Wednesday
April 23

To the End

By jdingus

Abigail and I preach Maundy Thursday Unitarian Universalist style!

Introduction: Abigail

As we come together in worship, we want to honor the significance of this day. Maundy Thursday represents a time of crisis in the early Christian community, on this night when Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples before he was betrayed.

As Unitarian Universalists, Jaimie and I want to honor the solemnity of this time, while drawing out the hope implicit in the scripture. As we make the journey of Holy Week–through the darkness and into the light–we hold dear the love, sacrifice, and service that Jesus modeled for us in his life and works.

  • Abigail: John 13:34

  • Jaimie: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Jaimie:

One of the most beautiful things about Christianity is that Jesus not only preached a prophetic message of love and tolerance, but he taught it by the example of his words and his deeds. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus’s love. In one story Jesus, miraculously fed 5000 hungry people. In another story, he returned vision to a man who had been blind. As he traveled around, spreading his teachings he blessed the people he came in contact with. His blessings showed the people of his endless love for them. And he didn’t just talk about love; he lived love out in his life. The tone of his life was love, and through his living he taught others how to love.

Jesus has set before us a high calling. To make love the tone of our lives is not an easy task. To carry out this love and be faithful to it is even harder yet.

In his poem Rainer Maria Rilke says that “For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been given to us, the ultimate, the final problem and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation.” And now Jesus is calling on us to love all people. This love, that binds us to others, that Jesus teaches us to profess, is by no means easy. Not all of the neighbors we are called to love seem particularly loveable. And as the Christian narrative teaches us tomorrow on Good Friday, not everyone Jesus loved loves him back. Yet, Jesus loves the world to the end.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus explains, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Even as Jesus explains to his disciples that soon he will be betrayed to his enemies and taken away, he teaches them to love one another. He holds onto his love for all people even till the end.

And he teaches us to push that love out into the world. The love we hold within us is sacred. As we share it with others, we in turn are filled by the love that others are pouring out towards us. Sometimes this love is fiery and bright, filling us up and holding us easily. At other times this love is harder to feel. At times we can lose sight of the love around us, it can feel dark and lonely. At these times when we are sinking down, we are caught again by love. We may ask ourselves ‘what wondrous love is this’ that pulls us back up as we are sinking, but this love is the divine love that lives within each of us.

We must be grateful for this divine love that holds onto us even as we feel like we are sinking. And it is by loving our neighbor and making love the tone of our lives that we show our gratitude for this blessing.

  • Jaimie: Psalm 116:12

  • Abigail: What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?

Abigail:

We have been blessed. We are alive, we are here tonight, and we can breathe the sweet air of the world and come together in community. God has indeed given us bounty beyond imagining. Have you all been watching the revival of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, this new one hosted by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson? If you haven’t, you should–it’s incredible. If you have, you–like me–must have been struck by the vast grandeur of the universe, sweeping and infinite. And perhaps you, like me, were also struck with wonder and thankfulness that here, on this tiny blue dot suspended in the heavens, God chose to breathe life into us.

In other words, it’s pretty incredible that we’re all sitting here getting to experience the magnificent gift of life. But, of course, it’s not enough to just sit here.

As the Psalmist asks, What shall we return to God for all of God’s bounty to us?

Later in the Psalm, he gives an answer, saying, “I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice.” This is what we, too, can offer. “A sacrifice?” you’re thinking. “We don’t do that here.” And it’s true–we don’t offer sacrificial lambs at the altar here at Marsh Chapel.

But let’s reimagine sacrifice. It can be something you do. Jesus is the ultimate example. He lived out his teachings about radical love, and was willing to die for them rather than to give them up. Can we do the same–living out the legacy of love that Jesus taught us, even when the going gets tough? Even when people judge you or criticize you or threaten you?

Jesus did–and he did it out of love. In John 13, we get one of my most treasured lines in the whole Bible: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Every time I hear that line, it reminds me of one of the final scenes from the Harry Potter novels. Harry, before his final battle with the villain Voldemort, is able to see the spirits of all those who have died while protecting him–his parents, his godfather, his teacher–through a magical stone.

He’s scared, trembling. He’s found out–it’s a long story–that the only way to defeat Voldemort is to let himself be killed. The only way that Harry can end the reign of terror that Voldemort and his Death-Eaters have created is to die. And so here he is. Going to his death. Afraid, as so many of us are, about pain and death and being alone. But he has this stone, which has allowed him to speak to his long-dead parents and the others he has lost.

They surround him, wispy shades he cannot touch, and he asks them, “You’ll stay with me?” His father, one of those who died out of love in order to save Harry, replies, “Until the end.”

Until the end. To the end.

No one else can see Harry’s companions as he goes to meet Voldemort. But they are there with him and do not leave, even in his last moments. Like the scripture’s “great cloud of witnesses,” the love they had for Harry surrounds him, keeping him from being alone.

In these scenes, JK Rowling gives us a valuable metaphor for love. When we make love the tone of our lives, even unto death, the love that we created and fostered in the world lives on. Harry’s parents’ love for him strengthened him long after they had been killed. Jesus’ love for the world continues to strengthen us and to transform the planet to this day.

Back at that long-ago Last Supper, Jesus knew he was on the brink of death on the cross. But he knew that if his disciples remembered him and his legacy of love, his sacrifice would be worth it. And so that his sacrifice would never be forgotten, he created a way for us to always remember–together, as a community.

He took the bread and he took the wine and he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

For Jaimie and I, as Unitarian Universalists, this is the most beautiful aspect of Communion. It is a time for us to come together, as a community, and–in partaking of the bread and wine–to remember Jesus’ legacy of love, and the sacrifice that he made so that this legacy of his teachings would live on.

As we come together for Communion later in the service, remember that. Remember Jesus saying, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” That line is immensely moving, isn’t it? “This is my body that is for you.” Jesus was willing to give all of himself, even to the end. In all he did, he was teaching us to give ourselves to others–to be servants.

Transition

  • Abigail: John 13:14

  • Jaimie: So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Jaimie:

Before breaking bread and sharing wine with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Though they protested, because at this time only the lowest servants would wash people’s feet, Jesus insisted on washing them. After he had finished washing his disciples’ feet, he told them that they ‘ought to wash one another’s feet.’ With this Jesus established a precedent for Christian service to others. Jesus had humbled himself, and taught his disciples the value of humility.

The foot washing ritual that we will take part in together later in this service, has been done by Christians all over the world for hundreds and hundreds of years. Each year on Maundy Thursday within the Catholic Church, the Pope ritually washes twelve people’s feet in memory of the twelve disciples. Last year, Pope Francis made waves when he broke from the traditional Papal practice of washing twelve cardinals feet, by washing the feet of twelve juvenile detainees at Casa del Marmo in Rome. Even more shocking was the assortment of youth whose feet he washed. Unlike the traditional group of exclusively male high-ranking church officials, Pope Francis washed the feet of young imprisoned men and women from varying ethnic and religious backgrounds including an Orthodox Christian and a Muslim. Though he faced significant criticism, Pope Francis embodied Jesus’s message of humble service, by lowering himself to bless people from very different walks of life.

When the Psalmist said, ‘I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people’ she may not have envisioned a Pope washing the feet of young detainees, however this sort of humble service, paid to all people, is exactly what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples.

Jesus’s message of service to others extends far past ritual foot washing. His message is a call to action to people of faith to promote social justice work in the world. As religious people, aware of suffering and injustice in our world, we must take action to mitigate that suffering. Whether this is in small actions, by volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter for people who are homeless, or larger actions that work to breakdown the legal and systematic forms of oppression inherent in our society, this is service work.

Here at Boston University we like to bring up our most famous alumnus Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King, whose commitment to social change during the Civil Rights Movement fully embodied the Christian commitment to service, perfectly connects the ideas of service and sacrifice in the following quotation.

“I choose to identify with the underprivileged. I choose to identify with the poor. I choose to give my life for the hungry. I choose to live for those who find themselves seeing life as a long desolate corridor with no exit signs. This is the way I’m going. If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way. If it means dying for them, I’m going that way. Because I heard the voice saying: do something for others.”

I’m here to tell you that the voice of conscience, the divine voice within is calling us all to ‘Do something for others.’

In his quotation, King answers the question, ‘Who do you choose to live for?’ The answer to this question reveals where an individual’s values lie. For King, like for Jesus, his values lie in serving the oppressed. Further, they both recognize that sacrifice is implicit in service. King readily admits that he has chosen to stay the path toward justice and service. ‘This is the way I’m going. If it means suffering a little bit, or dying for them, I’m going that way.’ As we approach spring and Easter, times of earthly and spiritual renewal, let us reflect on our own call to service. Who do you choose to live for? Are you listening to the voice telling you to do something for others? Let it be our prayer of hope for the coming season that we do more for others.

As we have heard both through King and through Jesus, we are called to be servants to our neighbors. This task is not going to always be easy. We are being asked to love our neighbors, to sacrifice for others, and to serve the world. These are challenging endeavors. They require our best selves. We must be courageous and willing to make sacrifices for the good of other people. This is how we love our neighbors; we make sacrifices in order to serve all the children of the world.

  • Jaimie: John 13:35

  • Abigail: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Conclusion (Abigail)

Beloved community, when you go from here, how will people know you are God’s disciples? It will be through your service, through your sacrifice, through your love. This how we honor the divine spark within all of us, and it is this divine spark which sustains us through the darkness of this week and into the light of Easter. For the scripture says that having loved the people of this world, Jesus loved them to the end. To the end, my friends. Let us go together.

Jaimie: Blessed Be!!!

Sunday
April 6

Documentary Date Night

By aclauhs

Last night, Evan and I decided to watch the documentary Jesus Camp,  which is about an evangelical Christian children’s camp in North Dakota. This was probably not the best decision for a date night movie, as both of us ended up quite upset at the end (and not in the weepy “Oh, that was so good but so sad” manner of finishing Titanic). 

Lots of parts pained me. It gave me flashbacks of the Baptist youth camps I went to as a child, the pressure to go down at the altar calls to “recommit to Jesus,” and the time we were assigned to go up to people in a restaurant and proselytize to them–it made me cringe then, and it still makes me cringe now. The politics bothered me, the children being urged to lay hands and pray over a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush (the documentary was filmed while he was still President). The unapologetic attempts to break down the separation of church and state. The Islamophobic comments.

But the part that got me the most–the one that left me crying and Evan struggling to find me some tissues–was the scene where the leader of the camp told the children they were sinners, hypocrites, “phonies.” The screen filled with children shaking, weeping, their faces red and tears streaming from their eyes as they admitted that sometimes they doubted God, that they knew that made them bad people, that they wanted to be forgiven. The leaders of the camp whipped these children up into a frenzy of guilt and shame and self-hate.

And I sat there crying. This is the destructive power of religion–and of the idea of sin. Yes, there is evil in the world. I believe that. People do terrible things. But to tell children, so full of potential and hope, that they are–at 5 or 6 or 10–already full of sin and need to repent? To make them collapse into crying over the guilt of sometimes questioning their faith? To fill them with shame and self-doubt at some of the most formative stages of their lives?

That is wrong.

I feel lucky that my time among evangelicals as a child did not leave me scarred with those feelings. I’m glad that I still see the good in myself and in human nature (even though I know there are flaws there, too). But not everyone is so fortunate.

To raise holistic, compassionate, good Christians–or, really, people of any faith–we must teach them the value of love. If we believe the world is flawed and ugly and irredeemable–and that we are flawed and ugly and irredeemable–we are ignoring the light of God in the world. Yes, there are shadows, too. We must teach children to recognize those shadows–violence and hatred and oppression–and that they must resist and deconstruct them. But we cannot let that blind them from the light.

We are children of the light; children are some of those where that light shines brightest, and we cannot let that be extinguished.

Sunday
March 30

Being Present

By jdingus

So I preached a sermon at Vespers. I’ve never preached at Marsh before, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to preach in this context.

One of the most challenging pieces of my internship here at Marsh is coming up with a weekly, or at least in theory weekly, theological reflection. It can be a musing about a big theological question or more often for me a rambling about some profound worship experience I had in the past week. Often it is helpful in doing these reflections to single out a moment or an interaction within my week, where another person’s kindness or generosity or wisdom touched my heart and made me think about how my own actions are perceived in the world. These “preachable moments” provide a jumping off point for thinking about bigger questions in the world.

So as you might of guessed by that introduction, I want to tell you about one of these moments. So for those of you who don’t know, I recently joined the Student Elections Commission at BU. The SEC is a group of students who monitor the student government elections, and make sure all the candidates follow the extensive campaign guidelines that are laid out in the Election Code. As part of the SEC, I helped work at the election kickoff that happened last Monday. The election kickoff was an event that allowed the two slates of candidates a chance to get their face and their platform out to students walking through the GSU. Besides giving out the hundreds of free cupcakes that we had gotten for the event, the candidates got their first chance to talk to students.

Now both slates were very much on top of their game for this event. They were dressed up, and covered in their own campaign buttons. In conversations with students they efficiently transitioned between selling their platform and undermining their opponents. Each slate was competing fiercely and making sure to talk to as many students as possible.

Now after an hour or so of campaigning, one of my friends, a freshman who lives on the floor above me walked by eyeing the cupcakes. She didn’t know much about student government but wanted to find out a little more. I introduced her to one of the candidates, fully expecting him to rush through his schpeal and move on to one of the other people walking through the GSU. I knew that he had limited time to meet students and that it was important for his campaign to meet as many people as possible. I expected him to try and secure her vote, hand her a cupcake and walk away. But instead of saying his piece and excusing himself to make a new connection, he sat down with her, answering all her questions and thoroughly explaining his platform. He learned her name and actually listened to see if she had any suggestions for his campaign. Most importantly he listened to her, staying present in their conversation, placing more value on this one deep interaction than on the ten insignificant interactions he could have had in that time.

Now you could argue that his move was merely political; that making a real connection with this one student could get him votes from her and all her friends. And even if that was part of the motivation, I think his actions can teach us about the importance of listening deeply and making a real connection.

I think about this in regards to ministry. I know a lot of us here are involved in ministry in some way. And, I think remembering to be present in our conversations with others is such a hugely important part of this work. I think about the time other people have taken to be present and listen to me. The times when someone asks me how my day was, and actually cares about the answer. These moments make a difference in the lives of the people we interact with.

In this week’s gospel text from Matthew, Jesus teaches ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ This verse points to the truth that, to love your neighbor as yourself is to see the spark of divinity, the piece of God that lives within them and to love it. I think about this interaction I saw at the Student Government kickoff, and other similar incidents where someone takes the time and the effort to really listen and be present with someone else. This is one of the best ways we love our neighbors.

In this weeks verses from Ephesians we learn, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” We are all children of light, holding within us the fruit of light that is good and right and true. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, by listening deeply, sharing authentically, and being present we can harvest that fruit of light.

This verse, particularly the image of the fruit of light reminded me of a poem by Unitarian Universalist minister Karen Herring:

Hidden in the heart

of late autumn’s barren

fields is the ripening

of seasons yet to come.

Roots clinging to frozen ground

wait patiently

for their next long drink.

Seeds fallen from last summer’s blooms

sleep beneath blankets of quilted leaves

and feathered snow.

Fruits of the future,

words unripened into speech,

truth present but unseen,

evidence yet to be awakened

by the faithful

unfolding

of time and love.

This poem teaches us that hidden in the heart of each of us, children of light, is the fruit of goodness and truth. This fruit is of the future. It waits patiently to be awakened by the faithful unfolding of time and love. We awaken it when we love our neighbor as ourself. When we make time in our lives to listen to other people; putting their needs above our own. We love our neighbors when we are present and engaged, and when we share authentically from ourselves.

Loving our neighbor is how we love god. When we take time to listen to and love another person, we affirm the divinity, the spark of God that lives within them. As children of light, this is what we are called to do. We are called to journey with our neighbors. To listen to them, to share with them, to hold sacred space with them. We are called to harvest the fruit of light, present but unseen within each one of us. Like roots clinging to frozen ground, we wait patiently for the spring, the warmth of another person who will listen to us and see the divine that lives within us.

As we journey on this evening, let us remember to be present to the people around us. To gently hold space with them and to allow their inner light to shine. Let us remember to love god with all our heart and soul and mind by loving all god’s children of light. And let us be reminded that these high aspirations are not easy. In the crazy hustle of our daily lives, it’s hard to make space to be still and listen to others. It’s hard to ignore the voices that tell us to go fast and to spread ourselves thin. We have to be gentle with ourselves for the times when we fall short of thoroughly loving our neighbor, knowing that in those times our neighbors will reach out to us. But then we must celebrate when we choose to be like the candidate I mentioned earlier, who took time to listen to my friends questions and suggestions, who made an effort to be present with her ignoring the rest of his campaign; for in these times we can harvest the fruit of the light and come closer to the light of god within each of us.

Amen.

Saturday
March 29

Aunt Frances, Presente

By aclauhs

My great-aunt recently passed away at 96 years old. Aunt Frances, I always called her, even though she was technically my grandmother’s sister—the eldest of the family. She was feisty and smart and lovely and talented, a matriarchal figure at every family reunion. While us kids spent most of those reunions splashing around the mountain creek (which she pronounced “crick”) and tumbling through the pollen-heavy September grass, we would always stop by her lawn chair for a bird-boned hug and a story of one of her past husbands, the three respective men she had fallen in love with then outlived to marry anew.

When I hear the word “moxie,” I think of her. She embodied the term, in her crisp shirts and flawless pantsuits she sewed herself. She was Appalachian through and through, with the thick accent and the skill for cooking up batches of calorific comfort food. Yet that did not mean she was conservative or close-minded. Instead, she was deeply loving and accepting.

You see, her granddaughter married a black man and had a mixed-race son. Aunt Frances’ son-in-law (father of this granddaughter), raised in the Jim Crow South, disowned his own daughter. She was dead to him, and her son did not—and never would—exist. Yet Aunt Frances—raised in that same Jim Crow South, in the deepest reaches of rural North Carolina—embraced her granddaughter’s new family. She loved her great-grandson and recognized him as her own flesh and blood, knowing full well the fallout she would face from her own relatives and from the larger society.

A woman born nearly a century ago, she was more open-minded than many people more “modern” in terms of their birth years have ever been. She inspired me with her stories, with her grit, with the softness of her hand touching my head as she told me she loved me.

She was also deeply Christian. In her last moments, as her younger sisters (now all grandmothers and great-grandmothers themselves) gathered around her, she asked for them to read the Bible to her. When she was finished, she told them that she was ready for Jesus to come and get her, because she was ready to go home.

Home. Aunt Frances, I pray that whatever happens to our souls when we die, and wherever we go, that you feel home. I don’t have the same security you did in believing in a specific afterlife, a certain heaven. But I know you, and your love, and I can feel it now, even with you having passed from this earthly life we experience. I was blessed to have known you, and you blessed our family by being part of it and by bringing love into it. Thank you, and amen.

Tuesday
March 4

Remembering to Ask

By jdingus

This weeks Marsh Associate’s meeting reminded of the powerful impact a conversation a few days ago had on me.

Last week a minister friend of mine, took me out for hot chocolate to catch up. I see him pretty regularly, but often we see each other while leading worship, so it was really wonderful to have a chance to talk without distractions. This conversation left me warm and fuzzy, and with a new skill for my own ministry.

After we had talked and laughed for a bit about normal things; my classes, his plans for the future, our common work with The Sanctuary, he stopped me. He then proceeded to ask me if there was anything not so good going on in my life. I’m very aware, that I tend to be a consistently cheerful and enthusiastic person. I try not to let things bother me, and when they do, I tend to gloss over them moving toward some new positive thought. Every time I check-in I’m having “a good day” or “a good week”, and I conveniently fail to mention the bad stuff when people ask me how I’m doing.

Rarely, in my day-to-day life am I asked to talk about the bad stuff. As much as I try to hide the bad stuff, it felt really good to have someone address it directly. The question meant that he actually cared about what was going on in my life, even the less than perfect things, and that he was prepared to help me through those tough things.

I’d definitely be lying if I said every moment of this first year in college has been perfectly wonderful and fun. There have been really hard times, and even though the good drastically over shadow the bad, it’s still important to think about and share those bad things.

This little interaction taught me both a valuable practice for ministry and a lesson about myself. I know in the future, it’s going to be important to remember to check in with the people I serve about more than just the good things. Also I know, I need to remember to let myself have those bad things and occasionally share them with others. This sharing builds beloved community and it is a way to honor the divine light within all people.

Monday
February 24

A Warm Invitation

By lucchesi

I learned a valuable lesson in ministry this week: a personal invitation can go a long way. I have been struggling with the best way to do outreach for OUTLook, because it has seemed that my previous methods have been futile. I can make public statuses, facebook events, and large announcements, but somehow we kept running into issues because people wouldn’t come to our meetings. OUTLook’s membership has radically shifted over the past two years, and I have really been struggling with how to keep the few new members we get.

Soren recommended that I follow up with each of the new members individually, and I sort of rolled my eyes, thinking that that was such an obvious solution, but doubting that it would do much. That reaction, was in fact, me not wanting to put in the extra time it would take to write all those notes. I am strapped for time, and this was another thing to add to my growing to do list. However, I received a message the day after Soren made his recommendation from someone from my old worship community here in Boston who invited me to a special event. He knew that it was an event that would appeal to my interest in languages, specifically Spanish, and took the time to send out an individualized invitation. The gesture meant so much to me that I did two things. 1) I went to the event, and 2) decided to try that out for the next OUTLook meeting.

Lo and behold, it worked. That personal invitation, instead of a mass email or facebook event, was enough to bring back some returners. OUTLook will never be a group that is as large as the other LGBTQ groups on campus, and we certainly don’t want to be, but having four guests at the meeting means a much more diverse conversation than if we had one. This gives me hope that I might actually have these skills in ministry, when for a while I thought I didn’t. I presumed other people would do some of the outreach for me, so it is empowering to know I can do it myself.

Thursday
February 20

The Spark

By jdingus

So, in my religion classes this semester we’ve read a lot of books about people (generally male clergy) who are wrestling with their own imperfections, especially when they are constantly confronted with the perfection of Christ. Whether it was St. Augustine in his Confessions, or Shusaku Endo’s Silence, the narrators are constantly striving to be more pure, and humble, and compassionate and whatever other adjectives they could come up with to liken themselves to their savior. However, they never seemed satisfied with their efforts. Even though, they both seemed incredibly pious and devout in their faith they constantly struggled to be more Christian and to prove how Christian they were.

This week at the Sanctuary the main message was about how important it is to continually work toward justice and compassion in the world. However, unlike for the people in my readings, there isn’t any shame or guilt in the struggle. I don’t have an expectation for my self or others to ever be perfectly good. I think that those moments when we try to be better, or go out of our way to be authentic with other people, are when the little piece of divinity that lives within each of us gets to shine. But that piece of divinity is not dependent on how good we are. That spark is there even when we are falling a part. It’s there when things get too hard and we have to reach out to others, and its there when others reach out to us. That little shining light might not always be blazing bright, but it is inherent within us all.

Sometimes during my readings, I felt bad for those people. I wish they could see that there is a little piece of divine love that lives within them, that won’t ever go away. It’s the love that draws us to be in community together and it’s the love that reassures us even if we feel like we aren’t being our best selves. Sitting in Sanctuary tonight, I felt that divine love spark within me, joined with every other person around me and with the divine spark in the universe. And it reminded me that even though I’m not always my best, sometimes I get angry or do stupid things, I am part of the divine.

Tuesday
February 18

Vespers Sermon: “The Common Field”

By aclauhs

Guess what? I preached the Vespers sermon this past Sunday. And….here it is:

Sunflowers_Land_by_Deinha1974

This past summer, I attended the Wild Goose Festival, a progressive Christian festival that happens in the mountains of rural North Carolina. There were many interesting things that happened, including cornbread communion, moonshine mass, and an event called “Beer ‘n’ Hymns.” But the one I want to talk about tonight was called “The Body and the Earth.”

It was a panel with speakers who do work with gardening and farming ministries. One woman was the leader of a farm called The Lord’s Acre. The Lord’s Acre is a community project where volunteers grow organic produce for those in need in the community–a beautiful concept.

Susan, the director, told us a story about Annie. Annie was a local homeless woman. She had some mental instabilities and would often amble past the garden, but would run away whenever they invited her to join in.

Well, pretty soon, the people at The Lord’s Acre started noticing something. It was high summer in North Carolina, and the beautiful watermelons they had been cultivating started to go missing. They’d be there in the evening, then, the next morning? Gone.

This was disappointing. Those watermelons were supposed to go to the local food bank, to help the needy. So one of the dedicated volunteers swore to get to the bottom of this mystery. He staked himself out the entire night to find out where the watermelons were going.

And who did he see, sneaking in late at night after everyone was gone, except Annie the homeless woman?

So Susan, the director, went and found Annie the next day, out at the outskirts of town behind an abandoned barn where Annie liked to sleep. She spoke gently to her. And, at long last, Annie brought her inside the barn and showed her the her secret stash–a heap of big, fat watermelons.

Annie started to cry. She had been so scared, she said. She had been scared that the volunteers in the garden–the nice people volunteering from the local churches (and you know what she meant–middle-class people with houses and cars and nice clothes)–wouldn’t want her in the garden. She couldn’t always control what she said. Sometimes she acted strange. They wouldn’t want her. Especially now that she had stolen all those watermelons–but she just hadn’t been able to resist. They were just so big and juicy and beautiful.

Susan stayed with Annie while she cried. Then she loaded Annie and the watermelons up into her truck, and they brought it all back to the Lord’s Acre. After Susan explained the situation to the volunteers, they hugged Annie and brought out knives and sliced open the watermelons and ate them right there in the garden, together. You can just feel it, can’t you? Hot Southern sun and crisp, cool watermelon and the sticky smiles on everyone’s faces.

Susan told this story to us at the festival, and she told us that Annie still volunteers at the garden. People know her quirks and moods and tics and accept her anyways. This is the power of a garden, friends.

Laboring together in a garden is a powerful thing–it brings us together over the glory of nature and creation, growing food that we can share together.

The Bible knows the strength of the garden, and that is why it uses it so often as a metaphor. In today’s reading from Corinthians, we hear that “The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

This is interesting, isn’t it? According to this passage, we are the servants working in the field–but we are also the field, also the building. It’s a holistic idea of engaging in communal work and common purpose together–but what we are fostering is ourselves. It’s our brothers and sisters around us.

So what I’m talking about here is not just physically working in a garden. Though if you can find one to physically work on here in Boston–more power to you.

I’m talking about having the mindset of seeing the world around you like a garden, of which you and your fellow beings are the gardeners. For it’s not just about what you do, but how you think about it.

We see this in today’s gospel. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Jesus is telling us that love extends to more than just our actions–it is also about thought. So you don’t murder someone. But thinking bad thoughts–that’s still pretty damaging for your soul.

And so we must cultivate good thought, just as one cultivates a garden. We need to water the good thoughts and weed the negative ones. We need to grow love, and we need to do it together.

You know, gardens can be good for more than just food. One of my friends visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina on a mission trip, and can you guess what their project was? Planting sunflowers. Yes, that’s right, planting flowers.

Sunflowers have the incredible property of purifying the soil they’re planted in. My friend and her team planted them in New Orleans in the toxic muck, full of chemicals and dangerous debris, as a part of cleanup.

You wouldn’t think it, right? Those big, beautiful, yellow flowers doing double duty as toxic waste cleaners. It’s pretty–I’ll say it–miraculous.

So, my friends–think about it, hard as it is when it’s full-on winter outside. Grow your sunflowers. Plant your crops. Share your watermelons. Remember that we are the servants in the field, but we are also the field. This world is our shared project, and it is up to us to cultivate love and healing in it. Be a good gardener. Amen.

Wednesday
February 12

Love Feast

By jdingus

In our Marsh Associates meeting we try and explore new and different spiritual practices. This week, both as a new form of practice and because there was some leftover chocolate cake we had a Love Feast.

The Love Feast harkens back to early Christianity when small groups of Christians would, instead of interrupting their prayer meeting to return to their homes for lunch, eat a meal together as a spiritual community. The love feast was and is a time for small groups to eat, drink, and have deep conversation with one another.

In our little love feast, we enjoyed our cake and had a really deep and challenging conversation. I found it exceptionally powerful and fulfilling to participate in a spiritual practice that was centered on community bonding. In my home tradition a huge part of our spiritual practices are focused on community building. From the part of the service where people are encouraged to light candles and share the joys and sorrows in their life, to the potlucks, retreats, and backyard barbeques that are common among UU congregations, there is always an emphasis on spirituality through community engagement. These rituals and activities are a constant reminder of the preciousness of connection. I feel most engaged in my faith, not when I’m in silent prayer (though that is important), but when I am able to listen and be listened to by others in my community.

This sense of engagement and community bonding has continued throughout my week. Today in fact, I helped contribute to a group that is connecting UU youth all over the country. I am excited for the possibilities ahead for this group, and the chance they all have to feel held by a community. Already the group is growing and providing a space where people can speak openly and listen intently. I’m excited to be a part of this new spiritual space, which provides the atmosphere for a Love Feast. All we need now is more chocolate cake!

Monday
February 10

Why do I believe what I believe, in my context?

By lucchesi

I recently came across this article in the National Catholic Reporter, which is my favorite resource for all things Catholic (and when you’ve been around as many Methodists as I have, sometimes you really need some Catholic time) (I kid) and it brought up a question that I’ve been dealing with for a long time: Why do I believe what I believe?

First answer that comes to mind is that I don’t know. I was raised Catholic, somehow fell into the Anglican/Methodist communion, and often times find myself saying that its all good. I have a strong, strong, intuition about a lot of things, and as I’ve discussed numerous times on this blog, my challenge has often been to put words to that experience. Similar to the author of the article, Mariam Williams, cultural context complicates trying to justify faith. Although the situations are wildly different, both African-Americans and the Queer community have wildly conflicting views of Christianity. Being surrounded by queer and queer friendly theologians and clergy at BU, it is easy for me to make the connections between Liberation Theology and the queer movement, and I am in a safe space that allows for a reading of books on queer theology. However, most people never get the privilege to explore these issues so deeply because their experience being queer in the church has been one of repression and hate.

Williams notes that she had ”been immersed in African-American literature written and set in the 1920s; every author considered Christianity a white man’s religion that held black people back from progress.” Again, I am not equating the two struggles as the same, but in the queer community, Christianity is seen as a straight person’s religion. It is an able-bodied person’s religion. It is a white religion. It is a cisgender religion. So I find myself often on the defensive about what I believe instead of actually being able to find a way to actually articulate what I believe. Inherent in any explanation I give is at least a reference to my experience coming out, which in itself is a major privilege.