Monday, September 16, 2013

Witnesses and Pilgrims: A Journey Into the Church

Earlier this week, I was asked if I might offer my work as a contributor to the Walking With Integrity blog. I humbly and gratefully accepted, and, as such, this post is offered as an introduction to the Integrity readership; a chance to tell my story and discuss topics about which I plan to write.

I grew up in Edmonds, Washington, a small sea-side suburb near Seattle, Washington, a city to which I would eventually move during the duration of my undergraduate career as a student of cello performance at Cornish College of the Arts. Although my family taught me the value of spirituality during my upbringing, I was not raised in a Christian context (though I was, in many ways, raised with the Christian values of justice, equity, respect, and the recognition of human dignity). For the most part, the Church was viewed with a characteristic West Coast suspicion. For most of my youth, I flatly rejected the premise of organized religion and, for that matter, religion on the whole. It was a dangerous folly of the human condition (or so I assumed).

Yet, from an early age, I recognized a personal affinity for music, art, and architecture of a particular liturgical bent. I was not able to put words to this affinity until my first eucharistic liturgy as a member of the choirs at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle. I had, of course, supplemented my income as a teenager by playing cello for other liturgical contexts, but it wasn’t until the liturgy in the Anglican tradition, connected with an historical imagination, that I felt suddenly less apprehensive about the religious subject. Within that context, music was no longer an adornment, a commodity, or a consumer product. Music became peculiarly alive; music became multidimensional, transchronological, and ministerial. This was not the museum veneration of the concert hall; this music transformed from historical artifact into living reality. I say this knowing full well that many of the elements of liturgical action are, indeed, affect—that is, somehow “unauthentic.” Yet, it was this very affectation that became real, honest, and authentic. Paradox, it seems, became a close companion.

And so, within the context of my first liturgy, I resolved to change my trajectory (though little did I know that this trajectory held far more for me than I initially expected). This resolve, however, confounded a growing internal struggle that had begun my first day of conservatory training. It was difficult to concentrate on my cellistic studies; though I am glad my teacher at the time forced me to work through it. After completing my bachelor of music, I set off on a new adventure: I moved to New York City to begin a master of arts in music composition at Queens College, during which time I was recruited to sing as a chorister at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine under the inimitable improvisateur, Bruce Neswick.

During my second year of graduate study, I began to discern a call to ministry in the Episcopal Church, though I did not know what that would end up looking like; though a confessed Episcopalian on the outside, I still had my doubts. I decided to apply for a Master of Sacred Music at the Yale ISM and Boston University. While neither institution accepted me to the MSM degree, the BU School of Theology rather unexpectedly offered me a place as a candidate for the Master of Theological Studies after the completion of my M.A.Mus.

Then, quite monumentally, my life changed again. On January 10, 2011 I was diagnosed with the HIV virus. It was a blow I had not expected, from which I did not know if I could recover spiritually. Not three days after my diagnosis, however, I attended a daily said Eucharist at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. It was the height of Epiphany season, and the Celebrant’s sermon that day spoke to me in uncanny ways. I thanked the priest afterward and divulged the reason for my gratitude. “Your words hit me at my core today,” I said, “for you see, I was diagnosed with HIV three days ago.” The Reverend Canon took my hands, looked me in the eye, and smiling said, “We live now. This is when God comes to us.” It knew right then and there what the role of a priest really was, and I resolved that, someday, I would seek ordination (though I kept this to myself for two more years).

Theological education changed my life forever: now, no conceptual or ontological stone is left unturned; no assumption is left unquestioned. It was at BU that I discovered Queer Theology, social activism, and a burning desire for justice. I have since graduated from the MTS program at BU and am working as a liturgical musician in Boston, teaching cello, composing, and working, in my due time, toward becoming a priest in the Episcopal Church, should the Spirit carry me that direction.

The work I offer to Walking With Integrity, given my own interests and educational trajectory, will focus on the arts—music, architecture, dance, and visual craft—as well as related topics in Queer Theology (my MTS thesis was the formulation of a queer theology of music) and their relationship to Anglicanism. The first piece I hope to offer (sometime toward the end of September) will focus on Anglicanism’s great patron of twentieth century arts, the Reverend Walter Hussey.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, and I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about that which I most love. 

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