Archive for September, 2013

(re)Imagining Fitness

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

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When you get a sense of how faith fits into a campus, you get a better sense of the community as a whole.[1]

Mary Jacobs is right, understanding how faith fits into a campus community is essential.  Faith’s fit discloses the value that an institution places on educating the whole person, because, as we know, education is not just about the depositing of data.  While education does include the exchange of bits of information, education is more than simply the accumulation of fact upon fact.  If education is anything, it is an exercise in self-transformation to prepare us for world alteration—on grand and modest scales—through gaining insights, data, skills, and techniques.  Education, as it turns out, is fact accumulation.  But it is, also, so much more.  Education’s primary objective is to change us.

Education and faith, it seems, have a lot in common.  After all, isn’t faith but another way of saying change, change from one way of being to another, from one way of seeing the world to another, from one set of loves to another?  The more central the role granted faith the more profound and sacred the transformation possible . . . be our task education or community service or raising a family or balancing a budget.

The denomination that founded YHC—The United Methodist Church—has always intuitively sensed this vital connection between a robust faith and deep, transformative learning.

Nearly three hundred years ago, two young brothers—John and Charles Wesley—and their university friends gathered regularly for prayer, bible study, and mutual support at Oxford University.  This self-described “Holy Club” recognized at its inception the indelible connection between intellectual pursuit and spiritual discipline.  For them and ultimately for the church that emerged from that Oxford gathering, one could never be adequately realized without the other, i.e., the pursuit of personal perfection was an integrated intellectual and spiritual endeavor.

So, education is central to the history and ministry of The United Methodist Church.  But, in a creative turn, The United Methodist Church has always understood that faith is central to education because education is about the transformation of the whole self—body, mind, and spirit.  For this transformation to bear the sacred imprint of faith, conversations about meaning and purpose and the Divine should not be marginal or arbitrarily inserted but permeating the ethos of a place, found in its cultural and intellectual DNA.

Colleges and universities emergent out of a faith tradition are naturally well suited to this comfortable comingling of faith with education because of a longstanding commitment to create inclusive and celebrative atmospheres that nurture and support all the faith journeys of students, faculty, and staff.  Such colleges and universities don’t have to be reminded to welcome faith into our conversations, to promote the spiritual as a fundamental interlocutor in efforts at self and world transformation.  Such conversations and promotion, on our best days, are simply part of who we are and how we seek to engage each other, our academic disciplines, and the world around us.

Recently, according to education researcher Arthur Chickering and his colleagues, the rest of the educational world has begun to appreciate what faith-emergent institutions have understood for centuries.  Chickering and his fellow authors observe that “at colleges and universities around the country, an expanding and increasingly vigorous dialogue has begun, centered on examining personal values, meaning, purpose—including religious and spiritual values—as part of the educational experience.”[2]  Education, to be thorough, requires intentional spiritual exploration, the kind of exploration colleges like ours come by naturally.

So, if Chickering and his colleagues are right, then Mary Jacobs was onto much more when she noted that understanding the role of faith on the campus acts as an indicator of the character of a campus community.  Rather, the role of faith, also, acts as a barometer of an institution’s capacity to educate in truly deep and transformative ways.

Have a great week and see you along the way.


[1] Mary Jacobs, “Soul Searching: Students Can Make College Search a Spiritual Journey,” The United Methodist Reporter, March 12, 2010.

[2] Arthur Chickering, et. al., Encouraging Authenticity and Spirituality in Higher Education, (John Wiley and Sons, 2006) 2.

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(re)Imagine Change

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

ImageAs the calendar slides from summer to autumn, our thoughts gently shift from beach holidays and ice cream cones to harvest festivals and pumpkin pie, from verdant meadows to burnt umber and ocher mountainsides.

The change in seasons naturally hints at the change in life required by faith and compelled by education.  Appropriately, this week’s iChapel celebrates the advancing change of leaves as but a reminder that our life in this collegiate community expects deep and expansive change in our life together and us.

To mark all these changes, I offer this seasonally apropos poem.

Enjoy.

Have a great week and see you along the way.

“Autumn–The Fall of the Leaf”

by S. Moore

Sylvan shades and fairy bowers,

Summer’s lovely meadows green,

Dewy dawns and eves serene,

Balmy air and pretty flowers,–

All these sweets will soon be gone,

Fading, dying one by one.

 

Nature passes on to death,

Warning us of winter’s chill—

Autumn breathes a colder breath,

Beautiful in dying still,–

Cheeks aglowing in decay,

Blushing as they fade away.  

 

Could there be a grander sight,

Than our forests’ rainbow tints,

Glancing, changing in the light,

Surely death cannot be grief,

Fairer far than colour’d prints,–

To that rosy maple leaf.  

 

Emblem of my fleeting days,

Verdant, change, frail and brief,–

O! that as my strength decays,

I may show the maple leaf—

Fair in every passing stage,

Still more beautiful in age.

(re)Imagining Restoration

Posted in Uncategorized on September 16, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

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This shall be a statute to you for ever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny y

ourselves,and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. It is a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall deny yourselves;it is a statute for ever.

—Leviticus 16:29-31

Within the Jewish tradition, this past weekend was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  As the culmination of the ten-day Rosh Hashanah celebration, Yom Kippur marks the highest holy day in the Hebrew calendar—a day, definitive of that holy season, filled with fasting and punctuated by prayer all for the sake of repentance.

Having a season of repentance ending with a day of atonement, leads to three questions:  repenting for what; atoning with whom; and how do fasting and prayer lead to repentance?

These questions deserve a little unpacking.

The traditional answer to the first question is repentance for one’s sins.

Here, sins are those activities that miss the mark, that fall short of what is expected of a faithful person’s actions toward others and toward God.  Such actions run the gamut from moral failure to simple miscalculation.  Therefore, the season of Rosh Hashanah allows for the seeking of forgiveness from others, allowing Yom Kippur to serve as the day to seal or ratify those efforts at reconciliation between oneself and others.  Yom Kippur functions as the Divine “amen” to human reconciliation, a reconciliation that requires divine and human restoration, too.  In other words, Yom Kippur is a celebration of reconciliation, reconciliation between humans and each other and humans and God.

Here enters the answer to the second question, the question of atonement.  Atonement is that activity of restoration.  Atonement is always, fundamentally, a relational activity, not an abstract one.  In removing a barrier erected through sin, the restorative healing of fractured relationships may begin, a removal and restoration essential to whole persons and whole communities.

So how do fasting and prayer help facilitate this repentant atonement?  The answer, again, bears a relational mark.

Prayer and fasting help facilitate restoration by moving toward the same goal from two separate directions.  Prayer enables those needing to be forgiven to achieve a poster of humility and readiness to seek forgiveness, while fasting allows those needing to forgive empathetically to feel the pain experienced by those who have caused their relationships to be broken.  In other words, prayer makes one ready to ask.  Fasting masks one ready to say “yes” when asked.

At the very core of the central actions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a heightened sensitivity to the essentially of community.  All these faithful actions are meant to heal a community’s fundamental fabric, allowing that community to remain knitted together for another year, a year certain to hold celebrations and sufferings, a year of the expected and unanticipated.

Regardless of our various faith traditions, such habits of asking for and granting forgiveness seem like a good idea, actions that reminds each of us that at the heart of our living are the enduring bonds of life shared.  This life shared with others is more essential than the achievement of goals or accomplishment of desirous tasks.  While important, such goals and tasks seem only to carry value if those goals and tasks result in healthy, whole communities more tightly bound to each other and to the Sacred.

As we press deeper into our academic life with each other this term, may we have a semester defined by the virtues essential to Yom Kippur.  May our shared work be valued on how that work builds a better community and shared world more than it leads to worthy accolades and records of achievement.

Accolades and achievements are important, but better communities and a better world seem, ultimately, to be more important.  Having both would be great.  But if we must choose, may our preference always be for the latter at the expense of the former.

Have a great start to the week and see you along the way.

(re)Imagining Reflection

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . . .
—Deuteronomy 30:19

This Wednesday marks another day of remembrance for the tragic events of September 11, 2001. To focus our remembering, I offer a slightly different tact for this week’s iChapel, a mixed media reflection.

pieta2

First, I offer this image of a sculpture by Frederick Franck, a pieta inspired by numerous tragedies, including those resulting from the events of September 11, 2001.  The pieta is a modern interpretation of a traditional form.  Meaning “pity,” pietas capture that moment at the foot of the cross when the mother of Jesus cradles her dead son one last time.  This image reminds us all that in moments of personal and corporate horror and vulnerability that divinity and humanity embrace each other in supportive, sustaining love.

Second, I include a link to a brief audio file (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audioitem/13) reflecting on the role of poetry as a medium helping to articulate our emotive responses to the events of that Tuesday morning 12 years ago.  That file, also, contains readings of two poems, one emergent from the tragedy itself, the other more commentary on life and suffering.

Finally, consider reading and listening to reflections on 9/11 by Stanley Hauerwas, one of the preeminent Christian theologians in America, today (http://abstractcathedral.com/2011/09/stanley-hauerwas-writing-on-the-10th-anniversary-of-911/). In Hauerwas’ presentations, he ponders how people of faith might learn to understand and respond to those events.

When you have a chance, take a moment to reflect through this mixed media offering.

Have a wonderful week and see you along the way.

(re)Imagine Understanding

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2013 by yhcreligiouslife

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 14:25-33

In the above scripture reading from Luke’s gospel, Jesus continues his outline of the character of discipleship needed for the new kingdom he is inaugurating. From the outset, Jesus wants his disciples to know into what they are getting themselves. Jesus wants his disciples to understand that following him into this new kingdom will be costly, costing Jesus his life and, them, their very assumptions about life. Captured in that shocking declaration that discipleship requires a hating of “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,” Jesus sets his followers up for the radical work expected to define this new kingdom.

But, really, does Jesus believe that being a disciple necessitates hating all that we are taught to hold dear? Does discipleship really demand, as Jesus later puts it, giving up all our possessions?

The answer to these questions seems to be both “yes” and “no.”

Let me explain. First, the “no.”

Jesus is not, through Luke’s narrative, expecting that in the moment of hearing Jesus’ call that would-be disciples suddenly abandon what they are doing, where they live, and all that they own to begin a peripatetic journey to some anticipated but unseen future.

Discipleship is a little more calculated than that.

Rather, what Luke seems to be outlining through Jesus’ jarring characterization of discipleship is that discipleship, to be effective, first requires a letting go, a releasing of control and certainty, exchanging control and certainty for dependence and humility. In other words, discipleship is first and foremost a letting go of assumptions about the world, our place in it, and our convictions about it. Our beloved family and friends, our prized possessions, and what both categories represent for us become the symbolic substance of our lives that must—without question—be subject to redefinition and to potential abandonment if the radical kingdom Jesus is proclaiming is to be manifest in material, concrete ways in our lives.

So, yes, Jesus does expect that the life of faith will involve the giving up of social and material certainties. This abandonment allows us to become dependent and necessitates our reevaluating all our certainties and convictions about life, death, community, family, generosity, tolerance, acceptance, meaning, divinity, holiness, and truth . . . to name but a few of the uncritically assumed certainties that often define our daily lives.

The life of faith in Jesus’ articulation through Luke’s gospel, to be actualized, requires a transition from uncritical assumptions to critically embraced habits of life defined not by certainty of conviction but by a willful commitment to shared exploration and kingdom building.

It is in this transition that the work of faith and the work of a liberal arts college converge.

The liberal arts are about shaking each of us awake (through overlapping and distinct disciplines) from our often inherited, numbing, uncritical assumptions about the world, our place in it, and our convictions about it. Faith, spirituality has a fundamental role in this awakening educational enterprise because a critically engaged faith taps into those deep recesses of our souls, granting access to otherwise barricaded, hallowed margins of our lives and to convictions often beyond the reach of purely intellectual critical engagement yet margins that exercise immense importance for our convictions and behaviors.

And, more than a vehicle for access, rigorously engaged faith and spirituality are vital partners in liberal arts education because such faith and spirituality not only invite the totality of the self into the education process but such rigorously engaged faith and spirituality operate with similar means and anticipate a similar end.

Faith and education require a meticulous examination and possible abandonment of one set of convictions for another, an examination and abandonment with the potential to lead to the radical transformation of self and society. Such an examination, we see in Luke’s writing, begins not as an intellectual exercise but as a relational one. Significant reappraisal of the world and ourselves may only be achieved within a context where independent certainty is replaced by dependent support found in a community of fellow travelers possessing a willful commitment to the value of such shared exploration.

I am by no means the first person to make this a connection. Nearly one thousand years ago, Anselm—the Archbishop of Canterbury—offered a similar observation when he said, “Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.” In other words, a liberal arts education starts not as an intellectual realignment but as a social one, an entering into a community of trust, affording us the space and time to question, test, and reincorporate assumptions that may be joined by new and sometimes confounding sets of knowledge. Faith (or trust) in and with a community of fellow travelers provides the system and security necessary to explore and engage in understanding.

However, not to discredit more than a thousand years of inherited wisdom on the connection between faith and education, I have added a short addendum to Anselm’s maxim, a complementing addendum that moves his conviction from how knowledge is acquired to how that knowledge is actualized in material ways. For more than four years, my amended version of Anselm’s maxim has accompanied all my emails out of The Office of Religious Life, a maxim reading “where faith seeking understanding connects with life.” That is to say, I am trying to create a place where all three, i.e., faith, understanding, and life) converge, emerge, and flourish.

In my estimation, the life of faith and the life of understanding appear to have their greatest potency when linked with habits that infiltrate into our daily lives, habits that change our communities, the world, and us. Such radical intellectual, social, and personal transformation seems to lie at the heart of discipleship and a liberal arts education, an inherent link I hope our work through Religious Life and the College as a whole broadens and deeps over the coming academic year.

Keep traveling together, asking challenging questions, and changing the world.

See you along the way.