Sunday, November 30, 2008

Keep Awake

Isaiah 64.1-9
Psalm 80
Mark 13.24-end

Those of you who were here over the summer when I preached a sermon entitled “Pay Attention” are probably getting tired of the propensity of young preachers to employ sermon titles toward mundane ends. You may be thinking, “Apparently ‘pay attention’ didn’t go so well, so now he’s hoping we’ll just stay awake!” Just you wait until Dean Hill assigns me to preach the parable of the wedding banquet, when the sermon title will be “Show up!” No, far be it from me to discourage any impulse to congregational vigor during the sermon. Nevertheless, like last June, I hope the sermon itself will draw attention to other ends toward which the title might be pointing.

May God be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray:
Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armor of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

As a matter of fact, it should not be too terribly difficult to keep awake during this first, (or is it the last?), Sunday of the Christian year. After all, anxiety makes it hard to fall asleep. Advent is nothing if not an anxious time, the first Sunday especially. Time itself seems to have gotten wrapped around. It is the start of the Christian year but simultaneously the end of all time. The hallmark of advent is the theme of waiting, waiting for the Christ child to come and waiting for Christ to come again, all at the same time. And so, perhaps, we can understand something of our experience, about this time last year, that may not have been as strange as we once thought, when we found Dean Hill meandering through the basement of the chapel, singing “Have an anxious, edgy advent, it’s the worst time of the year…” (to the tune of, “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas), in his out-of-tune way.

Indeed, it is an anxious time in anxious times. We don’t know quite what to expect. Will the stock market continue its dramatic climbs, as it has since the next economic team was announced? Or will it take another staggering drop as yet another financial firm, or an automotive company, announces insolvency and bankruptcy? Of course, it could be that our anxiety about the economy is blinding us from other concerns that should be more pressing. Will ten men with guns, wearing designer t-shirts and blue jeans, come shooting into our favorite restaurants and hotels, even our places of worship, as happened this past week in Mumbai? No! Say it isn’t so! This is the season of HOPE! At least, we hope so.

Surely, some of the hostages in the Oberoi hotel harbored a few apocalyptic thoughts, perhaps along the lines of those proffered in our prophetic text this morning:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
It seems like a good idea, we think, for God to show up right about now and overcome our adversaries. As we hide under a table, we can imagine the archangel Michael striding forth, knocking the gun out of the young man’s hands and cleaving his head from his shoulders with a fiery sword. After all, surely we are God’s elect, and our Gospel lesson tells us, “he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Imaginations of supernatural interventions in the face of extreme terror and distress are probably coping mechanisms. They distract us from the carnage going on about us and provide a sense of calming and assurance that holds back the instinctual fight or flight reactions that could draw more attention to us. To such ends they are surely good things. But what are we to make of them when the terror and carnage stop? How might we understand such experiences in the light of day? And what are we to make of the fact that there was no angel with a fiery sword? The first thing we might do is give thanks that the God who creates us creates us with coping mechanisms so that we have a better chance of surviving such acts of terrorism. Not all did survive, we know, and for them, their families and friends we pray especially this morning.

Of course, it may be that the next morning, in the light of day, we find ourselves quietly relieved that no angel with a fiery sword actually showed up. If one had, then there really would be some explaining to do! No, in the scientific age, our problem is less explaining why God does not intervene in mundane affairs and more how to understand our traditions and texts that make claims to past and future divine interventions. Such understandings are especially hard to come by when it is Jesus who predicts the intervention. After all, no one wants to be caught claiming that the Son of God was wrong! On the other hand, it may be less that Jesus was wrong and more that there is something inadequate in our interpretive framework, more specifically in our understanding of time. Let us consider, for a few moments, what Christ’s coming, and our watchfulness, might mean from the perspective of eternity.

A recent dean of Marsh Chapel is fond of pointing out that “God is not in time, time is in God.” God’s perspective is not temporal; it is eternal. And eternity is not static; it is dynamic. In eternity, the past, present and future of things are held together. In time, things have pasts that do not change and futures that are open except as constrained by the unchanging past and present choices. But in eternity, we are both our present selves, conditioned by all of our past choices, and our past selves prior to having made those choices, and all of the future selves that are possible given the choices we have, or might have, made.

That’s enough metaphysics for one sermon, or perhaps too much. But what does it mean for our texts? It means that Jesus is absolutely right that no one but the Father knows the day or the hour. The day and the hour is a concern of temporal creatures, not a concern of the eternal God. God comes to us in all the modes of time: past, present and future. God comes to us in the present by offering us our past selves, out of which we choose to continue or change course in light of future possibilities. God comes to us in the past as the value we have achieved in our choices as they were present according to the possibilities that were future. God comes to us in the future as the possibilities we might actualize by changing past actualizations in present choices.

And so Jesus was also right to say that, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” By the time each generation passes away, God has come to all of the members of that generation in their past actuality, in their present choices, and in their future possibilities at each moment of their lifetimes. So too, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Heaven and earth are parts of creation and so are subject to temporality. Time passes. This is obvious. But Jesus’ words will not pass away. God is eternal and so God comes to us in all of the pasts and all of the presents and all of the futures of our lives.

What, then, does it mean to keep awake? Does it mean that we are to be on the lookout for angels with fiery swords? Well, maybe for those brief moments while the gunmen are shooting up the dining room and we are appropriately cowering under the table. But the rest of the time, to keep awake is to attune ourselves to the coming of God in every moment of our lives in eternal perspective. God is continually coming to us in each moment as it has a past, a present and a future. Jesus is surely right that we “do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.” We do not know when because “when?” is a question of temporal creatures. The eternal God comes to us in the evening and at midnight and at cockcrow and at dawn as each watch of the night passes from future possibility into present choice and then into past actuality.

But before we go on about our way, happily rejoicing that God is eternally come, it is important to pause for a moment and remember that God’s coming is not always such a happy or pleasant thing.

Did you hear it? Did you hear last week, as the choir sang Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 147: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben? Well, perhaps you didn’t if you don’t speak German. But hopefully you read it in the translation. “Heart and mouth and deed and life must give testimony of Christ without fear or hypocrisy that he is God and savior.” Indeed, all of this talk of God coming to us in each and all of the modes of time is a giving of testimony that Christ is God and savior. But to what do we testify? The tenor recitative declaims Mary giving thanks for the Christ child, and we too give thanks, but it also announces Christ as both liberator and judge. We can rest comfortably with the freedom Christ brings, but are we willing to welcome the coming of Christ in judgment, as our rose window depicts? Later the bass depicts Christ coming both to throw down and to lift up. Surely we all know both moments in our lives worthy of being cast down and times worthy of being lifted up. As the tenor sings at the beginning of the second half of the cantata, we are in need of help to acknowledge God who comes to us “in prosperity and in woe, in joy and in sorrow.” Bach leaves us resting in the arms of a loving and caring Jesus, but we would do well to remember that God’s coming is as sure as the sunrise and not always so docile: our God is a consuming fire.

Here, in the first week of advent, time does indeed collapse together and we catch a glimpse of the coming to us of the wild God who creates the world out of eternity. The good news for us today is that a day of peace does shine for us, albeit dimly. It shines to us out of the future through which God is also present to us, through our hopes and prayers and dreams. It shines to us who are awake to the eternity out of which we are created and judged. “And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake.”


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Secular Faith

Marsh Chapel, Boston University

Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8

Psalm 67

Matthew 15: 10-28

So … um … yeah; I have a confession to make. I seem to have … uh … left my faith - at home, this morning. [pause] Oh, you know how it is. You’re preaching and you’re nervous and the basic, habitual, routine things of life are suddenly more complicated than usual. I laid everything out just like always: wallet, keys, handkerchief, cell phone, chap stick, faith. I think, maybe, as I was putting things in my pockets, I may have accidentally bumped my faith and it rolled off the edge and fell to the floor. I’m not sure. I wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing. I was thinking about my sermon! Surely you can understand. Similar things have happened to you, right? [pause] I must confess, stepping into the pulpit without my faith feels much like the proverbial first-year student who dreams of walking into her or his first class in college stark naked.

By now the clergy and choir, and perhaps even you in the congregation are gripping your seats. “Oh no! We haven’t seen much of Br. Larry this summer. What happened to him? Is he really going to get into the pulpit in Marsh Chapel, broadcast over the airwaves and internet signals, and proclaim that the likes of Samuel Harris and Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are right; that God is a delusion?” [pause] Fear not, dear friends. You can pry your fingernails out of the wood. As I have traversed the city of Boston this summer, visiting various churches where Boston University students have found a spiritual home, I have found no reason to despair but much that is hopeful. “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43: 1-2).

Of course, it is rather odd, unsettling even, to speak and think of faith as a trinket or a bauble that can be put in one’s pocket or fall and roll across the floor. Faith is not something we can pick up and put down at will, is it? If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect we would prefer that faith be something like the dietary restrictions Jesus addressed in the first half of our reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Faith is much easier to manage as a dimension of our life if all we have to do is be sure not to put it in our mouths; much easier to keep track of one another as well. Such faith is either on or off, a simple binary, you ate it or you refrained. Contemporary forms of Christianity have been wont to cast faith in such a light: accept Christ or reject Christ. Black and white, either/or, easily settled.

Unfortunately, Jesus does not let us off so easily. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” A few chapters earlier Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The disciples must have forgotten this because they did not understand Jesus’ parable. Our defilement is not marked by what we take in but by what we put out in speech and words. Defilement is not something that comes in from out there but something that begins in here and that we spew out to others. Defilement is more complicated than a simple binary. There are stages of degradation. It is like the frog in the boiling water. Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and it will jump out. Put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly raise it to a boil and the frog will allow itself to be cooked to death. Over time, setting aside our faith when it is inconvenient becomes the habit, and we fail to notice that we have walked out the door without it.

What is it, then, to have faith? Faith is indeed something that can be, and is, picked up and put down. If repeatedly putting our faith down is a sign of defilement, then picking it up repeatedly, daily, ritually is the sign of faithfulness. The Canaanite woman demonstrates this. She comes to Jesus begging for mercy and healing for her daughter. At first he ignores her, but she continues to petition. Eventually her persistence garners attention, albeit accompanied by the sentiments of annoyance and dismissal. Finally, after being humiliated by the one in whom she placed her faith as he called her a dog, she dug deep one last time. Br. Sebastian of the Community of Taizé taught those of us spending a week in silence this summer that cultivating humility is the only way to endure humiliation. But for the Canaanite woman, her humility was a conduit for the power of the Holy Spirit not only to endure but to transform her humiliation from the mouth of Jesus Christ into the conversion of God. The very words of her humiliation turned the situation on its head and Jesus’ own heart was turned to recognize her faith, to heal her daughter, and to adjust his mission. It shall indeed be as God declared through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord:

Maintain justice, and do what is right,

for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,

to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants,

all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—

these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel,

I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

The faith in the humble, undefiled heart of the Canaanite woman is picked up and expressed in speech and transforms the very heart of God.

This notion of faith does not sit well with our modern consciousness. As moderns, faith is most often associated with belief. It was Krister Stendahl, at that school across the river, who first pointed out that the modernity informed interpretation of the term “faith” as “belief” in the writings of the apostle Paul is in fact a result of the modern “introspective consciousness.” Recent Pauline scholarship has taken this to heart. We would do well to adjust our understanding of faith in the Gospel context as well. Faith is not belief. Faith is a state of being, a way of being in the world that informs the ways in which we interact in and with the world. When we take up faith, we behave in a faithful way. When we set it down, we behave in a defiled way. Speech is a form of behavior. Faith is what philosopher John Searle would call a “speech-act.” Being and doing are not two different things. Doing flows out of being and we are because of what we do. We are faithful and so we act in faith. We are defiled and so we act negligently. God acts to forgive us not when we merely say the words but when the words rise out of a conversion of heart.

And so we can speak of a secular faith. Of course, you know that “secular” means “worldly.” When faith is a way of being and acting in relationship, then it is a way of being that the world itself can and does exhibit. The psalmist says in the 19th Psalm,

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The speech of the world in the world and to the world is a testimony of the faithfulness of the world to God. The world does not speak as people speak in voice and words. The world speaks in activity to the glory of God who creates it. We are faithful as part of the faithfulness of the world. Let us consider, for a moment, the world God creates to the divine glory.

First, our world is marked by change. This is not an entirely novel idea; other eras can be noted for their shifts in political and economic systems or in theological and philosophical ethos or in cultural and social relation. But especially in the history of the west, following Aristotle, the most valuable things in the world are considered to be things that endure and do not change. Aristotle was wrong. Things in the world do change and there is a beauty and a felicity in their changing process. Children grow and mature and become adults. Trees flower and blossom in springtime, then drop their leaves come fall. The beaks of birds evolve to meet changing conditions around them and this change allows for their survival. Change exhibits rhythm and balance and gives to life a sense of flow. To be sure, the value inherent in change is not all positive, at least in human perspective. We have some experience now with attempting to change political dynasties and systems in other lands. Russia is experimenting with this model as we speak. Indeed, we will bear the cost – financial, emotional, spiritual – into the coming decades, if not centuries. The changes brought on by natural disaster are terrifying and life consuming. And as life wanes the changes to body and mind are frustrating especially for their being unwelcome. Faith speaks faithfully in a world of change.

So too, and not unrelated, our world is marked by chance. It is not the case that life and experience grind on like a machine, each subsequent moment determined wholly by the moment prior. To be sure, if you flip the switch the lights go off. This regularity gives life coherence and consistency instead of absolute chaos. But sometimes when you flip it again the bulb burns out. Like faith, life is not a simple binary of if-then clauses. Life is marked by spontaneity, novelty and creativity. The most interesting moments in life are not when the lights go on but when they don’t. Baseball is interesting and fun because when the pitch is thrown, the batter might hit it, or he might not! Again, the possibilities of chance do not always work in our favor. Sometimes the patient dies on the operating table. Sometimes the war takes years, not days. Sometimes you lose your shirt when the markets shift and your investments are tied to sub-prime mortgages. Faith speaks faithfully in a world of chance.

Finally, ours is a world of choice. In this respect especially, the early years of the 21st century exhibit unprecedented levels of choice. We can choose what kind and color of car to drive, where we will live and whom we will live with, where and what to study. From the perspective of a student, it may seem that colleges and universities choose you, or not; but speaking from the perspective of a university administrator, I can tell you that we are at least as concerned about your choice as you are about ours. Choices in fashion, music, reading material, hairstyle, career, travel, and on and on are virtually unbounded. There is a dark side to all of this choice. So much choice produces anxiety. How are we to know that we have made the right choices? How can we choose responsibly? And sometimes, we do make the wrong choices. We choose to play instead of work, to speak instead of listen, to hate instead of love. Our power to act combined with the multiplicity of our choices can be a lethal combination. We may have the power to unseat rulers, but we are seeing what happens when that power is enacted without due consideration of the realities at home and abroad. Faith speaks faithfully in a world of choice.

God creates the world of change, chance and choice to the glory of God and we are faithful to God or not as we speak and act our choices amid the chances that bring about change. Pick up your faith daily in each word and action of your life. Remember that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. It may be that we will have to humbly submit to humiliating rebuke. But even God changes when we choose faithfulness and speak faithfully. Foreigners too can be friends of God. Amen.

Here now, what’s this? Oh! Huh, there it is. Ha ha. It was right there all along. I guess I didn’t leave it at home after all. Oops. Sorry if I worried any of you. I’m just going to go sit down now.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pay Attention

Marsh Chapel, Boston University

Jeremiah 20.7-13
Psalm 69
Matthew 10.24-39

It is almost always a sign that you are listening to a young preacher when said homiletician resorts to employing the sermon title for the purpose of encouraging you, dear listener, to in fact listen. While I am in fact a young preacher, it is my hope that over the coming span you will discover that there is more significance to our theme, “Pay Attention,” than such a simple enjoinder. Let us pray:
Gracious God, grant us, in all the changes and chances of this mortal life, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care upon you, who cares for us. When disasters lie ahead, help us to avoid them if we may, and to endure them if we must, knowing that we walk with the one who endured all for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

To what, then, shall we attend? I would suggest that our attention is drawn to those things in life that are out of place. We attend to unbalances in life, in an effort to reestablish equilibrium with our world. We flip the switch and, usually, the light goes on. But sometimes it does not and our attention is suddenly drawn to the fact that something is wrong. What might it be? Well, it is probably that the bulb has burned out so we go to the kitchen cupboard and dig out a new one. Hmm, still no light? Looking around, the microwave clock is off and the refrigerator is not running. Had we directed our attention more broadly, we would have noticed that the power is out. Knowing ourselves at least well enough to know that there is nothing we can do about power lines knocked out in a thunderstorm, our attention falls to plan B and we move about looking for flashlights and candles. Oh, but be careful with the candles! They bring their own risks and potential hazards, as our attention reminds us.

After getting dressed and brushing our teeth, we carefully put out the candles and attend to our umbrella, since the power outage suggests that it is probably raining. We meander down the street and wait patiently at the T stop as gusts of wind blow the rain horizontally into us. So much for the umbrella. We get off at BU Central, scurry across Commonwealth Avenue and trundle up the steps into the narthex of Marsh Chapel. Passing through that narrow gate our attention is recast from the power outage and cold rain to the warmth of hospitality as we are greeted, offered a bulletin and find a seat next to friends. All the while the organ gently tosses out tones that fill the air with a shimmer of grace. The service begins as our attention is drawn to the pulpit in a spirit of confidence, grace and freedom. The choir sings the introit, we sing a hymn together, and as we join in a unison opening prayer the symbols that constitute our life in the world, that give us meaning, our sacred canopy falls into place.

In the reading of scripture we are given a God’s eye view on the world and our place in it. We hear not only how God attends to the world, but also how God would have us attend to our world. We hear in the Gospel, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.” It is not the case that God does not value the sparrows. God accompanies the sparrows even as they are sacrificed. And yet we hear that we are of greater value than the sparrows. Ours is a world made up of values. Greater values and lesser values. Values concentrated here and dispersed over there. Precious when taken together, insignificant in any solitary part. God looks out over a world of value and God loves the world according to its value.

We too look out over a world of value. To a large extent, the economists are right in their assumption that our consideration of the values in the world is of their value for ourselves. In antique cultures, family held a supreme value. Family equipped children for life and provided its members a way in the world: marriage, work, social status. This is still so today for many in the world. A high valuation of one’s family is a valuation based in self-interest. How surprising it still is for us to hear Jesus rend apart the family basis of society by setting children against parents. Jesus speaks as a prophet, recasting the world from God’s perspective, everything according to its value not for us but in itself. Jesus calls us to live our lives in the world in ultimate perspective, in God’s perspective. It is God who is of ultimate value and from whom we in the world receive our value. Our attention properly directed holds the world in light of divine life. We become sinful precisely when we hold the world in our own light. It is those rare moments of insight when we glimpse the world of value in divine perspective that we call transcendence.

Of course, there is a cost to our attention. We acknowledge this in our colloquialism, “Pay Attention.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, commenting on earlier chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, grace is costly. Focusing our attention here precludes attention paid over there. Even those who can multitask cannot pay attention to everything. Anyone who has ever watched an action movie knows that just as soon as the hero defeats the bad guy, another bad guy creeps up from behind and knocks the hero out with a two-by-four, at least until the last scene. When chopping vegetables, we fail to notice that the pot on the stove is boiling over. When worried about whether or not we locked the front door, we fail to listen to what the preacher is saying. When the economy takes a downturn, our attention is drawn away from the plight of violence, poverty and disease in much of our world.

To be human is to live under obligation to pay attention to everything in the world according to its value. In a world where family life is the fundamental building block of society, this obligation can be doled out in various responsibilities to each member. As that building block crumbles, we find ourselves each obligated to everything. Suddenly life appears much as Thomas Hobbes describes the state of nature: solitary, nasty, brutish and short. The social contract is meant to redistribute our responsibilities among all of the people in society. But here Hobbes makes a mistake. He believes that when members of society fail to meet their responsibilities, no one is responsible. In a world created by God, the case is precisely the opposite. Everyone is responsible! When society breaks down, we must each hold its brokenness in divine light. It is as Howard Thurman said, “people, all people, belong to each other.”

This multiplicity in responsibility is especially prevalent in democratic societies such as ours. In a democracy, attention is accountability. From time to time, the public calls its leaders to account, and then either affirms or replaces them. Political scientists distinguish between attentive and inattentive publics. Attentive publics pay attention to what their leaders are doing. Inattentive publics do not. If we were all attentive publics with regards to our leaders, we would be inattentive to the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us. Most of us are inattentive most of the time. This is like breathing. Most of the time we are not attentive to our breathing. But when we are pushed under water by a wave while swimming in the ocean, breathing becomes a problem and we become attentive. In social life, we often need to be called to attention; we need to be told when our leaders fail in their responsibilities because they are not always so obvious. We must undergo μετανοια, conversion of heart and mind – a redirection of attention from our own responsibilities to those of our leaders in order to hold them accountable. And we must accept, even welcome, the attention of others as it holds us accountable.

The measure of responsibility is the values in the world in God’s perspective; the values as they are in themselves, not as they are for us. It is God’s people who stand as prophetic signs in the world, pointing to the world of values in themselves experienced in transcendence. We draw upon those momentary glimpses of the world in divine light and share them with a grieved and broken world. God created the world and called it good, and from God’s perspsective, it is good. The world is not good for us, it is good in God. “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light.” In the darkness of transcendence we see the world bathed in divine light. It is for us to speak the light, to live the light in a world of darkness.

And what of the cost? Jeremiah speaks to us of the cost. He is given the transcendent vision of God and sees that in its darkness the world is given to violence and destruction. He speaks the prophetic word, “wake up!” He calls the inattentive public to attend to the world as God attends to the world. But the world does not understand. The world denounces him and persecutes him. The psalmist too knows the cost of the call to attention. Herein is prefigured the breaking of the family we see in Matthew. “I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.” The psalmist has been humbled in fasting, no longer self-interested but deeply interested, zealous even, in the world as God’s house. The psalmist too is called to pay the cost in insults and persecution.

This story sounds awfully familiar, but in the Gospels there is a different outcome. The prophet and the psalmist are called upon to pay the price of attention to the world of values in themselves, transcendent glimpses of the world bathed in divine light. Jesus is not only prophet and psalmist. Jesus is more. Jesus is our “great high priest, who has passed through the heavens. We come boldly to the throne of grace.” Jesus calls the world to attention and the world exacts its price. It is not God who demands payment, but we ourselves. And Jesus pays the cost.

The good news of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ for you today is that the cost is paid. The Holy Spirit, the advocate and comforter, is blowing about in the world, dispelling fear, invigorating courage, and nurturing freedom. “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” Two millennia after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is great hope for a world of freely shared responsibility, basking in the transcendent light of God. It is a rare thing in these days of democracy that our prophets are called upon to pay a price for waking us. On the rare occasions when they are – Martin Luther King, Jr., John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy – they become martyrs for the cause of grace and freedom. This is not so everywhere in our world, thinking of the tragedy of Zimbabwe, and so we continue to preach a gospel of grace and freedom, a responsible Christian liberalism. We will not always get it right. Our attention will be misdirected at times. Our response is contrition and compunction; we lament and repent.

In these days and in these times, even in the midst of flourishing democracy, there is much to attend. We must attend especially to those for whom we have failed in our responsibility, in a spirit of contrition and repentance. Today, following this service, in Barristers’ Hall at the School of Law next door, we will share a meal and fellowship and hear from Iraqi refugees. Our inattention is irresponsible. They are here to call us to attention. Wake up! Pay attention! All people are of equal value and worth in the transcendent vision of the world in divine light. Boston University is the historical home of Boston Personalism. Martin Luther King, Jr. came here to study personalism. It is a philosophy that takes as its starting point the infinite value, worth and dignity of every person. It is in this spirit that Dr. Thurman said "For this is why we were born: people, all people, belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself." Our salvation is in welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the refugee.

As the preacher turns to sit and the organist plays quiet strains, our attention is drawn to the window with the small friar in soft, brown robes surrounded by animals, birds especially, who were his particularly to attend. The echoes of his voice call down through the ages, “preach the gospel to all the world, and if necessary, use words.” The attentive life is lived, not spoken. The organist arrives at a cadence and in the echoes reverberate the saint’s gentle resonance, “you may be the only vision of Jesus Christ someone will ever see.” The watchful gaze of St. Francis and all the saints in stained glass mediates the divine radiance, and as the call to prayer begins, we catch the briefest glimpse of the world of values in themselves. We offer the values back to God in prayer, and we offer ourselves in the offering, not because we can pay the cost of grace and freedom, but in gratitude to God who pays attention to us. In the benediction and response we hear our responsibility to pay attention and to call others to attend our broken world. Walking out into the fresh air, the world appears bright and new, filled with grace and freedom. A gentle breeze brushes through our hair and we hear strains of transformation and reconciliation in the voice of Walt Whitman:

Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again and ever again, this soiled world.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Models of the Church

What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
created with
You scored as Mystical Communion Model

Your model of the church is Mystical Communion, which includes both People of God and Body of Christ. The church is essentially people in union with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit. Both lay people and clergy are drawn together in a family of faith. This model can exalt the church beyond what is appropriate, but can be supplemented with other models.

Mystical Communion Model


Servant Model


Sacrament model


Herald Model


Institutional Model


Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Secular Easter

"A Secular Easter"
Hughes United Methodist Church
Easter 2, 2008

Acts 2: 14a, 22-32
Psalm 16
John 20: 19-31

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Doubtless many of you, while singing the last hymn were thinking something along the lines of, “Goodness! This is a strange hymn. Where in the world did he come up with this?” Well, if you look on the bottom right-hand corner of the page, you will discover the tune name of the hymn is MARSH CHAPEL. Indeed, Max Miller, the longtime music director at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel, penned the music. And its words express something of our worldview as we seek to minister among the 40,000+ people who make up our community at the fourth largest private research institution in the United States. Our dean, the Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, has put it succinctly:
The envisioned mission of Marsh Chapel is to be a heart for the heart of the city and a service in the service of the city. In the coming decade we intend to offer a national voice, an ecumenical ethos and an excellent hospitality. Marsh Chapel harbors a non-fundamentalist expression of faith. The roots of our history lie in Methodism. The branches of our future stretch out to the oikumene, the whole ecumenical world. We preach a gospel of grace and freedom, a responsible Christian liberalism.
Here, on the second Sunday of Easter, with the trumpets and fanfare and celebration safely packed away, we may pause for a moment and wonder about the world in which we live. After all, the resurrection of Jesus the Christ takes place in a world. Peter recognizes this, at least in his portrayal by Luke the evangelist in the second chapter of his second volume, the book of Acts. Peter has a particular audience to whom he is preaching, “you that are Israelites.” His message is tailored particularly to them as it interweaves passages from the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible. It is true that the message of resurrection is universal; if it were not, we would not still be preaching it some 2000 years later. But every universal message must be expressed in a particular context. Come, wonder with me for a moment about our time and our place and our context.

First, our world is marked by change. This is not an entirely novel idea; other eras can be noted for their shifts in political and economic systems or in theological and philosophical ethos or in cultural and social relation. But, my teacher Bob Neville likes to point out that Aristotle invented boring philosophy, and this is because for Aristotle, the most valuable things in the world are things that endure and do not change. Aristotle was wrong. Things in the world do change and there is a beauty and a felicity in their changing process. Children grow and mature and become adults. Trees flower and blossom in springtime, then drop their leaves come fall. A favorite metaphor of the Easter season is the change of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Change exhibits rhythm and balance and gives to life a sense of flow. To be sure, the value inherent in change is not all positive, at least in human perspective. We have some experience now with attempting to change political dynasties and systems in other lands, and we will bear the cost – financial, emotional, spiritual – into the coming decades, if not centuries. The changes brought on by natural disaster are terrifying and life consuming. And as life wanes the changes to body and mind are frustrating especially for their being unwelcome. Christ is resurrected in a world of change.

So too, and not unrelated, our world is marked by chance. It is not the case that life and experience grinds on like a machine, each subsequent moment determined wholly by the moment prior. To be sure, if you flip the switch the lights go off. This regularity gives life coherence and consistency instead of absolute chaos. But sometimes when you flip it again the bulb burns out. Life is not a simple binary of if-then clauses. Life is marked by spontaneity, novelty and creativity. The most interesting moments in life are not when the lights go on but when they don’t. Baseball is interesting and fun because when the pitch is thrown, the batter might hit it, or he might not! Again, the possibilities of chance do not always work in our favor. Sometimes the patient dies on the operating table. Sometimes the war takes years, not days. Sometimes you lose your shirt when the markets shift and your investments are tied to sub-prime mortgages. Christ is resurrected in a world of chance.

Finally, ours is a world of choice. In this respect especially, the early years of the 21st century exhibit unprecedented levels of choice. We can choose what kind and color of car to drive, where we will live and whom we will live with, where and what to study. From the perspective of a student, it may seem that colleges and universities choose you, or not; but speaking from the perspective of a university administrator, I can tell you that we are at least as concerned about your choice as you are about ours. Choices in fashion, music, reading material, hairstyle, career, travel, and on and on are virtually unbounded. There is a dark side of all of this choice. So much choice produces anxiety. How are we to know that we have made the right choices? How can we choose responsibly? And sometimes, we do make the wrong choices. We choose to play instead of work, to speak instead of listen, to hate instead of love. Our power to act combined with the multiplicity of our choices can be a lethal combination. We may have the power to unseat rulers, but we are seeing what happens when that power is enacted without due consideration of the realities at home and abroad. Christ is resurrected in a world of choice.

But wait, Br. Larry, all of this wonder at the world sounds, well, awfully secular. Ah, you punster you! Of course you know that “secular” means worldly. To speak of the world can be nothing if not worldly. The beginning of the good news that I bear to you today is that this is the world that God creates, a world of change and chance and choice. God creates this world and calls it good. Christ is resurrected in this world, making the secular sacred and sacramental. But what does it mean for Christ to be resurrected in a world of change and of chance and of choice?

In John’s gospel, plopped down between Luke’s first and second volumes, we hear testimony of the risen Christ to the disciples. Three times, “Peace be with you.” Jesus has said this before in the gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” God has created this world and Christ is resurrected in this world and the good news of this second Sunday of Easter is that we need not be afraid of the changes and chances and choices of this life.

“Peace be with you.” It is a strange answer to our question, we who ask looking for practical and implementable advise. But as we read the gospels we shall have come to expect the answers of Christ to be not what we expect and yet just what we need. The answer of the resurrection of Christ in this world is not an answer of certainty; it is an answer of peace. That is to say, in a world of change and chance and choice we are not given certainty – certainty is not a quality that is possible in the world as God creates it – but we are given confidence. We may be confident that grace, mercy and peace abound, even in the ambiguities and ambivalences of change, chance and choice.

Whence comes this strange confidence that is not what we expect but just what we need? Well, we have preached God’s creation of a world of change, chance and choice, and we have preached Christ’s resurrection bearing peace and confidence in the world God has created, so it is for the Holy Spirit to complete our trinitarian reflection. John testifies to this also, that Jesus breathes on the disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Our confidence rests in forgiveness.

But this forgiveness is strange too, is it not? Our confidence and peace rest not in our own forgiveness but in the forgiveness we offer to the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Behold a broken world, we pray, where want and war increase.” The ambiguities and ambivalences of a world of change and chance and choice leave us feeling that our world is broken, and we are broken in it. But the healing of the world in confidence and peace comes not from some external and supervening power but from the outworking of the grace of God resurrected in us as we forgive the world that wounds us.

It is not an oxymoron to preach a sermon on a secular Easter. If Christ is not resurrected in and for the world then we have no business singing and praying and speaking of good news. But we need to be careful. We have explored some symbols to constitute our world, symbols of change and chance and choice. We have found some symbols too to redeem our world, symbols of peace and confidence and forgiveness. But symbols only refer truly when they are broken. We must know their limits as well as their possibility.

And so we remember, In hoc signo. Oh dear, you may be thinking, here he goes with the Latin again! But no, dear friends, this symbol you have claimed as your own. You have emblazoned it front and center on your altar. The year is 312 and the Roman general Constantine sits encamped just outside Rome, preparing to take the city. His chances are slim. As he is surveying the city, he sees a vision in the sky of the Chi Rho, the sign of the cross made by superimposing the first two Greek letters in the title Christ. Accompanying the vision is a voice saying In hoc signo, in this sign, vinces, you shall conquer. And so he did. It was under Constantine that the Roman Empire became Christian; Christendom was born with the sign of the cross in conquest.

We Christians have a distressing propensity to employ our symbols to justify conquest. Ironic, is it not? “Peace be with you.” But when our confidence devolves into certainty, peace at the point of a sword suddenly seems reasonable. A perverted form of rationalism overcomes the strangeness of the answers Christ offers. Of course, certainty is also a denial of the very world God creates. Change, chance and choice are nonsensical in a certain world. But certainty is more comfortable that confidence, and the answers of conquest and triumphalism more straightforward than peace and forgiveness.

To preach a sermon on a secular Easter is to remind us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the world sacred and sacramental. We must be careful that our confidence does not cross over into certainty. When the limits of our symbols are crossed, they become demonic and the sacred becomes profane.

Let us live together the good news of Easter. God creates a world of change, chance and choice. Christ is resurrected in and for this world and offers us peace as we share forgiveness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ours is a gospel of grace and freedom.

Christ is risen! Alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, March 21, 2008

God Is Not Here

Meditation on the Fourth Word from the Cross
Good Friday 2008

A woman lies in a hospital bed in Philadelphia, even as we speak, finally being consumed by the cancer she has fought for two years. She is in the hospice ward where they struggle to manage her pain. She has been given days, if not hours, to live. She is only 29 years old.


A family lives on the banks of a small river in central Colombia, cultivating a small plot of land. One day, a heavily armed group comes and demands food from them. Of course, they surrender it. The next day, another heavily armed group comes and accuses them of collaborating with the first group. They turn over more resources to demonstrate their allegiance. In the end, they are forced to flee or be destroyed.


Contrary to popular opinion, the primary theological question is not “does God exist?” No, the primary theological question is “where is God in the midst of all of this?” Certainly, the latter question implies the former, since locating anything requires a thing to be located. But the latter question demands more. It demands relationship. It demands accountability. It demands context. “Where is God in the midst of all of this?”

How are we to answer this question in the midst of personal and structural tragedy? To be sure, we must answer honestly. Our answer must reflect our vulnerability and our openness, our pain and our loneliness. It must be both legitimate and authentic.

To give voice to such an answer is risky. Risky first because such an answer will likely be unacceptable to friends, family, colleagues; it may even appear blasphemous or heretical. Risky second because our answer means admitting to ourselves our pain and vulnerability and so deepening and ingraining them.

“Where is God in the midst of all of this?” Our answer, arising out of the depths of the human condition, in all of its honesty and authenticity, must be that God is not here.


But wait, what happened to that gospel of grace and freedom? It is true that grace is God’s response to sin and fallenness and that freedom is God’s response to oppression and fear. We celebrate these gifts no more extravagantly than on Easter Sunday when they are bound together in the reality of resurrection.

But that is Easter Sunday. Today is Good Friday. From the cross, Jesus asked, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” The question is both accusation and call to account. It is not new on either score; those who regularly read the psalms or the prophets are apt to recognize it. God is not here. Why?

There is plenty of time, three days in fact, for God to answer. But those three days are important. It is important to acknowledge and feel pain, loss and vulnerability. It is important to sit with our woundedness and not move on from it too quickly. It is important to hear the resonance of our authentic, legitimate and honest answer; God is not here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tahlequah Day 5

We woke up in the morning to discover that the supposedly purple dye actually left everyone's hair pink. Such is life.

Our first event of the day was rafting down the Illinois River. What started as a rather uneventful trip ended up quite interesting when about half way down the river we encountered a tree that had fallen across the river. Each of the three rafts took a different approach to getting past it. One portaged their raft around the tree. Another got over at a place where about an inch of water was running over the trunk. My raft got out, stood on the trunk, lifted the boat over the trunk, and piled back in. We reported the fallen tree when we got back to the raft rental and they sent some people out to clear it.

We went back to the community center in Four Corners to change and then went to lunch at Katfish Kitchen. Everyone was amazed at how much food was available. The people there were very friendly and happy to have a large group at lunch time. The hushpuppies were a particular favorite along with large glasses of sweet tea.

After lunch we headed to the Cherokee Nation Courthouse to talk with the Assistant District Attorney and some others about legal issues the Cherokee face. The three biggest issues involve land, substance abuse, and membership. The land issue revolves around the fact that while Cherokee were guaranteed 110 acres of land when they moved to Oklahoma from Georgia and so some people have land scattered about at great distances. Substance abuse includes alcohol, marijuana and crystal meth. It is especially problematic amongst young people. The good news is that the Cherokee are finding effective ways of addressing these issues out of their cultural heritage.

The issue of membership in Cherokee Nation is especially prominent at the moment. There is a CA congresswoman who is attempting to take federal funds from Cherokee Nation because they are not including freedmen, slaves who were freed by the Cherokee during the Civil War before the US freed its slaves, on the grounds that they do not have Cherokee blood. The Cherokee feel that they have been grossly misrepresented in the press on this issue and are deeply concerned to preserve one of the only rights left to the Cherokee as a people, the right to self-determination.

Next we visited the Cherokee Heritage Center where they have a full scale Cherokee villiage set up as it would have been during the 15th century prior to Columbus getting lost on his way to India. As part of the tour we were shown how to use a blow gun. I was asked to demonstrate. I missed, but only just! Then we were shown how to play stick ball. This is a really interesting game because it was how the tribes resolved conflicts without going to war. The idea is that the winner of the game probably would have won the war anyway! The game is played by taking two sticks with baskets on each end and using them to hurl a small stone at a plaque hoisted about four stories up in the air on the end of a pole. There is a really interesting catch to this game though. Men, women and children all play, but only men get sticks. Women get to use their hands to throw the ball. Women also get to hit, kick, scratch and bite the men, but the men cannot strike the women. I was asked to try to hit the fish using the sticks to throw the stone. I missed. By a long shot. And I didn't even have a hundred other people trying to stop me! It's a fantastic model for resolving conflict. Wouldn't the world be a much more peaceful place if the Olympics determined disputes as opposed to going to war?

After stopping at the gift shop, we went to do our last bit of service for a woman named Lisa who is disabled. We cleaned up her yard and washed down the front of her house, which was quite a mess but was the off-white color it was supposed to be when we finished.

When we got back to Four Corners, we made and ate dinner and then spent a long time debriefing the week. There was general agreement that we have formed long-lasting friendships. I am deeply grateful to the ASB-Tahlequah team for letting me be a part of their week, both the service and the fellowship.

On the van-ride back to Boston, we stopped for breakfast on Sunday morning in Seneca Falls. My dear friend, mentor and colleague Allison hosted us at the Women's Interfaith Institute. As the team ate, Allison gave a brief overview of the history of Seneca Falls, womens' rights, and the work of her institute. The team was very receptive and glad to see some of the historic landmarks in Seneca Falls. I am extremely happy that my connection with Allison allowed this to come about.

Apologies for this last post being so late. On Monday night, the day after we returned, I came down with the flu and am just today returning to something resembling normal life. I also have sun burns and poison ivy to show for our efforts on the trip. Nevertheless, pictures are forthcoming in the next few days. In the mean time, have a blessed Triduum and a happy Easter.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tahlequah Day 4

Mary had asked us to meet her at her office at 9:30AM to receive our marching orders for the day. This would require leaving no later than 9AM. Given that our last ASBer didn't get out of her sleeping bag until 8:40AM, we didn't actually leave until 9:10. That was okay as we arrived and things were not as well planned as we had hoped.

Thankfully, Warren and Sam jumped in and helped us partner with the University of Miami trip in the morning. We drove about a half hour outside of Tahlequah to a project that Cherokee Nation was developing a series of cabins for groups like ours as well as retreats to use free of charge. Our project was cleaning up a bit and helping get the water line laid. We set to work with shovels and rakes and made fairly short work of getting a lot of small stones cleared out of a roadway and getting a lot of leaves raked up to be burned. After lunch we got the soft dirt to cover the water line so that it would not be broken by large rocks when the backhoe came along and filled in the ditch completely.

Warren came up with another project for us in the afternoon. We left Sam with the University of Miami group and headed back into Tahlequah where we worked in a school that Cherokee Nation had bought and converted into a charity distribution center for clothes and household items. We got one room full of stuff sorted out, a number of clothes into gender and size order, and about fifty bags of bedding and curtains folded and sorted. It was a thoroughly rewarding sight to see it all completed.

Tyson, who had invited us to work on the project, also had another project for us the next morning. He wanted us to head over near Tulsa to help him unload some lumber and sheet rock. The group was divided as to whether we wanted to do it or not, given that Friday morning was scheduled for rafting down the river. The group discussed it and worked together with Tyson to find some kind of workable compromise. The initial decision was to do the project early in the morning and then go rafting later in the morning. By evening, that had changed and we finally decided to skip the unloading in favor of a potential project helping an elderly woman clear her yard later in the day.

We went and had pizza at the Pizza Hut in Pryor, OK, thanks to the generosity of Maria from the Zoo Safari on Monday. Maria, John and August have been truly gracious to us while we've been here and we are deeply grateful to them. We also highly recommend visiting Zoo Safari if ever your are in the Tahlequah region.

After dinner we headed back to Four Corners so that the girls could spend the evening streaking their hair purple. I served as photographer for the occasion. I was strongly encouraged to get a streak or two in my hair, or maybe do my beard, but I refused. Of course, purple is the appropriate liturgical color for Lent... but no.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tahlequah Day 3

Wednesday morning involved getting up just in time for Warren to arrive and inform us that our primary contact, Sue, was very sick and so he would be organizing our day along with Mary, his counterpart at Cherokee Nation. I had just finished toasting the bagels in the oven (the first batch got a little crispy) and suddenly everyone scrambled to get ready and out the door as quickly as possible.

Our first stop was the Cherokee Nation administrative building in Tahlequah proper. We got a tour during which we learned about how the Cherokee government operates and the services they provide. One of the things they do is to run a Cherokee language immersion school. They have developed the curriculum through grade 2 at this point and plan to go all the way through high school. As we were leaving, the chief came by and spoke with us briefly and took a picture with us.

We had lunch at a small park along the lake. It was a beautiful day with sunshine and clear blue skies. After another round of picture taking, we headed to Marble City to spend the afternoon with the community there and the group from the University of Miami that was doing an Alternative Spring Break trip like ours. We learned to play Cherokee marbles, which is more like bocce balls than what I would have thought of as marbles. Then we played with a group of local children; duck-duck-goose was the favorite. We ate dinner with the community; Cherokee tacos with a base of fried dough and piled with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, salsa and cheese.

We had been invited after dinner to join the community for a service at the church where the day's activities were taking place. It is a pentecostal church and I was very much aware that several of our members are Jewish. I spoke briefly with the trip coordinators about what the service might be like and suggested we gather the group to discuss it and how we wanted to participate. Several members of the group expressed discomfort at the idea of participating. Others thought it would be a good thing to at least observe. As the group conversed, the idea emerged to stay for the beginning part of the service, when the children would sing and then a band would play, to say "thank you" to the community for having us, and then to head home. Even in these initial stages of the service, the pastor was very involved, offering a number of prayers and speaking about Jesus as the only way to salvation, both in this world and the next. The children sang "Amazing Grace" in Cherokee and then performed several praise and worship songs in American Sign Language. The band was actually quite good, especially the guitarist.

It was notable on the hour+ ride home that no one even mentioned turning on the radio. We spent the entire ride unpacking the trip. There were a lot of questions about what we had experienced together, and several expressions of discomfort. There were also many expressions if intrigue and curiosity about this expression of religious fervor. Throughout the ride, I was asked many clarifying questions and then to give an account of all of church history! It was good to see the group unpack the experience together and to move deeper in relationship to one another out of the confusion brought on by this encounter. I was glad to be a part of it and to be able to be helpful. I am also very much aware that not every one of the 2 trips BU sends each year has a chaplain on it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tahlequah Day 2

We woke up very cold on Tuesday morning. The heat had gone out over the night (ran out of gas) and it was below 50 degrees when we crawled out of our sleeping bags. Once everyone finally got up, the cold did have the side effect of encouraging people to display some alacrity in getting out the door.

We arrived at the site for the day and were warm within minutes. At the Downing Cemetery, we hauled brush and logs into piles to be burned and generally got the place cleaned up. Between the hauling and the burning, we were all quite toasty after an hour of work. By the end of they day, many of us (myself included) were a bit sunburned. As we sat amongst the gravestones, listening to John tell us about his family history who were buried there, I could feel the sun sinking into my already burned shoulders. By night, I was quite sore; from the burns as well as the scrapes from the pricker bushes.

We got back to the community center and had some down time before dinner and then heading into town for bowling. Unfortunately, neither the first nor the second set of directions we had were correct. We called the bowling alley and they gave us some rather uninterpretable directions ("We're just past the Walmart, but not really past the Walmart") so it required three more phone calls to finally triangulate our way there. The bowling was great fun, and everyone improved greatly in their technique, especially those we discovered toward the end of the first game were holding the ball wrong!

Bowling was followed by a trip to the store to stock up on a few missing essentials (milk!) and then an apparently obligatory stop by Sonic for shakes and snacks. This was especially fun pulling up to a drive-in fast food restaurant and having to order for 13 people! Great hilarity ensued.

It was an excellent day, and our reflection at the end of the day demonstrated this. We all turned in about 12:45 and are starting to get up and get ready for another day of service!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tahlequah Day 1

12 first-year and sophomore women and one monk. This should be interesting.

We left at 7AM on Saturday, March 8th and drove for 36 hours straight from Boston to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Several interesting incidents marked the drive down. First, one person got sick while I was driving. I heard from the back, "someone threw up! Pull over!" Everything was fine after we got her re-hydrated. Then another person started talking in her sleep. She sat straight up and insisted that we pull over, immediately! Then nothing else she said made sense and we realized that she was talking in her sleep so we continued on. The most interesting event was getting pulled over by an overzealous Tennessee State Trooper. He got all bent out of shape because one of most conscientious drivers had gone past him in the right lane when he had pulled over a truck, instead of moving to the left lane. He gave us a lecture and let us go. Since when is asking a full 15 passenger van to change lanes unnecessarily a good idea?

We finally arrived, bought groceries for the week, and got to the community center where we are staying. We had dinner, some people took showers, and we went to bed.

This morning we woke up and headed out to our first service site. We were helping Rev. Fred, a 90 year old pastor, clear some brush and broken trees that had come down in an ice storm. Sam, from Cherokee Nation, came along with his chain saw to cut up the branches. In the middle of it, Sam found a big piece that would make a great three-legged table. He sawed a flat piece off the top and loaded in his truck as a project for us throughout the week. Many of our number are animal lovers and so Rev. Fred's dogs and cats provided great joy and amusement. This afternoon we are going to a local animal park to clear more brush and check out the goats.

The group is really bonding well and learning to work together. It's great being able to just be along for the ride. Liz and Giovanna have things so well planned that there's really nothing for me to do. Which is great! I love being able to defer all the questions from the people we work with to them. I think it surprises some to learn that these college students really have things well in hand. Go BU!