Archive for November, 2010

Present Ex-change

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Our focus this week for Religious Life is on the re-articulation of presence that occurs because of the incarnation. To set the stage for our reflection on the eschatological and transformative character of Christ’s incarnational presence, I offer this short story by Spencer Johnson, entitled “The Precious Present.” Welcome back from Thanksgiving break; have a wonderful start to the week; and see you at our Christmas Chapel service.

Once there was a boy. . . . Who listened to an old man. And, thus, he began to learn about The Precious Present. “It is a present because it is a gift,” the contented man explained. “And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever.”

“Wow!” the little boy exclaimed. “I hope someone give me The Precious Present. Maybe I’ll get it for Christmas.” The boy ran off to play. And the old man smiled. He liked to watch the little boy play. He saw the smile on the youngster’s face and heard him laughing as he swung from a nearby tree. The boy was happy. And it was a joy to see.

The old man also liked to watch the boy work. He even rose early on Saturday mornings to watch the little laborer mow the lawn across the street. The boy actually whistled while he worked. The little child was happy no matter what he was doing. It was, indeed, a joy to behold.

When he thought about what the old man had said, the boy thought he understood. He knew about presents. Like the bicycle he got for his birthday and the gifts he found under the tree on Christmas morning. But as the boy thought more about it, he knew. The joy of toys never lasts forever.

The boy began to feel uneasy. “What then,” he wondered, “is The Precious Present? What could possibly make me happy forever?” He found it difficult to even imagine the answer. And so he returned to ask the old man.

“Is the Present a magical ring? One that I might put on my finger and make all my wishes come true?”

“No,” the old man said. “The precious present has nothing to do with wishing.”

As the boy grew older he continued to wonder. He went to the old man. “Is the Precious Present a flying carpet?” he inquired. “One that I could get on and go any place that I like?”

“No,” the man quietly replied. “When you have the precious present, you will be perfectly content to be where you are.”

The boy was becoming a young man now, and felt a bit foolish for asking. But he was uncomfortable. He began to see that he was not achieving what he wanted. “Is the Precious Present,” he slowly ventured, “a sunken treasure? Perhaps rare gold coins buried by pirates long ago?”

“No, young man,” the old man told him. “It is not. The richness is rare, indeed, but the wealth of the Present comes only from itself.”

The young man thought for a moment. Then he became annoyed. “You told me,” the young man said, “that anyone who receives such a present would be happy forever. I never got such a gift as a child.”

“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” the old man responded. “You already know what the Precious Present is. You already know where to find it. And you already know how it can make you happy. You knew it best when you were a small child. You simply have forgotten.”

The young man went away to think. But as time passed, he became frustrated, and finally angry. He eventually confronted the old man. “If you want me to be happy,” the young man shouted, “why don’t you just tell me what the Precious Present is?”

“And where to find it?” the old man volleyed.

“Yes, exactly,” the young man demanded.

“I would like to,” the old man began. “But I do not have such power. No one does. Only you have the power to make yourself happy. Only you. The Precious Present isn’t something that someone gives you. It’s a gift that you give yourself.”

The young man was confused, but determined. He resolved to find the Precious Present himself. And so he packed his bags. He left where he was. And went elsewhere. To look for the Precious Present.

After many frustrating years, the man grew tired of looking for the Precious Present. He had read all the latest books. And he had looked in The Wall Street Journal. He had looked into the mirror. And into the faces of other people. He had wanted so much to find the Precious Present. He had gone to extraordinary lengths. He had looked for it at the tops of mountains and in cold dark caves. He had searched for it in dense, humid jungles. And underneath the seas. But it was all to no avail. His stressful search had exhausted him. He even became ill occasionally. But he did not know why.

The man returned wearily to the old man’s side. The old man was happy to see him. They often laughed out loud together. The young man liked to be with the old man. He felt happy in his presence. He guessed that this was because the old man felt happy with himself. It wasn’t that the old man’s life was so trouble-free. He didn’t appear to have a lot of money. He seemed to be alone most of the time. In fact, there was no apparent reason why he was so much happier and healthier than most people were. But happy he was. And so were those who spent time with him. “Why does it feel so good to be with him?” the young man wondered. “Why?” He left wondering.

After many years, the once-young man returned to inquire further. He was now very unhappy and often ill. He needed to talk with the old man. But the old man had grown very, very old. And, all too soon, he spoke no more. The wise voice could no longer be heard.

The man was alone. At first, he was saddened by the loss of his old friend. And then he became frightened. Very frightened. He was afraid that he would never learn how to be happy. Until finally he accepted what had always been true. He was the only one who could find his own happiness. The unhappy man recalled what the happy old man had told him so many years ago. But as hard as he tried he could not figure it out; he tried to understand what he had heard:


The unhappy man was now tired of looking for the Precious Present. He had grown so tired of trying that he simply stopped trying. And then, it happened! He didn’t know why it happened when it happened. It just…. Happened! He realized that the Precious Present was just that: THE PRESENT. Not the past; and not the future, but THE PRECIOUS PRESENT.

In an instant the man was happy. He realized that he was in the Precious Present. He raised both hands triumphantly into the cool, fresh air. He was joyous–for one moment. But then, just as quickly as he had discovered it, he let the joy of the present moment evaporate. He slowly lowered his hands, touched his forehead, and frowned. The man was unhappy–again.

“Why,” he asked himself, “didn’t I see the obvious long ago? Why have I missed so many precious moments?” “Why has it taken me so long to live in the present?” As the man remembered his fruitless travels around the world in his search for the Precious Present, he knew how much happiness he had lost.
He had not experienced what each special time and place had to offer. He had missed a great deal. And he felt sad. The man continued to berate himself. And then he saw what he was doing. He observed that he was trapped by his guilt about his past.

When he became aware of his unhappiness and of his being in the past, he returned to the present moment. And he was happy. But then the man began to worry about the future. “Will I,” he asked, “be able to know the joy of living in the Precious Present tomorrow?” Then he saw he was living in the future and laughed–at himself.

He listened to what he now knew. And he heard the wisdom of his own voice. “It is wise for me to think about the past and to learn from it, but it is not wise for me to be in the past, for that is how I lose myself.
“It is also wise for me to think about the future, and to prepare for my future, but it is not wise for me to be in the future, for that, too, is how I lose myself. I lose what is precious to me.”

It was so simple. And now he saw it. The present nourished him. But the man knew it was not going to be easy. Learning to be in the present was a process he was going to have to do over and over, again and again, until it became a part of him. Now he knew why he had enjoyed being with the old man.

The old man was totally present when he was with the younger man. The old man was not thinking about something else or wishing that he was somewhere else. He was fully present. And it felt good to be with such a person. The younger man smiled at himself, the way the old man used to smile. He knew. “I can choose to be happy now, or I can try to be happy when. . . or if. . . .”

The man chose NOW! And now the man was happy. He felt at peace with himself. He agreed to savor each moment in his life…. The apparently good and the apparently bad…. Even if he didn’t understand. For the first time in his life, it didn’t matter. He accepted each of his precious moments on this planet as a gift.
“I know that some people choose to receive the Precious Present when they are young, others in middle age, and some when they are old. Some people, sadly, never do. I can choose to receive the Precious Present whenever I want.”

As the man sat thinking, he felt fortunate. He was whom he was where he was. And now he knew! He would always be whom he was where he was.

He listened again to his thoughts. “The present is what it is. It is valuable. Even I do not know why. It is already just the way it is supposed to be. When I see the present, accept the present, and experience the present, I am well, and I am happy. Pain is simply the difference between what is and what I want it to be.
“When I feel guilty over my imperfect past, or I am anxious over my unknown future, I do not live in the present. I experience pain. I make myself ill. And I am unhappy.

“My past was the present. And my future will be the present. The present moment is the only reality I ever experience.

“As long as I continue to stay in the present, I am happy forever, because forever is always the present.
“The present is simply who I am, just the way I am, right now. And it is precious. I am precious. I am the Precious Present.”

It was as though he could hear the old man talking. And then he smiled. And his smile widened. And he laughed. He felt great joy. He knew he was listening, not to the old man…. But to himself.

It felt good for him to be with himself–just the way he was. He felt he knew enough. He felt he had enough. He felt he was enough. Now.

He had finally found the Precious Present. And he was completely happy.
Several decades later, the man had grown into a happy, prosperous, and healthy old man. One day a little girl came by to talk to him. She liked to listen to “the old man,” as she called him. It was fun to be with him. There was something special about him. But she didn’t know what it was.

One day, the little girl began to really listen to the old man. Somehow she sensed something important in his calm voice. He seemed very happy. The little girl couldn’t understand why. “How could someone so old,” she wondered, “be so happy?” She asked and the old man told her why.

Then all of a sudden, the little girl jumped up and squealed with delight! As the girl ran off to play, the old man smiled. For he heard what she had said: “Wow!” she exclaimed. “I hope someday someone gives me the Precious Present!”


A Thanksgiving Moment

Posted in Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Over the River (Thanksgiving Day)
By Linda Maria Child

Over the river and through the wood 

To Grandmother’s house we go. 

The horse knows the way

To carry the sleigh 

Through white and drifted snow. 

Over the river and through the wood

Oh, how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes

And bites the nose,

As over the ground we go. 

Over the river and through the wood

To have a first-rate play. 

Hear the bells ring,


Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day! 

Over the river and through the wood,

Trot fast, my dapple gray!

Spring over the ground

Like a hunting hound, 

For this is Thanksgiving Day. 

Over the river and through the wood,

And straight through the barnyard gate.

We seem to go

Extremely slow~

It is so hard to wait! 

Over the river and through the wood~

Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!

Hurrah for fun!

Is the pudding done?

Hurrah for the pumpkin pie! 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Peace.

Make Change

Posted in Uncategorized on November 15, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

This week at YHC in Religious Life, we curiously merge several occasions: (1) we hold our annual thanksgiving chapel service, (2) we collect the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, (3) we recognize national Homeless Awareness week, and (4) we celebrate our first Interfaith/Multicultural Thanksgiving Celebration. In addition to all the other events and obligations swirling around campus, these merged occasions make for a busy week. Our theme for Religious Life tries to embrace this chaotic complexity and create something new, dynamic and transformative.

As the familiar text from Genesis cited above evidences, there is a theology derived from this narrative underpinning claiming that out of seemingly formless chaos miraculous creation occurs. As this text implies, the most interesting creation does not take place within order but through the ordering of disorder into something profoundly new: new in form, function, presentation, and possibility. In fact, it has been argued by scholars like Jeremy Bigbie that the claim that humanity is created in God’s image—a claim made within the same chapter from Genesis as cited above—is an illusion to our capacity to create, to imagine. Our creativity is God’s divine image being most clearly evidenced each time a novel is penned, a song composed, a watercolor scumbled, or a sonnet formed. This creativity as divine manifestation is not limited to the traditional arts. Rather, it is an expansive category embracing many notions, such as the crafting of new economic systems or conceiving of inventive experimental protocols or executing an as-yet-unimagined athletic maneuver.

In this sense, art is primarily a verb. In part, our word “art” comes from a Greek root—artios—meaning “complete.” Yet, that idea of completeness also carries with it a concept of immediacy, of a present reality that is perpetuated and sustained. Art is related but not the same as an artifact. Art is a present enactment while an artifact is a past representation. There is an emphasis upon the present action rather than the eventual or past production and a related connection between the action performed and the actor and those perceiving the action. By experiencing the action and the action’s result, we indirectly encounter the actor. A mysterious trinitarian community is formed between actor, act, and those experiencing the action.

Moreover, there is an implicit notion that the perceived result represents something beyond itself, causing the artifice of the action to become a dynamic icon. And, all good icons direct their focus way from themselves and toward the primary actor that inspired them. Our creations become icons. They do not refer only to themselves but to the fact that they were created. In this way, they are conduits to something greater than themselves, echoing Creation’s function as the Icon directing our gaze not solely to that which is created but to the profundity of the Creator. Therefore, to create is to make immanent the transcendent by way of iconic reference, transforming the present into a point of contact between the mundane and the divine and making a passing community between the actor, the act, and the recipient of the action.

Ok, I get it; thus so far this iChapel has been a bit esoteric. Let me try to draw my thoughts together and bring them back down to earth.

In order to make change, we must change how we understand what we make. As icons, what we make speaks about us and about what we think, believe to be important, and value. Our creations point back to us. In addition, we in turn, point back to our Creator. In the end, the most important thing we create is our lives. So, to what does the art of our lives point? What does the art that is us claim is important to us? What does it illustrate we consider to be of value; of importance; and of personal, communal, and sacred worth? What “complete” picture do we hope our lives to illustrate? Also, how does the art of our lives affect the present around us? Is it detached and devoid of practical connection? Are we abstracted from reality or are we creatively engaged with the “now” seeking to bring it to its “complete” and good end? How do we turn our iconic representations of ourselves and our Creator into practical representation of the world to transform the world?

Making is an inherently creative process. It is, also, inherently artistic. The same Greek root that means “to make”—poyeo—lies at the heart of our word “poem.” A poem is a crafted icon pointing the reader/hearing to something greater than just the poem, i.e., to an idea, a concept, a belief, an emotion, and, ultimately, to the writer of the poem. As something made, a poem is a representation of what is important and of value to its writer. If our lives were a poem, what emotion would they provoke? Would our lives’ poems be a sonnet of love, a playful nursery rhyme, an ode, or an epic tragedy? What or who would serve as our muse? Would our lives’ poems point only to us or would they point beyond us to something greater, more profound, more telling of reality, of live, of existence?

Join us this week as we conflate poems with faith, life with icons, art with inspiration, trying to make order out of our chaos.

Have a wonderful week and see you in chapel.

Change Time

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.
—William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Early yesterday morning, we changed time. At 2am, we moved our clocks back to 1am, gaining an hour of sleep and confusing four year olds everywhere. The whole notion of changing time and, for that matter, being able to track time is fascinating. The idea that time might be measured and standardized is relatively recent one and one still resisted in places. Several years ago while visiting Oxford, England, we noticed that many of the colleges’ clock towers were about five minutes slow. After speaking with a local, we learned that those colleges deliberately set their clocks five minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time because of the town’s placement west of Greenwich, meaning those college’s were attempting to convey the actual time relative to their longitude. In other words, the colleges’ clocks were telling the correct time according to “Oxford Mean Time.” As both our collective resetting of our clocks and the pedantry of those timepieces at Oxford remind us, time is part convenient construction and fixed fact.

Within Christian theology—particularly biblical theology, “time” is also divided into two parts. In Greek, two different Greek words translate into English as “time.” Each word conveys a distinct characteristic of time, one quantitative and the other qualitative. Chronos is the quantitative measurement of time’s passage. Many English words derive from this root, e.g., chronology, chronicle, chronograph, and chronometer. The second word, kairos, speaks to the quality of time, i.e., its potential, poignancy, and creatively chaotic opportunity. That is, while chronos speaks to time’s passage, kairos speaks to times possibility. Kairos time is “just the right time” for something new and exciting to happen.

Many of the most significant moments in scripture are defined by this qualitative character to time. For instance, near the very beginning of Mark’s “chronicling” of Jesus’ ministry, he states that the “time had come” for the “kingdom of God [was] near.” (Mark 1:15) As we might expect, here, at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the kind of time Jesus’ was describing was not a marking of the passage of time by our having reached a designated date on the calendar. Rather, what Mark’s Jesus was saying is that the right or appropriate or pregnant potentiality of a time when God’s new possibility of a vitally different kingdom was at hand.

This week, having rolled back our clocks backwards, may that change in time become a moment during which we strive to change not just our timepieces but also our very notion of time itself. May our focus on our time not be so dominated by measuring time’s passage but by discovering God’s potentiality present in every moment.

Have a great week and see you in chapel.

Saintly Change

Posted in Uncategorized on November 1, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:34-35, 37-39

The church has always barrowed, especially when it served some larger theological purpose. We borrowed the word “Easter” from the English because it meant “spring.” We borrowed the idea of the bunny at Easter because its prolific procreation had always suggested new life. We moved the date of Christmas to accommodate both to a Roman holiday already being celebrated and the fact that their holiday signaled the overcoming of death with the birth of new life in the form of the returning length of the day’s sun. We added the use of the evergreen tree because Saxons brought them inside over the winter as a promise that life would return despite the dead darkness of winter. In Ireland, the church took the Gaelic sun, representing eternal life, and superimposed it upon a cross implying symbolic synonyms. The Gaelic sun was not the only thing we borrowed from Ireland. We, also, borrowed the idea that at certain places and at certain time the distance between the temporal and the eternal shrinks, the barrier between life and death thins.

The Irish called these special times and places “thin spaces.” They were thin because they were believed them to be specially suited to allow the living to connect with the dead. One such place is the Portal Tomb in the middle of the desolate landscape of the Burren in County Clare, Ireland. The ancient tomb stands prominent against the rocky horizon. Perched like a doorway, the tomb is a burial site that the ancient Irish chose to inter their dead because they felt the site to be sacredly special, marking a unique point across the landscape where the distance between the dead and the living thinned to a translucent film. They buried their loved ones in this thin spot because it meant they could easily access their family and friends after they were gone, regularly communing with them at certain moments of the year when they felt the wall between life and death moved from just being translucent to being transportive. This idea of both thin space and thin times directly influenced the church’s practice of All Saints’ Day.

All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows, is when the church commemorates all our saints. The eve of All Saints’ is known as “All Hallows Even,” or “Halloween.” Each year, All Saints’ Day falls on November 1. All Saints’ Day is set aside in the church year to remember all those “saints” of the church who have died, specifically naming those individuals we know and love who have died since our last All Saints’ Day celebrations.

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. That text 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 has been linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain or “summer’s end”.

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. 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. Whether All Saints’ is celebrated in the spring or in the autumn or is intended for some or all of the departed, the celebrations of Halloween and All Saints’ reminds us that we live in a world more about light than darkness, more about hope than despair, more about life than death, more about resurrection than the grave. Without All Saints’ Day, the customs and costumes of Halloween lose their potency and significance. Without Halloween, All Saints’ becomes stilted and more solemnity than celebration.

The connections between these ancient practices and the church’s desire to link them to a commemoration of the dead are patent. As with its other borrowings, when a cultural practice already exists that bolsters a larger theological point, the church happily connected its claims with a community’s imbedded practices. In this case, the notion of thin spaces is linked with the church’s conviction in the perpetuating presence of the communion of saints. The communion of saints is the idea that despite physical evidence to the contrary, death cannot ultimately separate us from each other and from God. Paul’s rhetorical flourish from his letter to the Romans springs from this very conviction. There, Paul, proclaims: “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:34-35, 37-39). This text relies on the theological assumption that the power of the resurrection includes not just Christ’s defeat of his own death but Christ’s ultimate defeat of all death. Further, the power of baptism is meant to signal not just a moment of earthly wetting but, also, a heavenly event of wedding ourselves to an already present and persisting eternity.

All Saints’ Day marks an ecclesiastical “thin space,” where and when heaven links with life. Such a confession of life in the midst of death reminds us of our faith’s conviction that God’s kingdom of heaven is already among us. It is not some distant hope but a present reality. As such, All Saints’ Day is a much a statement about the past lives of our family and friends and our future hope in life eternal but, equally, a statement about the present need to celebrate the living still among us. It is a call to make the thinness of heaven’s touch a persisting reality ever day for those all around us. To that end, it is our calling to remove any thin space that might remain a barrier between our neighbors and their contact with heaven’s full presence.

This is not so much call to evangelical fervor—at least not how we typically us that term—but a call to embody the “good news”—the euangelion—of heaven’s kingdom in our proclamations to the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. After all, Jesus’ ministry began with his making this very claim: “I have come to declare good news to the poor, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time has come to save God’s people.” The good news of the gospel is that the bounty of heaven to be shared by all is not some distant promise but a current reality, made available through our affirmation that we, the church, are meant to be a persisting “thin space,” linking heaven to earth every day. All Saints’ Day is but a seasonal reminder of our regular responsibility.

Recently, I attended a meeting on the issues of poverty and hunger plaguing Towns County. Did you know that in the first ten months of 2010, Towns County Food Pantry has already distributed nearly 50% more food than the Food Pantry did in all of 2009? Did you know that the Ninth District—a local agency responsible for assisting people with housing, heating, and other essential needs—has served over 882 clients in the first ten months of the year in comparison to 710 clients in all of 2009? Did you know that because of various cutbacks they have been forced to serve this greater client pool on roughly half the budget? Regularly, for the first time in years, this agency has begun turning families away because of a lack of funds. How is any of this good news to the poor? How might we convert this news into the good news that we tacitly promise every time we erect a church sign, open our bibles, or sing hymns?

On this All Saints’ Day, may we be reminded that we are called to be a thin space that brings heaven to earth via our not just speaking but enacting good news to the poor. Borne out of this concern, the student leadership from our Inter-religious Council agreed to collect an offering for the Food Pantry and the Ninth District at tonight’s All Saints’ Day service. In our remembering, may we, also, reenact, not just recalling life but enabling it, too.

Join us this evening as we remember the earthly faithfulness of the dead and offer heaven’s help to the living.