Archive for the ‘Demarius’ Category

Thursday
November 21

A Serious Undertaking

By djwalker

It has been about two months since I first started my ministry outreach project for Marsh Chapel, the Thurman Group and I must say that I am fairy pleased with how it is going, at least for the most part. A regular group has started to emerge, people feel more comfortable expressing themselves to each other, people feel more comfortable inviting friends, and with each passing week I can feel that we collectively and individually are growing more in love with the sound of the genuine.

But as we move more deeply into the works of Thurman I have to pause and acknowledge that searching for the sound of the genuine is fraught with dangerous uncertainty. Thurman’s meditations beg that the individual asks what is authentic , in the self and in the world. For one who claims the intellect as his or her ground of exploration it can lead to radical doubt of the flavor of Descartes or the dangerous egotism of Mr. Robespierre. For those who find there home more in the realm of the ethereal Thurman’s approach can leave one weaponless in a struggle against the demons that lurk just below the surface of the constructed personality.

At the outset of this project I feared that I would have to confront such an issue at some point, coming into contact with Thurman in the last year lead me to my own set of existential crisis, actively questioning the foundations of not only my Christian faith but also of my very self. The question of authenticity is not a light one, and when an individual finally starts to confront it one must also acknowledge that life is a serious undertaking, to paraphrase Thurman.

Such a realization, is beginning to dawn over various members of our newly found community. Both within the context of the group and outside of the group I find members wrestling with existence of God and the meaning of life which was the intent of this community but I must also be aware that such exploration comes with real consequences. A 2am call from a friend who has lost their reverence for life, a midnight conversation with a Catholic who realizes God has never been real to them, an afternoon stroll with a friend who can no longer see the virtue in morality.

Now, I am not claiming that this group or Thurman’s words alone are responsible for a radical overnight transformation of model citizens, but I can clearly see the impact that this exploration is having on those who convene every Friday evening in the basement of Marsh Chapel to explore the unknown. Much like life, the more time passes, the more I realize that what we are doing is a serious undertaking.

Wednesday
October 16

On the need for a new church cont.

By djwalker

Before I continue with this train of thought I must answer a critique I received on my last post. It was said that I conveyed a disdain for the rituals of the church. In my last post of this title I attempted to convey, not my own personal discomfort with the rituals of the church, I quite understand them and while I may not be well educated in the history and meanings behind all the rituals we see  in church I do have a profound respect for there importance and I seek to understand them, but it is those who are unmoved by church tradition whom I am seeking to give voice to and to simultaneously address.  I seek to find an answer to the question I see written on the faces of some of those attending services at Marsh Chapel and the question I hear from my peers whenever I invite them to Marsh, Why go to church?

A couple of months ago I found myself engaged in a process of writing a sermon for Ash Wednesday. Luckily, having not preached before, I was not engaged in this process alone. I had excellent guidance and a team of two other students I delivered the sermon alongside. The uniqueness of our endeavor did not occur to me until I saw a Facebook post from one of my co-horts, “What do you get when you put a Unitarian Universalist, a Southern Baptist, and a quasi-Quaker Anglican together? The Ash Wednesday Interdenominational Service at 6 pm this Wednesday.” We were three very different individuals from different places around the world with different theological backgrounds that at times clashed during the creation process and ultimately created a better product.  And after we were done with this process we shared it with our BU community, this service by the way had the most number of student’s I’d seen in the chapel to this date.

Some time after this experience I found myself sitting down in my living room ruminating on a paper (attempting to read Howard Thurman into Plato’s Allegory of the Cave) and an idea suddenly came so clear to me that for a moment it was as if it was the only thing that ever existed. The idea was for a different kind of church. A church not based on hierarchy or strict ritual, a church that emphasizes each person’s connection to the divine spirit and the multitude of ways that spirit can manifest itself. It has been months since I was graced with that idea; its parameters and distinctions its moving parts and its beauty which at the time seemed so clear to me have now faded into the recess of my memories. However I can recall some of the ideas and I hope that they may spark a conversation that can bring God’s people back to his church.

The basic idea is that a group of people with different theological backgrounds and talents would convene on a periodic basis and wrestle with a moral question for a predetermined period of time. At the end of that time the group is expected to formulate some statement of consensus regarding that moral question. After reaching that consensus that group would through their various talents construct a program  to present that consensus to their larger community. So one member of the group may write a song, another poetry, another compose a sermon, another create a movie, another paint, another cook a meal, another build a structure. I think this exercise would be valuable for a number of reasons 1) This would allow people to more directly engage with moral questions. 2) it would habituate people into the practice of forging a consensus 3) It would force individuals to think about how morality plays itself out in their own personal passions. Anyway I realize in attempting to convey this message I am failing on all accounts, though I shall keep trying.

Perhaps  I am not equipped to speak of the process at this current stage of my development, maybe I can at least draw the broad outlines of the product I seek. I seek a space where the individual can come into contact with his or her authentic self  and authentic others. I seek a space where a process of collective introspection is initiated towards the ends of Truth. I seek a space where authentic expression is the expectation not merely pageantry. And I seek a way to replicate such a program en mass within diverse cultural contexts.  This is a space where the God of my belief would reside. For me it makes sense that that which is most authentic, God, would be revealed in a place of authentic expression. Of course the question now is what is authenticity?  (To be continued)

 

Thursday
October 10

The beautifully absurd

By djwalker

My morning commute from Newton to Boston provides the context.

There is something so peaceful atop the hill at the Andover-Newton Theological Seminary where I currently reside. I not only hear the birds chirping but I see them fluttering about in the tree right outside my window. As I drink my morning coffee meditating on the words of Thurman, I enter the world on my own terms. My favorite part of this routine is when I step out of the front door in the morning, that first deep inhale of the crisp  New England alerts my spirit to the start of the day. In front of me I can see for miles the green (and now in the fall the changing colors) of hills posing as mountains. Even on a gray New England morning, there is something vibrant about the color of the world atop that hill.

As I descend down the steep hill I past a stone bench marked for a recently deceased student it proclaims to the world that he, “Walked these grounds seeking truth and peace.” I often wonder what those who walk the grounds below this hill are seeking.  Aside from this I am moved by the beauty of the magnificent trees which seem to claim the landscape for themselves reminding me that I am just a visitor to this place. And along side the tress I see those beautiful New England homes; large, but not obnoxious, luxurious, but not gaudy. In one home a beautiful library is visible through the third floor bay window. In another home a beautiful painting reminiscent of Thomas Cole hangs on the wall in an ornately decorated dining room, the scene is a perfect picture framed by a large window with drawn back curtains. The lawns are perfectly mowed the flowers in the gardens perfectly placed. In the ample driveways the cars complete the picture of success. In my morning commute I have come to fall in love with this scene. It is peace, it is success, it is good.

As I descend from the hill to catch the T and enter into the world of the “living,” I am never alone. I often have the companionship of voices in my ear. Usually, I am listening to either a Spanish on-the-go lesson or a meditation by Howard Thurman, but sometimes I listen to NPR.  On one such morning as I was admiring the stylishly placed solar panels on top of a house that I hadn’t noticed before a story came on NPR about the growing inequality in America. I turned my attention to the news. A pain in my stomach emerged as the story progressed from a cold economic analysis to a human interest piece focused on a struggling family from a neighborhood I grew up in Atlanta, Ga. The story first remarked on the increase in crime and unemployment in the neighborhood before cutting to a women who’s weary voice cried out, “We are struggling to survive and I don’t know if we will make it.” This women’s voice sounded like my mother’s voice. That cadence was all too familiar, the combination of anger, shame, and hopelessness which with dutiful effort I’ve tried to exorcise from my own utterances.

In this moment my present environment felt like a sick illusion. How could it be that this world of peace and beauty, of order and plenty exist along side a world of chaos and struggle? How could I exist in both of them? Now, of course I am not the first who has struggled with such dissonance. Cornel West remarks upon this as the pure absurdity of the black experience in America. Du Bois refers to this as the accented Double Consciousness experienced by the educated negro.  So my concern here is not to lament about this or to pretend that I am pointing out something new. My question is more of a theological nature. How do we live in this world and not be of it?

To push deeper. I know that my current circumstance, being a student at Boston University, being a Christian soon to enter a seminary, places me as part of the system of ideas that have created the absurdity which I experience. Put in a different way, the same ideas that I am being exposed to in my current circumstance whether explicitly in the classroom or implicitly by virtue of my participation in various institutions are the same ideas which can be seen as responsible for a great deal of human suffering. The ideas of of which I speak include but are not limited to prominence, achievement, hierarchy, recognition, acquisition,  individualism, striving, education, work, labeling, definition, and a myriad of others which our systems stand upon that go far deeper then just those things like capitalism, dominance, patriarchy, hegemony, and racism which are easily identified and argued over by academics. Further, ideas within Christianity like sin, salvation, discipleship, denominationalism, or even the very idea of a church itself can add to as opposed to alleviate the ills of the world.

To push home the theological point, if I am of flesh and it is this decaying flesh which is the source of my brokenness then how can I ever rely upon it for my salvation. Many would say that I can’t and resort to ideas like grace or God’s general benevolence as the answer. However, in a world of action where God seems to be neutral in many of the affairs of men, this answer becomes hard to swallow. The simple question I rise is this: How does one use the tools of a corrupted system  (whether a system of ideas, institutions, or our existence itself) to fix the ills created by that system? This is the bone I shall be doggedly chasing while I remain a stranger in this foreign land but I have to admit my wrestling with it here, now, in this place, is beautifully absurd.

Wednesday
September 18

Searching for Home

By djwalker

Despite my hellish attempts to retreat headlong into the world of ideas and imagination, it seems father time demands that I rest my feet on some solid ground and call it home. Of course one cannot deny Thurman, “How good it feels to center down,” but there is so much calamity in rest. Rousseau claims the act of placing a stake in the ground and calling it one’s property as the origin of inequality in the world. How could one deny the logical premise embedded in this claim? It is in delineating the mine and the yours, the this and the that, the you and the me, which serves as the basis for all discrimination and dispute. And in some traditions this sort of distinction is the root cause of all suffering.

Deep in my heart I feel that all division is illusion, so a concept like home becomes quite problematic for me as all must be home and yet home cannot merely exist in one place. But enough of philosophical conjecture, the old man with the clock beckons me to make a call. Be it a growing sense of maturity or merely a concession to the established order, but it is clear to me that I must find a place within the church to call my home. The time is nearing where I must place myself within a tradition, a history, I must vote my ticket in the great debates which have plagued (perhaps too harsh a word, perhaps not) the the followers of Christ for centuries. Shall the priest marry or not? Is the bible alive or dead?Does the spirit move or not? Is God a God of the rocks or a God of the rapids? These questions and many, many, many more must be explored if I wish to take an issue such as denomination seriously. It is in the exploration of the great debates of the christian faith that I shall find my home.

Yet, I wonder if there is another element to this, call it the movement of the spirit if you may. Where does a seeker such as myself go to find peace and solace, where can I place down my personality and come into contact with my authentic self? Where can I seek God by asking what that means? I wonder if there is a place for a person such as myself who does not seek merely to be preached at (and from the other side of the pulpit, merely to preach to) but where can I enter into genuine communion with God, entering through  the depths of my own spirit and seeing with the eyes of others. Perhaps if I can find this I will no longer be so uncomfortable calling it home.

 

Friday
March 8

On the need for a new church

By djwalker

Over the weeks I have been interning a Marsh Chapel many of the old anxieties I have had about church have crept back into my head. I have for as long as I can remember always been uneasy with the form of Church, the steady ritual, the sterile feeling, the image of one man standing before a docile audience claiming to speak on behalf of the divine, and the collection plate, always the collection plate, serving as a stark reminder that this holy place is just that, a place, an institution situated in a society that demands each of us bow down at the alter of green idols.

Ok so I understand that my language may be a bit harsh and fail to approach the church with the appropriate amount of attention that its complex form deserves.  Yes, the steady ritual is useful in removing the self and allowing the divine to take root where the individual personality would normally reside. Yes, my lamentation of the sterility of the church may simply be a holdover from the days of my Southern Baptist theological tradition. Yes, I understand the necessity of a priestly class charged with actively reflecting on moral questions and the words of wise me, I understand the need for a guide on our spiritual journey. And yes, I understand that the church is and cannot pretend not to be an institution in society, needing to rely upon the financial support of its congregation for the church’s maintenance, I understand the command to give a portion of one’s earnings back to God.

I understand all of these things in large measure as a result of my internship at Marsh Chapel, but the internship has also allowed me another perspective, sitting in front of the church near the pulpit within the chancel, during the service I have the privilege of looking out towards God’s assembled people. I take note of who is in the room, I examine what they are doing during each part of the service, I study their faces. And my observations have led me to one painful conclusion, God’s people are no longer in love with their church. While, many find meaning in the structure, mostly a fondness for childhood, Church for many has become empty ritual.

I don’t form this conclusion simply from my experience with Marsh Chapel. I take this from my various experiences with church back home in Atlanta, GA. I take this from conversations I’ve had with many students on campus who were brought up in a myriad of church traditions. I form this conclusion from the clear statistical evidence that America is becoming a more secular nation, measured not simply in a decline in the amount of people who attend church but also measured in a decline in the number of church attendees who believe that institution holds any authority.  This trend is also coupled with a diminished number of people in America believing in absolute truth.

These sad trends can be correlated with any number of signs of moral degradation in our country: political corruption, divorce, debt-peonage, homelessness, imprisonment, drug use, single-parenting. But this is not the direction I wish to go with this post. As one sincerely wrestling with a call to ministry, I hold an a prior assumption that the church is a valuable institution that must be restored.  However what to make of such an institution in a society that despises its very form. I believe first we, meaning those lovers of God, Truth, and Man, must begin with a full acknowledgement that the church must be born again. (To be continued)

 

 

 

Sunday
January 27

Just Recently

By djwalker

Recently, I was introduced to the Baha’i faith by one of the professors at Boston University. She told me about their idea of progressive revelation, meaning their faith honored many of the world religious traditions in sequence. (Please forgive me for this rather crude understanding of this complex religion) They believe that many of the great world religions; Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism etc, spoke truths to their time and place and must be understood in that context. The religion’s followers also believe in the oneness of all things and highly value the individual search for truth through universal education.

Recently, I was invited by this professor to a salon, or fireside chat (they couldn’t decide on a name) at the house of a Harvard professor who was also a practicing Bahai. The conversation started off with a word of prayer and then a reading from their prophet  Bahá’u'lláh’s Book of Revelations. Afterward they began a conversation about the concept of oneness. What ensued was one of the most pleasant moments of my life. Professors of every strip, artist, students, writers, all were engaged in a genuine struggle to make sense of this word, they struggled to figure out what others meant by it and they struggled to figure out what truths resided in their own hearts.

Recently, I found myself in the shower pondering some of the ideas of the Bahai faith and asked myself if they could be reconciled with the Christian faith. But in order to do this I first had to clearly articulate for myself what it meant to be a Christian. Usually, when people asked me about my religious faith I would always say, “I call myself a Christian, though others might disagree.” This clever turn of phrase was designed to create the facade of a man of deep spirituality who also valued sober reflection, I now realize that it had the inward motive of evading a question I had long been afraid to truly answer, fearing that any real reflection on my faith would lead me to abandon it at once. But on this occasion, standing there completely disrobed of my facade, I was forced to answer the question, what did it mean to be a Christian. When I finally got to the point of very clearly articulating that question which I had worked so hard to evade, at once a flood of ideas rushed into the the forefront of my being, for a moment it was as if they occupied their own space. As I stood their no longer thinking, but knowing, I understood that I was in the presence of truth. What happened next, I do not have the vocabulary or authroity to describe but I cannot help but note the divine irony of setting.

Recently, I found myself having a conversation with my boss during the 10pm-2am shift in the Mugar Memorial Library Print Center. He asked me about a recent news story regarding a mega pastor in my hometown of Atlanta, Ga. The pastor, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, had been accused of molesting young men. Three accusers came forward claiming that during their time in New Birth’s youth outreach program the pastor developed an inappropriate sexual relationship with them. To substantiate their case, they released suggestive pictures of the bishop posing in the mirror that he allegedly sent to them. The pastor initially denied the charges but later had to temporarily step down from his position and settle with his accusers out of court.

My boss brought this story to my attention knowing that I am currently wrestling with a call to ministry. He asked, “Are you going to be like Eddie Long?” I indignantly responded with a, “Hell no.” Apart from the obvious, I explained that 1) did not wish to be a mega preacher, self-gratifyingly uttering words about Jesus and a camel and 2) I asserted that I did not wish to be disgraced like Bishop Long. My boss then asked, “Disgraced in whose eyes?”  Seeing his smirk I understood that I just walked into the theological trap my boss, a former pastor himself, set for me. He then at 1am in the print center at Mugar Memorial Library delivered the most intimate sermon I have ever witnessed. My boss explained to me how though he had erred and lost his way Bishop Long, like all of God’s people, deserved forgiveness and love. He had simply lost his way and needed to be humbled. My boss then explained what he saw to be the difference between Christians, real Christians, and the rest of God’s people.  After his talk I felt ashamed at the harsh judgment I previously leveled at the man, I felt ashamed that I had forgotten Love and Compassion, Divine Justice and Redemption. However at this moment I recalled the wise words I received from a student I met at BU’s phenomenal School of Theology. She told me, “It is important to be self-critical and to measure oneself continually by the Christ standard, but at the end don’t forget to give yourself grace.”

And so I shall give myself grace. In this journey I am embarking on I know that at times I will fail at being my best self, I will fail and being truly Christ-like. I will fail at times at truly loving and being compassionate to others. I will at times fail and honestly seeking truth and not being distracted by false idols and ideologies. I know that at times I will fail to stand on the side of Justice and fight for the oppressed and the disadvantaged. This is the struggle I commit myself to and I know at times I will fail, but I will remember to learn from the divine and give myself grace. To be fair to myself I’ve only truly discovered that I am a Christian, just recently.

~Demarius J. Walker