Shrouded

Have you ever gotten to the point where you sort of do not really feel any meaning about your actions anymore? Where you are wondering where all of then meaning and intentionality has gone? Where you kind of wonder where your feelings are, and where the light of your soul is?

To me, that is one of the strangest, weirdest feelings. I don’t understand it. I love music. I love talking to people and being all warm about existence and optimistic, but, for some odd reason, all of that feels very dead. I am not sure why, but I almost do not really feel like myself. I feel out of touch with who I am.

Every little structure and meaning in my life currently feels lifeless – I currently feel lifeless. My little meaningful series of playlists? I have fallen behind. Listening to music feels like a challenge right now. My schedules? Behind. My goals? Behind. Blog posts – which, I actually really do enjoy writing? Behind. Everything I put a lot of effort into initially this semester and was excited about? I am behind on all of them.

Maybe it’s burnout. Maybe I am a little too plugged in to everything. Maybe I am too stretched. Maybe I am too stressed, and it’s approached a limit where I am hitting a level of exhaustion. I don’t know.

All I know is I feel like I am really out of touch with myself, and I am really out of touch with reality. I can still work and keep going, but all of the parts of my life that deal with a sense of meaning have disappeared.

I have definitely missed the mark on a lot of the ideas I have reflected upon this semester these past few months.
Have I intentionally rested? Absolutely not.
Have I really actually thought a little bit more about my vocational goals and truly settled upon what I really want to do? No.
Have I worked to solve my problems with trust and anxiety? Eh, maybe. I just do not feel much right now, but I might have perhaps gotten a little better there.
Have I improved on my time management? Nope.
Have I lived in this grace I experienced? Kind of, but I have taken it for granted. The meaning is dimmed. And, perhaps, maybe I have not. I mean, I do not feel too accepting of myself right now. How accepting of myself, a failure, am I actually?

But perhaps, I can learn a thing or two in the midst of this darkness, and perhaps I just need to keep going. Maybe I can listen to my reflections on darkness and negative infinity? There’s an idea that might be useful to me right now. I really should just let go of my anxious control over everything and every commitment I am a part of because maybe I am burning myself out a little too fast. Perhaps I can keep walking on through this darkness, and maybe I’ll find God.

 

Yesterday, I led Sojourn’s team at Relay for Life at BU. I was exhausted and I almost backed down close to the date of the event – this was a commitment I made several months ago, but I have an assignment I am now several days late on, a partner assignment we are a week behind on, and another assignment that is due tomorrow. Plus, I have not gotten enough sleep lately.

I was stressed, I was tired. But I went. I had to. I had to be there for my team.

We were a small group, and I decided to walk the track for a while. It was invigorating. I walked alone, but in that still quiet internal loneliness, I felt sparks return. I needed that. I need to bring back the contemplative and mindful rhythms of a healthy spiritual life back into my life. How I do so? I do not even know anymore, I feel as though I do not have any time ever, and it’s hard to meditate or do centering prayer when you are half asleep.

I guess, again, I just need to keep trudging through this darkness, and hold my candle through the storms and day to day stresses ahead of me in the midst of these tense times in student life, in our current political and social climate, and in the midst of uncertainties about my future. And, if the storms ever rage too strongly and blow my candle away, I can hold steady, knowing that I will be able to relight this candle somewhere further.

Because, I know, just because I don’t feel the optimism, and the meaning, and the warmth, does not mean existence can no longer have optimism and meaning and warmth. This is only a temporary experience.

And I know, somewhere in all of this darkness, and tension, and stress, I will find God. `

Different Points of View

I have encountered a difficult situation earlier this week that I have been thinking over quite regularly.

 

Earlier this semester, I became friends with a girl on my floor who is incredibly nice and smart. A bio-medical engineering major, she is both hard working and passionate about her studies. She is also a conscientious and caring friend to all she meets. She meshed into my friend group quite well and was a positive presence to many good times and laughs.

 

Unfortunately, earlier this week I found out that she had very differing views than my own; she does not believe in evolution and she holds questionable views of homosexuality. I am a firm believer in both evolution and a person’s rights to love who they want.

 

After finding out more about her views and opinions after a few months of friendship, I was shocked and a little disappointed at what I discovered. I started questioning, “Should I still be her friend even if she holds views I vehemently disagree with? Should I judge her by her character or by her beliefs?” As a Christian, I believe that I should be a friend to all, but I’m having a hard time coming to terms with these different beliefs and how I should handle our friendships in the future.

Vulnerability in Disharmony

I don’t often mention to people I meet that I work at Marsh Chapel. One reason for this is the question that people will invariable ask me afterward: “Are you religious?” Or, an even trickier one: “Do you believe in God?” As much as I would like to answer these two questions, the truth is I haven’t really developed a full answer to either one yet.

But the other day, these questions did come up in conversation, when I ran into someone I knew at the Howard Thurman Center. He had mentioned that he went to a worship service on Easter weekend, so I asked him what experience with religion he had, if any.

Note to self: If you don’t want to answer a question, sometimes it is wise not to ask your conversation partner the exact same one, lest they end up reflecting it back at you.

This is what ended up happening. But rather than try to sidestep the question or change the subject (which I am prone to do, if you know me well enough–I do try to acknowledge when I do this, though), on this occasion I answered his question as truthfully as I could. We ended up chatting about faith and religion for a few minutes, and eventually we shifted to talking about science and religion, a topic I enjoy discussing a lot. He didn’t think that science and religion have different methods to answer similar questions, but he did say something that profoundly struck me: “I don’t like how much psychology has permeated society.”

This comment caught me by surprise. I had heard a sentiment like this expressed by one of my uncles before, but in that case it was just “I don’t like psychology.” My uncle had claimed that psychology was a science without much substance. Funnily enough, both of us happen to be in neuroscience, yet my opinion differs significantly with his on that one. But I digress.

I asked my friend to clarify what he meant by that, and he explained to me that he felt psychology gives  people ways to rationalize their own behaviors and motivations. In the process, it permits them to do nothing to change them. I replied that psychology is valuable because it’s difficult to change your behavior or grow in your perspectives if you don’t understand what they are to begin with, or where they come from. While we disagreed in our assessment of psychology’s value, he did have a point: knowing something about yourself allows you to be complacent if you do nothing to act accordingly with that knowledge. 

My friend challenged me to think about how willing people are to change their opinions even when they know where they come from, especially when they hear opinions or evidence they disagree with. He also commented on how current debates on identity and personal experience as forms of knowledge change our understanding of what truth is. He argued that there were moral principles of truth that hold regardless of personal experience, and that many of these principles are grounded by religion. My response was that a person’s experience informs what they believe in, and what people believe in are often principles that they think are true. That subjective, personal truth still has meaning, even if it may not be grounded in fact or align with broader moral principles guided by religion.

Throughout our conversation, I could tell that these issues mattered deeply to my friend–and that we had strikingly different opinions on them. Yet what moved me most about this conversation was that no matter how tense the conversation got, we were able to keep listening, pushing, and leaning on each other. By the end we had walked out of the Howard Thurman Center and parted ways with a handshake and a hug–a compromise that my friend came up with after we had talked about the kinds of greetings and interactions we like (my friend prefers handshakes, whereas I’m more prone to hug if I know someone and am comfortable being around them).

I can’t say for sure if we both walked away from that conversation with changed minds or changed perspectives. But I can say that for the hour or so in which we were talking to each other, we were able to be vulnerable with each other in expressing what each of us believed in. My respect for my friend has grown immensely because of that experience, even if we starkly disagreed about what we were discussing.

There is risk in disagreement–often it is much easier to pretend to agree for the sake of preserving harmony between people. But I believe that experiencing some discomfort and vulnerability in disharmony is healthy. That disruption of agreement allows us to open up, to take our thoughts in hand and reshape them with questions, and to truly expose our ideas to someone else’s. That was something that I experienced in conversation the other day, and I am glad to have encountered it. Maybe I should try sidestepping questions less in the future.

Easter Blessings

Easter has come and gone! Honestly, I cannot believe that it has gone by so quickly. The day itself, I have to admit, was pretty long. The three services definitely took a toll on me. I was very very tired. But, I had a lot of fun.

I really appreciate all the hard work that my peers put in to make sure that the day went really well and that the services were running as they were supposed to.

The sunrise service was a blast! It was so fun being able to run a service with the other marsh associates. They all did such an amazing job.

The cross activity went so well, much better than I would have expected. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to lead the meditation portion of that service. It was an amazing experience that I will always remember.

After the services were over I was able to enjoy the beautiful weather with my friends and throw the football around. Then I met up with my parents and had dinner. It was nice being able to see them, the last time I saw them was at the beginning of the semester. It was great being able to catch up.

Overall, this past Easter embodied the true meaning of the day. I was able to enjoy it with friends and family. Easter is a time when you are supposed to be appreciative of all the blessing that you have in your life. I am truly blessed to have such great friends, family, and peers. They made the day very memorable. It was the first time in a while I was truly happy for the entire day.

Joy.

 

Easter Sunday. The light and joy of Sunday morning in any church is incredible. It’s palpable. The cheery greetings and colorful clothes, coupled with the brilliant sun this year reinforce what we are celebrating. This joy infects me, every year, without fail. It lightened my step as I returned home after services. It colored my laughter at Easter dinner with my aunts and grandmother. It hasn’t left. It has made the pile of homework I had to do more tolerable. It has made cleaning less of a chore.

 

This stems from a couple things:

One is that Easter is a reminder that the story isn’t over. Even in the midst of sorrow, hopelessness and loneliness we are never truly alone. Christ is risen and the journey continues.

The role of community is important the Easter narrative. Following the crucifixion the disciples, scared, withdrew together. They leaned on one another in these moments of doubt and danger. Easter reminds me of my reliance on my community.The people in our lives who make us feel loved and less alone. The people who welcome you when you invite yourself last minute. The friends who check-in when they know you’re having a tough day. The people who you can just exist around. I lean on them for strength and companionship and I would be lost without them.

 

The community and reminder that our work is not finished that this time offers is so important for me, because they are easy to forget or take for granted. Out of these realizations flows a deep and unshakeable joy that softens the edges of the world. Especially this time of year, when the amount of assignments can leave me feeling a bit unmoored, this joy is a steady and reliable touchstone. Easter places it in clear view and provides the opportunity to reflect and to experience that joy. For that, I am thankful.

Responsibilities had me shook

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
-Uncle Ben, in Spiderman

So I am an intern in ministry at Marsh Chapel, and a student-leader in religious life at BU, which means in some ways I have been given some sort of power and authority.

I mean, like, hey there. Did you know that I am an intern at Marsh Chapel and the Vice-President at SojournBU? Like, not to sound pretentious in any way or something, but like I am kind of a big deal. Like, I’m kind of second place in terms of student leadership at SojournBU, and like I got to preach last Thursday. Like, I am not saying I am a powerful individual, but, like, I am a powerful individual. Like, I kind of am important.

Joking aside, in some ways I do have a little bit of power and authority. This was addressed to me over and over again in a conversation about my previous blog post, Systematic Moral Responsibility  which I did clean up a little bit with a lot of footnotes and edits in order to fix some large issues it had(see the footnotes for further insight). I was so excited to talk about theories on moral responsibility, but it was pointed out that how I discussed my reflections on such a moral view could lead someone to believe that I accept victim-blaming, and then lead them to consequently accept victim-blaming themselves  which is not my intentions at all. My reflective words on an abstract moral theory could cause a victim harm, or further perpetuate dangerous harmful ideas. My words could do that.

Which makes all of this internship oh so much scarier.

In fact, I had that conversation and my eyes were opened to the now potential consequences of my actions Thursday afternoon, and that shook me up as I was about to preach later that evening.

I sat there up on the lectern side of the chapel, and started to pray to God, because I had a strong realization that these words ceased to have to do with just me – no, my thoughts were now going to be heard by people attending the services, and these words preached would now, in many ways, affect the lives of the people there.

I sat there and looked out at the random people, and immediately had a moment where I questioned whether I had any real reason to be up there about to preach.

And I had many moments since then where I questioned whether I had what it takes to be a minister if I so chose to go down that route after my undergraduate career.

I mean, think about this: I am a human being who is inevitably going to make some sort of mistake. No matter what, I will make a mistake because I am a human being, prone to failure. Now, I really do not mind owning up to my mistakes, and admitting that I have committed an error. I do not care about how awkward the situation is, I will own up to it, because I know that I am only human and, honestly, who am I trying to fool? I do not, in any way, have it all together. I, like everyone else, am just a human being trying to figure it all out.

But, as a minister, my actions could then have consequences that I have never considered before. Ministers have a large amount of authority. As a minister, my work could help people in wonderful ways, but, at the same time, a mistake could cause large amounts of harm to people in very destructive ways.

That is very scary. Also, I notably think about questions of theology, ministry, morality, human existence, and reality in abstract ways constantly. I have caught various occasions where this behavior has potentially harmed people close to me. Reflecting is great and all, but I cannot reflect too much – sometimes I need to be emotionally invested in the now. I need to be really careful of my words, because obsessing over abstracts can hurt people, as was pointed out further up in this blog post. At the same time, I know for sure that I cannot cease to care about abstract theories in theology with deep thoughtful reflection because I cannot run on autopilot in terms of my ideals and theories. This is, because theology is reactionary to society and culture, and holding on too tightly and unquestionably to my theology can become extremely toxic and harmful as well. I myself have personally experienced such harms of apparently “unquestionable” theology.

So, I will have to adjust my personal practices to better find that middle ground, and I need to be a little more careful with my words.

Also, if I really do end up going down that ministry road vocationally: well, then so help me God that I may be a vessel of Your love to others, and teach me to walk humbly, for I often miss the mark.

Cover to Cover

For my Lenten practice this year, I decided to read the entire bible, starting with Genesis on Ash Wednesday and finishing with Revelation on Holy Saturday. On previous occasions when I’ve read the bible from cover to cover, I’ve done it over the course of the year, reading around four chapters a day but this time I took an accelerated schedule, aiming to read at least one book of the bible per day. While there were some days where I fought to stay awake hours past my bed time, thinking more about finishing the book I was reading than about the content, overall I found this experience valuable and rewarding. It had been a few years since I last read from cover to cover so it was nice to re-familiarize myself with the general arc of the bible and to revisit more obscure passages that I had forgotten about. I have a lot of thoughts about this experience and don’t know quite how to connect them all to each other so for my blog post today, I simply present a list of things that I drew from my reading during Lent:

  1. Quite a few of my favorite verses are small snippets of hope amidst large sections of doom and gloom. For example, Amos 5: 18-24: “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatter animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” On the one hand, reading the context of the final verse (Amos 5: 24) changes the way I view the verse—it is a justice and righteousness that seems to be rolling over us—washing us and our ceremonies, rituals, and solemn worship services away before the rushing tide. However, this verse is so familiar and close to my heart that it also provides me comfort amidst these words of judgment and darkness. The verse is something that I can hold onto, that anchors me amidst the rushing waters and keeps me from being swept away. It is a moment of grace amidst the darkness.
  2. There are a lot of puns in the Old Testament where two similar sounding words in Hebrew are used in connection with each other. For example, Amos 8:1-2: “This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit (qayits). He said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end (qets) has come upon my people of Israel; I will never again pass them by.” The writer uses two similar sounding words (qayits and qets) in this passage and a footnote in my bible pointed out that a play on these Hebrew words for “end” and “fruit” is “eternal winter.” Every time I came across one of these puns, I was reminded that the bible is not a stuffy old faith textbook but rather a text full of human stories, beautifully crafted poetry, and whimsical wordplay. In my head, I imagine some Old Testament writer thousands of years ago, writing these words in Amos and walking around grinning for the rest of the day, pleased with themself because of the clever pun they thought up. It makes the bible feel more tangible and accessible.
  3. The people in the bible are just as human as anyone else. The Old Testament is full of stories of people loving, fighting, dying, failing, and struggling to find their place in the world. But my favorite example of human-ness comes from Acts 20 when Paul is preaching and talking for hours in a house. Many people are listening to him and one of them—Eutychus—falls asleep and plummets out of the window to his death. Paul heals him, which is probably what the writer of Acts wanted us to focus on, but I like to focus on the events before the miracle—it’s comforting to me to know that people in the bible fell asleep during sermons sometimes too.
  4. Isaiah mentions hedgehogs twice—once in Isaiah 14:23 and once in 34:11. It just makes me happy to know that hedgehogs are in the bible.
  5. Anytime I encountered language that grated on me, that tried to tell me that I, as a woman, am restricted in ways that men are not, that tried to cut me out of a connection with the divine, out of leadership within the church, or even out of humanity (anytime the word ‘mankind’ is used, for example…), I thought back to the long litany of women who didn’t let that stop them—Eve, Hagar, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Esther, Abigail, Mary Magdalene, the virgin Mary, and so many others. The other thing I kept going back to was Proverbs 1:20: “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.” The Greek and Hebrew words for “wisdom” are feminine and I love that wisdom is personified as a woman here and throughout the scriptures.

 

I have so many other points and insights that I gained through this process but, in the interests of keeping this blog post a reasonable length, I will pause here. Needless to say, my bible reading gave me a lot to think about. In the journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter, it was quite illuminating to take this cover to cover journey, placing me in the context of the scriptures and reminding me that the events of Holy Week and Easter are not isolated occurrences, but part of a long, arduous scriptural journey stretching back centuries.

 

I end with a prayer from Psalm 19:14:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Amen.

Easter Vibes, I’m on an Easter High


He has risen and this beautiful Easter Sunday continues to shine on as I write this blog. It is without question the best day of the year and the best weekend of the year. From Good Friday and the 7 last words services to Easter Egg hunts and spending much needed time with family, Easter warms the heart. As we celebrate the resurrection of the most giving individual, Jesus again brings people together. Jesus gives us what we need and what I needed Sunday was friends and family. I was surrounded by family at Marsh and we put together a phenomenal sunrise service. All Sunday we had each other’s back and I’ve never been prouder to be an associate. I had the best of both worlds experiencing the regular motions of Marsh and then feeling like home, going back to St. Mark’s Church.

Church all day used to be apart of my everyday  life, especially Holy Week and attending 5 services over 4 days made me miss the days of following my Mom and Dad to their preaching engagements and just being constantly immersed in church. It was my favorite part of the year, perhaps because I love the church, but looking back I think it was constantly being with my parents. Being surrounded by love made me feel good. Dressing up to impress was also nice but there’s something special in the air during Easter. I pray for more days like this. Days of reflection and joy. Holy Week is the busiest time of the year for clergy all over and those connected to them, however, despite the business I enter the week rested and full of content. Through his resurrection I am inspired.

The Call to Love

Devin, Nick, Denise, and Tom delivered a sermon during today’s Maundy Thursday service! As I listened to them meditate on what it meant for Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet and how to love unconditionally, I was reminded of all the work that each of the Marsh Associates put into writing it, as well as the courage and practice it took for Devin, Nick, Denise, and Tom to deliver it. I’d like to share their words here for you this week.

The Call to Love

1. Devin

Usually, when you are about to be betrayed by someone, your natural response is not to wash their feet. or buy them food, or care about their well-being in any way. If someone mocks you behind your back, your first thought is not to buy them froyo.. If someone steals your essay and says it is theirs, the last thing you look to do is offer to help them with another assignment..

If someone is about to sell you out to be executed on a cross, you likely won’t consider washing their feet.
And yet, here you see, in John 13, Jesus does that.

You might be able to brush it off if someone is being rude; there might be serious academic consequences if someone turns in the same assignment as you, but whether results are simply unpleasant or truly dire, we have an example from Jesus in John 13 that teaches us how to react to betrayal.

Both Jesus’s footwashing and the supper after creates the chance for renewal, the possibility for a fresh start. Jesus’s love and service extends even to those who are about to hand him over and deny him, and offers renewal even in the depths of betrayal.

In washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus appears to be in a position of little power even though he is the most powerful individual in the room. Through his service and dedication to others he evokes the power that makes Mary drop to her knees and use her hair to wash the feet of her savior. She sees that he is truly God. Jesus is The Word fulfilled. Jesus fulfills the purpose of the Law, and shows us God in action.

His action reflects the full manifestation of the  Love of God, which seems weird and impossible for us to also reflect. Contemporary poet Jermaine Cole writes in his work “love is wanting more for someone than they want for themselves.” Taking this definition from Jermaine Cole, Jesus loves a lot. Jesus’s love wants more from us than we want from ourselves.  Jesus wants us to be able to love even those we don’t want to love. Despite his impending death, Jesus wants those who are about to fail him to love more. Jesus wants that of us, too.

 

2. Nick

The odd thing about the way Jesus is portrayed in John is that his actions seem not only weird to us, but they seem impossible. It’s hard to live like Jesus.

I mean, like, can we do what He does? He’s Jesus. I am not Jesus.

This idea of being Christ-like seems impossible for anyone who is imperfect, and we as human beings are imperfect — at least I know I am. His actions seem unnatural, impossible, for us.

So I am left with this internal conflict. I am called to live like Jesus, but I am not Jesus. I am just a simple, imperfect human being.

But Jesus is also human. In this passage, he does very human things like spending time with friends, washing, and eating. He is a human being, and his actions tell a brighter, more beautiful tale about what it means to truly be human.

In making our beloved Christ more human in this passage, the author is not making a commentary by playing Jesus down. Rather, he is bringing all of humanity up. Despite all of this messiness and betrayal happening here, this passage is optimistic about humanity. It forces a tension about what is precisely impossible for humans. Is it really impossible? I mean, Jesus does say in John 14 “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” In believing in this optimism, we can genuinely attempt to live like Christ, and this is what the disciples are called to do.

 

3. Denise

Jesus washes the feet of everyone present of all the disciples. The footwashing is an act of love that breaks down the barriers between Jesus and his disciples. Peter is so human; he isn’t able to see the big picture, to see who Jesus is and what he’s doing. But Jesus breaks down this barrier of misunderstanding. Judas is so human, because he succumbs to the pressure and gives in to weakness, pursuing the temporary instead of the eternal. Jesus breaks down this barrier of betrayal, and he performs the same act of love for Judas.

As Jesus cleanses their feet, he recognizes their humanity and loves them despite their failures.  In many ways this action seems unimaginable. However, this love, that Jesus exemplifies, is what he calls us to show to a flawed world.  

Though the love Jesus Christ shows to his disciples is a high standard there are moments when ordinary people can exhibit this love. These moments can take many forms, but they typically include the radical choice to love despite the boundaries between them.

 

4. Tom

1.2 miles of Commonwealth Avenue divide the students who live in West and East campus here at BU. In fact, the opposite sides of campus encompass very different lifestyles. East campus enjoys delicacies served by The Late Night Kitchen while West settles for lukewarm pitas served until 2 am. An East Campus student’s workout usually consists of running to the Fitness and Recreation center while West campus students prefer using the treadmills provided inside the facility. West campus residents generally set their alarms 30 minutes early in order to make it to their classes in CAS on time, whereas East Campus students roll out of bed and find themselves just outside of their classroom doors. At times, it seems as though students in East and West campus only share the distinction of being sleep deprived scholars of Boston University. But it is here at Marsh Chapel, the midpoint of East and West campus, that we share a brief hour together on Sunday mornings. We meet in the middle of our differing residences, perspectives, and beliefs to share in love as a united body, just as Jesus did with his disciples.

 

5. Tom

But what exactly do we mean by love? It is a powerful word but it is also ambiguous. In English, the word “love” encompasses affection, admiration, appreciation, attraction, infatuation, care, passion, and even friendship. English puts a lot of ideas under that single umbrella term love, but Greek, the language of the New Testament, has four words to describe different types of love. From the tenderness you feel for your sister or brother, who may drive you crazy once in a while, to the way you feel toward the friend who has known you since birth, remembering that one story you’d rather forget. To the the physical and romantic attraction we feel for those we put a part of ourselves out there for. But the pinnacle of love is a term called agape. Agape refers to an unconditional love that flows between the Divine and humanity and transcends boundaries among people. When Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another,” he uses the word agape twice. The first time he uses it speaks to the unconditional love that Jesus has for his disciples, and by extension the love that the Divine has for all of humanity. The second time he uses agape, however, it takes on additional meaning. Now agape stands for an unconditional love between people as well, not just love from the Divine. When you think about it, Jesus’ last commandment to his disciples carries a difficult task with it: to love each other unconditionally, just as Jesus loved them. He is asking them to take something from their relationship with the Divine and apply it to their relationship with other people. This is difficult because human relationships are often messy. Each of us may love one another, but we also disagree with, misunderstand, and hurt each other. How can we love one another unconditionally, when the ones we are supposed to love might be people we don’t know, or even people who have hurt us?

 

6. Denise

This kind of love can be the most difficult to spot on a regular basis, because so often it appears in small acts of kindness. It comes with students who stand out on the plaza on Fridays to give hugs to anyone who would like one. It manifests in a stranger taking time out of their day to help you when you’re injured, lost, or when you’ve dropped all your belongings on the ground. At the same time, agape appears in moments of deeper connection with people. It emerges when you sit down and listen to someone you strongly disagree with to have a conversation, and you both walk away with increased respect and understanding for each other. And perhaps even a changed perspective. Agape is the love that arises if you come to terms with someone you’ve had a falling out with years ago, and you both are able to forgive each other.

Agape is a love that respects, a love that listens, and a love that heals rifts between people.

Loving one another unconditionally can start with small actions, actions that respect the light and humanity that exists within all people. This could be anything from acknowledging the complaints of a coworker who always just seems to get on your nerves to simply smiling at people as you pass by them (something that is difficult to do in New England, I realize). These small actions can build to larger ones, such as starting a conversation with someone you haven’t spoken to in years, because their comments or actions have deeply hurt you in the past. Importantly, showing agape toward each other does not mean you love others unconditionally without loving yourself, nor does it mean that you should ignore or forget the harm that others have done to you in the past. Agape involves recognizing the humanity that exists in all people (yourself included), and caring about that humanity through your actions, however small they may be.

 

7. Nick

Jesus gave his disciples a commandment, and with that commandment he gave them a challenge: how do you overcome potential conflict and pain that humans experience to show love for them? One tool that we have to overcome this challenge is our ability to understand one another’s emotions. Empathy helps us to take on someone else’s perspective, and in the process develop an understanding of what their experiences and emotions feel like. The word itself, when broken down, means “feeling in.” When you are empathizing with someone else’s experience, you are literally “feeling into” their perspective. In that process, you are attempting to acknowledge that they are a also a human being with just like you with thoughts, feelings, insecurities, cares, and desires. You are feeling into the common humanity you share and the different experiences they have had, and in the process you are validating both. This is the part of agape that can heal divides between different people, while acknowledging those differences.

 

6.Devin

This healing and transcending of divides was experienced by our colleague Kasey Shultz on her Alternative Spring Break trip this past March. She writes: Over spring break, I traveled with 8 other BU students and one staff member to Macon, GA to work with an organization that performs housing repairs for elderly and disabled residents of Macon. The trip was meaningful in many ways but the thing that stands out to me the most is the way in which this trip bridged divides–divides within BU but also larger divides in society: Personally, as a second-semester senior, I don’t interact with sophomores, like, ever but by the end of the trip, I had spent more time in close proximity to the seven sophomores on the trip than I had in close proximity to some of my BU friends that I’ve known for years. We had students from both west and east campus, from Questrom and the College of Arts and Sciences, from the west and east coast. We also bridged more contentious gaps, as a group of liberal millenials from the Northeast worked with conservative baby boomers from the South. In our evening reflections as a group, we talked about how our stereotypes were being challenged and marveled at the extreme hospitality that we were experiencing. Throughout the week, those boundaries that we had clung to so fastidiously were dismantled one by one This trip reminded me that life is never black and white and that it’s a lot easier to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ when we never get to know exactly who ‘them’ is.

In this passage from John, Jesus does not call us to tolerate, he does not call us to surround ourselves with people we agree with, he does not call us to stay in our comfort zones, he does not call us to try to improve the people around us–he calls us to love. And he does not call us to love ‘them’—he calls us to love one another. Because when we truly love–deeply and without reservation or judgment–those boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ melt away.

 

7. Tom

As made apparent by walking down Commonwealth Avenue and crossing the BU bridge, or even looking around here in the Nave, we are not one homogenous group of people. We have different backgrounds both ethnically and religiously. How does that play into love? Does it matter? Quite frankly, in an interreligious setting: absolutely.

Our limited ability to conceptualize the magnitude of our reach inhibits us from realizing that our Christian neighbors are just one street in a collective of neighborhoods that create a global religious community.

In the soon to be published “Free Text to Life: Religious Resources for Interreligious Engagement” Jennifer Howe Peace writes: “Love is a profound and remarkable resource for interfaith work. It often clusters with a whole host of other dispositions that enable authentic engagement across lines of difference: humility, curiosity, forgiveness and hope to name a few. It allows us to say, as this story illustrates, ‘I may not agree with you, but I love you so I’m listening.’”

 

8. Nick

Love permeates the divide among groups. Loving someone selflessly does not mean you have to ignore or disregard past differences between you and them. You love them by acknowledging and taking on these differences in an attempt to understand them.

There are two extreme ways to deal with conflict or differences in understanding. There’s reacting with pure feeling — you know, where we love those for whom we feel love and we hate those for whom we don’t. Conflict and differences provoke strong emotions in us.

The other extreme is to just give up and not care at all. The differences between us and them are just too big and overwhelming, so why bother even acknowledging their existence? The conflict is too much, so it’s better to just avoid it.

These are the very human tendencies we have, and they both lead to stereotyping and stigmatization. But agape love, while extreme in it selflessness, is a happy medium between feeling everything and feeling nothing. This kind of love helps us overcome the pain of conflict and difference by acknowledging and bearing it. This kind of love is something in between, it’s about understanding the differences you have with someone else and loving them anyways.

 

9. Devin

If you were to engage with someone who has never met a Christian before, what would you want their immediate impression to be of you? Ignorant, indifferent, simply tolerant? No. That person should remember you for your love.

Our Marsh community tries to be a real, loving heart in the heart of the city, an inclusive center for all, including gay, straight, bi, trans, queer, or unsure. You hear this most Sundays and it is predicated on love. As your feet are washed today, or as you wash someone else’s feet today, recognize that these are acts of love for all who wish to follow the example Jesus sets for us. The motivation behind Jesus’ initial act? Agape. Love.

Low times and high hills

I’ve had a rough semester. I’ve faced challenges I never imagined I could conquer and this semester has been a complete rollercoaster. It’s had high peaks and deep consuming drops. In these low times and high hills I’ve become thankful to the people I’ve opened myself up to here. They’ve kept me going. They have looked out for me when I didn’t lookout for myself and uplifted me when I needed it the most. My friend Denise Stone has become someone I can consistently lean on. Denise and I met at orientation in the summer of 2015. I had no idea the influence she would have on my life. We both made the great (okay) decision of choosing the core curriculum and we’ve had classes together every semester since I’ve been at BU. We’ve struggled together, and for a while we were just in class friends. This school year, she’s become someone who I consider family. Without her support and her stories about her numerous little cousins  and her obsession with babies I truly don’t know how I would make it through core lecture. There are very few people who I would trust with anything, Denise is one of them. She’s one of my best friends. To often in life we fail to acknowledge the individuals who consistently show us love. We take for granted their willingness to go the extra mile for us. This week the Marsh associates will preach on love. We will think about what it means to love like Jesus. That seems hard. Loving like Jesus feels impossible.

 

In some aspects, it is. As humans we are flawed, but the beginning stages to loving like Jesus is kind of like being like Denise. It’s being willing to be yourself fully. To commit your whole being to betterment of others. Perhaps, she won’t see herself this way, but the person I see as friend is someone I look up to. This semester more than any she’s been there for me day in and day out. All the while taking rigorous classes and leading clubs and projects that require more time than what is in the day. Despite this low time, Denise and my close friends remind of the high hill. As Easter comes this Sunday because of Jesus I’m able to stand on that high hill and so I can’t quit. I’m invested into my future but more importantly other people are. Easter is my favorite time of the year, it reminds me of how miniscule the problems we go through are. It forces self-reflection. With Easter comes time to appreciate those around you and to live a life closer to Christ. More than ever I thank God for this time. Amen.