Archive for September, 2010

See Change

Posted in Uncategorized on September 27, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
—Luke 19:1-10

Several years ago, I went on a medical mission trip to Honduras. The village where we would establish the medical clinic, Panina, was very remote. It would take a full day of traveling to arrive at Panina from our base in the capital, Tegucigalpa. On the day we left for Panina, we piled into our trucks and vans very early and headed out of the congested busyness of the city into the countryside. With each passing mile, the familiarity of my world rolled away, and I found myself farther and farther from normalcy.

To my surprise when we landed in Tegucigalpa two days earlier, the capital looked much like home . . . just a little less assembled and tidy. There were familiar restaurants, familiar stores and banks, familiar car dealerships, and many of the other accoutrements that defined my understanding, my perception of the world. In fact, I was a little disappointed when we first arrived that I perceived everything to feel so familiar. After all, I had just traveled thousands of miles from home and taken refresher introductory to Spanish courses to make this mission trip possible. If I had wanted to stroll past a KFC and a Pizza Hut, I did not need to get my passport stamped first! Nevertheless, there I was, walking down a major pedestrian thoroughfare, passing stores and signs that could easily be read not because I had boned-up on my Spanish but because the signs were frustratingly printed in English.

Well, my frustration with the familiar was soon to be left behind just like the capital. The farther we drove into the countryside the more quickly I was convinced I was definitely in a new country. Fast food chains were replaced by roadside fruit stands. Paved roads gave way to rutted-out river beds come side roads. After nearly 12 hours bouncing over rocks and ruts, we arrived at an empty, grassy clearing. The only sign of human life in the clearing was the small, unoccupied primary school standing in the clearing’s middle.

After a few minutes, that single sign of human life was joined by others. In that odd hour when day slides past night, villagers slipped from the forest, assembling around our vans and trucks to help unload and carry our supplies and gear to their village still over an hour hike up a mountain . . . in the dark. And, so, following our new friends as closely as decorum allowed, we trailed behind trying to keep up and to avoid losing our way. That night hike was seemingly uneventful but only understood to be impressive when we hiked back out four days later.

Retracing our steps as we returned to Tegucigalpa at the end of our week’s clinic, we hiked back down the mountain the same way we had hiked in. Only this time, the hike was in the daylight. What we had not known on our hike in were magnificent views accompanying the steep ridgelines we had marched over in the dark. On the return trip, we were struck by both the majesty of vantage gained by both light and elevation and the incredible audacity we had accomplished through our ignorance while walking in the dark near such unforgiving precipices.

It is amazing how a little light and a new elevation will grant a new perspective. Not only did I come to appreciate how lucky we had been on our hike in, but I had also come to appreciate how drastic the disparity in life experienced between those in the city and those in the countryside. Those in the capital might choose between McDonald’s and Subway while those in the countryside might choose between risking a deadly night hike and risking a deadly disease undiagnosed if the clinic were not setup. It took a trip of thousands of miles and traveling it in both day and night for me to gain that new perspective.

A new perspective can do wonders in changing how we see and are seen by the world. The familiar story from Luke’s gospel about Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus offers just such an example.

Zacchaeus is a despised tax collector exploited by the Romans to tax his fellow Jews. His fellow Jews despised him for several reasons: (1) he collected more tax than was required and (2) by collecting taxes he collaborated with their Roman occupiers. As the story is typically told, when Zacchaeus hears that Jesus is on his way to Jericho, he wants to see the man about whom everyone is talking. Being short in stature, he climbs a nearby tree. While in the tree, Jesus spots him and has a direct, possibly transformative conversation with Zacchaeus, culminating in Zacchaeus’ hosting the righteous man in his impious home to the stock of the crowd. In this telling of the story, Jesus confronts Zacchaeus; Zacchaeus promises to change his ways; and a new life is begun through encounter with the Christ.

However, the actual Greek text offers an additional, alternative reading of the text. According to Joel B. Green, this text may be translated using the traditional reading—“Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much”—or it may be translated not to tell what Zacchaeus is planning to do in response to Jesus’ encounter but what he was already doing. That alternative translation reads “my habit is to give half of my possessions to the poor; and my habit is to pay back anyone I have defrauded anything, my habit is to pay back four times as much.” This alternative reading radically alters our understanding of the story and our perspective on Zacchaeus.

If Zacchaeus does not start living differently as a result of his conversation with Jesus, then what is the purpose of this story’s inclusion in the text? What if the story is not about Zacchaeus’ climbing a tree to be change but about Jesus’ elevating the social status of an already changed man, reincorporating him into his community and convicting the judgmental crowd and community that reflexively rejected one of their own! In this alternative reading, the social establishment unfairly judges Zacchaeus’ character, ignoring his generosity in favor of their own preferred and presumed accurate perspective. That presumed perspective does not demand that the social establishment truly assess a person and his/her practices but resort to stereotypes, rely on uncritical expectations, and draw convenient yet inaccurate conclusions.

Interestingly, the only phrase that comes from Zacchaeus’ lips begins with the Greek word Ἰδοὺ , meaning “behold” or “look.” It is telling that the first word from his mouth plays on his location in the story as he stands elevated in a tree . . . looking! Is he saying, because I am up here, I see things different, or is he saying because I am up here, see me differently? Either way, the very substance of the narrative around Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus is a call to see differently and to be seen differently. We cannot be complacent about our assumptions. We cannot be complacent about our living. We cannot continue living the way we are living if our faith is to matter to us. Our faith demands continual renewal and recreation, including how and what we see.

It is this new perspective on the world that our faith purports to give us, must give us. Moreover, sometimes, like Zacchaeus, we need to change our position to see and be seen differently. This week’s chapel service is a preparation for our trip to Charleston, SC over fall break to share with the First Year Experience program and the Bonner Leaders in an analysis of homelessness and poverty following our having read the book written by Adam Shepard, Scratch Beginnings. While in Charleston, we will experience, firsthand, several of the ministries the supported Adam’s effort to move from poverty to stability. We will contrast the disparity between the Charleston of the poor and the Charleston of the tourist. We will engage history and contemporary reality. We will see how going somewhere new grants us a new perspective, possibly demanding our resistance of easy stereotyping of the poor and homeless, our abandoning of uncritical expectations of ourselves not to change and to enact change, and our avoidance of drawing convenient for us yet inaccurate conclusions of others and the reality around us. We might discover that we are simultaneously “Zacchaeus” and “the crowd”, one requiring a new position to see the world differently and the other requiring the abandoning of conventional opinions in order to confront the reality that is standing before us.

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Season of Change

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

All this year, our theme for Religious Life centers on change. This week, we welcome a wonderful change: the transition from summer’s humid, wet kiss to autumn’s crisp peck on the cheek. From our mountain vantage, the movement from summer to autumn astounds. Some seasons of change are dramatic and, almost, unexpected, while other seasons of change arrive slowly and move past in anticipated rhythm. Such marked change invariably prompts self-reflection and examination, as we consider what we have just accomplished and what is immediately before us. This week, we welcome Dr. Walter Kimbrough to peach during a special chapel service held in the new Recreation Center. During that service, Dr. Kimbrough will reflect on our timely theme, “season of change.” Join us as we consider how our lives are marked by many seasons and the possibilities for love of God and love of neighbor present in each.

Enjoy your week, the poem, and autumn’s advent.

Autumn
Richard Francis Towndrow

II. FULFILMENT

I think Earth’s glory consummates today,
And, like a gift, upon her altar lies:

There falls the flame-shaft on the sacrifice,

A sight to dream of when the heavens are grey.

The Swallow-armies still their flight delay

And form in broken lines. Approving skies

O’er-arch the splendour of these nameless dyes,

Sun-mingled–Earth’s last effortless display.


A sight to dream of; to fulfil desire;

Seen, life’s assured possession: Earth reveals,

Once in the perfect circle of the year,

Herself in passion and when gloom is here,

Or Winter’s shroud across her bosom steals,

We know, beneath, she has a heart of fire.

Be Change(d)

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

God became man so that man might become god.
Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Throughout this academic year, our focus is on different ways that our faith must change our lives and our world. This week, our focus is on how some acts of change simultaneously change both the outside world and our inner-selves. This dual change is a central purpose of faith. But, what kind of change needs to be made? The answer provided by faith is that our world and we need to move toward the holy. In other words, the life of faith is less about being good than about being holy, becoming holy. To become holy, we need to identify both a proper end, i.e., a goal, and the appropriate means to that end, i.e., how will that goal be achieved. The two above quotes provide hints.

Taken together, Athanasius and Aristotle suggest that the life of faith somehow includes transformation from one way of being to another. Yet, how do we connect these two notions: (1) that our actions, according to Christian tradition, are meant to make us like God and (2) that somehow we become what we are through our actions? Both reliant upon God’s primary acts in grace, the answer comes through the pairing of two theological concepts: justification/henosis and sanctification/theosis.

Justification is the act by God through grace to connect us to God’s very being. It is our being (re)connected to God. However, as Martin Luther reminds us, justification means that we are merely counted as just by God yet are not actually just, i.e., we are not actually holy as God is holy. We need to be made just; we need to be made holy. It is this second stage, transitioning from potentiality to actuality, where sanctification centers the conversation. If justification is being one with God, then sanctification is becoming like God. Here, with sanctification, the connection between our actions and our transformation merge.

For instance, when speaking about sanctification, The Discipline—the book of church doctrine and law for The United Methodist Church—clearly links sanctifying grace with holy habits and personal transformation. The Discipline asserts that through “the power of the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to increase in the knowledge and love of God and in love for our neighbor.” Fundamentally, here, love is not understood as sentimental compassion or empathy but action, transformative action. The Discipline continues: “We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners.” Theologically, a moral calculus might be deduced. That calculus, roughly, is Holy Spirit plus selves freed by God’s justifying grace multiplied by habitual love equals both social and personal transformation. Expressed in more conventional terms, Thomas Langford summarizes this same point: “Christian perfection is progressive, a continual renewal of love and growth in love. Both realized and being realized, it is a love that matures into greater love.” In other words, what we do has a significant impact on who we are or must become. Importantly, the Holy Spirit and grace are always precursors and paramount to the transformative practices of holy living, but the power and presence of the Holy Spirit does not abdicate human responsibility and the transformative efficacy of human endeavors. On the contrary, the presence of the Holy Spirit actually enables and presumes the efficacy of our (holy) habits: “Sanctification is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost . . . and [we] are enabled, through grace, to love God with all our hearts and to walk in his holy commandments blameless.”

Stanley Hauerwas, insists that this self-forming movement from grace to gracious responsibility under girds who we are and, thus, what we must do. Hauerwas’ insists that ethics begins by asking: what shall we be? In his work Peaceable Kingdom, he states:

I have argued that [this] question . . . precedes the question “What ought I to do?” If we begin our ethical reflection with the latter question we stand the risk of misunderstanding how practical reason [i.e., phronesis] should work as well as the moral life itself. For the question “What ought I to do?” tempts us to assume that moral situations are abstracted from the kind of people and history we have come to be. But that simply is not the case. The “situations” we confront are such only because we are first a certain kind of people. . . . “Situations” are not “out there” waiting to be seen but are created by the kind of people that we are.

Hauerwas discloses the character of his ethical project through his central positioning of this guiding question. Thus, for Hauerwas, the primary purpose of ethics is the making of a particular kind of people who behave in a certain manner rather than another. Additionally, Hauerwas insists that ethics is directly linked to our particular narrative descriptions of reality that help us to see what is right, good, proper, and holy. Hauerwas comes to ask and position this particular question of who we will be through his use of Aristotle and Aquinas, particularly in his sympathetic adaptation of their commitment to phronesis and praxis. Phronesis (i.e., practical wisdom) describes a particular ability, involving both knowledge and skill, only gained through practice. Phronesis, thus, necessitates praxes (i.e., practical actions) inseparable from the end sought and from the persons invested in the action. Through phronetic training in praxes, we come to embody that good (or holy) end sought. We become our habits. We become our holy end.

This week, our focus in Religious Life is on the curious connection between our pursuing the holy/better world we seek and our simultaneously becoming that end, too. See you in chapel as we explore the connection between holy living and holiness, between service and being a servant, between loving and being love.

Have a great week.

The Sound of Change

Posted in Uncategorized on September 7, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

You have heard; now see all this;
and will you not declare it?
From this time forward I make you hear new things,
hidden things that you have not known.
—Excerpts from Isaiah
What does change sound like? Does it sound like coins clinking in your pocket? Does is sound like protesters demanding a different way of life? Does it sound like the awakening-loud gears moving the hands forward on my grandparents’ grandfather clock as I struggled to sleep on their living room sleeper sofa as a child? Just what does change sound like? This week, we will listen closely to the sound of change as YHC welcomes Sho Baraka to campus. Sho Baraka is a Christian rap artist based out of Atlanta, Georgia, and, needless to say, the sounds he will bring to chapel this Wednesday will be a change.

Follow the tag links to the right of this blog to hear Sho Baraka’s sound of change.

Come listen on Wednesday. Come be changed.

Have a wonderful week.