Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies and ethnomusicology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA., and is Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of The West. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org. Follow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist.
Articles By This Author
Liturgy and Mission: Why Rachel Held Evans and Keith Anderson Are Right
When did you last think about the relationship between your community's worship practices and their missions? It's such a loaded conversation. What makes for "mission?” Why do we set the two practices — what we do in worship and what we do after — at odds with one another? Is it simple geography? One happens behind the ecclesial closed doors while the other is more public? I want to know when we lost the sense that our liturgies were public events rather than secret rites. But that's another post.
Songs of Ourselves: Grief, Hope, and Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens’ newest album, Carrie & Lowell (out now), is a heartbreaking meditation on personal grief. It’s also joyful, baffling, and delicately mundane.
In the spirit of a listening party, a few of us sat down to play through the album, sharing liner notes and meditations on the songs that grabbed each of us. Conclusion: it's really, really good. Stream Carrie & Lowell here, and listen along with us below.
Tripp: I love the first song of an album. I think of it as the introduction to a possible new friend. “Where The Streets Have No Name” on U2’s Joshua Tree or “Signs of Life” on Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, that first track can be the thesis statement to a sonic essay.
So, when I get a new album — even in this day of digital albums or collections of singles — a first track can make or break an album for me. I sat down and listened attentively to “Death With Dignity.” It does not disappoint. With it Stevens introduces the subject of the album — his grief around troubled relationship with his mother and her death — as well as the sonic palate he will use throughout the album.
Simple guitar work, layered voicing, and a little synth, the album is musically sparse. The tempo reminds me of movies from the nineteen sixties or seventies where the action takes place over a long road trip.
Catherine Woodiwiss: I was thinking road trip, too. There’s real motion musically, which, given a claustrophobic theme and circular lyrics, is a thankful point of release. It’s a generous act, or maybe an avoidant one — he could have made us sit tight and watch, and he doesn’t quite do it.
Julie Polter: This isn’t a road movie, but the reference to that era of films just made me think of Cat Stevens’ soundtrack for Harold and Maude, especially “Trouble.” (This album is one-by-one bringing back to me other gentle songs of death and duress and all the songs I listen to when I want to cry).
'... A Fragile Sense of Self'
Some of you might be downright shocked to know that many clergy have to undergo a three-day battery of psych tests as part of the ordination process. If a significant issue is discovered, say, addiction or something else (perhaps the main reason these tests have become required), one's ordination process can be slowed down or halted all together. When I was going through the process, I too went through these evaluations.
The result? I have "a fragile sense of self."
What does this really mean? Well, I'm an alcoholic. It's true. I've spoken about it as part of my faith journey (read: testimony; yes, I have a testimony). I don't wave it around like some flag, but I'm not shy about telling people. And I have certainly told the congregations and other organizations I have served about my history with addiction.
Keeping this stuff secret, for me, is poisonous.
At any rate, there it was, "a fragile sense of self" on my evaluation. This caused everyone to pause. The ordination committee had a ton of questions for me. They did the obligatory background check (this is perfunctory; everyone gets one). They checked my references, etc. They did their due diligence to make sure, as best as anyone could, that I was not going to fall off the wagon.
Of course. No one can promise that. Not really.
U2: Seeking An Ecclesiology
By now you have heard that Apple gave you music. Free music. From U2. Now, they paid U2 a lot of money for those tunes and it's pretty clear that it's not the first time that someone paid a U2 a lot of money for their music so that you could have it for free as long as you were a loyal customer.
Some of us are rather peevish customers, it would seem. There have been numerous articles on the betrayal by either U2 or Apple. Don't they know that our iDevices are private property? Don't they know that we have put a fence around our little corner of the cloud?
Sadly the tech doesn't really work that way and the agreement you checked - we all checked, really - makes it pretty clear that they own the cloud and you merely lease space there. Your iDevice is a portal, no more, no less.
U2: The Art of Hitting One's Stride
Perhaps you heard. U2 has a new album. You can download it from iTunes for free right now. Go. I'll wait. It's free.
Yes, free. This is what has my mind spinning right now. Bono wrote:
"It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers."
So, free to us thanks to the largesse of Apple. Why would that be? Well:
"We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough … although I know I’ve said that before …"
Holy Poverty and The Seminary
Paul said, "the foolishness of the cross" not "the stable middle-class lifestyle," if you want my opinion on seminary education, the changing economy, and baptismal identity in general. We bear a responsibility to care for one another as Christians (and beyond) that we have abdicated to the persnickety "marketplace." It's time to talk about holy poverty again, I think.
I can hear my free church friends and colleagues now, "But we don't take a vow of poverty!" It's true. We don't. We remember this historical movement away from the monasteries and the cathedrals, the parish system and the state church. This is an issue of ecclesiology, no question. What I wonder, however, is if in our attempts to not fall into the traps of the past, we simply have settled on the marketplace as our model for ecclesiology. I assume we have.
My degree is a "professional degree," yet within its conceptual framework the notion that I am "professed" is easily lost. I am not called to earn, but to labor, to serve. My work is "worth" nothing. Instead, it is a response to a vocation that in many ways we all share. The wealth of the community affords me the opportunity to respond to that shared call in a particular way. I am not your employee. I am your pastor. I am poor. Any wealth I may posses comes directly from the pockets of others.
Waiting for the Music
I am waiting for the music to return — the sonorous graces of laughter and kitchen clinking, of bird call on the hillside.
I am waiting for the music to return — the precarious arrangement of hope and memory that uplifts and guides.
I am waiting for the music to return — the band, the orchestra, the seisiún, the jam, the people who make and craft sound.
Instead, I am stranded in an eschatological posture like pause on my mp3 player. The Wifi Spirit does not respond and even if I could connect, the playlist I have randomized is sore lacking. I miss the people who make these sounds. I miss their voices.
Sometimes it is hard to know even where to begin. We stare at this System, this complex web of human behaviors, and the institutions erected to memorialize them, and we simply do not know where to begin. How do we fix it?
"That's just the way it is," we say. "Some things will never change."
Systems are strange beasts. They take incredible human investment to maintain. They are the spaces by which many of us come to know ourselves, to know our place in this world. We identify ourselves in relationship to them. And yet they are so close to us as to be rendered invisible.
Until they hurt us. Until they step on us, exclude us, enslave us, brutalize us.
And this is when it gets interesting, of course; this is when they do their real work, these systems.
Listening As an Act of Love
The story of Pentecost always begins with a sound; the gathering of people and a sound. So often we focus on what is being said at the time in the story and ignore all the listening that takes place.
First, there's a sound.
Second, people hear the sound.
An encounter with the Holy Spirit is predicated on a sound and listening.
I wonder what Peter was thinking that day…with all that noise.
When I read this account from Acts, it’s pretty clear that Peter’s first thought was, “Oh no! Everyone is going to think we’re drunk and it’s only 9:00 in the morning!”
The story of Pentecost is often told as if the most important thing that happened was the speaking in tongues...that people were empowered to speak. Indeed, it’s important. No doubt.
But first, first, they heard something. They listened.
Sermon: In the Breaking — #bringbackourgirls
The first time I heard the news about the 270 Nigerian school girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram was last Sunday. I was sitting with the rest of the band at St. Augustine's Catholic Parish during worship. Fr. Gabriel, a priest from Nigeria, was preaching. In his sermon, he offered a litany of events, incredibly difficult events that had transpired in the preceding week as examples of how God does indeed respond when we are in our darkest moments. No matter how we may doubt, fear, or struggle, Jesus will walk through walls to get to us.
All the other events he listed I had heard of. There had been media coverage. People had been given the opportunity to respond to the needs of others.
The girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14. I had not heard the news until April 27. And it still wasn’t in the papers.
This week I heard the words of Cleopas, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there these days?”
So, like the stranger in our story, I asked, “what things?”
According to reports in The Guardian and Smithsonian Magazine 's website , the girls are being sold as brides across the border in Cameroon and Chad for the equivalent of $12 each. This means, of course, that the girls are being sexually assaulted.
Boko Haram is a loosely knit organization. There appears to be no specific hierarchy, only the desire to carve out of Nigerian territory a so-called "pure" Islamic state. Their vision is beyond radical. Violence against other Muslims is not uncommon. They target churches and mosques with the same viciousness. This time they targeted the last school left in the region. They targeted the girls. Translated, Boko Haram means "western education is sinful." To educate girls, then, is a form of Western education. To educate girls is a sin. To sell them across the border is not.
And they need women. They need brides. The girls are being sold. Sold.
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