Generation(s) of Endurance

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

yodaAnd 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 populate 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, recalling that generations of scholars have sat in your same anxiety-riddle seats, filling similar stress-strapped shoes.  They made it out of this valley.

Read Reece’s poem, 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.

Washed in Nostalgia

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

–Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)

WitLasth the end of the semester fast approaching and thoughts of graduation and summer crowding my head all-the-more with each passing day, I tend to get nostalgic this time of the year.  Mixing my nostalgia with this year’s Religious Life theme, I offer this poem by Carl Sandburg.  Enjoy.

Join us at this week’s final vespers service of the year at the gazebo on Wednesday at 7pm as we reflect on this passage from Matthew’s Gospel.

Until then, have a great week and see you along the way.

“Evening Waterfall”

By Carl Sandburg

What is the name you called me?–
And why did you go so soon?

The crows lift their caws on the wind,
And the wind changed and was lonely.

The warblers cry their sleepy-songs
Across the valley gloaming,
Across the cattle-horns of early stars.

Feathers and people in the crotch of a treetop
Throw an evening waterfall of sleepy-songs.

What is the name you called me?–
And why did you go so soon?

Pause

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

All weavethis is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

—2 Corinthians 5:18-19

This week marks 150 years since the Civil War ended and Abraham Lincoln was killed.  After four years of brutal violence and catastrophic societal dismemberment, a people were challenged with restoring bonds and healing wounds.  Remarkably, just a month earlier at his second inaugural address, Lincoln stared directly at this daunting test, advancing forgiveness and reconciliation as the salve for a national body’s healing.  This week, I pause from my regular iChapels, substituting Lincoln’s text for my own.  On the news each day, our nation frequently uncovers old, persisting wounds and reports on new ones mindlessly inflicted.  When hearing these reports and imagining our own societal responses, may Lincoln’s words become the weft and the apostle Paul’s the warp to weave bandages for a communal body longing to be healed and made whole.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

A Conventional Change

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

—Matthew 28:1-10 (NRSV)

On Easterrunner Sunday around the world, on college campuses and in local congregations, folks read different passages from the gospels recalling those bewildering experiences of that resurrection morning.  Of all those passages read, personally, I am fond of this passage from Matthew’s gospel because of its jarring juxtaposition of the conventional with the unconventional.

As this story begins, it is saturated in tradition.  Morning dawns with the two Marys traveling together to finish the work begun on Friday. Here, the most traditional characters perform the most traditional of tasks with the greatest regard for tradition.

Two days before, Jesus was killed and needed a temporary burial before sundown.  He needed a hasty burial so that those helping to lay him in the tomb would be ritually able to participate in the important Passover festivities about to start.  Because of both their rush and regard for tradition, they did not have time to complete the customary rituals before sunset.  They just needed to get Jesus in a tomb.  Those involved in this part of the Jesus story are very mindful of tradition, custom, convention.  Proving this point, now, two days later with the observances of Passover behind them, our two women return to the tomb to finish their work.

As convention dictated, it was the job of the Marys—as women connected with the deceased—to prepare the body for its final burial.  The Marys were playing their assigned part in the story, fulfilling their conventional roles.  Yet, here is where the story takes several dramatic turns.  Ultimately, these turns should not surprise us.  If anything, the story of the resurrection is a story of the conventional slamming headfirst into the re-creative force of Jesus’ unconventional life, ministry, and purpose—a collision that redirects lives and reality.

Look at how the concern for maintaining convention and fulfilling expected roles provides the initiating energy for this passage from Matthew.

The Marys arrive as the quintessential embodiments of conventionality:  they are women mindful both of the traditions of body preparation and of Passover ritual observance and purity. While walking in conventionality, the unconventional happens.  An angel appears.  The stone is rolled away.  The guards faint.  The angel speaks.  They tour the empty tomb.  And, here, for me at least, it gets really interesting; the angel gives them a command.  The angel says:  “Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead . . . .’”

Often, we do not pay close attention to this commission by the angel, this sending the two Marys to tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  Frequently, this detail in the story gets lost amongst the broader scope of the resurrection narrative, mixed and muddled with the other countless minutia of a miraculous tale of death and new life.  Nevertheless, this detail deserves particular attention because of how it relates to the final passage from this chapter, a passage that also happens to be the final passage from Matthew’s gospel.

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, we find the familiar account of the great commission.  Having gone to Galilee as directed, the disciples meet Jesus and receive their marching orders.  Jesus says: “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

In that latter passage from Matthew and in the angel’s command, a Greek word (poreuthentes) meaning “go” is used with strong imperative inflection.  In other words, the persons to whom this word is directed are being sent with “authority” and “urgency.”  In an almost parallel tone, a second Greek word (hupagó), also, meaning “go” is used to send the two Marys when the Mary’s encounter the risen Jesus while running from the tomb.  In that encounter with Jesus, he tells the Marys, ““Do not be afraid; go and tell . . . .”

This second word, while, also, meaning “to send” or “to go”, carries with it an added dimension.  This second word meaning “to go,” indicates a change of relationship between the one sending and the ones sent.  It literally means to be sent under the sender’s authority, as a kind of proxy for the sender and with the sender’s power.

The not-so-subtle implication is that the two women have changed roles relative to their relationship with Jesus, and this change in role is a marker of the change-making character of resurrection and Christ’s resurrection kingdom.

Their very movements embody this change.

Rather than walkers to a grave, these women are now runners for the resurrection, as they run to tell the disciples!

Because of the resurrection, everything has changed: the dead do not stay dead; sin is not absolute; power is found in weakness; justice is found in peace; servanthood trumps being served; and, as it turns out—in this new resurrection kingdom—the women are not just the first to the tomb, but these women are the first commissioned preachers of the gospel. This passage from the resurrection story marks a singular moment encapsulating the essence of God’s in-breaking kingdom.  And, that essence is this:  God exercises a miraculous capacity to cause the most unconventional to emerge from the quintessentially conventional.

That essence of creative reordering of the world is not limited to the change in role and status of these two women.  The story of these two women simply serves as the first in a long line of persons who act and think conventionally only to have their conventionality used to accomplish the most unconventional outcomes on behalf of God’s kingdom.  For example, consider the Apostle Paul—the perfect definition of a good Jew who becomes the missionary to the Gentiles; or John Wesley—the very embodiment of 18th century church tradition and propriety who licensed women to preach and who indecorously preached atop his father’s gravestone; or Harriet Tubman—a Methodist lay leader, who used her knowledge as a slave to free slaves.

In a moment of counterintuitive lucidity, both historically and practically, consider how when we engage the church’s tradition faithfully an intriguing paradox often issues:  being committed to the tradition regularly leads to the most radical, non-traditional progress.

This does not mean that the Jesus story is always used to liberate and never used to oppress.  It has been used to oppress and certainly will be used for just such efforts in the future.  Unfortunately, those of us closest to this story are often the ones most responsible for ignoring its lessons.  So, what I am saying is that the story’s details and over-arching tenor suggest that the puzzling regularity of the unconventional emerging from the quintessentially conventional is properly characteristic of God’s kingdom.  After two millennia, we should be getting used to it.

Those reading this iChapel are the very embodiments of conventionality.  You are college students, leaders, and educators who are prime examples of doing what you are supposed to do.

This means that reading this scriptural text should come with a warning.

If this gospel story teaches us anything, it teaches us that in doing what is right, you need to be careful because you need to be ready to be used to accomplish the most unexpected, the most unconventional.  Two thousand years of history tells us that you are the very kind of people God might send to do the most remarkable, non-traditional, yet-to-be imaged things.  That possibility is both exhilarating and terrifying.

When presented with this reality, two options present themselves:  like the strong, powerful guards we read about earlier, you may wilt and faint.  On the other hand, like the Marys, you may leap into action.

If you are to become God’s agents for radical change, like the Marys, you must be willing to go. Instinctively, they began to run.  They began to run into the new resurrection, world-changing, life-altering, kingdom-coming, conventionality-shattering reality announced by the angel and commissioned by the Christ.

As we press deeper into this resurrection kingdom, are you ready to run?  Are you ready to run toward the unconventional, yet-to-be imagined possibilities God has in store for you and our world?  Will you faint or will you flourish?  Will you cover your ears or open your hearts?  Will you become the conventionally unconventional change God has in mind and the world needs?

Keep your eyes open and your lives ready, the starting line is under your feet.

Amen.

Refocus

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

Welcome back to another week of work, study, and transformation at Young Harris College.  This week, as we begin a week crowded with opportunities, projects, and examinations, I turn to an Irish-born writer, Katharine Tynan, to supply a poetic beginning to our timfocus 1e together. Her work helps direct our attention, if for a moment, beyond the busyness of this week, towards the weekend and its celebrations.

Enjoy her lyrical rhythms and have a wonderful week.

See you along the way.

“Easter”

Bring flowers to strew His way,

Yea, sing, make holiday;

Bid young lambs leap,

And earth laugh after sleep.

For now He cometh forth

Winter flies to the north,

Folds wings and cries

Amid the bergs and ice.

Yea, Death, great Death is dead,

And Life reigns in his stead;

Cometh the Athlete

New from dead Death’s defeat.

Cometh the Wrestler,

But Death he makes no stir,

Utterly spent and done,

And all his kingdom gone.

Place

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

–Deuteronomy 6:3

Place is important.  This notion is imbedded in our very language.  It is no accident that our words “culture” and “cultivate” sprout from the same Latin word, a wordMark Kroos meaning “to till.”  In other words, culture grows not just in a place but also out of a place.  Scripture echoes this claim.  Repeatedly, the land defines the people of God and what they believe. 

Working in a community inextricable from its enchanted valley, the significance of land and place to shaping identify and thought needs little justification.  Yet, drawing this significance of place to the forefront of our conceptual imaginations seems only appropriate, as our college initiates in a few weeks it first-ever Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival.  That festival is a celebration of this land and its import for our college, our people, and our beliefs.  As a prelude to this storytelling celebration, we will hold our fifth annual Appalachian Chapel Service on April 7.  That Chapel Service is its own festival, a festival of song experienced through the performance of traditional sacred and secular Appalachian music by guitarist Mark Kroos.  While still a few weeks out, I wanted to turn our attention to his coming to our campus to share his talent, faith, and love for Appalachian music.  So, over the new few weeks as we move toward these celebrations, I encourage us all to spend some time ruminating—as my maternal Appalachian grandmother might have said—on this place’s powerfully nourishing conditions that have contributed to make us who we are as a college community. 

To start, first, enjoy this poem, below, from George Ella Lyon as an ode to Appalachian.  

Have a great week and see you along the way.

“Where I’m From”

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Waves of Mercy, Waves of Grace by Emily Halstead

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2015 by yhcreligiouslife

waves of mercy

Last week, Instagram was flooded with pictures of YHC students at the beach.  Many students appeared to have a great time at various ocean fronts, watching beautiful blue waves, soaking up the sun, and recharging in the presence of good company while lounging in the sand.

When I start thinking about the beach, my mind immediately takes me to one of my favorite church sing-alongs from the youth group days, called “Every Move I Make.” This song comes with a fun little dance while you sing the lines:

Waaaaves of mercy, waves of graaaace

Everrrywhere I look, I see Your face!

If you aren’t familiar with the song or the hand motions, I highly recommend checking out this video of some adorable kids performing it flawlessly.

As distracting as that fun little dance may be, the song does provide imagery which is worth stopping to consider: waves of God’s mercy, and of beautiful grace pouring over us. We don’t need a physical ocean or a Spring Break vacation in order to experience these waves. Rather, these waves are ones which are freely available to all of us at any time and in any place.

Where do you feel God’s waves of mercy? Where do you experience God’s waves of grace? And where is it that you are able—when you put down the Instagram feed and look around—to see God’s face shining at you?

As we get back to the grind of the semester to finish out the last quarter of the academic year, let’s look for these pieces of the ocean in the places where we can find them anytime we so choose.

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