Thursday
March 26

Washed Out

By iquillen

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.”

-Luke 7:36-38

As Holy Week draws closer and closer, I am finding myself more and more overwhelmed. It seems like projects, lab reports, presentations, and a sermon have all decided to converge within the same two-week period. Add that to an exam and an upcoming housing deadline, and it comes as no surprise that I feel, to be frank, washed out. Ironically, that last part happens to be the theme for the Maundy Thursday service next week. Not the burden of persistent, unyielding fatigue, I should say, but washing.

While I can’t give away all of the details yet, the readings for the service reminded me of the passage from Luke above. It evokes such a powerful image, in both its language and its meaning. In all of its beauty, it also leaves me with numerous questions. Why is the woman weeping? Is it out of sorrow, or is it out of joy at being able to see Jesus? Why did she bring and pour the perfume? And then there is a phrase that I can’t quite parse out: “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears.” I have difficulty visualizing where they are standing, or how this scene is even possible. The lines of physical reality seem to blur, which makes the image intensely beautiful.

What she does, though, is striking. She washes Jesus’ feet with her own tears, and wipes them with her own hair. I cannot think of many actions that show such humility. The next thing she does makes the image even more remarkable. She kisses them the feet and pours out oil over them. Normally I would expect these intimate gestures to be reserved for the head. Yet she does them to the feet, the lowest part of the body. For they are on the ground, tying us to the earth and the dirt that composes it.

These are only a few of the elements in this passage that make it so unusual. It bends my traditional associations in its gestures, and its language washes out the boundaries of what is possible. In the end, her act of washing Jesus’ feet is also a gesture of forgiveness. Later in the passage, Jesus says the following: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47). Her tears wash not only his feet, but her own sins as well. 

I’m not sure how the next few days will turn out. The lines between what is work, what is school, what is rest, and how I fit into all of that feel like they are starting to blur. There have been times this week where I almost felt like I was drowning in anxiety. But when I think of all I have to do, and all that I will do, I find reassurance in these verses. They tell me that even amid all of the confusion, the ambiguity, and the uncertainty, there is hope for renewal. There is hope for washing the anxiety away, and not being washed out by it.

 

Wednesday
March 18

498 Square Feet

By iquillen

What do you do with the space that is available to you? That was an underlying question that came up in a meeting this past week. A few weeks ago, I attended an interfaith conference at Yale called Coming Together 7. On Monday, I met with my two friends Jaimie and Emily to share our experiences. We all appreciated the fact that Yale’s campus had separate spaces dedicated to different religious groups on campus, and we talked about whether an interfaith space could be implemented at BU. At that point, though, we ran into the obstacle of space.

Even though BU’s Charles River campus stretches for a mile and a half along Commonwealth Ave, it its heavily integrated into the city of Boston. As a result, space is a very limited resource. I learned an interesting fact during the meeting: if you took all the space in the university and divided it among its students, each one would have around 498 square feet of room.

That number stood out to me. When you think about it, it’s a little room: probably the size of a small apartment room. But then think about all of the things that must be placed in it. Similarly, BU has to accommodate classrooms, facilities, labs, and dorms. Taking that all into account, there isn’t much left over. Creating a space in which multiple faiths could coexist would take time, and it might not happen anytime soon.

So how do you use space currently available to facilitate interfaith ministry? Or a worship for one particular faith, for that matter? When there is no stable place to keep the things you need for worship, creating a place to practice your faith becomes incredibly challenging. It is especially difficult when some of the religious spaces on campus aren’t welcoming to all. Not everyone will want to step through the doors of a church, for example. But your beliefs are something that you carry with you, something that can expand into the space you inhabit. The space should therefore adapt to and accommodate them. I don’t quite know what this will involve, or how to achieve this in the near future. But I do know that everyone should have access to a space that welcomes all of them. Hopefully, they will be able to see those 498 square feet not as restricting, but liberating.

Wednesday
March 18

Telling people what exactly it is that I want to do with my life.

By cbjones8

My first week in Boston, I met a lot of new people.  I had just recently accepted and become really excited about my calling into ministry.  It was also a pivotal piece to my decision to transfer.  I found out relatively quickly however, that when people ask you what you want to be when you grow up, and you answer a Pastor, it is not the best way to make friends quickly.

I have found however, that the people who stick around after that are worth it.  It took time, but I have made some really amazing and wonderful friends here in Boston.  I even swell up with happiness and admittedly some pride when my not so religious friends tell me that they think I will make a pretty awesome pastor.

But…for some reason, when I am meeting a new peer, I can not help but feel all sorts of anxiety when they questions of future come up.  Being curious I like to know what other people’s ambitions in life are.  Then they often respectfully ask me back.  I have tried in the past to doge the question by saying things like “I want to go into the business of helping people” or “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.”

This past week, I had a conversation with a new friend.  That question came up.  And with more certainty and confidence than ever before, I stated that I was planning on going into the ministry.  Perhaps because I am no longer uncomfortable with the implications that such a statement may carry, the conversation had a notably different tone.  Curiosity was there, but the previously felt tension was not.  Maybe all along I just needed to be sure of myself.  It is an interesting thought for sure.  It is amazing how we can be so sure of God in our hearts, and yet not always comfortable talking about our faith in everyday life.  I am learning slowly how to balance my faith as a crucial part of who I am, while simultaneously letting my light shine in a world that has previously told me to hide it under a bushel.

Wednesday
March 11

Rest

By iquillen

Midterms are done (for now), spring break has arrived, and I have a moment of rest following the chaos of everyday life. After spending most of my waking hours in some form of motion, it feels incredibly liberating to sit still and breathe. Worries about work, school, clubs, and meetings are slowly evaporating, which gives me plenty of time to do…well, that’s just it. I hadn’t really planned that much for over break. Now that it’s here, I’m seriously wondering what to do with myself.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I find life at home boring or uneventful. Chatting with my family and playing board games with them certainly adds pieces of joy to my life. I also haven’t simply stopped doing work altogether. As much as I would like to take a full vacation from school, the fact of the matter is that projects, papers, and worksheets await to be completed. Vacation releases some time to catch up on work, for sure. But with the everyday stress of living as a college student gone, time seems to pass so much more slowly. With that slowness, I can decompress and savor the moments that I forget about in school.

The act of walking is a good example of this. I walk practically everywhere that is reasonably accessible by foot, and yet it is a process that I rarely appreciate. At home, I no longer need to walk with a particular destination in mind. I can ambulate for the pure pleasure of movement, instead of doing it to get from point A to point B. I think this is a gift that the grace of rest bestows: the ability to enjoy something for its own sake, not just what it was made for.

Perhaps that, ultimately, is the purpose of rest. Rest does not necessarily entail doing nothing, for we always have some task set out in our minds. It involves doing something that we love with intention, and creating the space and time to do it. Whether that space is filled with sleep, travel, reading, writing, watching movies, or play, the fact that we do it because we appreciate it makes it fulfilling. As we continue through the next few days of respite, I’m looking forward to finding and making space to rest for the upcoming weeks. Whether you’re working or are on break, I hope you will be able to do the same.

Friday
March 6

Silence

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.

Wednesday
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.

Friday
February 27

Sabbath

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.

Wednesday
February 25

Evangelical

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.

Wednesday
February 18

Symposium

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.

Wednesday
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.