Friday, May 28, 2010

Random Reflections on the Trinity

Even many non-Christians are probably familiar with the basics of the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, the Doctrine that talks about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But even many devout Christians would probably confess that they do not fully understand the Trinity. For me, the Trinity is a mystery we must ponder.

This coming Sunday many Christian Churches will be observing Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost and a Sunday to celebrate, reflect upon, and scratch heads about the Trinity. Here are some  random reflections that might get you to scratch your head.

One of the Professors in my D.Min. program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary argued in our Reformed Theology Seminar that the Doctrine of the Trinity is not biblical but it is essential. I think what he meant was that nowhere in the Scriptures does the word “Trinity” appear and while Scripture in places talks about God in terms of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is no fully developed Doctrine of the Trinity. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a creation of human reason as we have sought to make sense of, understand, and somewhat systematize Scripture.

I have recently been thinking about the Doctrine of the Trinity in terms similar to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle states that one cannot determine the mass and the velocity of an electron at the same time. If one determines it mass, there is no velocity. If one determines the velocity, there is no mass. Similarly, if we focus on any one “person” of the Trinity then we can no longer see the Triune God. But if we focus on the “Triune God” then we can longer see any of the individual “persons” of the Trinity.

Another analogy I find helpful is that of determining whether light is a wave or a particle. If God is at all like light (Jesus is, after all, proclaimed to be the light of the world) then perhaps our understanding of light can serve as a metaphor for our understanding of God. Sometimes light seems to behave like a wave. Sometimes light seems to behave like a particle. Neither understanding, even combined, fully explains the nature of light and in a sense light is still a mystery.

While the Doctrine of the Trinity can (sometimes) help us make sense of the way God behaves in Scripture, I am becoming increasingly convinced that it does not give us a complete picture of or fully explains the nature of God. The Doctrine of the Trinity helps us to conceptualize and understand the mystery of God, yet God still remains a mystery we must ponder, a mystery that invites us to marvel at God with the same childlike wonder of the Psalmist in Psalm 8:3-5, only more so.

In his book The Journey to Truth, George F. Garlick, Ph.D., discussing the work of Dr. Michio Kaku, writes “the best way to understand the mystery of light is to admit that light is not a part of this world, but instead has its source in the fifth dimension. Kaku concludes, ‘This alternative theory gave the simplest explanation of light; that it was really a vibration of the fifth dimension.’” (p. 108) Just as physicists are beginning to understand light in new ways, maybe it is also time theologians begin to understand God in new ways beyond the Doctrine of the Trinity.

It has been a while since I last read Carl Jung, but I think he argued that the Doctrine of the Trinity was not psychologically complete, that what humans need psychologically is not a Trinity of Father – Son – Spirit but a Quarternity of Father – Son – Spirit – Wisdom/Mary, and that for Roman Catholics the Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary comes close to fulfilling this function. While this is a somewhat esoteric argument, here is a link to an equally esoteric article about Jung’s theory of the Quartentity.

The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Ph.D., offers a thoughtful analysis and some words of caution about Jung’s Quarternity and the possible inclusion of the feminine within the Trinity and the Quartentity in her article THE SHAPE OF GOD: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity.

I generally believe that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we might find, that we often find more grace in our search for understanding than we do in adopting a posture of dogmatic certainty. Therefore I posit the above reflections as questions, discussion starters, and head scratching conundrums to help us think about, reflect upon, ponder, and ask questions about the Triune God and the Doctrine of the Trinity. And I have not even mentioned perichoresis!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Celtic Cross for the Birds

In the graveyard of Trinity Church Cemetery, Manhattan, across the street from the North Presbyterian Church of Manhattan, stands a large Celtic Cross that dominates the immediate landscape and marks the grave of John James Audubon. I recently discovered the site, or rather had it pointed out to me by my wife, when we attending an event at the North Presbyterian Church of Manhattan.
My wife and I have been intrigued by Celtic Crosses and have undertaken pilgrimages to see many in Ireland and Scotland on two different occasions. Although the Celtic Cross that marks Audubon’s grave is far younger than most Celtic Crosses in Scotland and Ireland it is just as impressive, if not more so, rivaling crosses on Iona, as well as in Monasterboice and Clonmacnoise.
Thanks to some excellent research by Corey Finger and reported on the 10,000 Birds blog, I learned alot about the Audubon monument, including that the original block of North River Bluestone used for it weighed 14 ton. Once carved, the final cross weighed seven ton and stands 19 feet high.
Audubon is most likely buried in Trinity Church Cemetery because Audubon donated the land for it. What I cannot figure out is why a Celtic Cross was chosen for the monument’s design. Audubon was neither Irish nor Scottish and as far as I have been able to determine had no Celtic roots. I am not she whether or not he was a Christian. The monument was not Audubon’s or his family’s choice. It was the choice of a group of New Yorkers intent on more properly marking his grave. So why did they choose a Celtic Cross to do so? Why not a giant bird? Or a representation of one or more of his paintings?
If you find yourself in the vicinity of Trinity Church on the upper west side of Manhattan, walk into the graveyard and see this Celtic Cross for yourself. Standing near the cross, close your eyes, feel the breeze on your face, block out the noise of traffic, listen the songs of birds, and imagine you are in the Scotland or Ireland.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Harry Potter Grows Up, Goes Mainstream

The New York Times has introduced “a new opinion series that will feature the writings of contemporary philosophers on issues both timely and timeless — art, war, ethics, gender, popular culture and more.” Called The Stone, in what I assume to be a reference to the famed Philosopher’s Stone (the title of the Original Harry Potter book published in England was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone but the title was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerers's Stone for the American market because it was thought Americans would be more enamoured by a sorcerer than a philosopher).

The first two installments, an introduction and a major opinion piece, appeared May 16th.

I applaud the New York Times for bringing Philosophical discourse back into the public sphere where it has always belonged. Society suffers when Philosophy is relegated to the ivy covered halls of Academia. If as many Americans will read and reflect upon the Time's series as pereused and pondered the first Harry Potter Book, our civic discourse might rise above our current sophomoric level and resemble something more fitting of an enlightened democracy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trip Leader Workshop

It had been three and a half months since I paddled on the proxigean tide. That was January 30th, when the air temperature was 15°f and the water temperature was probably in the 40’s. Last Saturday the water temperature at the Sebago dock was 58°f. Under the Belt Parkway Bridge it was 60°f. Out in Jamaica Bay it was 56°f. The air temperature was near 70°f. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing, really blowing. Had a beginner’s paddle been scheduled it would have been cancelled due to the wind. But the eleven of us that would later be out on the water were not beginners.

Earlier in the morning we started gathering in the clubhouse of the Sebago Canoe Club in Canarsie, Brooklyn. With some confusion about the schedule, we started straggling in for the Trip Leader Workshop beginning 8:30 AM, with more arriving at 9:00, 9:30, 10:00 and our final participant arriving at 10:30 AM.

A little before 10:00 AM the odd assortment of future trip leaders (or was it an assortment of future odd trip leaders) and experienced trip leaders and instructors watched segments of the Leo Hoare and Olly Sanders Sea Kayak DVD as it played on Walter’s Mac Book Pro. We focused primarily on rescues and towing. Later in the morning we discussed what was required of a trip leader in general and a Sebago Canoe Club Trip Leader in particular. We also reviewed and discussed the procedures related to Sebago’s Wednesday evening and Saturday morning open paddles when most of us would be leading and assisting with trips.
During the paddling season, as conditions permit, The Sebago Canoe Club welcomes up to fifteen walk up first time paddlers for an “Open Paddle” on Paerdegat Basin and Jamaica Bay. After signing an insurance waiver and being asked for a $10 donation to cover costs, open paddle participants receive a brief introduction to paddling and paddling safety and are then taken out as a group onto the water. With a Leader/Participant ratio of 1/5 or better, Sebago needs at least one trip leader and two assistants for every open paddle.
After our classroom work we took a short break and then put on our dry suits, wet suits, and paddling jackets as we prepared to head out onto the water. Five future trip leaders and six current trip leaders and instructors paddled straightaway down Paerdegat basin and under the Belt Parkway Bridge out into Jamaica Bay.
Whether it was the wind or the tide or whatever, Walter’s boat edged up to mine from behind and before I knew it I was rolling over into Jamaica Bay, the unintentional victim for the first rescue practice of the day. Ted paddled up to my boat and following his instructions we emptied my boat of as much water as possible and I climbed back in. From my perspective the most difficult part of the rescue was playing dumb, i.e. pretending I was an inexperienced paddler who knew nothing about rescues and who needed to be talked through the procedure by the assigned trip leader.

Within the next hour or so Phil would intentionally capsize several times so that each of the future trip leaders could practice their rescue skills (photo top right). Phil so dramatically portrayed paddlers panicking that most of us thought he was bucking to get out of the set shop and onto the stage. In our minds, at least, he deserved a Tony for his portrayal of the inexperienced kayaker from hell that will not listen to directions and therefore endangers others by standing up on his kayak as he is being rescued. Meanwhile, Bonnie feigned an avid bird watcher who strayed away from the group in order to test the observation skills of the assigned leaders and their ability to keep the group together.

Though I have owned and carried a tow belt since last season, Saturday’s workshop was the first time I have actually used one as Jerry acted the part of a tired paddler who needed to be towed back to dry land. Towing, even into the wind, was easier than I thought it would be, though I was glad I did not have to tow Jerry all the way back to the dock.
Back at Sebago, after rinsing and stowing our gear, we debriefed over hamburgers, hot dogs and assorted beverages prepared by our Commodore John Wright. All in all it was a good day of learning, fun, and comradeship.

While additional Sebago Instructors and Trip Leaders participated in the morning classroom segment of the training, the eleven that paddled in the afternoon practical session, in addition to myself, included Dan, Ted, Hillary, Andy, Severin, Jake, Phil, Bonnie, Jerry, and Walter.
More pictures from the day have been posted on my Picasa page.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Musical Journey with Paul

Last evening I had the opportunity to listen to the story of the Apostle Paul, from his witnessing the stoning of Stephen to his departure from Ephesus for Jerusalem. I was not listening to a Books on Tape CD or attending a dramatic reading. I was present in Carnegie Hall for The Oratorio Society of New York’s presentation of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s Paulus with Kent Tritle conducting .

I am not a big Mendelssohn fan and prior to last night I was familiar only with his Hebrides Overture. Last night’s performance, however, won me over, even though it paled in comparison to the Society’s March performance of Cherubini’s Requiem in C Minor and William’s Five Mystical Songs.
Since the Oratorio was performed as it was written, in German, electronic subtitles were provided on a small electronic sign hanging above the performers. At first I found the sign distracting. After a few movements, however, I found it necessary in order to follow the performance, as my German is naught.
I am aware that Kerygma offers a two part Bible Study using the text and musical commentary of Handel’s Messiah. I wonder if a similar study using the text and musical commentary of Mendelssohn’s Paulus might be possible.
Since last night’s perfomance won me over as a fan of Mendelssohn, I now look forward to the Society’s presentation of his Elijah (in English, I think) on Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Tale of Two North Churches

There are 96 congregations in New York City Presbytery, a regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Those 96 particular churches are all located within the five boroughs of New York City. So what do you think there odds are that two of the churches would both be named “North Church”? Believe it or not, there are two, one in Manhattan and one in Queens.

For the past two and half years I have been serving as Designated Pastor of the North Church in Queens. Twice in the past few months, however, I have attended New York City Presbytery events at North Church Manhattan.

North Church Manhattan is located at 525 W. 155th Street, placing it in northern Manhattan. North Church Queens is located at 25-33 154th Street in Queens, placing it in northern Queens. Thus the “North” moniker of both churches is appropriate. But that is about where the similarities end.

North Church Queens is located in a rather quiet residential area of single family homes. The small New England style sanctuary, which can seat around 120, was built in 1940. North Church Manhattan sits amid two of Manhattan’s busiest streets and there are several large apartment buildings nearby. I estimate that the North Manhattan sanctuary, built in 1904, can seat 400-500 or more.

North Church Manhattan is currently served by Stated Supply Pastor the Reverend Christopher Smith, pictured top right. The other photos contrast the appearance of North Church Queens (on the left) with North Church Manhattan (on the right).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Mother's Day Prayer

We remember with joy and thanksgiving
the significant women who have nurtured our life and faith,
women like
     Eve, mother of humanity;
     Sarah, mother of Isaac;
     Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau and your people Israel;
     Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah, mothers of a holy nation;
     Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus the Christ and Mother of God;
     and our own mothers
     and women who like a mother
     nursed, nurtured, loved,
     and nourished us spiritually with their wisdom and faith.
We ask you to bless them,
and to honor them in heaven as we seek to honor them here on earth.
May our mothers and all women of faith
know our love and gratitude
not only this day but everyday.

This day also reminds us, loving God,
how like a mother hen you gather us together
and protect us under your wing;
and how you are faithful still,
like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
and so we give you thanks,
most of all,
for your maternal love and care. Amen

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Review:The Journey To Truth by George F. Garlick

The Journey To Truth: How Scientific Discovery Provides Insights Into Spiritual Truths
by George F Garlick Ph.D. VMI Publishers 2009, 145 pp., $14.99 paperback

I consider myself a pastor, theologian, and amateur philosopher, not a scientist. Nevertheless I love science even though my academic scientific training is limited to High School Physics and Chemistry. George F Garlick is a Scientist and readily admits that he is no theologian. Nevertheless his familiarity with western philosophers such as Leibniz and Pascal as well as Christian Scripture and theology is evident.
Garlick's inspirational and autobiographical book The Journey To Truth: How Scientific Discovery Provides Insights Into Spiritual Truths is an example of faith seeking understanding as he documents how he has wrestled to reconcile and synthesize his religious beliefs with recent scientific discoveries. Since Garlick assumes that humans are spiritual beings, this is not a Christian apology written for atheists or agnostics but rather a meditation for people of faith who, like Garlick, seek to understand their faith in light or the latest metaphysics. To his credit, Garlick occasionally employs picturesque metaphors like a poet as he seeks to present his “understanding of scientific facts and new scientific theories as honestly as possible and then demonstrate how they can help us interpret the truths of challenging passages in Scripture.” I think his science, however, is better than his theology and biblical interpretation.
I easily followed Garlick’s discussion of the Big Bang, the fifth dimension and superstring theory, but some less scientifically inclined readers might find the level of science he brings into dialogue with his religion a bit overwhelming. While I resonated with some of his application of scientific theories to theology, being thoroughly schooled in and committed to inclusive language I was a bit put off by his exclusive use of male pronouns to refer to God and a little disappointed when his reading of Scripture was far more literal than my own.
At times I felt that Garlick’s synthesis of science and religion was a bit schizophrenic. For instance I think he came close to defining God as the infinite unified energy of the Big Bang while at the same time holding fast to defending the factual reality of miracles rather than interpreting them as mytho-poetic reflections of spiritual, not physical, realities. I was also put off by his out of pocket rejection of Process Theology, which I think offers more possibilities for a synthesis of the Christian faith and metaphysics than traditional theology. And while Garlick’s religion and religious truths are predominantly Christian, I often found myself thinking that his arguments and examples could also be applied to the truths of other religious systems, but he did not go there. He did not even hint of going there as a possibility.
On the whole, I found Garlick’s science engaging but nothing new. I found his theology and biblical interpretation a little wanting. On the other hand, a more moderate to conservative and less scientifically minded reader than me could easily find their faith both enriched and stretched as they are exposed to some of the latest cosmology.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Money Well Raised

You might expect to find friendship, inspiration and hope in a church, but wine and hors d’oeuvres (not counting the Eucharist)? What about enjoying wine and hors d d’oeuvres in a church not only with supporters of the GLBT community but at least one out lesbian Minister of the Word and Sacrament? In New York City, yes!

I recently had the opportunity and pleasure of attending “A Covenant Network Fundraising Event” hosted by the Revered Dr. Scott Black Johnston and the Reverend Dr. Jon M. Walton. The event was held in a third floor multipurpose room at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in upper Manhattan.

Guests included the Reverend Deborah Block and the Reverend David Van Dyke, Co-Moderators of the Covenant Network, who briefly discussed challenges before the 219th General Assembly, featured in the photo to the right.

Special Guest the Reverend Cheryl Pyrch, Pastor of Summit Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, shared her ordination story and, as much as the cloture of a presbytery meeting in executive session would allow, her being called to serve in Philadelphia Presbytery.

Takako Terino briefly spoke about the work of Presbyterian Welcome.

The pinot noir was smooth. The cheese, crackers and fruit were delicious. The progressive and enlightened company was sociable. I have no idea how many people were invited to this event but I was a little surprised there were not more in attendance. After all, this is New York City and Fifth Avenue. I also do not know how much money Covenant Network raised, but if it at all serves to raise the level of debate and awareness of the current exclusive and unjust policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which excludes the Ordination of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender individuals who do not pledge themselves to chastity, then it will be money well raised.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Has Your Neighbor Returned Their Census Form?

Even if you or someone in your household returned your household’s 2010 Census Questionnaire, a 2010 Census Enumerator may be knocking on your door or ringing your doorbell as he or she attempts to locate nearby addresses. An Enumerator may also ask you if you know the name and phone number of your neighbors or when those neighbors are usually at home so that he or she might contact them directly. As a last resort an Enumerator might interview you as a “Proxy” who has knowledge about the Census Day status of that address, and its occupants, if the address was an occupied housing unit on Census Day. If the Enumerator interviews you as a proxy the Enumerator will also ask you for your name, address, phone number and the best time to call if there is a need for follow up.

If a 2010 Census worker does ask you for information about a nearby address and people who might have lived at that nearby address on April 1, 2010, please provide as much of the information that is asked for as you can. You will be helping that Enumerator gather important information.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

About the May 2010 Header Photo

This month’s header photo features a view of Ocracoke’s Silver Lake, shot from the National Park Service docks and looking east toward the famed Ocracoke Lighthouse. Located at the southernmost remote inhabited point of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Ocracoke (both an island and a town on the Island) can be reached only by air or sea (vehicle ferry) and is one of our favorite vacation spots.

It has been over a year and a half since we last visited Ocracoke and I am looking forward to spending nearly two weeks there starting very soon. We will be camping at the National Park Service Campground, along with our dog Myrrhlyn. Myrrhlyn has been to the beach and ocean before but has never been camping, so we will see how it goes. We will be taking our sit-on-top kayaks with us and I hope the weather will allow us to enjoy some kayaking in Silver Lake as well as in the sound and in the ocean.

This is the third Summit to Shore header photo featuring a scene from Ocracoke. The March 2009 header photo featured a dune shot taken in or near the National Park Service campground. The September 2009’s header photo was taken near Sam’s Point and featured my wife kayaking and our now deceased dog Hermes swimming near Teach’s Hole.