Friday, September 23, 2011

The 12 Days of Blythe

1 . stands for one beautiful baby girl, Ruby Blythe Marie.


2 . stands for two tired but happy parents.

Going for a walk.

So tiny, so tender.

3 . stands for the three persons of the Trinity who watched over her birth.

Everywhere we go.

4 . stands for the floor at the UNC hospital on which she was born.

Day shift.

5 . stands for the floor on which we recovered.

Gently, gently.

6 . stands for the medical personnel involved in bringing Blythe to safe delivery.

Night shift.

It takes a village.

7 . stands for the number of grandchildren that my parents now have.

My blessed mother with me at four days old.

My blessed father with me at five days old.

8 . stands for the number that I counted every time Phaedra pushed during a contraction, and I counted to eight four times per contraction, Lord help us.


Up, down, up, down.

9 . stands for the month on which Blythe was born.

La siesta perpetua.

10 . stands for the hour on which she was born.

Grandpa Wendler.

Mumsy Wendler.

11 . stands for the day on which she was born.

The little things.

12 . stands for a fresh clean baby.

Squeaky clean in ducky towel.

Today is Blythe's twelfth day of life and with wholehearted and happy sighs of "She really is our baby," we praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Good words on the Anglican Liturgy conference

There's a lot of excitement around the planning of this conference, slated for November 8-10. I'm including here a few words of commendation that we've received recently. While these words come chiefly from pastors and academics, we have another round that will be coming from artists. We really want artists to come. They're essential to the objectives of the conference. If you have any questions, feel free to send an email to katieb (AT) anglican1000 (dot) org. You can register here. Regular price is $99. For students, artists and church planters, the fee is a steal at $49. For all info see here and here.

And you don't have to be Anglican to come or to benefit from the presentations and workshops.

While we're finalizing the workshop options, here are a few of the possibilities: "'Sacred Space' and Church Planting," "Liturgy and Discipleship," "Liturgy and Mission," "Anglo-Catholic and Charismatic: Both at the same time?" "Plumbing the Resources of Anglican Music," "Releasing Artists in the Service of the Liturgy," "Art, Mission and How Not To Do It Badly."


"In today's Church culture, it would be hard to over-estimate the importance of thinking in fresh and practical ways about the relation between liturgy, formation, mission and the arts.  A superbly conceived event with tremendous potential."  

-- The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology, Duke Divinity School

“Anglican liturgy is being increasingly recognised as a powerful way to deepen our corporate worship and as an effective means of teaching the Christian faith. Here is an excellent opportunity to understand it more fully with leading thinkers and practitioners. I am sure it will enrich all the individuals that attend and the churches that they represent.” 

-- The Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry, Dean and President, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity School for Ministry

"This promises to be an excellent conference dealing with the very important intersection of worship, belief, and culture.  These scholars know and live out the fundamental principle that the life of the church is not simply about understanding doctrine but about living out our faith in ways that engage each other and the world."  

-- The Rev. Dr. Jonathan S. Riches, Associate Professor of Liturgics and Theology, Reformed Episcopal Seminary

“With apologies to Qoheleth, 'of the making of many conferences there is no end.'  But this one is set to make a mark.  Drawing upon a new generation of liturgists, the organizers have assembled a first-rate lineup of reflective practitioners who are poised to catalyze the next generation.  We've needed something like this, and now here it is.  One might even hope that it is the first of many such gatherings.”  

-- Dr. Garwood P. Anderson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

“Ever heard it said: ‘It's not so much the Jews that kept the Sabbath but the Sabbath that kept the Jews’? I'd risk an echo: ‘It is not so much that Anglicans keep the prayer book as the prayer book keeps Anglicans’. It saves us from 'designer' worship through its time-honored norms, yet provides a bedrock from which to be infinitely creative and fresh.”  

-- The Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells, Associate Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry and Bible, Director of Anglican Studies, Duke Divinity School

“Anglican liturgy has been adored, even idolized, and yet abused and misunderstood as well. We desperately need to better understand our wonderful prayer book heritage and how we can all be both formed in Christ as well as informed by His Holy Spirit through this great gift. I believe this conference will be a big help to us all.” 

-- The Rev. Dr. John W. Yates, II, Rector, The Falls Church, Virginia

“This conference rightly reintroduces liturgy as an urgent pastoral and practical matter--the very form and heart of the Christian life. Faithful evangelism and "church growth" start here, in an ecumenical mode, conscious of the new opportunities occasioned by our shifting culture.”  

-- Dr. Christopher Wells, Executive Director, The Living Church Foundation

Friday, September 16, 2011

Art in Public: a moral responsibility

I'm working on a blog post tentatively titled, "A Top 20 from the First Week." While I catch up on my mental wherewithal, however, I'll mention here a book review I wrote for Comment magazine. This is the opening paragraph of the review. And I've included an interview with the author below.

"When power corrupts, poetry cleanses."
John F. Kennedy, "Remarks at Amherst College upon Receiving an Honorary Degree, October 26, 1963"

"I say . . . he is not an artist. He is a jerk. And he is taunting the American people, just as others are . . . And I resent it."
Senator Jesse Helms, speaking about contemporary visual artist Andres Serrano and his work, "Piss Christ"

Is government funding beneficial to artists and their publics, or would it be better for artists to compete in the economic marketplace without government support? Should government funding come "with no strings attached" or should it uphold standards of decency and social order? Are contemporary artists progressive agents of social change or are they a decadent menace to society? These are the questions that motivate the argument of Zuidervaart's latest contribution to philosophy, Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democratic Culture.

GRIID TV Interview with Lambert Zuidervaart from Girbe Eefsting on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

While we're waiting: a few thoughts

Dear God, give me time.
Men are always so driven!
Make them understand that I can never hurry.
Give me time to eat.
Give me time to plod.
Give me time to sleep.
Give me time to think. 
(from Prayers from the Art and the Creatures' Choir by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold)

Her official due date was this last Saturday, September 3. I was hoping she might come on Labor Day, September 5, because then we could celebrate her arrival as a national holiday. She, her mother, and the federal government could always agree that labor was a good thing, worth a cake and a barbecue. But she didn't come then, and now we're in what I call the "any moment" mode.

It's a fretful mode to be sure. Phaedra, poor thing, is feeling the brunt of it. Heartburn. Irregular sleep. Constant achiness. "Hormonally cuckoo." I told her that she and I were like the Israelites: waiting, waiting. Our baby girl in turn was sort of like Jesus: planning to arrive in the fullness of time. It's impressive how fullness acquires fullerness powers.

How do I feel about it all? Like it's surreal. I've held babies before. I've taken care of my sisters' babies. I've changed their poopy diapers, fed them, burped them, cuddled them, put them to sleep. I've sung Winnie the Pooh songs over them while they napped. I've cried for how beautiful they looked in their tiny, lovely vulnerableness. I can imagine what it will be like to have my own baby. I can imagine it but I still feel like I'm looking at a thick, impenetrable fog of beyondness. And that's the part that feels scary. Really, really scary. The unknown is positively frightening.

I lived as a single man for thirty-five years. I've been married for nearly four, and my whole life has been geared around certain basic, primal rhythms. These rhythms have not included waking up in the middle of the night, for the sixth night in a row, to comfort a squalling baby, who came with no return policy. That's the freaky part: the no return policy. It's why Phaedra and I plan to establish a "counseling fund." Forget the trust fund. What this child needs is the means to get counseling as a teenager when she finally realizes that her parents screwed up her image of God.

It's the fear of making an irreparable mistake. It's the fear that there won't be enough grace to cover that mistake, which is of course the fear that there won't be enough God. That's what we're afraid of.

It's astonishing how much fear accompanies the arrival of new life.

More astonishing, though, is the negativity that accompanies people's comments. It is often said in a well-meaning but slightly threatening tone. You better enjoy the last few months of freedom. Say goodbye to your life as you know it. Are you ready for the revolution? Ready for the madhouse? It's going to be the hardest thing you've ever done.

It distresses Phaedra and me to hear these words. We've been confused why people feel the need to say them. Is that how they feel about their children? While I was mowing the yard last week I got to thinking. Is it really a loss of freedom? "Loss" in what sense? What do you mean by "freedom"? And is bringing this baby into the world really going to be the hardest thing in our life?

The more I chewed over these comments, the pissy-er I got. I thought, really? The hardest? Try talking to a single person in their thirties or forties who desperately wishes they had a spouse to go home to every night, to hear that person say "I love you," not just once, not just coincidentally, but every day, to show care by a gentle physical touch, to assuage the loneliness that eats away at them.

Is having a child harder than not being able to have a child because of a damaged uterus? Is it harder than losing a child?

This "harder" business has a near infinite regressive quality. Is having a baby harder than having a toddler? How about sending your kid off to school for the first time, fearing that he or she won't make friends? "You think having elementary kids was hard. Try having teenagers." "Oh really? You think that's hard? Try getting them into college. Try getting them to want to do anything reasonable with their lives." "Oh you think that's hard? No, what's hard is fretting whether your children will find the right spouse--if at all."

"You think having children at any stage of life is hard? Try getting abandoned in your old age by your children, who refuse to care for you in your weakened, vulnerable condition. That's hard."

This kind of "harder" speech is a fruitless, cruel speech. It robs the heart of courage, which a person sorely needs to make it even through the best days. And it signifies a willingness, all too common, to resign oneself to living in an economy of scarcity. "You're going to be screwed, so you might as well get used to it now."

Is that the best we have to offer each other as Christians?

Thankfully, we've had enough people say much kinder things. The best thing to hear is, "You're going to be great parents." I can't tell you how much those words inspire our hearts. Of course we worry. Of course we wonder whether we'll be good parents. Even with all the resources, both literary and human, that God has surrounded us with, we struggle against the fear of "worst possible outcomes."

I don't think we can ever underestimate the power of a hopeful word. I especially loved reading this note from our friend Tamara Murphy:

"I'm positive the nursery will be delightful! We'll be praying for all three of you.  For whatever it's worth, the first day or two or maybe the third or fourth, it's completely normal to think, "OK, when's this kid's real parents gonna show up and take her home so we can get back to normal." Totally surreal, those first few days. Also, the shortest-lived phase for newborns seems to be when they are completely squishy and curl up like a little wad on your shoulder -- try to get as much time with her in that position as possible."

I love that. It made me smile and feel so at peace. We're not alone in this.

No one told me, however, that I would experience a sympathetic weight gain. In high school I weighed 155 pounds. From college till May of 2011 I fluctuated between 160-165. I've long thought I should have been born in Kenya, where all tall, lanky men turn out to be nothing more than speedy middle distance runners. While I may not be lightning-fast, at 6'1", 165 pounds there are few things in the world that give me as much joy as running (with soccer in a close tie).

Four months ago in May, I stepped onto our bathroom scale. To my horror the dial fell on the number 178. Last week I topped 180. Fifteen pounds. How was that possible? I don't eat fatty foods. I rarely take sweets. What was wrong with my body. I went in to tell Phaedra, who was lying on the bed. "Can you believe that?", I asked incredulously. And, for the life of her, she could not repress the grin on her face. It just made her feel a little better about life.

What am I excited about? I'm excited to have this baby with Phaedra. I'm excited that she'll be the mother of my children. I'm excited that this baby is a girl. I'm excited to hold her, smell her skin, kiss her at any time of the day or night. I'm excited about the ways in which this child will force my life to slow down. I'm excited to see what she looks like. I'm excited to show her to my parents and my siblings and my nephews and nieces; especially to my nieces who cannot wait to babysit her. I'm excited about going to the gym for decades so I can stay fit to play with my kids--and grandkids. I'm excited to see what kind of "village" God will bring to this child to help us do what we could never accomplish on our own, bring her to maturity.

I'm super excited to be a father. And while the order and timing of things in my life hasn't turned out like I thought it would, I take comfort in remembering William Wilberforce and Charles Wesley. Wilberforce married in his late thirties, Wesley in his early forties. Both enjoyed a large family (six and three children respectively). Both took joy in the responsibilities and pleasures of fatherhood. Both give me a vision of what could be true for my life.

And on days when I feel sad about "lost time," I remember the words of our dear friend Martha Rasco:

"This life isn't the last word on the things that God has in store for you, David. Eternity awaits you with opportunities to take up all the unimaginable things you thought you'd never get to in this brief earthly pilgrimage."

For now, we wait. Some moments we wait with a good Lord, let's get this over with attitude. Other moments, we wait in hope. Whenever this bebecita wants to come out, we're ready, as ready as we can be, and we'll probably bawl our faces off.

(All photos are by me except the one of la bebecita saying hi. Artwork is by Erica Grimm Vance, titled "On the question of being.")