Wednesday
October 22

The Community Flame

By kmshultz

I’ve been thinking about community a lot lately and what it means. What do we mean when we say community? We have home communities, school communities, church or religious communities, work communities, the LGBTQ community, the running community, the Boston community, the global community, and the list goes on. After a while, the word loses its meaning–it’s just something we use to describe ‘us’ vs ‘them’.

But community is a beautiful word. It is both concrete in referring to a group of people and also abstract in referring to the relationships between those people. It shares a root with the word ‘common’, meaning ordinary or general, but also in common, meaning shared and implying togetherness. It’s a word that requires relationships between people and celebrates our commonalities over our differences. It emphasizes the relationships that individuals form over the individuals themselves and, as tired as the word can sometimes feel, I think we need a whole lot more of it in the world.

I like to think of a community as a root system–everything is connected to each other and working together to nourish and support each other. In terms of our ‘home’ community (whatever that may mean), we all come from the same earth and, no matter high we grow up and away from it, we can never break our ties to where we come from.

But we don’t just belong to one community. Life isn’t something that can be fit neatly into boxes and categories–it’s messy and chaotic and beautiful. And so are our communities. We don’t just fit into one community; we spend our lives weaving our way through dozens of them, leaving a tangled web of relationships in our wake. And this web connects to other webs that connect us to every other person on the earth. It’s a pretty incredible root system.

All these thoughts came to a head on Sunday at vespers as I helped lead Holden Evening Prayer, a sung service that was written at and for Holden Village, the community that I call home. As we sang, I looked around and realized how many of my communities had merged in this service–old friends from my Holden community standing next to new friends from my Boston community, members of the Lutheran community, the Marsh Chapel community, the Boston University community, my work community, and my worship community all joining together in one service. We all belonged to different groups, but the act of singing and worshiping together forged us into a new community. I realized that this service of Holden Evening Prayer is another one of those tangled webs connecting me to so many communities across space and time.

In the middle of the service after the readings, the leader says, “the light shines in the darkness” and the congregation replies “and the darkness does not overcome it” or, as my mom and brother like to say, “and the darkness doesn’t get it”. Our communities are lights shining in the darkness that the darkness can never get at. As those lights shine, we flock to them, clustering around and once that community is formed, it is never going to disappear. The members of that community may grow apart or drift away, but they will always be a part of that tangled web and they will always have a few roots that tie them to where they came from. And that gives me great comfort.

I pray that we always put more emphasis on the light that unites us than the darkness that divides us so that we never lose our sense of rootedness and connectedness to each other.

Sunday
October 19

May I be filled with loving kindness

By jdingus

This week was another Sanctuary week, which as always gives me a lot of material to reflect on. Over the past few months since our coordinator left, I have been taking on even more leadership roles within the community.

For this particular week, our music director asked me to lead the congregation in this beautiful arrangement of the Buddhist meta-prayer, “May I be filled with loving kindness.” This is a song that I’ve known for along time and grew up singing, but the problem was, I really struggled to learn the new arrangement. During rehearsal our music director played and sang it with me over and over, and I could barely sing it on my own.

I was really pleased to be picked to lead a song all by myself, and I didn’t want our director to think I couldn’t handle learning a simple song, and I didn’t want to let the community down, so I worked on it. I listened to the recording over, and over. I waited for my roommates to be out of the room and sang it until I knew it. But I was still incredibly nervous and scared.

In the rehearsals before the service, even after a huge amount of practice it still took me a few tries to sing it correctly. Our director even asked if he should just sing it with me. At that point though, I had to prove to myself that I could handle this.

Needless to say, I was nervous during the beginning of worship. But much quicker than I wanted it to, my song came up in the order of worship. I got up and sang it through the first time. Relief! I remembered the melody it sounded ok and I could do this. In that moment, for the first time since I’d started practicing this song, I thought about what I was singing. This song is a prayer for peace, first for myself, and then extending out into the world.

“May I be filled with loving kindness, May I be well,

May I be peaceful and at ease, And May I be happy.”

At that moment I let myself let go of the anxiety, the fear, the trepidation and let myself be peaceful and at ease. I’m not perfect, but I know how to sing the song and what actually matters is praying with my community, not worrying about perfection.

The second verse replaces the “I” with “you” which I dedicated the “you” verse to my music director. I’m typically a little nervous around him, because he is such a talented musician and I don’t want to disappoint him, but all he had done through out the rehearsal process was show me loving kindness.

The subsequent verses, “we” and “all” were my prayer to my community. As a community, we aren’t perfect, our leaders aren’t perfect and things don’t always go smoothly. But I prayed for them to continue to be filled with loving kindness.

My performance was not without flaw. I stumbled on one of the verses forgetting to replace the right words, and I know my voice was a little shakier than usual because of my nerves. But my prayer… that was right on point. I took a moment to remember that even though our community prides itself on having really high quality music, it isn’t about being perfect. It’s about bringing beauty and prayer into the community.

Saturday
October 18

Bridging Understandings

By iquillen

Over the summer, I read part of a book on medical ethnomusicology, the study of how music is used in healing across different cultures. One particular chapter discussed the role religion has in patient health and recovery from illness. The author stated that for many patients, their faith played an important part of their personal healing. Many patients found solace in speaking with a pastor while in a hospital, and some were thrilled to be asked about their faith by an attending physician. One comment from the author struck me in this chapter: when the subject of religion in medicine was brought up with other doctors, several dismissed the idea and would not acknowledge it further.

This remark reminds me now of a divide that I often sense between religion and science. The two so often seem incompatible with each other, and much controversy has erupted when they clash. One example is the contention over teaching students evolution or creationism in schools. I believe some of this conflict stems from the way they attempt to explain and understand the world. Religion is founded on belief, whereas science largely rests on evidence. These two things do not always coincide. However, both of these ideas attempt to unravel and explain what we do not know or understand.

For science and religion to coexist, I believe a mutual respect should be affirmed for the insights that each offers us. A few days ago, a friend asked me what I thought about the religious views (or lack thereof) of some scientists. His question touched on a deeper issue of this separation, one that needs to be addressed. Science and religion should communicate and appreciate each other’s perspective. One cannot value or trivialize what the other sees, because our sense of meaning builds on the knowledge of both.

To give an analogy for this: our knowledge of the brain has grown significantly in recent years. We are beginning to gain a greater understanding of how neurons communicate, which may eventually create a breakthrough in understanding how thoughts, emotions, even how our identity and personality work. Does that make these things be any less significant to us? I don’t believe it does. I realize that this analogy has roots in science. But isn’t it incredible that the human brain allows us to be self-aware, feel, and even contemplate the divine? I value the contributions science has made to our understanding, and I cannot help but think that there was some divine influence that allowed us to explore, question, discover, and think about those contributions.

Wednesday
October 15

What Facebook Doesn’t Tell You

By jlbishop

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. On one hand, I love that I can stay in touch with friends who I don’t see often or are across the world because of study abroad and such. I also really love that I can stalk all the adorable pictures of babies in my friends’ lives (but that’s a whole other story). I also really hate Facebook. I hate that I can be out to dinner with a group of my friends and the table will be silent as everyone is on their phones looking at Facebook. I hate that there can be so much unnecessary drama flung in every direction with dramatic statuses and arguments and hurtful statements in the comments. But there’s something that bothers me the most about Facebook, that I didn’t realize until recently: It warps the idea and meaning of friendship.

Do you remember that ad from Toyota of the teen sitting at her computer telling the camera about her parents who joined Facebook? She laughed and mocked them that they only had 18 friends, and she had 687. Then the scene changes to her parents having the time of their life mountain-biking with said 18 friends, and it flashes back to the teen alone at the table proudly stating that what she was doing was “living” and her parents were lame. That commercial always stuck with me, but now more than ever. I realized that Facebook has warped my idea of friendship. I recently had a falling out with one of my closest friends. Obviously sad about losing her friendship,  I also had a panicked moment where I told myself I was down to only two close friends back home, and sadly, I think that upset me more. Then I asked myself why. Why am I more worried/sad about the number of friends I have. And the answer came to me: Facebook. Facebook is all about how many friends you have and who’s having the best time. It’s like a competition of who has the most adventurous life. And that’s just not realistic.

A wise woman once told me that if I had just one true friend, then I was very blessed. True friendship, she said, is rarer than you think. She told me to fight for the ones who are worth it, and with love let go of those who aren’t. I have to remember that next time Facebook tries to convince me that quantity is more important than quality.

Monday
October 13

Finding Patience

By jdingus

So it’s no secret that occasionally parts of the service at Marsh make me uncomfortable or just clash with what I believe. This week the Gospel reading, which came from Matthew, made me really angry. Here’s the text:

Matthew 25: 1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

When I first heard this, I didn’t understand what could possibly be valuable in this passage. It sounds to me like it condemns those who make bad choices. It celebrates people who were unwilling to share what they had with others. And presents a vision of god where god turns away from those who made a mistake. What? My faith is so opposed to all of these ideas. I believe that everyone makes bad choices sometimes, and deserves second chances. I believe that if I have more than I need and someone has too little, I am obligated to help them. And I absolutely believe that there is divinity within each person that can’t go away even if that person makes a mistake. Needless to say, I was hurt by what I read in this passage.

Thankfully Dean Hill did a good job of pulling something valuable out of a verse that seemed so damaging. He emphasized patience and persistence in his sermon, using the metaphor of the bridesmaids waiting patiently and persistently for the bridegroom. (I guess maybe if I’d had a little more patience to begin with, I might have been less upset by this passage.) His sermon spoke to me though because of my work here at Marsh. As a religious educator, I have learned how to be patient with kids. Children need a lot of patience and persistence, but for me it comes naturally to be patient with them. But as a non-Christian intern working at Marsh Chapel, I’m still working on being patient with Christianity. Soren and I have talked a lot about my misconceptions about Christianity, and I know for myself that one of my biggest problems is that I tend to make snap judgments about Christianity particularly when I encounter pieces that make me uncomfortable or feel threatening to me. Deep down though, I know that there is so much of value in this tradition, and even more so there is so much for me to learn in my experience at Marsh. So now I guess I am working to find more patience in my heart. To listen before I judge. And to recognize that the little things that make me uncomfortable are so much smaller than the message of love, generosity, and forgiveness that affirms my work here.

Sunday
October 12

The Absurdity of Trinity

By kmshultz

In my anthropology 101 class, we’ve been talking about trying to make the familiar unfamiliar. In other words, we look at our lives and point out the absurdity or strangeness of the things we take for granted.

So with this in mind, I’ve been thinking about the Trinity a lot this week and was reminded of how strange the concept really is. I mean, how can we have three entities that we call God and still manage to be monotheistic? Even though we say that all parts of the Trinity still only make one God, we also say that each part is divine. To outsiders, I’m sure this smells suspiciously like polytheism.

Trying to explain the Trinity always manages to give me a headache: there is only one God, but there are three persons that make up that one God. Two parts of God are somehow father and son, and in all four gospels, God the Father blesses God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. If that isn’t confusing enough, God the Son dies, which is something you would think would prove that God the Son is an entirely different entity than God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And yet, among all of this, we still say that these are not three separate gods, but one God. And I love that.

I love that God is so mysterious and unknowable that we can’t ever truly understand God’s nature and I love that God is not personified as a rigid figure ruling from on high, but comes among us in various forms. I love the freedom that comes with having a part of God (the Holy Spirit) that I don’t associate with a gender. I love that I can experience God on multiple levels at once, that I can feel the Holy Spirit moving through me while I pray to God the Father in Jesus’s name. I love that God isn’t something that we can cram into an arbitrary category or pin down with a single label. And I love that our feeble attempt to explain the nature of God needs a lot of explaining of its own. Because in the end, God is beyond explanation, beyond labels, beyond categories, and beyond divisions. No matter how we think of or try to explain God, we will always come up short. I think that’s my favorite part about the Trinity—it never ceases to remind me how little I know about God and how absurd it is that I try to understand God anyway.

So, while the idea of the Trinity may be completely absurd, I think it’s the framework on which my faith is built. It probably has flaws, but it gives me space to pull away from categories, fall into the mystery of God, and grow in faith. And that’s enough for me.

Wednesday
October 8

Letting Go of Time

By iquillen

Over the past week and a half, I was confronted by an incredibly difficult question. It was not as existential as what my purpose in life was, nor as practical as what kind of career I wanted to pursue after college. It was actually a simple one, one that each one of us encounters daily: What do we need to do with the time that we have?

Some context for this question: about a month after the fall semester starts, the first set of midterms and papers of significant length approaches. Like many students, I had a couple of midterms, and I also needed to write an 8-12 page paper in a week. At the same time, I had also agreed to staff a conference for model United Nations. For those who have never been involved in model UN, this involves dedicating the majority of a weekend to ensure the conference runs smoothly. I had committed to this event, months before I learned of any exam dates. The weekend of the conference happened to fall on the same weekend I might have spent studying for an anthropology midterm and writing a history paper. The time crunch of my schedule created by chance was almost overwhelming.

This experience is hardly unique. Everyone has to balance their obligations, from classes and work to activities, socializing, and sleep. In my conversation with Soren last week, I realized that I had very little experience choosing which activities I truly needed to do. The flash of insight came when Soren told me I had listed 17 things I needed to do in one week, and I had lost track of the number a long time ago.

We live in a society that emphasizes productivity, accomplishing as much as we possibly can in a short period of time. For many students, that translates to joining several clubs, working at a job, and possibly taking five classes. It still amazes me that some of my friends can accomplish most of this and still find time to socialize or sleep. Underneath this atmosphere, there is an undercurrent that we need to dedicate ourselves to all of these commitments, and that not going to something means we’ve lost something, perhaps even conveyed some disrespect. For some things, that certainly is true. Extenuating circumstances aside, you really can’t respect a person’s time in a class or an academic setting if you don’t show up. With that said, schedules full of things to do have made us lose sight of what matters most to us.

At an Eid dinner I went to a few weeks ago, a speaker said that if we love something deeply, we become subservient to it. Even though we may love the new experiences we have in joining a club or taking an interesting class, trying to do everything places us under the control and constraint of time. And unfortunately, time isn’t always forgiving.

In preparation for my exams and paper, I had to forgive myself for not going to some commitments that I usually enjoyed. Letting go of time was painful, but it allowed to put effort into what I felt was meaningful for my own spiritual fulfillment. Did my intentions for studying and writing work out as I had planned them to? Not exactly, especially since I did not anticipate writing 6 pages in a single night. Nevertheless, this stressful, blurry period that has just passed encouraged me to take only the few things that I valued most, and focus my mind on them.

The speaker at the Eid dinner opened with a call to worship God in every moment of our lives and not restrict it to only a single day each week. Likewise, we should not limit what is most precious to us to a small fraction of our busy schedules. We must let go of time occasionally to follow the few things we hold are important for us and our spirits. I did not answer the question I asked at the beginning of this post, but I know I will answer it again and again as the year goes on. Now, I leave you with another question, one that the poet Mary Oliver asked:

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

 

Sunday
October 5

How Can I Keep From Singing?

By kmshultz

The hymn, How Can I Keep From Singing, is one of my favorite hymns of all time because it expresses something deep inside my soul that I can never explain on my own: No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

For me, singing is not something that I want to do; it’s something that I need to do. It’s a compulsion, an impulse, an obsession. Singing is the only way I can adequately express my prayers, my hopes, my doubts, my questions, and my joys to God. And when I sing, I feel the presence of the Spirit moving through and around me, listening and answering and lifting my prayers on its wings.

For me, a service has three parts: the Word to feed the mind, the Meal to feed the body, and the Music to feed the soul. And cutting out any of these pieces leaves a service feeling unbalanced and unfamiliar. Without the Word, we have no connection to God; without the meal we have no connection to Jesus; and without the music, we have no connection to the Holy Spirit. We think a lot about the Word and the Meal within a service, but less about the music even though music is an enormously important part of our prayer.

In my home congregation, we say ‘singing is a way of breathing our prayer to God’ and I believe that our singing is a way of praying everything we can’t express through words, all those things that need something more, that need to be carried away on a river of sound. The things we feel and don’t have a name for, the hopes and fears, the things we carry, and the things we drag behind us. They all emerge in our singing.

One of my choir directors told me once that singers have the hardest job of all musicians because they are the only ones who must rebuild their instrument with every breath. For me, this also reflects the constant confession and forgiveness of our lives. We are constantly tearing ourselves down and God is constantly building us back up. So when we sing, we are not merely singing praises to God; we are interacting and conversing with God. We breathe in the Spirit and exhale our praise and prayers in music. And that is something we don’t necessarily get anywhere else in the service.

Most importantly, music unifies us. No matter who we are or where we come from or what place in our lives we are, when we join our voices together in song, we truly are one body. We breathe as one and each voice adds its own character to create one sound of praise, prayer, and thanksgiving. In music, we are made one in the presence of the Spirit.

So how can we keep from singing?

Sunday
October 5

Thinking About Mistakes

By jdingus

At Sanctuary this week we talked about sin and repentance. Now for a group of UU leaning folks that was sort of a shocking topic. Sin and Repentance are words we don’t typically say in my tradition, words that are triggering and carry painful baggage for many of us. Still these were the themes that guided our worship. Jo, who reflected, shared one UU minister’s definition of sin, which really spoke to me. He said, “Sin is willfully acting against one’s own conscience.” When I heard this definition, I was startled and had to let it sink in a bit. When she read this definition, I could feel the flush appear on my face. This is something I know I’m guilty of. I know I’m a good person and that I understand right from wrong, but there are times when I hear my conscience telling me, “That is a terrible idea, STOP!” and I keep going any way.

In my one on one meetings with Soren, we have been talking a little bit about the choices I make and how they can and will affect me now and in my future as I pursue ministry. I know that at this time in my life it’s ok for me to branch out, try new things, and make some mistakes. But, I’m also realizing that I am an important moral resource for myself. That I know what choices are going to end up being positive and making me feel whole, and what choices are going to leave me feeling broken and alone. I know which are the better choices to make, so now I just have to work on actually making them.

This struggle to make healthy, life-affirming choices is an ongoing process. In our service on Wednesday we recognized that as people, sometimes we screw up. If you are comfortable with this language, sometimes we sin. And as we continue on our journeys, no matter how often we stumble, it’s important to forgive ourselves and try again. I am very aware that I fail sometimes, that I willingly disobey my conscience and make bad choices. But I’m also aware that I am important, and loved and filled with the divine. I am grateful for this reminder to always strive to be my best self, but to love myself even when I’m at my worst.

Friday
October 3

Lord, I Need You

By jlbishop

There’s a song that Chris Tomlin sings that is one of my favorite worship songs. It’s called “Lord, I Need You” and it goes something like this:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Holiness is Christ in me. That line has always stuck with me. Something about it stirs something deep within my soul. I feel uneasy and yet at the same time I feel peace. Uneasy, because of its weight; Peace, because of its simplicity. I am called to holiness. And that’s huge. It makes me uncomfortable to think about how big of a call that is for my life. Me? Holy? Christ within me? That’s too hard!  I’m not ready for that!  The beautiful part, though, is how simple it is. Holiness does not come with a huge list of things to check off before you can say confidently “That’s it! I finished everything! I’m holy!” No one would ever be able to reach holiness because the list would be endless and every time you messed up you would have to start over. Humans aren’t perfect, and we never will be. Holiness seems like a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s as simple as “Christ in me.”  What does that mean?

One day last semester, when I was praying, I was filled with a beautiful image. Christ was showing me my heart. It was ugly and covered in dirt and cement, so much so that it wasn’t even distinguishable as a heart. I imagined Christ telling me that this was my heart and the cement and dirt were my doubts, and hurt, and fears. Then He covered it with His other hand and squeezed gently. The cement crumbled to dust and a breeze blew it away. Then He held out His hand and showed me again. Sitting there was a small, withered heart. It looked so sad. He told me to stop worrying about trying so hard to be holy by loving like Him; that my heart was too small to hold that much love. Then He leaned down and kissed that little heart and told me that He would hold it tight and to focus on letting Him love me. I asked Him what I supposed to do now. And thats when He reached into His chest and took His beating heart and gave it to me. And He told me, “Let me love for you.”

Holiness is Christ in me. Holiness is letting God love you, and letting God love for you. Holiness does not require “doing.” There’s nothing you can do to be holy. Holiness is “letting.” When I allow Christ to love for me, all of the pressure is off me. All I have to do is step aside. I strive every day to allow God to love the world through me; to see the world through God’s beating heart. It is by no means easy, but it’s incredibly simple.

St. Paul says it perfectly in Galatians: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

And that, my friends, is holiness.