The Feast of St. Cecelia

I know.

We’re a mostly Baptist seminary, but this is a special situation. You see, Foo Fighters has released a surprise EP entitled Saint Cecelia on the feast of the saint herself. Some of you may know that Cecelia was a martyr and virgin noted for her musical ability.

An open heart may sing for God.

Well, Foo Fighters recorded this EP at Hotel Saint Cecelia in Austin. It is available to stream on Spotify if you aren’t sure you want to shell out the cash. But they are asking for listeners to donate to the victims of the bombings in Paris.

You can read more on Rolling Stones’ website.

Now, there is a new, hopeful intention that, even in the smallest way, perhaps these songs can bring a little light into this sometimes dark world. To remind us that music is life, and that hope and healing go hand in hand with song. That much can never be taken away.

To all who were affected by the atrocities in Paris, loved ones and friends, our hearts go out to you and your families. We will return and celebrate life and love with you once again someday with our music. As it should be done.

St Cecilia
“St. Cecilia and the Angel,” Carlo Saraceni

Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at ABSW and a PhD student in ethnomusicology and liturgy at Graduate Theological Union.

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Everything Old Is New Again #wgfest15

I realize this is a little premature, but this feels a little like a “What Did I Do Over Summer Vacation” essay that I had to write in fifth grade. Mrs. Henson was a stickler for good penmanship and right manners. Old school. She was decidedly old school. But I digress.

This summer I had the distinct privilege of being asked to serve as the Liturgical Coordinator for the Wild Goose Festival held in Hot Springs, NC. The festival is a time and place of celebrating the “intersection of Spirit, Justice, Music, and the Arts” that began a few years ago. As such liturgies abound. Some of them were rather traditional. The Episcopal tent, for example, held Compline services every night. They also broke out of the mold and hosted a songwriter circle and an agape feast. The Goose is like that. Ask the Methodists about the beer tent. Oh, and the Baptists had a coffee shop.

People break from the mold a little. There was a eucharistic liturgy where a blacksmith literally hammered a rifle into a farm implement. It was an unusual eucharist, to be sure, but beautiful.

Dr. William Barber preaches at opening ceremonies.
Dr. William Barber preaches at opening ceremonies.

This summer’s theme was “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.” Preachers like Dr. William Barber were there to inspire us. Rev. Traci Blackmon from Ferguson, Missouri was also there. She preached at our closing Eucharist. Rev. Joy Wallis was our celebrant.

Others were there like Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. There were three or four different sessions going on simultaneously each of the three days. Ana Hernandez was there to help out with music. She says hello to everyone.

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Matt Morris offers his musical talents.

Right, the music. One of the ways to understand Wild Goose is to imagine Burning Man and then mashing it up with Greenbelt or the Chautauqua Institute. Musicians from various stripes were there to perform. Gungor, Matt Morris, Yara Allen, Emmanuel Jal, The Collection, The Brilliance, and many others. No one genre was featured. No one style. There were pop-up concerts all over the place. Jam sessions and impromptu meet-ups happened all the time.

As the Liturgical Coordinator, it was my responsibility to make sure that the scheduled liturgies and their organizers had all they needed. I tried to have my title changed to Liturgical Enabler because that’s what I was actually doing. Everyone there had a liturgical habit they needed met. I was happy to help out. From free church to high church and everything in between and beyond, I counted over 45 liturgies (officially sanctioned or otherwise) during the festival.

Bree Newsome spoke.
Bree Newsome spoke.

This was the first year they asked for someone to serve in the position. I was not the first person they asked. I’m really glad that the first person turned it down. It was incredible.

What all these liturgists needed was a sense of common vision, a way to articulate a liturgical posture or narrative for the weekend. So, to close this little missive for you all, I’m going to share what I offered during our opening ceremony. I wanted to show people what I was already seeing and to invite them into a community, a social space, a geographical place where everything old was new again.

What is going on here?

You have stepped through the veil
into a temple without walls jet-lagged,
road weary, burned out, intrigued, hopeful,
enthusiastic, and just a little confused.

You have entered a basilica
where the dome of heaven itself is the ceiling.
Shrines and altars line the route on our pilgrimage together;
a holy time;
a thin place crafted by your hands
and kissed by the Holy Spirit.
She is inviting you to join in
The rhythms of our time together.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is the three great days of Holy Week,
a continuous liturgy that begins on Thursday night
and concludes on Sunday morning.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a tent revival
where we will testify to the movement of The Divine
in our streets, classrooms, courthouses, homes,
and even our churches urging one another
to wake up to the truth that the holy is in each of us.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This is a festival of art and music where we are reminded
that we are bodies-good creatures-blessed icons of heaven on earth
and we can move and sing and be engulfed
in landscapes and soundscapes of hope.

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are you, the peacemakers.
Blessed are we, the peacemakers.

This is the liturgy of Wild Goose. Welcome.

It was an honor to have the opportunity to play with 2,200 people who gathered there on the banks of the French Broad River. I hope to do it again.

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Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of the West and a PhD student in Liturgy and Ethnomusicology at Graduate Theological Union.

The Beautifully Ambiguous Apologetic

The contemporary challenge to the Protestant mainline is realizing that we do not have to explain ourselves to the rest of our culture. Yet, we are called to the work of evangelism. How then do we proceed? The trick will be not repeating the mistakes of American evangelicalism in the process of crafting this new-to-us practice. It’s not enough to craft another set of Fundamentals. No. We need to invent something else entirely.

Or, at the very least, we must proclaim to others what it is that we already offer. We offer people something ambiguous enough for a multiplicity of perspectives to exist in one community simultaneously. No fundamentalism is needed. Instead, we offer faith.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a great piece based off her new book, Searching for Sunday. Keith Anderson responded. Rachel Held Evans responded again (it’s so good). I said something about them both providing examples of a conversation I would like to see more of. Let’s talk about the relationship between mission and liturgy, shall we? Please? Moving on.

Today Tony Jones wrote a thing in response to both of them. Clint Schnekloth wrote a response to Tony and Keith accusing them both of a certain degree of mansplaining among other things. Last but not least, Elizabeth Drescher wrote a piece that helps frame a great deal of all this talk about why church and loyalty and belief specifically where our children are concerned. Why do you make your kids go to church? This is where I want to take the conversation.

As usual, Elizabeth is on it:

Inviting kids to choose whether or not to go to church may not say that God is unimportant, that faith doesn’t matter. It may say that parents cannot adequately and authentically explain why it does matter in the context of lives that are filled with moral ambiguity and contradiction.

For the mainline, a set of Protestant traditions that may have begun as religious dissident movements, but became the establishment religion in the United States for a time, ambiguity is the name of the Christian game. Unlike our evangelical kin, our creedal statements have come with a certain degree of wiggle room. In spite of our traditions being founded on movements willing to go to war over creedal statements (see: Zwingli, the Thirty Years War, etc.), the lived traditions in the United States have learned how to make room for a multiplicity of interpretations of the same religious tradition. Martin Marty called it “Baptistification.” Others have simply called it pluralism. This is what it means to be “progressive” for many of our congregations.

Ambiguity is everything.

This is why so many of our communities depend upon our liturgies to do the apologetic heavy lifting for us. Held Evans’ testimony is a great example of how this can work well.

Liturgical symbols are notoriously ambiguous. They are juxtaposed with one another establishing if not reifying contradictions. Whether or not that was their intended purpose, it’s pretty clear that our communities engage in both official theological definitions of liturgical symbols (action, objects, songs, etc) as well as local definitions. Thus liturgical symbols become an embodied apologetic as essential to our identity as any outreach activity.

An Autobiographical Turn:

I was not raised Christian. In college I started to question my place in the universe. There’s no need to share the whole story here, but I found faith in Christ by singing in worship with the college choir. This initial faith was reinforced and stretched during my time living and working at Richmond Hill, a retreat center in Richmond, VA.

Committed to work of racial reconciliation and justice, the community of Richmond Hill also took vows. We prayed together three times a day. We shared in the Eucharist. The community was ecumenical and socially engaged. Our liturgy became the place for me to hold the strident language of Paul, the definitive claims of the creeds, and the oddity of the movement of the Holy Spirit in creative tension. More accurately, these things would hold me as I came to love them all. Paul’s strident theology, for example, only makes sense in a life of liturgy and justice seeking. It is there that Paul becomes a brother, a person struggling to make peace with God. It is there that the Nicene Creed becomes the testimony of a people rather than the legalistic claim of an ecclesial court. It is there that our prayers mingled with all the prayers of all the faithful in every time and place.

All of the liturgy is a conversation with saints and angels. Theology is a polyphony, a symphony, an ambiguous cacophony of faithful testimony.

The Problem of Fundamentalism:

Ambiguous. Fruitful. Generative. Liturgical signification is polyvalent, don’t you know. The hermeneutic of a community of the faithful is always so. This is what I learned at Richmond Hill. This is what I continue to learn in my communities of faith.

Jones, to the contrary, asks the Mainline to rethink this approach. I get it. He’s looking for a passionate, definitive response to American fundamentalism. He wants to say, for example, that not ordaining women is actually heretical. What I want to suggest is that the mainline in the United States is offering a passionate response to fundamentalism. But at our best, it’s not through a competing fundamentalism.

The difficulty for Tony is that our response is simply too ambiguous. Instead, I believe, he wants us to propose a new set of Fundamentals.

What I think Rachel Held Evans sees as the value of the mainline is that we aren’t suggesting a new set of Fundamentals. Instead, we are offering symbols for people to engage all on their own. We are inviting people to breathe. We are inviting people to open up. We are making room for testimony. We are collecting them with the great cloud of witnesses.

At American Baptist Seminary of The West, we have some working language on all this. We say, “We are a group of radical thinkers in a world where theology is a matter of life and death.”

This kind of ambiguity is a radical posture in a world of digital certainty. It is a radical response to a long-standing habit of fundamentalism. Theology can bring life or bring death. Fundamentalism is death-bringing.

What Jones wants is more of what he knows from evangelicalism…fundamentals. What Evans offers is an alternative to a violent theological praxis that Jones clings to.

The need to be right is a poison in the Church. How do we let it go and practice a more generous hermeneutic?

I have already cast my lot with Held Evans and the rest. That happened a long time ago. Are there risks? Sure. People bail. Our children don’t carry on the tradition. We can slip into a kind of moral relativism. Vaguery happens. More ink has been spilled and blogs shared on this subject than can be counted by Google.

Still, I’ll take the risk. Such an apologetic is too beautiful to ignore. And I want to live.

Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at ABSW and a PhD student at Graduate Theological Union studying liturgy and ethnomusicology.

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.

Keith Anderson has written a response to Rachel Held Evans’ post on the sacraments and getting Millennials back in church. From where I sit, both pieces are strong. And Keith’s critique is really for those who think that RHE has given congregations afraid of change a get out of jail free card. She hasn’t. Quite the opposite. And Keith is driving that point home.

“Judging from the comments I’ve seen in the days since Held Evans’s article was posted, I’m afraid that her assertion has had the unintended consequence of reinforcing the tendency toward inertia exhibited by some Mainline ministry leaders. “See, we’re fine. We don’t need to change,” I can hear them saying. “We can keep doing what we’re doing. Let’s put on some coffee, order some new communion wafers, and wait for the young evangelicals to come pouring in.”

Good luck with that.”

He’s absolutely right. Rachel is saying something quite different. You see, she’s doing the work of connecting the mostly obvious dots. By doing, she offers a critique of the “relevant liturgy” industry. Such liturgy is an invitation into a purity cult whereas her experience of the Episcopal church reflects an invitation into something much broader.

“But I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me.”

She sees the connection between the liturgy and the mission of the community with which she worships. On the other hand, the communities seeking slicker styles are often masking an inhospitable theology with their very hospitable aesthetic. The beleaguered Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill is an easy example of what I’m talking about.

What I like about both pieces is that they are desperate to connect the dots between the liturgy and the liturgy after the liturgy (Ion Bria’s helpful gloss). Ruth Meyers has a new book out entitled Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission that suggests the image of a Mobius Strip to explain the relationship between worship and mission. It’s worth your time, if you like reading that sort of thing. Here’s a related essay for you as well. In an interview she suggests:

“I introduce a worship matrix as a tool for preparing missional worship. Take one part of that matrix — perhaps the gathering with which worship begins or the way you arrange and use your worship space. Consider how that aspect of your worship can more fully express God’s love for the world and draw the assembly into deeper communion with the triune God. Experiment a bit — try one new thing in worship and see what happens.

Most importantly, pray and study the Bible, listening for the still, small voice of God and opening your eyes to the ways God is already at work in your assembly for worship and in your neighborhood.”

This is what excites me about this kind of exchange we’re seeing right now online. People are questioning the relationship between their worship practices and their missions. Deepening our understanding of these two practices and how they are actually connected to one another can only strengthen the ministry of any community.

Rachel and Keith are both right and they are both providing examples of how we might all examine our own practices.

Rev. Tripp Hudgins is Director of Admissions at ABSW and a PhD student at Graduate Theological Union studying liturgy and ethnomusicology.

A New Year Is Under Way

Last week I was walking through the halls listening (eavesdropping, really) to our professors and students. Dr. Hall was teaching a session on congregational leadership. Students from across the Graduate Theological Union were present. Horacio Da Valle was teaching Contextual Theology down the hall. When you walk through the halls of ABSW you’ll hear English, Spanish, and Korean spoken. Our student body is local and global. That night was no exception.Ron 13

We’re entering our third week of study here at ABSW and things are humming along nicely. Our on-line courses, Baptist Polity and Intro to The Old Testament, are going very well. As I write this, Dr. Flesher and her Teaching Assistant are diligently recording the lectures for the on-line students in Old Testament. We’re on campus and on-line.

Should we start calling it “on-campus”? Perhaps!

You’ll see us on social media a little more, too. You can follow the seminary at @ABSWBerkeley. Our Dean, Dr. Flesher is on Twitter (@lasnow52) as is our Professor of Worship and Theology, Dr. Davidson (@momentofbeing). They have been encouraging their students to share their work if they are also on social media. Follow the hashtags #ABSWBible, #ABSWTheology, and #ABSWChapel to learn more! It’s a good way to get to know our professors and some of our students. And, of course, we’re also on Facebook.

If you’d like to visit us on-campus, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can e-mail (admission (at) absw (dot) edu) me or give us a call. Plan a visit. Mondays are an especially good day to visit. Chapel is held at 6:00pm and there is a meal that follows. You can sit in on a class as well. We’d love to welcome you as our guest. And keep your eyes and ears open. We’re planning an event in late October featuring saxophonist and Church History Professor, Dr. Ron Burris.

There will be more news to follow!

Tripp Hudgins
Director of Admissions