Year 2 is Already Under Way!

Well we are already into week 5 of the fall semester and I apologize that it’s taken me this long to sit down and write an update! It’s already been an exciting, unusual, and eventful semester of my second year of seminary at Andover Newton Theological School. I’ll do my best to recap the past few weeks and give you a rundown of what this year will look like!

This year my biggest time commitment and most exciting ministry experience will be my 6 credits of field education, 3 in the fall and 3 in the spring. Basically what this amounts to is 15 hours/week of an internship in a ministry setting. Field education (or contextual education, or ministry formation… whatever you want to call it, different seminaries have different names but they are all the same idea) is arguably the most important experience one can have in theological school, because it gives you practical, hands-on ministry experience with intentional supervision and theological reflection built into each semester. Fun fact: the field ed program at Andover Newton is actually one of the oldest and most innovative programs of its kind, as one of the first to offer on-campus courses associated with field experiences, which is a significant piece of our field ed year.

Anyway, I am so pleased to share that this year I will be completing field ed at the Memorial Church of Harvard University. Located right in the middle of Harvard Yard, Memorial Church is a non-denominational congregation and “space of grace” for Harvard students, faculty, staff, local alumni, and friends of the university. The Harvard University chaplains (there are around 30 chaplains representing multiple faiths and traditions) have office space in this building and the Harvard University choir provides sacred music for the almost all of the services (can I say it is an absolute privilege to hear this outstanding choir every…single…week?). For decades the late Rev. Peter Gomes was the face of Memorial Church and he was known around the country for his outstanding preaching before he died unexpectedly in 2011. Today the church is led by Professor Jonathan Walton, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, and by Rev. Lucy Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain to the University and Senior Minister in the Memorial Church. Rev. Lucy is my supervisor, and full of wisdom and years of campus ministry experience, she leads me and six other seminarians/interns serving the Memorial Church this year.

The Memorial Church of Harvard University

The Memorial Church of Harvard University

My view from the front of the church (obviously on Sunday mornings the pews aren't empty!)

My view from the front of the church (obviously on Sunday mornings the pews aren’t empty!)

The view from the back of the church

The view from the back of the church

Along with helping to lead Sunday morning services, as a Seminarian in the Memorial Church I lead a Morning Prayers service one day a week, help with other special services, serve as a host for guest speakers and preachers, participate in a weekly seminar with other seminarians/interns, meet for one-on-one supervision with Lucy, and complete one or two additional personal projects that take the form of ministry to college students and/or the Memorial Church community. Whew! It makes for a busy week, and that’s just field ed! I’m still in the beginning stages of this experience, trying to learn as much as I can about the congregation and history of Memorial Church, the culture at Harvard, the role of the Harvard chaplains, the flow of worship, and how I fit into it all. Please pray for me as I continue to learn and grow in this exciting and challenging role.

In addition to field ed, I am taking 3 other courses this semester. On Monday mornings I am taking “New Testament Foundations,” which is the basic introductory course for New Testament. Last spring I already took an upper-level NT class, so I have to go back and take the intro course, which should be interesting and important but not one that I am too worried about.

On Wednesday mornings I take a unique class called “Spiritual Practices for Healing and Wholeness.” Like the title suggests, the goal of this class is to both learn about and practice spiritual disciplines like centering prayer, welcoming prayer, lectio divina, Sabbath, and other important practices. The idea is that we as ministers need to have a solid foundation in spiritual practices and intentionally connecting with God if we want to teach and support others to do the same. This is a four-hour class that begins with an hour of yoga each week, which I love. While it might sound like an easy course (and it is graded Pass/Fail), it really is a challenging class and one that will serve each of us in the long run probably more than any other class in seminary.

My third class takes place on Thursday mornings and it is Systematic Theology I. This is one of the few specifically required courses at Andover Newton and if you ask most students, it is one of the most intimidating. Basically systematic theology looks at various theological concepts throughout history and today in a systematic way, how they have changed and evolved, and how various theological perspectives have interpreted them over the years (liberation theology, feminist theology, etc.) At ANTS we take systematic theology over 2 semesters, so Part I is in the fall and Part II is in the spring. This fall we examine four concepts in depth: revelation and authority, human nature, God, and the person and work of Christ. We read theologians from the early centuries of Christianity, through the Reformation, to current theologians. Then we get to decide what we think about these concepts. No pressure, right? 😉

So those are my courses, which along with field ed, should keep me on my toes this semester! However I am super excited to share that I’m also participating in something else this year that has really been a goal of mine since I arrived at ANTS.

This year I am a CIRCLE Fellow. CIRCLE is the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education, a joint initiative between Andover Newton and Hebrew College, the two schools on our little hill. CIRCLE is pretty much responsible for all of the interfaith programming that occurs on our campuses, and it’s run by Rabbi Or Rose who is the Director of the Center for Global Judaism at HC, Celene Ayat Ibrahim-Lizzio who is an Islamic Scholar in Residence on the faculty of both HC and ANTS, and Dr. Jenny Peace who is the Assistant Professor of Interfaith Studies at ANTS (my advisor and the person whose work really drew me to ANTS in the first place.) The CIRCLE Fellowships go like this: we apply in partnership with a person of a faith different than ours, and we propose a project for the year that will engage students at ANTS, HC, and members from the surrounding community in interfaith learning and relationship building.

This year as a CIRCLE Fellow I am excited to partner with a bright and sweet woman named Basma, who is a Muslim community member and PhD student at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Her family moved to Boston for her husband to complete his PhD at Brandies University and they will return to Cairo in a few years when he is finished. However in the mean time I am so excited to get to know Basma and to work in partnership with her this year! As Fellows, our project is an interfaith peer group called “Portrayal of the Religious Other in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Scriptures.” In a discussion group made up of students from HC, ANTS, and folks from the community, we will examine passages from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an that involve or portray a person of a different faith, what we can learn, and how we respond as people of faith. We will meet once a month, and our first gathering is next Monday! In addition to the learning and discovery that will take place in our peer group, all of the CIRCLE Fellows meet once a month for professional development, getting to know each other, and learning from our directors. Just this past weekend we all gathered at Celene’s home in New Hampshire for a retreat in which we ate delicious food, practiced storytelling with one another, and prepared for the exciting events in the year ahead.

So… that’s my semester! Of course, there are always other things going on, such as continuing to write monthly articles for State of Formation (find my most recent articles here), preparing for my upcoming Border-Crossing trip to Myanmar in January (click here to learn how to support this opportunity financially), resuming my part-time job in our campus dining hall, and continuing to meet once a week with my prayer group for a time of mutual support and holding one anther in prayer. There have also been some recent events related to our school and our new president that have truly shaken our students, faculty, and staff, in addition to many, many more people beyond our campus, and for certain reasons I am not ready to share about it on this blog. However if you could please keep Andover Newton and our leadership in your prayers, it will be needed and felt more than you know.

As always, I am so thankful for you, taking the time to read this and sending along your words of encouragement as I dive into the second year of my theological education. I have to keep reminding myself that seminary is a special time, and I will probably never have a community and an educational environment like this again in my life. While some days I wish I could fast forward to the day when my degree is completed, my student loans are being paid off (!!!), and I’m serving God in a ministry that is challenging and rewarding, I always need to remember to give thanks for this day, for THIS day, and the many lessons and life experiences that I am blessed to receive.

And just because I think it’s so cool, I’ll leave you with this, something I read in one of my books for systematic theology this week:

“To live in Christian hope is to live in the expectation that by God’s grace things can change, disease and death do not have the last word about human destiny, peace is possible, reconciliation between enemies can occur, and we are called to pray and work towards these ends.” – D. Migliore

Amen, and amen!


A Corinthian Conversation

I am part of an interfaith peer group through Andover Newton and Hebrew College’s CIRCLE program (Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education). The group is called “Engaging Sacred Sources of Violence” and we examine scripture, rituals, and stories from the Jewish and Christian traditions that are violent or otherwise not life-affirming for women. Julie, an ANTS student, and Salem, a rabbinical student at HC, are the two intelligent and thoughtful CIRCLE Fellows and co-leaders for this peer group. When we met in February, I was asked to lead the discussion and chose to examine 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, part of the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, as recorded in the New Testament. Last month our conversation around this text was so engaging that we could not get to all of the material in just 45 minutes, so we continued our discussion today. The text is as follows:

2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husbanda is the head of his wife,b and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflectionc of God; but woman is the reflectiond of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol ofe authority on her head,f because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

a The same Greek work means man or husband
b Or head of the woman
c Or glory
d Or glory
e Greek lacks a symbol of
f Or have freedom of choice regarding her head

Obviously this is a difficult text, especially for women. I mean, verse 7 alone: “For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man”… ouch. I wish I had the space (and your attention span!) to recount everything that I researched and, more importantly, everything that we discussed about this passage over two different sessions. If I was going to share everything…

…We could go in depth about the historical, geographical, and religious context of the Corinthian church to whom this letter was written: what head coverings and hairstyles meant and symbolized for the rituals of Greek and Roman religions, and how physical gender differentiation was important for many writers of that time, not just Paul.

…Furthermore, we might examine the rhetorical devices and language that Paul uses in this text: how he balances and frames his argument (when men pray with their heads uncovered, they pray properly, but when women pray with their heads uncovered, they are not praying properly), how certain Greek words can have various English translations and what those translations imply about the meaning of the passage (biblical scholars have found verse 10 to be an especially tricky verse to translate).

…We could also note how Paul appears to change his mind halfway through this text. He does argue in in verses 8 and 9 that “man was not made from woman but woman from man” and “neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.” These words are troubling to hear, no doubt. But just a few sentences later… “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman but all things come from God.” This is a striking reversal of the statement he just made in verses 8 and 9, implying mutuality or even equality between men and women. So what does Paul really think about relationships between men and women in this passage, let alone his thoughts on head coverings? If you really look, it is challenging to come up with one argument to sum it all up, without any sort of nuance or qualifiers.

Now, I know that an in-depth text study might not be the thing that you are most excited to read about (what can I say… seminarians and rabbinical students tend to like this sort of thing). But what made our discussions around this passage so engaging, and what I hope you’ll find interesting as well, was not so much the text per se, but the individuals and perspectives in the conversation itself. We discussed varying values and authority of scripture, how Jews and Christians look at and understand their sacred texts in different ways, and how we use scripture in worship and in our personal and daily lives.

For example, Salem shared that, in some Jewish communities, the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) is read in worship all the way through in a year. This means that (theoretically) all Jews read and hear each part of the Torah at least once a year, including the texts that are encouraging and affirming, and also the texts that are troubling, confusing, or violent. In one way, this can be empowering because even if each specific passage is not preached on, you still hear each passage, and, as Salem put it, “the onus is on all the people,” to hear and acknowledge each part of the Torah. Yet as Salem reminded us, the fact that each year the community is “forced” to listen to certain stories and passages without much choice could also be considered a kind of violence.

In turn, Julie and I thought about the practice of reading scripture in Christian worship, and the variations of doing so. Some churches follow the lectionary, where the texts and scripture lessons are already planned, and any Christian community anywhere in the world who is following that lectionary is hearing and preaching on the same text that day. This has many similarities to the reading of the Torah that Salem described. Other churches (like the Church of the Brethren) do not follow a lectionary, and thus pastors and worship leaders choose which passage and lesson will be the focus of worship each week. Some of the questions we raised were: What does it mean when a faith community can pick and choose which passages to read? Is there freedom or is there censorship in those choices? Life-affirming or not, who gets to decide which texts are preached on and which texts are ignored or never taught?

But really, you’re asking…what does all this have to do with this passage from 1 Corinthians? Well, for one, we were wondering what we might do with a passage like this on a Sunday morning, a passage that clearly gives some mixed messages about gender relations, but also has significant theological implications that have been pervasive throughout church history. Some of the theology of this text (God > Christ > Man > Woman, in verse 3) has been used to justify gendered hierarchy within the church, patriarchy in Christendom and beyond, and oppression and violence toward women because they are not “in the image and reflection of God” as men are, according to verse 7 of this passage. But as Christians we cannot deny that such a troubling passage is still part of our sacred scriptures. Do we say that this theology and this specific passage is sacred? From the pulpit? (What about in a bible study, or during a one-on-one with a women who has experienced domestic violence?) Or do we choose to reject this passage and passages like it as being from a different time and culture than ours and therefore irrelevant and untrue in the 21st century world? Or do we intentionally choose to engage with this text, examine the complexities and nuance in the words and translation, acknowledge and lament the ways in which this text has been used to subjugate and harm women, and work as a community to figure out if or how 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 can be part of our holy and sacred scriptures?

If you couldn’t tell, I am just brushing up against the surface of what is really an iceberg of a discussion. There is so much more that could be said, and I’m choosing a small part to share with you here. Also, I am not claiming in any way to have this figured out, for myself or others. But I’m curious: what do you think? If you are a Christian, has this text (or texts like it) ever been preached on or discussed in your church or bible study? Have you yourself preached on this text? How might this passage be handled in a faith community that also considers other, life-affirming words of Paul (such as Galatians 3:28) to be inspired teaching? If you are committed to a different faith or worldview than Christianity, how does your community approach challenging texts or sacred sources that justify or at least imply subjugation, oppression, or violence?

Thanks for learning with me, and supporting my ongoing lessons about God, faith, and community.

Community Day: Interfaith Learning on the Hill

Last week I attended the Andover Newton and Hebrew College Joint Community Day. The event was sponsored by Andover Newton, Hebrew College, and the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education (CIRCLE). This was a day I had been looking forward to for weeks! Both schools cancel classes for one day and come together for a day of interfaith learning and dialogue on our two campuses located atop this hill in Newton. The goal of Community Day is to engage the students, faculty, and staff of our two institutions in learning with one another, instead of just about one another.

The day’s theme was “I Have a Dream: Living the Legacy,” in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech at the March on Washington. To honor this theme, the day began with opening reflections in ANTS’ Wilson Chapel on the legacy of Dr. King from various students and staff, followed by havruta discussions (a Jewish educational method of learning in pairs) on another, lesser-known civil rights leader, Diane Nash, and her legacy of leadership. Next, I attended a morning session on “Muslim and Christian Models of Leadership Formation,” where we discussed varying understandings and changing expectations of leadership in our faith communities. Following lunch at Hebrew College, the program resumed in the afternoon with another round of breakout sessions and I attended the session for the CIRCLE group I am part of, “Troubling Texts: Exploring Religious Sources of Violence.” We examined scripture from the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 16) and the New Testament (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) that have not been understood to be life-affirming for women. The day ended with an interfaith concert highlighting and honoring our faith traditions and leaders through music, video, spoken word, and dance.

I loved Community Day, which is not surprising because this type of interfaith engagement and relationship between the two institutions was my main reason for attending Andover Newton in the first place! I felt inspired and affirmed when I listened to my classmates share their reflections on Dr. King, when a new acquaintance told me his story about why he felt called to rabbinical school, and when Kol Arev (the choir of Hebrew College) brought forth their musical talents during the final concert. On a personal note, I was humbled and honored to be asked to read part of a speech by twentieth century Jewish scholar and leader Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel as part of the concert. I loved the intentionality of the organizers: Jewish rabbinical student was asked to read part of a sermon by Rev. King and a Christian student (me) was sought out to read the words of Rabbi Heschel. I believe this seemingly small decision added a depth of meaning to the words themselves, affirming that they are timeless and bound to no particular faith or faith leader, but rather they are accessible, striking, and significant for persons of all faiths and backgrounds. I believe that choosing the legacy of King, Heschel, Nash, and other faith leaders as the main theme for Community Day was an excellent decision, one that both affirms and challenges us as faith leaders to live into their legacy.

Community Day impacted my own understanding of interfaith by highlighting how the use of the arts can be a beautiful and effective tool to reach across boundaries. This is not a completely new concept for me, as I was a member of Juniata College’s concert choir, which traveled internationally every year and crossed national, ethnic, and cultural boundaries through the gift of music. However the use of music, media, and dance during the final interfaith concert demonstrated the power and universality of these gifts in specifically interfaith encounters. I hope that I can use this insight in the future as I seek to create opportunities for others to genuinely and effectively engage across religious lines.

In closing, I’d love to share Rabbi Heschel’s speech that I was asked to read. Afterwards, many people in attendance came up to me and told me how powerfully I delivered these words. These affirmations were especially meaningful to me, because I too felt a presence and a power while I was reading. It is difficult to articulate, but somehow I felt the words of this great faith leader echo in my bones, spring forth from my mouth, and bounce off the walls as we remembered and honored a legacy of prophetic wisdom and justice. May they resound with you as well.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Religion and Race,” January 14, 1963 

At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses’ words were: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me.” While Pharaoh retorted: “Who is the Lord, that I should heed this voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go.”

The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.

Let us dodge no issues. Let us yield no inch to bigotry, let us make no compromise with callousness.

In the words of William Lloyd Garrison, “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject [slavery] I do not wish to think, to speak, or to write with moderation. I am in earnest–I will not equivocate -I will not excuse–I will not retreat a single inch–and I will be heard.”

Religion and race. How can the two be uttered together? To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child. To act in the spirit of race is to sunder, to slash, to dismember the flesh of living humanity. Is this the way to honor a father: to torture his child? How can we hear the word “race” and feel no self reproach?

Race as a normative legal or political concept is capable of expanding to formidable dimensions. A mere thought, it extends to become a way of thinking, a highway of insolence, as well as a standard of values, overriding truth, justice, beauty. As a standard of values and behavior, race operates as a comprehensive doctrine, as racism. And racism is worse than idolatry. Racism is satanism, unmitigated evil.

Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called “Religion or Race.” You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.

Shortly before he died, Moses spoke to his people. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). The aim of this conference is first of all to state clearly the stark alternative. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have set before you religion and race, life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life.

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.

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!