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

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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