Intentions behind Personal Action

Last week, Brother Larry asked me a question that, as I continue to work towards my ideal vocational future and map out my next steps, has not ceased to buzz around in my head.

He asked, “Where is God in all of this?”

And, almost instinctively, I responded “Underpinning it all.”

To which he quipped, “Spoken like a real Ground of Being theologian!”

While that was my theological answer to his question, I believe the question was posed for more than a discussion of my theological views; the question was actually about my current personal experiences with the divine recently. A question that I, exhaustedly, could not really answer.

Where is God? As of late, I must sadly admit that the fire in my heart has been reduced to a small ember. This internal trend has been occurring for months now – I have lost a sense of wonder at the human experience and the different ways we as human beings interpret and find meaning in our spirituality and communities. I have lost the sense of personal meaning in the communities I am a part of and my soul has not felt alive in quite some time.

I have lost my sense of the Ground of Being underpinning it all, who shifts my lenses and refracts the light passing through, who gives me a more colorful view of the world through transcendent experiences discovered in the pursuit of this Ground through liturgy, art, and community.

As a man who currently attends three religious services – and one Bible study – a week, I find a deep irony in the dark night of the soul I am experiencing now. This might be an example of quantity versus quality – and the importance of intention behind actions.

Last year, I made a conscious effort to genuinely place the various services and Bible studies above my school work. I concluded that I, like many students here at Boston University, can tend towards unhealthy work ethics. It is very easy to over-work ourselves. But, a machine can only run for so long; machines need fire to function. And machines need something to spark the fire whenever it all runs cold.

Also, we are not machines. We don’t have to run. We don’t need to do anything.

The work you and I do is healthiest when we choose to do the work we do because we want to. Not because we need to. It is the intention behind action.

The same goes for religious services. I don’t have to go to anything. I go to these services because I choose to. The weekly communion, the Sunday services, the evening prayers – all of these services are my home. They are my refuge from the noise. The services feed me, but only if I let them feed me.

May I leave the buzzing about my future and vocation and work I have to do at the door when I return to my home at the altar, and may I be reminded by Christ’s words on yokes – or perhaps on have to’s and should’s and need to’s: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The Birthplace of Love

Devin

I finally understand why the land of Israel has been fought over since, what feels like the beginning of mankind. I was standing looking at the sunrise at the sea of Galilee and realized that I am in the land where love was born. The most powerful force known to man, was birthed on this land. For me, I could feel as I moved throughout the city. It felt different, like there was just something genuine about this place. It was ironic that a place that is constantly at the center of so much conflict is built upon the basic principle of love. Israel will forever have a special place in my heart because of what I felt walking around the entire country. Regardless of if someone is pro-israel, pro-palestine, or has yet to find where the beliefs fall, I think everyone should go to Israel. Religious or secular there’s something for everyone in Israel. Is there work to be done? Absolutely. DId I struggle to understand all the nuances of the conflict and what any solution will look like? Completely. But I brought home, a feeling that cannot be reproduced. You have to go and see and feel for yourself.  It’s contagious from the moment you enter the land, you can’t help, but feel something. It’s not just in the holy city of Jerusalem, but it’s throughout the entire country. I’m far from an expert on the conflict, but I think one of the first steps to ending the conflict and finding real peace is taking a step back and remembering where you are, the birthplace of love.

Emi

I remember dipping my hands in the Sea of Galilee, cupping the water, and drinking from it. I honestly didn’t expect it to be so fresh and I was surprised that I didn’t get extremely sick or poisoned somehow. It was naturally pure. Every place on earth has its issues, but the true beauty lies in the way that we overcome those issues. Of course there is conflict when discussing Israel or Palestine, but there is no conflict when you genuinely speak to the people. I remember being led on a graffiti tour in Tel Aviv and seeing artwork that was inspired by internal and external conflicts the state of Israel faces and it brought me hope because it showed that there are good people everywhere. I remember speaking with Arabs from Bethlehem in Area C of the west bank and cracking jokes and laughing  with them at their workplace. I remember having fun at a new years party in Tel Aviv and praying under the foundation stone in the well of spirits only a few days afterward. It does indeed have something for everyone who is willing to go and experience the state first hand, regardless of how religious or secular an individual is. God willing the state of Israel and the state of Palestine will be neighboring states and find peace as the people who live in these countries are full of love.

Devin

I think what matters most to me is remember where I was and what it means to the people of Israel. I don’t think I realized what the land meant to all the residents of Israel. I understand why so many politicians run away from commenting on the issue, it’s messy. As someone that chooses not to focus on international issues because there is so much work to do at home, this trip had pushed me to think on a larger scale. Emi and I came and left from Israel with two very different perspectives, but we both focused on the land. The physical space that makes up Israel is why I have hope for the conflict. Despite being a place that has seen bloodshed and warfare consistently it has maintained its beauty. It is still a beacon of hope.

Beginnings of February

Recently I started going back to the Asian American Christian Fellowship large group meetings on Thursday nights. I had night classes last semester and was unable to attend for awhile. It has been amazing to witness the group grow in size, to meet new underclassmen, and to realize the change that has come about since I joined as a freshman. During our large group last Thursday, we talked about obstacles we face in life, which was preceded by a session on the meaning of life two weeks ago. It has been helpful for me to make time to reflect on my experiences and to hear about what old and new friends are going through. I think overall I have become more confident and independent, more invested in environmental concerns. This last semester, I hope to be a better friend and build the foundation for life-long relationships. I still have trouble with time management, however, and have come to the conclusion that I must learn to let go of some things and to more efficient in working. I have been praying much more for my friends and family, and about things out of my control, which has brought a sense of hope and peace within me. I am excited for what is to come in 2018!

And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

Lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. I have two internships, classes, and my interfaith fellowship. I’m passionate about all of these things, but as a graduating senior, finding time to put together applications, visit the career center and schedule interviews…I’m feeling the pressure. Over the weekend, I was starting to feel hopeless. There’s no way I can do all of this. Starting the week, I had to commit my mind to both accomplishing the tasks at hand and taking care of myself. I thought of one of my favorite prayers.

God grant me the courage to face the things that I can change…

I’ve made commitments. I’ve promised to apply to a range of jobs and learn as much as I can about my possible paths. I’m determined to put my best work forth both academically and professionally. I’ve also vowed not to let the stress impact the way I treat others. I wanted to spend more quality time with friends–I put my phone on silent and away when I’m with them. I wanted to show my parents that I appreciate their support–I call them just to talk, not only when something is wrong and I need help. I want to strengthen my relationship with God–I put everything aside on Sundays to devote my energy to prayer.

and to accept the things that I cannot…

Some things are out of my control. The job market is complicated, I may not get every interview I want. That’s ok. I have to get sleep, I may not finish every single reading for every class each week. That’s alright too. Sometimes, I won’t be able to get my walk in or I’ll cheat on my healthy eating habits. That’s going to happen. The important thing is to keep trying, and to follow the advice of my best friend: Forgive yourself.

and the wisdom to know the difference.

For me, this last line is what I like to call an “offering up.” Knowing the difference means striving to be the best version of yourself, but also taking some of that burden off and placing trust in God. It’s not quite “everything happens for the reason” or “whatever is meant to be will be,” but an acceptance that wherever you may find yourself, you have the power to make the best of that situation. Doing that on your own is tough, but I’ve found going through that with God can be a beautiful, albeit challenging experience.

In my new job I face a lot of situations I’ve never been in. It can be scary. At the end of the day I have to remind myself of a few aspects of my personal philosophy: Be proud when you overcome an obstacle. See struggles as an opportunity. Ask for help. You’re never going through life alone.

In the Beginning…

Last Thursday, I was tasked with reading Genesis for my English class. The class deals with major works and authors including the likes of Virgil and Homer, and yes the Bible too. I bought the required King James Version Bible to study and write in throughout the semester so I wouldn’t mark up my third grade bible with words like “simile” or “assonance.” This $1.50 used KJV Bible I bought off of Amazon felt quite different in my hands than the one I had always read growing up at Sunday School. I felt weird. Almost uncomfortable even.

Nevertheless, I sat at my desk Thursday evening, and once again read those famous words, “In the beginning…” I continued on through the rest of the first three chapters assigned and once I finished I paused for a moment. I realized that this was the first time in awhile I had sat down and read scripture outside of  reading on Sundays at the lectern or in the pews. Maybe that’s why I was uncomfortable after all. It became fairly clear to me that reading scripture outside of church was a missing link in my faith. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but why is it that I forget, or rather decide to forget to read scripture on my own time?

So after this experience, I set a goal to read the Bible cover to cover by the end of the semester. With many challenging situations and obstacles to overcome this semester, I realize now that I need to do more than just pray and reflect and attend. I need to read and learn and listen.

The Holy City

How often do we ignore the issues facing others when we only think of ourselves? Why do we do this to others and to ourselves? The city of Jerusalem has been claimed by both Israeli’s and Palestinians the capital of each nation; however, it is not internationally recognized in any nations favor. The old city and the Dome of The Rock are both cultural UNESCO world heritage sites and as a practicing muslim, I cannot wait to visit. Visiting this city is a pilgrimage to Jews, christians, and Muslims and visiting the sites important to the faith are great; but I am much more interested in meeting the people and hearing what they have to say. Whether people believe East and West Jerusalem should belong to separate nations per the pre -1967 borders, or Jerusalem should be a city under one state, or a city under international control, its important to understand its cultural, historical and religious significance. Many who study the region in a contemporary mind want to attribute the problems of Jerusalem with regards 1948; however, we also forget that this city has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and recaptured 44 times. The city is like the world in the way that it wasn’t made for one person or a particular group, but for us all. It will not fall.

“Both…And”

As 2017 draws to a close, I thought I’d share the biggest thing it’s taught me:There are more answers than yes and no.

Okay, I already knew this, but 2017 has reaffirmed it.

2017 was the year I wanted to finally figure out exactly what I thought about everything in the world. This was going to be the year of “deep dives”.

I think there’s a lot of pressure to have an established worldview that can be applied flawlessly to any and all situations. I don’t have one. And, probably because college was sold to me as a magical time when a switch would flip, I feel like I should. So, all year, I’ve been working on pulling together something coherent.

I do know that such a thing probably doesn’t exist. I do know, that humans are wired to prefer cohesion and straight lines, but that the world is complex. I want one anyway.

Yet, after a year of thinking and assessing, it’s become obvious I don’t have a single worldview. My opinion changes case by case( ask me about the NFL today and again on Sunday and I’ll give completely different answers). That’s really frustrating to me. I like to achieve my goals and the inconsistency of my feelings makes me uncomfortable.I have spent a year trying to identify what my thoughts are around any given issue, what informs those thoughts and their implications.I’ve examined why I hold conflicting opinions and attempted to distinguish which is more reasonable, more universally applicable. It’s been exhausting. And I didn’t find the switch.

I now believe that I will never hold entirely complementary views. Our world is so boiled down to talking points, three minute videos,1000 word op-ed’s and loud noises that we forget how incapable those things are of capturing the true complexity of this beautiful mess of a  world we’ve been given. This year I have had the pleasure of learning more about myself and the world I walk in, recognizing and appreciating my inconsistencies. The pressure for everything we think and are to fit neatly in boxes we can check on some form is  tragic because it inhibits our ability to recognize that this is a “both..and” world. Complicated things are…complicated. They’re overwhelming. They may even take more than a year to figure out. But, they’re also exhilarating and worth muddling through.

I guess I’m really just rediscovering the essential truth of myself.My life is one of contradictions and gray spaces, I’ve never fit neatly in a checked box. I am, at my core, a “both..and” person. We probably all are. I’m going to let myself be that.

 

Refinement of Moral Decision/Ethical Decision Making

Recently, I have begun to really consider how I think about ethical or moral decisions, and what traditions/ideas influence me.

When pressed in the past, my personal system for decisions and ethical beliefs went along the lines of something like this:
1. The moral decisions I make are based on the golden rule.
2. My values and ideals are influenced by my faith and communities I am a part of.
3. My ideas on actual practical ideas relating to a moral problem or question are based on a moral collective I construct, usually consisting of my various mentors, religious teachers, and close friendships.

It dawned on me that I am not really answering the question. This system I am describing is merely a descriptor of how I gather my ethical ideas, but not the actual basis for them. Further, I would argue it is impossible to truly and reliably measure the moral goodness of an action, as it depends on what one truly believes is good. That being said, I think the majority of humanity would agree certain ideas or experiences are better or worse than others. But, at the same time, it’s also hard to define absolutes.

Upon reflection, I think my actual values follow this personal construct:
1. My actions toward other beings reflect my actions towards God. That I do unto others, I do unto Christ..and consequently I do unto myself, for Christ lives within me. Therefore, my beliefs require that my actions affirm and respect the humanity and divinity in others and myself. If my actions reliably make me more selfless, and empathetic, then such actions are arguably beneficial.
2. My values of faith and respect of humanity come first when different values are in conflict in regards to ethics surrounding other human beings. My values of faith and respect of humanity require me to consider the values of others in these scenarios.
3. My values of personal identity, personal security, love, loyalty, family, faith, and diversity come first when different values are in conflict in regards to ethics surrounding myself. These values are based on experiences and metrics that I define as goodness in my personal life – and these ethical values are occasionally upheld by empirical data, emotional conscience, or historical and/or personal reasoning for such metrics. Such historical reasoning come from art or spiritual literature and texts. When necessary, I can affirm my own values in a discussion of values and perspectives, respecting my own humanity by knowing that I have something to offer to the table. All my decisions spring forth from reflections on these values and the different texts and constructed information connected to these values and metrics.

Maybe this is how I relate to ethics and morality. I believe there is no perfect system to face an ethical dilemma as most ethical systems fail specific cases. These cases are usually solved by other ethical systems – much like most computer algorithms fail corner-case examples that are better solved by other algorithms. I guess that’s why I value diversity.

An Open Letter to the Spencer Family

To the Spencer Family,

Today you lost a father, a husband and a friend. Michael Spencer, or to me Mr. Spencer, was a warrior. It was people like him that made me fall in love with the church. I don’t know why things like this have to happen to great people like Mr. Spencer and the Spencer family, but today my church and his family lost a warrior. I can’t imagine what your family is feeling today and will feel for the next few months and years. I went home for Thanksgiving just a few weeks ago and I had an awesome worship experience at church. As I was headed to the car, Mr. Spencer stopped me, gave me a hug and then told me how proud he was of everything I was doing. I replied “I’m trying” and he said “no you’re doing.” That’s the last conversation I will ever have with Mr. Spencer. He did what he usually did for me, he gave me uplift. Thanksgiving 2017.

I can’t pretend that Mr. Spencer and I were super close, we met my senior year of high school. I remember his family joining the church and him giving his everything to the church. I remember helping him learn the sound system and when I left for college he always making a point to let me know how proud he was of me. It feels surreal to lose a friend like Mr. Spencer so my heart hurts to think about how you, his family, feels. I said a prayer this morning that God would meet every need in your family and I don’t know how that happens, but I trust in God and his plan. Mr. Spencer leaves a legacy of love and a spirit of doing anything that God asked him to do. In our church, he met a need and was faithful. Individuals like Michael Spencer make the church work. I’m praying for your family and that God give you strength. Your husband, your father, and your friend lived a life full of love for God, that will never be forgotten.

I share with you the agony of your grief,
   The anguish of your heart finds echo in my own.
   I know I cannot enter all you feel
   Nor bear with you the burden of your pain;
I can but offer what my love does give:
   The strength of caring,
   The warmth of one who seeks to understand
   The silent storm-swept barrenness of so great a loss.
This I do in quiet ways,
   That on your lonely path
   You may not walk alone.

– Howard Thurman

With Love,

Devin Harvin

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I got a little bit excited just typing out that title and thinking about my father’s impeccable Andy Williams impersonation. According to the massive evergreen in Quincy Market, the holiday season has officially arrived. But, as the daily devotion in my inbox and my daunting finals schedule have reminded me, it’s not quite Christmas yet. And I’m going to keep ignoring the second of those reminders.

Sunday kicked off my absolute favorite season, liturgically referred to as Advent, but even outside its religious context, the month of December seems to fill everyone with excitement and anticipation. I love this time of year because everything seems to sparkle; from Christmas lights on the street to the first flakes of falling snow (although even in Boston we’re still waiting on that winter weather). In December, the whole world seems to get glitzed up for one last celebration of life before we kick off the next trip around the sun. It’s a time for forgiveness, reflection and hope for what’s to come next. As a senior, that last bit is really resonating with me this year. In just a few more weeks I’ll have new classes, new opportunities, and a new internship with the International Institute of New England helping to resettle refugees. I love how December makes everything feel so special.

I started thinking about how can be a little more like December. I was thinking of an amazing woman I’ve met this year and why I (and just about everyone else) love being around her. A friend described it perfectly: “Some people just have this amazing ability to make everyone feel special.” My goal for this season is to practice that myself. If I have something nice to say, I’ll say it. If someone needs a friend, I’ll be there. If thanks are due, I’ll give them. Hopefully, I can be a part of what makes this time of the year so wonderful.