Friday, February 17, 2017

The snow storm, such as it was, pushed out our monthly meeting a week. To today, that is. I had in mind a few things to discuss, current activities, and Lenten plans, including a weekend retreat. She couldn't wait to introduce me to the Anglican rosary. But the one she offered was broken, the Celtic cross had separated from the beads.
What prayers are said on the beads?

It's Anglican. Various prayers. There's no praying to Mary.
I had a feeling that she didn't herself practice it. I declined the one she offered, because it was broken, and I said that I would research it online. I could get one at Amazon, but the review there is that they break easily. "Handmade." I already have a rosary. Several, in fact, which have, on occasion, broken and been repaired.

I had given her my background information at our first meeting last month but not too much stuck in her memory. She blurted out, "Are you a lifelong Presbyterian?" What's the penance for misleading one's spiritual director? Maybe Teresa of Avila can tell me. I haven't expressly told her my affiliation but I've allowed her to think what she thinks. I don't know why it matters.1 Anyway, I stated simply that campus ministry in college led me to the church, which is true enough.

Upon leaving, I noticed a nuthatch feeding upside down at a bird-feeder. I recalled the numerous red-winged blackbirds from my walk yesterday. She would say that spring is around the corner and I would say they're year-round residents.

She said after three meetings we would evaluate how suited we are for each other. There is still a possibility that this is not a "go," then.


1 It does matter. It matters to me. And apparently it matters to her. But it shouldn't. I mean, it shouldn't affect how we interact. But it would. I know it would.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

He warned us of a couple of things, that his talk was long and that he was inadvertently drawing from next year's lectionary reading1. On the first point, he said he'd removed about 200 words over the past few weeks. On the second point, he didn't care to change it.

I suppose if he'd decided to start over with the correct lectionary reading, he wouldn't have had enough time to make it too long. If he were the regular speaker, his jumping ahead wouldn't be the least bit noticeable. But, once a month or so? I found myself saying, "Hey, weren't we in Matthew?!"

He read us the entire fifth chapter of 2 Kings without any paraphrasing, summarizing or embellishments. I had some trouble following because I'm only familiar with the scene between Naaman and Elisha (v. 14-17). He stressed the role the young girl played in Naaman's healing (v. 3) and how, in the end, Naaman's skin became like that of a young boy. He imagined that, after setting down the dirt Naaman had taken from Israel, he and the young girl might worship together. An altogether odd thought.

After ascertaining from the choir director how much Hebrew he knew, the speaker gave us a brief language lesson. I suppose he wanted to be sure that, if his language skills were a bit rusty from seminary, the choir director wouldn't call him on it. He said that the word qatan (Strongs 6996) for "young" could be masculine, as in verse 14 or feminine, as in verse 2, depending on the vowels. I see that qatan is an adjective, modifying a masculine noun in verse 14 naar (Strongs 5288) and a feminine noun in verse 2 naarah (Strongs 5291). I guess beyond that, I don't see the significance. Plenty of languages are inflected, having adjective-noun agreement.

As for the songs we sang, well, I need to promise myself that, going forward, I will take them all seriously. When we rehearsed "Brighten My Soul With Sunshine," I thought I was singing something from Godspell. I kept up with the part in rehearsal but lost my place live, coming in with the sopranos and tenor instead of with the other altos. I was so ashamed. We didn't rehearse "There is a Balm in Gilead" because it's assumed that everyone knows it. But I do not. And then this somewhat dark tune in G minor which I liked.


1 6th Sunday After Epiphany which will be First Sunday in Lent (2018)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Let me just say that I'm glad I never saw Andrew Garfield as Spiderman. Or anything else.

Why didn't Martin Scorsese become a priest or join the Maryknolls? His recent comments indicate that his asthma disqualified him. Why did he make Silence?

Some scenes, with dialogue or even without, are awkward, perhaps intentionally. Repeatedly, it is pointed out to the Portuguese Jesuit Father SebastiĆ£o Rodrigues that he doesn't know Japan. The Japanese way of engaging in conversation indirectly, can be as provocative as anything so long as it is not directed personally. Fr. Rodrigues speaks too directly, too plainly. The soil of Japan has been "poisoned," he tells the samurai at his interrogation. He tells Inoue that the fault lies with those who tear the faithful from their faith. "You mean me," Inoue replies with surprise and indignation. Ferreira tells Rodrigues he's been in the country fifteen years and Christianity does not take root in Japan. Rodrigues asserts that the roots have been pulled up but Ferreira counters no, that the Japanese peasants never grasped the truth fairly.

What is the extent of Fr. Ferreira's apostasy? In a highly supervised meeting with Fr. Rodrigues, who knew him as teacher and confessor, he says that he is "much the same" and asks with some incredulity, "Do I really seem so different?" Maybe he doesn’t realize how much he’s changed or he genuinely doesn’t think he’s changed. “It’s fulfilling to finally be of use in this country.” Ferreira seems uncomfortable at the end of the film supposing what Christ would do if he were present, if he were in Fr. Rodrigues's sandals. Is this an indication that Ferreira is now so unfamiliar with Christ as to be unable to speculate or is he yet too familiar to dare speak for Him?

“If Christ were here He would have acted. Apostatized. For their sake.” "No, no....Christ is here. I just can’t hear Him." The Jesuits believe that Christianity can take root in Japan because their own St. Francis Xavier had such success. A saying is attributed to him: “We shall never find another race to equal the Japanese. They are the joy of my heart.” Even so, Fr. Ferreira claims, “I never knew Japan when it was a country of light.”

Japanese allow saving face. "The path of mercy” that Fr. Ferreira took and Fr. Rodrigues is urged to take neutralizes the priest only as a priest. It does not seek to convert him personally. He enjoys interior freedom, he simply cannot act as a priest, he can't spread his beliefs. He is set up with a household, an inherited wife and inherited children. It would seem that he could remain a celibate, everything is for appearances' sake. You would think that giving up the priesthood would be the hardest thing for a Jesuit. But, how much pleasure did Fr. Rodrigues experience while serving the Japanese farmer peasants as a priest? It was mixed. He may have talked himself into feeling more satisfaction than he actually did. Certainly there were frustrations for both him and Fr. Francisco Garupe. Fr. Rodrigues is pragmatic in telling the peasant farmers to trample on the image of Christ if asked and in distributing to them the crudely-fashioned religious tokens that they crave, though he wonders whether they value them more than faith itself. Significantly Kichijiro, who claims to be weak, refuses even these small physical representations of the faith. After baptizing a baby, the mother asks whether they are all now in heaven. The Jesuit Fr. Garupe says, “Now? No," to her lack of understanding, though he quickly provides assurance that God is now and forever in heaven and that He prepares a place for us all, even now.

Kichijiro is the priests' greatest ministerial frustration, the proverbial thorn in their side and then some. Dressed in their impressive black cassocks with their superior air of education and training, on their first encounter with Kichijiro, the Jesuits don't recognize him as a Christian. Kichijiro doesn't help his image by repeatedly denying to them that he is a Christian. From an online working script1:
GARUPE Where is your home?
KICHIJIRO Nagasaki.
GARUPE What’s your work?
KICHIJIRO Fisherman.
RODRIGUES You know our language.
KICHIJIRO Little.
RODRIGUES You learned it from the Jesuit padres. You had to. So you are a Christian.
KICHIJIRO No. No Kirishitan.
KICHIJIRO I am not Kirishitan.
RODRIGUES You can tell us.
KICHIJIRO Kirishitan die. They die in Nagasaki
Then, immediately after their first encounter with Kichijiro:
GARUPE Our guide. He can’t be a Christian.
RODRIGUES He says he’s not but can you believe anything he says?
GARUPE I don’t even want to believe he’s Japanese.
Still, it's Kichijiro's desire to return to his home of Japan, knowing he will be a persecuted religious minority, that brings him into the fathers' company. One wonders whether Fr. Rodrigues ever longed to return to Portugal, even as a public apostate.

Men from a nearby village seek out the priests, who are in hiding and who want to know how the other villagers knew of their presence. A Christian in their village, Kichijiro, told him that he brought them to Japan. Rodrigues says, "But he is not a Christian," and the villager says, "Yes he is."

In contrast to Kichijiro is Fr. SebastiĆ£o Rodrigues, so sure of his vocation, the mission, and his relationship to God through Christ. Constantly he speaks to God as a son, oftentimes in words from the Gospels. Twice he says towards Kichijiro, “Quod facis, fac citius. What you will do, do quickly.” When Fr. Garupe points out that they have trusted Kichijiro with our lives, Fr. Rodrigues reminds him that Jesus trusted even worse ones. He returns to the abandoned village of Goto that the officials destroyed because the priests had been harbored there and surveying the devastation, he quotes the Spiritual Exercises, “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?” These words are typically said before a picture of Christ crucified but the ruined village serves.


Fr. Rodrigues eventually comes, after some concern that he may not be worthy of Christ and some prayers that he be made worthy of Christ, to his own unworthiness of Christ: "As I feel...I fear...Jesus forgive me...I may not be worthy of You." And we still pray like this, in the words of the Angelus, said after Hail Holy Queen in a recitation of the rosary: "Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ." Or the prayer before communion, in the former English translation, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed2." When he watches Fr. Garupe drown trying to save hostages who are also drowning, one wonders whether Fr. Rodrigues recognizes that he is seeing yet another martyr or whether he is simply feeling the personal loss of a friend, a fellow priest, his sole remaining comrade in a foreign land. The Interpreter is pleased to lead him along this path when he says to him, "At least Garupe was clean. But you. Your spirit is weak. You have no will. You do not deserve to be called a priest."

The publicly apostatized priests, Ferreira and Rodrigues, are put to work inspecting imported goods for smuggled religious images. Presumably, as former religious, they would recognize these items most readily but they seem to struggle. A Dutch trader observes and chronicles an incident where a simple wooden cross was found sewn into a coat. Other Dutch traders are heard muttering with disdain "Catholic" in reference to the religious object. Remember, Dutch Christianity, then as now, is expressly not image-oriented. Their trade business is preferred in Japan due to their personal low tolerance for religious images. Their contempt is not missed by the former priests and Ferreira reminds Rodrigues to "love those who scorn us" but Rodrigues says he feels nothing. We see now why the young priests were so ready to suppose intentional slander on the part of the Dutch trader who sent word by letter of Fr. Ferreira's apostasy to Fr. Valignano read in the movie's opening scene. "It could be a slander created to further discredit our faith." One wonders whether the Dutch are motivated by commercial interests in Japan over religious ones as they seek to edge out Spain and Portugal, in making the Catholic expression of Christianity as odious to the Japanese as it is to themselves.

I do not know what to make of the scene in which an amulet is discovered on Kichijiro while he is serving in Rodrigues's household. The online script calls it "Rodrigues's House in Christian Residence," whatever that means. This scene appears immediately after Kichijiro begs Rodrigues to hear his confession yet again however, considerable time has passed, we don't know how much. Kichijiro defends Rodrigues, claiming he is not the source of the religious image in his possession because even though Rodrigues has access as one who sorts through imported goods, he is watched so closely. Kichijiro is removed from the house as a result and one wonders whether Rodrigues got his revenge. Remember, Kichijiro never seemed to have as much use personally for religious trinkets as the other peasants.

But as regards religious mementos, Rodrigues holds onto the one crudely-made wooden crucifix given him by the martyr, Mokichi. He carries it throughout the movie and it finds its way into his Buddhist casket at his death. The martyrdoms Rodrigues observed puts flesh on the phrase he utters so proudly in the movie, "Blood of the martyrs are the seed of the church." It was the seed of his own sustained faith. Andrew Garfield expresses such intense emotion in this movie. He is absolutely perfect as a tortured Jesuit priest.

There needs to be a photo book made of the beautiful scenes from this movie. Fr. James Martin's contributions to the screenplay are obvious. Only in Fr. Martin's universe do Catholics make their regular confession. I thought the dedication of the movie to the Japanese martyrs and “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam" was strangely curious until I learned from an interview that Fr. Martin had suggested this closing. "AMDG" - only Jesuits talk that way.
1 http://www.paramountguilds.com/pdf/silence.pdf
2 Reading Facing East years ago about Frederica Mathewes-Green's adoption of Greek Orthodoxy over Episcopalianism, parishioners would acclaim of her husband during Divine Worship, "Axios!" Worthy! (Let me quote Liam Neeson final line from Silence, "I doubt it.")

Sunday, January 08, 2017

I googled "spiritual direction trenton" and found a page of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. I was already familiar with the ladies at the Upper Room in Neptune. Nothing against them; I've been there many times over the years. But I'm looking for something nearby. A hospital chaplain seemed the closest and somehow I thought she was Episcopalian. The mailing address, telephone number and email address were all for her office at the hospital. I emailed in early May, not realizing that she had retired from the chaplaincy the previous year.

After two weeks passed without a response, I used Facebook, that wonderful online directory. In desperation, I sent a Facebook message in mid-May, asking about spiritual direction. Right before Thanksgiving, actually, when I was standing outside my daughter's homeroom waiting for her class's family heritage presentations, I received both a Facebook reply and a text message saying that I should call the landline if still interested.

We agreed to touch base after Thanksgiving and set up a meeting. January seemed the best time, after the New Year.

Meanwhile, I went to choir rehearsal this week for the first time since before Christmas. We were preparing songs for Epiphany and someone suggested We Three Kings.
No, the pastor who is filling in on Sunday specifically said no to that song.
Then the choir director mentioned the name of the fill-in and I recognized it as my possible spiritual director. And still thinking she was Episcopalian, well, maybe in a pinch things are freer than you'd think. I thought that I might better attend Sunday morning service to get a sense of her in advance of our first meeting this week. I wasn't sure I would need to introduce myself; I could be a "face in the crowd." But she stood right next to me as we warmed up our voices with the anthem song before the service. And only about twenty people total were in attendance at the service. Hardly a crowd. It's still entirely possible that she would not remember or recognize me. But I didn't want to risk the embarrassment in any case.

As far as a sense of her is concerned: You know, you can almost just about pinpoint the years these ministers were in seminary because their thinking and preaching is so molded by topics from those times. She mentioned a book in her sermon by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas. She mispronounced 'Crossan.' Seeing her struggle, I mouthed the surname at her from my seat in the choir box, hoping she'd get it. She said, "croissant." Anyway, The First Christmas, rather recent stuff from them. I had found a xeroxed packet of the book's second chapter among Kenny's school papers at the end of last year. She said the book changed her life.

After the service, I introduced myself and mentioned our meeting later this week. "Remind me again? Oh, can we move that earlier? Ok, say, 10?" That was it. Apparently she is not an Episcopalian. I'll try to keep her thinking that we are of the same denomination.

I intend to say something in our discussion about the popular small group vehicle in the local church for spiritual growth not working well for me. There are various reasons but mostly I don't like the clique culture it creates. But that's one of the small group model's purposes! Actually, I'm thinking that choir is a kind of small group.

Sunday, January 01, 2017


New Year's Eve Communion Service, 12/31/2016

I swear that the event was initially touted as a prayer service. Somehow, after I'd decided to attend, it changed into a communion service. Once I make up my mind, I can't just up and change it.

Recalling last year's service, this wasn't identical. As a woman played the electronic keyboard, I could hear her long fingernails clacking on the keys. We sang three of what they call a "chorus," just a refrain, really. Stuffed with the hymnal is a "chorus binder." I sat behind the associate pastor and his wife and imitated their gestures as we sang. We hand-clapped for the first number, except on the final time through. In the second one we raised our hands when the lyrics mentioned that. Well, I didn't raise my hands but I managed to turn my palms upwards. After confirming that she hadn't planned another song, the pastor asked for testimonies. Just about everyone in attendance gave one. It was like an auction and he'd call on anyone who so much as scratched their chin to witness. I dared not flinch. I felt like I was back in grammar school getting called upon.

But the pastor prefers talking to listening so he didn't linger on testimonies. He gave the musician at her keyboard on the platform with him an opportunity to take her seat with the congregation but she declined. He began reading from Genesis 1:31 and threw everything including the kitchen sink at us. Creation was very good but man was disobedient and sinful but God knew the plan from the beginning and Jesus would come to redeem us. And if you've never given your life over to him ... words that skip past the intellect and resonate at the core.

He described how communion would be distributed: everyone would come forward and take the elements from him. I could tell that procession wasn't their typical practice because there was no order. Everyone made a dash for it. I could also tell that, unlike when communion is passed, I would not dodge it. In a way, he was monitoring it. And a teen girl did not go forward, so he came to her and made her take it1. He also started towards the musician on the platform but as he approached she said she already had. Like before the service even started! After we all had, he said the words from 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 but also included Matthew's mention of the remission of sins.

We said a quick prayer and things were done. I left rather promptly. I counted 15 attendees including myself. The pastor blamed the low turnout on it being a Saturday night.2


1 and it's gestures like that that show they want the ordinance to carry more weight that they even admit.
2 it's interesting to note that in 2012/2013, Bishop O'Connell celebrated with Te Deum and vespers on New Year's Eve. NLM's write-up and my own recollection. As far as I know, it has not been repeated.

Friday, December 30, 2016

It's different everywhere and at this place communion happens on the first Sunday of the month. They wanted to wear the old robes for Advent and break out the new robes in the new year. I selected an unspoken-for robe, its plastic hanger not bearing a choir member's name, and it felt so snug, probably a youth's size. A shorter woman asked me whether hers, which was sweeping the floor, looked too oversized and I almost said, "Yes, let's swap!"

The fill-in pastor introduced herself to me yet again, asking me my name.

The choir box seats twelve comfortably. We had five altos, two tenors and four sopranos. The sopranos, however, believe that they reserve half of the choir box. Already they'd lost a seat to me, as I sat next to them in the upper row. The two sopranos in front, a mother / daughter team (or grandmother / granddaughter), refused to move down when asked. They weren't doing much to dispel the "diva" stereotype1.

The church filled up more than the previous Sunday evening, the Community Thanksgiving Service which eight people attended. I noticed that our choir director acts more like an MC, or rather more properly, like a cantor. For example, he called the pastor's attention when she inadvertently skipped the "Call to Worship" portion of the service. She thanked him and said, "What would I do without you?"

It seems intentional that so many adults volunteer to help with children's church rather than endure the sermon. The two sopranos, too, who refused to slide down, went out with the children. But they were simply slipping out early. The pastor includes so many quotations in her sermons; I feel she's trying to impress through namedropping. She mentions Henri Nouwen a great deal.

I did my best to keep on top of the service, especially when it was time to sing. Relative to the overall time spent at worship, we did precious little singing. And communion was tacked on, too. I had a side view of that Christian ordinance for the first time. She presented a huge loaf then gave four ushers (or deaconesses, I don't know) prepared platters. Two came directly to the choir box which seemed grossly disproportionate to the nine of us there. Then they walked, with measured or exaggerated steps, down the aisles, glancing constantly to their left and right to keep even with the other servers. As best as I could make out, only myself and the choir director abstained. They came around again in the same way as before with the juice cups. Four servers with full platters, much too much for the usual turnout. I passed empty, used cups down the choir rows because there are no prayerbook racks with spots for the used cups.

Meanwhile, from my side view, I became keenly aware that the minister was doing nothing while communion was distributed. She paced a bit at first, as if she didn't know what to do with herself. Then she backed up from the table and seated her rump on the front ledge of the platform. I found the image highly off-putting but I was just as bothered by her idleness during communion. Now, one might declare, "'Priesthood of all believers' means everyone ministers to themselves and self-communicates." Obviously, I'm not going to agree with that.

The polyester of the choir robes made me uncomfortable. If I had been seated on the end of the choir box, I would have gone out for a breather during the service. But I was trapped in the middle so that wasn't possible. At one point in the service, I really felt quite ill but I held it together and got through.

At the conclusion, I hung up my robe in the closet. I can't make the next four or five Sunday mornings.
1 "How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

At some point, I met a woman at Bible study who is now on the verge of moving permanently out of state. She’s fifteen years my senior which seems to be the age of women that I get along with. I took an interest in her life, in the things that she opened up to me about, specifically her son’s high school cross country success and the ups and downs of church office employment. Often the responsibilities of that employment kept her from Bible study.

Then, at some point, she moved on from belonging to that church we met at. I myself had never belonged to it. So, except for Facebook on which she rarely shared, we were out of touch. Recently she became vocal about plans to sell their NJ home and move back closer to their childhood origins. I heard no plans for a good-bye gathering so I picked a Sunday morning to visit the evangelical church she attends.

Just riding through Princeton early on a Sunday morning is a treat. I saw a large group of young people waiting to cross Washington Rd. who may have been participants in the summer sports camps on campus, as Kenny was last summer. I spotted a family touring the campus on their own. Honestly, I’d never before made a right hand turn at Nassau St., so already an adventure. Lovely, beautiful houses, some obviously “original” to the founding. The church was quite out of town. I realized immediately that the wedding photos a photographer had posted to Facebook the day before were taken at this church. I drove straight to the back of the large parking lot and backed in to hide my many bumper magnets.

With my car door open, I leaned back inside to fish out my pocketbook and a bill for the collection. But I could see that an approaching car wished to park in the empty spot next to me. Except my open door was in the way. So, I scooted back into the car and closed the door however the driver had already found another spot nearby. I’m used to church parking lots being still, even deathlike, before a service because everyone is usually already inside for pre-service Sunday School. And with no one to lead the way, it’s a guessing game which door to enter by. No summer Sunday School.

About to open my car door again, I spot a second car coming to the back of the parking lot, and this time the driver does park in the spot next to me. I wait for them all to exit then I make my move to get out of my car. But the driver doubles back to close the car windows, which involves getting in and turning on the car. So I’m waiting feeling dumb. When I do finally get out, I see all the “right” bumper stickers and window clings on the cars parked around me, “Wilberforce School,” “Calvin College,” etc. Schools and colleges. No political stickers.

I see a family with children enter at the end door and decide that’s the nursery. So I’d better find another way in. I clutch tightly my designer Good News Bible with its two-tone leather cover and gilded edges— which I now see are so outdated! I used the hardcover, pew ESV Bible during the service and as confidently as possible, stride up to the side entrance, pleased to see that my long sleeve blouse, ankle-length skirt and leather sandals are in keeping with the prevailing women’s attire.

The service starts on time with the sanctuary a quarter full. I expect the hymn lyrics to be displayed on the screens but, no, Hymns for the Living Church is used.

There is no time for greeting those around us or welcoming visitors. Everything and everyone is “excellent,” because Princeton. I felt dignified just sitting there among them. The sermon hung together beautifully. It was on Isaiah 61. For the most part, he kept to that chapter and only referenced Isaiah 50 and 53 at the beginning. And he mentioned Nehemiah. There wasn’t any quirky theology in it. Nothing peculiar, nothing denominational. Just sinners and savior.

I gave up early on looking for the woman I intended to wish farewell. Once the service started, I was focused. Afterwards, I exited the sanctuary to the lovely area immediately outside. I spotted the acquaintance stuffing a bagel into her mouth. She was speaking with someone but when she saw me, she excused herself from that conversation. Turning to me, she asked that dumb question, “Is this your church, too?” I suppose an even dumber question would be, “What are you doing here?”

Anyway, I wished her well. She was on her way into the sanctuary for the later service and I told her, as well done as it was, it was probably a repeat of the earlier one and I didn’t need it.