Wednesday
April 29

Great Expectations

By jdingus

So the semester is winding down, or more like ramping up to the end. I’ve been thinking of what take-aways, what wisdom I’ve gained this year and what I want to share. One of the ideas, that’s been sort of a recurring theme, and that you can probably track if you look at some of my older blog posts, is that I often approach life, people, and situations with a lot of preconceptions. I go into situations with my mind already made up and often I’m ready to be uncomfortable. I anticipate disappointment. I set my expectations too low. And there’s no reason why I should approach life this way. Doing this doesn’t make me happier. It definitely doesn’t reflect my values, and it ends up making me feel embarrassed for having such bad expectations to start with.

One of the key components of my theology is a belief that people are inherently good and filled with the light of the divine. When I set my expectations low, when I discount people I am going against my own beliefs. But it’s hard to set super high expectations for other people. It’s hard to expect places and situations to be enriching and inspiring, because setting high expectations makes us vulnerable. It opens us up to disappointment and let down. So what are we supposed to do, when we believe that people are good, and yet we know that people can and over and over again will let us down?

A UU seminarian friend shared with me her strategy to living into an ethic of high expectation. It’s called the “Green Lens.” The way it works is every time you meet or think about a person in your life, you view them with the following understandings.

The Green Lens

  • This person is a hero, whole and complete.
  • This person has goals and dreams and a desire to make a difference.
  • This person has all their own answers.
  • This person is contributing to me right now.
  • This person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

~The Academy for Coaching Excellence

I love this list because it is both true in the right now and also an amazingly high expectation to set. I believe that each person is whole and complete, has goals and answers and gifts to give me. I believe each person deserves respect. And I also know that when I see people this way, when I believe in each person’s inherent goodness, I feel more whole.

Moving into the summer, into the next year of my life I want to harness the power of this green lens. I want to see people for the good that they are and not the threat they could potentially pose. I want to remember that I’m surprised so much more often than I’m disappointed and that the goodness in people (the god in people) is stronger than my fear and my doubt.

Wednesday
April 29

End of the Line

By iquillen

My first blog post this year talked about the idea of home, my mixed feelings about living so close to it, and a hope to make another hearth at Marsh Chapel and BU. It seems only fitting, then, that for my (pen)ultimate blogpost of the year I return to that notion. Only now, I turn to the broader area that has felt like home for so many years: the Greater Boston area. An experience from this past week reminded me that while I may know some things about the Boston area, I clearly don’t know everything.

On Monday evening, there was an end-of-year staff dinner in Somerville. I was taking a lab exam when most people had left, so I decided to take the T there instead. For those who have never been to Boston before, the T is the major subway network that connects numerous parts of Boston and the Greater Boston Area. It can be counterintuitive, confusing, and at times incredibly crowded and inefficient (especially before Red Sox games), but I always loved riding it when I was younger. And to this day, I still do. There are so many parts of it that remain unexplored, and Monday was my first time riding the Orange line alone. I thought that given my previous knowledge of the Green line and the T in general, I wouldn’t have too much trouble transferring to the Orange line and getting to the right stop.

I must have not thought this plan out entirely, or I seriously overestimated my geography skills. Either way, the outcome was definitely not what I expected.

The problems began when I noticed a few signs on the Orange line saying that the station I was looking for was under construction, and that there would be bus services to it instead. I know almost nothing about how the bus system works, so that option didn’t seem particularly reassuring. Instead, I got out earlier and started walking. I figured that I didn’t want to overshoot, and that if I walked long enough in the right direction, I should get to the right place. So went my thought process, and at the time it seemed reasonable.

Some things I did not consider in this plan: (1) The distance, (2) what I would do if I ran into a dead end or got lost, and (3) the environment I walking in. This last point is not meant to disrespect those who do live in Somerville. I just didn’t know the neighborhood that well, or at all really.

Eventually, I called Soren, and he managed to find me and bring me to where everyone else was. After dinner, he told me that the station I thought was closed had in fact been re-opened. He also said that when he found me, I wasn’t the only one on the sidewalk. There were three people approaching me at the time, which somehow didn’t register at all. These little details made me realize what should have been obvious: that my original plan was lacking at best, and a risky endeavor at worst. But this funny, humbling story in hindsight did teach me a number of things.

The first one reflects what I have encountered again and again this year while working at Marsh. Granted, what I gained from this experience was far more practical than theological, but it still applies to what I’ve tried to do in Interfaith ministry. I can’t presume to know everything about Christianity or United Methodism, things that feel incredibly familiar. I also cannot claim to feel entirely comfortable when thrown into personally uncharted territory, which happened a lot when I entered a new worship experience or spoke to people from very different faith backgrounds. Finally, I realized that I don’t always recognize things that should be obvious. Perhaps that speaks more to my lack of foresight in this instance than anything else, but it does happen to all of us at some point. And with all of these lessons, a few more especially come to mind now. First, I am learning, and always will be. Second, that I can make mistakes and have lapses in judgment. And I still need to reach out for serious help sometimes, and that’s OK.

I wish I could say that these lessons are deeply insightful. But I would suspect that common sense dictates many of them. Sometimes, though, even the most basic understandings need to be reminded, again and again. When trying to understand faith and the Divine, this is especially important. Because if we don’t have something we can agree on, how can we ever hope to grasp questions such as who or what the Divine is, and how a divine presence works in our lives? Whether I like it or not, I have to face these kinds of questions at some point, because my beliefs ultimately rest on them. Because my work at Marsh still has so much yet to be explored.  These questions mark the end of the line, the border between what is assumed and what is questioned and doubted. They are the end of the line between what is familiar and what is uncharted territory. While I may not answer all of these questions, I have at the very least begun to explore them. The end of the line feels much closer now, but I feel ready to move in the right direction to cross it. Hopefully this time, I will have a little more foresight and a better idea of what I am getting myself into.

Wednesday
April 29

God is an Elephant

By kmshultz

I have a habit of scrawling messages to myself on sticky notes. Usually it’s 11 pm and I’ve almost fallen asleep when suddenly my brain decides it’s going to be helpful—a thesis for that paper that’s due, a list of errands I need to run, an idea for a poem or a character in a novel, or ideas for what to write about in this blog. When I wake up the next morning and squint at the spiky, nearly unintelligible handwriting that pays no heed to the lines on the paper since I was too lazy to turn on the light, I wonder why I was so excited about the idea. Although I may have thought ‘spewing words from the ends of my hair’ was an edgy, ingenious line of poetry during my sleep-deprived delirium, the light of day tends to bring me back to some sort of sanity. So when I woke up to see the words ‘God is an elephant’ scrawled across the pink sticky note on my desk, I wasn’t entirely sure if I should start worrying about my mental health or turn it into a blog post. While the mental health bit is still on the table, I’ll settle for the blog post for now.
What prompted this late night epiphany equating the Divine to a pachyderm was thinking about how many religious conflicts and divisions have resulted out of people arguing about who or what God is and how we should relate to God. And, in my near-dream state, my mind immediately went to the story of the six blind men who are told to examine an elephant and describe what it is. Each man feels a different part of the elephant so one thinks it’s like a rope because they felt the tail and another thinks it’s like a pillar because they felt a leg and this continues down the line. Even though they all examined the same animal, they each experienced different aspects of it and came away with very different perceptions of what an elephant is. So if people who can’t see an elephant—a relatively small, tangible animal in the world—can come away with such drastically different understandings of it, how much more might we—who can’t see God—come away with drastically different understandings of God, who is neither small, tangible, nor solely in the world. And yet, we still think we know what God is and how God wants us to act.
Since none of us really have any idea what God is like and we can’t even definitively prove the existence of God, arguing that ‘our’ God is real while everyone else’s is false has always seemed pretty arrogant to me. If God can create the entire universe, something so massive and complex we don’t have the language to describe its massiveness and complexity, why should we be able to describe the creator of that universe? In some ways, I think that how we envision God says more about ourselves than it does about God. It feels like a ‘choose your own adventure’ where we each get to choose the God that we want to believe in. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I take great comfort in picturing a loving, forgiving God full of grace that cares for me and has called me by name. And other people find comfort in picturing a stern, austere God that requires some sort of penance in order to grant forgiveness. And, while it may not seem that way, these views don’t have to be in opposition. Someone else’s view of God may not resonate with me, but a world where everyone believes and thinks the exact same thing that I do wouldn’t be a very interesting one. Besides, no matter what else I may claim about God, I don’t think that God is one-dimensional, so it’s probably unrealistic to designate God as solely loving or solely austere or forgiving or vengeful.
So where does that leave me? Probably more confused than I was before and really glad that I’m almost done with this blog post because it’s making my head hurt. But I think it also opens up possibilities. Instead of viewing our interpretations of God as being at odds with each other and fighting about who is correct, we could instead engage each other in dialogue and learn from each other. Instead of assuming that we have experienced all of God that there is to experience, we could think outside ourselves and try to put our experiences in the context of the experiences of others. Just as an elephant is more than its legs or its tail, we should remember that God is probably more than words can describe and definitely more than any of us can grasp on our own. It might be good to scrawl a few messages on sticky notes to remind ourselves that maybe God is an elephant.

Thursday
April 23

Echoes

By kmshultz

Possibly my favorite psalm is psalm 8. Although the NRSV version is familiar and beautiful, my favorite version of the psalms comes from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased version of the Bible, The Message:

 

God, brilliant Lord,

yours is a household name.

 

Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;

toddlers shout the songs

That drown out enemy talk,

and silence atheist babble.

 

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,

your handmade sky-jewelry,

Moon and stars mounted in their settings.

Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,

Why do you bother with us?

Why take a second look our way?

 

Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,

bright with Eden’s dawn light.

You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,

repeated to us your Genesis-charge,

Made us lords of sheep and cattle,

even animals out in the wild,

Birds flying and fish swimming,

whales singing in the ocean deeps.

 

God, brilliant Lord,

your name echoes around the world.

 

For one thing, it manages to include gurgling infants and singing whales, which, after reading this psalm for the first time, I realized are probably two of my favorite things. I also love that it is a psalm addressed “to the director of music”—it conjures images of a person conducting choruses of animals and symphonies of mountains and sky as all of creation sings praises to God. Above all, I love this psalm because it marvels at the wonder and majesty of creation, a sentiment that is especially apt this week in light of Earth Day.

In many ways, we have failed our Genesis-charge as we’ve polluted and killed and trampled and destroyed. When I think about climate change and everything that comes along with it—droughts in California, floods and hurricanes, the rapidly melting glacier a half a day’s walk from my home in Central Washington—I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I look at my micro-self and wonder, how can I possibly do anything that can roll back the tide of incessant consumption? When I look at what we have done to this handcrafted world and remember that for some incomprehensible reasons God still loves us, I too ask, “why do you bother with us?” As much as I would rather believe in a God of love and forgiveness and grace, there are quite a few instances where Jonah’s God of brimstone and punishment makes a lot more sense.

But on days like Earth Day, I have a little bit of hope. Sometimes I tend to think of Earth Day with a little bit of skepticism. I think it’s great, but I also think it can be like only going to church on Easter—it’s a yearly obligation that you acknowledge and then the next day you step right back into your old routines and nothing has changed. But this week, in researching for this post, I read something on earthday.org that shifted my view. In its FAQ section, one of the questions was ‘Why do we need Earth Day?’ The response was as follows: “Because it works! Earth Day broadens the base of support for environmental programs, rekindles public commitment and builds community activism around the world through a broad range of events and activities. Earth Day is the largest civic event in the world, celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. More than a billion people participate in our campaigns every year.”

Earth Day is something that is so much bigger than one person and can have such a massive impact. Getting one billion people to do anything in a coordinated way is a major accomplishment in and of itself and getting them to do something so positive is even more impressive. The individual actions might seem insignificant—picking up a few pieces of trash, posting an article about sustainability on facebook, or only eating locally grown foods for a day—but when those actions are repeated a billion times, they start to add up to something incredible. Earth Day joins together people from different religions, countries, and cultures to create a unified movement. Like the gurgling infants and singing whales in the psalm, each person brings their own voice and unique presence to the table and all those voices combine to create one unified song of joy and care for creation. I love Earth Day because it gives me hope that we can change, that we can take care of creation, that we can join our voices together with choruses of animals and symphonies of mountains instead of gradually silencing them, that we might be worthy of our Genesis-charge. Even if we’ve totally sucked at taking care of the world so far, at least we’re trying to make it better.

Thursday
April 23

Prayer?

By cbjones8

As I sit and contemplate the impending chaos of the weeks to come, I find comfort in knowing that it will all be over soon.  Ironically though, I do not feel as stressed out as one might expect me to be.  I found, particularly over the weeks of Lent this year, that when I stress, nothing good comes, but rather letting it go gives me peace.  I spent the season of lent adding a special time of prayer to each day.  At first it was a chore, but it slowly began to bless me.  I learned that I can not only depend on God, but I can also depend on prayer.

I like to think that I pray a lot.  And I do, but mostly I talk.  Lent taught me to sit in silence with God, and listen.  There is a miraculous calm that I have found in that listening.  Even in the throws of final projects and the end of the semester I feel a sense of peace.

I might not always seem calm cool and collected, but compared to my level of stress in the past, I know I can handle this.

Perhaps there is something to the whole idea of laying one’s burden down.  I suppose I always thought my burdens were too trivial.  I am learning slowly that nothing is too trivial for God to care.  In that I find great comfort.

Tuesday
April 21

What we need is here

By iquillen

These next two weeks mark the end of a semester that seems to have sped by so quickly. Classes are beginning to wind down (or up, depending on the projects, papers, or exams that must be done) before finals. Easter came a few weeks ago, and spring seems to have come with it. It is hard to fathom that the piles of snow that once towered over street sidewalks have given way to grass, rain, warmth, and the flowering on trees.

Last week was also the Interfaith Fair, one of the largest events that the Interfaith Council puts on every year. It was refreshing to see students mingling with all of the different student groups present. The interactions and conversation I saw gave me hope: hope that communication and dialogue is possible, hope that people of different beliefs can coexist and accept each other. Now that the Fair is over and the end of the semester looms near, a thought has started nagging at the back of my mind: What now? How do we move forward to realize this hope?

This question was particularly poignant last Thursday, a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust. I was standing next to Marsh Chapel with Soren for Common Ground Communion, as people stood up on the plaza to read the names of those who had died. The day was stunningly warm and bright, such an odd contrast to the solemnity of the names being read and remembered. Standing there, I wondered how people could have stood by and let people suffer persecution and death, and whether I would have acted any differently. Soren then pointed out to me the potential implications of serving communion right next to people remembering the Holocaust. In a way, we were standing by as others did at the time, witnessing horrific actions being committed.

As much as I want to bring about acceptance and dialogue between different traditions, there are still many obstacles to that process. One of them is figuring out how to move forward with events such as the Holocaust. Another is dealing with the persecution and violence that still continues today. One student during the Interfaith Fair stood up and read a spoken word poem about the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting. Her words reminded me that we are witnessing undue violence against our Muslim sisters and brothers. We see it far too often in the media, and we hear about it more than I can bear. But still, the question of what now and how to move forward lingers, and it grows to include the question: What can I do? What can we all do, for that matter? For it seems that advocating for one idea alone isn’t enough. That advocating for peace alone is insufficient to quell fighting. That advocating for dialogue alone will not make certain voices quieter, nor will it make other voices louder. That advocating for inclusion alone will not foster acceptance.

At times it feels like this question will have no answer, and that the struggle is without hope. But I heard the beginning of one last week at the Interfaith Fair. It came from an unlikely place, but it rang through clearly. At one point the Episcopalian group led a chant, with only the words “What we need is here.” The interesting part of this chant is that they encouraged everyone to chant in the tune and language that felt most comfortable. Even though the chant was full of dissonant melodies, discordant voices, and different languages, it still sounded beautiful. Something good can come out of the chaos in this world. While it might not come together cleanly or immediately, and we may have to look and listen to find it, what we need to move forward is here. Let us have the courage to witness it, stand up, and move toward it.

Friday
April 17

Doubt and Questions… And Taylor Swift

By cbjones8

This Past Sunday I was granted the Wonderful opportunity of Preaching at Old West United Methodist Church.  I wanted to share my sermon.  The written words may not be exactly what I said, but it is pretty close to it.

Growing up in the Church, hearing the story of Thomas was a pretty common occurrence, especially on the Sunday after Easter. Thank you revised common Lectionary.

 

I’ve always heard sermons about how Thomas’s doubting gives us permission to doubt. That Doubting is okay because it helps us grow in our faith. Without doubt, our faith is blind and has not stood the test of time. Doubt gives our faith the roots it needs to weather the storms of life. Doubt can absolutely be a good thing! Questioning our faith allows us to consider why we believe what we believe. It gives us space to work through issues, to talk to God and figure our hearts out.

Belief is hard, especially in this day in age where everything and everyone seems to be against the church.

 

Jesus said, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. Well bro, sometimes that’s a struggle. The world is against us Jesus knew that. John 15: 18 “18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world,[a] the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.”

 

I mean let’s be real, this whole story, from crucifixion to resurrection to the promise of life ever lasting! It sounds way too good to be true, and that is most certainly what Thomas was thinking. Nuh uh he’s not back, he can’t be, that’s never happened before. No wonder Thomas couldn’t wrap his head around it. Not only was there the stress of Jesus potentially popping in or not, there was the stress of literally everyone else hating them. The Romans were convinced they would start an uprising. The High Priests hated Jesus with a Passion and by extension his followers…So Basically the disciples had each other, and they were terrified. I mean I would be too if my rabbi had just been brutally and publically executed and then I was left all alone….BUT JESUS CAME BACK!

 

The disciples probably had a conversation with Thomas that went something like this.

OH BRO YOU should have BEEN here! It was crazy we were just chilling in here talking about what to do now and like all the doors were locked cause you know everyone hates us, AND THEN JESUS SHOWED UP! Like poof, there he was in the room with us! Peter tell him what happened. Thomas was like Nah guys stop pulling my leg, until I touch the wounds in his hand, I don’t buy it. Then BAM Jesus was all, oh Bro, touch em’ and believe.

Thomas probably about near collapsed on the ground, and I would have too.

 

Thomas teaches us that a little bit of Doubt helps us find true meaning in our faith. Doubt also prepares us for the out side world.

 

Through out high school, people knew that I was a Christian, but I did not make a big deal of it. I was involved in Conference youth or CCYM, but I tried to keep that on the DL. There was a radical Baptist girl in my high school that everyone hated. She was anti-gay, she was anti-everything really. She would pull people aside, particularly in our drama club, and have “chats” with them, essentially telling them that they were going to hell and because she was our friend she needed to help us, not go to hell. She would write letters to us naming our sins Out of concern for our soul’s well being.

She was abrasive, often rude, superior, and over all obnoxious. Unfortunately she was the definition of Christian that all my peers held, and why I tried to hide Much like the disciples, in a room, with the doors locked. I wanted to stay as far away from that conception of Christianity as possible, after all I didn’t want people to hate me the way they hater her!

 

In hindsight this was pretty shallow of me, and however misguided, her intentions were sincere and honest. And maybe she was okay with the world hating her.

 

When we doubt, we often seek answers. It is that act of seeking answers that gives value to our questions. In this world, both in the time of the disciples and in today’s world, we as followers of Christ are going to encounter haters. Haters gonna hate. People are going to find it weird that we spend Sunday mornings, or Thursday nights worshiping a God that they can not see. People will question us and our beliefs. They will question our world view, and they are going to expect us to have answers. How on earth can we expect to have answers if we ourselves have never asked those questions?

Doubting gives us a place to have meaningful conversations with people who might not ordinarily ever talk about Christ in their lives.

 

Clearly Thomas’s doubt was understandable, as is our own. Jesus warned us that the world will be against us. Doubt is not the antitheses of belief. Questions lead to seeking answers. I have found in my life, the more I seek answers, the more I am led to follow God. I might not find the answers that I think I will, but my soul finds what it needs.

 

Jesus came back to ease our doubting and troubled hearts. God sent the Holy Spirit to help us search, and seek. The more we seek, the more questions, but the greater the longing to be close to Lord.

 

As Taylor Swift sings, Haters gonna hate hate hate, but I’m just gonna shake shake shake it off. Jesus’ resurrection gives us that strength and that confidence to shake it off. Thomas shows us that being human and having questions is most certainly okay. Jesus teaches us that there is faith to be had after the questions are asked. If it were easy, they wouldn’t call it faith.

 

Our job is to be rooted in our faith so that when people come asking questions, we do not let their unbelief deter our belief. We can be gracious, and loving, and open our hearts to them, but ultimately any negativity from the world against us, we just have to shake it off.

Thursday
April 9

As I Have Loved You: Service and Humility

By kmshultz

Ian, Courtney, and I preached at the Maundy Thursday service last week!

Kasey-Intro

Tonight, on this Holy Thursday, as we prepare for the footwashing and the sacrament of communion, we take a moment to reflect on the radical image of service and humility presented in our Gospel reading. When compared with the stark image of crucifixion on Good Friday and the triumphant cacophany of Easter, the humbler Maundy Thursday scene of meal and footwashing can be easily overlooked, but it holds radical promises of grace and forgiveness and it challenges us, calling us to lives of service and love for all people.

 

Courtney:

Imagine for a second, President Obama stripping off his suit and wrapping a towel around his waist to get down on his knees to wash the feet of a homeless person on the streets of Washington DC, my home town. That would be CRAY-CRAY right?  And yet, here we have this narration from the Gospel of John describing Jesus doing essentially just that. Jesus, particularly to the disciples, held this mass position of authority, even higher than say our President.  The disciples Could tell that clearly this man was called by God. No wonder they totally freaked out when Jesus started to wash their feet!  The author of John tells us that Jesus knew who he was and Whose he was.  In the Greek the role that Jesus put on is that of a slave, and slaves were not considered people, they were thought of as objects or things that people owned.  So here we have Jesus, the epitome of authority for us as Christians, literally objectifying himself as the lowliest of the low, the scum, the rejected. WHAT? Why would he ever do such a thing?

To start this whole thing off, Jesus stands up from the table, goes and removes his Himatian or his robes, and wrapped a towel around him.  In the culture of the time, this was a BIG DEAL.  There were cultural rules about slaves and servants and Jesus just takes those rules and goes WHOOSHT and washes the feet of his disciples.  Jesus is teaching here.  Here Jesus Exemplifies Grace.

What is grace?  Grace is what happens on the cross.  Grace is the unconditional love that we so often hear about in church.  Grace is how we can all be forgiven no matter who you are, what you have done, what your status us, what what you have craved, lusted for, acted through, no matter what your story is you are loved and forgiven.  That radical thing that allows us to call ourselves children of God no matter what!  That is grace.

Jesus is lessening himself to exemplify a grace that reaches out and touches all levels.  He is teaching us that the amazing forgiving cleansing power of the entire passion story, from footwashing to the foot of the cross to the foot of the empty tomb, is for everyone, not just the people we might assume.

So Jesus did this thing.  The savior of all the world, placed himself in the lowliest position.  What do we do with that?  Well Jesus gave us this awesome example of how to go out and exemplify that same grace that was shown to us!  If we call ourselves followers of Christ I dare say that we are obligated to show the rest of the world that same mind blowing radical incredible thing called grace!  You might be thinking “That is great and all, but I am not Jesus, or Obama, so…..what do I do? What does that mean for me?”

Largely it means putting ourselves in the places of others, being empathetic, serving people in a variety of ways, and giving of our prayers and our compassion to others.  Humility can look like any number of things, and it’s really difficult to explain.  Some of the best examples of people acting with humility nobody knows about.  Why?  People acting in humility by definition aren’t doing it for the attention.

For some people feeding the homeless, or giving to charities, or volunteering at a soup kitchen are really meaningful ways to spread God’s love and grace.  Those are all wonderful things and I do not by any means want to deter people from doing those things.  I do want to challenge us to think about our motivations for giving and our attitude in service.  Sometimes we serve so we can make ourselves feel better. We say things like“Well I’ve been volunteering at this soup kitchen for X number of years and blah blah blah” or “Last week I gave half my sandwich that I had just gotten from that fancy deli to a homeless person.”  Those are great things yes, but I think the spirit in which we serve is just as important as the service we do. Do we really serve in humility?  Our actions and our attitudes in service need to embody our theology that we are all equally loved by God and that we are all equally offered God’s grace. If we are high and mighty about our so-called good deeds, then we aren’t really being humble.   If we only serve as Christians because we think we’re supposed to take care of those lesser than us, we have missed something critical that Jesus is showing us.  When we serve others it should be out of compassion, and out of  Christian equality.  If we are all the equal in the eyes of God, and in the eyes of Grace then our hearts must be humbled when we serve.

It is critical to talk about something else that happens in the story.  Simon Peter like freaks out and is all “NO LORD YOU CAN’T WASH MY FEET!”  Jesus uses this moment to teach. Even from the ground, Jesus maintains Who he is and Whose he is.  Sometimes when we talk about humility it gets complicated.  We are not called to humble ourselves to the point of losing the worth that God has instilled within us.  We are called to humble ourselves remembering that we are all valued loved Children of God no exceptions.  It can be hard to balance understanding compassion for others with remembering that that same compassion applies to you as well.  This is not a call to self-deprecation or harm, but rather a call of empowerment to all people. Jesus on his knees, with a towel around his waist, holds true to his call from the Lord, and teaches the disciples about humility, service, and compassion, and washes simon peter’s feet.

This example of both calling and humility reminds me a bit of a word I grew up hearing. All the time at my home church in Southern Maryland we heard the word witness.  We are called as Christians to be a witness!  Well HOLD UP!  What does “witness” mean?  I know this word has like five thousand different meanings.  What I mean by witness is not standing on a corner with a poster screaming “repent now for the rapture is upon us”  True story that was screamed at my friend at Government center one time. :-) I don’t even just mean standing up in front of the church telling the story of how God has moved and transformed your life.

I mean witnessing the way Jesus witnesses to his disciples.  By getting down and acting out what he believes in his heart.  From the inside out we are called to emulate or act as Christ did, not just here, not just when we see a homeless person,  but at all times.  We are called to know and answer our calling to serve the Lord.  We do this by remembering that God’s grace is for everyone, and that God’s love is for all the people; the highest of the high and the lowest of the low.  That grace and and all encompassing love my friends, is indeed beautifully humbling.

 

Ian:

The act of footwashing in the Gospels ultimately affirms the grace and unconditional love for us all that Courtney just talked about. When Christ humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples, he was working with the lowest part of them. Jesus constantly ministered to the lower parts and outcasts of society. His closest disciples were mostly simple fishermen, and he tended to the sick and to the lepers, who were considered ritually unclean. In doing so, Jesus exposed himself frequently to the dirt and filth that tie all of us down to our humanity. He encountered people worn down by insecurity, poverty, hunger, resentment, grief, or despair, and he probably saw their darkest parts. But he forgave and healed them all the same, recognizing that their sins had been taken away. Christ’s ministry demonstrated the grace and love he must have shown these people, and washing the feet of his disciples was an extension of that ministry. For us, then, washing another person’s feet is an act of love, an act that acknowledges their sins are forgiven and affirms the forgiveness of our own sins as well.

Even though footwashing at the Last Supper only appears in the gospel of John, this is not its first occurrence in the Gospels. In the opening verses of chapter 12, Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume when he ate at the house of Lazarus in Bethany. The gospel of Luke relates a similar story:

 

“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.”

 

In these two accounts, a woman washes Jesus’ feet and dries them. Although the details of the stories differ from today’s gospel reading, it is important to note that Jesus is not the one who performs the footwashing. Instead, he himself is washed. Nevertheless, the act of washing or anointing is common to all three passages. The fact that both women and Christ chose to wash feet, of all parts of the body, also bears significance.

Jesus told Peter, “One who has washed does not need to bathe, except for the feet, for he is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” When he said this, he might have meant only the feet needed to be washed.  But it seems especially odd that he would say this after washing the feet of some of his disciples. But Jesus may be referring to moral cleanliness instead of physical cleanliness, a clean conscience instead of a clean body. Christ knew that Judas would betray him, yet he still bends down to wash his feet. Footwashing therefore becomes more than an act of physical cleaning; it serves as an act of unconditional love. Jesus loved his disciples to the end while cleansing their feet, even the one whom he knew would betray him. From that love, grace and forgiveness is possible, for their sins as well as ours. The love apparent in footwashing also emerges in the passage from Luke. After the woman bathes, dries, and anoints Jesus, he says that her many sins have been forgiven, “as great as her love as shown” through her actions (Luke 7:47). He notices that she washed his feet out of love, and because of that love he forgave her sins.

In both the passage from Luke and in today’s gospel reading, the acts of footwashing are met with resistance and rejection. When the woman began weeping and anointing Jesus with oil, the pharisee objected, noting that she was a sinner. But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” The pharisee did not show the same humility and love to him as the woman did. The love imbued in her footwashing was necessary to receive forgiveness. When Jesus approached Peter to wash his feet, on the other hand, Peter initially objected as well. He refused to see his teacher humble himself before him by assuming the role of a servant. But Christ responded by saying that unless he washed his disciple, Peter could have no share with him. Perhaps he meant that they could not eat together, since the practice at the time was to wash one’s feet before a meal. It seems more likely, though, that Peter needed to be washed by Christ to have a share in Christ’s ministry. Part of that ministry involves showing unconditional love for others by washing their feet, regardless of the dirt, dust, and grime that might be seen. This is slightly different from the gospel of Luke, where the woman washes Jesus’ feet, and she is ultimately granted forgiveness for it. Here, Jesus cleanses the feet of his disciples so that they may be forgiven, and so that they could forgive others. I believe that is what Christ meant when he tells his disciples to wash one another’s feet, and to love one another as he had loved them (John 13: 14, 34).

Christ may not have meant that the disciples should immediately go out and wash people’s feet. Even today, if you went outside, with a basin in one hand and a towel in the other, and tried washing the feet of passersby, you would probably have very mixed success. This might be due to the close-toed shoes and boots that many wear in this season, but I digress. While foot-washing is an act of service, it is the spiritual washing inherent in it that matters more. As John Wesley notes, Christ teaches the disciples the notion of humble love, to confer inward purity upon them. He asks them “in every possible way to assist each other in attaining that purity. And to wash each other’s feet by performing all sorts of good offices to each other, even those of the lowest kind, when opportunity serves and the necessity of any calls for them.” (John Wesley’s Commentary on the Bible 466).

By figuratively or physically washing another person’s feet, we expose ourselves to the dust and the dirt of our humanity. We may encounter people at their lowest point, people whose lives and homes have been shattered. We may meet people whose suffering is almost unbearable to watch, let alone feel. The people whose feet we wash, perhaps unknowingly, may be our friends, our family, or strangers we have met only briefly. And in turn, those who love us, even when we cannot recognize it, may wash our own feet. They see our imperfections, our insecurities, and our doubts, but rather than recoil from them, they slowly rinse them out. Not with water, but with the same spirit of love and forgiveness that Jesus had at the Last Supper. It is for that reason, I think, that Christ washed his disciple’s feet, and died for us shortly afterward. He died out of love, not only to forgive us for our sins, but so that we could love one another and recognize that forgiveness in others as well.

Kasey:

The love and forgiveness present in this act of footwashing are part of Jesus’ complete upending of hierarchies as he challenges the disciples with a call to serve. We tend to imagine the footwashing as a beautiful scene of Jesus caring for his disciples in a symbolic act of forgiveness. But it was also probably awkward. From Peter’s response, I assume all of the disciples were not at all comfortable with the idea of their respected Teacher getting down on his knees and acting like a slave. Faces frozen, embarrassment flushing into their cheeks, a tense silence filling the room as Jesus washes their feet, which, with twelve people, would probably have felt like an eternity. And then, as a sense of relief fills them when they see Jesus put his robe back on and rejoin them at the table, Jesus looks at all of them and says, “if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” In other words, surprise! You get to be slaves too!

Instead of the instant status upgrade the disciples probably expected from their association with Jesus, they are instead called to take the place of the lowest and most vulnerable in society. Needless to say, I can only imagine that the disciples spent a lot of their time wondering what in the world they had gotten themselves into when they dropped everything to follow this crazy rabbi who never fit the typical ‘savior’ mold.

And then he would command them to love one another, just as he loved them. And today, as modern day disciples, we are called to do the same. We are called to follow Jesus’ example of love and to serve one another. As a church, it is so easy to get caught up in serving others far outside of ourselves, sending money to countries on the other side of the globe and forgetting to serve the people standing right next to us. But those people are important too.

We are called to serve the college student who doesn’t know where they stand in relation to the church, we are called to serve the retiree who spends all their time serving others and never takes care of themself, we are called to serve the person who dresses up for church to hide their own insecurities, we are called to serve the pastors who minister to us, the ushers who guide us, the readers who enlighten us, the musicians who fill us, the greeters who welcome us, the sacristans who prepare the way. We are called to serve each other, to love each other as Jesus loved. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. It can be as simple as getting to know the person next to us or across the room, asking ‘how is it with your soul?’, letting someone know that they matter and that there is a community praying for and supporting them—letting them know that they are loved.

But this love does not have to stop at the church doors. In the landmark World Council of Churches document “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry,” it reads, “In a broken world, God calls the whole of humanity to become God’s people…Jesus’ life of service, his death and resurrection, are the foundation of a new community which is built up continually by the good news of the Gospel…” These are powerful words. If “the whole of humanity” is called to be God’s people, then regardless of whether they answer that call, they also are included in Jesus’ command to love and serve each other.

The document continues, “the Holy Spirit bestows on the community diverse and complementary gifts. These are for the common good of the whole people and are manifested in acts of service within the community and to the world.” Therefore, we are called to wash the feet of the people within this community of faith, but we are also called to bring that radical notion of service and love outside these walls and into the world.

We are called to serve the 700 homeless folks who were left without access to shelter when the bridge to Boston’s Long Island was abruptly closed in October. We can serve by volunteering to provide meals and compassion at day-time shelters in Old South and Emmanuel Churches or by donating needed items through Boston Warm’s Amazon gift registry.

We are called to serve students drowning in the doldrums of the semester who can’t see past looming deadlines and narrow dorm room walls. We can offer words of encouragement, and prayers, or gifts of hot tea and ice cream when needed.

We are called to serve the people next to us on the bus who don’t know if they’ll be able to put dinner on the table for their kids. We can volunteer at our local food bank or we can work with organizations such as the Student Food Rescue here on campus to bring excess food from bakeries and grocery stores to people that need it.

We are called to serve the broken and the whole, the forgotten and the exposed, the taken-for granted.

And it’s not going to be easy—it’s going to be uncomfortable and dirty and awkward and we’re going to wonder what in the world we’ve gotten ourselves into. Because we are also called to serve the T operators who close the doors just before we get there, and that guy in the car behind us who won’t lay off his horn. We are called to serve the coworker who seems to only have bad things to say about us and the family member we haven’t spoken to for years. We are called to encounter the world with an attitude of grace and love no matter what it throws back at us. Because there is no one in this broken world who isn’t in need of healing—there is no one who doesn’t need someone to drop everything, get down on their knees, and lovingly wipe the dirt of this world from their weary feet. It may not be perfect. It might be uncomfortable and awkward and we might be filled with relief as soon as it’s over. But it’s a start on this radical journey of service as we strive to love each other as Jesus loved–to the end. Amen.

 

Wednesday
April 8

The Great Vigil of Easter: a Dialogue Blog

By jdingus

Jaimie: After a little debate and the always alluring promise of post-church falafel, Courtney and I decided to attend the Easter Vigil hosted by The Crossing at St. John the Evangelist Church. The Easter Vigil is a service within the liturgical journey of Holy Week that pauses between the death and despair of Good Friday and the Joy and resurrection of Easter. Candles are lit. Hymns are sung. Communion is taken. Faith is proclaimed. And important stories from the Bible are told. This Great Vigil of Easter brought together Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Unitarian Universalists in a service of worship and connection unlike any I’d previously experienced. Both Courtney and I were incredibly moved by this experience. We decided to collaborate on a joint “dialogue blog” in order to capture the beauty of the service and explore our very different experiences of this kind of worship.

Courtney: As Jaimie mentioned, the Vigil brought together people from a vast array of Congregations, and Traditions.  Methodists, Lutherans, Unitarian Universalists, Episcopalians etc.  Naming the traditions does not begin to express the beauty of the diversity present in that room that night.  A vast array of ages and walks of life were represented in both the congregation as well as the clergy.  For me the greatest moment was Communion.  All of these people around the Altar, serving each other, collectively involved in the sacrament.  In my immediate area during the Feast there were a number of older ladies who looked like the Church ladies I grew up with.  There was an older couple holding hands like newlyweds next to a lesbian couple looking equally as in love.  There was a homeless woman.  There were a few members of the Trans community and people of all different colors and shapes and sizes. And an old lady with pink hair, which as a wearer of the colored hair myself, I very much adored.  All labels aside, standing in the midst of the most beautifully diverse group of people I had ever encountered, I was struck with joy.  I was overcome and moved to tears.  In that moment I saw God and his Kingdom.  In that moment I experienced Grace.  These people, from all stretches of life, sharing in God’s holy feast, not just sharing, but serving each other, reaching out, and being in communion and community with one another, it was truly magnificent to behold.

Jaimie: Courtney spoke about the inspiring diversity present at this service. I firmly believe that if we are going to champion diversity and ecumenism, then we needed to provide worship that feeds a diverse, multi-faceted community. As is customary with Easter Vigils this service, featured a reading of ten Bible stories. To be perfectly honest, I was not looking forward to this part. I figured I would quietly and politely wait through the readings, hoping for a hymn or two to break up the monotony. What I found instead were some of the most innovative, beautiful and moving recounts of the Bible that I’d ever heard. (On a side note, I should seriously stop approaching worship services with negative expectations, because I am almost always proven wrong.)

In an effort to be more inclusive, or to breathe some new life into an ancient traditional service, The Crossing brought in creative readings of the Gospel. The Binding of Isaac, was told from the first person perspective of Isaac. The horror he felt, as the father he loved and trusted raised the knife above him was palpable. And then the melancholic relief when the ram was sacrificed instead, was punctuated by Isaac finding kinship and unity with that animal. The Valley of Dry Bones was told through song by a quartet of clergy folk. The Annunciation Mary brought together the voices of three young women, speaking three different languages. Each of these old stories were made new again in their innovative retelling. But, nothing hit me quite like the retelling of the Crucifixion.

“Hands Up!” she said. “Don’t Shoot” we responded. Instead of the traditional crucifixion story, one of the members of the Crossing slammed a poem about systemic racism, police brutality and her own experiences of privilege as a white person and oppression as a queer identified person. Her poem captured the anger and the pain over the treatment of brown bodied people in our country. I was moved to tears by the honesty and raw emotion of this piece. The parallel between the death of Jesus and the death of young black men like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many more at the hands of the authorities, made me so angry. How can we have let this pattern continue for 2000 years? I’m furious, but I’m thankful for this new way to experience the story. This reading of the Crucifixion made the story personal and real in a way that I’ve never felt before. It was sobering though, because at least in the Christian narrative Easter brings Jesus’ victory over death. I’m searching for a victory over the systematic racism and oppression that continues to permit the senseless murder of young people of color. I’m committed to that goal, but unlike Easter, this victory seems to be a long way off. My heart broke again listening to this retelling of the Crucifixion, but it also moved me to fury and to action, in a way I did not expect.

The Crossing’s creative re-imagining and retelling of the Biblical story brought new life and new emotion to these ancient stories. This made the vigil engaging and transformative for the diverse crowd present.

Courtney: I Grew up in a mostly Methodist world.  I had done some exploring into the rest of the Mainline Protestant churches as I got in to my later years of high school and early in College.  Beyond that, until I got to New England, I had not had much ecumenical exposure.  The conglomeration of liturgies, practices, expressions, and stories at the Easter Vigil was breath taking.  I know Paul in Galatians 3:28 says “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (NRSV) I had never experienced that verse, I had never seen what that might have looked like, that is until Saturday Night.  I love my tradition, and there are many things about the United Methodist church that make me Happy.  There were a number of things that made me uncomfortable about the service.  Incense is weird, and it made me want to leave a few times as an asthmatic it made me cough.  Having all of the saints around me, and the giant crucifix hanging of the ceiling also made me uneasy.  Having said that, I have learned that that uncomfortability is okay, and helps me grow in my own journey with God.  The Service was intense, and emotional, and weird, and unexpected.  I can not think of an experience that more represents the way the disciples must have felt following this crazy, weird, unexpected Rabbi around.

Jaimie: As a Unitarian Universalist I really value inter-religious engagement. After attending a beautiful Passover Seder on Friday, I was so pleased to participate in the Easter Vigil. The commitment to ecumenism that Courtney mentioned was clear, in the ritual of the service. Fire jugglers and fire breathers began the service with an exciting, mildly terrifying display. Their fire was used to light a central Chalice and from that Chalice the Christ candle was lit. What an incredible way to intentionally include UU folks into a Christian ritual. I recognize that particularly at holy week, it isn’t always appropriate to make a service interfaith, but this small gesture was meaningful and helped me feel welcome and worshipful in the space. I have been learning so much about my religious roots through as a Unitarian Universalist by participating in Jewish and Christian worship, but it was particularly moving to be met half way with the inclusion of a ritual I hold sacred.

Courtney: The fire breathers fed the Chalice, and the Chalice provided the light for the Christ Candle.  The Lutherans fed the Episcopalians, and they fed the Methodists and the Unitarian Universalists alike.  The interdenominational and interfaith interaction left a lasting impression on both Jaimie and I.  While we both came to the Vigil with different expectations, and from different Traditions, we were able to find meaning and spiritual food in the service.  Even if we were both uncomfortable at times, either from the Fire Breathers and their proximity to open flame, or the unfamiliar liturgy, we were able to share in those moments.  To me, those shared moments of spiritual growth, compassion, and uncomfortability were the most precious of all.  In those moments everyone in that room found common ground.  What more could you ask for on Easter?

 

Friday
March 27

I am not Skilled to Understand

By cbjones8

“I am not skilled to understand, What God has willed, what God has planned.”  Thank you Aaron Shust for starting my morning prayers.

There is something very profound in that line.  It is very humbling.  As humans we often have this strong desire to understand what God is doing, how it works, we as questions like “Why would God do X?” It gets hard sometimes to make sense of the contradictions that happen in our lives, and yet in that confusion and chaos is beauty and in that beauty is God.

Last night I went to the Common Cathedral auction at Andover-Newton Theological School.  I love art, and there were certainly pieces I would have wanted…if I had money to spend.  As an undergraduate who is attempting to save money for Seminary, I am not very superfluous in my spending.  But that is not the point.  I wish I could express in words the beauty and profoundness of the pieces I had the distinct pleasure of looking upon.  I love art museums, but there is something raw and deeply emotional in the art of people who’s works will likely never make it into the MFA.  I was touched, and moved by the stories told in the art.  Some of the pieces, particularly of the landscapes and of the birds spoke deeply to my soul.

Meeting some of the artists themselves was a wonderful and moving experience.  To hear their stories, to see their faces, and then look at what their heart says with paint and a canvas, there are no words.  I thought writing this reflection for my blog post would be easy, but it is difficult to describe with words that which the eyes and heart feel together.

I think when we as a society think about less fortunate or otherwise challenged people we often De-humanize them.  There are of course exceptions, but on the whole as a society, we don’t like to talk about “homeless people” as just people we know.  The art and the pieces that were on display speak to that.  Such talent and beauty that would impress anyone is so hard to really appreciate when our society meets the artist.  That seems a little messed up to me.  I remember walking with a friend (whom shall remain anonymous) through cambridge, and we were both relatively new to the Boston Area.  I was struck at the contrast of the Ivy League buildings and the fancy coffee shops, with the homeless hiding in the corners and asking for spare change.  My friend remarked that they hadn’t noticed the homeless people and thought I was making it all up.  I was stunned, how could anyone not see such pain and burden?  Seeing the artwork last night has taught me not just to see pain and burden, but joy and celebration.  Weary hands hard at work making beauty, loving eyes looking on something that tugs at their chest.  The collaboration of what I had the joy of witnessing represents the world that I want to live in.  One where people are loved and appreciated for their gifts and their spirit nothing more and nothing less.  I am not skilled to understand why or how God works, but it is clear to me that he is indeed working through this project.

 

Thank you to all at Common Cathedral and at Andover-Newton.

Amen.