30 May 2008

Veritas at VTS

Outside the door to the Bishop Payne Library here at VTS is an inscription: "Seek the Truth, come whence it may, cost what it will." These inescapable words of William Sparrow, an early professor of the seminary, are favored by students and faculty alike. They are quoted in at least one student sermon each academic year and are part of the undergirding fabric of VTS and its mission to send people out into all the world to proclaim the gospel.

The brainchild of Dean Ian Markham and drawing on Sparrow's chiseled imperative, VTS unveiled a new tag line last week when the campus was welcoming people gathering for the May meetings of the AAEC and the Board of Trustees and for the institution's 185th commencement. Employing the Latin word for truth, veritas, banners -- both freestanding (called "bannerups") and displayed on streetlamps -- announce and illustrate specifics of the mission: ministry, growth, justice, prayer, service, practice. The photograph here, which I made late one evening last week, shows two of the banners along sidewalk near the entrances to guest houses Johns and Wilmer.

Emerging from veritas are the letters VTS. Convenient, huh? Hence, two ways of reading the banners: in this instance, veritas (truth) for justice. Or, VTS (Virginia Theological Seminary) for justice.

The evaluation of the First Three Years Program (which focuses on the transition from seminary to parish) will conclude at lunch tomorrow and my frequent trips here will be finished until the week of Convocation in October. These two days with members of the 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 classes and their mentors, faculty, representatives from the Lilly Foundation have been challenging and full. We've told the truth -- lots of it -- and we've heard the truth -- lots of it. I am hopeful, even optomistic, that our efforts will result in better prepared and more deeply grounded clergy emerging from their formative three years in this place.

A trip into the district


Two tour buses arrived in the post office parking lot behind the refectory during supper this afternoon. And, after the meal and an introductory lecture all 80+ of us were theatre-bound.

I don't recall ever having attended a live performance of a Shakespeare play. So, finding myself in the Harman Center for the Arts (610 F Street NW) as Antony and Cleopatra unfolded was a rich, new, and in many ways incomprehensible experience. Thank goodness for that initial pre-play lecture and the printed program notes!

While the long speeches were largely lost to me, the intricacies of the 17th century Elizabethan language and the level of allusion more than I could actually grasp, the setting was simply fabulous, the Harmon being a new, intimate theatre. The unfolding of the story was augmented in a most positive way by the simple, seamless staging and the strong and direct costuming.

The play, including one 15-minute intermission was over three hours. I stepped back onto the post office parking lot at 11:15. We'll be debriefed on Anthony and Cleopatra -- our impressions, how to grapple with the theology expressed in interactions among the characters, the cultural and political commentary Shakespeare was making -- in the session right after breakfast in the morning.

For now, I'm going to bed.

28 May 2008


I write after several weeks of "blogger" silence from a room in one of the guest houses on the Virginia Seminary campus. This is my second visit here in as many weeks. Last week was the Alumna/ae Council, Board of Trustees and commencement; this week marks the end of the Lilly Endowment-sponsored First Three Years Program, involving both evaluation and celebration AND 70+ people. Last week Tal and I drove here from Edgefield; today I flew from Columbia to Reagan National on US Airways.

Today's transition -- from home to here -- was an unremarkable one. I arrived at the Columbia airport in ample time to encounter a most helpful ticket agent who actually carried my bag from the check-in kiosk to baggage screening. I was not -- unlike the gentleman in front of me -- chosen for extra pre-flight screening. All the passengers from flight 3030 were present and accounted for 20 minutes before the posted time of departure, resulting in our being airbourne early. The taxi stand in DC was organized and I was on campus in record time. The rooms in the guest house were ready in advance of the 3:00 PM check-in. It couldn't have been more perfect. Unremarkable.

Except ... except that my version of unremarkable is anything but. Every moment was, in fact, utterly REmarkable. The car started (at 107+ thousand miles it's cranky when it's been sitting for more than a day). I-20E was running smoothly all the way to the US1 exit to the airport. The parking garage at CAE was not full and I could back into a space, ready for the just-in-case of difficulty on Saturday afternoon. Coffee was brewed and a breakfast muffin baked in the welcome space beyond security.

And, the most remarkable of all? The trip down the runway, resulting in flight. What other word for it could there possibly be --as Columbia and surrounds appeared on my left, including the new, wider gentle curves of the dam?

Then, there was the approach to Reagan ... the undulations of the Potomac and Fort Washington and Jones Point at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the singular sight of Aspinwall on the VTS campus alongside buildings at Episcopal High School, the National Cathedral off in the distance beyond the US Capital. Plus, our arrival spawned the arrival alongside our Embrarer of a tug with providing us with deplaning stairs and a baggage cart and, most importantly, a bus to take us to the terminal.

That ANY of this works at all is utterly and completely remarkable. And, as bedtime approaches, I give thanks for it all, every moment of it. Good night.

06 May 2008


For several weeks I have been increasingly involved in the planning of a charity golf tournament to benefit All God's Creatures (AGC), a local animal rescue and adoption non-profit, in Edgefield County. Check it out at http://www.agcpetrescue.org. The specific goal at the moment is raising sufficient funds to build a proper shelter for the animals in residence awaiting adoption on a great piece of land already owned by AGC. Presently and less-and-less satisfactorily, the entire operation is located at the home of the organization's founder.

While I admire the organization and its work and I do want to see the building erected and put to good use, something has felt amiss during these weeks. I've not been able to put a finger on what the feeling actually was, but I've experienced a distinct lack of energy for my assigned tasks. People I have contacted for specific contributions have required 2nd and 3rd reminders; registration, despite good publicity and verbal promises to form teams and sign up, have been nearly non-existent; the planning has seemed to move in circles.

My response to all this? Well, it has occupied a single line from "work harder" at one end to "forget it" at the other! And, while where I found myself on that line was dependent on the time of day, on my mood, on lots of things, I've been practically dangling from the "forget it" point for the last ten days.

Tal delivered the word of reprieve in a telephone call yesterday afternoon between my presentations in Columbia. Postponed. A calamity in which no people and no animals were hurt was the tipping point for the rest of the planning team. A structure -- a small barn constructed of heart pine -- housing an apartment and providing storage at AGC burned early yesterday morning. The aftermath of the fire, beginning with the already working bulldozer and visits from the insurance adjusters, is going to be intense, making the all uphill process of actually getting the tournament off the ground on Friday less important or even desirable.

Now, I don't think I've been having a premonition of a fire; the something feeling amiss wasn't ominous by any means. But, I have to wonder at trusting the unease. How does one differientate between a willingness or a propensity to work hard and a sense that one is having to work too hard at something?

Photography retreat

Another week has passed without any regular writing on my part. I watch the calendar days slip by, ending each day ready for rest only too aware of having again not made space for reflection on all the activity.

I have been away, having attended the annual photograhy retreat at Kanuga in the western NC mountains, which ran from Sunday afternoon, April 27th through Friday morning, May 2nd. Arriving home shortly after lunch on Friday, Tal and I began a wedding weekend involving not only a rehearsal and the wedding itself, but four memorable parties as well. And, now -- today being Monday, May 5th, I am in Columbia where I gave a talk at the cathedral for a lunchtime meeting of the Daughters of the Holy Cross and am scheduled for a repeat performance at an evening meeting. Home will look so good when I roll up the driveway tomorrow morning.

While I have to admit being tired, a sense of exhileration offsets the fatigue, the after-effects of the retreat carrying me along. Being a student of Lydia Goetze (http://www.lydiagoetze.com/) and participating in her class, Landscapes of the Spirit, introduced me to a slowly-paced, deliberate way, not just of seeing, but of looking. Contemplative photography -- looking at the light and looking for the effect the light has on a scene -- results in photographs which can communicate more than an image or a subject. It has the potential to convey something of the photographer's vision and even something of how the photographer felt in gazing on the scene.

This photograph was made as part of an assignment to illustrate luminosity, an essential component of landscape photography. Shot at Carl Sandburg's, now a National Historic Site, in Flat Rock NC, I took it in color, but it comes to life in black and white.