Archive for March, 2014

(re)Imagine Sight

Posted in Uncategorized on March 31, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

eye heart

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

John 9:1-7

One of the assigned scripture readings for this week in the Christian calendar is this story of healing from John’s gospel.  In this story, we read John’s recounting an occasion when Jesus met a blind man, engaged in a rather esoteric conversation with his disciples around the connection between sin and impairments, and, then, healed the blind man.  This story continues with additional debates amongst others regarding sin and impairments and a realization that Jesus is the anticipated Son of Man.  This story captures many themes that define John’s text: (1) this passage has one of Jesus’ famous “I am” sayings, (2) the light and darkness contrasts are apparent, and (3) it evidences Jesus’ very public ministry, a ministry that offers repeated signs indicating who Jesus is.  This very public healing and the surrounding debate concerning the nature and propriety of Jesus’ actions amongst those within and outside Jesus’ inner circle stands in stark contrast to a similar healing story that takes place in Mark’s gospel. 

In the middle of Mark’s gospel, Jesus encounters another blind man.  In that story from Mark’s gospel, Jesus, also, heals a man who is blind by rubbing saliva on his eyes.  Yet, there, in Mark’s gospel, the story has a rather different tone:

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’

Mark 8:22-26

Instead of performing a public healing, Mark has Jesus doing two very different tasks, directly contrasting John’s story.  First, Jesus takes the blind man away from everyone else so that Jesus’ healing might not be witnessed by others.  Second, after the healing, Jesus asks the blind man to go directly to his home, avoiding the village (and, therefore, public recognition of what Jesus just did.) 

Curious!  Why would John’s story and Mark’s story differ so significantly?  Why would John assume that Jesus’ healing was meant to give evidence as to who Jesus is while Mark wants Jesus to remain obscure?  The answer seems to reveal the agenda motivating and permeating both writers’ gospels. 

On the one hand, Mark is writing for a community uncertain about Jesus’ ultimate character and their perseverance with a faith in the midst of suffering and an uncertain future.  Mark wants his community to understand that knowing precisely who Jesus is will always remain somewhat mysterious, blurry.  And, that such uncertainty about Jesus and their futures and faith is a natural and expected condition for a follower of Jesus.  In other words, they are in good company, and they are experience faith as it is expected to be experienced. 

On the other hand, John is writing from a completely different perspective, penning his text much later in the life of the early church and writing from a position evidencing more confidence and certainty as to who and what Jesus is—I mean, just look at his prologue to the gospel!  In John’s text, Jesus never obscures who he is but boldly offers sign after sign and repeatedly declares “I am this” and “I am that,” intentionally echoing the encounter with Moses and God at the burning bush and Moses asking God’s name—a name recorded as “I am who I am.”  In other words, Mark’s gospel is about a faith that requires extra work to see well, while John’s gospel is about a faith that supplies a light, i.e., Jesus, by which to see the world better: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

As interesting a point as it is that both these distinct healing stories sit within the same New Testament, it is equally compelling that both these healing stories are part of the assigned texts suggested be read this year during the season of Lent.  Just a few weeks ago, the Mark text was assigned and, now, John’s healing narrative is assigned, here.  What are we to do with these two texts, and why are they both offered to us during this time of the year?  While there may be several answers to these questions, here, I propose a few I find useful.

As already mentioned, these gospel writers seem to be wanting to accomplish different tasks with their stories.  Mark wants us to be comforted in our struggles while John wants us to turn our gaze upon the world, looking at it with the eyes/light of Jesus.  This last point leads to my second thought. 

Mark’s text is assigned earlier in the lectionary cycle for the season of Lent, reminding us that as we being our introspective Lenten journeys that ignorance, uncertainty, and confusion are appropriate companions.  The time spent in introspection will lead to some clarity, but clarity is rarely found on the first try.  John’s text, conversely, comes closer to the end of the Lenten season, as a prompt to draw our thoughts out from ourselves and toward the world, beginning a transition from looking at ourselves with greater clarity to looking at our world through the eyes/light gifted to us via introspection.  As it turns out, there are many ways to look at the world, and the Lenten season is but a reminder regularly to view it through the sight of love and grace, justice and peace offered through a life of faith. 

So, this week, we are challenged to view the world with a greater level of intensity and through an enlightened lens of love.  Conveniently, there are several occasions this week that the College offers that will aid in our efforts to see our world differently. 

First, tomorrow, April 1, YHC’s Center for Appalachian Studies and several other vital community partners will sponsor an event called Poverty Hurts, an interactive poverty simulation to learn about and become more aware of poverty in our area.

Second, on Wednesday, April 2, we will hold our annual mental health and suicide prevention worship service, bringing to the fore issues of mental health for our campus to consider and appreciate those issues impact on our students, faculty, staff, administration, families, friends, and others.

If you are able, join us this week at one of these events, laboring to see the world through new eyes.  And, regardless, continue your own journey of faith, struggling to see the world through new eyes each and every day.

Have a good week and see you along the way.

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(re)Imagining Trust

Posted in Uncategorized on March 24, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

Trust

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

Psalm 146:1-4

On Friday afternoon, as I—inexplicably, I might add—watched Duke’s men’s basketball team loose to Mercer and suddenly realized that the rest of my March would surprisingly be freed up, these verses from Psalm 146 entered my mind.  In particular, I ruminated, festered on the passage “Don’t put your trust in princes . . . .”  (If given the liberty, I might augment that sacred text, adding “and Duke(s),” including another noble class to the category of the untrustworthy.) 

All joking aside, Friday’s basketball outcome was a necessary and useful reminder that in whom or what we place our trust requires intentional (re)evaluation.  Trust, it turns out, is less descriptive of absolute certainly based on past data and more descriptive of present and future hope predicated on an enduring relationship.  But, how do we know what or, more importantly, whom to trust?

Our English word “science” derives from a Latin word, scientia, meaning “having knowledge.”  Scientia comes from another Latin root, scindere, meaning to split or cut off.  For those familiar with Ockham’s Razor, such a definition of science seems most appropriate. In an almost identical way, Christian theology proposes two ways for knowing, particularly to know God: (1) kataphatic and (2) apophatic.  Kataphatic knowledge is knowledge by analogy, i.e., by words.  Kataphatic knowledge includes positive, definitive descriptions, like attempting to make absolute claims based on past data.  Apophatic knowledge is knowledge by negation, i.e., saying what cannot be said about a given subject.  Through negation, what is left unsaid is the essence of the subject sought.  And, often what is sought is God. 

God is an enduring presence beyond our definitive certainties.  In this apophatic construction, God is the Mystery that we engage.  In addition, as scientists remind us, simply discovering something does not lead to a sudden reduction of mystery but an expansion of mystery. Put another way, the answering of one question does not eliminate a question as much as produce countless additional questions. 

Thus, God is not simply the “God of the gaps,” i.e., God is not the default space filler for whatever we do not know.  Rather, we come to realize that God is the very Reality, the Mystery, the Truth that we relate with in pursuing what we see as “reality” or “mystery” or “truth.”  Science and faith are about “knowing” something or someone.  Science and faith are not adversaries but cohorts.

These disciplines, also, become more about intimate knowledge of a subject or, more accurately, a Subject.  Both are activities that demand dedication, struggle, perseverance, passion, and love.  They are disciplines not committed to accumulation of data but about the journey into the very heart of Mystery, as much interested in the questions as the answers.  We come to trust something or someone not just because we have more undisputed data but because of the time spent in the contemplative, investigative endeavor.  Trust is not about certainty but constancy.  The Psalmist pens this hymn to remind those who read it of this very truth, the truth of God’s enduring presence in the midst of struggle and difficulty.  Trust and truth become virtually indistinguishable. 

So, over the coming week, spend a little time (re)evaluating what we know and think we know for certain, remembering that knowledge and trust are different than data and facts.  Knowledge and trust are relational categories, connecting us to each other, the world around us, and the divine, inexplicable Mystery.

Have a great day and see you along the way.

(re)Imagining Today

Posted in Uncategorized on March 17, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

clover

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, otherwise known as the Feast of Saint Patrick.  The feast day, established in the seventeenth century, marks the day that an early leader of the church in Ireland died.  Patrick is thought to have been born in what is present-day Wales in the fourth century to a Roman family.  According to legend, as a teenager, Patrick was kidnapped and taken to what is now Ireland.  After spending some six years as a shepherd, he escaped and sailed home to Wales.  Ordained a priest back in Wales, the story continues, Patrick returned to Ireland to spread Christianity, particularly teaching his Irish converts about the Christian notion of the Trinity by referring to the shamrock or three-leafed clover.  This association of the clover with Patrick has bolstered the link between his feast day and wearing green.

Tradition, also, connects Patrick to a hymn, purportedly written by him.  On this St. Patrick’s Day and our first day back from Spring Break, I offer the words from that hymn as a reminder that all life, including the life of faith, needs a little play and patent frivolity.

Enjoy and see you along the way, wearing green I hope!

“I Bind unto Myself Today

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my god to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three,
Of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!

(re)Imagining Ashes

Posted in Uncategorized on March 3, 2014 by yhcreligiouslife

Ashes and Flower

Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practices righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.  “Why do we fast, but you do not see?  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” . . . Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your break with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall rise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

—Isaiah 58:1-12, selected verses

Like a polyrhythmic song, our lives often move to multiple rhythms simultaneously.  Sometimes, those distinct rhythms are obvious.  At other times, the distinction is subtle, if not virtually imperceptible or entirely absent.  Calendars frequently drive those rhythms.

As we live our lives, we follow several, divergent calendars each day.  We might follow a secular calendar, telling us the months, days, and years.  We might follow a lunar calendar, telling us when to till and plant and pick.  We might follow an academic calendar, telling us when to matriculate and graduate.  We might follow a liturgical or sacred calendar, telling us when to pray or worship or prepare or celebrate.  Each of these calendars may be laid overtop one another, creating the sometimes disruptive yet sometimes masterful songs that are our lives.

The Christian tradition, as it is with many religious traditions, follows a distinct calendar unique to the rhythms of the faith.  That Christian calendar turns another page this week as we move from our post-Epiphany wanderings to the intentional journey of Lent that ends at the foot of the cross on Good Friday.  That page’s turning is marked with the ashes of a Wednesday service of humble reflection.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the start of a 40-day journey of introspection and transformation.

In the early church, catechumens—those preparing for membership in the church—started a 40-day journey, preparing for initiation into the church through a change in habits, perspective, and faith. Echoing Jesus’ 40-days of preparation as he initiated his own ministry, these soon-to-be members would prepare themselves during Lent by stripping away those unnecessary parts of their lives, reshaping themselves into the broken down, refined form that will be their essential addition to the ever-changing body of Christ.

Parker Palmer intuitively senses the import of the sacred found in such breaking.  In his Let Your Life Speak, Palmer reflects, “I love the fact that the word humus—the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants—comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility.  It is a blessed etymology.”  Like a winter wood, fallen leaves, dried undergrowth, snapped twigs become something new.  Leaves, undergrowth, and twigs mix with damp dirt; they breakdown. The greens of summer become the yellows, oranges, and reds of autumn that become beiges, browns, and blacks of winter. This decaying layer forms the top of the soil called humus.

Humus is an essential layer, replenishing the dirt’s nutrients lost during the previous spring and summer. It is the layer that makes possible the promised explosion of new life that comes with spring. It is the gift from the forest back to the earth, offering thanks for another year of shared existence. Humus, as Parker Palmer reminds us above, is also the source of our English word humility.

Humility is that posture of willfully lowering ourselves to be broken down, making us available to be used for some greater purpose. Like leaves broken down to be used for the next spring’s rebirth, so too, we must willingly prepare to be broken down during Lent so that we might be used to make something greater than ourselves when our shared spring arrives.

In the passage from the prophet Isaiah above, we hear Israel’s complaint against God that God has neglected them.  Yet, in reply, God responds that Israel has gone through the motions of fidelity and righteousness, attending to ritual worship and fasting but ignoring the purpose of such worship and fasting.  That purpose is the redirecting of their lives away from themselves and toward their God and their neighbors, hence the validity of prophet’s complaint that their fasting has not led to feeding the hungry.  This re-centering is a humbling act, breaking down our self-perceptions, self-aggrandizement, and rigid presumptions.  The ashes of this Wednesday are a reminder of this need (and ability) to be broken down in order to be remade into something else.  And, as any gardener will affirm, the value of ashes to a fertile humus cannot be overstated.

Like Israel, we are all in need of such purposeful humbling—including me.  That is the gift of the liturgical calendar. Despite my inevitable resistance to such painful and breaking introspection, the calendar rolls around to Ash Wednesday inexorably, demanding my attention and reflection.  The good news of ashes is that in the introspective burning there comes new life.  What better news is there than the rhythmic arrival of new life?

Have a great week and see you along the way.