I have to be honest with y’all, I’m a little bit scared of Ebola. It’s the one where your insides get liquefied right? Yeah, that’s scary. And Dallas is only two hours north of here, so I should probably just go ahead and sequester myself in my house with a month’s supply of Cool Ranch Doritos and Topo Chico.
The catch here is that voluntarily immobilization would make it hard for me to get to class. Then again, if I read enough Episcopal Cafe, I might come to the conclusion that being sequestered away from liturgy class is a fine idea because, while my Ebola paranoia is crazy, there is something more to fear: EpiscoSeminariola, a virus which has infected all of the institutions that form priests for service in the Episcopal Church and threatens to cause the whole darn institution to melt from the inside out. There’s this funny thing though. I’m not convinced that EpiscoSeminariola is catching.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m going to keep taking my temperature. But I’m also not going to buy in to the narrative that says that we seminarians are sheep being prepared for slaughter in the concentrated animal feeding operation that is modern higher education. By the way, modern higher education is a CAFO, at least most of it. The “learning outcomes” and “assessment instruments” of accrediting agencies that have read too much Jim Collins and not enough John Dewey have “sucked the life out of all these kids” (sorry Crusty, but it’s not your fault.) The only way to make it work, we are told, is to practice some economy of scale.
Or we could go with God’s economy, which I’m more and more convinced is artisanal, sustainable, and resilient when we consider it in the context of our daily experience. Where would I get such a notion? Um … seminary. An Episcopal seminary none the less. Now, I just got here, but it’s my impression that, far from dying, this seminary is a vibrant place. It is one that takes scholarship quite seriously as a vital part of forming leaders for ministry. This is a place that takes the rhythms of daily worship seriously as a vital part of forming leaders for ministry. From the sermon that long-time faculty member The Rev. William Spong gave at his retirement, I get the sense that the Seminary of the Southwest has known its strengths and limitations for a while now:
[T]his place has a personality and needs to be cared for, and we need to be proud of it, not because it’s perfect, but because it isn’t. No individual faculty, student, staff or administration, dean or trustee should ever place their needs above the school, just as no parishioner should ever place their agenda ahead of the church, because a servant is not greater than the master, nor is the one sent greater than he who sent her.
Which might lead you to ask this question, “Nice analogy, J Dot, but aren’t you still the sheep in this formulation.” Well, yes. But to quote Paul Fromberg, “Honey, I know who my shepherd is.” (Ok, that may have been the “character” Paul from Sara Miles “Take This Bread” but I’m betting it’s close enough to the real thing.) The point is this: I still have agency. Whatever learning outcome is set before me, I have to choose to pursue it. Whatever theology is offered, I have to choose to engage with it. This process is alive, and neither I nor my teachers really know where it will end up, no matter what the syllabus says.
Yet we trust that it is ok, that it was ok, and that it will be ok. Let’s tell the truth for just a moment. If all 11 seminaries of the Episcopal Church were to cease to exist, people would still passionately pursue knowledge of God. If the Episcopal Church as we know it were to disappear, God’s loving engagement with humanity would continue unabated. So let’s set our face not on New York or Austin. Let’s set our face on Jerusalem, and go there to die with Him if need be.
I love the Episcopal Church. In addition to our material resources, I believe we have great wealth to put into the service of God and our fellows. Our theology, our practice, and our polity (yes, our polity) are treasures that will only increase as we share them. We have, perhaps, spent too much time and too much energy making and preserving a vessel to contain them. If it is time for the vessel to be shattered, maybe we can enjoy the fragrance in the room.