Reflections on Fall and Things Yet Unknown

I was driving home early on Friday morning a couple weeks ago. Stopping at a traffic light I leaned forward to look up at the moon, but only found myself staring at the black night sky between an intrusively bright street lamp and the pale glow of the moon. It was nice to look at nothing. There were no stars, no satellites, no anything. Just nothing. Like anyone with a ‘theological’ background I began to make something out of the nothing up there in the sky between the moon and the street lamp.

What I settled on was the value of the human; the inherent dignity of a person. It is found in the darkness between the streetlight and the light of the moon. It is in the liminality of no answers and seeking answers. It is suffering and celebration all at once in the lightless space that we find ourselves in communion with one another through difference and shared concerns and joys of life’s experiences. Without the space between the light of all that we are perceiving, where else do we have to explore things yet unseen and hidden by the darkness together?

It is nearing the end of the fall semester. Supposedly winter is coming, but there is little indication of its arrival. There is very little indication of anything certain that the future is bringing. Nothing known and yet all things being known are becoming known with each passing moment. The content of the next chapter in Chemistry before the exam is becoming known with each passing moment. The stories of race in America as told through the voice of poets throughout the ages is becoming known throughout each moment. And then there is everything in between the two, all becoming known in its own moment.

fall-autumn-red-season   There is a short story called the Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Bascaglia. Our college choir director, Dr. Albert Hughes, read it to us every autumn as the leaves were turning brilliant hues or red, orange, and yellow. You can read the story here https://achievebalance.com/spirit/theleaf.htm, but spoiler alert: There is a synopsis is below.

The story is one of life, love, curiosity, and knowing. Freddie the leaf lives a full life of growth, learning from a mentor, falling in love, growing old, and eventually he falls silently to the ground to give himself back to the tree and new leaves in the Spring. These are the things of life. These are the things the future holds in its grasp of uncertainty. How well will that exam really go? Will my roommate want to live with me next semester? What am I actually going to pick for my major? Is there a job out there for me? What is this thing they call college debt and how will it impact my ability to be happy? Will I fall in love? Will I find a mentor to confide in and from whom I can learn and grow? When will I see life change in dramatic ways?

In the dark space between the street light and the moon, I find these kinds of questions for myself. I can seek them out and begin to choose what some of those answers are going to be. That’s the beautiful thing about not knowing what the future has in store for us. We get the chance to make it what we want through our furious curiosity and absolute determination to pursue dreams and pursue them in each of their own moments that we create for them. Most purely and simply, the space between two lights, where only the empty darkness fills the expanse is the chance to dream. Before any of us know it, we will be making those dreams happen, making life come flowing from the darkness, to then begin to explore more expanses of darkness and what other unknowns we might create in our futures.

Rev. Kevin Crawford
Assistant Chaplain, Office of Spiritual & Religious Life

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Journeys of Reconciliation

Reconciliation

Journeys of Reconciliation is a hallmark program of Emory’s Office of Spiritual & Religious Life!  For more than 30 years, we’ve offered students, faculty, staff and alumni a trans-formative experience of domestic and international travel to communities with a history of conflict.  In these communities, we explore the root causes of conflict, listen to the joyous and tragic stories of people and organizations that work for peace and justice, and learn how to be agents of justice and peace. In May, we will travel to South Africa and explore race, memorials and reconciliation.  Learn more and apply here: Journey to South Africa.

Reconciliation is a political term and a religious term – regularly debated and widely criticized.  Fundamentally, reconciliation is about “right relationship” – a relationship hoped for even when it is not fully realized.  Reconciliation cannot be realized alone.  It requires multiple parties, whole communities, and a commitment to mutuality.

Twenty-four hour news networks and our own social media feeds indicate that today’s polarized environment values strong opinions and powerful voices.  The cacophony of loud voices trying to be heard over others plays itself out in society – Charlottesville, police shootings, healthcare policy, and the list goes on.

Journeys of Reconciliation take us into communities to be transformed by stories of struggle, oppression, liberation, and healing.  Journeys is an opportunity to participate in the story of the world through listening.  Journeys is not a “mission trip” –  we do not seek to offer reconciliation to the communities we visit.  Rather, we enter communities with a spirit of courageous inquiry and respectful curiosity – to hear the stories of a difficult history, painful and life-giving truth telling, and visions of a hope-filled future.  In our listening, we offer opportunities for healing to those we meet as we learn about the world, humanity, and ourselves.  Having listened to the stories of South Africa, we imagine how we contribute to inclusive and justice communities at Emory and beyond.

Journey to South Africa Video

Rev. Lisa Garvin
Associate Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life

A Cry of Lament

On October 2, 2017, I woke up to the news that a single shooter opened fire during a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 59 and injuring over 500 people. I was in shock.  It seems like there is a new tragedy every other day; how much more pain, death, or destruction are we expected to endure?  For most of the day I could not find words to describe what I was feeling.

Many people expressed feelings of anger, confusion, and sadness. Jimmy Kimmel, host of Jimmy Kimmel Live, bravely opened that night’s monologue in lament. Unsuccessfully fighting back tears, he acknowledged that this is the kind of event that makes you “wonder why,” “makes you want to give up” and is “too much to process”.  Jimmy Kimmel said the things so many of us were thinking, but haven’t been able to say. I have friends and colleagues that shared their concern and anger, but admitted they had not been able to cry. They are fearful that they have become numb to such tragedies. They pray, encourage others to pray, and mobilize relief efforts if appropriate, but they do not weep. In the wake of recent tragedies, one pastor friend admitted what he really wanted to do was crawl in his bed, pull the covers over his head and weep. He did not feel he had permission to fully lament the loss of life, the pain, or the state of the country.

For the past two months I have been writing, preaching, and talking about the need to lament. When I was able to find my voice yesterday, I told as many people as I could that it is okay and necessary to lament and to allow others to do the same. Our nation and the world has experienced so much pain that I am convinced if there is ever a time to lament, individually AND communally; it is NOW.

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Psalm 77: 1-3

Let’s be honest, since the events of Charlottesville there has been plenty about which to lament: DACA changes, the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, flooding in parts of Africa, earthquakes in Mexico, and threats of nuclear bombing. That is just in the last two months! Additionally, there are the events that are happening in people’s personal lives and communities: lack of employment, failing relationships, depression, police brutality, injustice against LGBTQ individuals, health battles… just to name a few. People are broken and have questions for God. And rightfully so, but somewhere along the line, we have been told that we should not cry out and we certainly should not express our anger toward or question God. When tragedy strikes, we are told to pray and praise through the situation. But what about when something like Charlottesville or Las Vegas happens? Or a loved one dies? Or there is a devastating health report and you just don’t have a prayer or a praise? People in the church do their best to maintain the expectation of the church being a source of hope and encouragement by advising people to accept these events as God’s will.  In doing so they discourage anger and questioning, often indicating that expressions of lament demonstrate a lack of faith.

But is that healthy? No.

Is that what the Bible teaches? No.

The Bible certainly points to hope and praise, but the book of Lamentations and the lament Psalms remind us that we do indeed have permission to lament, crying out to God, questioning God, and even yelling at God. For example, in Psalm 77 the Psalmist expresses feelings of abandonment by God. Verses seven through nine is a list of questions posed to God during his pain: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever? Are God’s promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has God in anger shut up his compassion?” Have you ever felt like this? Have you felt like everything that could go wrong in life is going wrong and you have prayed and praised and it does not seem God hears you?

‘Will the Lord spurn for ever, and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased for ever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?’

Psalm 77: 7-9

I have certainly felt that way. 18 years ago, I experienced a devastating loss; my daughter died during childbirth. I was broken, angry with God, and had questions: “How could God let this happen? Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” I did not know how to move forward, and because I am a “good Christian woman,” I continued going to church, I continued to serve on church committees, attend Bible study, and praise God.  But my praise was not genuine and I felt empty inside. It was not until my pastor gave me permission to truly lament that healing began. She assured me that God was big enough to handle my pain and anger. I cried, I yelled, and said all the things I was afraid to say to God before.  And guess what? I didn’t get thrown into the flames of hell and God didn’t stop loving or blessing me! In fact, amid my lament I realized God was present in my darkness. God was there the entire time waiting for me to be my honest and authentic self so I could feel God’s love for me. Like the ending of many of the lament Psalms, I could remember God’s signs of favor from the past; light broke through darkness and hope entered.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples. 

Psalm 77: 11-14

Acknowledging pain and hurt does not indicate a lack of faith; being able to engage God honestly and authentically shows profound faith in God’s love for you. During our darkest hour, during the time when we have questions about why a whole island can be destroyed by a hurricane or how a young woman can be run over in Charlottesville while defending the voiceless, God wants us to bring our pain and grief to God.  In doing so our hearts will be opened, light will break through the darkness, and hope will reside.

This blog was initially posted in http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/recent-posts/a-cry-of-lament.

Angela Johnson, M.Div.
Interim Communications Coordinator
Emory Office of Spiritual & Religious Life

The Meaning of Life?

September always feels like the beginning of a new year, even more so than January 1st.  Although we mark that day with resolutions and retail sales, it’s still just the middle of winter with a long wait for spring.  But in September, the weather starts to change and so do we.  We anticipate (sometimes with a bit of anxiety) new academic opportunities and meeting new people.  We can also feel disoriented.  Both new and returning students will learn, in some areas, that the old rules no longer apply.  Yet, they will also be affirmed that previous lessons are the foundation for new learning.

When I began seminary many Septembers ago, a recent graduate said to me, “In the midst of all you will encounter here, remember two things.  Be and do.  Be and do.”  Over the years it has become an expanded mantra to me: “In being all I am created to be, I can do all I am called to do.”  Whether you profess to be a person of faith or not, you are on this planet for a reason.  Seeking meaning and purpose is a human instinct.  Is your purpose merely self serving, or connected to something greater than yourself?

Emory students are well known for their commitment to service and volunteerism.  In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are planning service trips for fall, winter and spring breaks.  We are writing checks and sending donations for relief.  In addition to this important work, this September, I am encouraging another type of reaching out within the Emory campus.  What would it look like if moved a few steps beyond our regular circle of friends?  When did you last take time to learn about someone with whom you have little in common?  We were created to be in community.  Humans thrive on connection.  One of Emory’s core values is to be a collaborative community that works for positive change. It’s how we were created to be.  What will YOU do to embody that vision and value?

Rev. Bridgette Young Ross
Dean of the Chapel and Spiritual Life

Where the Green and Blue Meet in the Ocean

Vacation. It takes us away from everything that swells up in us and around us. Vacation draws our minds out of our regular selves and into a little bit of nothingness. That is until the community you care for publicly speaks out, in one voice. In loss.

I sat for a while feeling and thinking. It was early morning, raining, and quiet. I did not know Abinta or Faraaz, but my heart was touched and continues to hold fast to those who did. It isn’t our jobs to internalize the pain of students, faculty, and staff. It is our obligation, our foundation, and the meaning of our being to embrace those who are feeling loss. 

That is where we dwell. In an embrace of both solace and suffering. In where the green ocean meets the blue. Where comfort and fear mingle together. The safety of the shore so close

Christianity likes to use the word tension to describe the difference between our green and blue oceans. I’m not sure they have it right. It’s less tension and more mingling. 
When we touch grief, we leave a fingerprint of ourselves on someone’s loss and we in turn receieve a mark of someone on ourselves. 

It is our job as humans to not be afraid of someone’s grief. It is our job to not forsake someone to their despair. In fact, to do so is to deny the humanness and worth of someone’s existence. It precedes violence as a passive violent act in itself. 

Let us seek to live in the creativity of the green and blue as they mix in oceans. Let’s dwell in fear when we see it in others. Explore the depth of pain because in it we will discover things scare us and hurt us because we care and find meaning in the life we have and the dependency we have on each other. 

Religion: The Right to be More Than What We Are Alone

It should be an interesting few weeks in the news cycle. I imagine that this story will keep some folks up at night and others will sleep easier. Regardless of one’s opinion of the controversy, which side they take, or what they are willing to rally for the question we are going to have to wonder is, how far can religion itself carry the ball in the courts of the government. I am careful not to say the courts of the people since the people of the judicial branch, without public involvement, make the decisions on this subject.

The case of Kim Davis has continued on as the Kentucky woman refuses to perform her duties as a County Clerk. While claiming religious liberty she is gaining support of those whose values lie in their religious beliefs to a point that they would stand against perceived injustices from the government. At the same time those who support the Supreme Court Decision for right to equal marital opportunity are standing beside their own value system. What will happen by in large will be a conversation of ideas that talk past one another without much hearing going on. The case for religious liberty has the potential though to be more than a smattering of terse sayings and phrases shouted at the top of one’s lungs. Instead it stands as a bastion for two seemingly oppositional ideas to be heard in public by both sides and a dialogue pursued. While the Supreme Court has delivered marital rights to the LGBT community it is clear that equal rights for marriage do not mean equality.

A fundamental human notion has been missed once again, alongside racism and other mores of the human experience. The loss of equanimity, not only equality, has pervaded the social consciousness to the point that many meaningful conversations across perceived boundaries have become not only burdensome, but also brutal. They result in public shame, public abuse, public hate, and public violence because of the loss of composure over one’s self. Composure and dedication to respecting the identity, the core being of a person has been given up for the flash and the bang. I am convinced, however, that we are not being tricked. My hunch is that there are many more conversations happening, relationships being developed, and social interactions forever changed by the new understandings that are going unnoticed.

Our greatest enemy in the midst of controversy is not the opposition. No, the “opposition” is not our neighbor, brother, sister, and sibling. They are the heart and soul of what makes cases like religious liberty meaningful and valuable, on both sides. No, I think that our greatest feat to overcome is the tendency to buy into the limit of information as that which is the limit to what it applicable and possible to accomplish. If media has the tendency to observe and report solely or predominantly on the vandals in Ferguson, and that is what the masses believe to be the information, then the media has failed the people as a resource for the people to be active citizens. Religious liberty as well as race, economics, class, non-binary gender identity, and many more identities deserve much more than the limits that media impose upon its viewers.

The masses, you and I, must realize that we are more than a paycheck. We are leaders in our own lives and chances are we are authors of truth and limitless creative possibility in the lives of one another. Social issues are not simply social issues because a news anchor decided that it was a story. Social issues are more than the utility of a mogul to satisfy his or her own attention. When Religious Liberty or LGBT Rights “go on trial” so also will all other matters that citizens know are meaningful to them, inherently and without propagation from the media. How we choose to proceed in public, whether it is to invest in one another or investigate against one another will continue to determine how the public, you and I, choose to engage in healthy or unhealthy conflict. Religion, at its core, is not meant to carry our arguments in courts as wondered in the beginning of this post. Instead it is a utility to be used to form relationships, break down barriers, and ultimately value the uniqueness of the transcendent and divine that dwells in each of us. Hopefully, we as a mass can be encouraged to not give up hope, to not draw swords on our posters, but instead drop our pickets and embrace one another for our differences.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/us/kim-davis-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=0

Kevin Crawford