Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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 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.

Sunday
December 7

ASL and Deaf Mass

By jlbishop

When I was 13 I fell in love with American Sign Language. I don’t know why or what sparked my passion but I remember telling my mom how badly I wanted to learn it. Unfortunately I was too young to take the community center’s class and as I got older, I was too busy. My passion never left when I entered college but I still never had the opportunity to fit it into my schedule at my old university. But then I attended BU and became friends with a lot of Deaf Studies majors and minors and even a Grad student in Deaf Education. They all encouraged me to sign up for an ASL 1 class. So I did, and my passion has grown a hundredfold.

I loved ASL 1 and now love ASL 2, which I’m in currently. I have been blessed to have the same professor for 1 and 2 and will have him again for ASL 3 next semester. ASL is a language unlike any other. The hands, body, and face serve as nouns, pronouns, subjects, verbs, grammar, vocabulary and everything else that makes up a language. It’s not a spoken language and yet it speaks volumes. Stories told in this language are more passionate and expressive than I’ve ever witnessed. A simple, funny story about my professor’s dog has me laughing uncontrollably. Stories are executed perfectly, and I feel like I’m there in that moment. This is just one magical quality of ASL that makes me love it even more.

Today my classmate and I had the opportunity to attend a Deaf Catholic Mass at Sacred Heart in Newton, MA. The priest that celebrates it is Deaf and signs the entire Mass while an interpreter interprets it. Deaf Parishioners sign the readings and psalms and the Deaf deacon signed the homily. Attending this Mass was unlike any Catholic Mass I’ve been to. Attendance is small (about 30) but the presence in the church is strong. And do not be fooled, Deaf Mass is actually pretty loud. People continue having conversations in ASL during the Mass and due to verbal markers that are part of the grammar of ASL, children laughing, and babies crying/cooing, it gets quite noisy during the service. And I love it. The Deaf community at this church is a vibrant one, and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and witnessing the widespread joy and enthusiasm and love of the Lord that permeates this community.

As I mentioned earlier about ASL’s unique ability to tell passionate and expressive stories, the readings today at Mass were no different. They had a reading from the Prophet Isaiah that touched me in a way that most Bible verses don’t. The person signing the story made it come alive, and I felt like I was there. The entire Mass felt that way: alive and passionate. I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit working in this community and working in my heart. Sometimes Catholic Mass can seem so monotonous with unenthusiastic parishioners in the pews half saying the responses that it loses my interest and attention quickly. Not this mass though, and I was excited to feel my passion for the Lord and my faith return, thanks to the vibrant and joyful community at the Deaf Mass. ASL and the Deaf Community have captured my heart, and I’m excited to see where I will incorporate them into my life.

 

Tuesday
November 18

Experiencing the Divine in Music

By jlbishop

At a Recent Marsh service and Bach Sunday, I heard a beautiful prayer thanking God for the gift of prayer and for music when words aren’t enough. I always knew music was an important part of praying and have even been told that singing is praying twice (whatever that means). I interpret that as meaning that in just one song so much emotion, passion, struggle, joy, praise etc. can be shared that it’s the equivalent to two prayers. Sounds about right. I always felt closest to God when I was singing because it lifted my soul up in a way that spoken words couldn’t. Whenever I hear beautiful music I get chills that spread from my cheeks to my toes and a warmness that seeps  from my heart. Sometimes, when I’m sitting at a musical performance, I like to imagine myself watching from God’s point of view and seeing so much talent and joy and hearing the perfection in the notes and just being so moved by the beauty of God’s creation. I can’t even begin to imagine what God must feel but I can make a good guess: Unconditional love that reaches widths, and depths and heights of which we could never wrap our minds around.

This past weekend my girlfriend and I went to NYC to see a famous pianist and composer  by the name of Ludovico Einaudi. This guy was amazing. I have never ever in my life heard such beautiful, passionate music that told stories without words. I’m not one to cry, but this show had me in tears by the overwhelming emotion each song carried. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the Holy Spirit moving, but that night, it danced. I was in awe of the workings of the Spirit and the manifest glory of God. I’ve been feeling distant lately and that concert was a breathtaking reminder of God’s presence. Music speaks when words can’t and as a gift to us from God, it’s a perfect gift to give back for the glory and honor of God.

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 3

Boredom or Apathy?

By djwalker

In the 2009 Canadian comedy, The Trotsky, Leon Bronstein, a high school student who thinks he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, organizes a demonstration in front of his father’s non-unionized business.  As a punishment for this action Leon’s father takes him out of his private boarding school and sends him to public school (that deserves an entirely different post).  On the first day of classes at his new school Leon looks around to see that non of his classmates are interested or paying attention, he then sees a girl near the front of the class hold a sign up sign to her friend near the back of the class that reads “Boredom or Apathy?” to which Leon smirks. However, Leon’s smirk  turns quickly into a frown when the classmate holds a sign up in response that reads, “Apathy.”

This exchange foreshadows a much later scene in the movie when Leon decides to stage a walk out to protest the school’s harsh disciplinary policies. Leon is proud to see that his fellow students decide to join him in his endeavor, but as he beckons them to cross the street to “keep the momentum” he is disappointed to see that all the students stop to sit down on the front lawn. Here he realizes that the students are more interested in engaging in frivolous shenanigans than in a self-actualizing political protest. Out a window at the top of the school he sees his principal hold up a sign that reads, “Apathy.”

This movie challenges the purported activist, world changer, or future minister to ask the question about the people within a system before asking questions about the system itself. For my purposes I feel the need to ask this question in terms of the church.

Much has been said about the decline in church membership, the fledgling  belief in the authority of “the Church”, or belief in God altogether. There is of course much conjecture as to why that is, but I feel it necessary to go on a personal journey to answer the question, “Is the church simply boring God’s people?”  or “Are God’s people no longer interested in what the Church has to offer?” And whilst in the mode of inquiry I may as well ask, “What is it that God’s church offers its people, anyway?” Answering these question in the long-term will help me shape my ministry and better understand my calling, but in the short-term they I hope, will help point me towards home. (To be continued)

Sunday
September 29

Making Gratitude My Spiritual Practice

By jdingus

As this semester has progressed, I’ve started to notice myself running on autopilot. I wake up, go to class, try to eat a couple of meals, and finish as much of the ever-increasing homework pile as I can manage before I fall back asleep. Even though I promised myself that when I got to college I would start a spiritual practice, the possibility of having enough time to sit, pray, and be grateful for the blessings of my life and this new experience is increasingly out of reach amid the stress of daily existence.

This weekend, though, has given me the perspective to hopefully rearrange my priorities. On Saturday morning, I got a flustered call from my mom. She had been in a pretty serious car accident while taking my Grandpa to my Great Uncle’s funeral. Both of them are safe, not counting a few bruises and stitches, but the car is nearly totaled. As I’ve reflected on this, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that they were able to walk away from the accident. I know it sounds a little cliché, but sometimes it takes this sort of ordeal to remind me what is really important in my life.

In the midst of the worry, fear and gratitude that stemmed from this incident, I have decided to make more time for prayer and thankfulness in my life. I have an alarm saved in my phone so that I will take a few minutes every day, to stop and put away whatever work I’m doing. To read something inspirational, or say a prayer thanking god for the health of my family and all the other blessings in my life. It is my hope that this daily practice will help me remember to live my life more in the present and with a deeper sense of gratitude.

 

Wednesday
September 18

Walking With You Is My Prayer

By jdingus

This September, I began a brand new adventure in my life by coming to Boston University. As I settled in and started to find my place here, I kept coming back to a simple hymn that we sing in my Unitarian Universalist community. “Walking, Walking with you, Walking with you is my prayer”.

On my first day here, I walked down Commonwealth Avenue with the rest of the freshmen as we made our way to the Class of 2017 Matriculation Ceremony. As I walked, mindful of the sprinkling rain, talking excitedly and introducing myself to as many new faces as possible, I began to see how walking together could be my prayer. There is something intrinsically spiritual about walking along side people who share your worries, your excitement and your uncertainty about the future. None of us had a clue that first day what we’d gotten ourselves into; coming to a new school and a new city, but walking together, our common path was a prayer of hope and gratitude for whatever lies ahead on our journey.

As the days started to fly by, walking with members of my new community has become my spiritual practice. As we laugh and share stories about our high school adventures, our pets and families, and all the new college experiences, I feel myself becoming happier and more comfortable here. Walking to the dining hall or on an adventure around Boston, our conversations become a common prayer. I think that’s the point of the walking prayer, as we walk together we listen deeply and learn more about the other people. “Walking with you” allows me to experience the divinity inherent in building spiritual bonds with another person. As this semester continues I hope that I take time to savor a walk with you, because walking with you is my prayer.

 

Sunday
September 15

I’m Back!!!

By lucchesi

I’m back! It has been a whirlwind past-seven-months, where I was in Madrid for four months, followed by one in my hometown of San Francisco, followed by two months in Hong Kong for an internship sponsored by the United Methodist Church, and then back. I visited so many places, learned so many things, and I am completely at a loss whenever people ask me how my summer/abroad experience was.

 

The first thing I want to say (and the thing I say most often) is “It was amazing! It was phenomenal! Oh my God I loved it!” This is absolutely true. I’ve said for a while that I split my time between the two best cities on earth (San Francisco and Boston), and now I can add two more cities to that. I truly felt an instant connection with Madrid, and although it took a bit longer, I love Hong Kong as well. I had more unique, culturally challenging experiences in a short period of time than many people have in their entire lives. I met amazing people, ate amazing food, did amazing things, and did everything I was “supposed” to do abroad.

 

However, sometimes I find myself answering with, “It was amazing, but difficult and lonely at times”. Both Madrid and Hong Kong were difficult in their own way. When I was in Madrid, I felt like I was ripped away from my faith community right as I found my place at the chapel. I experimented a little with different churches, but I was not comfortable worshipping in Spanish yet, and the Catholic culture in Spain is very different from what I am comfortable with stateside. I sort of gave up the search early because what I really want was to just be back at Marsh, and found myself only entering churches to see the architecture. Madrid was also difficult because although I met so many amazing people, I never really found the one group that I clicked with. All of my good friends were in other cities studying abroad, and although I never would’ve traded Madrid for anything, I just wish they were with me.

 

Hong Kong then presented its own challenges. I found a faith community that I loved, only to find out that my schedule would not allow me to worship there. I went to church more often, but it was a tradition that I am still finding my footing with, and I tripped a little. I made quite a few friends in Hong Kong, but HK’s culture was so foreign to me that I was exhausted almost every day from constant stimulation of “Asia’s World City”. I felt so small in that city, which had never happened to me before, and I felt lost. Often literally, because signage was unclear and in a different writing system, and figuratively, for much the same reason.

 

It is impossible to express all of this when somebody just asks me “How was abroad?” because I am so worried of coming off like a privileged brat who was ungrateful for his experience; I would not trade my last 9 months for the world. It clarified a lot for me in my vocation in ways that I am still processing, with the help of all my resources at the chapel. These experiences, as well as smaller trips I took to Italy, Morocco, and the Philippines, gave me a worldly perspective that now has transformed the way I look at the role of the Church in the world.

 

The one response I will always give when someone asks me about my experience is that they need to go abroad as well. Travelling abroad, and especially the experience of studying abroad, is life changing. The experience might not be “ideal”, but it will transform your perspective. And I’ve been bitten by the travel bug, so at least for me, I’m definitely going back!