The Call to Love

Devin, Nick, Denise, and Tom delivered a sermon during today’s Maundy Thursday service! As I listened to them meditate on what it meant for Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet and how to love unconditionally, I was reminded of all the work that each of the Marsh Associates put into writing it, as well as the courage and practice it took for Devin, Nick, Denise, and Tom to deliver it. I’d like to share their words here for you this week.

The Call to Love

1. Devin

Usually, when you are about to be betrayed by someone, your natural response is not to wash their feet. or buy them food, or care about their well-being in any way. If someone mocks you behind your back, your first thought is not to buy them froyo.. If someone steals your essay and says it is theirs, the last thing you look to do is offer to help them with another assignment..

If someone is about to sell you out to be executed on a cross, you likely won’t consider washing their feet.
And yet, here you see, in John 13, Jesus does that.

You might be able to brush it off if someone is being rude; there might be serious academic consequences if someone turns in the same assignment as you, but whether results are simply unpleasant or truly dire, we have an example from Jesus in John 13 that teaches us how to react to betrayal.

Both Jesus’s footwashing and the supper after creates the chance for renewal, the possibility for a fresh start. Jesus’s love and service extends even to those who are about to hand him over and deny him, and offers renewal even in the depths of betrayal.

In washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus appears to be in a position of little power even though he is the most powerful individual in the room. Through his service and dedication to others he evokes the power that makes Mary drop to her knees and use her hair to wash the feet of her savior. She sees that he is truly God. Jesus is The Word fulfilled. Jesus fulfills the purpose of the Law, and shows us God in action.

His action reflects the full manifestation of the  Love of God, which seems weird and impossible for us to also reflect. Contemporary poet Jermaine Cole writes in his work “love is wanting more for someone than they want for themselves.” Taking this definition from Jermaine Cole, Jesus loves a lot. Jesus’s love wants more from us than we want from ourselves.  Jesus wants us to be able to love even those we don’t want to love. Despite his impending death, Jesus wants those who are about to fail him to love more. Jesus wants that of us, too.

 

2. Nick

The odd thing about the way Jesus is portrayed in John is that his actions seem not only weird to us, but they seem impossible. It’s hard to live like Jesus.

I mean, like, can we do what He does? He’s Jesus. I am not Jesus.

This idea of being Christ-like seems impossible for anyone who is imperfect, and we as human beings are imperfect — at least I know I am. His actions seem unnatural, impossible, for us.

So I am left with this internal conflict. I am called to live like Jesus, but I am not Jesus. I am just a simple, imperfect human being.

But Jesus is also human. In this passage, he does very human things like spending time with friends, washing, and eating. He is a human being, and his actions tell a brighter, more beautiful tale about what it means to truly be human.

In making our beloved Christ more human in this passage, the author is not making a commentary by playing Jesus down. Rather, he is bringing all of humanity up. Despite all of this messiness and betrayal happening here, this passage is optimistic about humanity. It forces a tension about what is precisely impossible for humans. Is it really impossible? I mean, Jesus does say in John 14 “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” In believing in this optimism, we can genuinely attempt to live like Christ, and this is what the disciples are called to do.

 

3. Denise

Jesus washes the feet of everyone present of all the disciples. The footwashing is an act of love that breaks down the barriers between Jesus and his disciples. Peter is so human; he isn’t able to see the big picture, to see who Jesus is and what he’s doing. But Jesus breaks down this barrier of misunderstanding. Judas is so human, because he succumbs to the pressure and gives in to weakness, pursuing the temporary instead of the eternal. Jesus breaks down this barrier of betrayal, and he performs the same act of love for Judas.

As Jesus cleanses their feet, he recognizes their humanity and loves them despite their failures.  In many ways this action seems unimaginable. However, this love, that Jesus exemplifies, is what he calls us to show to a flawed world.  

Though the love Jesus Christ shows to his disciples is a high standard there are moments when ordinary people can exhibit this love. These moments can take many forms, but they typically include the radical choice to love despite the boundaries between them.

 

4. Tom

1.2 miles of Commonwealth Avenue divide the students who live in West and East campus here at BU. In fact, the opposite sides of campus encompass very different lifestyles. East campus enjoys delicacies served by The Late Night Kitchen while West settles for lukewarm pitas served until 2 am. An East Campus student’s workout usually consists of running to the Fitness and Recreation center while West campus students prefer using the treadmills provided inside the facility. West campus residents generally set their alarms 30 minutes early in order to make it to their classes in CAS on time, whereas East Campus students roll out of bed and find themselves just outside of their classroom doors. At times, it seems as though students in East and West campus only share the distinction of being sleep deprived scholars of Boston University. But it is here at Marsh Chapel, the midpoint of East and West campus, that we share a brief hour together on Sunday mornings. We meet in the middle of our differing residences, perspectives, and beliefs to share in love as a united body, just as Jesus did with his disciples.

 

5. Tom

But what exactly do we mean by love? It is a powerful word but it is also ambiguous. In English, the word “love” encompasses affection, admiration, appreciation, attraction, infatuation, care, passion, and even friendship. English puts a lot of ideas under that single umbrella term love, but Greek, the language of the New Testament, has four words to describe different types of love. From the tenderness you feel for your sister or brother, who may drive you crazy once in a while, to the way you feel toward the friend who has known you since birth, remembering that one story you’d rather forget. To the the physical and romantic attraction we feel for those we put a part of ourselves out there for. But the pinnacle of love is a term called agape. Agape refers to an unconditional love that flows between the Divine and humanity and transcends boundaries among people. When Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you should love one another,” he uses the word agape twice. The first time he uses it speaks to the unconditional love that Jesus has for his disciples, and by extension the love that the Divine has for all of humanity. The second time he uses agape, however, it takes on additional meaning. Now agape stands for an unconditional love between people as well, not just love from the Divine. When you think about it, Jesus’ last commandment to his disciples carries a difficult task with it: to love each other unconditionally, just as Jesus loved them. He is asking them to take something from their relationship with the Divine and apply it to their relationship with other people. This is difficult because human relationships are often messy. Each of us may love one another, but we also disagree with, misunderstand, and hurt each other. How can we love one another unconditionally, when the ones we are supposed to love might be people we don’t know, or even people who have hurt us?

 

6. Denise

This kind of love can be the most difficult to spot on a regular basis, because so often it appears in small acts of kindness. It comes with students who stand out on the plaza on Fridays to give hugs to anyone who would like one. It manifests in a stranger taking time out of their day to help you when you’re injured, lost, or when you’ve dropped all your belongings on the ground. At the same time, agape appears in moments of deeper connection with people. It emerges when you sit down and listen to someone you strongly disagree with to have a conversation, and you both walk away with increased respect and understanding for each other. And perhaps even a changed perspective. Agape is the love that arises if you come to terms with someone you’ve had a falling out with years ago, and you both are able to forgive each other.

Agape is a love that respects, a love that listens, and a love that heals rifts between people.

Loving one another unconditionally can start with small actions, actions that respect the light and humanity that exists within all people. This could be anything from acknowledging the complaints of a coworker who always just seems to get on your nerves to simply smiling at people as you pass by them (something that is difficult to do in New England, I realize). These small actions can build to larger ones, such as starting a conversation with someone you haven’t spoken to in years, because their comments or actions have deeply hurt you in the past. Importantly, showing agape toward each other does not mean you love others unconditionally without loving yourself, nor does it mean that you should ignore or forget the harm that others have done to you in the past. Agape involves recognizing the humanity that exists in all people (yourself included), and caring about that humanity through your actions, however small they may be.

 

7. Nick

Jesus gave his disciples a commandment, and with that commandment he gave them a challenge: how do you overcome potential conflict and pain that humans experience to show love for them? One tool that we have to overcome this challenge is our ability to understand one another’s emotions. Empathy helps us to take on someone else’s perspective, and in the process develop an understanding of what their experiences and emotions feel like. The word itself, when broken down, means “feeling in.” When you are empathizing with someone else’s experience, you are literally “feeling into” their perspective. In that process, you are attempting to acknowledge that they are a also a human being with just like you with thoughts, feelings, insecurities, cares, and desires. You are feeling into the common humanity you share and the different experiences they have had, and in the process you are validating both. This is the part of agape that can heal divides between different people, while acknowledging those differences.

 

6.Devin

This healing and transcending of divides was experienced by our colleague Kasey Shultz on her Alternative Spring Break trip this past March. She writes: Over spring break, I traveled with 8 other BU students and one staff member to Macon, GA to work with an organization that performs housing repairs for elderly and disabled residents of Macon. The trip was meaningful in many ways but the thing that stands out to me the most is the way in which this trip bridged divides–divides within BU but also larger divides in society: Personally, as a second-semester senior, I don’t interact with sophomores, like, ever but by the end of the trip, I had spent more time in close proximity to the seven sophomores on the trip than I had in close proximity to some of my BU friends that I’ve known for years. We had students from both west and east campus, from Questrom and the College of Arts and Sciences, from the west and east coast. We also bridged more contentious gaps, as a group of liberal millenials from the Northeast worked with conservative baby boomers from the South. In our evening reflections as a group, we talked about how our stereotypes were being challenged and marveled at the extreme hospitality that we were experiencing. Throughout the week, those boundaries that we had clung to so fastidiously were dismantled one by one This trip reminded me that life is never black and white and that it’s a lot easier to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ when we never get to know exactly who ‘them’ is.

In this passage from John, Jesus does not call us to tolerate, he does not call us to surround ourselves with people we agree with, he does not call us to stay in our comfort zones, he does not call us to try to improve the people around us–he calls us to love. And he does not call us to love ‘them’—he calls us to love one another. Because when we truly love–deeply and without reservation or judgment–those boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ melt away.

 

7. Tom

As made apparent by walking down Commonwealth Avenue and crossing the BU bridge, or even looking around here in the Nave, we are not one homogenous group of people. We have different backgrounds both ethnically and religiously. How does that play into love? Does it matter? Quite frankly, in an interreligious setting: absolutely.

Our limited ability to conceptualize the magnitude of our reach inhibits us from realizing that our Christian neighbors are just one street in a collective of neighborhoods that create a global religious community.

In the soon to be published “Free Text to Life: Religious Resources for Interreligious Engagement” Jennifer Howe Peace writes: “Love is a profound and remarkable resource for interfaith work. It often clusters with a whole host of other dispositions that enable authentic engagement across lines of difference: humility, curiosity, forgiveness and hope to name a few. It allows us to say, as this story illustrates, ‘I may not agree with you, but I love you so I’m listening.’”

 

8. Nick

Love permeates the divide among groups. Loving someone selflessly does not mean you have to ignore or disregard past differences between you and them. You love them by acknowledging and taking on these differences in an attempt to understand them.

There are two extreme ways to deal with conflict or differences in understanding. There’s reacting with pure feeling — you know, where we love those for whom we feel love and we hate those for whom we don’t. Conflict and differences provoke strong emotions in us.

The other extreme is to just give up and not care at all. The differences between us and them are just too big and overwhelming, so why bother even acknowledging their existence? The conflict is too much, so it’s better to just avoid it.

These are the very human tendencies we have, and they both lead to stereotyping and stigmatization. But agape love, while extreme in it selflessness, is a happy medium between feeling everything and feeling nothing. This kind of love helps us overcome the pain of conflict and difference by acknowledging and bearing it. This kind of love is something in between, it’s about understanding the differences you have with someone else and loving them anyways.

 

9. Devin

If you were to engage with someone who has never met a Christian before, what would you want their immediate impression to be of you? Ignorant, indifferent, simply tolerant? No. That person should remember you for your love.

Our Marsh community tries to be a real, loving heart in the heart of the city, an inclusive center for all, including gay, straight, bi, trans, queer, or unsure. You hear this most Sundays and it is predicated on love. As your feet are washed today, or as you wash someone else’s feet today, recognize that these are acts of love for all who wish to follow the example Jesus sets for us. The motivation behind Jesus’ initial act? Agape. Love.

Low times and high hills

I’ve had a rough semester. I’ve faced challenges I never imagined I could conquer and this semester has been a complete rollercoaster. It’s had high peaks and deep consuming drops. In these low times and high hills I’ve become thankful to the people I’ve opened myself up to here. They’ve kept me going. They have looked out for me when I didn’t lookout for myself and uplifted me when I needed it the most. My friend Denise Stone has become someone I can consistently lean on. Denise and I met at orientation in the summer of 2015. I had no idea the influence she would have on my life. We both made the great (okay) decision of choosing the core curriculum and we’ve had classes together every semester since I’ve been at BU. We’ve struggled together, and for a while we were just in class friends. This school year, she’s become someone who I consider family. Without her support and her stories about her numerous little cousins  and her obsession with babies I truly don’t know how I would make it through core lecture. There are very few people who I would trust with anything, Denise is one of them. She’s one of my best friends. To often in life we fail to acknowledge the individuals who consistently show us love. We take for granted their willingness to go the extra mile for us. This week the Marsh associates will preach on love. We will think about what it means to love like Jesus. That seems hard. Loving like Jesus feels impossible.

 

In some aspects, it is. As humans we are flawed, but the beginning stages to loving like Jesus is kind of like being like Denise. It’s being willing to be yourself fully. To commit your whole being to betterment of others. Perhaps, she won’t see herself this way, but the person I see as friend is someone I look up to. This semester more than any she’s been there for me day in and day out. All the while taking rigorous classes and leading clubs and projects that require more time than what is in the day. Despite this low time, Denise and my close friends remind of the high hill. As Easter comes this Sunday because of Jesus I’m able to stand on that high hill and so I can’t quit. I’m invested into my future but more importantly other people are. Easter is my favorite time of the year, it reminds me of how miniscule the problems we go through are. It forces self-reflection. With Easter comes time to appreciate those around you and to live a life closer to Christ. More than ever I thank God for this time. Amen.

What Easter Means To Me

I cannot believe that it is almost Easter. Last year during the Easter sunrise service I had to write a poem for the meditation portion of the service. Below I am going to post my poem from last year. It really speaks to me because the timing of Easter is as spring starts. The weather starts to turn and the days get much brighter. It is truly one of my favorite times of year. Here is my poem that I would like to revisit:

What Easter Means To Me

 

The sun rises and casts an orange hue over the sprouting flowers and plants

The birds wake early and fill the air with graceful chants

The wind, crisp and calm smelling of flowers and natural scents

What Easter Means To Me

 

My friends and family coming from all around

My parents playing music and singing loud

My church bells ringing throughout the town

What Easter Means To Me  

 

The happiness is felt all around

The joy is in every sight and sound

The sky is always clear no matter sun nor cloud

What Easter Means To Me

 

My mind is clear with happy content

My spirit is whole and at peace

My body is calm and completely relaxed

What Easter Means To Me

 

What Easter Means To Me

Is a time in which we can all worship

As Jesus has risen so has the Earth around us

Now is time for us start anew and enjoy the beauty

What Easter Means To Me

I Will Walk With You

About two weeks ago now, I noticed blue footprints along the Commonwealth Ave. sidewalk. Obviously, I walk along the same one mile stretch of concrete and brick everyday, so the change in scenery was quite noticeable. As I continued to walk back to my dorm, I noticed a sentence written in the same blue paint, “I Will Walk With You.”

I was confused as to what the new art on the sidewalk was for, but either way, I found it quite comforting. Most students plug in their headphones, and aside from an occasional run-in with a friend, the walking to and from class is quite lonely. The footprints brought a smile to face and made me feel special. It might be silly that paint on a sidewalk made my day, but to me it was beautiful.

The paint has now begun to fade, but I can still make out the outlines of the footprints. They continue to remind me of God’s presence in my life, and that no matter what, he’s walking with me. I’m grateful for whoever came up with this concept because it has certainly made an impact in my daily life.

Sunrise

I like to watch the sunrise. Even before the sun is fully visible, you can sense its presence. The sky is gradually becoming grayer and then these beautiful purples and pinks and oranges appear. My window here overlooks the Charles river and the colorful sky framing the buildings and reflecting off the water is breathtaking. It is a wonderful way to start the day.

 

These past few weeks I have had to be very intentional about creating time to breathe and sit. The semester is ending and all of my professors have been cramming as much as possible into our last month of classes. It has been a lot to keep up with and we are not slowing down. It is a little draining. The sunrise has been restorative for me. It gives me a moment to pause and be grateful. I watch the brilliant colors and marvel that another day is breaking so beautifully around me, the world is starting to wake up and I get to start again. It gives me a set time to make sure I am whole before I begin the rest of the day. It has kept me sane.

 

For me, carving those spaces to ignore my to-do list and breathe has been so important and at times they can be difficult to maintain. This week I am especially thankful for new beginnings, quiet spaces, gorgeous skies and the people in my life who remind me to smell the flowers.

Writing

I am proud to say that I helped write part of a sermon over the past week. As you can tell from the rest of my blog posts, I do not usually dabble in the realm of theological writing. I usually write more about my observations of things that are happening around me.

 

With that being said, I am actually really excited to have had the opportunity to cater my writing to more of a religious setting and not casual. Although I will not go into what I was writing about, I will talk about some takeaways that I had.

 

One takeaway is that I have to really do research before I begin to write. There is a lot of preparation that goes into the sermon each week. Especially ones that are supposed to be over 20 minutes or more.

 

Another thing I learned is that it takes a lot of writing for you to be able to put together a sermon properly. It will easily take over 3500 words to complete just a basic sermon. You cannot simply write it in one night, nor one day.

 

I have much more of an appreciation for the sermons that are delivered at service. There is so much behind the scenes work that is involved. It is crazy to think about the Dean, or whoever the preacher happens to be, has to do this on a weekly basis. I was lucky enough to be able to have written mine weeks in advance.

Fire in the Belly

This weekend, I traveled to Minnesota for a discernment retreat put on by the Forum for Theological Discernment (FTE). I had no idea going into this retreat what it was or who would be there or really anything about it. I was happy to have something to do this weekend but I wasn’t particularly excited about going—it seemed that I had already done all my discernment for next year and this was just another thing on the list of things to check off before graduation. But four days later, I am blown away by everything I have experienced and felt, the people I have met and who I now call friends, and the conversations and reflections I have engaged in.

The retreat brought 64 young adult leaders from across the church together for four days of worship, exploration, discernment, and growth. I don’t think I have ever connected with a group of people so quickly and so deeply—we may have different theologies and different backgrounds, we may come from different states and we may be at very different points in our lives but we are all deeply rooted in our faith and striving to find ways to live out our call in the world—a call that is deeply tied up with social justice and community.

I still have a lot to process and reflect on from the past four days. There were so many things about this retreat that impacted me deeply but I can’t name them all so I will just highlight a few here:

  1. Social justice as an extension of faith: While I have engaged in conversations with fellow students at BU about politics and social justice and a desire to change the world, most of those conversations skirt around or completely ignore religion and faith. But my faith is such a fundamental part of who I am and is a driving force behind my desire to work for social justice. It was so refreshing and affirming and life-giving to be immersed in such a vibrant community in which the compulsion to work for social justice is a natural extension of faith.
  2. Deep conversations and sessions. There were so many moments where I felt filled by a conversation or a speaker, where I was overwhelmed with the force of the words, where everything snapped into fresh perspective, where I felt so moved or inspired or heard or challenged. In sessions we talked about spiritual gifts as compulsions—as fires in our bellies that won’t let us rest unless we use them; we talked about the things that break our hearts but then we imagined what it would look like if those things were magnificently solved. For the first time that I can remember, someone told me that justice is possible. We talked about how the tribes of Israel divided up the promised land equally and instituted a Jubilee year in order to return people and land to their original states because that’s what you do for family and that if we all treated each other like family, there would be justice. We wrote down our ‘curses’—the things in our head that tell us that we can’t do it or that we’re not good enough—and then we ripped them up and threw them in a bonfire, watching the tattered ashes fly up into the air as we spoke out words of blessing—the words of power that we wanted to replace those curses in our minds. In a session on immigration, my heart was weighed down by all the stories of injustice and cruelty in our immigration system but I was filled with a shred of hope as we spoke about how the church can and has worked to combat these injustices. As I listened, I was filled with a deeper sense of purpose and call as I thought about my work for next year working with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. We were asked if we were admirers of Jesus or if we were followers of Jesus. We were told to listen for the sound of the genuine in ourselves. Parker Palmer stopped by and told us that we should always strive to do the things that we simply can’t not do. We were challenged to think about the language we used around people experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental illness, incarceration—we were reminded that we are not the circumstances that people tell us that we are. We were told to practice delight rather than disgust. We talked about liberation.
  3. Embodied worship. This was the first time in a very long time where I have felt at home in a space in which people danced and yelled out affirmations and praises, raising their hands and not just their voices in worship and praise. There was such energy and love in the space and it was so freeing to engage in worship not just with my mind but also with my body. I realized that my worship in many ways had become disembodied, limited to my head rather than flowing through me, praising God through dance and song, bodies vibrating with emotion and joy and wonder.
  4. A sense of connection to the larger church. It can be so easy to get bogged down in local details and to look at large systemic problems in the world and the church and feel so helpless to change. But this weekend, I connected with people from all over the church who are all engaged in meaningful, amazing, inspiring work. They are all working to create change in their communities and it was so comforting to know that even as I go back to my little piece of the world, they are going back to their own cities and towns too and that we are all working toward change together. We work with different populations and different issues and we may even have different opinions and theologies but ultimately we all just want to make the world a better, more just, more loving place. With a goal like that, why would we ever let our differences get in the way?

Now as I return to school and normal life, I am weary and refreshed, challenged and affirmed, saddened by goodbyes but excited about these relationships that have started to develop. I’m not sure how I will respond when people ask me how my weekend was but I am excited for what is to come and ready to continue discerning and living out my vocation in the world, strengthened in my faith, supported by an amazing group of friends and mentors, and reminded of the radical love and hospitality that God extends to us through Jesus Christ.

Systematic Moral Responsibility

*Important notes from the author of this blog post, see below.

Let’s say there are two people: Ale and Ali. Both of these people are babysitters. Now let us also say that they are both negligent individuals. Picture them: Ale and Ali, negligent babysitters.

Now, picture Ale in a situation where they need to drive a child home while in their care. Before beginning to drive, they forget to put the seatbelt on the child. Now, unfortunately, luck was not on their side, and they get in an unavoidable car accident, and this accident results in severe harm to the child.

Ale is then severely punished, a consequence that most of us would conclude is justifiable.

Now, picture Ali in a similar situation: they need to drive a child home. Before they sit down and ignite the engine, they forget to put the seatbelt on the child. But, unlike Ale, let’s say Ali makes it home and luck was on their side.

Does Ale deserve more guilt than Ali? Does Ali deserve to be punished less than Ale? I mean, the consequences in both scenarios were based on luck and not choice. Ale did not choose to get into a car accident.

In the field of philosophy, this is known as the problem of moral luck. It appears that some people obtain more guilt (or even moral praise) for events that were largely out of their own control.

There are various examples of this case occurring and various proposed solutions to the problem, but I would like to make a point about our intuitions about morality, and perhaps make a greater point about our values that stem from these intuitions…as these values have a profound impact on our human systems.

So, anyways, there are various examples of this. Think of two drunk drivers, where only one of them, by chance, gets in an accident. Is the other one less blameful? Or two people who would commit the same crime, but only one has the circumstances in which to do so. Is the person who actually commits the crime guiltier than the one who does not, even though the only reason why the person who did not commit a crime only did not because of circumstances?

What about the arguments that stem from the reasoning that most (or perhaps, even all) of our character traits, desires, and motivations are largely due to environmental and biological factors outside of our control?

Sure, our circumstances do severely impact our moral and ethical decision making, that is very true. But it does not limit moral responsibility. No, I would argue that it then makes all of us as individuals in some ways morally responsible.

Consider this example. Let’s say two individuals, Sammie and Sammy, are married individuals who would commit a violent crime of passion for, say, catching their spouses cheating. But, let’s say only Sammie commits such a crime, because only Sammie’s spouse cheated. Is Sammy less blameful? Is Sammie more blameful for an action that is the result of factors out of their control? Some may argue yes, Sammie is most certainly more blameful, and some may actually argue no, they are just as blameful as Sammy, even though Sammie is the only one to actually committed a violent crime.

It was here in a recent discussion about this topic that I felt it was important to point out that Sammie is not the only person in the system. There were plenty of people in this system that allowed this outcome to occur.** In a lot of ways, the circumstances that led to Sammie’s behavior were perhaps beyond their control, but they were not beyond everyone’s control. We might perhaps have a responsibility to lower the chance of harm in our fellow human beings by minimizing the circumstances that lead to such harmful events.

Now, I am well aware of what some people might then uncomfortably argue at this conclusion…namely that, if some human beings are predisposed to criminal behavior by genetics, and we as a societal system have the moral responsibility to limit such circumstances that would lead to such behavior, that we then should modify the genetics of our fellow humans, or disallow such genes from propagating, or that if such genes are found in a living person, that we should lock up such an unfortunate soul.

But, I do not believe this is the end result of such a conclusion on moral responsibility. No, I think the final conclusions from a collective systematic view of human morality is the result of one’s optimistic or pessimistic view on humanity. Are we optimistic…or are we pessimistic? Is not the idea that was just stated in the above paragraph concluding that human beings have absolutely no plasticity? Is it not implying that, if a human being has such a predisposition towards negative behavior, that this human being is fated regardless of circumstance to fall into such behaviors? Is it not a way of implying that we humans are just so completely inherently evil? I mean, is that even true?

My family history has a predisposition towards alcoholism. Does this now mean I am to suffer such a fate regardless of my awareness of such a predisposition?

And would I not want to be myself? I mean, alcoholism is tied to anxiety and depression. I see the predisposition towards anxiety in my family and oh so most certainly in myself. But, I also see how such over-thinking personalities have led my family and I to be the wonderful quirky people that we are. I know there are negatives, but I see positives in my careful, attentive reasoning that I also see in my siblings and parents. Is this not what many models of personality, like the enneagram, conclude: that our traits have positives and negatives?

Is not the self-awareness and the mindfulness that I employ when making decisions a form of risk minimization of moral failure in my day to day behavior? Is not enough that I am aware of it, that my family has made me aware, and that I am wokring to face such potential risks as an individual in a system?

And so, if other individuals have certain predispositions towards negative behaviors, is it not morally responsible to assist in limiting the environmental factors that could lead such individuals down a dark road? Do we not all, as individuals in human systems, have a responsibility to help those who are struggling, and minimize the circumstances that lead to immoral or harmful behaviors? I am confident that a better car braking design could have saved Greg’s circumstances. I am pretty sure there are a large number of factors that led to Tammy’s action that could have been prevented, or perhaps the circumstances could have deeply been improved.

I am not entirely sure if this is actually a functional way of perhaps minimizing the problem of moral luck.*** But, I am going to keep such ideas in mind deeply as I continue to make decisions in the day to day life as a student at BU, a leader in the community, and an intern at the Chapel. I am well aware that I cannot think too deeply about the systematic consequences of my every action on every individual in the system at all times – that would drive me crazy – but I will most certainly hold some awareness of how I may have very profound effects on those around me, and I perhaps am responsible for what I input into our systems.

I also hope I can hold on to this optimism and hope that every wonderful, beautiful, imperfect person can embrace their own messiness and find identity and hopeful meaning in our world, and that I can do whatever I can in my power to influence the circumstances of others in positive ways so that perhaps there are more Ales than Alis, and Sammys than Sammies, and hopefully I can hold to the hope of being a positive influence to those around me, even when my optimism is challenged.

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*Note from Author of this Blog post: The examples that I used are modified forms of examples to portray the problem of moral luck in contemporary philosophy. My examples were modified to remove the hetero-normative tendencies the unchanged examples had. I am not in any way attempting to endorse any form of hetero-normativity.

**Further Note: Other than the other example of potential problematic consequences of such a moral view(the unethical ideas of genetic modification), this moral view, as especially portrayed earlier in this blog post, could lead someone to believe that victim-blaming was okay. I do not, under any circumstances, endorse any form of victim-blaming, and do not, in any way, mean to imply that a victim is at fault in many modern contemporary cases of social law where such mentalities are still often considered okay(It is never the victim’s fault in a case of sexual assault).

***I do hold to some sort of collectivist or systematic form of moral responsibility, but as mentioned in the previous note, I do not affirm any form of victim blaming. This moral code is more aligned with my final paragraph in a previous blog post, Granos de Mostaza, and the ideals in my other blog post, The Importance of Community. I strongly believe in idealistic pro-social bystander behaviors, and strong support systems and communities, and I hope that we all, as individuals who have some sort of agency, try to do our best to help those in need around us and improve our little communities and tapestries in society in ways that can benefit all and allow everyone to experience a little bit of Heaven on Earth.

Take what you need, and give what you can

This afternoon I passed by a flyer on my way to lab. Nothing surprising about that–I pass flyers regularly during my everyday travels through dorms, across hallways, and between buildings. Something about this one caught my attention, though. It had only one sentence printed on it: “Take what you need, and give what you can.” At the bottom of the poster were tags, like the kind you would find on a lost animal poster or advertisement that contain a name and telephone number.

These tags were not pieces of contact information, though. Each one contained a single word. At least, I think each one did, because by the time I saw the flyer only four remained attached. The words on each tag were as follows: “Courage,”  “Compassion,” “Peace,” and “Friendship.”

I went on my way, thinking about the tags I had just seen. To someone who had stopped by and looked at these, they could represent any number of things: a wish for inner strength to do something difficult, a need for compassion during a time of pain, a symbol for peace during the chaos of everyday life, or a reminder of the friendship that has nurtured who we are.

As I paused and looked at the tags, I thought of what I needed to take this week, and what I was able to give. Thinking about it now, I realized I needed a reminder of where I’ve seen these qualities: courage, peace, friendship, and compassion. To these I should add three more: wisdom, balance, and hope. I’d like to take a moment to remember someone among my colleagues at Marsh who has expressed each of these qualities. I’d also like to give my thanks to each of these people. These words are not a lot, but I hope you can accept them in the meantime until I’m able to say something more meaningful. Thank you all for being a part of my family.

Courage

I’ve had several conversations with Nick since he first started working at the chapel. Each one is rich with puns and thoughts that jump around yet show a deep self-awareness that often humbles me. Above all, though, these conversations are rich with his questions–questions that few are willing to voice to themselves, let alone to others. There is a deep sense of courage that comes with being able to ask these questions about emotions, purpose, thinking about the past and putting together kaleidoscopic pieces to look toward the future. Nick is incredibly brave for being able to ask questions that so often can take on a life of their own, and to face them once they’re voiced.

Hope

Tom has only been at the chapel for a few months now, yet his gentle presence at the chapel has quickly grown and become palpable every time he enters the room. The thing I might remember most about him is his laughter–it fills and brightens the space he occupies, a quality that I don’t often see in people. His laughter and warm, gentle presence at the chapel give me hope. Hope that, as the expression goes, he will either find his way or make it, both inside the chapel and beyond it. My one regret is that I may not be able to see him grow and come into his own next year. I have hope, though, that he will find soil to plant his roots and make a home, wherever he may find it.

Balance

I will remember Denise most for her thoughtful reflections and presence at our Monday evening meetings. I have watched her connect with the other Marsh Associates at these meetings–whether it’s by chatting with Matt about sports, talking to Devin about Core, cracking a joke with Nick, talking to Tom about M.O.V.E., or sharing a subtle but well-appreciated glance with Kasey when the energy at meetings gets just a little out of hand. I’ve only had a few conversations with her one-on-one, but I can see that she brings balance to the group, and she seems to have found balance and grounded herself through her faith. This is a skill that I have not quite found with what I personally believe in, and it is one that I deeply admire in her.

Wisdom

Devin is someone whose experience and perspective has significantly shaped the way I think. I remember talking to him once about one of his blog posts, and I remember seeing how deep his ties are with the communities he is a part of and with those he cares about. I have watched him grow as a leader through his work, and more recently I have witnessed how he has become a mentor to the children at Marsh chapel. I believe that his experience and guidance has significantly touched and shaped those around him, whether it be in his children’s ministry, at orientation, or in the groups and communities he is a part of. May his wisdom continue to grow and guide him as he walks forward in life.

Peace

Out of the cohort, I’ve known Kasey the longest. Whether she is knitting a hat at our Monday meetings, writing a blog post about how God is an Elephant, or cooking Ecuadorian food at Global Dinner Club, she brings a sense of quiet thoughtfulness and peace with her. She is someone with whom I can share moments of calm, moments of celebration and music, and a quiet appreciation for moments of silence and reflection. Her work at the chapel continually creates space for contemplation, food, laughter, and fellowship. I will miss her wit and her thoughtful presence next year, but I know that she will bring her gifts to Seattle and create new spaces for all of these things.

Friendship

Finally, to my friend Matt, one of the most hardworking people I know, who once told me that blood makes you related, but loyalty makes you family. Matt has shown me time and time again what it means to be family. When I first met him at the chapel, I didn’t know that I was meeting someone who would become a brother to me. Despite all the business that occupies each of our schedules, though, somehow we’ve managed to find time. I don’t regret a single moment of it. That time has taught me that love takes on many forms, whether it’s between friends or between brothers. Thank you for letting me embrace that by being both my brother and my friend.

 

I am reminded now of all the time I’ve spent with you. The time I’ve spent with all of you. I hope I’ve been able to give you at least a fraction of what you’ve given me–courage, hope, balance, wisdom, peace, friendship, and the compassion that I now carry with me. You have given me what I need, whether you realize it or not. May I give you the same in the time that I have left.

Choosing Housing

Today I experienced just how fast housing is snatched up at Boston University. Earlier this month, my three friends and I put together a list of options ranging from East to West campus. We were very organized and checked the housing availability website regularly.

Then today our time came to choose our housing. With each passing hour our list slowly began to deplete until our only option left was Sleeper Hall, our current residence. Regretfully, we right clicked the submit button and established our spot in the vacant eighth floor of Sleeper Hall. It is an understatement to say that we were bummed. The gleaming StuVi apartments seemed to tower over me more than usual as I walked back to class after the submission.

But after a brief time of reflection, I sit in my Sleeper Hall dormitory grateful. I am grateful for the freedom to study at BU and have a room to call my own. I’m also grateful for the abundance of relationships that I have made thus far and the many more I hope to cultivate in the future.

Finally, I am reminded today that many in this world are not fortunate enough to have even the slightest of opportunities I have here in Boston. Though Sleeper Hall may not have been my first choice, it was a choice. A freedom.