What’s the Point? By Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on November 17, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

By this timPresent watche in the semester, just about everyone is ready to be done.  Thanksgiving is next week.  When we come back, it’s finals, and then we will be done.  It’s easy to lose sight of the present in anticipation of the future and the long break that awaits us.  One of the consequences of such anticipation is that it tends to diminish the value of the present.  You’re probably working on papers, final projects.  And, if you’re particularly ambitious, you might even be preparing for your finals already.  I know you’re tired.  It’s hard to do your best when you’re tired.  And, let’s be honest, it’s hard to care.

So you may be asking yourself, “What’s the point?”  I’ve heard such sentiment from many students who are questioning their majors, who are unsure about their futures, and who are just plain tired.  These kinds of thoughts cause a lot of stress, and this is time in the semester when the last thing you need is more stress.  But it’s hard to control such thoughts.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about self-discipline.  There, he says:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NRSV)

You’re in college for a reason, so ask yourself a couple questions: What is the prize; what are you hoping to achieve by being here; and are you working with that goal in mind?  Not everyone in college knows what they will be doing five years hence.  In fact, I would wager that none of you can be certain.  Even having plans doesn’t mean that that is the way your future will unfold.  And sometimes, it takes many missteps to find the right path.

So what is the appropriate goal?  You don’t want to run aimlessly through college; you want to be able to anticipate the prize and to work towards it.  But to label your goal as a job is to diminish your current experience.  College is more than a means to an end, it’s a place to grow and to become a well-rounded and educated adult.  Looking at Paul’s words, we can see this same idea.  Are you working for a perishable wreath or an imperishable one?  A job will never last.  You could be fired, downsized, or replaced by futuristic machines that can do the work of 20 people.  You could become unable to work through accident or illness; and eventually, you will probably retire and find yourself seeking new meaning in your life.  Your future career, as fulfilling as it may be, is a perishable wreath.

The imperishable wreath, however, is the one that will always be with you.  Paul is talking specifically about faith and the personal attitudes which faith requires: such as self-discipline.  I’m talking about faith as well, but I’m also talking about who you are.  What defines you?  What kind of person do you want to be?  You’ve probably heard that college is the time to ‘find yourself,’ but I disagree.  College is the time to define yourself.  Finding yourself is too passive.  It assumes that we have no say in who we are, but we do.  You can be the person that you want to be; it just takes a little work.  So when faced with the challenges of school and life, don’t think: How will this impact my future? Think: What kind of person do I want to be? And, work as if you were already there.

The River of Life

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

River of lifeThen the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

—Revelation 22: 1-2

A “mission” is a journey with a specific destination or destiny in mind, “a sending or being sent for some duty or purpose.”  This differs from an “adventure,” as an adventure has not specific destination or purpose.  While both journeys, the differences between the two types are patent.

Here, I want to examine the purpose for our journeys, particularly our lives’ journeys.   If not staring us directly in the face, the question for purpose seems always lingering somewhere in our peripheral vision.  Why are we here?  What are we to do?  What constitutes the good life, the holy life, a well lived life?  Questions simple to ask yet profound in their asking.

In his text The Reinvention of Work, Matthew Fox examines some of these questions.  One direction he takes the reader is first to risk the journey into nothingness and uncertainty, to experience the vastness of the universe found both within and without.  Similar to the sensation felt while standing at the ocean’s edge watching a violent sea, this embracing of mystery “puts us in our place,” as it were, reminding us both of our significance and insignificance simultaneously.  We must explore the nothingness because in the nothingness we might find the mystery that is God, our purpose, and ourselves.  He quotes the Sufi poet Rumi to link his notion of emptiness with purpose.  Rumi writes,

I have said before that every craftsman

searches for what’s not there

to practice his craft.

A builder looks for the rotten hole

where the roof caved in.  A water-carrier

picks the empty pot.  A carpenter

stops at the house with no door.

Workers rush toward some hint

of emptiness, which they then

start to fill.  Their hope, though,

is for emptiness, so don’t think

you must avoid it.  It contains

what you need!

Dear soul, if you were not friends

with the vast nothing inside,

why would you always be casting your net

into it, and waiting so patiently?

This invisible ocean has given you such abundance,

but still you call it “death,”

that which provides you sustenance and work.

As the repeatedly-present river of life that begins and ends the narrative of the bible suggests, our life’s purpose is somehow defined by a water’s edge.  Join us this week as we (re)consider our purposeful work in this life and world.

Have a wonderful week.  See you along the way!

A Pause by the Water’s Edge

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing water's edgecame into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

—John 1:1-5

This week, we are taking a slight, darker turn as we pause from our weekly reflections on water, shifting our semester’s journey back an hour and brushing up against the dim edges of Halloween.  Halloween has a deep connection to the life of faith, marking a place in the calendar where joy and sadness, past and present converge because Halloween is that fete of the church were the darkness of death gives way to the celebration of life.  The turning of the calendar’s page reinforces this spiritual conviction as October’s Halloween’s is superseded by November’s All Saints Day.

All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows, is when the church commemorates all saints, known and unknown. The eve of All Saints’ is known as All Hallows Eve or Halloween.  Each year, All Saints’ Day falls on November 1.  Much like the American holidays of Veterans Day and Presidents Day, on All Saints’ Day we remember many people.  It is a day set aside to remember all those “saints” of the faith who have died.  On All Saints ’ Day, we specifically name those individuals we know and love who have died since our last All Saints’ Day celebrations.  See you in worship on Wednesday as we mark our own All Saints’ celebration, remembering those from our college family who died last year.

In the meantime, here is some background on All Saints’ that I discovered.  Enjoy. 

Christians have been honoring their saints and martyrs since at least the second century C.E.  The Martyrdom of Polycarp, probably written near the middle of the second century, attests to this practice.  The ancient book reads:

Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps (18).

Initially the calendars of saints and martyrs varied from location to location and, often, local churches honored local saints. However, gradually celebration days became universal. The first reference to a general celebration for all the saints occurs in 373 C.E.  Early on, John Chrysostom assigned a day for the dead to the first Sunday after Pentecost.  The eastern churches still celebrate All Saints’ on that day. In the West, this date was probably originally used, and then the feast was moved to May 13. The current observance of November 1 probably originates from the time of Pope Gregory III and was likely first observed in Germany.  Following the Reformation, in most western Christian traditions, the celebration of All Saints’ Day expanded to include commemorations of all who had died in a given year, mirroring the early church practice of attributing sainthood to all Christians in a community.  

The vigil of the feast (i.e., the celebration or watch-service on the “eve” before a holiday) has become its own festival.  Many customs of Halloween reflect the Christian belief that on the feast’s vigil the church mocks evil because for the church the night serves as a living confession that evil and death have no real, ultimate power over us.

As a result, various customs have developed related to Halloween.  For instance, in the Middle Ages, poor people in the community begged for “soul cakes,” and upon receiving these sweet pastries, they would agree to pray for departed souls. This is the root of our modern day “trick-or-treat.” Similarly, the custom of wearing masks and costumes developed to mock evil and to confuse the evil spirits.  In addition, on All Hallows Eve, it was customary for Christians to visit cemeteries to commemorate departed relatives and friends with picnics and the last flowers of the year. 

 

 

Open My Eyes by Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

open eyesAfter some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

—Acts 15:36-41

In 1895, shortly before her tragic death caused by a runaway horse and buggy, Clara Scott wrote the words:

Silently now I wait for thee,

ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

The hymn is called “Open My Eyes, That I May See,” and this morning, almost 120 years later, I awoke with this song in my head.  I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that God works in mysterious ways, and that’s certainly true.  But, sometimes God also works in ways so blatantly obvious that we would be daft to not see what God’s doing.  And yet, we often still miss it. 

Sometimes when God works in obvious ways, we’re thrilled and grateful.  When a loved one is sick, we pray for health, and they recover, we praise God for his miracle.  But what about when God works in ways that aren’t so “good,” at least from our perspective?  What about when the healing we pray for comes through death?  What about when we pray for a relationship only to see it end?  Is God still working?  Of course he is, but sometimes we just don’t see what God sees. 

In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement, and they part ways.  By going in separate directions, they are able exponentially to multiply the effectiveness of their ministry, but the way it happened was likely painful for all involved.  Why didn’t God just convince them to go their separate ways amicably?  It often seems that we have to do God’s will the hard way, but the point to remember is that regardless of how it is accomplished, God will get his way.

Clara Scott’s hymn reminds us that sometimes all we can really do is to wait for God and try to understand his will.  College is a time of a lot of uncertainty.  You’ll wonder if you’ve chosen the right major, the right school, whether you should even be in college at all, not to mention all of the increasingly complex relationships you are developing.  No one person has answers for you, but God does.  And sometimes our struggles are meant to be overcome, and sometimes they are God’s way of changing our direction.  Let your prayer be for God to open your eyes so that you may see and understand his will for your life.

Pressing Reset

Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

ResetIn the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. 
—Genesis 7: 11-12

When I was growing up, I have vivid memories of summer hours spent sitting around my friend’s bedroom tethered to gray box.  His Nintendo and accompanying milk crate of jumbled game cartages filled our teenage-world with a virtual second dimension populated with endless car races and digitized Italian plumbers. One thing that always intrigued me about this virtual world that filled our summer days was the ever-present possibility of a new beginning when our artificial world failed us.  There, on the front of the Nintendo, was an enduring sign of hope, the key to new possibilities.  My friend’s game console had a reset button.  With one press, the TV screen would flicker, the game would reload, and what had gone wrong with our virtual lives before would reset, giving us a second chance and the prospect of a better outcome than our (virtual) life in its previous iteration. 

That charcoal plastic button with its red block letter always pops into my head when I read the above passage from the Noah story in the book of Genesis.  Clearly, the world as God imagined it was not going the way God had initially expected.  God needed to press the reset button on the creation project, and the Noah story is deliberately crafted to make this apparent. 

In the initial creation story, the preexisting water of life is all that there is.  Then, God presses upward and downward on the water, creating a dome or firmament above and another one below.  The one above creates space for the sky, holding back the (heavenly) waters.  The one below creates space for the land, holding back the waters of the seas and underground aquifers.  So, when God decides to press reset on create in chapter six, we read a great reversal of the movement recorded at creation.  Windows in the domes open, allowing the waters of creation to rush back in, a rushing that is a washing, a cleaning, a remaking, a resetting of creation so that God might start again. 

Any effort to read more into the story seems a disservice to the story’s elegant re-creative reversal.  The story does what is means to do:  In both grand and subtle ways, telling the persisting narrative of the faith that we all need the chance to hit reset.  The story’s simplicity is its profundity.  The story reminds us to take an account, to be willing to start over, and to know that in such a rebooting we are in very good, holy company. 

When needed, may we each find the wisdom and the courage to start again all the while willing to keep playing.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

“A New Start” by Bernard Shaw

I have wiped the slate clean, 
No more reminders from the past.
Memories of what I have been, 
Have vanished at long last.
I look forward to my future new, 
Where all is territory strange.
Soon I will be among the few, 
That plans their life at long range.
I see my life laid out at my feet, 
New friends shall rally at my call.
They will be the first I will greet, 
At this my welcoming ball.
Soon all memories will depart, 
Of a past left well behind.
I will get off to a new start, 
With the best of mankind. 

Through the Sea and Across the Desert Lies the Promised Land by Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on October 13, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

–Exodus 4:10-17

wonkaWhen God appears to Moses in the burning bush, God outlines for Moses the miraculous things that await the Israelites: that they will be freed from their enslavement to the Egyptians and that they will be brought by God to the land of Canaan, a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  But what is Moses’ response?  He says to God that the people won’t believe him, that they won’t even listen to what he has to say.  If you know the rest of the story, you know that Moses was actually right about this, at least to an extent.  The people continually complain and doubt the ability of God to provide for them once they are out wandering in the desert.

The Israelites refusal to listen to God’s promises is not surprising.  How often do we, ourselves, fall short in this regard?  As individuals?  As communities of faith?  We know that God promises us many things because we read about them in Scripture, but God also never says that it’s going to be easy.  I think that’s where we tend to get caught up.

Our society is built on convenience.  We expect things to come easily and quickly.  But as the Israelites learn, or at least should have learned, God’s best promises don’t come easy.  In the immortal word of Willy Wonka: “Nihil desperandum, across the desert lies the promised land,” which he says to Mrs. Gloop as her gluttonous son, Augustus, gets sucked up a tube, presumably to be turned into chocolate.  (If you’ve seen the movie, you know that all the kids are fine, Willy Wonka says so, and we can trust him…right?)

And isn’t that the ultimate truth of Christianity? That in the end, all God’s children are going to be fine, but it might be uncomfortable in the meantime.  When God asked Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, Moses probably knew that it would be hard.  He definitely knew that the people would be particularly difficult and whiny, but God doesn’t let him off the hook.  Instead, God tells Moses that his brother Aaron will help him speak to the people:

“You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do…and take in your hands this staff, with which you shall do the signs.”

Notice that God gives Moses the ability to get the job done, but not by himself.  God gives him Aaron as an assistant and also promises to provide them with the words and acts they will need to lead the people.  The journey is still far from perfect, and the final lesson of the story is that those who left Egypt never actually make into the Promised Land themselves.  Because of their lack of faith in the God who had freed them from slavery, the generation that left with Moses is barred from entering Canaan.

Sometimes, we, like the Israelites, won’t see the success of our efforts.  When we follow the path that God has for us, we may doubt that we can reach the people God wants us to reach, but God will give us the ability.  We may doubt that efforts will be worth it, because we may never see the results.  But if God asks you to do something, you can bet there’s a reason.

Placidity

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

placidThe following is a digest of “The Tyranny of Choice” in Sabbath:  Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller.  I have chosen to summarize Muller’s text in light of this week’s impending “fall break.”  My prayer is that some portion of it is a “break,” if not from work at least from routine, for all of us.

Suppose that a warrior forgot that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, and sought for it somewhere else; he might search through the whole world without finding it.  But if someone simply pointed it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time.

–Huang Po

Sometimes it is necessary to stop one thing before another thing can begin.  The traditional thirty-nine prohibitions against working on the Jewish Sabbath gave birth to what one scholar calls “the most precious, inestimable pearl” of Sabbath tranquility.  Similarly, most of the Ten Commandments begin with “Thou shalt not.”  These prohibitions against stealing, lying, murdering, and the like, if practiced with a fullness of heart, set us free to turn our energies to other things more precious—to honesty, fidelity, generosity, and love.

But progress promises us the endless expansion of choice; we chafe at any restriction to our capacity to generate options, and we revolt against any concept of prohibition.  We equate choice with freedom, but they are not the same.  If we exercise our choice to covet or to steal or to live without rest, we will soon feel trapped and unhappy.  We equate choice with nourishment, but a dozen different soft drinks, potato chips, and candy bars provide no vitamin C, iron, protein, beta carotene—or any significant nutrition at all.  Regardless of how many choices we pile one upon the other, it is still a big, fat, empty meal. 

Freedom of choice can be as painful as it is precious.  We want to be able to choose whatever career, spouse, or neighborhood we wish, but how do we decide, what should we look for, should we go to school now or later, have children now or later, stay home with the children and rick getting passed over by more aggressive colleagues, or push a career now and hope that day care is a nurturing option?  How do we decide which partner we love, whether to change our neighborhood or political party, or start exploring new spiritual traditions?

Freedom of choice can suffocate us; we drown in a sea of options.  With so much else we could have chosen, how do we ever know we have done the right thing?

The Sabbath is a patch of ground secured by a tiny fence, when we withdraw from the endless choices afforded us and listen, uncover what is ultimately important, remember what is quietly sacred.  Sabbath restrictions on work and activity actually create a space of great freedom; without these self-imposed restrictions, we may never be truly free. 

(Over the coming week) choose one pleasurable activity that is easily done and takes little time.  Leaf through a magazine and tear out a picture that you find appealing; put it somewhere you will see it, and notice how you respond to it throughout the day.  Write a short poem about nothing of any importance.  Putt a new flower in a cup by your bed.  Take a walk around the block.  Sing a song you know from beginning to end.  Do something simple and playful like this every day.  Take a crayon and make some simple drawing of your bedroom.  Let the power of simple act of creativity stop you, slow your pace, interrupt your speed.  Notice how willing you are to be stopped.  Notice how it feels when you are.

 

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.