Chapel Center Gardening Begins!

There’s something brand new at the Chapel Center!

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St Anselm: Faith Seeking Understanding

Our university chapel is named for Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), a particularly apt choice for an academic setting since Anselm is usually remembered as the “Father of Scholasticism.”  Anselm was born in Aosta, Italy, the son of a Lombard nobleman.  At the age of 15, he felt called to join a monastery but after an initial examination was rejected by the abbot.  Ten years later, after living the “frivolous” life of a young nobleman, his sense of call sent him back to the monastery.  This time he was admitted.  In three years, his fellow monks elected him to the position of prior.  Fifteen years later, he became the abbot.

Anselm wrote many influential works in the areas of philosophy and theology, approaching these subjects with rational, intellectual argument tempered by a generous and sensitive spirit.  His writing is perhaps best known for this balance of reason and faith, which he characterized as “faith seeking understanding”:

I want to understand something of the truth which my heart believes and loves.  I do not seek thus to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.

His public life was marked by ongoing power struggles with the state (i.e. ruling King William and later Henry I) but it was at home in the monastery that he was at his best.  He was remembered for encouraging questioning rather than blind obedience from the monks under his charge, a philosophy that seems a timely reminder for today’s educational system:

If you plant a tree and bind it on all sides so that the branches will not spread out, what sort of tree will it be when in later years you give it room to spread?  Yet that is how children are often treated in their learning, debarring them from the enjoyment of freedom.

In Paradiso, Dante names Anselm as one of the spirits of light and power and it is this spirit of generosity and compassion that best characterizes Anselm.  A story is told that he once came upon a boy who had tied a string to a bird’s leg to keep it from flying away.  Anselm cut the string and said:

The bird flies away;

the boy cries;

God is glad.”

Forward Day by Day is a wonderful little quarterly devotional publication of Forward Movement, an official non-profit agency of the Episcopal church.  The current edition concludes with the following prayers from St Anselm:

MY PRAYER IS A COLD LITTLE THING, LORD, because it burns with so faint a flame. But you are rich in mercy. As your kindness is above all human love, so let your eagerness to hear be greater than what I feel when I pray.

LORD, I AM NOT TRYING TO REACH YOUR HEIGHT, for my poor mind could not even approach it. But I do want to understand the little of your truth which my heart already believes and loves. I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand; and further, I believe that unless I believe I shall never understand.

I HAVE FOUND A FULLNESS OF JOY that is more than full. This joy fills the whole heart, mind, and soul; it fills the entire person, yet there remains more joy that is beyond measuring. God of truth, I ask that I may receive so that my joy may be full. Meanwhile, may my mind meditate on it, my tongue speak of it, my heart love it, my mouth proclaim it, my soul hunger for it, my flesh thirst for it, and my whole being desire it, until I enter into the joy of my Lord, who is God, triune unity, blessed forever.

YOU ONLY ARE MIGHTY, LORD; you only are merciful. Whatever you cause me to desire for my enemies, give it to them and give the same to me, and if what I ask for them is ever outside the rule of love, whether through weakness, ignorance, or malice, give it neither to them, good Lord, nor to me.

Amen.

Are You “Spiritual But Not Religious”?

Our upcoming Young Adult retreat at Dayspring, our diocesan conference center, is entitled “Spiritual But Not Religious,” referencing that ubiquitous label many folks use today to indicate having an interest in matters of the spirit without making a commitment to traditional organized religion.  Both the phrase and the acronym (SBNR) have become commonplace in today’s lingo, on the web and Facebook.  It has even been used as the title for a book on alternative American spirituality, in which author Robert C. Fuller states that one out of every five Americans currently describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

The label is perhaps a little misleading.  After all, both “spiritual” and “religious” start from a similar premise: a belief in a Higher Power, the desire to connect with that Higher Power, and an interest in some sort of ritual or behavior having to do with that connection.  In today’s society, however, “spiritual” is often used to refer to private or personal belief, while “religious” generally involves public membership in a religious institution (i.e. church).  In comparisons such as “spiritual but not religious,” the word “spiritual” tends to carry a more positive connotation than “religious,” which is used to imply blind adherence to the outward rituals of belief without the underlying commitment, rather like the difference between playing a rhapsody (“spiritual”) versus practicing scales (“religious”).

The word “religion” may be derived from the Latin re (“back”) and ligare (“to bind”).  Thus, to be “religiouscan literally be interpreted as “being bound” and, in this sense, SBNR reflects a desire not to be bound by traditional beliefs, rules, and community.  Baptist seminary professor Timothy Paul Jones says: “‘Spiritual’ has, in some sense, come to mean ‘my own personal religion with my own individual creed.'”

In a Christianity Today article (“Faith Unbound: Why Spirituality is Sexy but Religion is Not“), author Mollie Hemingway goes a step further: “Being spiritual but not religious is the perfect fit for people who don’t like the demands of religion but aren’t quite ready to say they have no soul.”  Is SBNR  perhaps just “Burger King” spirituality?  (Have It Your Way?)

A look at the SBNR website just might make you wonder.  Under a banner of “Love is the answer/You are the question” you will find the following statement of purpose:

Dedicated to serving the millions of people worldwide who walk a spiritual path outside traditional religion.  We honor your personal journey and offer inspiration, education, and entertainment to aid your experience of being human.

Not exactly something you will find in the Book of Common Prayer, though after reading this I did wonder how many times I myself have come to worship on Sunday morning hoping to be “inspired, educated, and entertained”!  I also wondered what it is that Young Adult seekers are looking for in church and how it is that so many of them leave to become “spiritual but not religious”?  What do we as the Church need to do to “pull them in”?  Should we add that “Contemporary Worship” service to the church schedule?  Do we need to plug in guitars, roll out the drums, and add some upbeat music with snappy Jesus lyrics?  Should we ditch time-honored liturgies for some trendy, relevant sermons pulled from today’s headlines? Or does this carrot-on-a-stick approach only do more harm than good? 

In “Spiritual But Not Religious: Reaching an Invisible Generation,” author Roland Martinson describes young adults as the “invisible generation,” mostly ignored by the Church and left alone to sort out the larger issues of life (i.e. foundational choices of career and mate).  The prevailing laissez-faire attitude of the Church towards young adults seems to be that they are “too busy”at this point in their lives for church and that they will “be back later” when they’ve finished this part of their life journey.  Many young adults are certainly “pilgrims” in our midst, here temporarily on their way to other schools and jobs.  However, as Martinson writes:

The church does well with settlers but not nearly as well with pilgrims, that is, people living in transition theologically, morally, relationally, and geographically, who ask tough questions.

How do we change this?  In examining the young adult who have stayed in church (the “YA remnant”), a number of “faith factors” emerge,  common denominators that strengthened ties with the faith community:

  • The presence of adult mentors and leaders
  • Service (“doing God”) with others
  • Apprenticeship into leadership roles at an early age
  • Finding a safe and open place for questioning
  • The foundation of a strong senior high ministry
  • Engaging worship experiences
  • Friends within the faith community
  • Community support during times of crisis

Martinson asks: “Will our faith have children?  Will our faith have adults? Will our faith have leaders?”  The answer to all these questions lies in the young people in our midst.  We need to designate the resources–as individuals, as congregations, and as the Church–to develop the role of YA’s in our congregations, making sure that they do not feel invisible and do not become “spiritual but not religious.”

Labyrinths: Walking A Right-Brain Spiritual Path

The Chapel Center @ USF has an outdoor labyrinth (pictured left).  It is in the middle of an open field by a busy highway, usually baking under scorching Florida sunshine, unused and virtually ignored except for an occasional mowing to clear stray weeds.  One of my proposed projects for the upcoming school year (assisted by the creativity and manpower of returning students, of course!) is to do something so that our labyrinth becomes more useful and used.

Which of course begs the question: what exactly is a labyrinth, how is it used and why is it useful?

If you look up “labyrinth” as a subject, most commentaries start by referencing King Minos of Crete who, according to Greek historian Herodotus (c. 450 B.C.), commissioned inventor Daedalus to design a labyrinth to house the monster Minotaur.  (Daedalus, you might remember, was also the inventor who designed wax wings for his son Icarus with tragic results.)

Daedalus’ labyrinth was purposefully designed with false turns and dead ends so that those who entered could not escape and would became human sacrifices to the monster.  Daedalus’ labyrinth is actually a misnomer: it was in fact a maze, a multicursal construction with many entrances and many choices, many of which are wrong turns and lead to dead ends.

A labyrinth, on the other hand, is a unicursal design with one entrance, leading in one direction.  The user moves back and forth in a series of curves, arriving at the center and then repeating the process to travel out to the edge.

This unicursal design was used in many ancient cultures, from Egypt and Etruria, where its orderly design was thought to keep evil spirits from tombs, to Rome, where it was used as a test of skill for horseback riders.

The labyrinth used in some churches today is more directly related to those found in cathedrals in the Middle Ages, the most famous of which was built in Chartres Cathedral around 1200.  These labyrinths were embedded in the cathedral floors and served as a devotional substitute for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a journey which was too expensive and difficult for most would-be pilgrims.

By the 17th century many of these cathedral labyrinths had been removed or destroyed.  We aren’t sure exactly why.  Some historians have suggested that the original purpose had been forgotten.  One cathedral canon from the mid 1600’s is quoted as saying that the labyrinth was “a senseless game, a waste of time.” It may have served as a distraction during Mass–sort of an indoor hopscotch for children.  Or perhaps the pervailing atmosphere of Rationalism and Enlightenment caused folks to determine that the symbolism of the labyrinth was no more than a holdover from a superstitious past.

Whatever the reason, labyrinths disappeared for many years, only to be reintroduced in the 1990’s.  They can now be found in churches, retreat centers, community centers, health spas, and tourist resorts.

It is interesting to me that, in researching this post, the most complete and thorough article I located was not from a theological or religious publication but from the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.  “Walking the labyrinth” is believed to have many benefits to the user; the chief of which being that it allows the user to temporarily suspend “left brain” (logical, analytical, fact-based) activity while encouraging “right brain” creativity, imagination, and intuition.  This can result in: finding answers to personal problems, developing a sense of inner peace, reawakening an interest in personal religion, an improved ability to manage pain, and faster healing from injury or surgery.

(I myself would settle for just a small break from monkey brain.)

According to one writer from the National Catholic Reporter: “The labyrinth is a universal symbol for the world, with its complications and difficulties, which we experience on our journey through life.  The entry to the labyrinth is birth; the center is death and eternal life.  In Christian terms, the thread that leads us through life is divine grace.  Like any pilgrimage, the labyrinth represents the inner pilgrimage we are called to make to take us to the center of our being.

Sounds like a college campus is a perfect place for a labyrinth!  I look forward to finding new ways to see the labyrinth at St Anselm’s become more useful to our campus community.

 Thanks for reading!  As I move out of summer slacker mode I have started updating the other pages on this blog with a slideshow in the Photo Gallery, additional Useful Links and a newly launched Chapel History page.  Please take a look and let me know what you think!

Calling, Vocation, & Choosing the Smaller Box

For a very long time, I resisted reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, not because I don’t like her writing but rather because I’ve always been a huge fan.  I discovered her published collections of sermons (Gospel Medicine, Home By Another Way, Bread of Angels) years ago and found them to be engaging and imaginative,  always helping me to see familiar scripture in a new light.  I suppose I always hoped I’d have the opportunity to hear Rev Taylor preach in person: I was saddened to learn that she had left her pulpit and lovely small town church, that she had in fact left the Church.

When a student from the Chapel Center noticed my copy of the book and commented that it had been recommended to him as he explored a possible calling to the ministry, I was a little surprised.  “Leaving church” seemed like an odd choice for a potential seminary student, I thought, and as I continued to read I began to look for what the author might have to say on the subject of vocation and call.

The book is divided into three parts: Finding, Losing, Keeping.  The opening section tells the story of Rev Taylor’s call to ministry:

“If you talk to most clergy long enough, you can usually pinpoint the moment when they first received a call to ministry.  Nine times out of ten, it did not come straight from God.  Instead, it came from a grandmother, a father, a sick sibling, a wounded bird.  Sometimes the call came with spoken words, such as, ‘You’re good at this,’ or ‘I need your help badly.’  Other times the words arose inside, such as, ‘This needs fixing and I think I know how.'”

She recounts the advice she was given in her discernment journey and the decision to “choose a smaller box:”

“‘As a lay person, you can serve God no matter what you do for a living, and you can reach out to people who will never set foot inside a church.  Once you are ordained, that is going to change.  Every layer of responsibility you add is going to narrow your ministry, so think hard before you choose a smaller box.'”

I suppose the smaller box image bothered me a bit.  As the author described her call, there is an increasing sense of burden and heaviness.  In fact, at her ordination she is almost overcome with the sensation of weight as hands are laid on her in the service. 

I wondered about that.

I certainly don’t discount the difficulty or necessity of narrowing your vocational focus. Commitment and dedication necessitate the choice to limit one’s freedom.  Consider, for example, a professional musician who chooses the “smaller box” of self discipline in a life dedicated to performance preparation.  It is hard work–no doubt about it– but there is ultimately “deep gladness” in the music making, joy in doing and being what God created you to do and be. 

Frederick Beuchner says of vocation that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.”  Finding the vocation for which you are divinely fashioned and which serves God’s kingdom should allow you to say with the poet: “What I do is me: for that I came.” Perhaps I would rather see Leaving Church as a cautionary tale of burnout than of a calling found and lost.  The privilege of actually discovering your vocation is just too great a gift for me to think otherwise.

Of the many students on today’s college campuses, there are surely some who do know what their calling is and have already felt that tug toward vocation, always knowing “what they wanted to be when they grow up.”  But there are also many many more students who do not know or, worse, are only following what others expect from them in terms of career paths and life choices.  As a society we tend to emphasize “making a living” at the expense of “making a life.”  (The two should not be mutually exclusive.)  An important role for campus ministry is being present for students as they seek to discover what it is that God has purposed for them.  Not a smaller box but a deeper gladness.

Social footprints: What does it take to change the world?

We hear a lot these days about carbon footprints (your ecological impact on the environment) and digital foot prints (your virtual trail on the internet).  What about your social footprint?  How will the brotherhood of mankind be different from your having been here? How will you change the world? 

You can, you know, and you don’t have to be rich or powerful to do it.  Ordinary people sometimes do extraordinary things.  They change the world.  They help usher in the Kingdom every day.

And some of them are college students.

Recently I attended the American Library Association conference in New Orleans and was privileged to hear film maker Stanley Nelson speak about his new documentary Freedom RidersThe film is the story of six months in 1961 when more than 400 black and white Americans traveled together on buses and trains in the Deep South, deliberating breaking Jim Crow laws and, through nonviolent protest, ultimately forcing the federal government to formally end segregation in American buses and train stations.

Mr. Nelson introduced the film to us through the story of Diane Nash, the daughter of a middle-class Catholic family in Chicago.  In 1959 she became a transfer student at Fisk University in Nashville.  After witnessing the extent of segregation in Tennessee, she helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in April 1960.  When the Freedom Rider members were met with beatings, imprisonments, and deaths, she urged her group to continue:

“It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.”

John Seigenthaler, assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, was interviewed in the film.  He recalled being directed to contact Diane and advise her to call off the Freedom Ride to Alabama.  He remembers that, while his own voice grew louder and more agitated, Diane Nash remained steadfast and calm: “She in a very quiet but strong way gave me a lecture.”

What she told him was that the Riders had all signed their last wills and testaments the previous night.  They would not abandon their plan, even in the face of certain violence and possible death.

As I listened to the story of this remarkable young woman and her fellow Riders I thought about how our society tends to underestimate college students.  Think for a moment about the stereotypical ways that college students and young adults are portrayed in the media!  Contrast that with the young men and women you know: those who are serving in the military, those who are committed to social justice here and abroad, and those who, like many of the rest of us, are bravely facing a very different world than any of us were counting on just a few short years ago.  There is a tremendous hunger for social justice among our young adult population and a tremendous resource for positive action.

Margaret Mead reminds us: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

Let us commit to being the Church on our college campuses, bringing “thoughtful, committed” students together, empowering them to work for change in the world and helping to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Amen!

Chapel Center Newsletter Launch!

Take a peek at our newest Chapel Center publication, featuring student views of our recent mission trip and life at the Center this year as well as a look ahead to the upcoming school year:

Chapel newsletter 1.1

We hope to make this a quarterly newsletter, getting the word out to our local diocese about the good things happening at St Anselm’s!

I “Like” God: Building campus ministry community with social media

A recent American Libraries article promoting the benefits of Facebook for library communities quoted the following statistics:

  • Approximately 41% of the US population has a personal Facebook profile
  • About 50% of  FB users in the US log into Facebook every day
  • Globally there are over 600 million Facebook users
  • Most users have an average of 130 FB friends

This got me thinking about the comparative benefits of Facebook and other social media for church congregations in general and campus ministry programs specifically.  More and more mainstream churches have gone online now, realizing that a well polished website with sermon clips and an inviting schedule of activities is often what a church visitor sees first today, long before he or she walks into the church building.  This may present a bit of a learning curve for some congregations, especially among those parishioners who see social media as frivolous trivial pursuit.  In the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, author Paul Lamb concedes that, for churches,”the ability to understand and leverage the use of social media tools like blogs, social networks, and interactive media presents a clear communications challenge during the age of the one-minute attention span.”

However, Lamb also warns that this is about more than just learning how to publish the same message using new tools.  It is in fact a cultural shift, a “sea change” as he dubs it, in how people interact and how they view institutions.  While the Church has traditionally maintained an authoritative structure, organizing and directing its congregations, the online world is a place of bottom-up participation, thriving on interaction and individual input, a little messy perhaps but also energetic and creative.  (Think Wikipedia, for example!)

Of course, campus ministry should be at the heart of this new engagement, a practical lab for exploring new communication venues for the Church at large.  The millenials are light years ahead of the rest of us in this new territory.  According to the Pew Internet Reports, nearly three quarters (72%) of young adults (ages 18-29) use social network sites.  This is about communication but it is also about building community, and there is much that we can learn here.  Paul Lamb writes:

It is critical to understand, for better or worse, that today’s youth want a personalized religious experience. They want to have their say, be listened to, and engage each other directly—beyond the physical walls and formal dictates of the church. Just as the TV generation demanded an “edutainment” experience, the millennials are demanding a two-way interactive experience. They want to participate in a conversation with their religion and their religious leaders, and not be lectured to.

Facebook fan pages certainly make a great community bulletin board for reminders about where and when, but I’m interested in hearing about other ways campus ministries are using Facebook and other social media to connect their local community and engage the Church at large.  How about it, folks?

Mountaintop experiences: St Timothy’s Outreach Center, Irvine, KY

Our intrepid mission team left for KY last Monday aboard a brightly colored Hispanic ministry bus.  Such a vehicle at first seemed overly spacious for such a small group; however, we planned to carry some of our groceries.  Plus towels and bed sheets.  Also pillows. And, after a quick peek at the week’s weather forecast, jackets and sweatshirts instead of Florida shorts and tank tops. 

Basically, by the time we left predawn the bus looked like we were scrambling for an emergency evacuation.

Mapquest set the total driving time at 13.5 hours but Mapquest does not take into account a lunch break (Subway), supper break (Cracker Barrel, of course!), and multiple gas&potty stops. It was a long day but as the terrain gradually became mountainous and the temperatures continued to dip cooler, I was excited.  I had lived in south central Kentucky for fourteen years and was seeing more and more that was familiar as we  approached the state border.  I was also hearing more and more that was familiar with each and every conversation at rest stops, to the point that, when we finally pulled into Irvine’s Walmart just before midnight, I walked into the store and thought: “I’m home!”

We actually still had miles to go, of course, even from Walmart.  St Timothy Outreach Center sits high up on Barnes Mountain. The midnight climb up the mountain was somewhat less daunting than the next morning’s ride, when we could see how sheer the drop was below us!  The first building pictured on the right was our home for the week and featured dorm style rooms with bunk beds, a large kitchen and common room.  For our group, it was a comfortable base camp for meals, hot showers and lodging.

The second picture is a newer log cabin, still under construction, located behind the first building.  It promises to be a beautiful house for future visiting teams.

Our host for the week was Fr Bryant Kibler, who is the Priest-In-Charge at St Timothy’s as well as serving a parish of his own and working in diocesan administration.  We found Fr Bryant to be, quite honestly, rather amazing.  Every morning he would gather our crew in a big truck with an even bigger van attached.  After transporting us to a job site (no small feat on narrow muddy roads and driveways!), he would divvy up the various duties, keeping us all busy, teaching the less construction savvy of us the tricks of the trade, and jumping in to do the more skilled jobs as needed.  During our lunch break, our team ate while Fr Bryant gave us a fascinating overview of Kentucky history and culture. 

Work at St Timothy’s varies according to the time of year and the size and skills of the group.  We were fortunate enough to be working inside during a week that was unseasonably rainy and cold.  We were able to continue painting and flooring that had been started in a house currently occupied but without electricity or running water.  We also repaired the floor and painted a room in our new friend Manfred’s house.

A community meal is served at St Timothy’s on Tuesday night.  Local children gathered for games and pizza.  Kids are, of course,  pretty much kids wherever you go, from the vivacious, giggly preteen girls to a pair of young brothers, very shy, who would not play skittles with the rest of us but watched very closely and later went back to play the game on their own.

The trip home went more quickly and efficiently than Monday’s long ride.  The people I’d met and the work we had shared have stayed with me. I carried the joy of the journey with me back into my work place this week. 

“Did you have a good vacation?” I was asked.

The best! 

Mission Trip Countdown:Praying for the Church Van

Our mission trip to eastern Kentucky is just hours away!  We will be leaving some time before the crack of dawn to begin our long trek up I-75 to the mountains.  We are traveling in a diocesan bus.  (I haven’t seen it yet but am told that it is colorful.)  In the midst of my pre-departure jitters, I’ve had a little poem on my mind that I saved years ago.  It’s by Michael Chitwood and I believe I ran across it in Poetry magazine:

ON BEING ASKED TO PRAY FOR A VAN

My evangelical brethren have let me know,
via the quarterly fundraising letter,
that they can’t get the gospel around
because their van has given up the ghost.
God in the machine, help them.
I lift up their carburetor and their transaxle.
Bless them with meshed gears and a greased cam shaft.
Free their lifters.
Deliver their differential
and anoint their valves and their pistons.
Unblock their engine block
and give them deep treaded tires.
Their brakes cry out to You.  Hear them, O Lord.
Drive out the demons from their steering column
and come in to the transmission
that they may know the peace of passing.
Minister even unto the turn indicator.
Creator Spirit, Holy Maker of the Universe,
give them gas.

All joking aside, please keep us in your prayers, as well as all the other folks who are heading out this summer for the great privilege of mission team work.

Thanks for reading.  Will let you know how the journey goes….

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