Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reflections on the Prodigal

The Spire
From Luke 15

We learn from the experience of the Prodigal the power of the desire to explore the new, the distant, the exotic. We learn as well that the exotic may be less than we expect, the new far from satisfying. We learn from the older brother the tragedy of a dream deferred, of hope unshared. And the father remains always waiting. There is Desmond Tutu’s sermon again: God loves us and desires us to be drawn to him.

Tutu tells a story near the end of his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, that we all need to hear. He recounts the first time he flew in a plane piloted by men like himself. They were Nigerians and he was delighted to see them and felt a shared pride in their professionalism and then the plane encountered weather that caused it to jump and buck and he was terrified. He thought to himself: "I wonder if they can manage the plane." and then he was horrified by his thought: “I could never have believed I was so radically brainwashed…I would have denied it vigorously…I had accepted a white definition of existence, that whites were somehow superior to and more competent than blacks.”

He goes on:

“We should never underestimate the power of conditioning. That is why I hold the view that we should be a little more generous in judging perpetrators of human rights violations… And it might make us say to ourselves a we sit in judgment “there but for the grace of God go I.”

“All of this says that there is hope. There is hope because (people) are revealed as human beings, frail but with the capacity to do better if they (we) get out of the self-justifying mode, the denial mode, and are able to say quietly, humbly, ‘I am sorry, forgive me/us'.”

God waited for Israel. God came near in Jesus and made things new. God waited for the Prodigal and the brother. As we move toward Easter are we open to the offer of God to be reconciled? I think we are.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Happy Spring

Dream for the future

In most respects, the new year begins for me in the Fall. Like I suspect many of you, I’ve spent most of my life on an academic calendar. So the Fall is when I think about my work accomplishments and goals. I am also a Reform Jew and, therefore, religiously mark the new year at Rosh Hashanah, usually sometime in September. And I am a Virgo, with a late August birthday, so that’s when MY new year literally begins.

All of those new beginnings get marked pretty ritualistically. Whether it’s organizing my work “stuff” for new projects, participating in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur observances, or celebrating the date of my birth with family and friends. I even take an annual retreat during the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to more meaningfully reflect on and mark these transitions.

But there is for me a subtler new year’s celebration which occurs in THIS season and in which I invite you to participate. It is called Spring. And it is a wish for more Spring in our lives that is at the heart of my Dream for our Future.

We don’t literally hibernate during the New England winters, but we do spend a good part of our lives effectively in a cave, surrounded by familiar objects and people, comforted by our routines, lulled by the belief that all we need is within our reach. In our cave, we are not aware of the outside world, not aware how small our world is, not aware that we are missing anything.

And then comes Spring.
During the first days of spring, we breathe deeper, we let our skin feel the air, we walk a little slower, we might smile a bit more easily. Did you have a moment like that this past weekend? Can you bring back that feeling right now?

In early Spring, we have an awakening awareness of the outside world and, perhaps, the visceral remembrance that we are part of a larger whole, that the world, and our place in it, is bigger than our cave.

My dream for the future is for us to stay alive to that moment, to, in fact, WAKE UP from our frequent dream state, to see through what is petty and unimportant about our day to day existence and focus on the reality beyond our routines.
My dream for the future is to spend less time dreaming and more time being; less time protecting myself from the uncertainties of the outside world, and more time embracing the adventure. My dream for the future is to experience the dawn of spring in the midst of every season, every moment

So the question, the challenge, I give myself and offer to you is this: What would it take? What would it take to carry that sensation of early Spring, of awakening to a life bigger than our own, into the rest of our lives?

And with that, I wish you “happy Spring.”

Francine Crystal
Organization Development Consultant
Human Resources

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesdays in the Chapel

Tuesdays in the Chapel
March 2, 2010
Luke 13:31-35

1. The season of Lent comes to us with a large stop sign! It is like someone stepped in our path and crossed their arms on their chest. Wear the ashes that remind us of mortality; put frivolity aside and think about the journey we are on.

The metaphor of a journey is important because we all are on several journeys but we often do not think about them. There is first the journey of life itself. The poet, Alison Apotheker captures a bit of the journey in her poem Ground Water. Pregnant, playing with her 2 year old son in the snow, she concludes:

"But now, as we walk home in the dusk,
my two-year old riding my hip,
patting my cheeks with his mittened hands,
I never want to leave this earth.
Inside the baby tumbles and reels,
already knowing where the body will take us,
that we have no choice but to follow its lead."

Life is what happens between the infinities of birth and death or as my favorite actor, Robert Duvall, says in one of his roles: “We live between the sweet grass and the slaughter house.”

There is a moment after the Christmas season when this sense of mortality becomes especially important for me as I look at the pictures that come in the mail over the holiday: the children who are another year older. When we see each other regularly, we do not notice how we change, but when the cards come at Christmas you notice. I go through my address list and change the addresses of those who have moved and remove the names of those who have died. The poet notices; Jesus was on such a journey on his way to Jerusalem during this season. Luke from Chapter 9 on in his Gospel has Jesus on a journey to Jerusalem. That is why it is a serious time.

2. But everything does not need to be taken seriously—or so seriously. Our Jewish friends know this; that is why Purim is such a sweet break in this season. Remember too that we are also on a journey toward spring. You saw the news this week and the young woman who repeated on several networks: “I am so ready for spring.” I was in Chapel Hill last Sunday. Daffodils were blooming. Forsythia was blooming. It was a good reminder of the progression of the seasons. On March 14th we will welcome daylight savings time. It the morning it will still be dark when we get up but at 6 pm the sun will be up. The Red Sox will be coming north shortly thereafter and once again we can breathe; we have survived winter. We may not always admit it, but that is also why we take this season seriously. We know where it leads us.

3. There is also the more personal journey for each of us. One of you had a birthday last week. Others made progress on a paper you were writing, on a project at work. These are our modest personal journeys not marked by life and death but the daily accomplishments by which we mark progress. With eyes open we go forward and we coordinate our journey’s with these other journeys—the cosmic journey between infinities, the turn of the seasons, our own progress in life.

4. AND then there is Easter.

It is a story we have heard before and sometimes it is confused and distant; we hear the rituals that some have at Easter and wonder what in the world they are doing. A friend mentioned a trip she likes to take to Guatemala during this season to observe the rituals leading up to Good Friday. They sound very interesting and exotic. You have to wonder, however, how others hear of our traditions: we celebrate Easter when a large rabbit appears and then we hide eggs. It is another way we make light of serious stuff. If you cannot deal with the mystery of Easter, make it humorous.

But it is serious business and with Luke we turn our eyes toward Jerusalem; we reach beyond the Bible to claim the story of the people of God who lived through a tragedy that brought new life. It is a story that began in a dark stable, was revealed by Wise men who came from far away to proclaim that something important had happened. It is a story that has at its heart promises; there are disappointments and ultimately triumph. God has, we believe, reached out to us and brought us close. That may be a blessing, but It can also be our challenge. The Lenten season helps us journey to where we need to be.

Dr. Robert M. Randolph

Monday, March 1, 2010

About Love

February is as good a month to talk about love as any. We have just passed Valentine’s Day, it is National Women’s Heart Health month, and for those who follow the Christian liturgical calendar it is also the start of the Lenten Season. Matters of the heart are thus much on the mind. They are also central to my hope for the future, a hope grounded both in my own Christian faith and also in my humanitarian (if you will) desire to live in a world free from the violence, sorrow and destruction that plague us when love fails.

Unfortunately, what we hear about most often in the news are the failures of love: the powerful taking advantage of the weak; the rich reserving for themselves excess while the poor go without any; trust repaid with cruelty; children abused by the very adults who should be caring for them; nations that believe their differences are best settled by war; individuals who believe that their frustrations are best resolved at gunpoint; the list could go on and on.

But this is not our calling – our exempla cannot be found in the newspaper. We must look instead to our scriptures, and the example of God inscribed therein. What we find is that it is not enough that we should love that special person who makes our heart skip when they enter a room, and which we celebrate so enthusiastically on Valentine’s Day. Nor is it enough to love our children or our parents or others we have known long and deeply, with a love which brings comfort and encompasses companionship. No, we are called to a love for every one of God’s children whether they are lovable or not; whether they bring comfort or not; nay, whether they are even known to us or not.

Indeed, love is not even ours if we do not give it away. It only has existence in the act of dispensation. Love that would be internal to ourselves can only be self-love; it is opposed to charity, and without charity we cannot truly have faith. St. Maximus the Confessor (early 7th c.) puts it this way: “As memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without charity does not effect the illumination of knowledge in the soul.” Love that is not directed outwards is not merely diminished in substance and in volume, but it is actually oppositional to the love that God has in mind for us. It would be like a fire that does not warm us, that is to say, like no fire at all.

So my hope for the future is that we would throw caution to the wind, and try real love the way God intended it for us, that we would show our world that we have been called to live another way. To this end I call you, and me to:
Weep alongside someone you do not know. Rejoice in the beauty – yea, the very likeness and image of God – in every person. Pray for those who thwart you as assiduously as you pray for your daughters and sons. Lend a hand, or a foot, or a mind. Be patient with those who slow you down. Hear someone out, even if you suspect they are crazy. Return fury with calm, violence with peace. Laugh with abandon – with others, at others, at least when the alternative would otherwise be anger. Most especially, laugh at yourself – there is no easier way to practice the art of forgiveness than to see your own foibles for what they are. Open your pantry, your purse, your treasure chest – a small meal shared with others is so much more filling than a feast eaten alone; for “You are as prone to love as the sun is to shine.” So says Thomas Traherne, 17th c. Anglican poet and priest who had much of eloquence to say about love.

We can also rest assured that our love will not run out. Like the sun, it can shine on all without being diminished for any. Indeed, the sun would only be diminished if you insisted that it shine just for you.

So in this month during which we think so much about matters of the heart, I would urge us to spend our love recklessly, prodigally. We will be transformed by it; our world will be too.

Prof. Anne McCants