Sunday
March 30

Being Present

By jdingus

So I preached a sermon at Vespers. I’ve never preached at Marsh before, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to preach in this context.

One of the most challenging pieces of my internship here at Marsh is coming up with a weekly, or at least in theory weekly, theological reflection. It can be a musing about a big theological question or more often for me a rambling about some profound worship experience I had in the past week. Often it is helpful in doing these reflections to single out a moment or an interaction within my week, where another person’s kindness or generosity or wisdom touched my heart and made me think about how my own actions are perceived in the world. These “preachable moments” provide a jumping off point for thinking about bigger questions in the world.

So as you might of guessed by that introduction, I want to tell you about one of these moments. So for those of you who don’t know, I recently joined the Student Elections Commission at BU. The SEC is a group of students who monitor the student government elections, and make sure all the candidates follow the extensive campaign guidelines that are laid out in the Election Code. As part of the SEC, I helped work at the election kickoff that happened last Monday. The election kickoff was an event that allowed the two slates of candidates a chance to get their face and their platform out to students walking through the GSU. Besides giving out the hundreds of free cupcakes that we had gotten for the event, the candidates got their first chance to talk to students.

Now both slates were very much on top of their game for this event. They were dressed up, and covered in their own campaign buttons. In conversations with students they efficiently transitioned between selling their platform and undermining their opponents. Each slate was competing fiercely and making sure to talk to as many students as possible.

Now after an hour or so of campaigning, one of my friends, a freshman who lives on the floor above me walked by eyeing the cupcakes. She didn’t know much about student government but wanted to find out a little more. I introduced her to one of the candidates, fully expecting him to rush through his schpeal and move on to one of the other people walking through the GSU. I knew that he had limited time to meet students and that it was important for his campaign to meet as many people as possible. I expected him to try and secure her vote, hand her a cupcake and walk away. But instead of saying his piece and excusing himself to make a new connection, he sat down with her, answering all her questions and thoroughly explaining his platform. He learned her name and actually listened to see if she had any suggestions for his campaign. Most importantly he listened to her, staying present in their conversation, placing more value on this one deep interaction than on the ten insignificant interactions he could have had in that time.

Now you could argue that his move was merely political; that making a real connection with this one student could get him votes from her and all her friends. And even if that was part of the motivation, I think his actions can teach us about the importance of listening deeply and making a real connection.

I think about this in regards to ministry. I know a lot of us here are involved in ministry in some way. And, I think remembering to be present in our conversations with others is such a hugely important part of this work. I think about the time other people have taken to be present and listen to me. The times when someone asks me how my day was, and actually cares about the answer. These moments make a difference in the lives of the people we interact with.

In this week’s gospel text from Matthew, Jesus teaches ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ This verse points to the truth that, to love your neighbor as yourself is to see the spark of divinity, the piece of God that lives within them and to love it. I think about this interaction I saw at the Student Government kickoff, and other similar incidents where someone takes the time and the effort to really listen and be present with someone else. This is one of the best ways we love our neighbors.

In this weeks verses from Ephesians we learn, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” We are all children of light, holding within us the fruit of light that is good and right and true. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, by listening deeply, sharing authentically, and being present we can harvest that fruit of light.

This verse, particularly the image of the fruit of light reminded me of a poem by Unitarian Universalist minister Karen Herring:

Hidden in the heart

of late autumn’s barren

fields is the ripening

of seasons yet to come.

Roots clinging to frozen ground

wait patiently

for their next long drink.

Seeds fallen from last summer’s blooms

sleep beneath blankets of quilted leaves

and feathered snow.

Fruits of the future,

words unripened into speech,

truth present but unseen,

evidence yet to be awakened

by the faithful

unfolding

of time and love.

This poem teaches us that hidden in the heart of each of us, children of light, is the fruit of goodness and truth. This fruit is of the future. It waits patiently to be awakened by the faithful unfolding of time and love. We awaken it when we love our neighbor as ourself. When we make time in our lives to listen to other people; putting their needs above our own. We love our neighbors when we are present and engaged, and when we share authentically from ourselves.

Loving our neighbor is how we love god. When we take time to listen to and love another person, we affirm the divinity, the spark of God that lives within them. As children of light, this is what we are called to do. We are called to journey with our neighbors. To listen to them, to share with them, to hold sacred space with them. We are called to harvest the fruit of light, present but unseen within each one of us. Like roots clinging to frozen ground, we wait patiently for the spring, the warmth of another person who will listen to us and see the divine that lives within us.

As we journey on this evening, let us remember to be present to the people around us. To gently hold space with them and to allow their inner light to shine. Let us remember to love god with all our heart and soul and mind by loving all god’s children of light. And let us be reminded that these high aspirations are not easy. In the crazy hustle of our daily lives, it’s hard to make space to be still and listen to others. It’s hard to ignore the voices that tell us to go fast and to spread ourselves thin. We have to be gentle with ourselves for the times when we fall short of thoroughly loving our neighbor, knowing that in those times our neighbors will reach out to us. But then we must celebrate when we choose to be like the candidate I mentioned earlier, who took time to listen to my friends questions and suggestions, who made an effort to be present with her ignoring the rest of his campaign; for in these times we can harvest the fruit of the light and come closer to the light of god within each of us.

Amen.

Saturday
March 29

Aunt Frances, Presente

By aclauhs

My great-aunt recently passed away at 96 years old. Aunt Frances, I always called her, even though she was technically my grandmother’s sister—the eldest of the family. She was feisty and smart and lovely and talented, a matriarchal figure at every family reunion. While us kids spent most of those reunions splashing around the mountain creek (which she pronounced “crick”) and tumbling through the pollen-heavy September grass, we would always stop by her lawn chair for a bird-boned hug and a story of one of her past husbands, the three respective men she had fallen in love with then outlived to marry anew.

When I hear the word “moxie,” I think of her. She embodied the term, in her crisp shirts and flawless pantsuits she sewed herself. She was Appalachian through and through, with the thick accent and the skill for cooking up batches of calorific comfort food. Yet that did not mean she was conservative or close-minded. Instead, she was deeply loving and accepting.

You see, her granddaughter married a black man and had a mixed-race son. Aunt Frances’ son-in-law (father of this granddaughter), raised in the Jim Crow South, disowned his own daughter. She was dead to him, and her son did not—and never would—exist. Yet Aunt Frances—raised in that same Jim Crow South, in the deepest reaches of rural North Carolina—embraced her granddaughter’s new family. She loved her great-grandson and recognized him as her own flesh and blood, knowing full well the fallout she would face from her own relatives and from the larger society.

A woman born nearly a century ago, she was more open-minded than many people more “modern” in terms of their birth years have ever been. She inspired me with her stories, with her grit, with the softness of her hand touching my head as she told me she loved me.

She was also deeply Christian. In her last moments, as her younger sisters (now all grandmothers and great-grandmothers themselves) gathered around her, she asked for them to read the Bible to her. When she was finished, she told them that she was ready for Jesus to come and get her, because she was ready to go home.

Home. Aunt Frances, I pray that whatever happens to our souls when we die, and wherever we go, that you feel home. I don’t have the same security you did in believing in a specific afterlife, a certain heaven. But I know you, and your love, and I can feel it now, even with you having passed from this earthly life we experience. I was blessed to have known you, and you blessed our family by being part of it and by bringing love into it. Thank you, and amen.

Tuesday
March 4

Remembering to Ask

By jdingus

This weeks Marsh Associate’s meeting reminded of the powerful impact a conversation a few days ago had on me.

Last week a minister friend of mine, took me out for hot chocolate to catch up. I see him pretty regularly, but often we see each other while leading worship, so it was really wonderful to have a chance to talk without distractions. This conversation left me warm and fuzzy, and with a new skill for my own ministry.

After we had talked and laughed for a bit about normal things; my classes, his plans for the future, our common work with The Sanctuary, he stopped me. He then proceeded to ask me if there was anything not so good going on in my life. I’m very aware, that I tend to be a consistently cheerful and enthusiastic person. I try not to let things bother me, and when they do, I tend to gloss over them moving toward some new positive thought. Every time I check-in I’m having “a good day” or “a good week”, and I conveniently fail to mention the bad stuff when people ask me how I’m doing.

Rarely, in my day-to-day life am I asked to talk about the bad stuff. As much as I try to hide the bad stuff, it felt really good to have someone address it directly. The question meant that he actually cared about what was going on in my life, even the less than perfect things, and that he was prepared to help me through those tough things.

I’d definitely be lying if I said every moment of this first year in college has been perfectly wonderful and fun. There have been really hard times, and even though the good drastically over shadow the bad, it’s still important to think about and share those bad things.

This little interaction taught me both a valuable practice for ministry and a lesson about myself. I know in the future, it’s going to be important to remember to check in with the people I serve about more than just the good things. Also I know, I need to remember to let myself have those bad things and occasionally share them with others. This sharing builds beloved community and it is a way to honor the divine light within all people.

Monday
February 24

A Warm Invitation

By lucchesi

I learned a valuable lesson in ministry this week: a personal invitation can go a long way. I have been struggling with the best way to do outreach for OUTLook, because it has seemed that my previous methods have been futile. I can make public statuses, facebook events, and large announcements, but somehow we kept running into issues because people wouldn’t come to our meetings. OUTLook’s membership has radically shifted over the past two years, and I have really been struggling with how to keep the few new members we get.

Soren recommended that I follow up with each of the new members individually, and I sort of rolled my eyes, thinking that that was such an obvious solution, but doubting that it would do much. That reaction, was in fact, me not wanting to put in the extra time it would take to write all those notes. I am strapped for time, and this was another thing to add to my growing to do list. However, I received a message the day after Soren made his recommendation from someone from my old worship community here in Boston who invited me to a special event. He knew that it was an event that would appeal to my interest in languages, specifically Spanish, and took the time to send out an individualized invitation. The gesture meant so much to me that I did two things. 1) I went to the event, and 2) decided to try that out for the next OUTLook meeting.

Lo and behold, it worked. That personal invitation, instead of a mass email or facebook event, was enough to bring back some returners. OUTLook will never be a group that is as large as the other LGBTQ groups on campus, and we certainly don’t want to be, but having four guests at the meeting means a much more diverse conversation than if we had one. This gives me hope that I might actually have these skills in ministry, when for a while I thought I didn’t. I presumed other people would do some of the outreach for me, so it is empowering to know I can do it myself.

Thursday
February 20

The Spark

By jdingus

So, in my religion classes this semester we’ve read a lot of books about people (generally male clergy) who are wrestling with their own imperfections, especially when they are constantly confronted with the perfection of Christ. Whether it was St. Augustine in his Confessions, or Shusaku Endo’s Silence, the narrators are constantly striving to be more pure, and humble, and compassionate and whatever other adjectives they could come up with to liken themselves to their savior. However, they never seemed satisfied with their efforts. Even though, they both seemed incredibly pious and devout in their faith they constantly struggled to be more Christian and to prove how Christian they were.

This week at the Sanctuary the main message was about how important it is to continually work toward justice and compassion in the world. However, unlike for the people in my readings, there isn’t any shame or guilt in the struggle. I don’t have an expectation for my self or others to ever be perfectly good. I think that those moments when we try to be better, or go out of our way to be authentic with other people, are when the little piece of divinity that lives within each of us gets to shine. But that piece of divinity is not dependent on how good we are. That spark is there even when we are falling a part. It’s there when things get too hard and we have to reach out to others, and its there when others reach out to us. That little shining light might not always be blazing bright, but it is inherent within us all.

Sometimes during my readings, I felt bad for those people. I wish they could see that there is a little piece of divine love that lives within them, that won’t ever go away. It’s the love that draws us to be in community together and it’s the love that reassures us even if we feel like we aren’t being our best selves. Sitting in Sanctuary tonight, I felt that divine love spark within me, joined with every other person around me and with the divine spark in the universe. And it reminded me that even though I’m not always my best, sometimes I get angry or do stupid things, I am part of the divine.

Tuesday
February 18

Vespers Sermon: “The Common Field”

By aclauhs

Guess what? I preached the Vespers sermon this past Sunday. And….here it is:

Sunflowers_Land_by_Deinha1974

This past summer, I attended the Wild Goose Festival, a progressive Christian festival that happens in the mountains of rural North Carolina. There were many interesting things that happened, including cornbread communion, moonshine mass, and an event called “Beer ‘n’ Hymns.” But the one I want to talk about tonight was called “The Body and the Earth.”

It was a panel with speakers who do work with gardening and farming ministries. One woman was the leader of a farm called The Lord’s Acre. The Lord’s Acre is a community project where volunteers grow organic produce for those in need in the community–a beautiful concept.

Susan, the director, told us a story about Annie. Annie was a local homeless woman. She had some mental instabilities and would often amble past the garden, but would run away whenever they invited her to join in.

Well, pretty soon, the people at The Lord’s Acre started noticing something. It was high summer in North Carolina, and the beautiful watermelons they had been cultivating started to go missing. They’d be there in the evening, then, the next morning? Gone.

This was disappointing. Those watermelons were supposed to go to the local food bank, to help the needy. So one of the dedicated volunteers swore to get to the bottom of this mystery. He staked himself out the entire night to find out where the watermelons were going.

And who did he see, sneaking in late at night after everyone was gone, except Annie the homeless woman?

So Susan, the director, went and found Annie the next day, out at the outskirts of town behind an abandoned barn where Annie liked to sleep. She spoke gently to her. And, at long last, Annie brought her inside the barn and showed her the her secret stash–a heap of big, fat watermelons.

Annie started to cry. She had been so scared, she said. She had been scared that the volunteers in the garden–the nice people volunteering from the local churches (and you know what she meant–middle-class people with houses and cars and nice clothes)–wouldn’t want her in the garden. She couldn’t always control what she said. Sometimes she acted strange. They wouldn’t want her. Especially now that she had stolen all those watermelons–but she just hadn’t been able to resist. They were just so big and juicy and beautiful.

Susan stayed with Annie while she cried. Then she loaded Annie and the watermelons up into her truck, and they brought it all back to the Lord’s Acre. After Susan explained the situation to the volunteers, they hugged Annie and brought out knives and sliced open the watermelons and ate them right there in the garden, together. You can just feel it, can’t you? Hot Southern sun and crisp, cool watermelon and the sticky smiles on everyone’s faces.

Susan told this story to us at the festival, and she told us that Annie still volunteers at the garden. People know her quirks and moods and tics and accept her anyways. This is the power of a garden, friends.

Laboring together in a garden is a powerful thing–it brings us together over the glory of nature and creation, growing food that we can share together.

The Bible knows the strength of the garden, and that is why it uses it so often as a metaphor. In today’s reading from Corinthians, we hear that “The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

This is interesting, isn’t it? According to this passage, we are the servants working in the field–but we are also the field, also the building. It’s a holistic idea of engaging in communal work and common purpose together–but what we are fostering is ourselves. It’s our brothers and sisters around us.

So what I’m talking about here is not just physically working in a garden. Though if you can find one to physically work on here in Boston–more power to you.

I’m talking about having the mindset of seeing the world around you like a garden, of which you and your fellow beings are the gardeners. For it’s not just about what you do, but how you think about it.

We see this in today’s gospel. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”

Jesus is telling us that love extends to more than just our actions–it is also about thought. So you don’t murder someone. But thinking bad thoughts–that’s still pretty damaging for your soul.

And so we must cultivate good thought, just as one cultivates a garden. We need to water the good thoughts and weed the negative ones. We need to grow love, and we need to do it together.

You know, gardens can be good for more than just food. One of my friends visited New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina on a mission trip, and can you guess what their project was? Planting sunflowers. Yes, that’s right, planting flowers.

Sunflowers have the incredible property of purifying the soil they’re planted in. My friend and her team planted them in New Orleans in the toxic muck, full of chemicals and dangerous debris, as a part of cleanup.

You wouldn’t think it, right? Those big, beautiful, yellow flowers doing double duty as toxic waste cleaners. It’s pretty–I’ll say it–miraculous.

So, my friends–think about it, hard as it is when it’s full-on winter outside. Grow your sunflowers. Plant your crops. Share your watermelons. Remember that we are the servants in the field, but we are also the field. This world is our shared project, and it is up to us to cultivate love and healing in it. Be a good gardener. Amen.

Wednesday
February 12

Love Feast

By jdingus

In our Marsh Associates meeting we try and explore new and different spiritual practices. This week, both as a new form of practice and because there was some leftover chocolate cake we had a Love Feast.

The Love Feast harkens back to early Christianity when small groups of Christians would, instead of interrupting their prayer meeting to return to their homes for lunch, eat a meal together as a spiritual community. The love feast was and is a time for small groups to eat, drink, and have deep conversation with one another.

In our little love feast, we enjoyed our cake and had a really deep and challenging conversation. I found it exceptionally powerful and fulfilling to participate in a spiritual practice that was centered on community bonding. In my home tradition a huge part of our spiritual practices are focused on community building. From the part of the service where people are encouraged to light candles and share the joys and sorrows in their life, to the potlucks, retreats, and backyard barbeques that are common among UU congregations, there is always an emphasis on spirituality through community engagement. These rituals and activities are a constant reminder of the preciousness of connection. I feel most engaged in my faith, not when I’m in silent prayer (though that is important), but when I am able to listen and be listened to by others in my community.

This sense of engagement and community bonding has continued throughout my week. Today in fact, I helped contribute to a group that is connecting UU youth all over the country. I am excited for the possibilities ahead for this group, and the chance they all have to feel held by a community. Already the group is growing and providing a space where people can speak openly and listen intently. I’m excited to be a part of this new spiritual space, which provides the atmosphere for a Love Feast. All we need now is more chocolate cake!

Monday
February 10

Why do I believe what I believe, in my context?

By lucchesi

I recently came across this article in the National Catholic Reporter, which is my favorite resource for all things Catholic (and when you’ve been around as many Methodists as I have, sometimes you really need some Catholic time) (I kid) and it brought up a question that I’ve been dealing with for a long time: Why do I believe what I believe?

First answer that comes to mind is that I don’t know. I was raised Catholic, somehow fell into the Anglican/Methodist communion, and often times find myself saying that its all good. I have a strong, strong, intuition about a lot of things, and as I’ve discussed numerous times on this blog, my challenge has often been to put words to that experience. Similar to the author of the article, Mariam Williams, cultural context complicates trying to justify faith. Although the situations are wildly different, both African-Americans and the Queer community have wildly conflicting views of Christianity. Being surrounded by queer and queer friendly theologians and clergy at BU, it is easy for me to make the connections between Liberation Theology and the queer movement, and I am in a safe space that allows for a reading of books on queer theology. However, most people never get the privilege to explore these issues so deeply because their experience being queer in the church has been one of repression and hate.

Williams notes that she had ”been immersed in African-American literature written and set in the 1920s; every author considered Christianity a white man’s religion that held black people back from progress.” Again, I am not equating the two struggles as the same, but in the queer community, Christianity is seen as a straight person’s religion. It is an able-bodied person’s religion. It is a white religion. It is a cisgender religion. So I find myself often on the defensive about what I believe instead of actually being able to find a way to actually articulate what I believe. Inherent in any explanation I give is at least a reference to my experience coming out, which in itself is a major privilege.

Monday
February 3

Ignite

By aclauhs

Today we had one of my favorite Marsh Associates’ meetings ever. Not to dismiss the stuff that we normally do in those meetings. But for this one, we sat on the floor on meditation cushions in the chapel. It was dark, and we lit a circle of candles, representing our own lights as well as the light of God. And then, at the end, Soren and Jen left us to sit there and meditate with the candles for as long as we wanted to.

Let me warn you now—I get emotional around candles. They move me. I was incredibly disappointed when, at Christmas mass this year, there were no candles to hold during the service (my mother informed me that the priest had decided they were a fire hazard). Since childhood, I had always associated that candle flame with Christmas—gripping that little white candle with the paper holder dripping hot wax down your hand, the little beacon of light held close to your face as you sang hymns of new hope in the dead of winter.

And in Italy, I loved the cathedrals filled with their banks of candles. I went through my euro coins like crazy, dropping them into the donation boxes and adding my candles to the long line of flickering prayers in every church I wandered into. As Italian grandmothers prayed to the saints and tourists shuffled by, I knelt before the candles and clasped my hands and teared up at the light and warmth that so many tiny flames gave off.

download

I love how fire has a life to it. There’s a reason we have the cliche about “dancing” flames. Our little circle of candles on the floor at our meeting tonight reminded me of people—our communities, our families, the strangers we sit by on the subway. Each person, no matter how discouraged they are or what wrong they have done, has that divine light within them. They have the miracle of life—the gift of being alive—and it links them to all other beings. We are all dancing flames. Or, as Elton John would have it, candles in the wind.

I am disappointed that I cannot light candles in my dorm room. The Hindus have the ritual of aarti, part of the morning puja ceremony, where they start off the day by offering light to the divine. They do this by circling a lighted lamp on a plate around a deity, singing praise all the while.

Aarti plate

Aarti plate

I think this is incredibly beautiful. When I have my own place where I can burn things, I plan to start the day with a candle. A spark, a flame, a light. A reminder of the beautiful, the dancing, the alive, the sacred within each person—and within every being.

Monday
February 3

Circling Upwards and Sliding Backwards

By lucchesi

I have yet again put too much on my plate this semester. I have a chronic hoarding problem that affects my mentality when scheduling, so this semester, like so many semesters before, I find myself with too much to do and too little time. And I want to emphasize, THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE. This is why I have issues maintaining the two blogs I have had to keep up in the past, just like I do now, along with lots of other work.

This is a recurring problem. Heck, recurring problems are recurring problems, at this point. My philosophy has always been that in life, we circle upward in a spiral. We are constantly moving upwards, but we are circling, so that after every rotation, we return to a point at which we were before. We are higher up, but in the same position vertically. These points that we keep coming across are our various blocks, vices, and bad habits. In an upwards spiral, returning to them, however, means being higher up, meaning that we take a lesson (or more, hopefully), and apply it to the situation so we are better equipped every time we make that rotation.

However, one of my advisers at Marsh and I got into a full fledged yelling match (okay, not quite, just a discussion) about the issues of this model. She what is apparently a Wesleyan model that acknowledges that some people “slip”, and fall backwards on their journey. My initial impulse was to say that this was wrong, because it doesn’t take into account all of the experiences that we’ve had that supposedly would make us stronger. However, as evidenced by my schedule, we don’t always take into account our experiences when moving forward. As hesitant as I am to admit failure, I seem to be in the place of sliding back.

However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned from those previous experiences. I certainly am better prepared to deal with busy semesters like this one. One thing I certainly have learned is that sometimes, you just need to deal with it and go and do the work instead of indulging in how tough it is. So now, back to work.