General Terms and Conditions

Reports and musings from a seminarian at General Theological Seminary, New York City.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Moving Mania!

I arrived back in Indianapolis yesterday to join Partner in the moving odyssey. When we met in the airport he said, "The long national nightmare is over!" - meaning that I was finally home to join him in the work of packing up the house. Well, we are in this together. It won't be a great week, but I know it will be a productive one.

This morning we had a little trouble getting going, but soon we hit our stride. We spent most of the day going through our study - including sorting through lots and lots of files. Besides separating for shredding anything that needed such, we had a great time looking at artifacts from our past. I am proud to say that most everything was thrown away - we are trying to whittle down the "stuff" that we have been carrying from state to state.

Two highlights for me:

First, a few years back my oldest brother had mailed to me several boxes of stuff that had been stored at the family farm. I (of course) had carefully placed it in a closet and forgot it. Yesterday I went through the boxes to find many, many memories, including scraps of my life in Denmark, jr. high and high school report cards, precious photos, and wonderful cards and letters from people in my past. Almost all of it I looked at lovingly, then threw out - but never fear, I saved a small pile of fond remembrances. Many, many thanks to Brother #1 for caring enough to get this stuff to me.

Second, we rounded up all the loose change in the house and took it to the "coinstar" machine at the grocery store. When it was all counted, we had about $220 worth that were turned into an certificate. (By choosing a "gift card" we avoided giving the coinstar people 8% of the return.) It was pretty amazing to discover that much money had just been sitting around.

Tomorrow will be more of the same - I am hoping that we will begin getting things into boxes. Wish us luck...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

It has been a good birthday--I took myself to another play this afternoon, "Some Men," a new play by Terrence McNally, a playwright originally from my birth city of Corpus Christi, Texas, well-known as a gay playwright. His best known works include "Love! Valour! Compassion!" and "Master Class." He was also the librettist for the opera "Dead Man Walking" and wrote the book for the musical "Ragtime."

As the promotional material for this play states, "Some Men" charts the course of gay life in America through the varied experience of a group of friends at a wedding. The nine actors played various characters (all gay men) in situations occuring between the years of 1923 and 2007. Throughout we get a sense of the way that things have changed for gay people over the last century.

One scene I particularly enjoyed was two young men ("gender studies majors from Vassar") interviewing two older men about what gay life was like before the Stonewall riots (June 1969). They say that, despite what people might think, they were not miserable in those days; they were happy. And they point out that they didn't fight for their rights because they just didn't know they could. The young men are incredulous--they simply don't understand how they could have been content to live their lives as they did. The juxtaposition of youthful ire with mature wistfulness was interesting.

There was also a great scene in a piano bar, with several show queens one-upping each other on musical theater trivia. LOVED that, of course. It made me want to run to Marie's Crisis or Don't Tell Mama, a couple of the famous piano/show tune bars here in New York. I will definitely put that on the agenda for when Partner arrives.

Now I have to buckle down to studies: the Old Testament mid-term is Wednesday. Prophets, anyone?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Present to Myself

Tomorrow is my birthday - so I have began celebrating this evening by taking myself to see "Grey Gardens" on Broadway. As my friends and family know, I love musicals, and this show did not disappoint.

It is the story of the Beales, a mother and daughter who were cousins of Jackie Kennedy (they were all Bouviers). A documentary of the same name was made about these two odd women in the mid '70s, and this show uses that movie as a launching point. It was very moving.

Christine Ebersole, who plays Big Edie (the mother) in the first act (set in the '40s), and Little Edie (the daughter) in the second act (set in the '70s) is spectacular. What an incredible range she plays in 2 1/2 hours! In the second act she seems to be channeling Little Edie - if you've seen the documentary you know what an eccentric character she is, and Ms. Ebersole has it down. We hear her singing in a beautiful voice most of the show - except when she doesn't, to great effect.

I had a student rush ticket, which for $26.50 put me on the first row of the side section of the orchestra - so I could see absolutely every detail, including the tears in Ms. Ebersole's eyes at the end of the show. Unfortunately the trumpet player was right below me, so the sound balance was off - but since I have listened to the Off-Broadway cast recording many, many times, I could fill in most of the words I missed.

It was another thoroughly satisfying evening of theatre - a great way to kick off the birthday celebration!

Friday, March 02, 2007


Tonight I went with some fellow students to a church in Jersey City, NJ to a showing of the 1996 movie "Infinity." Matthew Broderick directed and starred in the movie, which also featured Patricia Arquette.

What made this worthy of a train trip across the Hudson was that Mr. Broderick was there - his sister is the rector of the parish. He endured a question and answer session after the movie, which was fun.

The movie is the story of a scientist who assisted in the creation of the atomic bomb, but it was primarily the story of his first love. It was interesting to contrast the beauty of young love with the ugly prospect of the A-bomb. Of course, the scientist loved math and science, and found beauty in what he was doing - but as we watch, we know what the end result was.

Likewise, his fiance, then wife, is dying with TB. They have a beautiful relationship that is lived out in the shadow of her impending death. So it is all about love and loss.

Ultimately, I don't think it was a great movie - and I suppose that the market bore this out, since most of us had never heard of it. This movie is especially treasured by the Brodericks because their mother wrote the script. I think it was as a tribute to their mom that Mr. Broderick was willing to come out on a Friday night, sit in a church nave and be asked inane questions like, "When you were growing up, were you like Ferris [Bueller]?"

There was a very nice moment in the questioning when the two siblings were asked about their childhood relationship. Their affection for each other was clear, and it was touching. Maybe that was the highlight of the evening. (That, and the GREAT soup they served - a Tex-Mex type soup - I am trying to get the recipe, and will pass it along if I do!)

Tomorrow I am making a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to look at early Christian art for my Church History class. It is always wonderful to visit this venerable institution - I know that, as with every trip I make there, I will see wonderful and unexpected things. Oh boy!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Living with Stress

This has been a tough week for the Junior (1st year) MDiv students at General. We had two papers and a midterm - the most work we've had in a week (outside of finals, of course).

This pressure has been difficult for many of my classmates. There has been a lot of talk about all of these assignments, and this talk has raised the level of stress. We can talk ourselves into a frenzy.

But I have been relatively calm. I think I have more perspective on it all than some of my classmates. It is easy to think that our performance and our grades are of utmost importance – but they’re not. The most important thing is our formation – that we become the best we can be in order to serve the Church. I reminded classmates that our GPA is not what will get us ordained or get us jobs.

I think that we always need to remind each other not to allow the stress to rule our lives. We are good folks who are already and will be even greater gifts to the Church. That’s what matters.

And we made it through! That means we can do it. I think that is important to remember.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Life of Antony

Tonight I give you a little glimpse into the esoteric world of an Episcopal seminarian.

One of my classes this semester is "History and Theology of the Early Church: Patristics Survey." This is a subject I must confess I have thought little about to this point in my life. Growing up as a Methodist, I don't remember hearing much about the early Church fathers - it seemed distant and exotic just to think about our 18th century Anglican roots! And even when I became an Episcopalian there was little discussion of this period of ecclesiastical history. So it is all new territory for me.

This week I have been reading "The Life of Antony" written by Athanasius, an Egyptian bishop and disciple of this early Christian hermit and monk. According to my studies, this biography of Antony (c. 251-356 AD) presents the earliest information we have on the monastic life. In the narrative, Antony wrestles with demons throughout his formation as a monk (which takes 35 years!) Here is a typical passage:

“But the devil, who hates and envies what is good, could not endure to see such a resolution in a youth [Antony], but endeavored to carry out against him what he had been wont to effect against others. First of all he tried to lead him away from the discipline, whispering to him the remembrance of his wealth, care for his sister, claims of kindred, love of money, love of glory, the various pleasures of the table and the other relaxations of life, and at last the difficulty of virtue and the labor of it; he suggested also the infirmity of the body and the length of the time. In a word he raised in his mind a great dust of debate, wishing to debar him from his settled purpose. But…the enemy saw himself to be too weak for Antony’s determination, and…was conquered by the other’s firmness, overthrown by his great faith and falling through his constant prayers…”

What does it all mean? Well, that is the three-page paper I had to write tonight. The assignment was, "Papers should articulate a thesis about the subject of 'Demons in the Life of St. Antony.'" I guess it goes without saying that I have been sweating this one.

Interestingly, when I sat down and began to writing, a thesis did emerge. I believe that, as one of the first treatises on the monastic life, the devils personify the temptations to abandon this hard life that come to most who try to live a cloistered existence. Through the story of Antony's wrestling with demons, Athanasius addresses the obstacles that a young hermit may encounter, and provides a model for overcoming them.

I did manage to write exactly three pages on this subject. Don't know if I got it right, but it turned out to be much more interesting than I suspected. We'll see if the professor agrees!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Come, my Way

Today is the feast day of George Herbert in the Anglican Communion. This great English poet of the early 17th century is probably as popular today as he has ever been. Here is a short biography from Wikipedia:

"George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633) was a Welsh poet, orator and a priest. Being born into an artistic and wealthy family, he received a good education which led on to him holding prominent positions at Cambridge University and Parliament. In his late thirties he gave up his secular ambitions and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as a rector in Bemerton, near Salisbury. Throughout his life he wrote religious poems characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favored by the metaphysical school of poets."

We had a real Herbertfest in our Eucharist today, singing a couple of his great hymn texts (#403, "Let all the world in every corner sing," set to Hampton's "MacDougall," and #382, "King of Glory," set to a favorite tune around here, namely "General Seminary") and even hearing a sermon that compared his work to Bob Dylan and Appalachian fiddling.

But the Herbert poem that I feel most drawn to is one titled "The Call." It is a supreme example of that precise language and imagery referred to above. It is #487 in our hymnal:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length;
such as strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
such a joy as none can move;
such a love as none can part;
such a heart as joys in love.