Archive for November, 2011

Incarnation

Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us . . . .

John 1:1, 14a

 Image

As nearly 230 million of us did on Friday, I found myself walking through a downtown shopping district, desperately hoping to “walk-off” a few calories following the previous day’s gluttony.  Hearing the songs of Christmas emanating from hidden boxes in stores and admiring manger scene after manger scene in shop windows and shelves, it is easy to forget that this season that is almost upon us is not so much about a little boy born in a hay-bedecked cradle.  Importantly, the story of Christmas is not about nativity but incarnation. 

 

The idea that the Creator of the cosmos is also the one resting among the creatures of a barn is a lot around which to wrap our minds.  In the above opening to his gospel, the writer of John tries to open us up to this possibility through both the words and the literary structure used at the beginning of his text.  Juxtaposing light and darkness, story and song, the mundane and the mysterious, the gospel writer is preparing the reader to be open to the paradoxical possibility that the impossible just might be possible, that the God “out there” might be found “among us.”  And, if this paradox proves to be the case, the writer implies, then all sorts of unexpected possibilities are before us, including the healing of the sick, the empowering of the powerless, the embracing of our valued physicality, and the injection of new life in a world weakened by all sorts of death. 

 

God’s possibilities in defiance of our anticipated impossibilities are the essence of the incarnation and a radical reordering of our experiential claims and those claims’ assumptions and derivative logic. This reordering is both the message and the continuing mystery of this season of the church year we have just entered, an enduring mystery we will celebrate this week in chapel through song, drama, and story. 

 

Please join us for that theological feast on Wednesday at 6pm in the chapel as we struggle to imagine the impact that the Divine’s physical presence has for our lives and our own presence in the world.

 

For now, enjoy this ancient songwriter’s lovely attempt to grapple with the incarnation:

 

“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”
by Aurelius C. Prudentius

 

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

 

Thanksgiving

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

As there is no chapel this week with our preparing to depart—both far and near—for Thanksgiving break, our iChapel this week turns from theological ramblings to fond reminiscing. Enjoy these savory musings by one our great poets and have an extra piece of pumpkin pie for me this Thanksgiving Day.

Travel and rest well.

“The Pumpkin”
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest;
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

Justice

Posted in Uncategorized on November 14, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
—Isaiah 1:17

This week, we are exploring the gospel as it is expressed through the declarations of the prophets. When we speak of the prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures, we include those who have books of scripture named for them—e.g., Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, etc.—and those who do not but appear as part of the larger narrative of Israel—e.g., Moses, Nathan, etc. While each of these prophets spoke at different times to different situations, they each found themselves serving the same role. As prophets, their jobs were not to predict the future but to speak truth to power, confronting the powers and principalities of the world regarding those powers’ violations of their social covenant obligations to love their God and their neighbors.

Recall the various prophets’ confrontations with the authorities around them. Moses spoke to the Pharaoh after the Pharaoh neglected to respect his responsibility to show appropriate hospitality to strangers in his land. Samuel confronted Saul when Saul disobeyed a command from God. Nathan confronted David after David arranged for Bathsheba’s seduction and Uriah’s death. (I could go on.) On each occasion, the prophet confronts a person in a position of power who possesses the capacity to change something that has gone wrong, to correct an error in practice often institutionalized in the governmental structures of their societies. The prophets remind us that what we do matters and what we believe matters and that these two should correspond. Moreover, our beliefs have real world consequences and, as a result, our faith is anything but private. Our faith practices are public practices that have public consequences and demand societal alterations to rectify any failures.

Just look at the claims levied against Israel at the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry. In the above excerpt from Isaiah’s prophetic gambit, the prophet initiates his complaint against the nation and its leadership because they have failed to care for the oppressed, the orphaned, and the widowed. Or, to put it in broader terms, the powerful in their communities have entered into a divine packed, incumbent with their authority, to care for the politically, the socially, and the economically disadvantaged. That is, Israel’s prophets understood that their civil leaders were obligated by virtue of their offices to use the power of those offices to empower the disempowered, restoring equilibrium between the various political, social, and economic extremes of their communities. The clue that this prophetic commitment implies a practical and beneficial deployment of power is found in the word the prophets repeat in their complaints. That word is the Hebrew term mishpat, translated as “justice.”

Often paired with another important prophetic term—tsedaquah or “righteousness,” mishpat refers to the divinely implied laws governing proper relationships between the powerful and the powerless while tsedaquah describes the structuring framework of covenantal love in which those laws find their meaning. This notion of political laws linked with covenantal love establishes the context in which to view the prophetic concept of justice. For the prophets, justice is always an account of proper practices relative to how those practices help maintain appropriate relationships between people. In other words, for the prophets, justice is not an abstract description of practices relative to some detached standard of moral behavior. Rather, for the prophets, justice describes the a state of existence where individuals within a covenantal community are reconciled to each other and held together by mutual love for each other and the community’s perpetuation.

This notion of justice as a communal concern is rather different from how we use the term “justice.” Often, when we say “justice was served” or “she got justice,” we speak of some punitive outcome where our actions or someone’s actions result in someone “getting what they deserve” irrespective of how those actions restore any potential relational rupture caused by injustice. For us, justice seems to be “out there” detached from us. In the prophets’ context, such a notion of justice devoid of the concrete healing of relationships between people was inconceivable.

Such a notion of prophetic justice is much harder to achieve because it means turning from the impersonal notion of justice where justice references an abstract quality to the flesh and blood reality of other people and their feelings, emotions, and pain. Yet, the prophets will not allow us to claim justice is anything else. To be called just, our actions must restore and heal communities through proper love for each other and our God.

Recently, a friend of mine attended the trial for several young men who assaulted him in a park in Atlanta. My friend attended the trial not because he wanted to make sure that the young men “got what they deserved” but because he understood that justice is not some abstract administration of punishment or rewards but the description of actions that lead to the healing and restoration of the equilibrium between members of a community. For my friend, regardless of the outcome of the trial, he was in court to ensure that he and the families of the young men might be reconciled, leading eventually to the healing of the brokenness experienced between him and the young men, too. Such a venture does not have a guaranteed outcome or a prescribed methodology for success. He simply knew “justice” needed to be pursed, and he needed to be present to make that happen. For him, I cannot say that justice was done but might claim that it is being done. In addition, in light of recent events in the national news, it seems clear that full justice cannot be conceived of as the adjudication of punishment according to some abstract standard of propriety. That kind of abstract justice requires an attendance to set procedures seemingly dispassionately disconnected from the victims and their perpetrator, a disconnection that appears ultimately to produce disinterest. Prophetic justice, on the other hand, requires the restoration of persons to each other in order to heal a broken community. Difficult, the prophets concede, but necessary.

In each of our lives, we need more justice, especially the kind of justice my friend is seeking and those young men from Pennsylvania deserve. Such a pursuit of justice is difficult yet the results may lead to a society where we are less concerned with getting what is deserved than becoming the kind of people and communities we should be. To become such a people where the powerful use their power for the sake of the disempowered and where justice is a description of our mutual loving relationships with each other sounds like good news to me.

Home

Posted in Uncategorized on November 7, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
–Matthew 6:9-13

This week at YHC, things are different. Events will crowd our evening calendars more than usual. A parade will happen. Opening basketball games will be played. Folks will return to campus who have not been here for some time. It should be a great and exciting week.

Yet, there is something else going on this week at YHC that coincides with our homecoming festivities. We are recognizing Homelessness Awareness Week, too. As we look forward those who return to our campus to celebrate coming home, we, also, encourage everyone to take this week’s emphasis on coming home to reflect on those who have no home to which to return. And, with this past week’s conversations about who is occupying what and for what reasons, a new jobs report and its unemployment numbers, the country’s debt pushing past $15 trillion, the European political crisis, and a cloudy economic forecast, the number of folks without a home or the threat of not having one seems all the greater.

Here are some provocative statistics. According to some studies, the average age of a person in the United States without a home is 9 years of age. Children constitute nearly 39% of the US homeless population. Nearly 25% of homeless are employed. Over 40% of the male homeless population in the US are veterans of the US Armed Forces. These are just some of the demographics that help fill-in our picture of our community members who are without homes.

Expanding those numbers further, according to a September 2011 NY Times article, over 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, accounting for more than 15% of the US population. These numbers are at their highest in the 52 years that US Census Bureau has been collecting the data. In Towns County, our poverty rate is just over 12% and has risen steadily over the past few years. And, the county food pantry is giving to local families at an escalating rate.

Clearly, there is awareness to be raised, work to be done, and opportunities needed for us to do both.

This week, join us as we seek ways to connect our learning this information to our capacity to do something about it. On Wednesday, chapel will take place off campus . . . well off campus. We will travel to Asheville, NC with several vanloads of students to serve and share a meal and to worship with the Haywood Street Congregation, a congregation started specifically to be populated by the homeless of Asheville. On Thursday, we will hold our annual Rice Day, choosing to eat just rice and drink just water, raising awareness and offering solidarity with the majority of the world’s population who subsist on rice and water each day. Sodexo will make a donation to the Towns County Food Panty for each person that chooses to eat rice and drink water rather than share in the College restaurant’s regular buffets. Finally, on Thursday at 7pm, we will offer a viewing of “The Soloist,” a movie about a man and his struggles to escape poverty and homelessness.

Each of these opportunities is meant to increase our knowledge about issues of homelessness and poverty both generally and locally while also supplying occasions for us to transform our knowledge into transformative action, converting the potential energy of our prayers that God’s kingdom might come into a real kingdom filled with enough for all that is shared with all.

Have a great week.