A Truer Longing

Mark 7: 24-37

Jeremiah 29: 4-14

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This morning we welcome the Rev. Ms. Jennifer Quigley to our pulpit, to participate in this dialogue sermon, which, like all sermons, is about God and about 20 minutes.  Jen earned BA at BU, and MDiv at BUSTH and received a marriage certificate from Marsh Chapel, along with her fine husband Soren. She is thus a triple terrier!  As Chapel Associate here she exemplifies one fine way to thrive here, and she exemplifies our Marsh envisioned mission, to be a heart for the heart of the city and a service in the service of the city, through the voice of the chapel, decisions about vocation here, and daily attention to fanning the flames of volume in participation, particularly come Sunday.  Welcome Jen!

1. Dean Hill

In every journey there are moments when we feel like turning back.  We are jogging, early in the day, and feet are heavy and lungs are burning:  maybe we will go back to bed.  You are part way into a history of early America, and the pages are blurring and the narrative becomes unclear:  maybe we should just go out for a while.   You have a report due tomorrow, or a presentation in business, and the needed inspiration for the moment needs inspiration, but none comes:  maybe another visit to the refrigerator or cookie jar will help.  Your business or career, your school or community, your church or your country have made some progress over some time but the way forward appears to be longer and rockier than you thought:  maybe we should just turn around.

Underneath the lassitude of such a moment there may lurk a suspicion that this current course is not part of God’s generous grace.   Were not things simpler, better, easier at home?  Are there not serious wrongs in the current environment?  Perhaps I should look at some other setting?  Early in a new job we can feel so.  During the first several weeks of college or graduate school we can be acquainted with this dour perspective.  When the hard foundation work of building—a house, a project, a campaign, a fund drive, a relationship—makes the back muscles weary, we can start to feel overwhelmed.

The people of Israel, to whom Jeremiah writes, knew this condition.  They had been sent off as vassal servants to Babylon in the sixth century bce.  Some looked with resignation at their poor condition.  Others looked with fanatical expectation to the heavens, awaiting immediate, magical relief.  They were not the first nor the last people to be found quivering between the Scylla of resignation and the Carybdis of fanaticism.  As a matter of fact, people of faith, your two main adversaries, on any given day may be the opium of resignation and the cocaine of fanaticism.

All your holy supports have been taken away.  For the Jews in Babylon that meant one set of losses.  The holy land long ago given in promise—gone.  The holy city constructed and protected by kings for generations—gone.  The holy community and its rituals, devotions, leadership, altars, days, seasons—gone.  The history and memory ever embedded in space and place—gone.  The identity there formed, there fashioned—gone.  For the Jews in Babylon, there was one sixth century bce set of losses.  For those starting a course of study that means another set of losses.  The places of earlier success in academics and athletics—gone.  The support of friends of lasting trust and several years—gone.  The mixed blessing but blessing nonetheless of family of origin, extended and nuclear—gone.  The fragile but living identity of preparatory schools and years, won with struggle and effort—gone.  And all around a sea of anonymity, unfamiliarity, ambiguity, uncertainty.   Does this evoke for you any thoughts about the beginning of a college career?

2. Rev. Jen Quigley:

The first time I went to do laundry my freshman year at BU, I was prepared. My mom had made sure I had washed clothes at home at least enough times to know how to properly sort them, measure out the detergent, choose the correct setting, shake out the wet clothes, insert a dryer sheet, and, again, choose the correct settings. I even knew to check the lint trap! Laundry seemed like a complicated but easy process; as long as you followed the correct steps, your clothes would become clean without your socks turning pink. I waited a little longer than I should have, so my hamper bag was pretty full that Sunday afternoon the week after school began. As I walked into the laundry room in the basement of 188 Bay State Road, I froze. First, these machines were front-load, not top load. How could I tell when to stop loading clothes to avoid overstuffing the washer? Worse, the settings were all different. They seemed deceptively simple…did my laundry qualify for the “normal” setting, or were they “delicate?” What makes clothes “heavy” anyway? Worse still, it took forever to find where to put the detergent. Was I just supposed to toss it in from the side, hoping it spread evenly over my clothes? After about three minutes of sheer panic, I found a little detergent drawer, and poured it in what I hoped was the correct one of three separate trays. If you have ever tried laundry at BU, you know that the detergent seems to magically disappear down that tray, and as soon as you pour it in, it looks like you haven’t put any in at all. Worried I hadn’t used enough, I put in some more, and then began to truly freak out as I saw the ominous sign above the washing machine: DO NOT USE TOO MUCH DETERGENT. Had I gone overboard and now used too much? I had heard rumors about a kid who had used too much detergent on West and flooded the entire laundry room…

 

But worst of all, well, I didn’t realize the worst part until I had already loaded the clothes, and committed to the use of too much detergent. I looked for the place to swipe my Terrier Card, which my parents had conveniently outfitted with enough convenience points to help get me started with some of the basics, especially laundry. This machine did not take convenience points. It wanted cold hard cash, specifically quarters. Despair set in. Where could I get quarters on a Sunday?!? I could get cash from the ATM, for sure, dipping into my very spare reserves in my college checking account, but the banks wouldn’t be open to give me change! Who would give me change? I left the laundry in the machine, leaving a note saying I would be right back, and went on an adventure. The cash was easy enough, but the convenience store in Warren told me they had a firm no change-making policy. I received rejections from several more business establishments before a student employee took pity on me, asking why I didn’t just go use the change machines in Towers? Finally armed with so many quarters I jingled as I walked, I returned to 188 Bay State Road.

 

There, I hesitated over one last, seemingly minor decision. Someone, who shall remain nameless due to my uncertainty over BU’s statute of limitations, had told me there was a trick to manipulate the machines, something with thread and tape on the quarter, so that you could turn 25 cents into $1.25 simply by tugging on the string and releasing the quarter a few times.

 

Should I try this trick? If I did, how exactly did it work? Where should I attach the string, for example? Did this trick amount to petty theft? Would the washing machine know and somehow send notification to the police? If I just paid the full amount, in cash, my spending money would dwindle to nothing in a few short weeks! What would happen if I couldn’t afford quarters anymore? Would I have to lug my laundry to Warren every week, just to use convenience points? This last, small, but not morally insignificant decision pushed me over the edge, and I found myself paralyzed by a washing machine a week into my freshman year of college. After ten minutes, a housemate brought his laundry downstairs, and gruffly asked me how long I needed. This forced a decision, and I jammed all five quarters into the machine and retreated to my room, overwhelmed by my emotions. One thought kept ringing in my ears. If I couldn’t even do laundry here, how was I supposed to make it at Boston University? For the first, and not the last time that year, I felt homesick.

 

It was not as though I didn’t know how to do laundry, I just didn’t know how to do it here, on these machines, in this setting. You may be and feel completely prepared to go to college, but the fact is, no matter how prepared you are or feel, it is different from home and very different from high school. Those differences can cause a paralysis of sorts, and those differences expose you to the reality of your displacement, your dislocation; those differences make you long for home. The longing for home is visceral, deep, and no matter what anyone tells you about the joys of your college years, absolutely true.

 

Now I know that caring for laundry may pale in comparison to the struggles of the ancient Israelites, but I can tell you for this time and place they are very real.

 

3. Dean Hill:

Actually the two experiences are both connected to a deep desire to live out our own truest longings.  The experience of exile and the feeling of exile are not such distant cousins.

We here at Marsh Chapel can further appreciate the added or heightened burning sensation of life as part of a largely secular culture.  As one wrote about Jeremiah’s verses:  Uprooted from all familiar circumstances by the barbaric deportation the exiles found themselves…suffering a kind of paralysis in relation to their environment….The community was thrust out into the alien situation in the world…The deported people were snatched overnight out of this cluster of protective sacral orders (von Rad, 101-102).  They are thrust into an all-pervading secularity whose rhythms, priorities, demands and rewards are alien to the perspective and the people of faith.   We can empathize, looking about us this morning, in our current location, here and now.  Sunday is not a shared day of communal rest.  The human body is not always viewed happily as the temple of the Lord.  Funds and goods are not held and had in common.  Speech is not steadily governed by the warnings within the letter of James heard last week.  The horizon of hope is more earth than heaven, the material not the spiritual, the body not the soul.   An occasional radio broadcast of historic worship, or an occasional entrance into remaining, vestigial congregations, breaks awkwardly into the reigning secularity of the dominant culture.  On a college campus (whose weekend day begins at 4pm) on a Sunday morning in the Northeast within a large city that has its share of snowfall—to resist and grow together just here, just now in faith is to run into the very teeth of a very cold secular wind.

 

You will have heard what Jeremiah, the prophet, said to his forlorn flock way off in Babylon in chains.  It is a truly striking word that strikes the heart.  It is a word that can kindle in you a truer longing.  Jeremiah tells the people to put their hearts and minds and souls and labor into the very secular, cold setting into which they have been thrust.  Their well being now depends upon their overseers, who do not share their faith or their values.  So:  build there.  So:  grow there.  So: plant there.  So: marry, bear children, bear grandchildren, live and die—there.   Jeremiah is reproving homesickness, that is, the homesickness that looks backward as well as forward:  he is speaking against that dissatisfaction, that age-old human will to revolt that can wear so many different garbs (von Rad, 102). Resignation and fanaticism:  Jeremiah speaks against both the doubters and the dreamers.  His word celebrates the doers.  Jeremiah leads his readers to the validity and the duration of this their present…How objective here is the summons to simple involvement in society, against a fanaticism that believes that this interim situation does not at all deserve to be taken seriously!…Jeremiah’s directions are amazing:  they contain a justification of what is secular, worldy; indeed, they propose to offer encouragement to what is worldly (101).

 

Your salvation evokes a capacity to receive the divine generosity, the gift of faith, and so to let go…of home.  Your salvation relies upon your hearing of another word—student, professor, retiree, laborer, all!–the promise of a truer longing, a desire to plant here, grow here, build here, covenant here, and so let go of homesickness.  Fear not the secular setting in which you find yourself. Draw by faith on the gifts of God—in Word and Sacrament—for the people of God.  Then leave behind the dreamers, and leave behind the doubters, and align yourself with the doers.  For this exile, this deportation, this time in an alien place and a foreign culture, has its limit.  It does not last forever.  It is circumscribed, bound by a foreordained limit.  For Israel, that was the fall of Babylon two generations later, 538bce.  For others, that will be the baccalaureate service of May 2016, following, after a brief interlude, on last Sunday’s matriculation service of September 2012.   In the mean time, I wonder what in particular about this place will help us all nurture a sense of truest longing.

 

4. Rev. Jen Quigley:

 

Within the rhythms and rituals of this setting, Boston University, where the work of the mind is the ordered and ordering principle of the place, there is good news; in rhythms and in rituals you find the best remedy for homesickness, because as you develop your own rhythms and rituals in this place, the unfamiliar becomes familiar, the paralysis relaxes into a stretch, and so slowly you hardly even notice the change, in this new place, with these new people, in this new way of thinking, with this new faith, you feel less homesick and more home.

If you are new to this place, or if you are sensing some new discomfort or dislocation in this fall season, the advice of our Scripture this morning is this, to plant gardens, build houses, to see your children married. The Prophet Jeremiah urges the people of Israel to get to know the Brave New World of this strange Babylon, and to not hesitate to put down roots. For our time, in our place, perhaps not exiles but feeling a little exiled nonetheless, we might try to learn how these three things are done at Boston University, and to try them ourselves: Do laundry, read, and develop relationships. Here at the Chapel and around the university, there are people eager to help you learn how each of these is done at BU.

1. Do Laundry: I was saved from bankruptcy, despair, and theft alike by the community of saints in 188-190 Bay State Road. As a community, we eventually agreed never to use that trick with the tape and string, because the tape would get stuck and the washing machine would break. Instead, an enterprising student with some electrical and computer engineering skills reprogrammed our drier to dispense 99 minutes of drying for every quarter spent. I am not endorsing what still probably amounts to petty theft, but rather saying that there are people around you who can help you find quarters, share an extra dryer sheet, tell you how to fix your blinds, and explain where to hang your towel in Warren so that you neither soak your towel nor flash your entire communal bathroom. Ask your RA, ask your roommate, ask the sophomore or junior or senior in your building. Learn the best ways to do the little, ordinary, everyday things; often they make all the difference. Our habits make for a better home.

2. Read: There are certain well-loved, well-worn works around Boston University, and reading them will help you learn some of the parlance of this place. Spend an afternoon with Jesus and the Disinherited by the Reverend Doctor Howard Thurman, former Dean of Marsh Chapel, while sitting in the Howard Thurman Center in the basement of the GSU. Read a Letter from Birmingham Jail in the MLK reading room, on the third floor of Mugar Library, surrounded by King’s letters, photographs, and schoolwork. Pick up a copy of Maya Angelou’s On the Pulse of the Morning, and, as Dean Elmore suggests at the start of every school year, rally a few others to join you at sunrise on the BU beach, where the rock, the river, and the tree meet, to take turns reading lines from the poem. Wondering what to read next? Ask your professor, your TA, a chaplain, what work inspires them, their work, and their passions?

3. Build Relationships: Relationships in college develop in those ordinary and extraordinary moments. You might meet your soul mate at orientation or your best friend in a random roommate assignment, but you won’t figure out whether you have or not until you go to the dining hall with them, talk with them about anything other than schoolwork in your common room, proofread each other’s papers, and get lost in Boston together. Your financial investment in college is significant, but your personal investment in the people you meet has just as much value.  And if in the midst of all these adventures, you have a question about your deeper longings, you can always come and see a chaplain.

Dean Hill:  So the chaplains are one of the resources available in this particular time and place.  What would happen if I went to see one of these people?

Rev. Jen Quigley:  Well, just what are chaplains anyway?

Dean Hill:  My question exactly! We could say they are people who believe in the value of helping you connect your greatest passion with the world’s greatest need.

Rev. Jen Quigley:  Precisely.

Dean Hill:  Are you one such?

Rev. Jen Quigley:  I am!  In fact my title is:  Chapel Associate for Vocational Discernment.  What about you?

Dean Hill: I am as well.  As for my titles, well, they are many, but one’s life does not consist in the abundance of positions!

Rev. Jen Quigley:  In conclusion, we hope and pray that those searching for their truest longing will find their way in the college experience.  If they need a friendly guide along the way,  we are here for fellowship, discernment, conversation—and even some expert advice about laundry!

 

Call to Confession:

Over the last 72 hours my prayerful mind has hovered over one meditation:  the vast goodness around us, and especially the vast goodness in this University, the vast goodness in its history, people, thought and service.  Boston University.  Since 1839 a history of learning, virtue and piety.  A long proven inclusion of women, Jews, blacks, and immigrants.  An endowment of voice soaring past color of skin to quicken content of character.  Healthy movement in thought, from Methodism to personalism to pragmatism to naturalism.  Today, this morning, many here with us:  a brilliant student body who are growing in moral discernment, resisting substance abuse, rejecting amoral sexuality, setting limits to material greed, and developing empathy for the least, the last and the lost.  The real story here is far less salacious and much more hopeful than sometimes we think, thanks to good people, good leadership, and the underlying goodness of God.  We are in good hands, and so may gladly bear one another’s burdens.  As fallible people, honest about our failures, let us offer our prayers of confession

 

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