Archive for August, 2013

(re)Imagine Education

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

—Jeremiah 1:4-10

 

This week’s iChapel reflection sits at a convergence, the convergence of vocation, occasion, and availability. 

 

Let me explain.

 

Jeremiah was a prophet.  Prophets, contrary to popular assumptions, are not understood in Jewish and Christian scripture to be future-predictors.  Rather prophets are those who speak truth to power.  Recall, for instance, Moses to Pharaoh, Samuel to Saul, or Nathan to David.  A prophet’s role is to recall the purpose of a people and to remind those in positions of authority to lead those people in that purposeful direction, especially when those leaders are deliberately doing the contrary. 

 

As a prophet in that tradition of speaking truth to power, Jeremiah was demanding that the leadership of Judah more radically redirect the course of the nation, a demand requiring courage, a demand with great risk, a demand reluctantly presented. 

 

In other words, Jeremiah, in addition to being a prophet, was human.  Like most of us, he was unhappy with injustice but even less pleased with the idea of doing something about it if doing something proved inconvenient or unsettling.  Jeremiah had to be coaxed into action, at just the right time he proved to have the skills necessary for the job. 

 

This week marks the 50 anniversary of the March of Washington, a march featuring a now famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.  King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in many respects, serves as a culminating moment in a vocational life that was initially defined less by impassioned prophetic challenge than by contentment to convention and withdraw.  Similar to Jeremiah, King’s early life and vocational aspirations were not about confrontation but conformation.  It took some well positioned prodding, at just the right moment to match the skills of a potential prophet with the needs of a ready community.

 

In both cases, a reluctant prophet connected to the needs of a moment with a personal willingness to confront, confrontation done often against their better judgments.

 

This scripture reading and rhetorical anniversary fall near the start to another academic year for us at YHC, a year filled with possibility coupled to necessity.  At the risk of overstatement, this moment for us—like those experienced by Jeremiah and King—lies at a convergence, overlapping vocational opportunities, occasion’s realities, and personal availability.

 

Allow me a little latitude to explain.

 

A seminal function of a liberal arts institution of the church is to prepare the members of its community—faculty, staff, students, and administration—for the hard work of education.  Yet more than just education, we are charged with the task of educating with a purpose.  While education certainly involves depositing of data and the acquisition of new skills, education is, also, at its most basic, a calling out, a calling out from potentiality to actuality the possibilities lying deep inside each of us. 

 

These possibilities represent those fundamental qualities that define us, qualities distinct to each of us yet universally useful for the transformation of our world when deployed at just the right time, for just the right purpose.  Part of our task is identifying those skills and nurturing them.  Then, we must learn to listen for those distinct moments of necessary calling and to dispense the appropriate dosage of courage required to become our own timely prophets for change.  In this community, we are each preparing to be kinds of prophets, speaking truth to the powers of the world, especially speaking for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard because they have been muted, ignored, or banished.

 

Like Jeremiah and King, the call of the prophet is neither easy nor generically general.  It requires courage and wisdom, (1) the courage to speak faithfully and boldly even when such speech seems imprudent and (2) the wisdom to identify those particular moments and places and people to whom our voices require lifting and in what ways each of our unique skills may be deployed. 

 

Such courage and wisdom are not easily found.  Yet, a community committed to these two virtues’ cultivation will only better the odds that both develop and deploy.

 

As we embark on a year during which we may strive to become better at listening for our unique skills, knowing the moments to speak, and engendering the courage to speak when needed, a little inspiration as to what might happen when vocation, occasion, and availability converge seems appropriate.

 

This year, one of our challenges is to (re)imagine our role as an institution to be more than simply a place of where knowledge is gained and are skills attained but to be a place where prophetic transformation is engendered and world alteration begins.

 

Enjoy the video, read King’s speech, and start listening for your own moment to spring from the margins into the middle of a world awaiting your voice.  I am looking forward to catching the vision of your transformative dream, too.

 

Have a great week.

 

“I have a Dream”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

August 28, 1963

Washington, DC

 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

 

But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.  One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.  So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.



 

In a sense we have come to our Nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.  This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.



 

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.



 

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens.

 

This sweltering summer of the colored people’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.



 

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for white only.”

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.



 

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.



 

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.



 

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.



 

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.



 

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

 

So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”



 

 

 

 

(re)Imagine

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
—John 16:12-13

There Jesus is, standing before his disciples and telling them good-bye. In the above text, we near the end of John’s gospel and Jesus’ ministry. In John’s story of Jesus’ life and ministry, we have traveled with Jesus for three years, wandering about the countryside, witnessing all types of miracles, engaging in challenging and enlightening conversations, learning about the nature of his radical new kingdom, and listening to him prepare his disciples for a life without him. It is in this moment of saying good-bye that we ease drop on Jesus’ words to his followers. Aptly named the Farewell Discourse by scholars, this conversation prepares his followers for a future without Jesus. In that conversation, Jesus tells his disciples that he will not be with them much longer but that another divine presence, known as the Holy Spirit, will be with them once Jesus has gone.

In overhearing these words, we find ourselves at an interesting, intersecting moment. We are listening to Jesus’ words to his disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion while simultaneously hearing the gospel writer’s words to his community of faith some sixty years after Jesus death. (We, also, are hearing Jesus’ words at our own interesting moment, a time when we are gathering in an Enchanted Valley in the mountains of north Georgia at the start of another academic year at Young Harris College—some two thousand years removed from the author’s penning of these words. However, I am getting ahead of myself.) Let me explain how these moments converge in John’s text.

All the gospel texts are written after the fact. By that, I mean that no personal chronicler or newspaper reporter was following Jesus around writing down what Jesus said and what he or she saw. Rather, the gospels are made up of stories about and sayings of Jesus that were passed down from Christian community to Christian community for generations before finally making their way into the texts we now call the gospels that are found in the New Testament. In fact, the gospels and particularly John’s gospel, offers clues as to how this process of collecting and selecting the stories and sayings of Jesus occurred. Those clues are contained right there in the biblical texts themselves.

One indication of the different stories and traditions that supply the material that become the gospels are the variances between the gospels themselves. Think about it: Matthew has Jesus born and fleeing to Egypt. Luke has Jesus born and just return straight home. Mark, Matthew, and Luke have Jesus die on Friday. John has Jesus die on Thursday. Mark and John have no stories about Jesus’ early years while all the texts to some degree tell different stories, recall different teachings, and offer a slightly different image of this man called Jesus. Clearly, each writer was using different sets of stories, sayings, and memories of and about Jesus, different resources they use to (re)imagine a distinctive image of Jesus and his work and purpose. Moreover, of all the gospels, John’s is the most explicit in revealing the availability of multiple sources, providing the greatest insight into this process each gospel writer went through to tell their story of faith.

Near the end of John’s gospel, the writer offers these revelatory words, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.” (John 20:30, emphasis mine) In other words, it went something like this: Imagine each gospel writer, when he decided to write his text about Jesus, sitting down with great stacks in front of him and in his imagination, stacks of notes and stories about Jesus collected over time. He now has to sort through them. The writer then left some stories out while including others to draw the portrait of Jesus that writer wants his community of faith to see. John is no different.

He selects some stories while leaving others out, not leaving them out because he did not like them but because what he used was sufficient to tell the story about Jesus, to craft the image of Jesus he needed his readers to see. Like a student writing a research paper, she might have many good sources but not all that she has found will make it into the final draft. Only those stories and examples most pertinent and necessary will be used. The rest, while valid, may be used by another or left behind altogether. So it was with the writing of the gospels, at least as we clearly see from John’s own admissions. He had much more at his disposal but chose what he chose for a particular reason. It is that reason, that particular point about Jesus that the gospel writer was trying to make for his readers in his community that proves important to us. That reason offers us a glimpse at this interesting, intersecting point, marking when Jesus’ lived and where John’s community gathered (and when our school year begins), somehow converging right before our eyes.

You see, John was writing for his community of people at a pivotal time. John’s community of faith had just moved away, for the first time, from a community they knew every well. It is about the year 90 CE, and the early Christian church and the Jewish synagogue have decided that their understandings of faith have become distinct enough that they are, now, different religious traditions. Folks that had been together for years have decided to go their separate ways.

Such a radical reconstruction of the very imitate and essential structures of our friends, family, and faith communities can really shake us. Those to whom John was writing were no different. They were not certain about themselves, their identity, or their futures. They needed some reassuring. So, John decided it was time to write a story for his community to read, a story that selected from those various memories of Jesus’ followers he had heard and read for many years, filtering through all the different stories to select those particular stories relevant to his people in this redefining time. John tells the story of a time when a people who had known one way of being together for years was now coming to a close, a way of being and sharing life together that was about to radically change. As illustrated through the memory of the Farwell Discourse, just as those early followers of Jesus managed to survive and thrive after Jesus’ departing so too might this new generation manage to survive and thrive. John had other stories he might have chosen to tell, but he chose this one, a comforting and encouraging story of transition and hope in the midst of an uncertain future.

So it is that we find ourselves gathering for a new academic year at YHC. Like Jesus’ disciples and John’s community, we, too, are at a crossroads. We are in the midst of great transition. Old connections and certainties while not severed are changed and changing. Who we are and what was certain are evolving, sometimes subtly and sometimes radically. Such transformation is only to be expected, especially when taking into account all the transitions that have been necessary to get each of us to this point in time, at this place, and with this wonderful and rich collection of people. Uncertainty and change are here.

Yet, as John seems to remind his readers in Jesus’ Farwell Discourse, uncertainty and change are not a problem. In fact, in John’s estimation, they both seem to be rather the very necessary conditions to bring about the next and empowering moment of God’s presence known as the coming of God as Spirit. If uncertainty and change do not happen, then the next great thing cannot take place. Uncertainty and change are the fertile soil out of which the green shoots of new life and new possibility and unexpected joy and unimagined futures take root and burst forth into life.

New life and new possibilities in the midst of uncertainty and change is exactly what we need and should expect. College is that time in life when all sorts of ideas and beliefs are questioned. Boundaries pushed. Meaning sought. Purpose found. To ask questions, push boundaries, seek meaning, and find purpose, our imaginations are required.

This year at YHC, the Office of Religious Life invites you to (re)Imagine faith, its role, its function, its shape, its part to play in having an educated mind. (re)Imagine your understandings of God, your worship practices, your reasons for service, and your place in the world.

Whether you are a person of deep faith, of no faith, or somewhere in-between, we have a place for you. Join us this year as we ask questions, seek answers, and change the world. And, together, I cannot wait to discover exactly what it is that Jesus meant when he said in John’s gospel that there are still many things left to be said (and heard). What are those “things,” what challenges to our expectations, what changes to us and our convictions, what impact on the world will be heard in a new, fresh, never before and totally re-imagined way at this moment, in this place?

As you might (re)imagine, I think it is going to be a great year!

Peace and see you along the way.