Archive for the Rationale Category

Celebrating Inconvenience

Posted in Doing Church, Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2017 by timtrue

17th-century_unknown_painters_-_The_Resurrection_of_Christ_-_WGA23478[1]The following article, which appears in the April/May newsletter of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Yuma, Arizona, discusses the significance of the historic Easter Vigil worship service.

“The Great Vigil, when observed, is the first service of Easter Day. It is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning.”

So says the Book of Common Prayer on page 284.

To which I ask, “Is there such a thing as a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning?”

Easter is late this year. Sunset will occur after seven o’clock, with real darkness only truly descending after 7:30. The rubrics of the Prayer Book constrain us really, then, to a first “convenient” time of 8pm.

But how convenient is 8pm for folks who cannot easily drive in the dark?

We do have other options, I suppose. “Between sunset and sunrise” means a midnight service would be appropriate, and midnight’s always cool. Or, for those who have trouble seeing in the dark, we could begin the service at 4:30am, timing it so that it would end just before sunrise (which will occur at 6:07am). That way people would only have to drive one way in the dark, and at a time of the day when there is very little traffic.

Still, neither of these options strikes me as any more convenient than 8pm.

The Prayer Book continues:

“The service normally consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light.
  2. The Service of Lessons.
  3. Christian Initiation [i. e., baptism], or the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.
  4. The Holy Eucharist with the administration of Easter Communion.”

In other words, it’s like a normal Sunday service—which consists of two parts, the Service of Lessons and the Holy Eucharist—with a couple of additions: the Service of Light and baptism.

That “Service of Light” part really does constrain us to the dark—a time between sunset and sunrise—which, let’s face it, really does feel inconvenient, no matter how we look at it.

And it feels even more inconvenient when we think about that other part, that baptism part!

I mean, really? The Prayer Book would rather we baptize at the (dark) Great Vigil than wait for the next day, when the sun is up and the Easter Lilies are smiling along with everyone else who got a good night’s sleep? What if that baptism is of a young child, who’d probably be in much better spirits on a bright Sunday morning than a dark Saturday night—not to mention his parents? Or what if the hoped for godparents aren’t able to make it out at night for whatever reason? Or what if? . . .

Okay, okay, I hear your questions. Yes, they are reasonable. Yes, a nighttime, dark service does indeed feel inconvenient. And yes, we could just as well forget about the Vigil and revert to the way things used to be around here, when we simply waited for Easter Sunday to roll around, stress day.

But if there’s one thing about me you’ve gotten to know by now, it’s that I highly respect our Episcopal tradition. And by “Episcopal tradition” I don’t mean the way we did things last year, five years ago, fifty, or even a hundred; I mean the tradition that goes back before the Reformation, before the marriage of the Roman and English Churches in the seventh century, even before the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. I want to go clear back as far as history will take us. How did the early church do it? That’s the tradition I’m talking about.

The reason I value this tradition so greatly is because many, many saints before us have thought long and hard—a lot longer and harder than any of us have—about how best to worship and glorify Christ. By the way, this is the rationale behind our Book of Common Prayer, leaving little room in our assemblies for novel, innovative liturgies.

And, even more importantly, there’s this: Jesus inconvenienced himself a great deal—when he emptied himself of the glories of heaven and became human; when he washed his disciples’ feet; when he stayed up all night praying fervently in the garden that his Father would take his cup from him; when he stood trial before Pilate; when he was stricken, smitten, afflicted, and nailed to the cross mercilessly; when he eked out his last breath—all for us! We break these dark inconveniences when we come to worship him at the Great Vigil, the fitting end to this drama known as the Passion, where we celebrate new light and life together—something the bright Sunday morning service just can’t replicate.

And thus, when it comes to worshiping Christ as God, the term inconvenience takes on new meaning.

Let’s celebrate this inconvenience—the Great Vigil, the tremendous conclusion to Christ’s Passion—together on Saturday, April 15, at 8pm. There will be a baptism this year; and, immediately following the service, a champagne-and-hot-cross-buns reception!

Fellowship

Posted in Books, Education, Rationale with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2015 by timtrue

Sewanee fall

Elated to be returning to my alma mater for two weeks this fall!

If you know me half-well, you might wonder if I’m headed to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee to see my two daughters who are presently students there.

Or you might be wondering if I’m returning to spend more time playing Sewanee’s 54-bell carillon, a one-of-a-kind instrument I performed on from time to time during my tenure as a graduate student; the tower in which it is housed stands tall in the photo above.

Or you might be wondering if I’ve got some pressing business with the School of Theology–to attend the Daily Office in COTA (Chapel Of The Apostles) or to sit in on some especially riveting lecture or other or to press a former professor or three on some vexing theological question.

Or maybe I want to spend time with my good friends in the classics department.

Or maybe I’ll be stopping by some of the area congregations in which I served as an organist, deacon, or preacher.

Or maybe I just miss the burgers at Shenanigans.

Truth be told, that’s all part of it, sure.  No doubt I will be trying to see as many people and enjoy as many meals as I can with them, especially the two favorite people mentioned in the first paragraph–not to mention visiting the tavern a time or two too with the older one since she’s turning twenty-one tomorrow.

But none of this is actually why I’m going.  Not technically anyway.  Unless, arguably, it all is.

The truth is I’ve been awarded a fellowship to research and otherwise work on a book.

The book’s subject matter is quintessential Sewanee history–albeit with a splash of lore.  Or, on second thought, it’s quintessential Sewanee lore with a splash of history.  Ghost lore, to be specific; which is indeed a significant part of Sewanee’s history (as is angel lore).

So you know, my fellowship proposal stemmed from a desire that went unfulfilled all my while as a student.  For, as a student (who also happened to be a father struggling to make ends meet–and thus all the carillon performing, Latin teaching, and organ accompanying), I never had adequate time to explore all the ghost lore that captivated my imagination while in the old town (by American standards).  It simply would have been too difficult to write all those theology and church history papers with ghost stories on my mind.  So, while a student, I set the captivation aside, calling it too distracting or whatever, trying to ignore it and hoping it would go away.

But it didn’t.

So now, I’d like to return to Sewanee, I said on my fellowship application, to explore this ghost lore in a focused way.  I want to eat meals and drink pints in the tavern with those who have a story to tell–with those who have lived and breathed long enough in the community to have heard a tale or two enough times to have most of the details worked out.  I want to climb the stairs in the bell tower again to the carillon cabin–a bell tower with a tale or two of its own–and maybe even play a piece.  I might even want to explore one of the graveyards or any other haunt with anyone willing to explore with me–might want to go on a bona fide ghost hunt or two!

And so, yes, technically, I’m returning to Sewanee for none of the reasons listed above.  But, on the other hand, it’s kind of for all the reasons above–and many more.

So if you are a Sewaneean with a ghost story to tell and will be around Oct. 26-Nov. 6, please let me know when and where we can meet for a conversation.

And–oh yeah–Halloween, conveniently, falls right in the middle of my time there.  I’m hoping to share some of my findings in Hamilton Hall during my stay.  Who knows, maybe it will be on Halloween itself–right before a midnight graveyard ghost hunt?

Hooters for Haircutters

Posted in Family, Musings, Rationale with tags , , , , on October 7, 2014 by timtrue

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I took the bait.

“$10 off men’s haircuts,” the coupon said.  My wife had grabbed two: one for me and one for my five year-old son.

“It’ll be fun,” my wife said.  “I’ve heard good things about this place, like it’s a step or three up from that place you usually go.  Besides, it’ll be some father-son bonding time.”

Father-son bonding time, eh?  We usually experience that when we go to that step-or-three-down barber.  But they know us there.  And they know how to cut our hair.  It’s functional–and as stylish as we want to go with our timeless, product-free “boy cuts.”

Plus, with the money I save, my five year-old son and I usually walk a few doors down to Baskin-Robbins afterwards, for continued father-son bonding time over single scoops of Peanut Butter Chocolate and Mint Chocolate Chip.  Bet the new place isn’t next to a Baskin-Robbins, eh?

But ten bucks off each haircut, and a step or three up?

Like I said, I took the bait.

I wish I hadn’t.

We walked into this new place, this place that boasted to give “sports cuts,” this place whose only clientele were men, this place that promised us ten bucks off, and the reek of gimmick penetrated deep into our olfactories.

Firm but relaxed chairs beckoned in the waiting room, each one strategically facing a large, flat-screen television displaying a live football game; each one covered with a deep-red faux leather, a manly textile.  We indifferently chose two facing Tennessee vs. Georgia.

And now I noticed that the lights were dimmed just so and angled for minimal glare–another manly touch.

Then the cutters of hair began to appear, girls all, wearing black stretch pants–or was it mere body paint?–and shirts to look like referees, black-and-white striped.  And were those actual whistles around their necks?

They offered us soda, PowerAde, water; sweet and bubbly–the girls, that is, not the water.

And, except for the coupons in my hand, I thought we could have been at Hooters.

My son didn’t seem to mind so much, or maybe he didn’t really notice.  He’s only five, and the hormones aren’t boiling in him yet–at least they aren’t to the extent that they obviously were in a middle schooler next to us.  I wanted to shout, “Put your tongue back in your mouth, boy,” but opted instead not to draw any more attention to this already skewed vision of reality.  Maybe my son wouldn’t take much notice, I thought.

The haircuts came and went, and were nice enough in their own right.  A step or three up indeed, as my wife had said.  But after our haircuts–my son too!–the bubbly, scantily clad cutters of our hair led us each back to a dark room behind a curtain, where they shampooed our hair and massaged our scalps, quietly giving us permission to fall asleep in their capable hands if we so desired.  Which was followed by a backrub.

On our way home my son said, “Well that was weird!”  He had noticed.

As for me, I found the whole experience maddening.  We live in a culture that prides itself on becoming increasingly gender-equal.  Women were allowed to vote quite early in the bigger picture of world democracies.  Average women’s salaries are closer than ever to average men’s salaries for equivalent jobs.  The Episcopal Church is the first church in the global Anglican communion to elect a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.  And yet we have this haircutting chain that objectifies women?

It’s hip, it’s trendy, it gives men an experience with which they are comfortable.  And it’s successful.

But the haircutters, all female, wear skimpy clothes.  They look like referees: a quasi appearance of authority.  But the truth is that these women are paid to do the bidding of men, the real dominators in this scenario, who lounge around watching sports and refreshing (and scratching) themselves.  It’s twisted, even perverted.

Definitely not the message I want to teach to my five year-old son!

So, coupon or no coupon, we’ll not return.  Instead, we’ll go back to our step-or-three down barber and ice-cream conversation, thank you very much.

From the Frame Up, Part 1

Posted in Motorcycle, Rationale with tags , , , on January 29, 2014 by timtrue

If you’ve known me for more than six months then you probably know I always like to have something to do.  What this doesn’t mean is that I like assignments given to me by others.  So stop right there if you’re tempted to offer suggestions.  Rather, I’m talking about something to do without any obligation to anyone, something to get lost in, where I lose all track of time and even some sense of space.

So television’s out.  Not that I refuse it altogether.  I’ve been known in fact even to get into the occasional show, like a certain singing competition where the judges are as entertaining if not more so than the contestants.  But if I succumb to the swirling vortex of amusement known as the boob tube, well, that’s really someone else determining what I do with my precious and tenaciously guarded free time.  So it doesn’t count.

For similar reasons, following sports doesn’t count either.  Again, I’ve been known to follow a certain California baseball team all the way through the World Series.  But behind it all someone out there in Major League Baseball is telling me how to spend my three or four or five hours of my summer (and spring and fall) evenings, when, frankly, I’d much rather be outside playing a sport than inside watching one.

No, for me, something to do in my free time looks like learning the carillon, as I did in Sewanee; or writing a book, as I did when I spent my daytime hours teaching Latin once upon a time; or composing a piece of music for piano or carillon or voice, as I have done many times; or writing a blog post, as I am doing right now.

So now, enter my newest something-to-do: Project BMW, from the frame up.

BMW Project 1

Actually, as you can probably tell from the photo, it’s more than just a frame.  It’s a frame, rear end, and front end of a 1977(?) BMW r100/7.  And it happened like this.

Since moving from Sewanee to San Antonio and starting my curacy, I’ve been spending my precious few hours of free time a week not engaged in any of the above activities, but rather thinking about what kind of time-and-space transcending activity I should take on, now that I no longer had access to a carillon.  I’m a planner by nature after all.  So time to think things through is always a good thing–to some extent anyway, until I start to over-analyze, like I’m doing right now in this sentence.  So . . . I’ve thought a lot about starting another book.  The idea is in my mind–a modern-day ghost story involving a priest and medieval European monasteries.  But I need to have a great big block of time to jumpstart this one into action, like a week off from work, alone with my computer.  And this just ain’t happening in my curacy.

I could compose, I suppose.  But for whatever reason I’m finding myself unmotivated to do anything like this at the end of each day, something like writer’s block for a composer.

Instead I’ve been frequenting eBay.

At first it was little more than something to do.  I’ve always liked to peruse classified ads.  Weird, I know!  But they somehow get my creative wheels spinning.  Then the idea became to find an old motorcycle for cheap in need of repair.  So I’d bid, I told myself.  And if I were to win, not only would I repair the thing, I’d modify it to be cooler than it already is.  I might upgrade the suspension, overhaul the motor, improve the breathing with velocity stacks, whatever.  But first, before I could even plan modifications, I needed to find something to work with; I needed to find a cheap old bike.

But what kind?

This idea, incidentally, is not original to me.  It’s being acted upon by several customizers across the globe in fact.  And I hope you’re not thinking Orange County Choppers when you hear “customizer.”  I’m not really into those.  Rather, it’s more like this, well worth a look-see if you’ve got five minutes: http://www.bikeexif.com/surfboard-motorcycle.  Now that I like!  And that I could do–with a little elbow grease and, of course, free time–if the bike’s not too complicated.

So the concept of restoring/modifying a ’70s-’80s era BMW has come in for a landing and taken up residency.  The bikes are air-cooled and carbureted, meaning a certain simplicity; and they’re shaft-driven, meaning virtually no maintenance once it’s up and running.

But these machines retain their value, a fact I soon learned from my numerous eBay searches!  Over the past several months I’ve found many ’70s-’80s era BMW r-series bikes.  But very few for under $3000!  And that’s just the starting point.  Once purchased I’d want to tear it town completely and restore/modify it from the frame up.

So why not start with only a frame and go from there, I thought?  There’s that whole section on eBay motors called “parts and accessories.”  Why not check that out?

So I did.

And ten days ago I ended up placing a bid on an r100/7 frame for $199.  (It helped me make the decision when I saw that the owner lived right here in San Antonio, meaning if on the off-chance I happened to win it, shipping would be free.)

It wasn’t the first bid I’d ever placed on eBay.  In fact I’d placed several.  But before making any bid I always establish a limit and stick to it.  That way I don’t get too carried away.  I suppose I’d do the same if I were ever to gamble.  But my point is that up till yesterday I’d always been outbid.

So my bid was $199, the lowest opening bid I could offer.  That was ten days ago, meaning nine days then remained until the bid would close.  My predetermined limit on the frame was $200.  This meant that if anyone else bid over my $199 opening bid, then I’d be outbid.

But no one did: no one else bid.

I’d pretty much forgotten about it.  But then eBay helpfully alerted me that my winning bid would soon close.  So I signed in and recalled what I’d done more than a week before.  And as I watched the clock run out and realized that I’d actually purchased an old, beat-up, greasy, dirty, used motorcycle frame, two things crossed my mind.  First, I’d have some explaining to do to my wife when she’d come home from work that afternoon to find an old motorcycle frame in the utility room (we have no garage).  But second, now I’d have something to do in the evenings, on the weekends, whenever no other obligations were otherwise demanding my attention.  Starting tonight, by the way.

So now I write with dirty fingernails and metal flakes on my pants.  I’ve got the frame nearly stripped of everything–except for the upper and lower races (in the “gooseneck”)–ready to be sandblasted and powdercoated.  The front end and rear end, both unanticipated bonuses, will be set upon tomorrow–or the next day, or the next; it doesn’t really matter–to be dismantled and similarly stripped, the swing arm and the fork sliders to join the frame in its powdercoating ritual.

BMW Project 2

It’ll take a while to complete this project, no doubt.  But I don’t really care.

Motorcycles, Music, and the Mediterranean

Posted in Background, Education, Family, Motorcycle, Rationale, Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by timtrue

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Just imagine for a moment cruising around the Mediterranean Riviera on a motorcycle, by yourself or with friends, whatever your pleasure, with an itinerary based upon concerts.  Would you start in Rome and work your way north and then west through France and Spain?  Or are you more attracted to the east side of the Middle-earth Sea, to the Greek Isles maybe, or to Istanbul, or the so-called Promised Land?  Or, perhaps you have a thirst for the peoples of North Africa–for Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco?  Or maybe you’d do it all.  Anyway, sounds like a great vacation to me.  Now if only I could find a way to finance it!

But contrary to whatever ideas the title of this post may suggest about travel, what I really want to discuss here is another “m” word: manumission.  For each of these things–motorcycles, music, and the Mediterranean–represent a liberation for me from a burden that had become a sort of personal bondage.  Perhaps this manumission has something to do with why I continue to be so drawn to each today.  (Perhaps, too, that imagined vacation suggested above will become a personal reality someday.)

So: motorcycles.  How do these represent liberation for me?  To answer I must go back to my boyhood, to when I was twelve years old or so and I got my first motorcycle.  It was a Yamaha MX80, not sure of the year, maybe 1972.  An unreliable two-stroke motor powered the beast.  I remember that it fouled sparkplugs regularly, so I soon learned to carry a spare in my increasingly bulging portable tool kit.  It possessed all of 6 or 7 horsepower, and could reach a top speed of thirty-five, maybe–if I rode it down a really steep hill wide open and engaged the clutch!

But it provided me with a certain freedom I’d not known previously.  For my older brother, who had a much more reliable 1976 Honda XR75, and I now had the ability to explore far beyond where any of our previous pedestrian adventures had allowed us to go.  Many a time did we ride from our house to the bed of Callegas Creek, taking whatever footpaths and backroads we could to get there and to avoid the fuzz.  We fashioned ourselves as little rebels without a cause.  At least we did until another fouled plug threw a temporary glitch into the day.  But then we fashioned ourselves as expert mechanics.

On this note, I remember a day when we couldn’t for the life of us figure out how to get my steed back in working order.  We were three or four miles from home, stuck in a fairly boggy part of the creek bed, scratching our heads in adolescent befuddlement.  Long story short, one of us found a bedraggled piece of discarded rope; and, knowing how to tie numerous knots from Scouts, Older Brother towed me the distance.  To heck with non-street-legal status, we said; this was an emergency!  Fifteen minutes later we’d made it home in one piece, and we’d avoided the fuzz’s notice.

We didn’t always succeed, however, at avoiding the fuzz’s notice.  I can remember more than once riding my manumission-enabling motorcycle right past a cop driving in the other direction.  I can even remember seeing the cop’s frowning face and pointing finger, indicating his desire for me to pull over.

But I had some things going for me, and I knew it.  First off, the roads were narrow and windy.  It would be at least thirty seconds before the cop could turn around successfully.  By then I’d be a quarter-mile away.  Second, I knew these quasi-rural narrow windy streets as well if not better than he did.  There lay before me any combination of lefts, rights, and straight-aheads so that by the time said cop managed to turn his bulky Ford-Crown-Victoria self around he’d be left to guess his way forward like so many youths in the Minotaur’s labyrinth.  Ha!  And, third and finally, I could go off-road if necessary, as a last resort (which I actually did once).  What could the copper do then?  Pull his pistol on me?  Really?  Yeah, like that’d go over well in the Camarillo Daily News!  Cop Shoots Kid on 6-Horsepower Sparkplug-fouling Motorbike.

Anyway, I never did get pulled over, arrested, thrown in juvey, whatever.  Instead I always managed to defy the law (and my plug-fouling steed) successfully, high-tailing it home lickety-split, parking the bike in the garage, shutting it down, closing the garage door, and heading into the house to take a nonchalant seat on the couch as if I’d only been playing Space Invaders on the ATARI all morning long.

Manumission I tell you!

Vielle

A second liberating experience happened in college, after deciding to change my major from mathematics to music.  It happened this way.

I entered college in 1986, three months after graduating high school.  But I had no idea what to do with my life, what to declare as a major, and so on.  Long about second semester of my senior year in high school, in fact, I’d looked around and thought, “Yeah, I guess I ought to go to college.  Don’t want to end up delivering flowers the rest of my life.”  So I applied to enroll like so many of my friends at a local community college.

But that blasted application asked me to choose a major!

So I wondered and reflected and contemplated and pondered and thought and over-analyzed, as I am wont to do.  What am I good at?  What do I like to do?

In the end I checked the box that said forestry.  How cool would that be, I reasoned, to backpack around Yosemite or Kings Canyon and check the lakes to see if they’re stocked with enough fish!

But in my first year of college I almost gave up.  Flower delivery, after all, was paying me pretty well.

It was the math, really.  I’d let calculus get the better of me.

The fall of 1987 came around and I determined to get back up on that horse–or, to use another metaphor, to fix that fouled plug and ride the motorbike home.  I poured every bit of mental effort I had into my second attempt at calculus.  And I found I actually understood it, even liked it!

At the same time I was taking music appreciation and music theory courses.  These I enjoyed too.  But they were almost effortless for me.  I wrote the first coherent paper of my life, comparing Beethoven to the Beatles–and earned an A.  I devoured every musical rule I learned; compositions flowed.  So, I reasoned, because of the effortlessness these courses must not be as academic as math, somehow.

Yet I enjoyed them so much so that I shared with my engineer-dad my struggle.  “Dad,” I said, “um, well, I’m still technically a forestry major.  But I’m thinking of changing my major to either music or math.  And, uh, since you’re paying the bills and all, well, what do you think?”

“What kind of job could you get with a music degree?” he asked.

So I officially changed my major to mathematics.

Three years later I was in Davis, California, the fall of 1990, beginning what I hoped would be my final year of college.  Math was a struggle, but the end was in sight–if only I could pass analysis and combinatorics.  Everything else came easily enough for me.  But these two courses were a struggle.

Then there was music.  I was still taking music courses on the side, for fun.  But it felt somehow wrong, like dating two girls at the same time.

“And besides,” I asked myself, “what would I do with a math degree?  Teach?

“I could always teach music. . . .

“And that whole silly dream of being a fighter pilot in the Air Force, well, really, Tim, that was kind of a passing fancy, wasn’t it?

“Aren’t you really feeling more of a tug to pursue ministry?”

And so I was.

Couple this with things taking a turn for the worse in my first significant relationship with a girl–another story for another day.

So then, it all exploded over Christmas break.  My girlfriend broke up with me (on Christmas Day no less!) and faithful Music and jealous Math found out what was going on.  The gig was up.

So I again sought sage Engineer-dad’s counsel.

“Do what you want, Tim,” he said.  “But keep in mind that the money will be used up by the end of this year.  So if you end up staying on, you’ll have to pay for it.”

So I did.  I changed my major to music and stayed on–another two years.  And I paid for it out of my own pocket.  Happily!  For I’d been manumitted.

On to the Mediterranean then!

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Some years after graduating college I was indeed teaching.  Ironically it included math.  By now I was married with two daughters, ages 3 and 1.  And I was frankly disappointed in the educational prospects for my kids.  So I began to consider and contemplate and think about and ponder and over-analyze the idea of home-schooling my children if necessary, to offer them something better than the other options we were faced with–if necessary.  My question to myself, then, was where I lacked.

I began reading lots of books about education, turning first to the history of education and then to the seven liberal arts of the Middle Ages themselves.  Curiously, my education had included lots of stuff.  Serendipitously, I was already quite well-versed in the quadrivium–arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music.  But, aha!, the trivium revealed a gap.  Sure, I knew some things about grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric.  But these were not taught once upon a time as we teach subjects today.  They were seen more as stages, as Dorothy Sayers points out in a rather famous essay.  Anyway, to learn the languages of Greek and Latin would reasonably fill in my personal academic gaps, I concluded.

So at 32 years of age I dived into the ancient Mediterranean pool of classical languages.  And again I experienced a sort of manumission.  For I wasn’t the only person seeing educational deficiencies in our modern culture, I soon discovered.  Lots of schools in fact were restructuring their curricula to incorporate these same ancient models, or starting up as altogether new.  And I soon found a place teaching Latin, not to mention ancient Mediterranean cultures, to students.  I found schools to which I could send my kids with a clear conscience too.  Manumission!

So there it is, really: my manumission theme and three variations.  But, before I conclude, I’d like to add a coda.

That 3 year-old is now a sophomore in college.  She is studying this semester in Florence, Italy, smack-dab in the middle of all things Mediterranean.  And she is having the time of her life.

She’s been there only a few weeks.  But already she has traveled to Rome and Pompeii, and to Ravenna.  She will be taking a field trip to, among other places, Venice.  While in Florence, in addition to studying, she will enjoy an internship restoring Etruscan artifacts.  She recently wrote me to say,

“While doing my homework this evening, I glanced at a picture of Zeus that I’ve seen in several textbooks over the years.  I then realized that this sculpture resides exactly where I do.  I think it’s finally hit me that I live in the midst of, essentially with, all the history and art that I have studied in the past several years.  I’m currently in awe.”

There’s something very liberating in all of this.

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College Advice to my Kids

Posted in Education, Rationale with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2013 by timtrue

As my kids grow I try to reduce commands and increase suggestions.  That way, in theory anyway, by the time they’re ready to head off to college, they make and own their decisions: I haven’t told them where to go; but I’ve helped them along the way–sometimes without their cognizance–so that when they finally decide it ends up being a win-win.  That’s my thinking, anyway.  And so far it’s working.  One of my kids is a sophomore already in college and another is about to finish her senior year of high school, on the cusp of embarking on her voyage into adulthood.

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enough on parenting styles.  What I want to write about today is the suggestion part of the above equation: what lies at the foundation of my urgings, directings, proddings, pursuadings, and hintings–my advice, in other words, to my kids as they approach the day when I bid them bon voyage.

It has to do with play (something I mentioned near the end of my last post, “Why Audit Apuleius?”) in contrast to work.  Not that these two form a dichotomy: it’s not either play or work, I know; but more of both play and work.  But picture a play-work spectrum.  On the extreme left is pure play, on the extreme right pure work.  Everything else from left to right–every tiniest gradation–is some combination of play and work, more play than work on the left half and more work than play on the right, with a 50-50 mix occurring right in the middle.  “Now if you’re like me,” I’ve told my kids throughout their childhood–subtly, and sometimes not so subtly–“and if you’re like most people I know, you’ll probably want to end up with a job that puts you as closely as possible to the left side of the spectrum–as close to pure play as possible.”

Of course, this advice requires some definitions.  For both these terms–play and work–are vague and can therefore mean a lot of things to a lot of people; or even a lot of different things to the same person.  So, okay, what do I mean?

By work I do not mean a job, as in the common use, “Honey, I’m going to work.  See you at 5:30.”  Rather, I mean more the term given to Adam and Eve in the creation account–or the fall account if you prefer.  God created Adam and Eve, so the story goes, in the divine image.  There, in that pre-fall state of uprightness they were both given jobs to do.  But it wasn’t until after they ate that notorious fruit that their tasks became the work to which I refer.  Now they were told that they would toil by the sweat of their brows and that, for Eve, bearing a child would involve pain and labor.  Here are some synonyms that go with the term then: toil, pain, labor.  This is the stuff on the right side of my spectrum.

Play, by contrast, is something more transcendent.  In pure play–on the extreme left of the spectrum–I lose all sense of time, and perhaps even some sense of space.  For instance, I compose music when I have some free time and the fancy strikes me.  More than once I have started composing something late at night, after most or maybe all other family members have gone to bed, when the house is quiet and there’s nothing to distract me; only then to realize suddenly that it’s beginning to get light outside, that birds are chirping, that I’m actually in the world of time and space again, and that I better go to bed and get at least a couple hours of sleep lest I be a grumpy wreck of a father all day.  Point is, in the act of composing I entered something of a trance during which I’d lost all sense of time, and was even transported in some sense from my piano bench to an other-worldly spot, something like the Wood between the Worlds in C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew.  Pure play.  Perhaps it’s the same for you.

Of course, in the world of jobs, vocations, professions, whatever–in the world of working for a living–it’s difficult to conceive of a job that allows a person to be in a state of pure play daily.  Indeed, is this even possible?  Even the author who gets lost in writing a book has a publisher to satisfy, deadlines to abide by, and the obligatory book-signings to attend.  Even the professor has students to teach, students who don’t really have any interest but are taking the course simply to satisfy a graduation requirement.  Even the independently wealthy have finances to worry about.  Even the–fill in the blank with your idealized job situation–has some type of toil, labor, and pain attached to the position.  We cannot escape work entirely–a truth that the Genesis story conveys all too well.

But we can do something about it.  Especially when we’re young, about to embark on a voyage into adulthood!  What moves you?  What engages you so completely that you lose a sense of time and space when doing it?  Once you identify this, the key is to find something that enables you to engage in this activity as much as possible.  So, for instance, in my case studying music theory and composition seemed the best option for a college major.  And even though I’m a priest now–a vocation that nonetheless helps me engage in the transcendent–I wasn’t thinking so much along these lines in college.  Too, even though I’m a priest now, I still find those occasional times to spend an evening lost in rapturous composition–an activity I honed and shaped most productively while in college.  Not to mention, my musical expertise often comes in handy now, in this vocation!

So what is it for you, I ask my kids?

I’ll tell you this: if you end up with a job that feels to you like labor, toil, and pain–on that right side of my spectrum–you’ll have a difficult time waking up every Monday through Friday; and you’ll watch the clock throughout each day, counting the minutes till five o’clock.  I once worked in a civil engineering firm that felt like that for me.  Not that it did for other engineers!  For some of them, they couldn’t wait to start work each morning; and they frequently had no idea that five o’clock just came and went.  For me, engineering was close to the right side of the spectrum; for them, left.

I’ll tell you this too.  The more I work–the older I get, the more experienced I become in my calling–the more leftward I want to move on my spectrum.  But that’s nothing to worry about too much now.  Still, you don’t want to find yourself in some dead-end job, unable to move leftward once you’ve got the responsibilities of a spouse, kids, a house payment, and so on.  (That can happen whether you have a college degree or not.)  If you ever find yourself there, have a plan to find something less toilsome and more transcendent.  (Not easy without a college degree.)  Point is, strive for play in the present moment.  And now, looking at college squarely, study what you love, what moves you, what triggers transcendence.

Of course this advice starts early: the proddings and all that.  But it must in our day and age, where kids are pressured from early on to worry about where they’re gonna go to college, what they will do when they grow up, how they will make the most money, live in the biggest house they can afford, drive the most luxurious car, and vacation at the best resort.  I don’t want my kids to worry about any of these things.  But I want them to be wise.

Here again my play-work spectrum fits the bill.  For even in pre-school my kids are encouraged to do what they love and love what they do.  But that brings us back to the beginning, doesn’t it?  When my kids are little, it’s more command and less suggestion.  That’s just about learning to love what you do.  Yet as they grow it becomes less command and more suggestion, or learning to do what you love.

Why Audit Apuleius?

Posted in Rationale with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2013 by timtrue
English: San Marino (California), Huntington L...

English: San Marino (California), Huntington Library. editio princeps of Apuleius, Metamorphoses.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been confronted by a question several times since I began serving as a priest in San Antonio, TX.  “Tim,” someone asks, “why are you auditing a Latin course?” or some similar variation.  Perhaps those who ask think that a priest at a large parish should be too busy for such leisure.  Perhaps they don’t see a connection between what I do (or what they think I should be doing) and the Latin language.  Or perhaps it’s narrower: perhaps the subject matter of the course itself doesn’t seem to fit.  In any event, I have my reasons.  I’ll even offer a few below, after an explanation of the course.

I, along with a professor and ten students, am working my way through translating (from Latin to English) Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, a work more commonly known as The Golden Ass.  The story itself is racy (as is a Google search of the title), about a young man on an adventure that would make Martin Scorsese blush, whose insatiable curiosity for magic transforms him into a donkey.  This is still early on in the tale; so for much of what remains we readers see things unfold through an animal’s eyes–an animal whose appetites for food and sex are even larger than he’d thought possible as a human; but an animal who is nevertheless guileless in contrast to the scheming humans around him–robbers, slaves, even some good ol’ commonfolk–as all animals are, apparently (according to author Apuleius).  In the end the protagonist, Lucius, is transformed back into a man by Isis, whom he then devotes his life to serving and worshiping as the savior of his soul.

So, why study, analyze, and translate this, eh hem, colorful work?

First, as surprising as it may sound, I hope to improve my preaching by it.  Have you ever analyzed a classic work of literature closely?  Then you know how florid and alive–how much more fun–the vocabulary and syntax can be.  Surely this sort of exercise will help anyone desiring to improve communication skills, whether written or spoken.  Add to this the complexity of translating a classic work from another language.  Translating requires you to consider carefully, ponderingly, which of several possible options best convey the subtleties of meaning the author intended.  So the translation itself ends up being something of an interpretation.  This entire process closely aligns to the process of reading a passage of scripture, analyzing it, digesting it, and designing a sermon from it to be presented to a congregation in spoken form, to be received and (hopefully) understood through the hearers’ ears.

Psyche et L'Amour (Psyche and Amor). William-A...

Speaking of which, The Golden Ass was written to be heard, not read; to be received through the ears, not the eyes.  This distinction is paramount for the preacher, for we humans speak differently than we write; and thus we hear a public speaker or a friend in animated conversation much differently than a person simply reading a manuscript.  Studying The Golden Ass with this aural perspective is not the same therefore as studying, say, a Dickens novel.

Moreover Apuleius vividly tells the myth of Cupid and Psyche through the character of an old woman whose job it was to console a kidnapped girl.  The amazing thing here is that, though the myth originated hundreds of years before, Apuleius’s version is the earliest known written recording of the myth; and thus much of the sculpture and art from the Renaissance drew from Apuleius’s version.  C. S. Lewis relies heavily on Apuleius in fact in his retelling of the myth through the eyes of Psyche in Till We Have Faces.  Anyway, Apuleius has a great deal to offer the aspiring rhetorician.

A second reason I am auditing the class has to do with a linguistic connection to Augustine, who incidentally is the person that coined the common title The Golden Ass.  It works like this.  Prior to taking this class, my Latin experience was almost entirely caught between Julius Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul (ca. 50 BCE) to Statius’s Thebaid (ca. 90 CE).  To jump from then to ca. 400, when Augustine was writing and preaching regularly, is something of a quantum leap in the language, from the classical world to the medieval really.  Just try to read an English book written in 1700 or so and you get the idea.  Languages evolve.  So, Apuleius bridges the gap for me nicely, having been published in the latter half of the second century.  Maybe now I’m ready for Augustine’s Latin, a character from whom I ought to be able to learn a thing or two about preaching.

Preaching like Augustine?

Preaching like Augustine?

Third then, and this is really a bigger reason than the particular work in question, more of an answer to why I study Latin at all: Latin is play for me.  Yeah, play.  To ask me the question “Why Latin?” is like asking a baseball fan why he likes the sport, or like asking a violinist why she likes music.  How do you answer that?  It’s something that gets my blood flowing, so to speak.  But it’s more, precisely in that it is not work.  When we work, we’re after something quantifiable, something we can look back upon and feel as if we’ve accomplished a thing or two.  But play is not like this.  Engaging in play, we don’t worry about what we’re doing, producing, or accomplishing.  We simply engage in it and enjoy the moment.  That’s Latin for me.  That’s baseball for others, music for others still (myself included).  That too, incidentally, is a picture of worship, wherein we enter God’s house to become lost in a transcendent moment.

In the end, then, there really is no need to explain my asinine fixation with Latin.