Spring! …Semester, That Is

Spring has sprung! At least for the academic year, anyway. (The current temperature begs to differ.) I’m gearing up for what looks to be an exciting semester, and before things become too hectic around here, I thought I’d share a little about what I have to look forward to and what’s been on my mind.

I’m taking 4 courses again, and continuing to work as a cashier in the campus dining hall. In addition to classes and work, I am also becoming more involved in an interfaith peer group through a program of Andover Newton and Hebrew College called CIRCLE (Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education). This semester I am very happy that I am able to participate in the community choir that sings at our weekly worship services. Oh, and did I mention that throughout the semester I will be researching, interviewing, and eventually confirming a ministry site where I’ll complete next year’s required field education? There are many exciting possibilities that this spring will bring!

My classes this semester include: Introduction to Christian Social Ethics (which involves reading important people like Reinhold Niebuhr and Chimamanda Adichie); A Hundred Years of Preaching: 20th Century U.S. Sermons (paying special attention to progressive mainline preaching, Pentecostal preaching, and African-American preaching); Jesus, Paul, and Judaism (a New Testament course examining how Judaism influenced Jesus and Paul in the shaping of early Christianity); and Understanding Interfaith (an online course that unpacks “interfaith” personally, historically, theologically, and practically). Sounds like a fun course load to me!

Just a FEW of my books for the semester

Just a FEW of my books for the semester

I mentioned that I am part of an interfaith peer group through the CIRCLE program. The topic for my group is Engaging Sacred Sources of Violence, and it is co-led by an MA student from Andover Newton and a rabbinical student from Hebrew College. The goal is to explore and interrogate sources from our Christian and Jewish traditions that are not and have not been interpreted as life affirming for women, and this includes not just scripture but also traditions and practices. On Monday I am taking a turn leading our discussion, and in preparation I’ve been researching 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where Paul writes about women covering their heads while they pray. (If you aren’t sure what this passage has to do with violence, go ahead and read it… Or better yet, perhaps I will blog about it in the future!) This group has been a great way to form significant relationships and to immerse myself in a different type of learning outside of the classroom setting. I would love to lead a CIRCLE peer group of my own in the future.

All of these priorities and commitments (class, work, CIRCLE, choir, planning for next year…etc. etc. etc.) can add up to very full days and not much room for self-care. And admittedly, at times I can be pretty lax about taking care of ME, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s where community and discipline come in to play. In the middle of finals week last December, a few friends of mine decided to be intentional about self-care in community with others. We started a small prayer group where we can come together to care for and hold each other in sacred time and space. Without our trying, it even turned out to be an interfaith group, with two women from the United Church of Christ, two who are Unitarian Universalist, and one who is Church of the Brethren (you get one guess as to who that one is…) But while it might seem like a small thing, what an enormous amount of support and love a group like this can generate. I am so grateful! Additionally I have started practicing yoga most mornings, with the guidance and suggestions of a friend who is trained in yoga therapy. When we met for the first time, she asked me, “Does practicing yoga conflict with any of your Christian beliefs?” In my opinion, for too long the Church has frowned on our earthly bodies, or the “flesh,” as separate and sinful compared to our “spirit.” But to what end? Our bodies are real, our hands serve and our arms hold others in love, our feet walk and run to do the work that brings the restoration of God’s kingdom. By using yoga as a spiritual practice, I do my part to redeem the flesh and body that is mine, to be thankful for my body and my soul that was created in the image of God.

So there are many things to look forward to this semester, and I am grateful to be back in a routine with my classmates and friends. But… can I be honest? I am still worried and can become quite stressed about things that, in all honesty, are out of my control right now. Where will I be and what will I be doing this summer? How can I pay the extra rent to keep my same apartment next year? How much am I in debt, and how much more debt am I accumulating right now? When these questions and concerns arise, I do well to remember that God is faithful. Be still, I read in Psalm 46, and know that I am God. And yet I ask, will you pray with me? Pray that I find Christ’s peace in this time and place, that I feel the Spirit’s assuring presence, and that I rest in God’s faithfulness and promise in this call. Amen and amen. Your prayers are felt and welcomed. Thank you.

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Sacred Encounter

Teaching is creating a community where truth is discovered. –Parker Palmer

Imagine this: You walk into a room full of people, most of whom you’ve never met. You come from different parts of the United States, and also from different parts of the world. Some of the people in the room come from a similar background and hold a similar worldview to your own. However, you are positive that there are many in the room who look at the world much differently, and who hold assumptions about faith, community, and identity in a much different way than you. You know you’ll disagree on more than one of these assumptions. Additionally, you’ve entered the room to engage in a topic with which you personally have very little experience, but you’re also pretty sure that a lot of the folks in the room have years and years of experience to draw from. And before anyone has officially met anyone else or begun a conversation around that topic, you have all committed to spending over 30 hours together in a five-day period.

Does that sound fun or what? Because that was a pretty accurate, although simplified, description of my experience last week!

During the month of January, Andover Newton has a winter session, during which students can opt to enroll in a two-week or a one-week intensive course before the spring semester begins. Several courses are offered during this time and I chose a class on religious education called “Teaching In and Across Religious Traditions.” What made this course unique was the fact that it was co-taught by a professor from Andover Newton and a rabbi from Hebrew College, the institution with which we share a campus. The students enrolled in the class were Jewish students from HC, and Christian and Unitarian Universalist students from ANTS. So in addition to exploring and practicing the art of religious education within our own faiths, we also discussed what is to be learned from interfaith encounters and ministries.

Obviously, it was an intense week; to fit an entire semester’s worth of class time, required reading, and assignments into five days was exhausting! There are so many moments and experiences that I would love to share with you: the little “interfaith moments” that occurred when one student would mention some aspect of their faith tradition and another student of a different faith would interrupt to ask a question or ask for an elaboration; the afternoon we spent visiting and observing classrooms, teachers, and students at a Jewish day school in the area; the various lessons that our small groups prepared throughout the week and then taught the class; the evening interfaith panel with guests sharing about teaching and learning in the presence of the religious “other;” the afternoon we learned from the Hebrew College students about the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat and then celebrated with a mini Seder in class…just to name a few!

For the sake of my own learning and hopefully to sum up my experiences and takeaways, I will share with you an adaptation of a short essay I wrote in class on the last day. As a result of our class discussions and learning opportunities, we were asked to reflect on our perception of ourselves as religious educators both within our own faith traditions and in exploring interactions and encounters across faith traditions. As you can see, I started this response timidly but eventually came to a stronger and more confident understanding by the end:

This is a hard question for me to answer, because truthfully I’ve never thought of myself as an educator, let alone a religious educator. I suppose after this week I see myself as a question-poser. This isn’t really a surprise, coming from the fact that in my Meyers Briggs profile, I am an N for Intuition, which means that in making sense of my day-to-day experiences, I am likely to interpret events in terms of inherent possibility for the future. I tend to value questions and speculation such as, “What if…”, “What might happen if…”, or “What this could mean is…” rather than definitive or absolute answers.

In class this week we talked a lot about education as question- or problem-posing. Educator and thinker Paulo Freire preferred the type of education that poses questions or problems and then invites creative response from the community. Jewish intellectual and rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s most common response to questions in the classroom was, “Is that the right question?” Within the Christian tradition, when Jesus was asked a question by one of his disciples or followers, more often than not, he responded by asking another question. (Perhaps this was also a reflection of his Jewish-ness!)

Additionally, over the past six months of seminary, I have come to understand the jurisdiction of the minister as meaning-making. So perhaps my role as a religious educator is helping others to create and pose questions of meaning in community. In this way, the religious educator is not that much different from the minister. [ This probably isn’t a surprise, but cut me some slack here… I’m learning! 🙂 ]

I also want to take seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 5. The Sermon on the Mount is a beloved part of the Christian scriptures and it is especially valued in the Church of the Brethren. Jesus’ words in verse 9 come from what have been called the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Personally, I look at the violence and animosity in this world as stemming, in part, from intolerance and hatred across religious and ideological differences. If I am to be a peacemaker as Christ calls me to be, I must take seriously this problem and use my framework and authority as a minister to educate and plant seeds of religious literacy, respect, and cooperation in Christians for other faith traditions.

In summation, standing on a foundation of my question-posing orientation, I understand my role as a religious educator to be one of opening up possibilities of both meaning-making within my own tradition and of living in peace with our religious and non-religious neighbors.

Our class on our visit to the Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston Jewish Day School

Our class on our visit to the Solomon Schechter of Greater Boston Jewish Day School

I feel so blessed to have experienced this time of sacred encounter with my religious neighbors, and I am still full with the lessons and stories shared throughout the week. As always, I am deeply grateful for your support and especially for your prayers during this challenging yet rewarding phase of my ministry journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you!