(I also had just enough money in my wallet to pay for my dinner, though the bank is right next door so it wouldn't have been a huge issue.)
We started off with smalltalk, and I worried we were never gonna get to actual substance.
He asked about the reason behind my church traveling and I explained and then asked me something about the diversity even with mainline Protestant, something about what have I found, and I wasn't really prepared with an answer, but I did a decent job of talking about how I've come to appreciate the value of tradition more -- the liturgical trappings and so forth.
I mentioned that I'd gone to the Eastern Orthodox church in South Norwood and how a friend of mine had sent me an excerpt from a book talking about the reasoning behind the chanting:
We take turns reading the epistle each Sunday, with some variation in delivery: some merely read it and some chant. The liturgical preference is for chanting because, contrary to what you might expect, we believe it's better for the Bible to be read without expression. A talented reader's emphasis on one phrase or another would amount to a distracting personal interpretation. A clear chant lets the passage speak for itself.and how I thought it was such a good book. So of course that night I e-mailed him the excerpt complete with citation.
-At the Corner of East and Now: A Modern Life in Ancient Christian Orthodoxy by Frederica Mathewes-Green (NYC: Most Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.) p. 121 (Chapter 7)
He asked what I was doing now, and I said Faculty Assistant at Harvard Business -- "glorified secretary." He (like so many other people who know the area) commented about how in the winter that bridge is so cold, so I got to explain how I love the bitter scathing cold. (I was polite and didn't say, "And cracks about global warming make me angry.") He asked where I went to college and when I said Smith he said something about how obviously I was overqualified to be a secretary and asked where I was planning to go after this.
He guessed at writing as a career choice because I write such lengthy e-mails -- and also because of my e-mail address (athene_writer), which I had completely forgotten about.
I mentioned some of my thoughts, which of course got into talk about Buffy (as all discussions of my possible PhD plans must) and he said he hadn't seen much of the show but had seen a lot of serious writings about it in places he respected, like Salon [Yes, we love Joyce Millman.].
He mentioned wanting to make Sunday service more interactive, allowing people to participate in the conversation, to not just have it be him.
I'd already read about this in his most recent most recent online monthly message
I had a conversation with someone this week who said, "I had no idea where you were going with that sermon until the very end."I especially liked this bit, for thinking about what a sermon should do:
Now on the one hand, I take that as a compliment; on the other, I see it can be dangerous.
One of the things that we don't do is this: we don't have a good mechanism for feedback to the message. I.e., am I on track? Is it working? Very rarely does someone come through the line and say "Boy, that sermon was simply godawful." However, it may very well be what some people are thinking.
[snip] Not that we need another committee. (Yikes!) But I would dearly love to have a Preaching Group that I could work with on a weekly basis. I know it would be good for me; I suspect it would be good for the congregation.
There are many things I would like to try, experiment with, involve other folks in, from the pulpit.
The Word of God remains alive only when we make a conscious effort to bring it alive.
I see my job, in the pulpit, as bringing forth the work I have done with the text during the week. And doing that in such a way that it makes people think. Handing you the message wouldn't do that.I said I would have difficulty backing up to meaty concerns, that I'm so detail-oriented and had a list of problems with his Esther sermon, for example, and that's not appropriate for discussion during service. So of course he asked what my concerns about the sermon were (which was what had prompted this meeting in the first place). I couldn't help starting off with my concerns about his cheap shot about "As an aside, the Catholic Church still uses that version." I said I actually grew up thinking very negatively about Catholicism -- though I'm not entirely sure why, as it certainly doesn't come from my mother -- so it's been a growth experience for me to learn to see how people find value in Catholicism but I've gotten sensitized to cheap shots, and earlier he had talked about weekly pastoral meetings wherein he spoke well of Rev. Riley so I said I could see now that he didn't think poorly of Catholicism but that that's certainly how it came out. He said he actually grew up Catholic, which was a total surprise to me, and that it was an amicable parting and now that I mention it he sees it was a glib remark and he apologizes. He also commented that I was probably the only person who picked up on that.
Then I moved on to a meatier concern. I mentioned how in reading the fuller Book of Esther I saw them more as additions rather than "rewrites," as he had referred to them, and that he had criticized the later writers for Esther's crying out to God and that I didn't see it as making her helpless but rather as part of the Jewish tradition of crying out to God and talked about Joel's Intro Old Testament class wherein he talked about the Israelites seeing themselves a newer, smaller, vulnerable people compared to all the nations surrounding them, and how before the Exodus the Bible talks about the Israelites crying out to God and how in hearing their cries God remembers His promise to them. And I said that I don't like Brueggemann, but I'm rereading The Prophetic Imagination and he talks a lot about the crying out tradition in the context of social justice. He conceded that mine was a legitimate take.
He said he really likes Brueggemann, thinks he really knows his stuff (I'm not convinced) and recommended Finally Comes the Poet to me. (In looking up at home to recall the exact title of the Brueggemann which had been recommended to me, I was amused to see that this same person had recommended Bart Erhman's Misquoting Jesus -- one of the books the FCCN Bible Study leader is drawing on.)
I couldn't articulate offhand my problems with Brueggemann's "Maintaining Thick Narrative Against Thin Ideology" talk at Smith two years ago, but it was interesting going back to my writeup response afterward. In my e-mail to him I mentioned that one of my major concerns had been that Brueggemann spoke as if "thin narratives" only existed in conservative camps, whereas I saw thin narratives all the time amongst the liberals at Smith -- the glib comments about the Presidential Administration, the automatic reactions against anything that came out of it, the reduction of complex issues to insults and slogans, etcetera etcetera.
He said he welcomes criticisms, comments, on his sermons and that he really enjoys being able to discuss at this level because as a minister you want to keep exploring the texts but you can only go so far in your sermons because most of the congregants haven't read the books, nor do they have the inclination to.
I mentioned one thing I'd forgotten to mention in my writeup on Sunday/Mark, about how he had mentioned that Mark 9:1 -- And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." -- was probably Mark putting words in Jesus' mouth (since our other option is that Jesus was wrong) which is even more problematic.
I also asked about the meaning of "Son of God" in Mark (Peter identifies Jesus as such, but what does that mean?) and does that mean Messiah in the traditional Jewish way, and he said probably. He said it's not until we get to John that we get a new religion and Jesus as God-man and how he's ordering the books for this series to build up to that.
He mentioned that Misquoting Jesus contained a lot of stuff he already knew but that the part that threw him the most was that the story of Jesus and the adulteress -- the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" story -- was added much later.
At one point he said he was impressed by how much I had absorbed at such a young age, and there might have been some phrase like "keen mind." I rather suspect it was the Brueggemann that clinched it -- he had quipped that he could shoot a cannon through the church with the name Brueggemann on it and no one (except Mary Ann, who has a masters in sacred theology) would recognize the name Brueggemann.
He asked what I was reading and I told him about Sweet Jesus: Poems About the Ultimate Icon, saying I had been prompted by a poem from a friend of mine, which I paraphrased for him, and he said he'd love to use it for this Sunday when he'll be talking about Jesus the Jew, so that went in my e-mail to him as well.
While we were talking about Brueggemann he mentioned that Brueggemann's the Mass Bible speaker and I said we'd had one or two of those come to Smith and mentioned the Julian Speaker and he asked if it was Mark Burrows. I couldn't recall, but looking it up later it was -- "Wild Hope for Dark Times: A Lenten Meditation With Julian of Norwich." In rereading the entry, I found myself interested all over again.
Julian talks a lot about the passionate love of Mother Jesus. One of the first things to really strike me was when he was telling about Julian's vision of the suffering Jesus and Jesus saying to her, "Is it enough?" meaning "Is it enough for you? Is my love enough for you?" and that really brought for home for me the power of Jesus suffering for each and every single one of us out of that deep love, and how powerful that love is regardless of what you believe about Jesus' divinity or his claim on any sort of religious/theological/spiritual truth, in a way that i don't think it had hit me before. I have read a lot of people saying that they had similar reactions to Gibson's Passion movie, and Mark even alluded to the Passion movie, and he said that Julian would say that the violence is not the end but is rather the beginning, the first step.
Mark talked about how often Jesus says "You have heard it said, but I say to you..." That he often lays aside the Torah in favor of compassionate experience. He said that one should look at the suffering of the world, and then look at the Torah. He also talked about the tradition of arguing with Scripture, of arguing with God, and i was reminded that i really need to learn more about that Jewish tradition because it's something that really appeals to me (it's like ur-Protestantism) and also because sometimes struggle with the text can lead one to be tempted to just reject the text, and it would be really interesting to see how people reconciled arguing with the text with the idea that it is The Text.
[snip] he quoted someone about each of us having "orginal beauty" within us, and basically saying that if we lived recognizing that we have the divine within us and trying to bring that to light, that we would live better lives and that we should focus on trying to live our lives that way rather than on "not sinning."