‘This I Believe’ Meditations

May 13th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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John 17:6-19

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Robin Masi – Ed.D – Educational Leadership and Policy Studies; SED’18 

I believe in the power of art to transcend boundaries that words cannot provide.

I believe that living the life of an artist and teaching art students one needs to learn from those that have gone before us.

This has brought me to think about my own role model, Sister Marie deSales Dinneen and one of her role models while she attended Boston University over 50 years ago. She encouraged me to attend B.U. for my doctorate in education – her beloved alma mater.

Sr. Marie always knew she wanted to be a nun. She was a devoted sister, teacher to the “youngsters” at Regis as she called them, and a rabid Boston sports fan.

Sr. first attended Harvard University on a full scholarship. She studied the classics which as she put it “was like crucifying myself” so she transferred to Boston University and for the next 10 years she received her PhD in art history and then another bachelors and masters from the College of Fine Arts. She never exhibited her work but wanted to be the best teacher for her students. Her own art work was phenomenal and included joyous themes of complex compositions of parades, holidays, and other multi-group outings.

Phillip Guston is one of the most well-known abstract expressionist artists whose oversized canvases of Klansmen, fat men in cigars, and other aggressive imagery was painted in violent and expressive tones of black, gray and red. His work dealt head-on with social and political issues and he has exhibited internationally for decades. I couldn’t imagine two more different people or artists. Phillip was one of Sr. Marie’s professors here at BU.

Sister once told me “My first introduction to Phillip was when I was sitting in class, in layperson’s clothing as this was after Vatican II, and he looked at me and said,

‘And I see we have Marie Dinneen from Weston. Are you one of those ladies who are here because your husband says you are a good painter?

“Not quite,” Sr. Marie recounted. “I’m a teacher at Regis College and I’m here like everybody else in that I want to learn about art.”

She recalled another conversation.

“I was early for class one day and my work was on the board ready for a critique. It was a jumble of gesture drawings of Archbishop Cushing with kids making their confirmation.”

Phillip asked ‘is that yours, Marie? I think I see a cardinal – he’s holding his hand out to the great unwashed.”

“Yes,’ she said – ‘he has a special way of doing it’ and I flung my hand out – and he said humorously, ‘that’s it, Marie, we’re the great unwashed!” They had a good laugh together and he became one of the best critiquers of her work.

“I grew to like him very much,” she said.
When she learned of her acceptance to the MFA program at CFA another professor said,

‘Marie, you’d be interested to know that the one who went to bat for you the most to get into the MFA program was Phillip.”

I believe Sr. Marie found her place here at B.U., and so did I. Just like she said I would.

I believe that when you follow those who have come before you, you always end up in the right place.

Anne Marie Kelley – MS -Project Management; MET’18

At 59 I may not be the oldest graduate this year, but I most certainly am not the youngest. However, I believe that if you are open to changing, to enriching your life through learning, you can do anything.

I believe in the power of a smile; it’s a non-verbal sign of encouragement, a universal sign of welcome, a way to say I see you and you are not alone.

I believe in the power of laughter; it can ease tense moments, make us realize that you don’t have to take everything in life so seriously.

I believe in celebrating small successes. Many of our goals in life, like pursuing a degree, will take time to achieve. Celebrating the small successes helps recharge our batteries so we can continue pursuing our goals.

I believe in faith, in yourself, in your friends and family and in God. Faith gives you the courage and strength to keep moving forward, to overcome obstacles. Faith gives you hope.

I believe it’s okay to not be perfect, even sometimes to fail; it builds coping skills and the perseverance you need to keep moving forward.

I believe in the power of grit, of holding on, of hanging in there even when times are difficult, as this prepares you for whatever happens in your life, and it is a necessary ingredient for success in whatever endeavor you undertake.

I believe in the power of asking for help and offering to help. We all have different skills and talents and sharing these talents will help us make the world a better place.

I believe in the power of embracing diversity. By learning about others you learn more about yourself. You come to realize that we have more in common than in our differences.

This commencement is a double blessing for me as my son is also graduating and earning his undergraduate degree. I know that parents of all graduates – whether from the US or from another country, no matter their race, religion or socio- economic status, want the same as I want for my son; an opportunity to have a good life, to be productive, to define and achieve their own success and happiness, to know that they are loved, and to be able to love themselves and others.

I believe it does ‘take a village’ to raise a child. It’s our job to help the next generation; to ensure that we leave this world in the hands of those capable to make the world a better place.

And, I do believe even an old dog can learn new tricks, if they are willing and if they have the love and support of family and friends. After all none of us travels this journey of life alone, we need each other to become the best version of ourselves.

Evan Armacost -BA/MA – Classical Studies; CAS/GRS’18

“Take, Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.” So begins Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Suscipe prayer that changed my life a little more

than one year ago. My faith journey at Boston University began with a certain hesitation; styles of worship and community were very different from my home parish in Evanston, IL, compounding on the homesick anxieties of going to college halfway across the country. For too long my Catholicism felt like a crystal cup I had inherited from my family and parish community: something that I was obligated to protect but that was not entirely mine. I turned instead to academics for consolation and validation, filling my schedule and my identity with studies and professional aspirations while growing increasingly empty.

As my spirit and selfhood reached a chilling nadir I embarked on my long-awaited semester abroad in Rome which would become the beginning of a pilgrimage that continues to this day. There I felt drawn to pray, to journal, to re-evaluate my life and its meaning in new ways. One word kept tugging at my heart: surrender. Such a prospect terrified me. I had spent a year and a half deeply curved in on myself in a relentless quest to achieve some ever-distant “success.” What would it mean to let go?

My wrestling inclinations came to a head during an Art History field trip to the Chiesa della Gesù, mother church of the Jesuits. From the moment I entered the church I came to the realization that for years I had been chasing my pride and ambitions ahead of God’s wishes for me. I resolved to turn my life back toward God and outside of myself, in whatever way the Lord would invite me. Be warned: “Ask and you shall receive!” Kneeling before the tomb of Saint Ignatius on the church’s left side I found an English prayer card with the text of the Suscipe.

“Whatever I have or possess You have given to me; to You I return it and hand it over to be governed by Your will.”

As I read words that promised a radical gift of self beyond my boldest imaginings I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I had never understood that this phrase, so often found in Scripture, was more than metaphor: it was an all-encompassing sensation. I became empowered and encouraged by a love I had nearly forgotten. It was then that I knew that, even if I gave God everything, I would lack nothing.

From that day to the present I have endeavored to share the love that I experienced in Rome. I make eye contact, I smile, I listen – really listen. Academics instead of an end themselves are now a means to that greatest End, God, and bring me great joy. The BU Catholic Center, always a space where I felt welcome, has become a second home. By the wisdom of the Holy Spirit I have decided to enter the Jesuits after my time at Boston University comes to an end. I do not know all that my future holds, but I have learned to trust those final words of Ignatius’ prayer:

“May you give to me only Your love and grace and I will be rich enough, nor will I ask for anything more.”

Nichholas Rodriguez – BS – Computer Engineering; ENG’18 

In my four years, I am not sure if I could reduce what I believe to a set of theological statements or ideas. I think if someone were to ask me, “what do you believe?,” I would maybe point them to the set of creedal statements that the Reverend Dean Hill mentioned months ago in a sermon titled A Word in the Wilderness. There, among other statements, he said:

“God is love…[and]
Life is a sacred journey to freedom.”

I would also maybe point to Mike McHargue’s Axioms about Faith, where he states:

“Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality…, [and]

God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases.”

While my theology has changed over these last four years, I would say the real change in what I believe is not exactly the base narratives of my own personal creeds, but rather my attitudes about them.

For our personal creeds deal with what it means to be.

In these last four years, I oftentimes found myself trying to find the courage to be in the midst of the many tensions that exist within our modern, globalized societies and within my own story as I wrestled with my own humanity.

In my four years here, I wrestled with doubt and the seemingly endless conflicts between my scientific intuition and my living, breathing faith.

I wrestled with the dark nights in my soul, I wrestled with failures and loss, and I wrestled with the implications of my own smallness and our Pale Blue Dot’s fragileness in a large, cold universe, and with the death of my God felt at the loss of my Freshman year’s neatly wrapped up faith. But, in the death of my God, I felt for a moment a connectedness between everything and the energy within myself keeping me alive. I felt, for a moment, existence itself.

I wrestled with what it meant to hold convictions and identities in a pluralistic world. In my four years here, I figured out really quickly that life does not make perfect sense, and that while there are wrongs and there are injustices in our world that we need to resist, I also learned that humanity’s distinct and diverse set of religious, spiritual and cultural identities are all beautiful – and that unity is not uniformity.

In my wrestling, I often felt connected to something greater. In the many conversations I had with colleagues surrounding justice, meaning, and the future of our world, there were times when I felt morealive. I felt the energy within me beating and a connection within myself to the millennia of traditions and ideas that are constantly in conversation with me. For moments, I felt the words of prophets and teachers, of the New Being and of Spirit, working through me. A few times, I felt for moments that these stories, my culture, my faith, and these conversations truly matter.

So, in my experiences I learned to be thankful, to listen, to empathize, and to engage.

We exist for the time we do, and in every moment, we have the opportunity to engage. We have the opportunity to engage with ourselves, with what we care about, with our world, with those around us, and with the Ground of Being from which we exist.

And, it is within wrestling with this holy tension and our own humanities, it is within our engaging with those of whom we may be unfamiliar, and it is within our finding the common ground(s) binding us, where we may see the face of God.

Marritt Nowak – BA – International Relations; CAS/Pardee’ 18

I believe in change. Four years ago I made a decision. After fourteen years of faith-based education at my Catholic school in St. Louis, I was ready for a change. I went from a class just short of one hundred girls to my undergraduate year at BU, with nearly four thousand students from all over the world. Different. Boston University, with its promise of diversity, urban environment and New England weather promised to be the exact opposite of what I had grown accustomed to. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Of course, what we think when we first arrive as undergraduates and what we know when we leave also tend to be completely different things. Just a few weeks in to freshman year, I was invited to hear the Marsh Chapel Choir perform one of their exquisite Bach cantatas. I had always loved classical music, and a new friend would be singing, it sounded like a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning. The moment I entered this space I felt overwhelmed with welcoming smiles, friendly handshakes and of course the thoughtful preaching and beautiful music. I was home.

My visits increased in frequency, cantata after cantata, fellowship events with the global ministry department, and holy week services bringing me further and further into this community, something I had not anticipated as I tried to break out of what I thought was faith boxing me in. But that wasn’t the case at all, faith was the very thing opening doors to the diversity and new experiences I craved when I first began my journey. Before I knew it I was back in religion classes, eventually choosing to minor in the subject and visiting the chapel whenever I was free for interfaith fellowship events. I knew I needed to bring the welcoming spirit and positive energy I encountered in this space to more communities. This semester, I have welcomed refugees to a new country, using the warmth and earnest kindness I learned from Marsh Chapel. I had the privilege of assisting new arrivals in obtaining vital social services. It was waiting in lines or on hold, advocating for the people who had next to no one in their corner, that I learned to believe in welcome.

I arrived here unsure of what faith even means, completely out of touch with the things that I believe. The picture is not yet crystal clear, and I assume parts of it will shift and change forms throughout my life, but the pieces have begun to come together. I believe that difference is a good thing, that it makes us stronger. I believe that true community is not founded on mere tolerance, but strengthened by pluralism that embraces diversity, welcomes changes and blossoms with compassion. Going forward, I have learned not only to be open to the differences I encounter in others, but ready to accept change within myself. I came to BU with a desire to change the world; I leave here with the hope that the world will continue to change me.

 

Easter Remembrance

May 6th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

 

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John 15:9-17

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-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Easter Alleluia

April 29th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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John 15: 1-8

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Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

A Broken Alleluia in Worship

            An Easter Alleluia is a broken Alleluia.  The Alleluia of Easter, sung in worship, awaited in history, and made flesh in your precious life, is ever a broken one.  The resurrection follows the cross, but the resurrection does not replace it. We walk by faith not by sight.  We have this treasure in earthen vessels. We hope for what we do not see. And what we do see is what we see in a mirror—dimly.  We need not over-preach, even in the glorious season of Easter. An Easter Alleluia is broken Alleluia.  The Alleluia of Easter, sung in worship, awaited in community, and made flesh in life, is ever a broken one.  The resurrection follows the cross, but the resurrection does not replace it.  Can you sing a broken alleluia?

            For here we are, just for a moment, in worship.  Singing the hymns of Easter.  Hearing the Easter word.  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            For a moment, move by the imagination to a borrowed upper room, say in Ephesus.  Candles burn.  A meal has been offered and received.  There is among the fifty, say, there present, a gradual settling, a quiet.  It may be a long quiet, starting from that late first century numinous circle and ending—here, now.   Acute pain abides in this circle, the pain of the loss of a beloved leader, the pain of the loss of a venerable religious tradition, the pain of the loss of a prized eschatological hope—love, faith, and hope, lost. Broken.

            Yet as the circle settles, a prayer and reading and a further silence and a long hymn sung, ALL Who has held them SPEAKS.  In the silence and in the singing and in then the antiphonal, mournful and joyful, worship antiphon.

            A verbal, spoken, uttered opening upon Ultimate Reality.

            How shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed…?

            I am…light, life, resurrection, way, truth, Good Shepherd, door, bread, water.

            I am…the true vine. You shall know…’the truth’.  That they may know Thee the only ‘true’ God.

            Every heart has secret sorrows.  Every land has cavernous grief. For the antiphonal, ancient singers of our scriptural broken alleluia, the hurts are dislocation, disappointment and departure.

            Antiphon: ‘Abide in me…As I abide in you’.  Stay. Remain.  Settle.  Dig in. Locate.  Vines take a long time to grow.  But so?More than any other living scholar, John Ashton (The Gospel of John and Christian Origins) has pierced the meaning of this passage, and others like it. 

            Ashton: John’s portrait of Jesus arose from his constant awareness, which he shared with members of his community, that they were living in the presence of the Glorified One.  So dazzling was this glory, that any memory of a less-than-glorious Christ was altogether eclipsed.

            Ashton: ’The fear and anger of the Johannine community, as they see themselves exiled from the synagogue by those they call the Jews, is…projected back upon the life of Jesus’…’They had a burning conviction that they had been given the truth (led into all truth) and that through this truth they would come to enjoy a freedom that would release them from the constraints to which they were subjected: ‘the truth will set you free’’(95)

            Ashton: Conscious as they were of the continuing presence in their midst of the Glorified One, no wonder the community, or rather the evangelist who was its chief spokesman, smoothed out the rough edges of the traditions of the historical Jesus and expanded the points into stars. (They) realized that the truth that they prized as the source of their new life was to be identified not with the Jesus of history but with the risen and glorious Christ, and that this was a Christ free from all human weakness.  The claims they made for him were at the heart of the new religion that soon came to be called Christianity. (199)  The difference between John’s portrait of Christ and that of the Synoptists is best accounted for by the experience of the glorious Christ constantly present to him and his community (204)

            Ashton:  Some in the Johannine community spoke in the voice of Jesus.  Especially this is so in the ‘I Am’ sayings.  If Jesus on earth did not say these things who did?  Answer:  the Johannine prophet (s).

            Can you sing a broken alleluia?  Every hymn, for all its joy, carries a guttural memory of acute hurt.  In worship, can you sing for joy without forgetting the brokenness out of which that alleluia comes?  Let Charles Wesley, let Charles Tindley, let the poor of your past guide you.

A Broken Alleluia in History

            Or what about your place in history, our communal responsibility in real time?  A surface glide across Holy Scripture will not allow, cannot provide gospel insight.  You want to sift the Scriptures.  You want to know them inside and out, upside and down, through and through and through, and then, it may be, by happenstance or grace or the clumsy luck of a very human preacher, you may hear a steadying, saving word.  Look back an Easter month. There’s a blaze of light in every word. Not activism alone, but engagement matter most in history.

            Through this Easter season, Easter tide, you have perhaps noticed, noted, or winced to hear the letter of John, 1 John, amending, redacting, muting and amplifying the gospel of John.  You are keen listeners, practiced and adroit, so you will have wondered a bit about this. Why does 1 John nip at the heels of John?

      The two ‘books’ are written by different authors, in different decades, in different circumstances, with different motives.  The Gospel acclaims Spirit.  The Letter adds in work, ethics, morals, community, tradition, leadership and judgment from on high, rather than judgment by belief and by believer.  We may just have, it is important to say, the Gospel as part of the New Testament, with all its radicality, due to its brother named letter, vouching as it were for the sanity of the Gospel.  The letter, like James Morrison Witherby George Dupree, takes good care of its Gospel mother, the very cat’s mother, you see.  Milne:  James James

Morrison Morrison

Weatherby George Dupree

Took great

Care of his Mother

Though he was only three.

James James

Said to his Mother,

“Mother,” he said, said he;

“You must never go down to the end of the town, if

you don’t go down with me.”

            On April 8, the Gospel in chapter 20 revealed the Spirit, elsewhere called Paraclete or Advocate, come upon us, received and with it received the forgiveness of sins.  But at the heels, nipping, comes along 1 John in chapter 2, which names the Paraclete or Advocate not as Spirit but as Jesus Christ—the righteous—whose commandments all are to keep, on pain of disobedience become lying, and truth taken flight.  Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            On April 15, the Gospel still lingering with the Lord and God risen, the letter in Chapter 3, on the qui vive and on the attack, spells out again in no uncertain terms that the righteous do the right, handsome is as handsome does. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            On April 22, the Gospel in chapter 10 acclaiming the pastoral image of the Good Shepherd, whose one glorification on the cross is meant to obliterate the need of any other such, the letter, worried, worries out in chapter 3, a long and sorry recollection of Cain—Abel’s one-time brother—and the demands of love from one who laid down his life, and with whom and for whom we are then meant to do something of the same.  ‘Let us not love in word and speech but in deed and truth’, says 1 John 3, when the whole of the Gospel says the opposite, that words outlast deeds, and that speech, that of the glorious Risen, ever routs works. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            And now today, April 29, when and where our one Great Gospel, the Spiritual Gospel, counsels ‘abide’ and ‘remain’ in chapter 15, just here the letter of 1 John in chapter 4, fearing antinomial abandon, frolicking, deadly afraid that someone somewhere might be at peace or, worse, having fun, appends to his own most beautiful love poem, the charge again of lying, of lack of love of brother, of schism that surely created this letter, 1 John, as the spiritualists and the traditionalists, the Gnostics and the ethicists, parted company, one toward the free land of Montanus and Marcion, the other toward Rome and the emerging church, victorious, against which the Gospel was born, bred, written and preached. Both read on the same Sunday, within minutes of each other, even as they face each other with daggers drawn.

            Of course, both are right.  Or we would not still need or read them, let alone together.  But you are right, too, to feel some neck pain, some whiplash, as Gospel soars and Letter deflates.  It is as if the Song of Solomon is being sung by Obededom.

            The blessed Scripture bears incontrovertible, conflicted witness.  Easter is a broken Alleluia, and was so already 20 centuries ago, as the resurrection cross of Jesus was raised up, in mournful joy, in a real joy made real by its honesty about sorrow.  History is endless contention and intractable difference, including religious history, perhaps especially including religious history.

            You then, in real time, as we read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read. You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis,which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.

            There may well come a time, for you, as a person of faith, to say something or do something, a time when some somewhat risky and uncomfortable mode of social involvement will beckon you.  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

 A Broken Alleluia in Ljfe

            The more ample capacity of our northern neighbors to live in dialectic, including an Easter one, may help us today.

            Montreal self-deprecating Canada joke:  Montreal could have had the best of all worlds—British culture, American government and French cuisine; instead it got American culture, French government and British cuisine.  When you cross the border there are questions:  What is your name?  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  Do you have anything to declare?  Can you sing a broken Easter alleluia?  There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            On the Canadian border, Jan, 1982 or 3, after the 9am service: ‘Was that an Easter sermon?’  We tried unsuccessfully to raise it from the dead before 11am.  A broken alleluia.

         And speaking of Montreal, Leonard Cohen, said of his broken alleluia: “It explains that many kinds of hallelujahs doexist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have equal value.I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world.”  John was there before him, by 20 centuries. There’s a blaze of light in every word.

            You can’t get very close to Jesus (or Martin King or Howard Thurman or John the Divine) without prayer, hymnody, meditation, reading, study, Scripture, worship, preaching—RELIGION.

            Hear the Gospel!  Christ is Risen, absent and present, waiting to be heard at bedside above the rancorous cacophony about, shorn of his burial clothes, speaking to and through the spiritual confusion, the spiritual Alzheimer’s affliction of life.   There’s a blaze of light in every word.  Word broken or word holy.

            Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing hallelujah

Hallelujah

 You say I took the name in vain

I don’t even know the name

But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?

There’s a blaze of light in every word

It doesn’t matter which you heard

The holy or the broken hallelujah

Hallelujah 

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah

Hallelujah

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

On Love and Sheep

April 22nd, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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How wonderful it is that Spring has finally decided to slowly show its face in Boston again! While some of us are still waiting for that perfect spring day of 65 degrees and sunshine, we cannot help but notice that in the course of the last week the grass has become a bit greener and the trees seem to have finally awoken from their winter slumber, putting forth buds and flowers. As I left my office yesterday afternoon, groups of students on blankets and playing frisbee dotted the BU Beach here behind the chapel – a sure sign that spring must be on its way. This year’s winter felt especially long, but the promise of warmer days and returning greenery has boosted my mood, and maybe yours as well.

            It’s amazing how deeply we feel our connection to the world around us, most of the time unconsciously. You may remember an especially rainy or cold day from the last few weeks when you found it difficult to get out of the warmth of your bed in the morning. Or how upon viewing a sunset with especially vibrant hues of pink, purple, and blue you stood amazed for a moment and the grandeur of the sky before you. Or maybe event sitting beside a lake or pond finding calm as you heard the shallow waves lap upon the shoreline. Deep within ourselves we find a rootedness with nature that can affect how we view the world, ourselves, and others. Indeed, we are in relationship with our environment.

            A few weeks ago, on one of those unseasonably cold Monday afternoons, a friend asked me to come to her class on Spiritual Companioning to talk with her students about nature and environmentalism as a spiritual practice. Prepared with a copy of Nature as Spiritual Practiceby Steven Chase, I invited the students to take part in an exercise entitled “Imprinted by Nature.” The activity encouraged them to reflect upon the location they grew up in – the natural surroundings, sounds, and smells and how they engaged with nature in that location. And then they were asked to think about how it compares to the area they live in now. After some time for reflection, most of the students recalled a great fondness for the area they grew up in. They described aspects of the natural world that calmed them, that had special memories attached to them, or that highlighted relationships with other people, such as grandparents or childhood friends. In contrast, when they thought of their current location, they often found it difficult to feel that same sense of connection to the world around them. The activity’s intent was to enable the students to realize the way that we have been shaped by the world around us. The truth is, the environments we grow up in create a sort of imprint on us when we are young that tacitly resides within each one of us, but that can be stirred up at any time just by taking a few moments to sit and reflect or by even encountering similar moments in our lives today.

            As a spiritual practice, the reflection on our ties with nature also connects us with the Divine. Theologians throughout the history of Christianity have commented on the ways in which nature facilitates our relationship with God. John Wesley encouraged Christians to experience the “immensity and magnificence, the power and wisdom of (Earth’s) Creator” by reading nature as a sacred text, a “mighty volume.” Martin Luther’s emphasis on the nature of God being both transcendent and immanent, “present in, through, and under all things” provides us with glimpses of the divine through our interaction with the world around us. Even Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan theologian, declared that “Nature is God’s greatest evangelist.” We may also reflect on the words of the Psalmist, who in Psalm 23 depicts our encounter with God as a Shepherd who watches over us in green pastures with calm waters. Our full humanity can be expressed in connecting ourselves to the world around us and understanding that we, too, are a part of the divine creation of the earth.

            Our connections with nature and the divine also lead us to think about the ways we are in relationship with others in our communities. People, after all, are a part of the environment. We interact with each other in the context of our environments. Our environments impact how we are able to acquire food, where we can live, and even our mental health. We live in and associate ourselves with communities that determine what values we share and uphold, which can subsequently shape our attitude toward the environment. When there is a disconnect in any of these relationships, we can lose sight of the divine presence in the world, and injustice can become prevalent.

            Today, we celebrate Earth Day. This national observance began 48 years ago in 1970. Grassroots activists, including numerous college students, were concerned with the ways the environment’s quality was being degraded. In response, they hosted teach-ins, protests, and other demonstrations to get their message across – the kind of activism which has become more familiar to us over the past year. The result was a general push in society to pay more attention to the ways in which human action harms the planet. The feeling and meaning of Earth Day has continued to grow as the environmental challenges we face have changed over time. Thankfully, churches have increased their involvement in the day, becoming value-laden locations of exploring the ways humans need to see themselves as part of creation rather than as separate from it.

Over the past week, Marsh Chapel hosted a variety of events to encourage the student body and the surrounding community to think about the ways in which we relate to the Earth.  How human beings have harmed the earth, how we can adapt and try to heal some of the harm committed, and also see they affects that the harm has on members of our human community. It was a week of varied emotions. On Tuesday, I stood out on Marsh plaza with tiny terra cotta pots, paints, and tiny succulent plants for students to decorate their own succulent to take home – an event we called “Planting in the Spirit.” I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions of students upon finding out that they could take home their own tiny succulent for free – “You’re kidding me! They’re so cute! This is seriously bringing me so much joy right now!” (I may have removed some creative expletives the original speakers used). These grand positive reactions all from a tiny plant that they could use to green up their dorm or apartment. It gave them a sense of connection to the rest of creation just by having another living organism to care for and appreciate.

In contrast, last Sunday afternoon, we heard the concerns of students and community members alike as to whether Boston has entered into the emergency stage of global Climate Change at our conversation “Are We Climate Ready?.” It was fruitful exchange, but a sobering reminder that there is still a great amount of work we must do in order to ensure a sustainable future for our planet. Throughout the week’s events, we strove to foster conversations and actions for folks to think about the ways they have become disconnected from the world around them and how they can remedy that disconnection.

            But perhaps, in light of the theme Christian love found within today’s lectionary readings, the most meaningful of the events was a panel discussion on Thursday night. The panel was entitled “Is it Bougie to be Green?: The Gentrification of the Eco-Movement.” We co-hosted with it thEcology, the environmental student group at the School of Theology. For those of you unfamiliar with the slang term “bougie” it ultimately derives from the French word “bourgeousie” which became famous in the works of Karl Marx for identifying the upper class. Today, the term “bougie” is commonly used to mean “aspiring to be a higher class than one is.” The idea behind this panel was to bring together people of faith from different backgrounds to discuss how socioeconomic factors can hinder involvement in environmentalism, and to challenge the depiction of environmentalism as a white, middle-class issue or concern. Our panelists were all leaders within their faith communities who believe that environmental justice issues should be foundational and intersectional with other justice issues prevalent in our communities – economic justice, racial justice, gender equality, and others. The panelists spoke passionately about how their experiences within the local church and their communities had informed their understanding of environmental justice issues and how to handle them from a faith perspective. They cited that the mainstreaming or trend-setting aspects of environmentalism often make it difficult for some people, especially low-income people, to have access to environmental practices due to the influence of commodification. They pointed out how particular aspects of environmentalism require you to have a certain amount of expendable income in order to participate – in buying organic foods, having access to greenspaces where you live, or investing in sustainable energy. And most importantly, how low-income communities often feel the greatest impacts of environmental degradation but have little means to act against it and are frequently forgotten by mainstream activism.

            What became clear in this panel discussion was that environmentalism should not be co-opted by greenwashed idealism that neglects to recognize the many layers of injustice that exist due to the nature of our economic systems. While remembering our connection to the natural world absolutely has value in helping to shape our appreciation for it and can help us encounter the divine, our love and care for the Earth and everything in it cannot stop there. We have to be aware of the ways that climate change and other environmental issues are impacting communities, and how those communities are finding ways to respond within themselves. The reality is effects of climate change are already making climate refugees – people who are being displaced from their homes because of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and lack of access to potable water. And these people are disproportionately impoverished – living along coastlines, steep inclines, and flood plains. Or they reside in island nations who are not so slowly losing their home country as encroaching sea levels make it impossible for people to stay. Pacific Islanders, Alaskans, and others have already begun to feel these effects have to relocate. The impacts are not somewhere out in the future, but here already, today. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at a meeting about climate change in Indonesia, “The issue of equity is crucial. Climate affects us all, but does not affect us all equally.”

            As Christians we must stand to express Christ’s love fully into the world. In 1 John we are reminded that our task in the world to emulate the love that Christ showed through “laying down his life for us.” The epistle echoes the sentiment of what the Good Shepherd does in John chapter 10 – “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He is not forced into this self-sacrifice, but instead, of his own volition, chooses to give up his life in order to protect his flock. His sacrifice is not for power or glory or payment, but for the good of the flock whom he knows and loves. A shepherd, as a leader of a flock, does not just care about himself or herself, but must be invested in the lives of all of the members of his/her flock. We, as Christians, as followers of Christ, are the sheep in this metaphor, but as sheep we learn from the shepherd how to be in the world.

 The writer of 1 John explicates the description of the role of the Christian further: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The Christian cannot simply pay lip service to love, but instead must be willing to act out the words that he/she professes in order to fully enact God’s love in the world. God’s command to love one another is to love to the point of enabling the flourishing of other, even if it means making sacrifices for the self. We must first recognize the power that we hold which privileges us within society and then, instead of using that power over others, surrendering that power for the sake of others. We may be sheep, but we are sheep who are bathed in the love of God and expected to convey that love into the world.

In her recent book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, United Methodist elder, author, and activist Sharon Delgado reminds Christians that it is not only a sense of ethical responsibility that should drive us to take care of God’s creation, but also because we can see the value expressed in it. She states:

“A strong sense of the value of creation provides a foundation for actions to preserve, defend, and renew the natural world…creation has value for us because we love it and because through it we experience the divine. We protect and defend creation not because we should, but because we care. This sense of caring includes the human family and extends to all parts of creation.” (Delgado, 185)

We need to let our love of creation, grounded in those deep-rooted connections we have with our environment, guide us into respect for the Earth that leads to love and care. Delgado is right in pointing out that we must include both our human and our earth family in all senses of our caring. By enabling God’s love to flow through us, we can see hope in the face of daunting challenges.

            In light of these environmental challenges we now face, we must utilize our knowledge of God’s love to enact justice in the world. If we are fortunate to have the privilege of comfortable existence and can take on some of the more mainstream attitudes of environmental action, such as recycling, composting, or decreasing our carbon footprints, then we must also bring attention to the ways that communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities face the brunt of environmental injustices. We must find ways to be connected to these communities – to know our human neighbors as well as our environmental neighbors – in order to offer help in the most effective ways possible. We must speak truth to power when it comes to corporate practices that focus on making the maximum amount of profit at the expense of the livelihood of the most vulnerable within our society.  As we are led by the Good Shepherd who loves and comforts us, so too we must turn to the rest of our flock and find ways to express that love and care in the world around us.

As our antiphon stated today, “The Good Shepherd comes that we may have life and may have it abundantly.” Let us ensure that all have life abundantly.

Amen.

-Jessica Ann Hittinger Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

The Bach Experience

April 15th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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1 John 3: 1-7

Luke 24:36-48

Click here to listen to the Sermon

Personal Faith

 

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  

 

While personal faith is not merely individual faith, nonetheless, it is in persons, like you, that faith is received, and known, and nourished.   There is no hiding here, no hiding behind an unconsidered ignorance, nor behind a well-tempered philosophy, nor behind a mountainous and real hurt, nor behind sloth.  Your faith is yours, especially when it is about all you have left to go on.

 

So, you will continue, brightened by Easter, to develop and practice your faith.  We are not meant to live in Lent. We are meant to live in Easter. The difference Easter makes comes in part by way of a full body embrace of your own personal faith.

 

Do you know God to be a pardoning God?  Do you hope to be made whole in this lifetime?   

 

Knowing pardon, can you creatively and even at some risk, work with another whom you think needs your pardon, I beg your pardon, but who may himself think you need his?  Just how sharp is your faith in its faithful practice of what we pray, Come Sunday, ‘forgive…as we forgive’?

 

Longing for wholeness, can you creatively and even at some risk, take up work that you have long left behind, but you know is part of personal faith development—reading, prayer, giving, serving, listening?  Pardon? Wholeness? It is up to you.

 

Here the faithful Lutheran, JS Bach, can indeed help us, by means of his own example in faith.  His own Bible, we have recently been further taught, was laden with notes in the margin, questions, renderings, and ruminations.  

 

One may choose to play the piano again.  Another may take a language study. One may find a daily devotional reader, like the one my friend gave me by CS Lewis, which sits on my bureau so I can read it while tying my tie.  Another may sit in the quiet of the sanctuary for a while before worship, as did Emerson, I love the silent church before there is any speaking.  One may wander, saunter, flaneur dans le rue, walking for a bit every day (we even have a health group on the staff here doing so right now).  Another may start to journal, to record dreams, and to record insights, and to record angers and to record escapes. Teaching and learning are spiritual adventures in pursuit of invisibles and intangibles (W. Arrowsmith, as remembered by V. Kestenbaum).  Or, if nothing else, you can hardly do better than a conversation, in loving care, with another person of faith, over lunch, over coffee, over a beer, over the phone.  One may look hard at his sexual life, sexual activity, to see whether it becomes the gospel, and whether it approximates the very general guidance in the wisdom saying, In singleness integrity, in partnership fidelity.  At least one, probably, will choose to listen to the Marsh Chapel service, Come Sunday. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Dr. Jarrett:  in terms of today’s music, and text, what witness do you sense Bach brings us, of personal faith,  within the setting of this lovely cantata?

Bach

 

Today’s cantata, is, indeed, a lesson in faith, assurance, and the promise of God’s goodness in our lives. Cantata 69a – “Praise the Lord, o My Soul” was first performed on August 15, 1723, like all the cantatas in this year’s series, during Bach’s first three months as Cantor in Leipzig. We have seen in these cantatas not just a remarkable display of compositional craftsmanship, but also an authoritative theological understanding through both the compilation of the libretto and the setting of those texts. Cantata 69a features from beginning to end an exuberant and joyful hymn of praise of God and the good works that enable a life of faith. Opening with full festival forces with trumpets and timpani, Bach sets the words of Psalm 103, vs 2 in a marvelous double fugue. The music is absolutely radiant, brilliant, and brimming with the praise of all God’s faithful. With this rich texture, we can well imagine the sound of Wesley’s thousand tongues to sing the great Redeemer’s praise.

 

For Bach, the Gospel lesson of the day was from Mark 7, the account of Jesus healing the deaf man at the Sea of Galilee. As the cantata turns from corporate to personal praise, the soprano and tenor soloists join the voices that witnessed Jesus’s miracle proclaiming the goodness of his deeds, and the glory of God. The cheerful tenor aria is delightfully score for recorder and Oboe da caccia. Listen for the extended line that Bach writes for the word erzähle or “declare”, and like the man whose tongue Jesus loosed, the tenor promises a “Gott gefällig Singen durch die frohe Lippen” or a “God pleasing singing though joyful lips.”

 

With the following alto recit, we turn inward to remember our human frailty and shortcomings. With further reminder of the Gospel lesson, the alto calls on God to utter his mighty ‘Ephphata’ just as Jesus did in Mark 7:34. From the singing of that Aramaic word meaning “Be opened”, the otherwise syllabic recitative opens to a lovely melody on the words, “so wird mein Mund voll Dankens sein!” “ Then my mouth will be full of thanks!”

 

The bass aria which follows affirms God as Redeemer and Protector. The believer, here the voice of the bass, pens himself to Christ’s Cross and Passion, pledging to praise at all times. In the same way that Christ gladly took up the cross, thereby exalting his Passion, we, too, will rejoice and sing praise in our own Cross-bearing and suffering. Note the stark contrast of the lines for Kreuz und Leiden (Cross and Suffering) with “singt mein Mund mit Freuden” (My mouth sings with joy).

 

The final Chorale echoes the close of Mark 7 proclaiming “He hath done all things well!” “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, darbei will ich verbleiben.” Because God holds me in a fatherly embrace in his arms, I will let him alone govern me. Confidence, assurance, affirmation, and ultimately, faith to live in freedom, and freedom to live by faith.  

Social Involvement

 

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  Of deep personal faith, and active social involvement.

 

On the front porch of our beloved Marsh Chapel stands John Wesley, preaching, who reminds us that there is no holiness save social holiness (repeat).  In the tradition which gave birth to Boston University and to Marsh Chapel and so to our worship on this and every Sunday, personal faith and social involvement go together, and, in truth, are not found, except hand in hand.

 

As all of our eight days of worship, teaching, fellowship and remembrance, in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have evinced among us, pistis and polis, faith and culture go together.   Here Bach may help us, if especially in the surge of beauty his music showers on us a sense of grace and in so doing gathers us as one.  The older Lutheran preference for the two kingdoms, Christ and Culture in paradox, is at some lesser closeness to the transformational aspiration in Wesley’s social holiness.  Yet Bach’s very vocational choice to embed himself in congregational musical life is itself a harbinger of transformation. More, the universal regard for the beauty of Bach itself places on the edge of a way forward, as a global village.

 

As Christian women and men, we are not free to celebrate faith apart from life, to affirm faith in ignorance of the polis, the city, the culture, the political.  The Bible itself is a 66-book declamation of social justice, at every turn, by every writer, with every chapter, at every point.   Moses, Amos, Micah, Matthew, Luke, Paul, All. Try and read the Bible without being confronted, accosted, seized and shaken by its fierce acclamation of the hope of justice.  Real religion is never very far from justice, even though justice alone, a crucial part of the Gospel, alone is not the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel is love, which is more than justice—though not less.

 

You then, in real time, read the newspaper as well as the Bible.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about what you read.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the persons and personalities driving cultural and political formation. You also have reason and obligation to be concerned about the policies, speaking of polis, which emanate from those personalities and persons, those forms of rhetoric and language and behavior. You have full reason and obligation to be concerned about public good, about the polis, about the forms of culture and civil society across our land, painstakingly built up over 250 years, that are not government and not politics, but are more fundamental and more fragile than both.  You have reason and obligation to be concerned about the use of military force, either as Christian pacifists, or as Christian activists watching for the just war adjectives: responsive, multilateral, proportional, non-imperial, just, and limited.

 

As a runner, say, you have reason and obligation to be concerned about the route itself.  Run with joy the race set, but neglect not to engage by precept and example the social support, the cultural forms required for the race.  The route. The roads cleared. The police. The first responders. The supporting cheerers. The rules and traditions. The many, thousands, standing by you, and standing with you, and standing for you.  Personal holiness is the run. Social holiness is the route. They go together.

 

Five years ago, today, we began Marathon Monday with our Marsh Chapel traditions.  The Dean’s breakfast. The meal of eggs, bacon, muffins and juice, with invitations to all undergraduates to arise before the race comes through Kenmore Square.  Music to sing, written in Boston long ago for a children’s choir,  “My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty”.  Longfellow cited, one if by land if two if by sea, and I on the opposite shore will be. The Gettysburg address recited, Fourscore and seven years ago. Then, out to the race and the day and the 26 mile family picnic on Boston’s best morning.  But as you know the day ended differently than planned, as our Wednesday April 11 remembrance this past week here at BU recalled.  Just recall the social involvement of those who expected to treat blisters and ended up placing tourniquets. Just recall the social involvement in the lives saved, hundreds saved, by prepared, well supported, team oriented hospitals and physicians.  Just recall your social involvement in the vigil that Tuesday evening on our plaza, the Wednesday evening worship service in our sanctuary, the Thursday morning service at the Cathedral with the President speaking words of grace, the Friday lock down.  Just recall the Monday global service for our own Lu Lingzi, which ended with her family, 18 together, bowing at the waist before the University and the world. Dime con quien corres, yo te dire quien eres.  You tell me WITH WHOM you run, and I will tell you who you are.

The Christian life is a daily combination of personal faith and social involvement (repeat).  So, our song this Lord’s day, is just this:

Ah, would that I had a thousand tongues!

Ah, would that my mouth were

Empty of idle words!Ah, would that I said nothing other

Than what was geared to God’s praise!

Then I would proclaim the Highest’s goodness,

For all my life he has done so much for me

That I cannot thank Him in all eternity.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean

& Dr. Scott Allen Jarrett, Director of Music

 

Easter Antinomy

April 1st, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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John 20: 1-18

Click here to hear the sermon only

Frontispiece

    Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

    The Lord is Risen.  Hallelujah.

    A few years ago, I stood at a friend’s hospital bedside.  Disoriented by hospital surroundings, harsh scents, frequent and sharp noises, brusque treatments, odd sights and the wholly unfamiliar atmosphere into which she had been cast, my friend the patient spoke anxiously about something only she could understand.  It was gibberish. She told clearly and convincingly a story that was gibberish. Her production of the tale was I think a way of fending off the threatening environment around. We listened, family and pastor. Her daughter simply stood alongside, rubbing her arm, as she talked.  The narrative became more and more wild and unfastened. I wondered what might be said, argued, to quell the storm. Nothing came to mind. Opposite, port side, her daughter calmly rubbed her arm, soothed her brow, straightened the bedding, listened, and, saving-ly, said, at last, ‘Yes, mom, it is hard, sometimes, to know what is real and what is not real’.

    Easter claims, in the teeth of death, that faith and love are real.  Death makes us mortal. Facing death in faith makes us human. Death makes us mortal.  Facing death in love makes us human.

Absence

    Christ absent, Christ present.  Face your fear in faith. Absence.  Go to church in love to. Presence. Absence\Presence.  Faith\Love. Choice\Church. Risen! Hallelujah!

    You know by hard experience that my preference come Sunday at 11am is to preach about sin and death and the joy of tithing.  But. This is Easter. So, that is all we shall say about my favorite themes.

    For today is Resurrection Day, a glad, joyful day.  For today, rubbing our arm and mopping our brow and turning down the bedding on those more regular themes, is One who, absent and present, in faith and love, by the bedside of your befuddlement, puzzlement, and confusion murmurs, whispers, ‘It is hard to know sometimes what is real and what is not’.

    The Gospel tells of two modes of resurrection, two experiences which the earliest Christians prized and preached, two senses of resurrection, both read today in John 20.

    Two contradictory meanings of the chief article of Christian belief, as Calvin named resurrection.  Thus, an Easter Antinomy, a paradox, a combination of contradictory truths, both true, different, opposite, complementary, dialectical:  an Easter Antimony.

    Peter and the Beloved Disciple (and with them the whole company of Christians militant and triumphant, including you and me) have one first experience of resurrection.  This is the experience of Jesus’ absence.

    An empty tomb.  Discarded grave clothing.  Silence. Emptiness. Nothing.

    In other gospels, an angel voice and message, but not here:  He is risen.  That is: he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.

    The first meaning of Jesus’ resurrection is that he is absent from this world, absent from our eyesight, absent from our apprehension, absent from the cave Plato so loved, with its dancing shadows.  Not here. See the place. Peter and John—for all their differences, Church and Spirit—had in common the race to see Jesus (which Peter lost and the Beloved Disciple won, as gospel ever trumps tradition and spirit ever trumps institution.) Peter and John went to find him and did not find him there. He is simply not to be found, AWOL, gone.  Our early sisters and brothers faced this absence and its fear, head on. They faced down fear in faith.

    You see.  The empty tomb creates an opportunity, a possibility, a challenge.  In fact, it forces—Jesus’ resurrection absence forces—an encounter with faith.  Resurrection means the power of an intervening word to be spoken and heard. Only a Risen, that is Absent, Christ, a hidden, silent God, the God beyond God, can also give the full possibility of faith.  If we knew everything, we would not need faith.

    He is risen means he is not here, so you must decide for yourself whether to live in faith or not, whether to face your fear in faith, or not.  It means that no one else is out there, or in there, or there, writing the script for your life, or for our shared life.  You have to write the script yourself. And. You have to write the script, set the stage, get the props, choose the cast, direct the show and star in it at the same time.  Acting alone won’t cut it. And that is plenty, plenty scary.  It means that God raised Jesus from the dead, now absent from your life, to give freedom, and to let the chips fall where they may.

    Last month I hurried out of the office in late afternoon, hoping to ‘miss the traffic’ on the way to Needham.  This is our lot in Boston, to live to miss the traffic. Half way to the car, I realized I had taken the wrong folder, and had to return to the office to pick up the speech I was to give that night at the 100-year-old Boston Minister’s Club (the age of the club, not of the members).  I came again out of the office and was met by a wonderful young woman, perhaps a senior, saying: “I need to talk to you.  It won’t take long. I need to ask for a prayer.  You see: I have just found the perfect job, and interviewed for it.  I pray they will send me on to the next level. It is the perfect job.”  It has been a while since I have used ‘perfect’ and ‘job’ in the same sentence, but, pray we did.  What a joy to be taught again by bright students about the thrill and possibility in life!

    But notice: After Good Friday service, I found a note perched like a bird on my office door window.  She had indeed succeeded! But more: her mother had said to her, mom to daughter, ‘Let your faith be greater than your fear’.  A note with that line, 40 hours before a two point Easter sermon, the first of which is ‘face your fear in faith’: that is serendipity a little close to the bone!

    An article last week recalled Desmond Tutu, a happy warrior, whose good humor in the face of real difficulty made others smile.  Reagan smiled to remember him, and when asked “How is Bishop Tutu?”, with a little whimsy replied, ‘Tutu—Soso”!

    That is the touch of humorous Novocain before the needle:  Tutu knew well about the faith forged in freedom. Desmond Tutu had it right:  God sure must love freedom because he has given us the freedom to go straight to hell if we so choose (repeat).

    The ‘silent as a tomb’ tomb puts before you today the matter of faith.

    Faith faces fear and embraces freedom.  It is God’s gift, received on the human side by a singular leap.

    Faith to live the good news of a loving God in the face of a stark cross, and an empty tomb.

    Faith in a silent, invisible God, hidden God, when so many visible idols tempt.

    Faith when you cannot see ahead.

    Faith as a walk in the dark.

    Faith when you are defeated.

    Faith to try something new, to take a new path.

    Faith to risk.

    Faith to open a door.

    Faith to face down fear.  It’s up to you!

    Jesus’ absence, which the disciples courageously took as a call to faith, is the first resurrection experience.  That is, the first thing the Gospel, and the Scripture and the Church have said about Easter is: he is absent, he is not here, see the place where they laid him.

Presence

    Christ absent, Christ present.  Face your fear with faith. Absence.  Live in love in church. Presence. Risen!  Hallelujah!

    The Easter Gospel tells a second truth.  The second truth stands contrary to the first, contradicts even the first, but does not eliminate the first.  Jesus is present. Mary says; “I have seen the Lord’. And several others chime in, finally and definitively Thomas, a few verses hence from today, doubting and fingering and swearing” “My Lord and My God!”  Others, along the Emmaus road: “Did our hearts not burn within us?” And all the early chapters of Acts. And the breakfast of fish with Jesus to come to Chapter 21.

    Without batting an eye, the earliest Christians affirmed, mightily and happily, an Easter antinomy.  Even as Peter proclaimed the tomb empty, Mary shouted back: “I have seen him”. Jesus’ presence, too, not just his absence, is felt, seen, and known.  Risen Christ Present—He is with us to open yet another possibility, challenge, and opportunity. Risen Christ present assembles the church, teaching love.  Resurrection is known in participation before doctrine (Tillich).

    A dramatist, celebrating Broadway, once wrote, “the only thing more frightening than being alone is being with someone”.   

    Resurrection means the resurrection of the body—of Christ: the church.  The body of Christ, the church carries the pronouncement of the intervening word, in her ministry of love, love of God, love of neighbor, and so lives as a community of faith working through love.

    Are we lovers anymore?

    The resurrection body of the church, the Body of Christ, breathes love.

    After twenty years of funerals, I was finally asked to be a pall bearer.  In ministry, you do weddings before you are a bride, you marry others’ children long before you marry off your own and have that expense I mean joy, you bury others’ dads and moms before yours die.  And you instruct pall bearers before you ever lift a casket yourself. We gathered in an old village church, with a light dusting of snow that morning, and sun filling the sanctuary. Hymns were sung, prayers offered, a short, true eulogy.  Flowers. A verse of ‘It is well with my soul’. A reading of Romans 5, the love of God poured into our hearts. The casket of a dear old Methodist lady, grandmother and friend. An invitation to lunch at the Grange. My children did not know what a Grange was.  Choir, do you? Again, the scent of flowers, the heft of the casket, to await burial when the ground had thawed. Christ present, surely, oddly, truly present, with us in grief and hope in the community of faith working through love.

    The church is so fallible, always both a representation and a distortion of the divine.  But when divine, so divine! At the Grange—look it up—over lunch, a north country memory emerged, true and loving.  Mrs. Skinner, an elderly minister’s widow, told about their assignment long ago to Conifer NY, in 1933. Here is an Adirondack logging town with one road in and one road out, as of then no church building.  The congregation met in—the Grange. They raised money in the depression to build a church. But a missionary visited, and told about the needs in China. So, the little congregation thought about it. (Are we lovers anymore?).  They looked around the Grange Hall where they had been worshipping a while already. And they decided they could do so a while longer. They sent the money raised for the church building—to China. ‘That was a loving church’ she remembered that cold funeral day.  That was a loving church in humble Conifer NY, 1933. You only have what you give away in love. Just when you think the church has broken your heart for the last time, Mrs. Skinner comes along to remind you of what love can mean.

    Are we lovers anymore?  Risen Christ Present schools us in how to be together in love for others.

    Speaking of school:  the church goes beyond the church.  One April long ago I had breakfast in the High School where decades earlier I had eaten school lunch, where Jan and I met singing in the choir.  Once one of the best schools in the country, it had fallen on harder times. But that morning a group of neighbors and parents and others were running a breakfast like our Easter breakfast this morning.  They flipped flap jacks. They fried bacon. They sold tickets. They took names and donations. They baked and talked and worked. Said one secular saint—I don’t forget it, so many years later—as she worked to support my Alma Mater: ‘I have to believe this school can work if we love it enough, if we just love it enough’.  You fill the blank for school:  library, neighborhood, college…country?  I believe it can work if we love it enough, if we just love it enough.  Christ wanders around outside of church. Present, oddly present, surely present, in work, in mission, in longing—in love.

    Are we lovers anymore?

Coda

    In absence, Christ gives faith.  In presence, Christ gives love.

    In absence, Christ teaches us to be our own-most selves.  In presence, Christ teaches us to be together.

    In absence, Christ begets faith, which is personal.  In presence, Christ begets love, which is communal.

    In absence, Christ forms courage in the heart, as he did for Peter on Easter.  In presence, Christ forms a company of lovers, a community of faith working through love, as he did through Mary on Easter.

    Faith and love are real.  Faith and love are the Easter Antinomy.  Faith and love are real resurrection experiences.

    The Easter Antinomy, two contradictory truths, snug as a bug in a rug together:  Jesus absent and Jesus present. In oxymoron, in paradox, both are true though they contradict one another, or, perhaps, because they contradict on another.

    Some mornings you wake up and sing with Mary, ‘I have seen the Lord’.  Some mornings you lose the foot race with Peter, but shout: ‘He is not here.  He is risen.’ Every day, things change: what made life, life, becomes absent; what will make life, life, becomes present.’

    Praise God!  Easter morning, now, both presence and absence radiate Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Christ absent, Christ present.  Face your fear with faith. Absence. Live in love in church. Presence. Risen! Hallelujah!

    Can you live, as taught Luther, praying as if it all depends on God and working as if it all depends on us?  Praying in presence and working in absence?

    Bitter cold winds, and an icy afternoon swept us into a warm little restaurant, in Kingston Ontario, of a February weekend a decade or three ago.  It is good to come in from the winter cold, to wait from the promise of warmth in spring. The fire crackled. The space and time for freedom in faith and joy in love heartened alongside the hearth.  Then, over the radio waves came a deep, hurting, baritone voice, that of Leonard Cohen, welling up out of Montreal, out of pain, out of life. A broken hallelujah, the only kind fit for the Christian on Easter, the only sort ample enough for the Easter Antinomy:  Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in?
    Risen?  Indeed! For it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness, who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord’.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Merton and Vocation

March 18th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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John 12:20-33

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‘If anyone serve me, he must follow me, and where I am there my servant shall be also’. (John 12: 26)

Graham

One’s sense of calling develops over a lifetime.  Vocation can emerge apart from religious distinctions, often outside inherited personal or spiritual boundaries.  In that way, as Thomas Merton reminds us, vocation is the essential and quintessential ecumenical gift, or charism, or grace.  This Lent reminds us of courage, gratitude, spirit and gladness—the nourishment you will need to survive and prevail into the next decade.

To begin, though, this season of March, not Marsh, madness recalls that in 1987 our Rotary Club in Syracuse, which doubled as a cheering section for the college basketball squad, was in misery.  By just a single point, a last second basket, Syracuse had lost the NCAA championship to Indiana, a day that will live in infamy.  We began the next Monday’s Rotary meeting as usual with a prayer, memorably offered that day by Judge Schultz: We know Lord that we learn most from our troubles, and from our defeats.  We accept this and will try to hold fast to your presence, even in the face of (now here the prayer began to turn sideways—it happens in sermons too!) of unfairness, in the face of bad officiating, in the face of the unspeakable behavior of a chair throwing coach of the opposite team whom I will not mention Lord in prayer by name, in short, we bow before you and accept what has happened.  We don’t always have to win…BUY WE DO DEMAND JUSTICE. Oh, and, uh, AMEN.

A couple of springs later, in 1989, the Rev. Billy Graham spoke at our club, its fiftieth anniversary, following a Graham revival in the Carrier Dome.  I offered the prayer that day, and he said (and I should have noted this in my journal to save this memory for preaching at Marsh Chapel in March of 2018), ‘that was a fine prayer, Rev.Hill.’  He was about 3 or 4 inches taller than I, quiet, gracious and a kindly presence.  And he sure knew what he was talking about regarding prayer.  Of course, in that club we had a well-established tradition of pious and heartfelt prayer already, as Judge Schultz’s prayer did attest: WE DO DEMAND JUSTICE.  My sister, then Vice President and Corporation Counsel at Oneida Silver, gave him a beautiful silver tea tray (which unfortunately was overshadowed by the wife of the owner of Stickley Furniture who gave him a sofa).  These will BOTH go nicely in our home, he graciously responded.

The congregation was of two minds about whether to support the Graham crusade.   I still see the hurt in the eyes of those who felt deeply and strongly that doing so validated Graham’s support of the war in Vietnam, his support of Richard Nixon, his particular form of Calvinism (his conservatism, his audio-taped anti-Semitic remarks (for which he did apologize) and his Unitarianism of the second person of the Trinity.  A few left that vibrant growing church when we decided to support the cause.

Anyway, we chose to participate.  As a theological liberal and a Methodist, to me Graham’s theology made little sense.  But right down the street, right across from the parsonage, on a cold winter night, 80,000 people would be singing hymns, some of our favorites:  In the Garden; Just as I am; Great is Thy Faithfulness; How Great Thou Art.  Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant and Free Church people would work together to bring a little revival, a little salt, to the salt city of Syracuse.  There would be a call to decision to lead a Christian life.  Some would respond visibly and some not, some invisibly and some not, and some would regret the one and some the other, and some not.  And there would be a 500-voice choir (I comment not at all on the notes sung).  It was right in our neighborhood.  Walking distance.  You know what?  It was great and great fun.  I would sooner work with that organization than with most of the denominational boards and agencies I have known.  The Graham people were honest and kind.  They said a thousand times:  go to church on Sunday.  Plus, as much as I love basketball, a Dome full of simple hymns sung from the heart by 80,000 (and a 500-voice choir) made me really smile.

So, when the Boston Globe called last month to ask for a Billy Graham memory, I told them this:  In 1989 the Graham committee promised city pastors that the names of those people who came forward in the crusade, would be given, for follow up and follow through, to the churches in the city, neighborhood by neighborhood.  I am not sure I fully trusted this.  But a week later a big box of names came to the church office.  They were not from the campus and faculty side of our neighborhood, in the main; they were not from the student and bohemian side of our neighborhood, in the main; they were not from the corporate and civic leadership side of our neighborhood, in the main.  They were from down the hill, in the projects, the 1960’s urban housing that we had tried for five years in vain to engage.  And now we had name after name, and an expected standing invitation, and a way to visit on the sixth floor, and an entrée for meals on wheels, and an invitation list for Vacation Bible School, and a way to set up midnight basketball, and get to know some new friends, some of whom joined in for worship, because, on that cold winter night in the full Carrier Dome, they heard the word:  Go to church on Sunday.  (And I couldn’t help add: About his son I make no comment(:).

That is.  We listen and learn with a Roman Catholic monk named Thomas Merton, during Lent 2018.  Why?  Because.  You can learn a great deal from other traditions. Love your ecumenical neighbor as yourself. There are many ways of keeping faith.  Love your religious neighbor as yourself.  You may learn something in with and under the teaching of a neighboring denomination or pastor or congregation.  In my Father’s house, there are many rooms.  If you want a friend, be one; if you want ecumenicity, live it.  You may be ready for the soteriology next door.  Especially students, and young adults.  As this morning’s (how is that for timing!) New York Times, in an article on a Trappist Monastery, did put it:  Young adults may be drawn to (their) culture of mindfulness, stillness, and inward experience. Here is the way, in brief, Thomas Merton spoke of vocation:

Merton

Saints…(are) sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner. 62

Souls are like athletes that need opponents worthy of them. 92

The quietness and hiddenness and placidity of the truly good people in the world all proclaim the glory of God.  142.

The only way to live was to live in a world that was charged with the presence and the reality of God. 208.

That happiness which makes upper New York state seem in my memory to be so beautiful. 219

Virtue—without which there can be no happiness. 223.

The intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. 225

While we were sitting there on the floor playing records and eating this breakfast the idea came to me: ‘I am going to be a priest’. 277 (But: I had a kind of conviction:  I was going to be a Trappist).  366.

What was the difference between one place and another, one habit and another, if your life belonged to God, and if you placed yourself completely in his hands? 406

Thomas Merton this Lent has given us courage for the wilderness, gratitude for the Sacrament, the Spirit for contemplation, and, today, at the last, a gladness in vocation.

North Country

That same courage, gratitude, spirit and gladness we knew for decades in rural, agricultural, small town, country living, the people and voices and communion of which we cherish by heart.  Some of our graduates this May will themselves go and live for a while in the woods.  As did Thoreau.  Those fine seminarians with us this morning, finishing their three years of study, and about to be assigned to a pulpit on July 1, take with them our heartfelt love and encouragement, and our reminder that all vocational searching, and all astute theological reflection, is not confined to urban schools of theology.  We left our friend, last week, remember, riding her horse away from church in August of 1982.  She left a letter, acutely and rightly critical of the Methodism she was learning.  She was a premier wood carver, making light beautiful wood crosses for all families who suffered a loss.  Her spiritual, vocational, and theological reflection—out in the woods—compares her love of wood carving with her difficulty with religion.  The corrects, here, a mistaken, though well-intentioned, overemphasis in Methodism.  All the celebration in my own tradition of experience of God’s presence, if not tended, drown out the genuine and regular experience of God’s absence: doubt and faith are twin daughters of the divine.  Listen to this wood carving Native American lay woman, and astute theologian in her own right, from years ago, comparing wood carving and religion:

And as I was thus discovering why I liked working with wood, I thought why I do not like working with religion.  I would gladly give it up if it were not for this bothersome and rather uncontrollable compulsion to try jus at little longer, just one more time, just one more approach.  I have found with most things, given the proper tools, I can, with dogged patience and perseverance, attain a state near enough to perfection to be at least satisfying.

But religion, worst of all, because I cannot determine where to lay the blame.  Worst of all, because I do not know if I am striving for something that is unattainable for me, because of basic lack or insufficiency or incompleteness.  Or is my technique wrong—my approach—my tools—my plans—my information? As I work on a piece of wood, progress is made, I can see it, I can feel it, taking shape, and if I must begin again, I do, because I know in the end that piece of would will become what I want it to become—I will be satisfied, even with the nick of shame it will surely carry—it will be good enough.

But religion—unattainable faith—unfathomable understanding—untouchable God.  Even if he knocks, I feel, I have come to wonder if it is that my door has not been furnished with the normal and necessary attachment—a door knob.  For if I try—really try—it should get better—but it doesn’t.  If I begin again, determination will see it take shape, but it doesn’t.

I read just last week something in the small book, “Understanding the United Methodist Church” which I found disheartening.  But it said, in reference to ‘The Witness of the Spirit’:

“It means that the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer and does give him a first-hand assurance that he is a child of God”…and again…”United Methodists rejoice in the knowledge that God does certify unmistakably to each believer when his salvation is sure”…

Not hope.  Or think.  But know.  That is the perfection.  And I am not satisfied with less, nor am I able to make any progress toward that goal.  Nor can I throw it all away like a chunk of wood.  For it worries me like a dog worries a bare and useless bone, unwilling to spit it out and let it go.  Perhaps there is yet some marrow in it worth digging out.

I would, had I the choice, stick with the wood.

All of our traditions, including the perfectionism of Methodism, have some things that need, as this carpenter saw, to be sanded away. Paul Tillich had her answer:  doubt is a part of faith, and faith with no doubt is no faith at all but false faith.  I hope I was able to preach or teach or say that, so many years ago.   Seminarians will take their first pulpits July 1 of this year.  Maybe they think that real, true, hard, theological work, interpretative work, will not be needed or required in those small, rural, poor, less formally educated, agricultural, multiple appointments.  Maybe they think for all that they will need an urban pulpit, or a college community, or a smooth suburban lawn-scape, or an advanced degree.  Maybe they think there is no real ammunition in the verbal and spiritual rifles of first appointments or second appointments or poor churches that cannot pay their apportionments.  Maybe they think it won’t matter whether they read their Tillich or not, read their Ecclesiastes or not, read their Galatians or not, read their Merton or not.  It will.  Big league.  In the rough and tumble of pastoral life, the sturdiest vocation will be tested.  And should be.

Coda

This is a sermon with a question for you.  What is the color of your parachute, the shape of your sail, the grain of your wood, the you that is not what another says of you, the self at your own most self?  What is your vocation, your calling, your life as it most fully can become?  A little Lenten reflection, alongside a bright young Roman Catholic fellow who had to climb up a seven storey mountain to find his answer, may be a bit of help to each and all of us.

‘If anyone serve me, he must follow me, and where I am there my servant shall be also’. (John 12: 26)

Merton and Contemplation

March 11th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

John 3:5-8, 14-21

Frontispiece

America is discovering the contemplative life. (TM, SSM, 453).

In the North Country (New York State just south of Montreal) I knew where I could find my people, mostly men, some women, in a mood to talk.  In the month of March, between milking times, you could find a circle gathered in the sugar house. The shadow of the roof made all seeing dim.  The steam from the boiling tank made of the hut a sauna, a steam bath, a welcome warming in the frigid March air. There is something so purely, and pleasantly sweet about the scent of the boiling sap:  have a donut, dip the donut, drink the syrup. Fathers and sons, aunts and nieces, talking. This is the month for north country, maple syrup…contemplation.

One of our dearest north country friends bore five children in a border farm house and raised them there, including the month or so of ‘sugaring’ each year.  The children danced in the steam and sweet air of forty gallons of sap becoming a gallon of pure Vermont maple syrup, brewed in New York State, but canned and bottled due east, to gain the Vermont mark-up.  She had been raised on an Indian Reservation in Washington State, was graduated from Bellingham College, and then scooped up by Senator Scoop Jackson to work in his Washington DC office, from 1968 to 1975 or so.  How she met her dairy farmer husband and moved to the banks of the frozen river St. Lawrence was never clear. One winter evening, with a light snow (6 inches) and some cold (10 below) she hosted our family at a lavish, gourmet dinner.  Her farm house, astride the barn, and 3 miles south of the Canadian border, had bare studs for the walls and an ancient linoleum flooring, warmed with a great hearth. The table sat their seven and our four and was laden: with pickles, with flowers, with simple china and silver, and with a king’s meal.  Ham lavish and delicious and presented with beauty. The vegetables of all varieties. Dessert, not just a pie, but some elegant tort. In the impoverished cold, she set a magnificent warm meal. It must have taken days to prepare. You can have all the money in the world, with shining golden buildings across the globe emblazoned with your name, and still make life ugly and tawdry and small.  Or, with her, having nothing, you can create beauty. She worshipped every Sunday, in season and out, with family or without. In the summer, with good weather, she rode her horse to church. She practiced contemplation of the Merton variety by writing long letters, hand delivered to the minister, after the benediction. In a fortnight of enforced hibernation this January, there emerged some time, digging through old boxes, to find those contemplative letters, to reread and rethink them.  One of them, in part, will conclude not this Sunday’s but next week’s sermon, which is set in some contrast, or at least in contemplative dialogue with today’s. We leave her just now, saddling her horse and heading home after church, August 1982.

Barry

In contemplation, many of you, this Lent, have been reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography, THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN.   As a way of honoring your communal contemplation of this, we quote here on of our congregation, David Barry, who writes, “This search for peace continued periodically for Merton, until the day he surrendered to it completely and decided to become a monk at twenty-six. Years earlier, still young and looking through a picture book on the French countryside, he was captivated by the beauty of the ruins of old churches. He felt drawn to the peace and solitude of these old places. He describes, “… my heart was filled by a kind of longing to breathe the air of that lonely valley and listen to its silence” (48).  The physical has awakened the spiritual…

“(One night Merton) had a powerful sensory experience. He felt the presence of his father and believed that his father’s spirit was trying to help him to escape from the directionless life that he had been living. “The sense of his presence was as vivid and as real and as startling as if he had touched my arm or spoken to me” (123).  Merton thought of the visit from his father as a “grace” (124). “I sat outside, in the sun, on a wall and tasted the joy of my own inner peace, and turned over in my mind how my life was going to change, and how I would become better” (125). Basking in the glow of the sun and remembered religious experience, he had found some peace at last.”

Merton’s Contemplation

Step by step, up the seven storey mountain, Merton finds his way.  One foot ahead of the other, or, better, on phrase ahead of the other, he plods along.  Howard Thurman had a sermon, not a famous one, but a good one, title, ‘Fear not the Fallow’.  It is sometimes in the quiet, snow covered, cold, non-descript patches of time as well as space, that something new and decidedly good is preparing to emerge.  But you cannot see it or hear it or sense it or feel it or touch it. Here, again, a leap of faith is needed. Listen to a few of Merton’s contemplative steps, phrases preparing him for the contemplative life, which begin to appear, in his autobiography, about 2/3 of the way through the book:

I was living.  I had an interior life, real, but feeble and precarious.  And I was still nursed and fed with spiritual milk. (303).

After Latin, it seems to me there is no language so fitted for prayer and for talk about God as Spanish (306).

It was as if I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence (at Mass in Havana, following the performative language in the creed, at the Consecration) (311).

It was the light of faith deepened and reduced to an extreme and sudden obviousness (311).

God often talks to us directly in Scripture (321).

God began to fill my soul with grace in those days, grace that sprung from deep within me. (331).

O America, how I began to love your country! What miles of silences God has made in you for contemplation!  If only people realized what your mountains and forests are really for! (339)

And over all the valley smiled the mild, gentle Easter moon, the full moon I her kindness, loving this silent place (351).

Renewal of Spirit

Contemplation is attention to spirit.

A nominal belief is not much better than no faith at all.  Not a nominal belief in God, but an active awareness of God is born of the Spirit.  The Spirit creates an active awareness, actually at work in our life, influencing your thinking and deciding.  The Holy Spirit, God with us, is at work today, to refresh your heart and to quicken your life and to banish your fear.

Spirit is calling us today to move on from a nominal belief in God to the faith of a new birth, an active awareness, actually at work in our life, influencing our movements and our attitude.  Such a rebirth, the wind of God inspires. ‘Let us not doubt that by the Spirit of God we are re-fashioned and made new (people), though the way he does this is hidden from us’ (Calvin).

The Gospel of John is calling to you.  At every turn this strange, enigmatic Gospel is calling to you.  I mean you. To take up a step up in faith. To move up a step up in faith.  To receive a new birth in faith. Are you telling me you have gotten as far as you can in faith?  Nicodemus thought that until he saw he was wrong. The woman at the well said so, until she, her ownmost self, was revealed.  Those feasting on fish and loaves learned something else. Those in harsh debate with Jesus did as well. The man born blind, given sight, thought maybe all he would have was his illness and the pool of Bethsaida:  not so. And Lazarus, to top it all, was dead, down in the catacomb, four days. And a voice: Lazarus! Come out! The Gospel of John is calling to you. At every turn this strange, enigmatic Gospel is calling to you.  I mean you. To take up a step up in faith. To move up a step up in faith. To receive a new birth in faith. Are you telling me you have gotten as far as you can in faith? Take a step up.

And how so?

First. The new birth, a gift of the Holy Spirit, refreshes our hearts and makes us new people.  It is a pity that this passage, born from above or born anew, has so often been shouted out harshly, as a command.  You must. Yet the verb is passive, ‘be born’. You had little control over or management of your physical birth. You did not choose it, profess it, decide it desire it, plan it or supervise it.  Without your reasonable advice and comment, you were born. One wonders how it could possibly have gone off all right without our advice. Just so, affirms the Jesus of John, you are reborn by the Spirit, without which rebirth you will not see the area of God’s peace and love.  This is not a harsh word, but a gentle one, not a hurricane command but a light Lenten wind, gentle to refresh your heart today.

The leaves on your tree will never dance if they are forever sodden with the cold rain of the mind alone.  The mind rides the horse, but the power of Godly living, the horse herself, the great steed of the new birth, is the heart. ‘An entire change of heart as well as of life is necessary’ (Wesley).  The spirit is moving you from a nominal belief to a sense of transcendence, an active awareness actually at work in your life.

Second. The wind of Christ is gusting and blustering around your house now, quickening you and bringing you truly into the present moment.  Some parts of the past need to be blown away for a new day to dawn, for you. Let bygone hurts be bygone. One has been hurt by love, another by family, another by job, another by church, another by nature, another by accident, another by words, another by deeds.  As my friend wrote, ‘if everyone had a sign on his or her back listing all of their personal sorrows, we would all be kinder to one another’.  We can and should show each other our scars.  Pain shared is therapeutic. But let the dead bury the dead.  Pain is shared in order that it be buried, not given wings, be killed not perpetuated.  The Scripture warns us about the past, unfettered. It is no substitute for the present.  Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt for looking back. Jesus taught, ‘he who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is not fit for the kingdom of God’.   New occasions teach new duties. The Spirit is giving us another birth, shoving us away from nominal belief and toward an active awareness, actually at work in our life, influencing our thoughts and decisions.  The past is no substitute for the present. Nominal belief traps us in the past.

Third. The Spirit gives you rebirth as the Spirit banishes fear, and replaces fear with faith.  A nominal belief, a kind of superstition, only multiplies our fear. In faith, we have an active awareness of God in Christ, which is actually at work, influencing our thought and choice. “He who is born of the flesh fights to defend himself, looks hither and thither, employs his reason to make a living.  But he who is born anew reasons thus: ‘I am in God’s hands, who has preserved me and nourished me before in a wonderful manner: he will also feed and preserve me in the future, and save me from all sorrow and misfortune’.” (Luther).

Coda

A faith that takes you away from the adventure of life is a false faith.  You desire—and if you desire it one day you shall have it—a faith that sets sail on the adventurous sea of life, a faith that does not long lie in harbor or at anchor, a faith that lives freely, a faith that really lives, a faith willing to change, to risk, to move, to grow, to face life and to face death fearless and free.

It is faith you can ride to church on, and ride home on, and ride all week long.  So, saddle up, and ride back next week!

America is discovering the contemplative life. (TM, SSM, 453).

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill

Merton and Sacrament

March 4th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

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John 2

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Merton and Sacrament

John 2

 

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sin, and are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life following after the commandments of God, draw near in faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort.

Scripture

 

Martin Luther taught daily devotions, morning by morning, to include recitation of the ten commandments, which we just heard, of the Apostles’ Creed, contours of which round out the service, and of the Lord’s Prayer, to be lifted in a moment.  To which, this morning, we append a mediation on John 2.

Right away, we sense something loose in the Scripture.  We are used to something ‘loose’, because day by day we know from our bones and ears that there is something loose in the universe, as Gardner Taylor used to say.  Yes, we believe in God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.  (That by the way in its creedal asperity is all Luther’s favorite creed says about God the Creator).  But along with the brute reality of all there is and all that is there, to honor both Plato and Aristotle, we know in our bones and ears that all this creation around us shakes, and rattles, and rolls, and has abiding in it something big and loose.  The Decalogue, come Lent, brings us up short.  Creation is one Christian doctrine, or set thereof.  And so is Fall. Creation, and Fall.  The goodness of Creation is shot through with the fallen-ness of Creation:  sin, death, meaninglessness, pride, sloth, falsehood, superstition, idolatry, hypocrisy.  Something loose, in the universe.  With blood soaked floors in public high schools far and public libraries near, we in tears do quietly nod.  We weep as we pray. What a world.  It is God’s world.  That’s creation.  It is a crummy world.  That is fall.  Somehow, by the gift of faith, in the light of Christ, we try to live with both.   Hence, Sacrament.

Part of what was shaking loose in the community of the Gospel of John echoes here in John 2.  There is a really odd way of speaking about the Jews in this Gospel.  ‘The Passover of the Jews was near’… That is a strange way of saying something, like…When the Fourth of July of the Americans was near…When the Christmas of the Christians was near…When the Patriots’ Day of the Bostonians was near…When the Spring Break of the College Students was near…When the Bastille Day of the French was near…The Passover of the Jews…Well, it is not like fifteen different religious traditions in antiquity or in modernity celebrate the feast of Passover.  I know of no Mormon Passover.  Nor of any alive among Southern Baptists.  Hindus, Muslims, and many others have marvelous traditions in festival, but no Passover.  So, even in this early passage, where the term, ‘the Jews’ carries an untypical, non-normal, frightfully odd meaning, the Gospel does not handle the term with ease, or grace, or courtesy.  Yes, John, here may be helping his Gentile readers with reminders about Judaism, its feasts, for instance.  But there is, as the Gospel unwinds, a fuller, and tragic manner of speech, here.  You think of Yankees fans mentioning those who have season tickets at Fenway, or the way we speak of them:  ‘Others’. You think of Robert E. Lee, referring to the inhabitants of Boston and other places due north of him as ‘those people’.  You think of a humorous play from a few years ago, in which one woman says something about men to three other women, one of whom responds, ‘Oh…them’.  There is a lurking animosity here, and behind that a great dark shadow, something loose in the universe.  Bishop Hapgood once said ‘the only factually demonstrable Christian teaching, about which there can be no doubt, is the doctrine of original sin’.   There is something loose in the universe.

And there is more that is loose, this morning.  Now you are keen Bible readers, so you know that normally in a Gospel the cleansing of the temple happens right at the end of the Gospel, just before the cross, and is the spark, the catalyst, or the cause of Jesus’ crucifixion. As in Matthew.  As in Mark.  As in Luke.  Well, here the writer has brought up the temple, with its cattle and sheep and doves, with its money changers and tables overturned, with its sheer public conflict right in the heart of ‘the Passover of the Jews’, has brought the temple right up to the very beginning of the Gospel.  This should teach us something.  A Gospel is a stylized memory, a preaching of the resurrection by way of reminiscence about Jesus, not a history nor a biography nor a deposition on the way to a legal brief on the way to an indictment.  You know this.  Even if you didn’t, you would know it now, because of what was read a moment ago: after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered…and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.  It is the resurrection that carries the Gospel and the Gospels, not the other way around. You could call it a saving reminiscence, embedded in the simplest of elements.  Resurrection precedes Gospel.  And all else.

By the way, along the way, in the reading of the Gospel of John, we pick up some sideways hints of what sort of community produced this sort of Gospel.  And one of the little hints, glimmering in the big dark, is that this Gospel has a bone to pick with some folks it is close to, a bone to pick with, of all people, its close knit extended family, ‘the Jews’.  ‘The Jews’ then said, ‘this temple…’.  Please.  Who else at Passover in Jerusalem in 30ad was around to talk to?  Other than Jews?  Methodists?  Flat Earth Believers?  Methodist Flat Earth Believers?  Everyone in this scene is Jewish, from Jesus on up or on down.  You see.  There is something odd, something sliding around, something loose, something revealingly strange about the way this Gospel, including by the way, right here, in chapter 2, speaks of Jesus, of his family and friends, of the twelve disciples, of John the Baptist, of the earliest Christian church community, of Paul of Tarsus, and many, many others…all Jews.  Something else is going on here, and it is crucial for us, year by year, carefully to hear it.  NOTA BENE: It is likely, highly probable, that the author has in mind not ‘Jews’ in general, but, rather, some other familiar group, closer at hand, down the street, in the synagogue, out of which John and his small early church group of Jesus worshippers, have been exited, due to the, by Jewish standards, dire heresy of ditheism, and with whom they are engaged in something of a family feud.  You know.  Others. Those people.  Them. Those we oppose.  You cannot read merely with a flat nasal honkey reading any of the usages of the phrase, ‘the Jews’, in John.  And our failure, as Christians, as a religious community, our failure in teaching the Scripture rightly over centuries, right up to this morning, our failure to see and perceive and interpret and communicate about what is loose in this Gospel—its depiction of ‘the Jews’—has had monstrous consequences.  While the horrific historic tragedy of Christian antisemitism has more roots than those in this fourth Gospel, it has no deeper roots than these.

Those who wrote John in 90ad, who bowed before the Risen Christ, whose glory and magnificence and exaltation and divinity they had only dimly perceived for some time, and whom they had only painfully come to recognize as ‘My Lord and My God’, were coming out of an experience of odium theologicum, theological and religious sheer hatred, conflict, difference, with—well, with whom do you get angriest?—their family, their kin, their closest friends, their former prayer partners.  Let us pause for some contrition, lament, compunction, confession, this Lent, in the same year that we honored Elie Wiesel from this pulpit and across this University on September 17, 2017.

 

Merton

 

The advantage of our conversation this Lent with Thomas Merton, who died fifty years ago, sails into view here.  His autobiography is titled ‘Seven Storey Mountain’, and his lengthy, vital account therein, with one notable exception, explained in the Introduction,  gives full measure to his own experience of the fallen-ness of Creation.  On one hand, his journey courses through the most beautiful and culturally gracious spaces from his time, and, to some degree still, from ours.  Southern France, the Long Island Sound, London, Cambridge, Oxford, New York, Columbia (the University), Bermuda, and Upstate New York.  You could argue that his relative ignorance of New England is a failure.  But in his study and reading, as well as his travel and culture, he stays with the best.  All of it, finally, fails him, and, it must be emphasized, fails him not for his own failure to embrace, hold fast, honor, respect what is there and what there is.   His parents die young.  His brother dies before he can really know him as an adult.  His young friendships wither and fade.  He departs Oxford without a degree.  His various relationships with women, faintly even coyly recollected, provide no happiness.  His reading, apart from William Blake, disappoints.  His teachers, apart from Mark Van Doren, fall short. His inherited religious backgrounds in Quaker silence and Episcopal liturgy leave him empty and discouraged.  His critique of Protestant Christianity, as practiced, is scathing, but not for that matter unfair.  He mistakenly or ironically or both refers to Riverside Church as Rockefeller Church. But he finally comes home to Sacrament, he finds, finally, a home, in Sacrament.

This happens on a little side street in the Upper West Side of New York City, quite familiar to those of us who attended Union Theological Seminary.  Through a strange course of influences, he finds himself one hot August Sunday in 1938, sitting in a pew at Corpus Christi Catholic Church on 121st street.  From that very sanctuary, I weekly or bi-weekly saw my teacher, Fr. Raymond Brown, emerge, having said the Wednesday mass.  There was a time when most theologians were also ordained, and so pressed into service, when and as that was possible.  He would amble down the slight hill there in Morningside Heights, circa 1978, as we now remember in 2018, in black suit and white collar, and pause to talk, to check the progress of his advisee, to smile, and return to the intricacies of John 2, read a moment ago.

On that August morning, 1938, Merton was overcome by grace, by community, by prayer, by liturgy, by sermon, and by Host, so overcome that he stumbled out into the bright New York sunlight without receiving the sacrament.  He knelt next to a young woman, perhaps a fellow Columbia student, who was clearly and sincerely praying.

It has been forty years since I have stood on the steps of Corpus Christi on 121st street.  It seems a day ago, though.  This is the strange thing about time, about recollection, about the passage of time, about memory, about how close things are that nonetheless are at a great distance.  For Thomas Merton, his emergence from purgatory came in Sacrament.  May this be so, this morning, right here, just now, for you.  Here is the burden and the delight of ministry on, at, or near a University campus.  You just never know who may be coming home, now in Word, or now in Sacrament, in the very quotidian, utterly simple, spare, nothingness, really, of prayer, of worship.  Of Sacrament.  Touch helps, familiarity helps, music helps, some words help, repetition helps, taste helps.  There is a physicality that helps.  We understand God, if or as we do, in a ‘supermental’ way, as Cyril Richardson regularly put it.  In a supermental, sacramental way, we might say, today. In prayer.  Today: in Sacrament.

Like those who wrote John 2, Merton was astounded by the Height of Christ.  They began to see, once they saw.  And he began to see, once he saw. That is, once the resurrection glory, in the cross of Christ, gradually became clear to this Gospel of John group, once they began fully to realize who this Jesus was and is and was for them—both human and divine—then things began to fall into place. That is, once the resurrection glory, in the cross of Christ, gradually became clear to Thomas Merton, once he began fully to realize who this Jesus was and is and was for them—both human and divine—then things began to fall into place. And out of this drastic dislocation, in John, came a new religion (there is really no other way to put it), the Christianity of the Christ, which would then take wing in the second and third and fourth centuries, in direct dialogue with the terms set by John.  And out of this drastic sacramental dislocation, in Merton, came a new spiritual life, the Christianity of the Christ, which would then take wing in the next five decades, in direct dialogue with the terms set by the Sacrament.

 

Reminiscence

 

On Thursday evening this past week, about 6pm, at the cooling end of a bright warm day, I walked slowly across the lawn here next to the Chapel, known lovingly as the BU ‘beach’.  As usual I was lost in some errant thought or three when I stepped forward, and found my foot resting on top of a scittering Frisbee.  Two kind students, far left and far right, called out, one saying ‘you can throw it to us’.  It was not clear—you need friendship to know inflection and implication in speech—whether that meant ‘please feel free to throw it’, or ‘against all appearances you seem like you might actually be able to throw it’, or ‘we are not playing some game where you have to leave the Frisbee where your right foot stepped upon it’.  It did not matter, because I had every intention of throwing it, long left or long right, and that was not premeditated deliberation.  I bent down, picked it up, and threw it, to the right, before any thinking.  It sailed out and up, and there was bemusement that it did so, so well, or even at all.

It took another block of walking before I was melted into emotion and reminiscence, brought out of that simple touch, that old feel, that muscle memory from fifty years and more ago, that gliding motion, so unfamiliar and yet so utterly familiar.   We spent all summer, in 1962, at age 8 throwing a Frisbee.  It is all we had, and all we needed.  You had breakfast, and were expected home, in that small college farm town, when the street lights came on.  You could come back for lunch and dinner if you wanted, but it was assumed someone would feed you.  The iron matriarchy that ran Hamilton NY decreed only one inviolable summer law:  get home, when the street lights come on, or else.  And so, ball and bat.  And so, Frisbee.  And so, decades later, this week, in a throw, the far off rural, agricultural, bucolic small town world, is become, by revelation, not only at hand, but in hand.

In Grace, God holds us by hand, at hand, in hand. Sacrament told Merton who he was.  Reminded him of who he was meant to be. Made sense of his memories! Brought a recollection, in touch and muscle and taste and sight and hearing, of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ.  You could call it a saving reminiscence, embedded in the simplest of elements.

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent of your sin, and are in love and charity with your neighbor, and intend to lead a new life following after the commandments of God, draw near in faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort.

 

The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

 

 

Power, Mutuality, and #MeToo

February 25th, 2018 by Marsh Chapel

Click here to hear the full service

Genesis 17:1-7

Genesis 17:15-16

Mark 8:31-38

Click here to hear the sermon only

 

Would you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Some years ago, I was at a clergy training. For those of you who have attended daylong trainings, you will have some sense of what this felt like: forgettable food, unlimited caffeine to counteract the effects of a too-warm room, and wide swings between sparkling presentations and somniliquy. But one brief moment from that day is seared into memory. The trainer had just finished explaining the practice of having open door or glass-door one-on-one meetings with congregants. We were using a video series from the FaithTrust institute, which offers the gold standard for ethics and boundaries training for faith leaders from a variety of traditions, from rabbis to ministers to Buddhist monks. The trainer decided to go a bit off script, and he shared that a male bishop he worked with would not drive to any district meeting, church visit, or other event alone with a woman. This male bishop would share a car for the ride with a male clergy colleague, but in order to be “above reproach,” he would make sure to take separate cars when driving to a meeting with a female clergy colleague. In this midwestern setting, the circuits were long and the districts far apart; this is the part of the country where travelling 100 miles can take 100 minutes, with flat farmland as far as the eye can see. True heirs of the Wesleyan heritage, the bishop and the cabinet would often put 50,000 miles a year on their cars.

Something felt wrong about the comment, and I felt the sudden urge to ask “why?,” but a number of ways in which I had been socialized held me back. He stood at the front of the room as the teacher, and I sat in the back, a student. Unless I could explain why his statement was problematic, I would be interruptive, and besides, I could sidetrack the conversation and drag out an already long day. He was my elder, and I was surrounded by clergy with decades more life and ministry experience. I was barely of legal drinking age, and the forty and fifty-something second career pastors seemed to not even blink at the comment. I must be too young to get it. As a child, I had been an incredibly curious and loquacious little girl who had learned that asking why too many times was a great way to annoy your parents. I had learned to be more precise in my language, and that adults responded better to a question with more detail and less emotion. This reaction felt too sudden to be rational. And he was a man, married for nearly two decades, and I was a woman, a newlywed, who had recently been given a hotel room with twin beds instead of a queen at annual conference after a snafu where the front desk could not understand why I hadn’t changed my last name. What did I know of what made a marriage over the decades? And what did I know of the world of men and the choices they made to act ethically and keep boundaries?

All these thoughts and more ran through my mind so quickly that it would take months to disentangle them from one another. All of these anxieties were tamped down internally, and I said nothing. The moment passed, as these sorts of moments so often do, in silence.

And later, as I fumed in my room, the “why” of why I had felt the urge to shout “why” finally emerged into the forefront. Why was the bishop only moving through a world of men? At the time of this training, a single district superintendent was a woman, and the cabinet, nearly two dozen conference level officials, had just three women on staff, one of whom was the bishop’s assistant. Why were there so few women on the conference staff? Even if it was not deliberate exclusionary practice, and I didn’t think it was, this bishop would regularly spend hours upon hours one-on-one with his fellow male clergy. Three hours each way to a district meeting leaves a lot of time for talking about ministry, for asking advice, and for networking. Those hours add up, and leaders frequently choose those whom they know, trust, and have spent time with to elevate to positions of authority. This attempt to behave “above reproach” had hurt the career opportunities of countless female clergy. Why couldn’t the bishop just keep a policy of not travelling one-on-one in a car with anyone? To travel in groups or alone? This attempt at ethical leadership was not ethical and not leadership, and it propagated a more homogenous clergy, a more homogenous cabinet, and a more homogenous church.

But weighing my options, I decided not to speak up. I was not even commissioned, let alone ordained, and I did not have the security of an appointment. I did not expect any kind of formal retaliation, but I did not want the headache of the confrontation. The comment itself, and the hundreds of micro-decisions I needed to make about whether or not to respond in the moment, were exhausting. I did not want the additional exhaustion of drawing out the moment. Besides, the moment had passed, and I had not spoken up in the moment. Silence often begets silence.

 

But the gospel, the good news, is a spoken word, a good, true, spoken word. And God speaks to us in a good word of relationship, of covenantal relationship, of the potential for relationship with God and with one another. The God who spoke us into being and sent a Word to live among us gives the freedom and enlivening Spirit to speak to one another. And the time is always right to speak right.

Our text this morning from Genesis 17 is the foundation of the covenant God makes with Abraham and Sarah. “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.” From God’s offer of relationship with us, we learn three important things about how we are to live with God and with one another. First, God offers covenantal relationship to women as well as to men. It is not just that Abraham is our father in faith, but that Sarah is our mother in faith, the mother of the covenant. When we limit the imagination of our leadership in our faith communities and in our other work communities we close off the divine imagination that calls women and men equally.

Second, covenantal relationship is based on mutuality and freedom. The covenant into which God calls Abraham and Sarah is the definition of an unequal power dynamic. After all, God is God and we are not. But God does not abuse that power. God doesn’t force Abram and Sarah to do what God wants. God calls and invites humanity into divine relationship, and we are given the freedom to respond, to live up to the high calling to which we are called, to “walk before God, and be blameless.” God honors the divine image that we bear. God offers to and does hold up God’s end of the covenant. God also offers us divine freedom for humanity to do what God asks of us.

Third, God models how to have relationship with others when there is a power imbalance. Whether it is a doctor-patient relationship, a teacher-student relationship, a pastor-congregant relationship, an employer-employee relationship, or any other of the myriad ways in which we humans have structured ourselves into intrapersonal dynamics where power is not shared equally, we are called to exercise authority with responsibility. Power does not naturally lead to abuse, but power that is abused does. God, in relationship with Abraham and Sarah, does not demand a cult of personality, but instead offers a covenant of mutuality.

Jesus in our Gospel also has something to say to systems of abusive power. The cross, the method of execution used by an abusive, oppressive state, was intended to crush those whom it killed and the hopes of those who watched. The cross was meant to cut off air to resistance, to speech, to breath, and to life. Jesus has something to say about that. To Peter, who attempts to change the subject, who denies the possibility that an abusive system could ever harm his teacher, Jesus says, Get behind me Satan! No one is too smart, too kind, too anything to be above risk when abusive systems of power and abusive persons are elevated to positions of power. To those in authority who abuse their power, who create a system to prop up their own power by crushing others, Jesus, asks, pointedly, For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and lose their soul? And to those who would hope to lead, who might be at risk, in taking power, to abuse it, Jesus warns, “Deny yourself, take up that cross.” Too often, this catchprase has been used abusively, by pastors urging people to stay with their abusers. To them, I say, As one of my colleagues, a brilliant pastor and biblical scholar puts it, “you ain’t reading it right.”

The cross is an attempted abuse of power. To pick up a cross, to push against its strain and weight, and to keep breathing, is an act of resistance, it is a speech-act, and it breathes life even in the midst of death. Following Jesus requires not abusing power, and it also demands that we strain against those human systems we have created which attempt to crush through abusive power. For Jesus also tells us here that the cross is not the end, and that the grave is not victorious. The façade of abusive power will, at some day, even if it is on the great lasting day, crumble and fall.

 

The #MeToo movement, first begun by Tarana Burke in 2007, has brought to the fore the

pervasive problems of sexual abuse and harassment. From hotel cleaning staff to assembly line workers, from judicial clerks to academics, women have been speaking out against the ways in persons have abused their power and the ways in which systems have ignored and enabled that abuse to continue, sometimes for years. And faith communities have not been above the fray. One only has to follow the hashtag #churchtoo to hear stories from women and men who have been harassed and abused within their church communities.

#MeToo is about the basics. It is about naming the problem of power. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse are ultimately about power, not sex. And sometimes it is good for the church to go over the basics.  Religious organizations need to be able to talk about the problem of power, to teach that it is wrong to abuse power, and to develop theologies about power. We need to teach our children these things, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves as well.

The things that we know are wrong, we should still take the time to say are wrong. The things we don’t think need repeating do need repeating. We must remind ourselves, and teach our children, that abuse is wrong. Physical abuse is wrong. Emotional, spiritual, verbal, and psychological abuse is wrong. Intimate relationships must have mutuality as their basis; one should be able to share strength and vulnerability in equal measure with a partner. This is why it is unethical for a person who is in an authority position over another to enter into an intimate relationship with a person who is reliant upon them, whether for medical treatment, classroom learning, spiritual guidance, athletic coaching, or a paycheck.

There is another facet of the #metoo movement, and it relates to the problematic ways in which men have tried to “protect” women. How can a military man, for example, who bemoans a time when “women were considered sacred and looked upon with great honor” praise the integrity of a man who has been accused of physical abuse by three former partners? It seems to boggle the mind, but with a theology of mutuality, of covenantal relationship, we are able to see through the fog of obfuscation and name the ways in which this statement and those actions are two sides to the same coin.

“Women are considered sacred and looked upon with great honor.” This lament for a halcyon bygone era is a description better suited to objects than people. You might describe a precious possession this way, perhaps a family heirloom set on display, a piece of art hanging ona wall, or an artifact donated to a museum. In this logic, women are first and foremost objects to be protected, not colleagues who are presumed to be persons of integrity, whose word should be believed. In a workplace dominated by men, with certain expectations of what roles women play in society and in the workplace, a man’s word is seen as stacking high against the claims, even of multiple women. This, of course, is an extreme example, but behind every #MeToo story of extreme abuse and harassment lie hundreds of smaller moments, of opportunities missed, invitations not extended, and mentoring overlooked, hundreds of off-handed comments at daylong trainings which reveal the problems we have concealed for too long.

The Lenten season is a time for introspection and preparation. It is a good time to take stock, to look squarely at the troubles of the world, and to prepare ourselves for the great mystery of Holy Week that encompasses all of the hurt and hope of creation. Perhaps, this Lent, you can think back to your own relationships, both personal and professional. Is there a place of hurt that you have buried? Perhaps this Lent, think about speaking, to a therapist, to a close friend, to yourself in a journal, or perhaps just to God in prayer. Is there a relationship in which you did not act in mutuality, where you took for granted or even took advantage of the power you had over others? Perhaps this Lent you will take time and space for an examination of conscience, repentance, and change.

In preparation for this sermon, in this Lenten series, I’ve been doing a lot of swimming around in Thomas Merton, who was a truly prolific writer. One only needs to consider the bibliography page on the Thomas Merton society website to get a sense that there are far more stories than seven in the Merton mountain. But when I think about power, mutuality, and the complex ways in which we relate to one another and to God, I found comfort and meaning in Merton’s famous prayer on direction and discernment. Would you be in prayer with me?

 

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

-The Rev. Jen Quigley