The Episcopal Campus Ministry at the University of Chicago

Jun 03 2010

Engaging Religious Communities Abroad

Published by under News and Opportunities

Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: One Year Post-Cairo

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dirk Ficca, Executive Director, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

Eboo Patel, Executive Director, Interfaith Youth Core

Afeefa Syeed, Senior Culture and Development Advisor, Asia and Middle East Bureaus, U.S. Agency for International Development

Moderated by Rachel Bronson, Vice President for Programs and Studies, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

June 4, 2010 marks the first anniversary of President Obama’s speech at Cairo University, during which he outlined a path toward “a new beginning” with Muslim communities around the world. During his speech the President recognized the importance of engaging not only with governments but with economically and politically influential sectors of societies, including Muslim communities. It follows that the next steps will include a strategy to engage religious communities of all faiths in addressing pressing foreign policy challenges, and to build the institutional capacity to support it. The Chicago Council is particularly interested in the Administration’s follow-up to the Cairo speech given our recent task force report, Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy, which outlines specific policy recommendations towards such a strategy. Join us for an important conversation that will serve as both a one-year anniversary review of President Obama’s speech in Cairo and the Chicago presentation of The Chicago Council’s task force report. For more information, go to the website.

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Jun 03 2010

Kyle Rader’s Trinity Sunday Sermon

Published by under Student Writing

Sermon for Brent House

Kyle Rader

May 30, 2010

Trinity Sunday

Texts: Prov. 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

We have this tradition at the Divinity School that for our last Wednesday lunch of the year, we have a barbeque outside, and we book a bluegrass band from downstate to provide music.  So we’re all sitting around on Wednesday eating and having a good time, and occasionally somebody got up and sang along with the band.  Towards the end, they started playing some old time religious songs.  A good half the people there weren’t religious, but they’re fun songs.  So they start playing “I’ll Fly Away.”  Now whether one is a Christian or not, whether or not one finds the theology of that hymn problematic, I consider it immoral and impious not to sing along with it.  When someone starts playing “I’ll Fly Away,” whether you’re in church or anywhere else, it is your categorical duty as a rational agent to sing and preferably to stomp your foot.  So I start singing, the woman next to me sang, and one of our cooks got up and sand with the band.  And then I looked around, and saw that we were the only ones.  It was a disgrace!  While the song is still going on, I catch a rather cynical and somewhat snide discussion from the end of my table.  One woman is complaining to another about how alienating the experience is, and how hymns like this are so individualist, and how they celebrate death and hate this world.  And that’s when I realized something about many of my colleagues, something I probably should have known long ago.  Namely, these people just have something wrong with them.  I should be more sensitive, of course.  Who knows what experiences this woman had with religion or churches or whatever that made this an alienating experience for her.

But she totally missed the point!  Now, to be fair, she was right.  American hymns of the generation typified by “I’ll Fly Away” do indeed tend to have an individual and other-worldly focus in their lyrics.  But first of all, what that means in her context might be quite different from the context in which other people sing them.  And second, in any hymn, the words are only the surface of what’s going on.  Singing the hymn, if it’s a good hymn anyway, is one’s way of either expressing or getting into an experience that is not expressible in words.  It’s how one gets caught up in a… you could call it a current or an energy, though neither is adequate.  It’s a certain reaction to one’s not entirely conscious awareness of the depth of things.  The words of the hymn are certainly part of it, as are the beliefs they express.  But one could find the words problematic, and yet fully sing the hymn.  Now this depth of the hymn may not present itself to our awareness every time we sing it.  Sometimes it’s more like rote repetition, sometimes just an enjoyable community or individual experience.  But it’s a practice that sets the conditions for something to appear, though the appearance can’t be forced.

I’d try to speak of this with greater clarity or at greater length, but I wasn’t lying when I said it can’t be expressed in words.  Across the street at school this would be very bad form, but it’s the honest truth that you either know what I’m talking about, or you don’t.  And if you don’t, and you want to, the only way is to sing hymns.  Just as the only way to find out what prayer is about is to pray.  Sing and pray with faith if you have it, and with openness if you don’t yet.  I figure I’m mostly preaching to the choir here, but it’s often the same if you want to understand so called secular activities.  I used to never understand running, at least if no one was chasing me.  I certainly understood the physical benefits of it, but since I’ve always been in good health and had a high metabolism, it was unfathomable to me that anyone would enjoy this.  If you’re not used to it, you start going, and then within a few minutes, your legs feel like led, your chest is burning, and your gasping for air, and then you’re sore for the next 48 hours.  And people claim to like this!  They claim that it gives them energy.  They say it’s an almost religious experience, and sometimes they drop the almost.

I confess, I thought they were lying until I started doing it a little over a month ago and by some miracle have managed to stick with it.  And it got more and more tolerable, with some ups and downs, and then last night for the first time, I think I had one of those runner’s highs.  And it was pretty sweet.  I never got dancing either, until I was in Germany two years ago, and I fell in with a group of Spaniards who persuaded me to go with them one night to—well, I wasn’t all that clear where we were going, but it turned out to be this club.  Now I was terror stricken.  This was not my scene, I didn’t know what to do.  But there was nothing to do except get into it, “just dance,” as Lady Gaga says.  Since you can’t actually hear anyone to talk to them, and standing there watching is boring, I decided I was going to fake it.  So I had a beer or two and started doing what everyone else was doing, and within a few songs, I had forgotten I was faking it.  And it actually was a religious experience, because it was like there was some sort of rupture in space-time or something, and the place was infused with this primal energy, and I recognized it, because it was very similar to what happens when you sing a good hymn, and I realized dancing in this club in Germany with a bunch of crazy Spaniards, that this was what Proverbs 8 was about.

“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

the first of his acts of long ago.

Ages ago I was set up, at the first,

before the beginning of the earth….

then I was beside him, like a master worker;

and I was daily his delight,

rejoicing before him always,

rejoicing in the inhabited world

and delighting in the human race.”

So you see that there are places where this power, force, energy, dynamism, whatever you want to call it really, shows itself and we get caught up into it.  And I believe Proverbs here has given us the vital clue we need to know that this thing originates in the very life of God.  Wisdom is God’s delight, God’s rejoicing.  God’s being is ecstatic.  But note that it’s a creative rather than a destructive ecstasy.  It’s somehow both ecstatic and rational.  It measures.  It builds.

So the being of God is ecstatic delight.  And it’s ecstatic because it’s relational.  Traditional Christian exegesis identifies this figure of Wisdom with the Son and finds here in Proverbs a revelation of the Trinity.  I can’t quite get on board with that.  But we can certainly say that believing in the Trinity as revealed in the incarnation of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit, we can look at Proverbs and find that it takes on a new resonance.  The delight of the life of God is the delight of the Father begetting the Son, and the Father and the Son sending the Holy Spirit.

Our confession of the Trinity is our fullest verbal expression of what we experience God to be.  It shows up unnamed in German dance clubs and lunchtime bluegrass concerts, unanticipated and usually unrecognized.  Here it has a name, and a face even, in Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God, beheld though the medium the Holy Spirit in radiant darkness.  I say the confession of the Trinity, because I don’t mean just believing in it and occasionally thinking about it, but standing up every week and saying “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, etc.”  Or perhaps I should use the words of our hymn and say the invocation of the Trinity.  But of course the words, or even the beliefs they express, are only the surface.  We live in an openness to the life of God that forms us into God’s likeness, into the likeness of the ecstatic delight that created us.

It does this by giving itself to us and drawing us into itself.  “Hope,” the apostle says, “does not disappoint us, for the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”  And that’s what this has all been driving at.  The love of God.  This rational ecstasy I’ve been talking about is love.  And maybe I should have just said so from the start.  The Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son.  The Trinity is the love of God.  And this means that God is nothing other than the love of God.  No words or concepts can grasp it, our creeds and even our actions can only hint at it.  But what God is revealed to be, love, is all that God is, and what we are to become.

I said that the confession and invocation of the Trinity is the fullest naming of what God is.  And I think I’m right about that.  And like singing or running or dancing, it’s a practice that you have to actually do in order to understand.  But the only purpose of understanding it is to do it better.  And there is a little bit more to it than saying the creed. As part of that confession, if you want to understand the love of God, you have to actually love.  And you have to actually someone.  I can’t explain it any better than the greatest theologian of the church, St. Augustine of Hippo, so why bother trying.  He writes, and I ask you to pardon the gendered language:

“There you are, God is love.  Why should we go running round the heights of the heavens and the depths of the earth looking for him who is with us if only we should wish to be with him?  Let no one say ‘I don’t know what to love.’  Let him love his brother, and love that love; after all, he knows the love he loves with better than the brother he loves.  There now, he can already have God better known to him than his brother, certainly better known because more present, better known because more inward to him, better known because more sure.  Embrace love which is God, and embrace God with love.  This is the love which unites all the good angels and all the servants of God in a bond of holiness, conjoins us and them together, and subjoins us to itself.  And the more we are cured of the tumor of pride, the fuller we are of love.  And if a man is full of love, what is he full of but God?” (De trinitate VIII.11-12).

So that’s it then.  The Trinity is the love of God, and is the love with which we must love God by loving our neighbor.  There are plenty of details to be worked out, but this is a sermon, and not my dissertation.  And if you don’t get it yet, I’m not going to make you understand it.  I’m done.  Say the creed, sing the hymn, love your neighbor.  And then you’ll either get the Trinity, or you won’t.  Either way, you live in it, and will become it.  So glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.

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Jun 03 2010

Sermon on Love by Caroline Perry

Published by under Student Writing

The Risk of Love

Caroline E. Perry

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2010

John 13:31-35

O God, Take our minds and think through them.

Take our lips and speak through them.

Take our hearts and set them on fire.

Have you ever had a moment when you realized the Bible wasn’t telling you what you wanted it to tell you? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this Gospel reading. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Growing up, I loved this passage. It seemed to me that, in spite of all my doubts, Christianity got this part right in a way that most of the world didn’t.

And then, as I got older and wiser and angrier, I began to notice the hypocrisy with which this passage is so often deployed. What does it mean to proclaim the message of unconditional, self-sacrificial Christian love in a world where so many people live in conditions of terrible oppression, oppression sustained and even actively promoted by the very Christians who claim this Gospel of Love? “Do not rise up in violence. Love your enemy! Your reward awaits you in heaven. Be patient!” How empty the appeal to Christian love becomes when used in this way! Most of us cannot claim to have lived through the sorts of gross, daily assaults on our human dignity that a slave, for example, might experience. But smaller violations occur all the time, instances where the unjust actions of one human being lead to such intense and needless suffering for another that love, quite frankly, doesn’t seem like an appropriate response. Give me the choice between justice and love, and I’ll choose justice any day of the week. I believe in a Messiah who liberates the oppressed, feeds the hungry, and ultimately calls us into the co-creation of a more just world. Love is empty without justice, and how often the former is substituted for the latter when the demands of justice threaten the status quo.

This was the message I meant to preach today. I wanted to salvage the vision of Christian love, which is really quite beautiful if properly understood, showing that the New Testament God of Love does not replace the Old Testament God of Justice, but rather justice is the foundation of real and authentic love. Love means having the courage to speak out for what’s right.

But where is Jesus in all of this? Where is Jesus, concretely, in this Gospel reading? John tends to be very abstract, and we are in danger of reading him in the same way. But looking at this passage in context, it becomes clear that Jesus’s call to love is anything but abstract. John opens Chapter 13 of his gospel by saying, “Jesus, having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end.” Thus begins the story of the Last Supper, in which the reading we heard today is sandwiched immediately between two prophecies. The first is that of Jesus’s betrayal at the hands of Judas. The second is the denial of Peter, one of Jesus’s most beloved friends, at the time of Jesus’s greatest need. I can’t begin to imagine what it might have been like for Jesus to prophesy these things, even knowing that they were part of a larger plan. John tells us that Jesus was “troubled in spirit” at the moment he told his disciples, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The Jesus of John’s Gospel does not fear his own crucifixion. John paints the image of a Jesus always in control, marching boldly to Calvary, finding his glory in his death. John, at least, would have us believe that Jesus was not too troubled by the prospect of his own suffering on the cross. But betrayal and abandonment by the ones he loved the most . . . these caused him exquisite grief.

Have you ever been hurt so badly that there was nothing left inside you for love?  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the offending party meant to do, or how or why it happened. The cold, hard fact is that forgiveness seems impossible and indeed unjustified, utterly incommensurable with the pain inflicted. At least, that was how it felt to me not long ago. I knew, maybe, that the person in question didn’t mean for it all to turn out exactly the way it turned out. And I knew that I still had obligations toward him because he is a human being. I couldn’t satisfy my thirst for pure revenge. There are ethical demands that must be met, and that whole “love your enemy” thing is important too. So, faced with these competing motivations, I, the philosopher, capable of self-righteously justifying almost anything, came up with a solution. I did not have to summon any manner of positive feelings toward this man. Inner hatred, even, was permissible. What was important was that I acted always in accordance with the concrete demands of justice. So long as I did not do anything objectively unethical, I was in the clear, and I could hold on to my righteous anger, too. It seemed sensible, and it worked for me, at least for a time.

But Jesus. Oh, Jesus. Jesus suffered more pain on account of those who were supposed to be his friends than I can possibly imagine. And he did not let them off the hook for their sins. Jesus prophesies the transgressions of Judas and Peter in very stark terms. The gravity of their sins is clear, and atonement must be made. But what does Jesus do then? He washes their feet. He calls them “little children,” τεκνια, the diminutive of a word for child that emphasizes natural birth. Like a mother, he calls them his own. And he dies for them. Jesus’s plea that his disciples should love one another conveys a certain urgency, and for good reason. He will be dead by late afternoon.

This is the kind of love we’re called to demonstrate. I don’t think it means we’re not supposed to get angry. There are times when anger is justified, and it can be transformative, both for the one who experiences it and for its recipient. It can force us to speak the truth in love, and to hear it. Certainly, it is better to give voice to anger than to stuff it up inside. But wrapped up in this experience is the possibility of genuine personal encounter. It means being able to see another person as a human being, as more than just his or her transgression, and to open oneself up to that reality. This is, I think, one of the most profound places of vulnerability in which we can find ourselves. Perhaps we will be challenged. Perhaps we will be transformed. Perhaps we will find ourselves facing the possibility of real repentance, μετανοια, which means most literally “to change one’s mind.” It conveys not just a shift in opinion, but rather a fundamental change in the way we view the world, ourselves, and on another.

I don’t know if you find this prospect as terrifying as I do. But I think Peter does. He doesn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, posing as a servant when he should be Lord. Similarly, in the reading from Acts, we find that he does not want to eat non-kosher meat, even at God’s direct command. In each instance, he first responds, “By no means.” Peter knows the rules. He knows how the world is ordered, and he’s comfortable with that. But the really wonderful thing about Peter is that even though he so doesn’t get it so much of time, ultimately he’s open to hearing the voice of God and proclaiming it. If he hadn’t been, the Gentiles might never have been welcomed into the Church. It is highly possible that they—excuse me, we—would never have had the opportunity to struggle with this text, to be confused and frightened and maybe even transformed by it.

I think I responded the way I did a year ago because I was scared. My response was to don protective armor that would shield me from further blows, from more pain that I just couldn’t handle. I was afraid to be vulnerable to someone who had hurt me for fear that it would happen again. And I was afraid that, if I let go of my anger, I would have nothing left. Appealing to the objective demands of justice was comforting because I understood clearly and logically what I had to do, and I could leave my emotions safely out of the equation. I don’t think I was unjustified in that. Please don’t think I’m telling you to be absolutely vulnerable all the time. Sometimes you must protect yourself as a matter of safety. But at the same time, I think it’s important, once you’ve gotten your footing in a place of relative security, to enter into that space of potentially transformative vulnerability, at least before God. For the past few weeks, I’ve been praying daily for this person who hurt me so badly. I’m still very angry. But I think that if I can at least begin to see him as a human being, as more than his transgression, that’s something. I am indeed finding myself open to transformation, to at least a hint of the repentance that leads to new life.

Has it happened to you?

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer . . . I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Amen.

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Apr 19 2010

The Future of Creation 2010: LSTC Celebration of Earth Year

Published by under News and Opportunities

The Future of Creation 2010
Foundations for a Just and Sustainable World

Presents a Celebration of Earth Year at LSTC

April 27, 2010 from 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM with Reception Following

Interfaith Perspectives
on Environmental Justice and Sustainability

Featuring Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Speakers:

Yossi Brackman
Rabbi and Director
Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Chicago and Hyde Park

Ghulam Haider Aasi
Professor and Chair of Islamic Studies
American Islamic College
Visiting Professor in Islamic Studies
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Rob Saler
Ph.D. Candidate in Theology
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

Sponsored By
Zygon Center for Religion and Science
Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice

This event is free and open to the public.  No pre-registration is required.
For more information, visit www.zygoncenter.org, email zcrs@lstc.edu, or call 773-256-0670.

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Apr 19 2010

Hunger, Homelessness, Food and Faith Event

Published by under News and Opportunities

Reflections at the Intersections of Hunger, Homelessness, Food & Faith
Thursday, April 29th 2010
6:00-8:00 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church of Chicago
64th and South Kimbark Avenue

Gathering people of faith who are working to end hunger and homelessness in their communities for a LIGHT MEAL and NETWORKING:

  • How are we working? Share ideas and resources for programs and activities
  • What is working? Learn about successes and challenges from each other’s experience
  • Resources available from EHHMT partner organizations: Angelic Organics Learning Center, Blacks in Green, Eco-Justice Collaborative, Facing Forward to End Homelessness, Faith in Place, Grace Seeds Ministry, and more

Please register/RSVP by April 22 to assist our planning.
To register or obtain more information, contact:
Michael Winters, EHHMT: rmwgrace@hotmail.com
Charlotte Lehmann, seminarian intern with AOLC: clehmann@meadville.edu

Convened by the End Hunger & Homelessness Mission Team (EHHMT) of the Chicago Presbytery.
Donations accepted!

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