March 6


By cbjones8

This past week in my RN212 Christianity class, we talked about the novel “Silence” by Shusaku Endo.  I do not think I have stopped thinking about this novel.  In short, it is about a Portugese Catholic Priest who goes to Japan in the midst of Christian persecution in Japan.  The book addresses issues of Martyrdom, sacrifice, what that can look like, judgement, forgiveness, and freewill.  I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone who becomes inspired to read it (you should) so I will try my best to not give too much away.


The book has prompted a lot of questions.  Particularly self reflection questions.  Would I denounce my faith if it meant saving the life of others?  That seems like a miserable unfair question.  From a young age I found inspiration in martyrs.  People willing to give their own lives up for their faith.  I think, as I have already given my life to Christ, I would have no problem dying for God.


That is not however, the issue this book addresses.  Would you denounce your faith to save not your own life, but the lives of other Christians?  What kind of a sacrifice would that be?  For the devout it is an impossible question.  The book literally discusses what would Jesus do in that situation, and according to Endo, Jesus would apostatize (denounce, or trample on an image of the divine) for the sake of others.

I began to question what sacrifice really means.  I have a line tattooed to my back from a poem by Andrea Gibson.  It says “The Sun said it hurts to become, I carry that hurt on the tip of my tongue.”  Often I find great solace in that.  Sometimes sacrifices must be made, losing friends, ending toxic relationships, moving, etc.  Following God can make no sense in this world.  Often I change the words to “The Son said it hurts to become…” at least in my own mind.  This book really challenged a lot of my perceptions on what those challenges could be.  For myself, and many Christians our faith is life and death.  My life is not my own, and in that I find great comfort.  Even when I seek to follow God in all things, there are times when that means making decisions that in the moment, may hurt just a bit.  The decision to leave home to come to Boston.  The decision to leave certain relationships in my past.  In the moments of those decisions I found pain.  But as Psalm 30:5 says weeping may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning.  I have found great joy has come to replace any temporary pain.  I wonder sometimes, if this life is hard, is the joy in the morning what comes after?  If God can teach us these lessons here on earth, imagine the great joy when we are reunited with him.


I may never know the sufferings of others.  I do know that no one ever said being a follower of Christ was going to make life easy. I also know that in the end, joy always comes in the morning.  I wish perhaps Endo had introduced that resolution in his story.  God’s trials do not always make sense.  In my own experience, I have yelled at God asking why must I endure this?  I have found however, that not in my own time, but in God’s, it all makes sense. Amen.

March 4

Peculiarity and Plurality

By kmshultz

Last week, Soren and I talked about how I tend to claim an identity that contrasts with the identity of the people around me. He called it the peculiarity within the plurality. Those words resonated with me because I do tend to cling to some shred of individuality in an attempt to maintain some sense of autonomy. Maybe I’ve just read too many dystopian novels, but I have this fear of becoming part of some mindless group-think where we all just go along with what everyone else is doing because we assume that they know what they’re doing. The things that stuck with me most from my high school psychology class were the studies about our strong tendency to conform. There’s the Milgram experiment where ordinary individuals ended up delivering what they thought were lethal 450-volt shocks to another person who failed to answer a series of questions correctly because a researcher ordered them to. And there are experiments where individuals answering questions in a group changed their answers when everyone answering in front of them gave a different answer, even when that answer was blatantly incorrect.

And while I’d like to think that I wouldn’t be like those people, that I would stay true to my beliefs and values, I’m sure all of the subjects in those studies would have thought the same thing. So I think that part of my tendency toward peculiarity within the plurality stems from a need to remind myself that I maintain a sense of individuality and autonomy. But I also think I associate with smaller groups in an attempt to distance myself from the actions of a larger group that I might not agree with. For example, I choose to predominantly identify as Lutheran rather than Christian because the Lutheran identification connects me with a smaller number of people so there’s less of a chance that those people will do something that I disagree with or could be held responsible for. And it distances me from actions that other non-Lutheran Christians have taken in the name of their faith that I don’t agree with.

And yet, no matter what labels I choose to give myself, I am still a member of those larger groups. This is something I’ve especially struggled with in terms of my identity as an American citizen because no matter what I think of the actions the U.S. government takes, as a voting citizen I am partly responsible for those actions. Democracy is beautiful because, hypothetically, it allows everyone a voice in government, but in light of these psychology studies, democracy can be a dangerous thing as well. When I look at U.S. foreign policy, I often feel like my answers are being changed before I have a chance to say them. I believe it is morally wrong to take a life and yet, as an American citizen, I am connected to drone strikes and other military operations that kill people every day. I understand that there are people out there who have committed and are committing horrific crimes and maybe it is the easiest and best solution to take their life. But I can’t make that call. I don’t believe that any of us are qualified to decide who is allowed to live and who deserves to die. God should be the only one with that kind of authority.

The funny thing about my aversion to conformity is that I strongly identify as a religious person and yet religion is itself a form of conformity. We are told what to believe and we believe it; or we are told that we must do certain things in order to be saved and we do them without question. Christians are often portrayed as sheep, the very animal most used as an example of mindlessness. Religion in many forms can seem scary and uniform and dangerous. But religion also gives me hope. There may be people who just believe what their pastor or priest or imam or rabbi tells them but there are so many other people who constantly question what they believe. There are so many places where doubt is crucial to faith. And I think that these questions are where we assert our individuality and where we take ownership. As long as we ask questions—‘what does this mean’, ‘what are we called to do’, ‘why are we doing these things’, and even the clichéd ‘what would Jesus do’—all of these questions mark a desire to live out our lives with intention and mindfulness. These questions keep us honest. They allow us to step away from the switches and refuse to give the next electrical shock, they help us see where we’re going and what the consequences might be, they are a system of checks and balances much more potent than the three branches of government. In asking these questions, we take ownership of our group identity instead of becoming lost in it. In other words, we claim our peculiarity without losing the plurality.

I don’t know what this means for the future—of the church, the government, the world, or my own life—but it eases my brain, that has absorbed too many dystopian novels, to know we claim the peculiarity and it eases my heart, that yearns for community, to know we claim the plurality.

February 27


By cbjones8

This was the first whole week of school/work pretty much all semester.  The good side of that was working at the pool, I finally got to see my Monday classes.   However, it has been an exhausting week.  I didn’t realize how dependent I had become on snow days and holidays to be my Sabbath.

Since I have been at Marsh, I have been surrounded by wonderful examples of clergy who not only give their all, but also know how to take care of themselves.  In my personal life outside of Marsh, that has not always been the case.

This week, and my general failure to really find some down time, has shown me not only the value of a Sabbath, but also the difference in having one and not having one.  I am starting to really understand why God wants us to rest as he did.

As someone who has been described by her parents as a “go girl” I am literally always busy and on the go.  I am seeing now why that may really not always be the best approach.  I often say I thrive in Chaos, but that is only true when I am refreshed.  As we move into March, and with Spring break approaching, I am hoping to find that time to recharge, and then in the future, really make sure I have time for myself, and not just for all of the projects I am involved in.

February 25


By kmshultz

In one of our one-on-one meetings, while we were talking about outreach for the vespers service, Soren looked at me and asked what I think of the word ‘evangelical’. My short laugh in response prompted him to raise his eyebrows at me, as if to say, “Okay, clearly this is something that we are going to talk about.”

Considering that I’m a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I should probably feel more ownership of this term. But when I hear the word ‘evangelical’ in isolation, my mind immediately jumps to fundamentalist Christians who aggressively try to convert everyone around them to their own way of thinking so that those people don’t burn in hell. I think this association comes because it seems that the only time you ever hear about Christianity on the news, it’s in the context of ‘fundamentalist evangelical Christians’ who deny the validity of science or claim that homosexuals are living in sin. Alternatively, when Christians appear in TV shows or in movies, they are usually either crazy fanatics or mindless sheep. Above all, Christians seem to be primarily portrayed in the media as illogical and unreasonable. This is probably also why I usually identify as Lutheran instead of Christian when someone asks about my religion—I know that I am a follower of Christ so I should have no problem with calling myself a Christian, but in society today, that term is associated with something very different than what I believe.

There was a study conducted a few years ago among Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 where non-Christians were asked to characterize Christianity. According to the popular song, people should “know we are Christians by our love.” But, in this study, the top three perceptions of Christianity were that it is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), and teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%). While the last one could be a positive thing depending on what the surveyed people think about other religions, it doesn’t counterbalance the harsh outlook of Christianity as judgmental and hypocritical—the very things about the religious elite in Jerusalem that Jesus couldn’t stand. The study also mentioned that these perceptions were typically based on specific negative interactions with Christians and in churches. One of the researchers said, “the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”

While I’m glad that the people in my generation make reasoned, thoughtful decisions based on their own experiences, it saddens me that this is what those experiences have convinced them that Christianity is. There are so many beautiful things about Christianity beneath the exterior we seem to show to the world—love, patience, value for life, fellowship and community, social justice, kindness, humility, generosity, and the list goes on and on. But it seems these things didn’t make it through to the rest of the world.

I think the reason why I shy away from terms like Evangelical and Christian is because they remind me of how misrepresented I feel as a religious person in society. When I look at those words on their own—‘evangelical’ meaning sharing the good news and ‘Christian’ meaning a follower of Christ, I should have no problem with labeling myself as an Evangelical Christian. But there’s still a hesitation. So clearly I have work to do. I don’t really have a solution other than living out my faith in such a way that I can create new perceptions of what it means to be Christian and Evangelical but it’s a place to start. And maybe I’ll be able to change my own perceptions along the way as well—or at least be able to answer Soren’s question without rolling my eyes and laughing.

February 18


By iquillen

This past weekend, I also experienced the thrill of traveling to Coming Together 7 in New Haven. Talking to students from across the country who shared a passion for interfaith ministry and a deep respect for different traditions was an eye-opening experience. To be honest, I’m still trying to process the entirety of my time at the conference, so I cannot adequately convey the lessons I learned in words. Instead, I wanted to talk about something that was nagging at the back of my mind during the few days I spent hearing speakers, participating in breakout sessions, and attending Jumu’ah and shabbat services. While I was engaged in meaningful dialogue and moments of close fellowship with other students, I was also highly conscious of a certain date. I wouldn’t say that I dread this day, but I have slowly grown to accept its looming presence every year–February 14th, Valentine’s Day.

Whenever I think about Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of the subject that so often comes with it. For a word, an emotion, an idea that is so often praised in writing and in song, it is immensely difficult to define what love is, let alone what it means. Any definition that I try to come up with somehow falls short, and is unable to fully capture the mix of warmth, comfort, pain, sorrow, wonder, and brilliance that comes with it.

I suppose if one had to start somewhere, though, a definition can be found in John 1: 4-8 : “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” When I think of God, the image of divine love comes readily to mind. Strangely, though, I rarely consider the possibility of the reverse: that love is God. It is hard to fathom how a human emotion can encompass the infinite being of the Divine. With that said, a question immediately jumps out: what kind of love is John referring to? Answering this requires a discussion of the multiple meanings of the word “love”.

Love seems to defy all definitions, at least when it comes to language. This can already be seen in the numerous words related to it that English possesses: affection, passion, infatuation, desire, friendship, and caring, to name several. Each of these captures a slightly different aspect of the human emotion. It may seem strange to include friendship in this list, but I do have some support for that one from the Greek. C.S. Lewis wrote a book describing four different aspects of love: στοργή (storge, familial love), φιλία (philia, friendship), ἔρως (eros, romantic love), and ἀγάπη (agape, unconditional love). John uses the last one, agape, when referring to God. Thus, a divine love is one that is unconditional, eternal, and all-consuming. This is the love found in Matthew 5: 44  (“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”) and in Mark 12: 30-31 regarding the greatest commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these”). 

Even with that linguistic aside, though, I have trouble recognizing agape in my daily existence. This is because I encounter love most often among people. The tenderness of a mother toward her newborn child, the affection that two friends share in a hug, the warmth that flows from a couple as they hold hands and embrace–all of these offer a path to the divine, but they are not the Divine itself. It is especially easy to forget this on Valentine’s Day, when we are bombarded with candy hearts, flowers, chocolate, and exchanges of a simple yet powerful three-word sentence. All of these celebrate an idealized form of romance, a happy ending embedded in our fairy tales that many aspire to realize. If we seek only that, though, we lose sight of love as a means to the Divine, to agape, and only perceive it as an end.

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote a book called the Symposium, in which guests at a dinner banquet praise love and speak of its origins. One character tells a story that humans used to walk as two joined bodies. Once, they tried to scale Mount Olympus and overthrow the gods, and Zeus decided to split them in half to weaken them. Since then, we have sought to find our other half, to be reunited with the one who once made us whole. Our relationship with God is similar. Each of us yearns to be reunited with something that completes us. Whether we find it in another person or in ourselves, in nature or in a city, in stillness or in movement, that part allows us to live and serve with purpose. If we can serve with purpose, then we may serve with love unconditionally. And if we love unfalteringly, then maybe, just maybe, we can encounter the Love Eternal that is God.

February 18

Have You Too Gone Crazy?

By kmshultz

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a season similar to Advent in the sense that it is observed in an almost commercial way by people who don’t necessarily identify as Christians. During Advent, stores abound with Advent calendars that enable us to wait with expectation, not for the coming birth of Jesus, but for the time when we can open each cardboard window and devour the chocolate it conceals. When Lent comes along, we try to make up for this daily treat by refusing to eat chocolate for forty days and we wait with eager anticipation for Easter when we can resurrect our sweet tooth, binging on Easter candy until we ascend into a sugar high. Or we give up Facebook in an attempt to be more productive with our time or avoid a certain food in order to lose weight. In all of these things that we give up, we have this very individualistic focus, of trying to improve ourselves in a way that will impress others, despite the fact that Lent starts with the reading from Matthew that tells us to “beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them”. It becomes a competition in self-control, where we gauge our own “fasting” against that of others. The few days before Ash Wednesday are abuzz with people asking, “what are you giving up for Lent?” and as the season progresses, you always know which people have given up dessert because they glare at you if you even mention the word ‘cookie’. And I hate that. I hate that Lent becomes just another diet plan. Traditionally, Lent is a time of drawing closer to God through prayer, fasting, and serving others but in America today, it seems we’ve dropped the parts about God and others and chosen to just pay attention to the parts about ourselves. But I think one of the most beautiful things about the season of Lent is how it brings a worship community together. Originally, Lent was a time where the community gathered in support around those preparing for baptism, and today Lent is one of the only seasons in the church year where it feels like church extends outside the boundaries of Sunday morning. For one thing, Lent is the only season (apart from Christmas) where people not only come to church on a day that is not Sunday, but they expect that there will be services on a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday, and a Saturday during the season of Lent. But the season also carries a sense of intentionality with it that follows us outside the church walls. Fasting or “giving up” something can remind us of this intentionality but it can so easily become self-centered as well. I always picture Lent as a clearing out of my life, a sort of spring-cleaning, where I create openings for God to move into. Others may feel differently, but giving up desserts does not open up space for God in my life. It usually just distracts me even more, draining my energy and will power as I try to exercise constant self-control. In a weird, backwards fashion, it seems that the things we give up most often during Lent actually bring more distractions and problems—it builds more barriers between us and God, not less.
There’s a Mary Oliver poem, The Sun, that ends by asking, “do you think there is anywhere, in any / language, / a word billowing enough / for the pleasure / that fills you, / as the sun / reaches out, / as it warms you / as you stand there, / empty-handed—/ or have you too / turned from this world— / or have you too / gone crazy / for power, / for things?”
This is my vision of Lent. We don’t have a word billowing enough for the feeling of basking in God’s presence but we stand in the glow anyway, empty-handed and mystified, searching for the right way to pray, striving to turn to—and not from—this world, to not go crazy for power, for things. And God reaches out and meets us where we are. God flows into the open spaces in our lives and reminds us why we believe, why we follow, why we stand here empty-handed. Because God loves this world so much that God sends a Son, God’s only Son, to die so that we may live, to scoop up our broken lives and make them whole, to take us by the hand and pull us away from our power, our things, and usher us out into the billowing light of God. A gift like that can’t be comprehended in the space vacated by chocolate but we have forty days stretched out ahead of us, unbroken and full of open spaces. Let’s enter them with intention, arms outstretched and hands empty, letting God move into the open spaces.

February 18

Happy Lent

By cbjones8

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  I went to bed with a belly full of pancakes and my favorite Maple syrup after an evening of fellowship and fun.  This morning, in my normal morning text with my parents, my dad (who is a United Methodist Pastor and probably one of the silliest people ever) began the morning with a “Happy Lent” text.  This struck me.  I responded with “do people even say that?”

Lent is so often thought of as a season of deprivation.  We must sacrifice something in our lives in a theoretical effort to get closer to God.  Over the years I have tried to get creative with this, besides the usual giving up X food treat for 40 days.  One year I gave up doing my hair or make up, another year I gave up secular Music all together.  Never was I particularly excited to begin the season of lent. Rather some what melancholy.  It is a reflective season yes, but that does not mean it needs to feel like a season of depravity.

This year, I am not giving anything up.  I am adding something.  I’m changing my attitude about the season.  I want to get closer to God, and that is a bit hard if we are even the slightest bit resentful of the season.  Instead of giving up (there is no positive language for such an action) I am going to consciously set apart a chunk of my morning routine to sit in prayer.  No rushed devotion as I so often do each morning, but actual time in reflective prayer.  As it is only the first morning, I must say I feel markedly different.  Despite the stresses of school work and the million things on my to do list, I feel at peace.  Most importantly, I am excited for this season of Lent and I am excited for this journey on which I am beginning to embark.

February 16

Coming Together

By jdingus

This weekend I had the absolute joy of being sent to Coming Together 7, a conference about interfaith ministry at Yale University. I came together with students from all over the country and many different faith traditions to talk about the joys and challenges of interfaith work, and to build relationships with across geographical and faith boundaries.

It was a beautiful couple of days. I made so many new connections, and had deep learning conversations with the other students. I learned a lot about Judaism and Islam, particularly; attending a Jummah prayer service and a Shabbat service. From the speakers to the workshops to the magic moments of connection when two people were able to find common ground, it was an incredibly powerful and exhilarating experience.

One of the moments that struck me was a conversation I had during “Speed-Faithing.” Like speed dating, in speed faithing we stood across from a partner and had a 2-minute conversation answering a question posed by the facilitator, before moving to a new partner. In one of the conversations we were asked to talk about our scriptures or holy books and how they were meaningful for us. Raised Unitarian Universalist, I do not have a specific scripture that informs my faith. Struggling to answer the question, I thought about when I was little and, ignoring the fact that Christians also have hymnals, I thought that Christianity had the Bible, and UUs had our hymnal, “Singing the Living Tradition.”

And for me, it does sort of work this way. The words and melodies of my UU hymns resonate with me deeply. I sing them or say them in my head to calm myself down or build up courage. (I do not like going to the doctor, especially the blood pressure part, so every time I have to do that, I sing “Meditation on Breathing” in my head.) I exegete the lyrics when I preach and rely on the messages of those lyrics to shape my sermons.

Coming home from Coming Together 7 I was so inspired by the deep faith of the other participants. Whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Sikh or Unitarian Universalist, these people had clear inspiring love for their own faith and for the work of interfaith dialogue. Their passion reminded me of the lyrics to one of my favorite hymns, “There’s a River Flowing in my Soul.” In the second to last verse we sing:

There’s a river flowing in my soul,

There’s a river flowing in my soul,

And I see in you what I feel in me,

There’s a river flowing in my soul.

Working and worshipping with people of all different faiths and backgrounds, I saw in them what I felt in myself: A deep love for their own tradition; a deep respect for others’ traditions; and a deep need to promote peace and understanding between traditions. I believe that acknowledging this sameness is the first step to truly working together despite our differences. I am so fortunate to have had this opportunity and am thoroughly jazzed to do more for interfaith work on BU’s campus.

February 12

Crying Out in the Wilderness

By kmshultz

In the email devotional I’ve been helping to put together for Lent, one of the weeks focuses on pilgrimage. I’ve been thinking about how the experiences in my own life that I would qualify as a pilgrimage always take place in the wilderness. While some people may go on pilgrimages to cities or temples or cathedrals, I go to cathedrals of rock and snow, towering peaks stretching to the sky above valleys brushed with wildflowers. I look to the wilderness as a place of renewal and of oneness with the Creator. When I push my body to its limits, muscles straining up one last hill, dirt staining the palms of my hands, a breeze caressing my cheeks, the sky opening up into a panorama of splendor, I can feel my soul surge through my chest. I feel like God is wrapping me up in a blanket of awe, like I’m going where God is calling me to go. My hours out on the trail blend into one long journey, an eternal pilgrimage into the Divine.

But I don’t want the wilderness to be the only place I experience God. While nothing can fill me up quite like a day on the trail among flowing water and Douglas firs, I don’t want to have to step outside my life, to retreat into the woods away from other people in order to find God. I live in the city and the Cascade peaks I love are thousands of miles away. There is noise and distraction here, cars and trains, exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke. I can’t step outside my backdoor and onto the trail anymore. But there is a river on the other side of Storrow Drive and sometimes when the sun sets into the clouds above Commonwealth Avenue, it feels like the world is going to split open in wonder. The full moon still hangs in the sky above the Prudential Center and in the fall, the wind can make the ivy-covered buildings dance in waves of soft red and brown. On Sunday mornings, there are moments when the streets echo with silence and the sound of my footsteps seems to hang suspended in the air like snowflakes. When the cold descends on the city like a curse, the wind tips my head back and reminds me to accept it like a cure. Because sometimes I can hear the whispers of the Spirit in the billowing of my jacket against my cheeks and when I can coax a smile out of a passing stranger, it feels like an answered prayer. The graffiti scratched into the chairs and windows on the T reminds me that we’re all still looking for a way to leave our mark on the world, to find where God is calling us to go. And the hawk that swooped over my head last fall reminded me of the voice of one calling out in the wilderness. It doesn’t come as naturally to me, but I’m starting to find God in the noise of this city, in the roaring of highways and beeping of crosswalks, in the thick accents and the train cars that feel like they’ve been vacuum-packed, in the sheer force of life being lived on every street corner.

I still feel drawn toward the wide-open spaces of my mountain valley, pulled toward a space so big that only God can fill it. But I’m learning to find wide-open spaces in the shadow of brick buildings, to write prayers on pavement instead of tree bark, to hear God in the trundling of trolley cars as much as in the bubbling of creeks, to look forward to where I’m going instead of back to where I’ve been. I’m learning to find wilderness where I am.

February 11

The Flu

By cbjones8

Oh it is the season.  The season where everyone gets sick.  I am now on my fourth day of the flu, and it has not been fun.  Having gone now to two doctors who have told me there is nothing they can do, I am frustrated.  Why is there no instant fix?  I need to be a person again!  Why can’t they understand that I have things I need to do!


Gee….I am sure God feels the way our doctors often do.  They understand our struggles, but they also understand there is no instant fix.  My body needs time to heal, and I know it will. My frustration at the doctors is really about my inability to be patient (or even be a good patient).


God’s timing is similar.  As I whine and fuss at God for not healing me faster, maybe there is a lesson here.  Not my time, but Gods.  It doesn’t matter that I want something now.  We all want something from God right now.

Life brings us unexpected turns.  Life happens.  It is easy to blame God, and get mad when he doesn’t miraculously solve all of our problems.  But then again, God is like a parent.  What good would it have done us if our parents had done everything for us?  We would never have learned.


I know Eventually I will feel better.  I know that in my temporary suffering, it is not my fault, nor is it God’s fault.  Perhaps it is to teach me to listen to my body, or to take time for myself.  Too often I see particularly clergy members not take care of themselves for the sake of others. Perhaps this is a lesson we can all learn from.  There is no shame in saying that you need to rest.  There is also no blaming God when things don’t go our way.  After all, it is not our life to control.  For once we place our lives in God’s hands, everything will always work out in the end.  Even if we have no idea what God is doing in the mean time.  And most especially when we have no idea what the end really is.