New Directions

Posted by: Richenda at Tuesday August 3, 2010 in


It’s been a while! Can I plead “Seminary”?

And for those reading this who have been to seminary, you will know exactly what I am talking about, here. I am working on my ‘Masters in Divinity’ (yes, there is such a degree, lol! No hubris there, eh?) and it is the longest most in-depth masters degree you can get. It’s an all-encompassing, overwhelming, amazing process. Compared to seminary just about everything else seems trivial. I get it why Orthodox Jewish boys learn nothing but Torah (The book of Instructions for Jewish Life given to Moses by God) in school. Spending 24-7 with “the God Question” is an amazing thing to get to do.

BUT. I will also say that such exclusive study has decided drawbacks. “Life” is an ongoing and unfolding gift. If we engage scripture exclusively, we lose the richness of the realities of Life itself and therefore miss vital opportunities to better understand “the God Question” in context. We were not created in exclusivity: the land under our feet and the doings of our neighbors has always framed, informed, feed, infuriated, frustrated and inflamed us. And all alliteration aside, if we are going to dare to ask the “what are we, what is God” question, we have to talk to each other to really get at the subject.

SO. After a while of Seminary study, regardless of how glorious it is to sink deep into Iraenaus—and to be fair I haven’t sunk into Iraenaus that deep, yet. His book is on my to-be-read pile—you surface in desperate need for some 2010 perspective on how things are going around Earth in general.

AND FINALLY, I can read for myself that what I have written here is mostly Blah Blah Blah so, let me get beyond excuse-making and say that I’ve been missing Saltwater Scrolls and I am attempting a comeback. Over the last 15 years I have encountered a lot of great books. First in the writing of my novel The Saint and the Fasting Girl, then in my return to school. As such, my plans for Saltwater Scrolls are to shine a light on great books and the authors who have contributed so much in writing them.

Let me mention that this new direction will not lead to a book blog for fiction—there are a lot of very fine book bloggers out there who do this already. Instead, this will be a blog for the source material. The researchers, academics, trouble-makers and miscreants who dig, compile, translate, photograph and interpret the rich history of our human endeavors. My emphasis will be medieval and/or religious history and subject matter.

IN CLOSING please let me say I hope this new approach has value for you. And if not…well…there are a lot of other fun things to do on the web.

Methodist Minute

Posted by: Richenda at Wednesday August 26, 2009 in

Oh, man! Has it really been two months since I’ve posted to my blog? Lame! This is serious problem, because if I can’t keep my blog up during the summer, I don’t have a hope of doing so once school begins.

And even as I sit here I realize I have nothing interesting or newsy to offer you.

Seriously not good.

I do have something.

It’s a ‘history nugget,’ a story told to me by one of my Methodist instructors, name withheld for the moment… :)

Methodism has always been supportive of the temperance movement. Women have long been a force in Methodism and women Methodists were among the first to identify problems caused by alcoholism and organize to do something about it.

Alcohol and drink, in fact, were monstrous. Whisky and the like were considered a “hell-born evil.” (See William Link page 33. I recommend you read some of the rhetoric on this, lol.) As a consequence, Methodists celebrate communion with grape juice instead of wine. The idea is that by using grape juice, everyone can share communion, even those struggling to deal with alcohol addiction.

Anyway, this ran so deep that Methodist clergy (and members, as well) were themselves asked to swear to abstain from drinking alcohol, ever. Some were happy to make this promise! Others? Not so much. And for years the Methodist Book of Discipline (book of governing rules and principles) outright forbade use of alcohol by clergy all together.

The day the language of the discipline changed from forbidding the use of alcohol to just condemning it, there were probably a number of celebrations across Methodism. In particular, the Methodist students at Yale Divinity School ordered a keg of beer and had a party on the school steps that included a ceremonial burning of the page in the Discipline that prior to that had kept them from doing exactly as they were doing at that moment.

Thus ends my ‘Methodist Minute.’ lol.

Annual Conference

Posted by: Richenda at Tuesday June 30, 2009 in

Thank you University of Puget Sound for hosting the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference again! This was my first year, but wow, what a beautiful campus. I confess that my only prior knowledge of Tacoma was the stretch of I-5 that squishes traffic past the Tacoma-Dome. And, well, I didn’t think much of the place. I was proved judgmental and uninformed last week at the conference. There are some beautiful areas of Tacoma, and the University of Puget Sound is one of them.

The coolest thing about the campus was the architecture. It was kind of monastic looking, and, well, hobbity. Check out this set of doors, one of many like it:

I stayed in Schiff Dormitory, which for some reason (is it 2009? or am I imagining that?) did not have wireless. Bummer!

The dorm didn’t have wireless, but it might have had something else. I stayed in room 020. Well, that was what the room number was supposed to be. At some point, though, some young college waif had changed the room number to reflect something else.

An interesting room to house visiting Methodist clergy! lol. Once inside, however, the room looked innocent enough.

And it was really nice to stay on campus and leave the CO 2 emissions to someone else for a while. It was also wonderful to spend time on the campus. If there wasn’t wifi in the room, at least there was in the Student Center and that was open late. And the campus was beautiful.

The landscaping was absolutely gorgeous with blooming rhoddies and hostas and carefully manicured shrubbery. There was also a lovely central square—back to the monastery thing—which reminded me of a monkish promenade.

As well as mysterious archways that led who knows where.

In all the campus was a picture-perfect place for a conference.

The conference itself was held in the field house, a huge high-beamed athletic venue we transformed into worship centers and a legislative chamber.

There was also the requisite presence of Cokesbury Books. As a newbie to the process I was let in on the secret of using the blue bags. You start a bag on the first day of conference and add to it as you go. By the last day, if you can lift the bag without a forklift you get a free vial of anointing oil. :)

This nifty system proves how devoted the clergy is to improving their sermons, their bible study classes, and their support of congregations. Not to mention their love of any healthful exercise that consists of lugging, hauling, and dragging books. I bought a few…I admit it. But they looked great. I also bought a Methodist Book of Resolutions which is…thick. I’ll need it, though, because I’m headed for Pastor Boot Camp next week.

A few things to lift up from the conference. One is just how cool it is to be Methodist Clergy. I am so grateful to be surrounded by like-minded folks who care about our world and the people in it. We affirmed a lot of stuff at the conference, not the least of which was that the environment matters, that it matters that people have access to health care, and torture can never be permitted anywhere, especially not where we are party to it.

We also are committed to real welcome, of all people, at our Methodist churches. There are still some who worry about power, who gets it and why. We are all human, after all. But even so we are on the right road. Discernment and Love are a powerful combination. Our challenge will be in true practice.

Finally, I want to lift up the Jamaa Letu Orphanage in Lubumbashi, Congo. This orphanage is sponsored by our conference. At the conference our churches together with the Methodist foundation raised over $60,000 to build housing for the boys who live there. The challenge went up, could we raise the funds needed? And could we do it in 24 hours? Could we call our churches and families and find money to put to this worthy cause?

And we did!

I would encourage you to help, too. Here’s the link: Hope for the Children of Africa.

Manuscript Hoard

Posted by: Richenda at Thursday June 11, 2009 in


I want to prance with joy at the feet of those who digitized and complied the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts through UCLA (with the help of an international academe). Pages and pages of Medieval manuscripts—complete with holes, ink blotches, dirt, and marginalia—are catalogued and linked to fully digitized books.

Here, for example, is a Hildegard of Bingen manuscript page from the book Sciuias siue Visiones ac reuelationes .

It is a book of dreams, visions, and revelations, written in Latin and digitized courtesy of Merton College in Oxford, England, and complete with a hole in the parchment that the scribe had to work around.

Talk about material culture! Look how the scribe had to squeeze to write around the edges of the hole, and you can even see the fibers coming through. The number of holes in this book and the fact that there are shadow lines coming up from underneath convinces me that these parchment pages were being re-used after have been scraped clean of some earlier text.

(Who is Hildegard of Bingen, you ask? She was a Saint and Abbess, a visionary and mystic nun who lived from 1098 to 1179 in Germany. Here’s an article from the Medieval Sourcebook by Kristina Lerman.)

Here’s another page from the same book, this one shows marginalia.

If a scribe forgets something while writing, it is usually to be found in the margin in the same color ink, an extra word or letter or something. This marginalia is in red.

The scribe used red in the manuscript, so he (and likely it was a he, though women copied manuscripts as well) might have come back through the book to write additional comments on the text—or add in bits that he forgot. This marginalia might also be someone else’s commentary on the text, maybe a tonsured Prior looking over the scribe’s shoulder as he was writing it out.

This is so awesome, I can smell the tallow. All I need now is a little ink on my fingers.

And to conclude our adventure in manuscript happy-land, all we require is—

for someone to figure out how to read this! (Curious, curious! )

Manna of the Heart

Posted by: Richenda at Sunday June 7, 2009 in

I was thinking of the problems that arise because of the (necessary?) combination of money and ministry. Churches pay rent, sponsor retreats, fund mission and aid work, and the rest… And I am thinking how amazing it will be in the New Jerusalem when money will be gone and the manna of the heart will fulfill all the needs of ministers and ministry.

And then I think, manna of the heart! What a wonderful image! What a great way to say describe something that is hard to describe. I wonder, did I coin a cool new phrase?

Of course I turned to Google to find out. Has anyone written ‘manna of the heart’ before? Yes! Actually, Mr. George Burrowes who wrote a Commentary on Song of Solomon in 1860. On page 47 he writes “There are periods in the Christian Life when the soul enlightened by the Holy Spirit sees a deep, instructive, and glorious meaning in the Song; when the truth thus found here, proves to be the very manna of the heart, the very quintessence of spiritual nourishment…”

Quintessence of spiritual nourishment, pretty good!

We get the word Quintessence from the classical & medieval periods, from the pagan philosopher Aristotle. Medieval people based their world understanding around his idea of the the four essences: earth, fire, water, air. The fifth (quint) essence was separate and distinct from all of these and was thought as the ultimate essence, ethereal and pure. Monks believed the result of their distilled liquors held something of the quintessence. It was thought to be heaven or heaven-like, perhaps. (Makes me think of today’s advertisements for perfumes!)

(Well…I tried hard to find a cool medieval image of Aristotle and his four essences, but I failed… mea culpa.)

What’s most important, though, is this idea of manna of the heart. I am reminded of one of Wesley’s rules of faith, to ‘stay in love with God.’ We are encouraged to stay spiritually nourished, even when it’s hard to do so. When times get complex, when the ministry money gets tight or runs out… Or when the candles are burned up, and the church is far away, these are the moments to remember that manna comes from God, and only from God. It is given always in times of need, to the lost, the wandering, and the people of the wilderness.

So. Manna of the heart, the stuff that comes each day to sustain the faithful, to fill us with comfort, love, and care, no matter the circumstances of our lives. Try a morning devotion and you will see exactly what I mean. Spend a moment with a candle or a psalm. Or both. Or neither, just God and yourself in a quiet moment together.

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