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The Eggplant – The Fast and the Fictive

The Rev. John Adams

The Eggplant: April 27, 2017
The Fast and the Fictive

When I was in Seminary, one of my classmates would joke that, if she were not called to be a priest, she would spend her time painting supper scenes from the Fast and the Furious movies, under the name Dom Tintoretto. Most of the time, people didn’t get the joke: Tintoretto was a Venetian Renaissance painter perhaps best known today for a Last Supper that contrasts dramatically with Da Vinci’s famous depiction thereof in its use of shadow and showing the table from a diagonal. Dom Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, is the protagonist of the Fast and the Furious series, now at eight films and counting.

The Fast and the Furious movies are one of Hollywood’s more curious franchises. After a modestly successful 2001 film about street racing and two less successful sequels featuring mostly new casts, in 2009 the franchise began pivoting by assembling a team of the most popular characters from the previous movies, led by Dom Toretto, and telling stories of heists and vehicular warfare among the criminal underworld. The result is a juggernaut that has become one of the most financially lucrative movie franchises and is still going strong.

Even moreso than Kong: Skull Island, these are movies that you watch not for the plot and dialogue but for the ridiculous action: a chase with a bank vault attached to the cars, a tank fighting on a highway, a car chase on ice featuring the unexpected appearance of a submarine. But beneath all the fun mayhem beats a surprisingly strong heart: Dom’s version of ‘honor among thieves’ is his code about family. More often than not, his team winds up in these crazy schemes because “you don’t turn your back on family” even when doing so would be the only way to avoid a world of trouble. A common feature of the franchise, in its quieter moments, is a scene where Dom and his team sit down to a meal together and, in a prayer before eating, Dom or another character thanks God for their family.

Setting aside the curiosity that movies with such a high quotient of violence and death are among the only blockbusters to include such explicitly Christian scenes, it’s fascinating that Dom’s family, for whom he willingly enters all manner of dire straits, is almost entirely fictive. With the exception of his sister, who eventually marries another member of the team, none of Dom’s ‘family’ is related to him by blood. The team is a group of friends who, between common interests and shared experiences, have become as close as family and chosen to treat one another as such.

This sort of chosen family is a very Christian idea: St. Paul, in his references to his disciples as his sons and other Christian leaders as his sisters and brothers, frequently uses the language of this fictive kinship, that we who are not related by blood from our birth are related even more surely in the blood of Christ. Today, we most commonly see this in addressing priests as ‘Father’ or ‘Mother,’ but beginning with Paul saying that he has become father to the runaway slave Onesimus (Philemon 10), this notion of fictive kinship has often guided Jesus’ followers in our efforts to relieve the suffering of others as though they were our children or stand with the oppressed as our siblings.

And Dom Toretto’s family features several traits that ought to define our own fictive kinship with our fellow humans. Dom’s family is, at least by the usual standards of Hollywood casts, incredibly diverse. Men and women are equal members of the team, and a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds are present. Too often, our Christian families lack such diversity, with most or all of our fictive kin sharing our race and ethnicity and women being reduced to inferior members.

Dom’s team also features a constantly rotating cast of characters, as old family members are killed or retire from the criminal life and new members join the team. The ease with which new members are assimilated is sometimes startling, perhaps because Dom has a curiously optimistic view of human nature: he seems to be positively inclined toward almost anyone he encounters who doesn’t threaten his family, and even when he himself is endangered, he sometimes retains that positive view. *Spoiler alert: spoilers for The Fate of the Furious follow.* For example, in the Havana-set opening scene of the most recent movie, Dom engages in a street race during which his opponent uses several tricks that nearly get Dom killed and spectacularly total his car. After Dom wins anyway, the opponent admits that Dom has earned his respect and Dom chooses to neither take his prize for winning nor otherwise punish this cheating foe. Said foe later shows up playing a small but crucial role in Dom’s plan for getting out of the pickle he finds himself in, suggesting that this is a potential future member of Dom’s family.

We Christians would do well to emulate Dom’s willingness to forego revenge despite the harm he endured, but even that pales in comparison to Dom’s willingness to forgive. After a cyberterrorist kidnaps Dom’s infant son so he will betray his family and work for her, he seeks help by reaching out to the Shaws, a literal family who opposed Dom’s team in previous movies and were responsible for deaths among Dom’s family members. At the end of the movie, Deckard Shaw delivers the baby to Dom, who forgives Deckard for killing Dom’s ‘brother’ Han and welcomes this former enemy to the family table. Given how well many Christians bear a grudge, even against our fictive kin, Dom’s forgiveness and welcome of someone who killed his family into his family is remarkable.

So weirdly enough, those Dom Tintoretto paintings would be an entirely appropriate hobby for a Christian. For a culture that looks upon the Last Supper (both the Da Vinci painting and, often, the event itself) as stuffy, old, and irrelevant, the suppers in the Fast and the Furious movies offer a more contemporary vision of Christian fellowship, where gender and race do not divide, where radical forgiveness is extended, and where everyone is family.

 

The Rev. John Adams

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Welcome Rev. Amanda Gott, Rector at St. Matthew’s, Lincoln!

The Rev. Amanda K. Gott

DioNEB welcomes Rev. Amanda Gott as the new Rector at St. Matthew’s, Lincoln. Here is a brief introduction from our newest priest:

I just moved to Lincoln from the New Haven, Connecticut area with my husband Steven, our eight-year-old daughter, three-year-old son, two cats, two guinea pigs and some fish.  At this moment, our house in Lincoln is still filled with boxes, packing paper, and wads of packing tape.  I was born and raised in Atlanta, where I graduated from a high school of performing arts.  I majored in religion at Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY) where I focused primarily on the study of Hinduism, but could often be spotted around the Drama/Dance department.  After a couple of years as an office temp, a front desk receptionist in a public mental health clinic, a waitress, and a theatrical lighting designer and stage manager – all of which taught me skills that would later be useful in ordained ministry – I began seminary.  I earned a Master of Divinity at the Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO), after which I spent a year as a Chaplain resident at one of Denver’s major hospitals.  After another year’s diversion as a Kindergarten teaching assistant, I then went on to earn a Master of Sacred Theology at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church (New York, NY).  I was ordained in 2005.  For the past seven years I have been serving as Rector of Grace & St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Hamden, Connecticut.  Before that, I was the Assistant Rector at Church of the Good Shepherd in Nashua, New Hampshire.  Over the last several years, I have also served in a couple of chaplaincy positions in New Haven, including an elementary school chaplaincy at an Episcopal Day School, and also chaplain to an amazing group of Episcopal Service Corps interns at St. Hilda’s House.  In all ministry endeavors, I rely heavily on God’s grace, a hearty dose of humor, the help and prayers of other faithful people, and a little luck.

The Rev. Amanda Gott

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First-Plymouth Choir Sings Compline at Trinity Cathedral Feb. 19

The Schola Cantorum of First-Plymouth Church, Lincoln

The Schola Cantorum of First-Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, will sing the office of Compline at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Omaha on Sunday, February 19, at 7:00 p.m.

The congregation will gather by candlelight as the 18-voice choir sings chants and ancient settings of psalms and evening prayers. Compline, sung at the end of the day, offers holy space for prayerful meditation through music.

“Compline is designed to connect us with a deep sense of peace,” explains Trinity’s Canon Precentor, Marty Wheeler Burnett. “As candles illuminate the darkened cathedral, we experience the light of Christ through scripture and song.”

At First-Plymouth, the Schola Cantorum offers Compline once each month. The service, described as “ancient worship for the modern soul,” attracts a diverse congregation, including young adults and persons seeking a contemplative worship experience. The choir typically sings from the balcony, surrounding worshippers with reverberant sound and soft candlelight.

The choir, directed by Tom Trenney, has been selected to sing for the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Minneapolis, Minnesota next month.

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is located at 113 N 18th Street in Omaha, Nebraska. For more information, please visit http://trinityepiscopal.org or call 402-342-7010.

 

 

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Can Monasticism Save a Post-Christian World?

Brother James Dowd to Speak at St. Cecilia Cathedral Lecture Series, February 23rd

Throughout much of the history of Christianity, the church has often turned to monasticism when times became particularly tough either because Empires were ravaging their people or because Empires where falling apart, thus creating chaos. At other times, when the church was in need of renewal, it has often turned to its monastic sisters and brothers to lead that renewal. Thus, when either the world or the church or both were in danger, monasticism has often flourished.

 
Brother James Dowd, a member of the Order of the Holy Cross, a Benedictine monastic community in the Episcopal Church and the “monk in residence” for the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, will explore these themes and how they apply (or not) to a Post-Christian World and in particularly in our North American context. Consideration of the New Monasticism and the “old” Monasticism, specifically through a Benedictine lens, will highlight this talk of the Cathedral Lecture Series.

 

Saint Cecilia Cathedral
Cathedral Cultural Center 701 North 40th Street Omaha, Nebraska

Thursday, February 23, 2017,  7:00 P.M.

 

Sponsored by: Trinity Cathedral, Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Cathedral Arts Project

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New Feature: The Eggplant -by The Rev. John Adams

The Rev. John Adams

The Eggplant: January 26, 2017

Eastern Nerd and Western Priest
by The Rev. John Adams

 

Greetings, Nebraska Episcopalians! At the request of our illustrious editor, I am inaugurating a new monthly (or something close thereto) column for The Nebraska Episcopalian. Depending on the season, this may entail me addressing questions from our readers, sharing thoughts from my ministry, finding the spiritual in books or movies, or pontificating on subjects heretofore not contemplated. Given such unexplored possibilities, I am dubbing this column “The Eggplant,” in homage to the short poem “Pentecost” by David Craig: “What is this Holy Spirit? / And what is it doing in the eggplant?” Whatever you read here, it will on some level reflect the fact that God’s Spirit moves mysteriously, often in the things we least expect.

Being a priest in Chadron, Nebraska (and quite enjoying both the parish and the town) was something I never expected. After growing up in Northern Virginia, I thought I was going to the wild west when the Spirit called me to Omaha as a Resurrection House intern. I never imagined that I would like the city so much that I would want to stay, or that the welcome I received there would open me to the possibility of living and working elsewhere in the state. So now, as the Bishop’s Society Curate serving as priest-in-charge at Grace Church, I find myself living and working in a place very different from the suburbs of Washington.

There are many things I like about living in Chadron (being able to walk everywhere, the low cost of living, the beauty of the hills and forests, and the general niceness of the people among them), but I do find myself missing the presence of a bookstore. I’ve enjoyed fantasy and science fiction novels since middle school, with the consequence that it didn’t take me long to exhaust the small library’s supply of books on my to-read list. But a happier consequence of being a nerd for that long is a willingness to listen to the Spirit speaking even through things that, on the surface, have absolutely nothing to do with God.

Take, for example, the X-Men movie series, to which I was first introduced in college. The series is driven by the fictional relationship between ‘normal’ humans and ‘mutants,’ where the former are afraid of the superpowers awakened in the latter during adolescence. With the exception of one minor character who prays as a Christian, God goes unmentioned across six movies, even though one might expect some folks who develop unusual powers to wrestle with those powers as divine blessing or curse, or anticipate theological and Biblical arguments in the mouths of normal human politicians and preachers condemning mutants as unnatural offshoots to be controlled or eradicated.

But over the course of the series, as some normal humans have tried to deal with mutants by making them register with the government, suppressing their powers with a medicinal cure, using them for involuntary scientific experiments, and killing them all, and mutants in turn have responded in a variety of ways, including hiding their powers, using those powers to help humans, attempting to rule the world through fear, and trying to kill all the humans, a theme that I find very Christian has emerged. The movies’ happy endings, such as they are, occur when the mutants and normal humans who are committed to living and working together thwart the designs of those who would rather dominate or destroy the other.

Setting aside the superpower element, it’s not hard to see parallels between this fictional series and the real world, where certain groups of people fear other groups who differ from them and seek to dominate or destroy them through laws, threats, and violence. We see it today in the conflicts around differences of sexuality and gender, race and language, religion and nationality, and in the efforts of those who, like the films’ heroes, strive to maintain peaceable and equitable coexistence despite the fear and mistrust.

But for us who follow Jesus Christ, we are called not to fear those who differ from us but to love them as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). This requires from each of us a commitment to see those who differ from us as human just as we are, a willingness to turn the other cheek rather than pursue revenge when we are wronged (Luke 6:29), and the will to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). And fictional and secular as they are, the X-Men movies offer us some ideas of how we might do that in a modern world where those who differ from us might possess weapons of mass destruction, or might be willing to harm literally anyone, or might just be changing the neighborhoods around us by their mere presence. Or to consider another angle, at baptism God awakens in us the superpower of loving even those who differ from us; just as the mutants wrestle with questions of whether to exercise their superpowers only to the benefit of other mutants or in service of all humankind, sometimes to the point of sacrificing themselves, we too must ask ourselves whether we love only those who are ‘like us’ or share God’s love with all.

So that long tangent serves to a) offer an example of finding the Spirit moving in something we might not expect, b) serve as a recommendation of the X-Men movies to those who have not seen them but are not turned off by the idea of superhero movies (just as films, all six are entertaining, with two being excellent and only one being a bit of a trainwreck), and c) provide an idea of one direction “The Eggplant” might take. So please do leave comments and questions on Facebook and let us know what you’d like out of this column. Thanks for reading!

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Trinity Cathedral Choir Celebrates Ten Years of Lessons and Carols “On the Road”

 

 

In the autumn of 2007, the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Choir and their director, Marty Wheeler Burnett, launched an innovative ministry: Advent Lessons and Carols “On the Road.” After presenting the traditional service at the cathedral, the singers and instrumentalists traveled a few miles to St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church in South Omaha. As they shared the distinctly Anglican choral service with that congregation, a new tradition was born.

In celebration of ten years of traveling in the Diocese of Nebraska, the choir has planned two stops on this year’s tour. On Sunday morning, December 11, the choir will sing at St. Mark’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral in Hastings, Nebraska at the 10:00 a.m. Eucharist. The Right Reverend J. Scott Barker, Bishop of Nebraska, and the Very Reverend Catherine Scott, Dean, will preside.

That afternoon, the choir will travel to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Lincoln, to sing Advent Lessons and Carols at 4:00 p.m.  The Reverend Judi Yeates, Interim Rector, will officiate.

For those in the Omaha area, Advent Lessons and Carols is offered at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Sunday, December 4 at the 10:30 a.m. Eucharist. The Cathedral Choir will be joined by the newly formed children’s choirs of Cantate Choral Academy and the cathedral’s handbell ensemble.

“This traditional service includes a series of Bible readings and choral music focusing on the Advent themes of hope and expectation of Christ’s coming,” stated Burnett. “Our music is offered to the glory of God and as a gift to each community we visit. It is our opportunity to worship with our fellow Episcopalians in the diocese and celebrate our common mission and ministry.”

The Cathedral Choir continues a long tradition of excellence in choral music.  The choir sings for Sundays and Holy Days, September through Trinity Sunday, as well as diocesan occasions such as ordinations, diocesan conventions, and regional confirmations.  The choir was honored to sing for Nebraska Day at Washington National Cathedral in 2003 and for an Open House Weekend in 1996. Choral Evensong is offered several times each year, as well as the annual Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols.

The choir will be joined by noted organist and composer, Michael McCabe.

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Trinity Cathedral: A Service of Remembrance & Faure Requiem -Nov 1st at 7:30 PM

candlesThe Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Choir and instrumental ensemble will present A Service of Remembrance: Fauré Requiem on Tuesday, November 1 at 7:30 p.m. The Cathedral is located at 113 N 18th Street, Omaha.

The service will include several short compositions for All Saints’ Day, along with the reading of a memorial roll and prayers for those who have died. The liturgy will be followed by a complete performance of Gabriel Fauré’s sacred choral masterwork. “Known for its lyrical beauty, this requiem focuses on themes of resurrection and eternal light,” states Marty Wheeler Burnett, Trinity Cathedral’s canon precentor and conductor for the performance. “All are welcome as we join in an evening of remembrance and celebrate the promise of resurrection.”

There is no admission charge for the performance, and childcare is available in the nursery. For more information, visit http://trinityepiscopal.org.

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St. Matthew’s, Lincoln Provides Community, Learning, Love, for Yazidis

Dance class at St. Matthew's (Photo from Lincoln Journal Star)

Dance class at St. Matthew’s (Photo from Lincoln Journal Star)

“…The unofficial Yazidi headquarters in Lincoln — St. Matthew’s — has been happy to oblige the blossoming community in Lincoln, which Khalaf estimated at nearly 1,300 people.

Associate Pastor Steve Lahey said the church recognized an opportunity to fulfill its mission of helping those in need by lending time and talent after nearly a century of keeping to itself.

“What’s the purpose of having a church with gifts if you don’t share them?” he asked.

Lahey said the church is open to the Yazidis to use as they will, including everything from the education and dance classes to worship if they so choose…”

Click here to read the full story at the Lincoln Journal Star website.

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Recovery Eucharist – Holy Apostle’s, Mitchell

October 16, 2016, Pastor Sheryl Kester-Beyer officiated 12-Step Recovery Eucharist at Holy Apostles in Mitchell. Rae N. was invited to give her testimony of her of her addiction, intervention and how God played a role in her life. She shared a prayer with the congregation that made an impact on her life and recovery:

Pastor Sheryl Kester-Beyer and Ray N.

Pastor Sheryl Kester-Beyer and Ray N.

A Beautiful Prayer

I asked God to take away my habit.
God said “no”.
It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said “no”.
His Spirit is whole, his body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience.
God said “no”.
Patience is a by-product of tribulations; it isn’t granted it is learned.

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said “no”.
I give you blessings; happiness is up to you.

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said “no”.
Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said “no”.
You must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful.

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said “no”.
I will give you life so that you may enjoy all things.

I asked God to help me love others, as much as he loves me.
God said “Ahhh”, finally you have the idea!

 
She shared she did not know the author. After she read her prayer and completed her testimony, Pastor Sheryl completed with her Homily. The parish was very warm and welcoming to Rae at coffee hour. Pastor Sheryl purchased and provided Biblical Helps for the Twelve Steps to the congregation.

For more information on the Episcopal Recovery Ministries go to the national website: http://www.episcopalrecovery.org/ or contact Nancy Brown or Sandra Raney with the Diocese Recovery Ministries. Please consider holding your own Recovery Eucharist within your own parish and invite a person within the recovery community to share their story.

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