happier.1. Less cursing on the Lord’s Day.




Church Press Conference — Belichick Style

Bill BelichickBill Belichick press conferences have quickly become my favorite thing about football in New England. His gruff, non-answer Q & A sessions with the media are  comically absurd. “It is what it is” covers everything from next week’s opponent to Tim Tebow to defensive coverages to Aaron Hernandez. In other words, Belichick (a Hingham resident I might add) has perfected the art of saying nothing by saying something. Not that clergy could every be accused of that

Anyway, it made me wonder what would happen if clergy took a Belichickian approach to coffee hour. Here’s what I came up with using (more or less) actual Bill Belichick press conference answers:

Q: What happened with the acolytes at the gospel procession? Are you actively recruiting new ones?
A: I’m only talking about the personnel we have. Anything else is speculation

Q: The readings appointed for today seemed to give you some trouble. Are you looking forward to next week’s lessons?
A:  I don’t decide what the readings are. I’m not going to comment on something I don’t have control over.

Q: Are you disappointed by the lack of munchkins at coffee hour?
A: Are munchkins mentioned in the Bible?

Q: Is the vestry excited about the new adult education program?
A: You’d have to ask them about that.

Q: The new Sunday School curriculum looks really engaging. Are you excited about it?
A: We’ll see how it goes.

Q: Did you know there are weeds growing in the church yard?
A: I’m responsible for every aspect of church life.

Q: Do you really think adding another service on Sunday morning is going to work?
A: We just try to do what’s in the best interest of the parish.

Q: Did you notice attendance is down this year?
A: It is what it is.

Okay, back to post-church football watching.  Love this time of year!