The Shoreline by Emily Halstead

Posted in Uncategorized on September 2, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

shoreline

For everyone still standing at the shoreline, come.

Let that line sink in for a second. Picture yourself standing at a shoreline, looking out into the water. A boat is in front of you, floating a slight distance away and bobbing on the calm and peaceful waves. The boat is close enough that you can see a man standing, speaking out to yourself and the others on the shore.  He invites you. And you stand on the shore. Watching.    Just standing.    And watching.

Just let that image stay with you for a minute.

The new school year is now fully rolling here at YHC, and to me it finally feels like we are settling into a routine. Classes are moving, student orgs are up and running, res hall rooms are decorated, and we know to expect fried chicken in the dining hall each Wednesday.  Oh, that beautiful feeling of a simple routine.  Yet despite that comfortable routine that’s unfolding as each week passes, this point early in the semester still carries a certain feeling of anticipation—a feeling that you can still don’t know exactly what the year will hold.  A feeling of unease. A feeling of opportunity, yet a feeling of uncertainty.

To me, this moment in time feels a tipping point. We are standing on a shoreline, invited to come forward to something new.

And we stand.

And we watch.

And we face the decision of whether to partake in the water or embrace the comfort of the shoreline.

I believe that each of us is always standing on a shoreline, on the edge of growing closer to the person God is calling us to be. Times such as this, early in the semester—when we are caught somewhere between a new routine and a feeling of “anything can happen”—provide us with a prime opportunity to pause and contemplate exactly how God is calling us.

How is God calling you? It’s still just the beginning of a new year, after all. Is now the time for you to make something new of your academic career? Is now the time for you to serve others in a way you have not before? Is now the time for you to deepen certain relationships? Is now the time for you to enrich your prayer life? Is now the time for you to offer forgiveness? Is now the time to live with joy? Is now the time to live with faith? Is now the time for you to love in new ways?

A new school year brings the opportunity for you to create your new experiences, set your own goals, and to decide what your routine will be. How is God calling you to become the person you were made to be?

The line at the beginning of this blog post is taken from one of my favorite songs, “The Spirit and the Bride” by Matt Maher. The song reminds us of the fact that each and every one of us is always called by a loving God to step off the shoreline and join Him on the water.

For all the thirsty in need of the river,

For all the sleeping hearts waking from their slumber,

For everyone still standing at the shoreline, come.

So join me again in returning to our original visual—you are standing at the shoreline. Standing. And watching. Looking at that boat as it bobs on the small waves.  And then you hear a call: “Come.”

How will you respond?

Living Water by Lauren Neal

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” ’

 —John 7:37-38

Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, alsliving watero known as the Feast of Tabernacles is a Jewish festival which lasts about a week and is meant to remind the people of the time they spent in the wilderness, after leaving Egypt.  This week’s passage from the Gospel of John specifies that it is the last day of this feast when Jesus cries out to a crowd: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Right before Jesus says this, he encounters officers sent by the chief priests and Pharisees to arrest him, but his words in verses 37-38 change their mind.  Some of those in the crowd take his statement as evidence that he is a prophet and the anticipated Messiah, but not everyone is convinced.  However, the debate is enough to prevent the officers from following through with their orders to arrest him.  When the priests and Pharisees ask them why they failed to arrest Jesus, the officers reply that it is because they had never heard anyone speak as they heard Jesus speak. 

This incident is reminiscent of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  He tells her everything she had ever done.  Like the experience of the officers in chapter 7, the words that Jesus speaks are astounding.  The officers are convinced that no ordinary man could speak this way.  And like Jesus’ words in 7:37-38, in chapter 4, he promises the woman “living water.”

So what is this “living water”?  The Feast of Booths is a time for remembering the scarcity of the desert journey, but it is also a time when the people would remember that even in times of scarcity, God always provided for them.  Similarly, the Samaritan woman at the well must struggle on a daily basis to gather the water she needs to survive, she understands scarcity.  This is why when Jesus mentions living water that will cause her to never thirst again, it sounds like a pretty awesome deal.  No longer would she have to trek back and forth to the well every day.  However, the provision that Jesus is talking about both to her and to the crowd later during the Feast of Booths is not a gift of physical water.

The question then becomes what do these situations have in common that might give us some insight as to what exactly the “living water” is?  In both cases, Jesus’ words are convicting.  The woman is made aware of her sins, and the officers are convicted away from their assigned duties.  In both situations, the people involved encountered the unexpected when they encountered Jesus.  Just as no one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition, no one ever expects to be confronted with their sins, with their mistakes or misconceptions; and unfortunately, that is why it is often so hard for us to recognize when we have been wrong. 

The “Living Water” is the power that can only come from Jesus Christ and the power to recognize the hardest truth of all, the truth about ourselves.  The world tries to define us by what we wear, what we do, and a whole host of other things that are really only incidental, but only Jesus knows who we really are, and where our hearts truly lie.  When we believe in Jesus and have the living water that he provides, then too can we begin to see the world as it truly is: broken and fallen but still beautiful and striving for perfection.  The world is thirsty, and the water is scarce.  Let us pour out our abundant living water that comes from Jesus Christ.

Drink Deep from the Waters

Posted in Uncategorized on August 18, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

Deer and waterFrom God sweeping over the deep waters of chaos at creation to Israel’s crossing the Red Sea, from Jesus’ life beginning in the waters of a womb to his offering a woman water to drink at a well, from Jesus feeding his disciples on a seashore after the resurrection to the waters of the River of Life flowing beside the nourishing trees in garden of the New Heaven and New Earth in the closing chapters of Revelation, water flows through the stories of the Christian faith, washing over us and reminding us of water’s essential contribution to life and the new life. 

Our iChapels are opportunities for us to reflect as a community on how faith and life and education intersect in sustaining and restorative and revealing ways.  This years’ reflections will focus specifically on the life-offering and faith-refreshing gift of water as an essential element of our spiritual and religious journeys as we explore, together, this year’s theme of “Drink Deep from the Waters.”  In addition to attending to the central role that water plays in the Christian tradition, we will, occasionally, reflect on those converging moments where the confluence of the Christian story and other traditions’ stories of faith flow together through their common use of water as fundamental to faith and a whole and holy life.

I am very much looking forward to our sharing in faith and conversation over the coming academic year.  I am more than delighted that you are back on campus or have joined us for the first time.  And, I awaiting with joyous anticipation the journey we are about to share, as we navigate the waters of life and the spirit this year.

To shape our initial ponderings, I offer the lyrics from the beautifully introspective hymn “As the Deer,” a hymn taken from Psalm 42: 

As the deer pants for the water,
So my soul longs after You.
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You.

You alone are my strength, my shield,
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship You.

Have a wonderful start to your week, semester, and year.

I will see you along the way.

(re)Imaging Endurance

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

hang in there

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . . .

—Romans 5:3-4

Well, we have reached that time of the year, again, where endurance seems to trump knowledge.  Platitudes like “hang in there” and “push through” and “buckle down” slip past our lips and define Facebook posts.  To add to the platitudinal whirl, I offer my own, bearing a hope for something more: Keep focused so that what you plant is lodged deep in the soil of your mind, taking root in your soul to endure for a lifetime.

For some encouragement, enjoy this poem from one of YHC’s own, Byron Herbert Reece.  Read it, study well, and “hang in there.”

Peace, much peace.

“The Generations of Thought”

By Byron Herbert Reece

 

The young tree’s reaching root

Spreads from the fallen fruit,

Golden and shaped like day

Before it knew decay.

 

The infant life, the child

Hopeful and undefiled

Springs from the unity

Love makes of two that die.

 

And though we guess not how

Thought thrives behind the brow.

 

The tree and child, who press

Onward to nothingness,

Scatter their seed and mate;

Themselves perpetuate.

 

And the generations of thought

That know not root nor sire

Nor seed nor even desire

Prosper and perish not.

 

(re)Imagining Life

Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

–John 20:19-23

Yesterday, for many in the Christian faith, it was Easter—a time to reflect on the faith, life, and new life.  Jumping slightly ahead along the Christian calendar deeper into the Easter season, the above reading from John’s gospel is sometimes called the Johannine Pentecost.  John’s Pentecost recounts Jesus’ appearance to his disciples following the resurrection and Jesus’ giving of the Holy Spirit.  This Pentecost story and the more familiar story of Pentecost from Acts have several differences and similarities.  Unlike the account told in Acts, here, Jesus personally gives the Spirit to his disciples and that gift is not delayed but offered immediately after the resurrection. While those and other differences are interesting, what are most useful, on this occasion, are those parts of the story that overlap with the Pentecost story from Acts.  In both accounts, the disciples are gathered in an upper room, locked behind closed-doors, and waiting for something, anything that might turn tragedy into joy.  

In that moment of trepidation, as the story goes, the Spirit comes—whether delivered by a mighty wind or through the words of precious friend.  And, that gift of the Spirit has a transforming effect.  Captured in the words describing the inherited authority gifted to the disciples, the effect simultaneously boldly asserts yet subtly implies.  As a bold assertion, the disciples receive the authority to forgive and retain sin, a powerful capacity granted a group just moments before found cowering in a locked room.  Importantly, it is through this grant of authority that the subtly implied effect appears.

Prior to this moment, only God was assumed to possess the capacity to forgive sins.  Recall the condemnation of Jesus following his efforts to forgive sins in Mark’s gospel:  “‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”  (Mark 2:7)  Jesus was reject, in that story of forgiving, precisely because he asserted an authority to forgive sins, an authority assumed to be God’s alone.  In other words, by forgiving sins, Jesus is claiming something about himself and his proximity to Divinity.  (Hence, the charge of blasphemy!)

Yet in this passage from John’s gospel, the disciples receive the very capacity that before was believed to be reserved only for God.  So, in a subtle way, Jesus moves the disciples to a position he held while on earth.  The disciples now stand proximally to God as Jesus understood himself to occupy.  Said another way, the disciples become significantly more than what was implied in the sending narrative at the end of Matthew’s story of the Sermon on the Mount.  In that story from Matthew, the disciples come to represent Jesus and the kingdom.  In this pentecostal moment, the disciples cease simply to represent God but to become God’s embodied presence on earth, a presence previously embodied by the incarnate Word named Jesus. 

Both the Pentecost stories from John and Acts suggest this transformation.  Remember the formulaic patter established in scripture for the suggestion of divine presence.  Think of the second creation story, where stuff of the earth and Spirit of God unite to make the embodied presence of God called humanity.  Consider the story of the incarnation, where the stuff of the earth, i.e., Mary, and the Spirit of God unite to make the embodied presence of God called Jesus.  In both instances, stuff plus Spirit unites to mark the Divine’s incarnate, real presence.  Therefore, it is no surprise, that in each Pentecost story, the disciples transform from the hidden to the empowered, from fearful shadows of themselves to the embodied presence of God.  In a new moment yet in a repeated way, those disciples are the stuff of the earth that unites with the Spirit of God to make the embodied presence of God called the Body of Christ.

The story of Pentecost, whether told here or in Acts, is the story that reminds us that the faithful are not simply God’s representatives but God’s actual embodiment.  Divinity is not distant and reserved—the story reminds us—but present and active.  It is because of this embodied character that I regularly mind those who will listen that people are God’s hands and feet, eyes and ears, heart and head in the world.  The challenge, the responsibility is never to forget to hold and to help those in need, to go to those who struggle and suffer, to see injustice and to hear the cries of oppressed, to care and to love with God’s compassion, and to imagine new solutions and new possibilities when and where previous attempts have failed. 

Recently I learned of a Haitian proverb.  That proverb states that God only gives but does not share.  On the surface, such a declaration seems, at best, contradictory and, at worst, potentially offensive.  Why would someone claim that God gives yet simultaneously does not share?  That seems internally inconsistent and incongruous.  Alternatively, why would anyone want to claim that God selfishly hoards?  Such a claim seems cruel in a world with so much and such poor distribution.  Yet, upon deeper reflection, the proverb seems as if it could have directly emerged from this passage of scripture from John’s gospel.  What the proverb suggests is that God, out of generosity and love, gives everything. However, God leaves the sharing of those gifts to humanity, the hands and feet and eyes and ears and heart and head of the Divine.  It is the church’s responsibility as God’s continuing presence on earth to complete the work entrusted to humanity. 

What a gift.  What a challenge.  What an opportunity.  We have a busy day, week ahead of us.  There is a lot to be done and many to serve.  Get to work.  I will see you along the way.

(re)Imagined Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

Spring

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

—Psalm 19:1

After this weekend and its warm breezes, sunny afternoons, and blooming wildflowers overtaking my front yard, my mind shifted, reflecting less on winter and hoping more for spring.  To mark this shift, I offer this poem by Henry Van Dyke, a poem melting the winter in our hearts, leaving behind the dancing rhythms of birds and bees and waterfalls.  So, enjoy this ballad to spring.

See you along the way.

“Spring in the South” 

by Henry Van Dyke

 

Now in the oak the sap of life is welling,

Tho’ to the bough the rusty leafage clings;

Now on the elm the misty buds are swelling,

See how the pine-wood grows alive with wings;

Blue-jays fluttering, yodeling and crying,

Meadow-larks sailing low above the faded grass,

Red-birds whistling clear, silent robins flying,–

Who has waked the birds up? What has come to pass?

 

Last year’s cotton-plants, desolately bowing,

Tremble in the March-wind, ragged and forlorn;

Red are the hill-sides of the early ploughing,

Gray are the lowlands, waiting for the corn.

Earth seems asleep still, but she’s only feigning;

Deep in her bosom thrills a sweet unrest.

Look where the jasmine lavishly is raining

Jove’s golden shower into Danae’s breast!

 

Now on the plum the snowy bloom is sifted,

Now on the peach the glory of the rose,

Over the hills a tender haze is drifted,

Full to the brim the yellow river flows.

Dark cypress boughs with vivid jewels glisten,

Greener than emeralds shining in the sun.

Who has wrought the magic? Listen, sweetheart, listen!

The mocking-bird is singing Spring has begun.

 

Hark, in his song no tremor of misgiving!

All of his heart he pours into his lay,–

“Love, love, love, and pure delight of living:

Winter is forgotten: here’s a happy day!”

Fair in your face I read the flowery presage,

Snowy on your brow and rosy on your mouth:

Sweet in your voice I hear the season’s message,–

Love, love, love, and Spring in the South!

(re)Imagine Space

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

creating space

When you get a sense of how faith fits into a campus, you get a better sense of the community as a whole.[1]

Mary Jacobs is right; understanding how faith fits into a campus community is essential.  In her article, “Soul Searching: Students Can Make College Search a Spiritual Journey,” Jacobs noticed that how faith fits into a campus discloses the value that an institution places on educating the whole person, because, as we know, education is not just about the depositing of data.  Our word “educate” comes from a root—educere—meaning “to lead out.”  In other words, while education does include the exchange of bits of information, education is more than simply the accumulation of fact upon fact.  If education is anything, it is an exercise in moving from one place to another, from one way of thinking to another way of thinking and seeing and perceiving.  Education is self-transformation, preparing us for world alteration—on grand and modest scales—through gaining insights, data, skills, and techniques.  Education is fact accumulation.  But it is, also, so much more.  Education’s primary objective is to change us.

Education and faith have a lot in common.  After all, isn’t faith but another way of saying change, change from one way of being to another, from one way of seeing the world to another, from one set of loves to another?  The more central the role granted faith the more profound and sacred the transformation possible . . . be our task education or community service or raising a family or whatever.  The United Methodist Church, the denomination that founded and still supports Young Harris College, has always intuitively sensed this vital connection between a robust faith and deep, transformative learning.

Nearly three hundred years ago, two young brothers—John and Charles Wesley—and their college friends gathered regularly for prayer, bible study, and mutual support at Oxford University.  This self-described “Holy Club” recognized at its inception the indelible connection between intellectual pursuit and spiritual discipline.  For them and ultimately for the church that emerged from that Oxford gathering, intellectual pursuit could never be adequately realized without spiritual discipline, i.e., the pursuit of perfection—wholeness—was an integrated intellectual and spiritual endeavor.

So, education is central to the history and ministry of the faith tradition underpinning our College.  But, in a creative turn, The United Methodist Church has always understood that faith is central to our education because education is about the transformation of the whole self—body, mind, and spirit.  For this transformation to bear the sacred imprint of faith, conversations about meaning and purpose and the Divine should not be marginal or arbitrarily inserted but permeating the ethos of a place, found in its cultural and intellectual DNA.

Colleges and universities of the church—like Young Harris College—are naturally well suited to this comfortable comingling of faith with education because of our longstanding commitment to create inclusive and celebrative atmospheres that nurture and support the faith journeys of students, faculty, and staff.  We don’t have to be reminded to welcome faith into our conversations, to promote the spiritual as a fundamental conversation partner in our efforts at self and world transformation.  Such conversations and promotion, on our best days, are simply part of who we are and how we seek to engage each other, our academic disciplines, and the world around us.

For more than 125 years, our College has located itself firmly and comfortably within this same tradition, a tradition that generally appreciates the mutual, essential benefit of a mind-full faith and a faith-filled mind.  YHC affirms this connection between faith and intellect by joining together with other United Methodist affiliated colleges and universities—like Wesleyan and LaGrange, Emory and Duke, Syracuse and Boston University—in a covenantal agreement.  This covenantal agreement ensures our institution will always promote an enduring link between faith exploration and intellectual development.  I want to take a moment to explore the first of the six principles of our common educational covenant.  I think this first principle deserves a little unpacking, an unpacking that both affirms the particularity of our College as a college of the church and our College’s openly welcoming and nurturing diverse religious expression and exploration.  Seemingly oppositional, these two ideas may function comfortably within the same context.

As alluded to above, that first principles reads: “CREATE an inclusive and celebrative atmosphere that nurtures and supports the faith journeys of students, faculty, and staff.”  The United Methodist Church is an unapologetically Christian denomination that celebrates its faith and heritage.  That heritage includes a longstanding practice of forming a sectarian college that advocates for a nonsectarian education, i.e., generating an inclusive and celebrative atmosphere for all faith journeys present on our campus.

But, what does that really mean?  What is sectarian and nonsectarian?  How are they related?  How are they different?

Sectarian is a term describing our College’s historical and meaningful connection to a particular religious tradition, a tradition with unique and distinct commitments, i.e., we are a United Methodist institution.  These unique and distinct commitments connect it to other traditions and define our separateness.  One of the distinguishing features of that United Methodist heritage is a belief that knowledge and faith are comfortable companions in the formation of a holistic life.  And, somewhat surprisingly, that heritage advocates for life that maintains a loosening grip all sorts of potentially impinging influences because this particular religious tradition relies upon a belief in the inherent goodness of all life and the undergirding and permeating nature of God’s ubiquitous loving grace.  Because of this heritage defined by such a predominantly positive construal of reality, a natural comfort emerges with an education that is free and open—free from the need to advocate for one way of thinking or believing over another and open to persons of another or no faith becoming part of the learning environment.  This comfort with a free and open environment becomes a crucial characteristic of a United Methodist college’s educational experience, i.e., a nonsectarian education.

Nonsectarian is a term denoting our College’s commitment to an educational system and the substantive material it teaches that is not reliant upon a certain set of religious commitments.  In other words, we teach what is the best knowledge and skills that contemporary and rigorous critical thinking might produce without fear that such teaching delimits or denounces the Divine or our heritage’s particular construal of divinity or faith.  Facts and faith are not mutually exclusive but different aspects of the same world, describing different features and functions and possibilities without, automatically, rendering each other null.  In fact, The United Methodist tradition demands rigorous thinking, teaching, questioning, engaging, challenging, and debating.  Nothing is taken for granted, not even what we assume faith is.  Faith, the tradition claims, is a relational category, not an intellectual one. So, the growth and development of faith or knowledge does not demand the reduction or negation of the other.  They are mutually informative, mutually transformative.  In a strange way, our United Methodist particular commitments allow for a tradition defined by a general, broad openness and a comfort with challenging and deepening complexity and mystery.  Rather counterintuitively, it is the College’s commitment to its understanding of Christianity that actually longs to create space that is open and encouraging of (religious) diversity.  So, our College strives to be both particularly United Methodist and happily so, expressing its peculiar and positive understanding of Christianity.  While, simultaneously, our College hopes to welcome debate and dissention, difference and common dignity.

This posture frequently proves confounding.  On the one hand, some resist any expression of particularity by the institution, as if particularity is the same thing as hegemony or as if particularity might ever be eliminated in any substantive way from anything.  On the other hand, this posture leads some to resist any expression of welcoming religious diversity and open promotion of plurality, as if welcoming others and creating space for varied expression is tantamount to a denial of holiness, forgetting that holiness has its root in the idea of perfection as wholeness. Often, this particular yet diverse commitment proves difficult to maintain.  However, its maintenance is needed nonetheless.  We, as an institution, work daily to create space for both celebrating the tradition from which we emerged and that still sustains us and welcoming as equal, valid members of this intellectual community those who disagree and diverge from that tradition.

Recently, according to education researcher Arthur Chickering and his colleagues, the rest of the academic world has begun to appreciate what our College has understood for more than a century.  Chickering and his fellow authors observed that “at colleges and universities around the country, an expanding and increasingly vigorous dialogue has begun, centered on examining personal values, meaning, purpose—including religious and spiritual values—as part of the educational experience.”[2]  Education, to be thorough, requires intentional spiritual exploration, the kind of exploration colleges like ours come by naturally.

So, if Chickering and his colleagues are right, then Mary Jacobs was onto much more when she noticed that understanding the role of faith on the campus acts as an indicator of the character of a campus community.  More than just an indicator of campus character, the role of faith, also, acts as a barometer of an institution’s capacity to educate in truly deep and transformative ways.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

[1] Mary Jacobs, “Soul Searching: Students Can Make College Search a Spiritual Journey,” The United Methodist Reporter, March 12, 2010.

[2] Arthur Chickering, et. al., Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education, (San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons, 2006), 2.

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