Archive for May, 2012

The Same Spirit

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

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Paul on Spirit

In the passage of 1 Corinthians read earlier, the apostle Paul has exhorted his energetic Corinthians to sense the Spirit.

We could use a measure of Spirit, too.  In this religious mudslide across the country that has deposited determinism, quietism, pessimism into our common life, we especially hunger for what Paul writes.  We truly hunger to pick up what he is putting down here.  Are picking up what he is putting down?  It’s not heavy.

The future?  The future is open, and at least in good part the future of our planet will be forged by the freedom of individuals and groups to make choices for health and life.  The present? The present is a good time.  The best time to plant an oak tree is a hundred years ago.  The second best time is today.  The present is second best, and that is pretty good.   The past? The past is not in charge.  The past is not dead, and therefore not past, but the past is not ruling the roost.  You are.  What you choose not to do matters.  That is why we continue happily to harp on the crucial centrality of tithing, and of inviting.  Give away 10% of what you earn, and invite some person every week to church, and you will be like the child born on the Sabbath day:  happy, witty, bright and gay.

It is the one Spirit, the same spirit, from which we drink this morning.  You know this well, but a few reminders for those who may have been absent on Pentecosts past, or asleep like Elijah’s Baal, on Sunday’s past, or just not really interested in Spirit.  First, for Paul there is absolutely no separation between spiritual life and life.  Spirit is in life and the much prized division between material and spiritual, prized in ancient Greece and prized today here, Paul humiliates.  The same spirit roves and ravages in what is said, what is predicted, what is healed, what is remembered, what is done, what is given.  For him, there is no distinction between religious and secular.  The same Spirit inhabits all.  Second, the Spirit is the Lord.  And the Lord is the Church.  It is like a body.  Many parts, one body.  Did you notice just where you expect Paul to say “church”—so it is with…—he says Christ.  For him the church is the body of Christ, in some mystical, magical, mysterious, miraculous way.  Christ has actual feet.  Yours.  Actual hands.  Yours.  Actual muscles.  His.  Actual voice.  Hers.  Actual presence.  Third,  Paul distinguishes gifts from fruit.   Fruit if general, lavished upon all—love, joy, peace….Gifts are individual, to one this, to one that.  Fourth, the reason for the gifts.  You have particular gifts.  What are they?  Name one.  You have at least one, and Paul in know way means his glory hole collection list here to be exhaustive.  I do find it compellingly interesting that his list is almost all related to hearing and speaking.  It is curious, and not explicable, that he names faith as a gift that some have, and others, apparently, share by extension.  You may go to church for many in your family and neighborhood, too.   Fifth, the Spirit brings freedom the Spirit evokes grace, the Spirit spreads love.  Sixth, and most significant, in the opening of the gifts of the Spirit, for Paul, all of these manifold gifts have one central purpose:  the common good.  The common good.

In most ways, the conditions in Corinth could not be more globally different from our own.  They in tatters, we in Sunday best.  They in a borrowed upper room, we in a fine Gothic nave.  They in untutored simplicity, we in educated elevations.  They in uproarious shouting, we in decency and order.  They at the salt water edge of the Mediterranean, we fresh water fish all, along the Genesee.  They expecting that the form of this world is passing away, we not expecting that, unless by nuclear incident.  And what could we possibly have in common with such a community so torn by Gnostic speculations, incestuous relationships, lawsuits filed member against member, questions about the morality of marriage, selfish inhospitality at table, and a boundless enthusiasm that like earlier Methodism must have seemed “noise and nonsense” to those all around?

One thing we share.  As a global village, and as a church, we are perennially threatened by the various shadows and filters that can muffle the sense of full, same Spirit of which Paul speaks here in Corinthians.

Our particularities, in church and nation, can become the sideshows that eat up the circus, the varieties that threaten to obscure the same Spirit at work in all.

The Sound of Spirit

Notice the vocabulary of the gifts Paul names.  They all have voice.  Our age has become one of email communication: visual communication.  Email is a wonderful tool, as long as its visual features are kept in mind.  It is immediate, indelible, irretrievable, international, infinitely transferable.  And it carries no voice, no body, no sound.  Paul has tuned his ear to the speaking of the Spirit, in many voices.

The Spirit speaks in any utterance of wisdom.  Note, this is not any religious as opposed to unreligious wisdom, but simply whatsoever things are true.  Truth finally needs no defense, even as falsehood finally has none.  It is an utterance which Paul connects first with Spirit.

The Spirit also speaks in the utterance of knowledge.  Paul does not equate wisdom with knowledge, a lesson for the knowledgeable to bear in mind.  He may have in mind the knowledge so prized by his spirited opponents, the Gnostics, who like most predominant religious expressions in most ages, including our own today in America, gain adherence through certainty, whether knowledge of the stars, or the planets, or the spheres, as in Paul’s time, or whether knowledge of eternity, or calling, or determination, as in ours.  There is a reason that determinist, certainty promising religions, Gnostic or sacramentalist or fundamentalist, generally do well.  To certainty Paul opposes confidence, as in the next gift.

The Spirit also speaks in faith.  Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God.

The Spirit also speaks in healing, that is in words of healing:  ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’;  or, ‘your faith has made you well’; or ‘Lazarus, come out’.

The Spirit speaks in the dynamite of change, of miracle that is the unexpected, whether understood naturally or supernaturally.  All nature sings…

The Spirit speaks in prophecy for the common good.  The Spirit speaks in conversation about other speaking, discernment.  The Spirit speaks, even, Paul allows here, in ecstatic utterance, glossallalia,, as long as other speech is able to hear some meaning.

The sound of Spirit has reverberated in every rebirth of the church, from the noise of Pentecost day, to Paul and his noisy Corinthians, to Augustine and his noisy sermons, to the noisy whispering in the medieval monasteries, to Luther’s noisy shout, “I can do no other”, to Wesley’s noise and nonsense, as his detractors said, in band, class, meeting, conference, worship, sermon and music, all the way to Azusa Street and the birth of post-Methodism, the Pentecostals. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is noise, sound, freedom, speech.  And this in great variety.

We too have varieties of gifts, right here.  We are gifted with various passions in our speech to one another at Asbury First.  There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, varieties of service, but the same Lord, varieties of activities, but the same God.  To one is given the gift of… music, mission, management, money, Methodism…all for the common good.  Let each one match his passion for a particular gift, with the shared commitment to the common good, known in our faith by tithing and invitation.

Gifts Activated for the Common Good

When conviction is quickened by imagination there is action that makes a difference.

Jesus of Nazareth spoke by imagination when he said, ‘blessed are you poor, for God’s reign is for you’.  John Wesley spoke with imagination when he said, ‘there is no holiness save social holiness’.  Vaclev Havel spoke with imagination when he said, ‘Hope is not prognosis, but a willingness to work for what is right’.

We may differ in our choices of tactics.  On supports governmental programs.  Another advocates work by private companies and charities.  A third prefers a blend.  But all are supported by the same Spirit, at work for the common good.  God is at work in the world to make and keep human life human.  The world can work.  It can.  We need not discount environmental decay, nor nuclear accident, nor global warming, nor fundamentalist terror, nor rampant disease.  All these and other horsefolk of the apocalypse have long been spied.  Still, the word can work.  The future is open.  The present is a really good moment.  The past is not in charge.

When imagination is quickened by conviction there is action that makes a difference.  Imagine for a moment, a spirited moment directed toward the common good…

Wouldn’t it be nice if the prisons in this country were half-empty and the streets free of homeless vagrants?

Wouldn’t it be nice if every generation received a better education than the one that preceded it?

Wouldn’t it be nice if every man and woman who wanted a job could get one, and so we did not waste a single person or view any person as ‘redundant’?

Wouldn’t it be nice if schools and hospitals and churches and charities had more money than they knew what to do with?

Wouldn’t it be nice if men and women were getting along so well that abuse and abortion were virtually unheard of?

Wouldn’t it be nice if budgets, public and private, were set with a clear, frugal eye to the future, and without being based on borrowing from the next generation?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the measure of success in this great country were formed not against the question of individual achievement, but against the desire for the common good?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we really took seriously, really believed in a final judgment, the day of the Lord, in which hearts are sifted and measurements made—against the prospect of the common good?

Wouldn’t it be nice if warfare ceased, and if what remained only occurred within the bounds of Christian just war doctrine?

Wouldn’t it be nice if democracy, not only of voice and vote, but also of education and endowment and employment and environment were our song?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to bed at night, not as those who all day have been rivals for position and power and privilege, but as those who have worn an easier yoke and a lighter burden, that of the broken Master, that of real community, that of the common good—I mean as those who have helped each other?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the criterion for medical care were simply, “how sick are you”?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the communal virtues, the gifts of Spirit that work for the common good, the very signposts of salvation—responsibility, industry, frugality, respect for authority, a sense of limits—replaced those of mere success?

Wouldn’t it be nice if every kid in this country had enough to eat tonight?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the love of Jesus Christ, and the fear of disappointing him, and the hope of meeting him in glory, and the joy of working in his fellowship were all that we really wanted and needed?

Wouldn’t it?

Too idealistic?  Really?  Jesus, John Wesley, Vaclev Havel, did not think so.  Where has our early love gone?  Where is the love revival of our first kiss of faith?  Have we begun with the Spirit to end with the flesh?  Where is our imagination?

George Bernard Shaw, as usual, had it right:  “You see things as they are and say ‘Why’?  But I dream things that never were and I say ‘Why not’?

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

Baccalaureate

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Click here to hear Dean Hill’s introduction of The Honorable Sandra L. Lynch and her address.

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Boston University’s 2011 Baccalaureate speaker was The Honorable Sandra L. Lynch, Chief Judge of the Unites States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Later in the day, Judge Lynch was awarded an honorary Doctor of of Laws degree at BU’s 139th Commencement. For more information about Judge Lynch, please read BU Today’s article.

There will be no sermon text posted for this Baccalaureate address.

This I Believe

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

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John 15: 9-17

“This I Believe” Narratives

Michael Bruffee

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I believe that at our root we are all joyous, compassionate beings with a natural drive to be loving and kind to each other.

My spiritual journey here at Boston University all started with a question. When I was a freshman I was a little lost, and didn’t know what I wanted to do, academically or otherwise. I had lots of big questions about life, such as who am I, what is my passion, how do I help people? So I did what any college freshman would do: I went looking on Facebook.

There was this little club called the BU Zen Group that met every wednesday night, right here in the basement of Marsh Chapel, so I decided to join them for sitting meditation. As I remember, those first fifteen minutes of meditation were the longest I’d ever sat still in my life. But something about the quality of that experience resonated with me and planted a seed, for here I am five years later and I’ve dived right into the practice of Buddhism.

There was no one telling me how to live, no one telling me what I should or shouldn’t do, there was just a sense of, here, come sit down with us and experience your life as it unfolds in this moment. Find your own truth, then use that to help other people. It was astonishingly simple.

I believe in people. I believe that people love to be acknowledged, that we need to be attended to, and that deep down we all recognize that this feeling of being separate from each other, separate from the universe, separate from God, is fundamentally delusion, and that in reality we have a shared existence. We are not separate from each other, and we are certainly not separate from the universe–we’re very much a part of it! And we create suffering for ourselves and others when we forget this point and start wanting something extra out of our lives, or pushing certain things away. Rather, if we can recognize this shared existence, if we practice acceptance of everything that appears in our lives moment to moment, then we can wake up to our true compassionate nature and help this world.

Out on Marsh Plaza in front of this chapel is a statue of doves wrought from iron dedicated to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his vision of peace. On one side is a quote from a sermon Dr. King gave more than a few times. He said, “Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, the command to love thy enemy is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization.” We have this legend here at BU that when the world finally realizes this vision of peace and brotherhood, those iron doves will be released from their pedestal and fly off into the sky. I am grateful to be at an institution which has given me the opportunity to wake up to that spirit of unconditional love. That’s not just a Christian idea–all the major religious traditions of the world teach the same thing. In Zen we call that Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way.

It’s even as simple as keeping a smile on your face. It’s the kind of smile that, when you are doing your job and helping others, appears all by itself. There’s a contagious quality to smiles and laughter–when we see someone smiling, we can’t help but follow suit, and that gives us a little bit of peace. No matter what I end up doing after graduation, it has become my aspiration in this life to share that joyfulness and peace with as many people as I can. I hope that as you go about your own lives you can, in your own way share a little piece of joy with someone. Wake up, find your own truth, help others.

Muna Sheikh

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As a Muslim student, I’m often asked questions about my views on Islam and the role that my faith plays in my own life. Over the past four years at BU, thinking critically about my faith experience and practicing my faith in a college environment, my own answers to these questions have changed considerably.

I came to college with a bias against my own faith community, and an unwillingness to associate myself with Islam. I had accepted a negative narrative about Muslims that framed Islam as something backwards, dogmatic, and incompatible with American ideals. Growing up in a family in the South Asian diaspora, I had developed an understanding of Islam that was culturally specific and didn’t always accord with my situation as an American. I didn’t understand Islam well, and I was both distraught over my misunderstandings about the religion and unsure about where I could find answers to the questions that I had about my faith.

Coming to college afforded the opportunity for me to examine my faith academically and authentically. Studying, living, and interacting in an environment that encouraged me to engage in discussion and dialogues with students of different backgrounds pushed me to think critically about my interpretation of Islam. As I explored religious sources independently, for the first time, I learned to cultivate a faith practice that both respected and celebrated what was culturally normative for me and was also religiously authentic. On a personal level, my faith has helped me cope with challenges, and it has served as the backbone and motivation for everything I do.

Over time, I also came to understand that integrating into a college environment didn’t necessarily mean that I had to keep my religious identity intensely private. Rather, I came to understand integration to mean embracing and appreciating my own faith as something that could offer something positive in a pluralistic environment. It meant reaching out to different faith communities to change negative stereotypes, to foster love and respect, and to replace mutual judgment and uncertainty with compassion and understanding.

Most importantly, my faith has encouraged me to think about what I offer to society, as a college student. My faith keeps me focused on the ultimate goal of using the skills I’ve gained at college to rectify societal injustices, alleviate human suffering, and benefit society. It’s meant never losing sight of the common bond that we share with humanity, and our responsibility to help one another, unconditionally.

Over four years, my faith has become something much more than an individualized experience. Through working to stay involved in my community, by striving to serve others and build bridges between our various traditions and backgrounds, my experience as a part of the BU community has helped me give depth to my religious beliefs and kept my faith practice alive.

Rebekah Phillips

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On your way into church this morning, you may have noticed Marsh Chapel’s ornate doors, appreciated its statue of John Wesley, or noted the beautiful stones that create this strong Chapel. On your way into church this morning, you may not have noticed Marsh Chapel’s “Fallout Shelter” signs. Now, I’ve never been too worried about needing a nuclear fallout shelter on campus, but with a best friend obsessed with zombie apocalypses, it’s nice to know I have one just in case.

As one might expect, as a bright-eyed youngin’ from South Carolina in my first semester, I needed some shelter- and not only from the bad weather Boston is wont to provide. I made my first group of friends at Marsh Chapel. I joined Servant Team. And then one fateful day, I managed to land a job at Marsh Chapel. What sealed the deal was the bummy tee-shirt I was wearing, depicting a rock opera by “The Who.” Ray Bouchard instantly became my boss and mentor for classic rock theology.

Again, as one might expect, a youngin’ from South Carolina in my first semester, I did a lot of painful growing and changing. At times, I felt decimated by a natural disaster: College. The hail of homework, the debris of dating, and the floods of friendship. And where did I find myself? Here, in your friendly local fallout shelter.

I remember one particular day, I stormed into Brother Larry’s office, distraught and demanding answers. “Brother Larry, Brother Larry,” I exclaimed throwing myself in his office chair, “I don’t think I believe in hell!” I expected some comforting words, a shelter from that storm, and a “You’ll come around, pray about it.” But no, that’s not how shelter works at Marsh Chapel. No, Brother Larry just looked up and said, “So?” See, here, shelter is not a place to hide from the scary parts of life and growth, shelter is the place that gives you safe space to prepare for those scary parts. Shelter is that calm and gentle question that invites you to sit with your questions. “So?”

Over the past four years, I have come to Marsh Chapel for work, worship, guidance, food, theological exploration, and nap time. This has been my home at Boston University; my shelter. This safe space has made my spirit strong. A young man, whose initials are Dean Robert Alan Hill, once said that “We must remain faithful to the growth.” The patience and gentle questions at Marsh have remained faithful to my growth. I have grown within these walls in ways that will support me outside of these walls. This I believe: Religion and faith at their best, offer not only a shelter from the world, but a place to prepare to better be a part of the world. This I believe: Wherever I am called to serve God’s world, I can go with strength, knowing that I will always carry a safe space with me.

Kate Rogers

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The first time I entered the British Library during my semester abroad in London, I knew I had found my academic temple. Replete with literary treasures—two of the four surviving Magna Cartas, the original Gutenberg Bible, and scribbled first drafts of The Beetles most famous songs among them—and abounding with resolute scholars, vested with pencils and laptops, I felt connected to the whole history of humanity in the pursuit for something higher. The British Library gets 8000 new publications a day, so it naturally became the base from which I wrote my term paper, and in that setting I felt as though there was nothing I couldn’t learn. In that space, with hundreds of years of scholarship behind me, and hours of reading before me, I felt close to God.

I believe that all parts of life can be, well, life giving, and I came to BU (a year later than most of my graduating class because I transferred as a sophomore) knowing I wanted such an experience from my new university. I believe things that are life giving push you to be your best self, achieve what you can, and accept who you are. I wanted invigorating classes with professors as invested as myself. I wanted to be surrounded with refreshingly broadminded people. And, I wanted a connection to a church family, where I might talk about the joys, doubts, and beauty of my faith with people who wanted to do the same. Since the moment I arrived at BU I have been hearing the echo of Howard Thurman, asking me to look for the sound of the genuine and urging I find the things that make me come alive. I didn’t only experience these awe-inspiring suggestions in gothic chapels or studious classrooms, but also in casual settings like Outlook, Marsh’s LGBTQ ministry or around the table of my cooperative house’s nightly dinners.

Occasionally, when I tell people I study Christian Theology and plan to go to seminary, they ask if knowledge of Christian history and teaching is incompatible with my faith in God. To them I say, not at all. Reading and analyzing the legacy of believers behind me has deepened my sense of the divine in everything, and further I tell them for me, knowledge and faith must be fused together. People tell me the Bible condemns homosexuality, and I say proudly my denomination and community affirm the sanctity of human love, connection, and commitment found in all human relationships. And when people tell me they’ve left the church because of its hypocrisy, I can confidently offer my experience at Marsh Chapel as a counter example. In the classroom as in the church, I believe my faith in God’s presence has infused everything I’ve done at BU. This I believe: settings where you feel pushed to find the genuine in yourself and search for the things that make you come alive, academically, personally, and spiritually, must not be restricted to lofty libraries, but invigorate and animate the core of human life everywhere.

Unfinished Grace

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

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1 John 4: 7-12

Mark 16: 1-8

‘To be mature is build schools in which you will not study, to plant trees under which you will not sit, to grow churches in which you will not worship.’ (Ernest Campbell).

John would agree:  John Dempster.  John Appleseed.  John Wesley.  1 John.  John would agree.

The cataract of Easter, its shattering, thunderous, calamitous, munificent, apocalypse of love, leaves parcels and morsels strewn about the lawn of life.  Our Holy Communion in Eastertide is forever an unfinished grace.  We stumble about, following the Easter kiss of grace (gnadenkusse), the Easter quickening.  We bump into bits and pieces left behind the resurrection tornado.

For one thing, the gospel for this Easter, Mark 16, re-read this morning, ends in mid-flight, end in mid-sentence, its last word a preposition, ‘for’.  A weak case (from the critical moderate viewpoint0 finds a couple of other sources in antiquity, in ancient Greek literature, which end with this dangling preposition.  But the much more muscular view, as usual, is that of the moderate critics, not that of the critical moderates.  The end of the scroll (as often happened to beginnings and endings of these documents) probably was torn and lost.  The Easter gospel is literally (not a word I usually associate with the Bible) unfinished.  Its ending is unending.  For….what?

If you doubt this, let me remind you that all the subsequent editors of Mark tried to fix up the finish.  Beginning with Mark.  There are three different endings to Mark.  The unfinished original, and two finished unoriginals, the shorter and the longer.  They are not improvements, except in a grammatical sense.  Next come Matthew and Luke, writing 20 years after Mark.  They also both replace the unfinished finish, with a finished finish, not original, but, like a nice addition to an old house, appropriate to the space.  The Fourth Gospel enlarged Mark’s sketch (a version may have influenced John), with three other stories (of Mary, of the disciples, and of Thomas).  And of course Paul knows nothing of any of this, so had nothing to add.  Whether or not you want to think about unfinished grace as the metaphorical unfinished symphony of Being is your choice.  The fact stubbornly remains:  Mark 16 ends unfinished, in mid-sentence, ‘they were afraid for…’

Life is open.  Freedom is real.  Easter causes us a little humility about what we think we know.  Unfinished grace cautions us at Easter.  Life is unfolding in unfinished grace.  If, for instance, you have attended a recent lengthy conference or meeting which was by all accounts an unmitigated disaster, and you are tempted to despair, beware.  Grace is afoot, alive, active, and unfinished.  There is more future than you may think in the future.

For another thing, in the aftermath and after glow of Easter, sometimes when we come to our senses we deeply realize unfinished work, unresolved issues, unappreciated love.  Every year, studying the Gospel of John, this hits like a trailer falling out of a tornado.

I am speaking of Nicodemus.  We didn’t hear about him this year, for he is only in John.  You remember his awkward appearance at night in John 3.  He disappears, but reappears at the very end, John 19:29, and helps Joseph of Arimethea to bury Jesus’ body.  ‘Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes’.  So poignant, this, so true to life, so accurate about us.  We don’t know what we have got until it is gone.  At last—too late but not too late—Nicodemus responds in love to the Christ who loved him to death.  He shows up at the burial.

Some returning faithful souls from Tampa Florida may this month suddenly realize what has been lost in the Methodist church.  You don’t what you’ve got until its gone.  For 200 years in various forms our church supported a security of appointment, a modest kind of connectional tenure.  In this practice was located the basis for the covenant of the clergy in conference.  In this practice was located the functional basis for itinerancy, in appointment and apportionment.  In this practice was located the final protection of the freedom of the pulpit from harm and muffling by Episcopal leaders for whom such freedom is uncomfortable.   I

In short, the church said to those entering ministry: ‘you study for four years in college, three years in seminary, work for three years under supervision, and agree to go anywhere you are sent at the appointment of the Bishop, along with your family by the way, and live in a parsonage and earn $40,000 a year.  We will at least guarantee you a place to preach, however modest that may be.  But now, the demands on the young clergy are the same, but the responsible balance, the fair deal from an earlier day is gone.  All the weight is on one end of the teeter totter.  Beware of mendacious and predatory Bishops:  power corrupts, and absolute power, now in view, corrupts absolutely.  It is the equivalent of eliminating tenure on the Charles River campus in one vote, with no full debate.

Maybe the judicial council will rule this too out of order.  You don’t know what you have got until it is gone.

Nicodemus doesn’t know what he has until it is gone.  Still, there is a way—100 pounds of treasure way—for Nicodemus to find faith.  Part of the joy of Easter is that this spiritual street theater involves audience participation, a play unfinished until you, like Nicodemus, step upon stage, take your cues, memorize and deliver your lines.  Unfinished grace includes us—if we will allow it—at Easter.

Yet another thing:  as bread and wine await.  1,000 of us worshipped here in the triduum—an explosion.  Odd, I looked up at Frances Willard, Easter day.  She is found standing perpetually alongside Abraham Lincoln, here in our western stained glass.  To finish Marsh Chapel, sixty years ago, Daniel Marsh had to decide on one final figure, for the last stained glass window.  The choice became a cause célèbre, with letters and advice flying fast and furious.  In a day when people felt strongly about Connick stained glass windows.  Who should it be?

Marsh finally chose Frances Willard, the female force behind prohibition.  Interesting.  A quintessential Methodist choice, in one sense, and a lingering, awkward physical presence on a secular, urban, large, cold, Northern, anything but temperate let alone abstinent, campus.

Here is what President Marsh wrote about Frances Willard:

‘I dare to prophesy that as the years go by and the history of the New World comes to be read…the name of Frances Willard will stand by the side of Lincoln’ (Lady Somerset of England).  Dean of Women at Northwestern…Her upbringing, her religious convictions, her natural bent for reform…put her in the temperance movement…President of the WTCU…A statue of her stands in the rotunda of the Capitol…It is a monument to a beautiful life. (Charm of the Chapel, 182)

Willard said: ‘temperance is moderation in the things that are good and abstinence from things that are foul’; ‘I will not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum’;  ‘the struggle of the soul is toward expression’ She was born near Rochester (Churchville).  She gave 400 speeches a year in the company of her longtime companion, Anna Adams Gordon: ‘there is no village that has not its examples of ‘two hearts in counsel’ both of which are feminine’.  For Willard, temperance was primarily a movement at advancing the cause of suffrage (to my mind anyway), ‘ Yet eighty years after the experience and failure of prohibition (with thanks for Ken Burns’ recent portrayal) Francis Willard is still here, and we still have unfinished work, unfinished imaginative labor to do regarding alcohol.   I am not in favor of prohibition and not a t-totaller, although I grew up in a dry home.  But as a Dad, granddad, pastor, chaplain, Dean and minister, if the choice is between prohibition and sexual exploitation, I take prohibition in a New York minute.  Our work on college campuses regarding alcohol is unfinished.

I will linger with Willard a brief moment longer.  Notice her way of living.  She lived all her life with her life long partner.  One day, our denomination will honor the emerging Frances Willards in our midst, the 10% of those 8 and 9 year old kids who know that somehow they are just a little different from the majority, who know they have a God given and different orientation.  We will bring them to Marsh Chapel and introduce them to one of their forebears, Frances Willard, a feminist, suffragette, international leader, dean, temperance advocate, pioneer, and very probably a gay woman of the 19th century.   She didn’t see her main goal, voting rights for women, in her lifetime.  That happened twenty years after she died.  But it happened.  If you are limping home from a General Conference that was an unmitigated disaster, take a little heart from those who labored for causes that came to fruition only long after they had died.  Just so, unfinished grace challenges us at Easter.  Grace challenges us to remember that real change takes time, but it will come.  It is coming.  It is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave…

‘To be mature is build schools in which you will not study, to plant trees under which you will not sit, to grow churches in which you will not worship.’

John would agree:  John Dempster.  John Appleseed.  John Wesley.  1 John.  John would agree.

Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God and one 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 God 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 one has ever seen God;  if we love one another God’s love abides in us and is perfected in us.

~The Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill,
Dean of Marsh Chapel