Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let there be light!

        Today, December 22, 2015, the days begin to get a little longer in the northern hemisphere, or, maybe, more accurately, the amount of daylight increases gradually. For six months, we've been descending into darkness. We've changed our clocks to manage that . . . . somehow. For folks who are depressed, or who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is a pretty challenging time of year. It's also equally challenging for many who've lost loved ones in the last year, or who have spouses/partners serving overseas in the military; they will be missed at holiday celebrations. And then there's the news, international and national. Whether it is terrorist attacks in Paris or Colorado Springs, a refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, our incredibly contentious presidential campaign, or its accompanying deplorable religious/ethnic overtones, our media (including social media) does a great job of feeding us depressing news.
        The nice thing, however, that the winter solstice teaches us is that the longest night (last night!) is the longest night (well, at least for a year - then wecan learn the lesson over again).  The darkness will decrease. Or, put another way, the light will increase. And, at least here in Colorado (and the majority of the northern hemisphere), the light was never gone.  It's just that we seem to have a tendency to focus on the increasing darkness.
        I wonder if, as the light increases, we might make an exercise of recognizing all of those good things that surround us, but that we take for granted.  The Multifaith Calendar (print version)* that I use daily orients its art around a theme.  The theme for 2016 is "Gratitude".  In the introduction to the calendar, I find:

Most of us in the western world live in the land of plenty -- the land of milk and honey -- overflowing with resources, freedom, opportunities, and beauty.  it is a smorgasbord of delights. . . . On a daily basis, if we listen to constant talkes of woe and suffering (which are never ending in the media) we can lose sight of all we truly have to be grateful for in our lives.

But . . .

Ears to hear your favorite music, feet to dance, eyes to see the beauty of the sunset, hands to hold, people to cry and light with, a roof over your head, work to make us think, freedom to believe what you want. These are just some of the great graitutdes we all share.

 Winter Solstice resolution time? New Year's resolution time? How about:  "Reject those who would play upon your fears that the darkness will continue; that we live lives of scarcity; that we need live in fear of the other." Instead, "Hold to the good in all. Accept and promote the hope of increasing light. Say "thank you" to someone or Someone multiple times daily."
       Let there be light!


Friday, December 11, 2015

What you read may be hazardous . . .

   One of the responses to the recent tragedy in San Bernadino, California, was a now-almost-expected backlash against Muslims/Islam.  The most bloviated, bigoted, ignorant, abhorrent version has come out of the mouth of one of the presidential candidates (email me if you want to know how I really feel).  But there have been less publicized, although no less horrible examples.  That acknowledged, there has been at least one rather clever response to the claims that Islam is, at root, a violent religion. Reported on social media, and then picked up, and reported on, by the Washington Post was the experiment in Holland where folks on the street were read violent, disturbing, sexist or "outmoded" passages of a "scripture."  The experiment showed that the vast majority of those queried attributed the selections to the Quran.  The underlying problem, of course, is that the passages were from the Bible.  The Post reflected that "The point made in the video is that our personal biases and surface judgements can cloud how we understand something we are unfamiliar with".
       Unrelated, at least at root, another national publication, Christianity Today, recently published the results of a survey on what might happen if people read the Bible frequently, and unmediated by an outside "authority".  Their findings, and the title of the article, was "Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal".*  For readers of this newsletter who are unfamiliar with Christianity Today, it does NOT have the reputation of being a "liberal" Christian publication.  I suspect that there were some within the organization who were leery of publishing the results!
       I am not, at all, trumpeting the results of CT's survey; despite THEIR title, not all of the results of "frequent Bible reading" led to "liberal" results (or results with which I might agree).  But the results do show a couple of things about which we, at an academic institution, might take note.  First is the emphasis that many of us (especially in the humanities) place on the reading of primary texts.  That is, it is much more important to read Dante's Inferno, or Pride and Prejudice (without the Vampires), or the Bible than it is to read secondary literature on those books.  But second -- for better or worse, depending on your point of view -- is that interpretive voices, like FOX News/MSNBC, or televangelists, OR popular faculty, can obscure (at the most), or tilt (at the most generous), how those texts are read today.
      As an Episcopal priest, one whose theology is based on a "three-legged stool" of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, I clearly support the value of bringing historical analysis as well as current thinking to the reading of Scripture.  But the base is the "reading of Scripture".  We all need to know our sacred texts; we need to know what they say.  We cannot simply not read selected, limited, texts, nor excise bits with which we disagree (a tendency, for example, of both liberal AND conservative Christians). We cannot ban books because they are problematic to our current sensibilities.  We have to be aware of what they say, or what they might have said to their original audiences. And we have to grapple with them in our current context (that's the "Reason" part of the afore-mentioned "three-legged stool").
       Only then, I would assert, with a sound grounding in our sacred texts, can we start to speak about "liberal", "outdated", "conservative", or other convenient labels that might dismiss a dissenter.  Our task as educators, and/or as people of deep faith, is to equip others with all of the tools necessary to make meaning in this complex world. Maybe then we can do a little bit to decrease the amount of time prime-time news or Facebook spend on religiously-attributed violence, or those who would use tragedies for financial/political advantage.



*The full text of the Christianity Today article is available here, BUT one needs a subscription to read it all.  An analysis by another "publication", with pointers to other articles/surveys can be found here.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's more than a really ODD tree!

      This morning, I was reading the book of the Hebrew prophet Amos, specifically verses 18 - 27 of chapter 5.  In this section God (through the prophet) is excoriating the ancient people of Israel for the careful attention they pay to all of the externals of their religious tradition (pilgrim-feasts, sacred ceremonies, grain-offerings, animal sacrifices, etc.) while neglecting the ethical commands of that same tradition. The famous verse from this passage reads:  "Let justice flow on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing torrent" (5.24, Revised English Bible).  I found it slightly ironic that I was reading this passage after spending a week traveling around Denver and Colorado Springs looking at religious buildings (i.e., some of the "externals").
      I was teaching a one-week class called "Angels in the Architecture".  My students and I, over five days, visited twelve different locations.  In addition to the visits, we read websites and/or listened to podcasts that introduced the religious tradition the sites represented.  Our goal was to learn how the building reflected the tradition and its community, as well as how it formed the community in the tradition.  We visited:
Mile Hi Church (Religious Science)
Denver Baha'i Center
Hindu Temple of Colorado
Masjid Abu Bakr (the "Parker Rd Mosque")
Tri-State Denver Buddhist Temple
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church
Temple Sinai
University Park United Methodist Church
Mountain View Friends Meeting
New Life Church (Colorado Springs)
US Air Force Cadet Chapel (Colorado Springs)*

The various structures all did a pretty good job of "telegraphing" (to those who understood their various "codes") what the traditions believed:  the mosque was oriented so that the attendees would face Mecca while praying; in the Episcopal church the Books of Common Prayer-a distinctive marker of Episcopalians-were readily accessible to all; the Hindu Temple was filled with multi-colored gods; the Quaker meeting house was almost bare of decoration (only two plants and a sign "Welcome Friends").  So, indeed, we found that there were "angels" in the architecture.
       But almost without fail, our presenters (all members of the traditions) quickly moved from what the buildings showed, to what the congregations did or valued.  Mile Hi's openness to people of all traditions (shown in the art within their worship space) was reflected in the kinds of service they did in the community.  Holy Ghost's beautifully appointed building was always open for private devotion, even though its neighborhood might be considered "rough".  The Academy and its Chapel were constructed in such a way that the academic enterprise was humbled by the Chapel, which in turn was humbled by the majestic mountains to its west.
       In some respects this "movement" from sacred space to committed action was most apparent at New Life Church. On the back walls of the huge worship center were hung the flags of the nations.  One visual cue was that the congregation was to remember the world, pray for its inhabitants, and to serve them all.  There was a conscious decision on their part to orient the cross on the top of their building towards Colorado Springs, as a symbol/reminder where their main work should be focused.  And their ministries and missions to the people of Colorado Springs were impressive -- the funeral of slain UC-Colorado Springs officer Garrett Swasey would take place there just an hour after we left.  But it wasn't just sacred symbols or sacred spaces where the architectural "angels" were active.  The funky tree in the photo was erected in the stairwell leading to the elementary childrens' area.  The care the congregation put into the decorations of that area telegraphed to the children that THEY were important--that as much, if not more, care was directed at them as their parents.
       The "take-away" for me this week was that the externals -- the "angels in the architecture" -- were indeed VERY important.  They spoke volumes, both in support of the tradition, and against it.**  But what was even more encouraging was that the folks who walked by those angels every week or so were challenged NOT to leave their piety there, but to take it out in service to the wider community.  The "better angels" of each tradition accompanied the people out as they worked to "let justice flow on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing torrent".



* For those readers who've not been to the Academy Chapel, it was built to house three worshipping traditions:  Protestant, Catholic and Jewish.  Since its completion, a Buddhist Chapel has been built/furnished, and a Muslim space is under construction. In addition, there is an "Earth-based traditions" site, up a hill to the west of the Chapel (which we also visited).
** The contentious congregational discussions about whether or not the American flag should be displayed in some of the worship spaces was just one example!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Step Outside!

     As we step into one of the busiest seasons of the year, and are surrounded by news that interrupts our sleep, I find Mary Oliver's poem* quite timely.   Take some time to step outside and see the hope that nature affords.


* The poem is from her collection Evidence.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Resistance is NOT futile!

        Fans of the Star Trek franchise know the line "Resistance is futile" as representing the "Borg", an alien race (ranked by TV Guide in 2013 as the 4th nastiest villain of all time).  According to the Wikipedia entry on the Borg"[They] are a collection of species that have been turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones in a hive mind called the Collective, or the hive. The Borg use a process called assimilation to force other species into the Collective by violent injection of microscopic machines called nanoprobes. The Borg's ultimate goal is 'achieving perfection'.  Part of the ongoing thematic presence of the Borg is related to their inability to "assimilate" a captain of the starship Enterprise:  Jean Luc Picard.  Despite their claim that "resistance is futile", Captain Picard was ultimately able to resist  While he was not left "undamaged", his time associated with the collective provided him knowledge on how to battle the collective.
        The episodes featuring the Borg came to mind this morning as I was reading the book of First Maccabees.  This book, found in the Greek Septuagint (translated from a Hebrew original written in the 2nd century BCE) is considered as sacred scripture in some Christian denominations, but not all.  It tells the story of a revolt in Judea by a group known as the Maccabees against their Greek rulers (175-134 BCE).  The first few chapters relate how these Greek overlords had sought to stamp out everything, everywhere, of the local culture and religion.  In Judea, they desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and forbad the practice of Judaism (including circumcision, or even possessing Jewish scriptures).  Many of the inhabitants chose to assimilate rather than face the the consequences, i.e., death.  They believed that resistance was futile.

        The family of Mattathias -- especially his sons Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan Apphus and Simon Thassi -- did NOT believe resistance was futile.  Their energy, their faith, was such that many from Judea rallied to them.  Despite overwhelming odds, they were able to defeat the Greeks.  They cleaned up the Temple, got rid of the desecrated altar, and dedicated the Temple with an eight-day feast.  Jews today will commemorate that astonishing, miraculous, event in a few weeks as they observe Hanukkah, the Feast of the Dedication.
         Given the events of the last few weeks/months, from the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis to the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris and Mali to the immigration debate to the incredibly hateful language coming out of the mouths of presidential candidates and governors of states, it would almost seem that the Borg, or Antiochus Epiphanes, has arrived in America.  Resistance to their rhetoric seems to be futile as politician after politician seem to fall over themselves to be more extreme, gaining an ever-growing popular following.
           Yet we have also seen instances where resistance has toppled "empires" -- most notably at the University of Missouri. We have seen resistance rock the foundations at other institutions, such as Yale.  We know from history that, over and over, resistance moves us forward, perhaps not without cost -- Capt. Picard remained throughout his career a "walking wounded" voyager and there were casualties among the Maccabean revolutionaries.           Our many faith traditions encourage us to resist the status quo, to resist the imposition of unjust laws, and in some respects to resist our own self-interests on behalf of the marginalized, the dispossessed, "orphans and widows", and the stranger.  We must band in common cause against "the Borg" that is threatening to overtake our national soul, perhaps our individual souls.  We are bigger than that; I believe it.
           The photo above is of juvenile Borg. We who are part of the academic enterprise must give our all to prevent that "fiction" from becoming a reality. We must, in the language of 1 Maccabees 
(1:54 & 4:43), topple the "abomination of desolation" that so many in power are attempting to maintain.  It is our sacred duty to prove that "resistance is NOT futile" but is absolutely necessary.  



Friday, November 13, 2015

The eraser's mark.


     In his book, Let Your Life Speak, the Quaker author Parker Palmer tells the story of his seeking guidance at a critical point in his professional life.  Many of the counselors around him suggested that he wait, pray, be in silence, and eventually "way will open".  He follows their advice, but, after several months, finds that nothing has happened.  He takes this concern to a wise Quaker woman, Ruth, who told him, "[I]n sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me."  Palmer goes on to write, "Then she spoke again, this time with a grin.  'But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding effect.'"*
       That story had a profound impact on me when I first read it about fifteen years ago.   I, too, was in a place of professional discernment and what the story allowed me to do was to look behind me and see what doors had closed behind me.  Some of those doors were closed for me; others I closed, either intentionally or unintentionally.  But, when I recognized that they were closed, a great wave of relief rolled over me.  I didn't HAVE to keep trying to go back through those doors, or keep them open.  I could allow them to be shut, and use my energy to move forward.  I have gone back to that story again and again at juncture points in my life, as well as suggesting the wisdom to others who were discerning which way to go.      I recalled it once again when I heard an interview this week with Adam Gopnik, a staff writer for The New Yorker, in which HE reflects how his father had rejected the "explicit Judaism that he had inherited." He goes on to say "Our Jewishness was visible on us through the marks of the eraser, which were stronger than the writing — act of writing itself."  Visible...through the marks of the eraser...stronger than the act of writing.        And I began to consider what I have "erased" twists and turns, ups and downs, of my life.  Like doors closing, some of the things that have been "erased" have been unintentional. (For example, I didn't consciously CHOOSE to stop playing tennis; it just happened after I left high school.)  Other things, perhaps more significant things, I have deliberately chosen to erase:  some ideas about God; certain notions of exclusivity; superiority of one way of "knowing" over another. As I look back at the "ways" that have closed behind me, or the marks of the eraser that I've wielded, I rejoice in the possibilities that have been afforded by those means of liberation. The way that opened before me is NOTHING that I could have expected.       But I wonder if we also need to take that eraser to things that might tie us to a particular vision of the future. I think of the stories in the New Testament gospels about Jesus warning his disciples against telling anyone he is the Messiah** (the "Messianic Secret", as biblical scholars characterize it). Interpretive wisdom has it that Jesus wanted to keep people from imposing their ideas of "messiah-hood" on him; by so doing, they could inhibit his mission.
      Maybe the eraser's mark behind us frees us from bondage to the past.  Maybe, too, the eraser's mark in front of us can open us to very new ways of being.



* Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2000), 38.
** See, for example, Matthew 16.13-20.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Living in an Alternate Universe

       In the summer of 2005, I took part in the fourth AIDS/LifeCycle, a 560-mile, 7-day, bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. (I think I've written about this a couple of times over the years.)  It was (and still is) a very well-supported charity ride, the proceeds (over $66 million over the last 10 years) benefitting the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.  The route travels roughly along the western edge of California, not always along the coast, sometimes venturing inland.  The fact that the route DOES travel from the coast to some inland valleys means that there are portions of the California Coast Range that need to be ascended (and, of course, more enjoyably descended).
       One particular hill is known as "Quadbuster", a grueling climb on the third day between King City and Paso Robles.  It is one of several climbs that causes some riders to dismount and walk their bike to the top.
  I recall very vividly riding up Quadbuster (I made it to the top!).  I passed some riders, and was passed by others as I ascended.  It was hard.  And I was surprised (well, maybe not), to see some of the stronger riders close alongside struggling cyclists, a hand on their back(side), pushing them up the hill. Even more surprising (truly!) was watching a cyclist DESCEND the hill after summiting, to go back and help/encourage another one to the top.  I learned that evening that there were some who had gone back down (and then up again) five or six times.
        Even by that time of the ride (only three days in), I had come to recognize that the company of riders and roadies--the support folks--(some 1500 in all) represented just about every stripe of humanity you could imagine.  We were different in our ages, our religions, our politics, our gender, our sexual-orientation, our health-status (one sub-group was the "Positive Pedalers" -- those who had HIV and were riding), our race/ethnicity.  But despite those differences, once we were in spandex, no-one was queried about those identities while trying to make it up the hills.  Help was offered; help was accepted.  Having everyone finish was the goal.  One primary motto for the event was "It's a ride, not a race."* (
A secondary, but equally important, motto was "Hydrate and pee!") I've commented numerous times since June of 2005 that I had been a part--if only for a week--of an alternate universe.  I went into a blue-funk for about a while afterwards as I grieved the loss of that community.        Memories of that June 2005 come flooding back oh-so-often.  More recently, earlier this week, I listened to an interview on "Colorado Matters" with Denver Filmmaker Michael De Yoanna concerning a documentary he had just finished called "Recovering".  The film tells the stories of veterans--wounded both physically and psychologically--who have found a measure of healing through cycling.  Some of the cyclists are unable to ride "normal" upright two-wheelers.  No matter, bikes can be found to fit ANY cyclist.  BUT, making it up hills is a challenge for anyone on a recumbent (regardless of strength/ability).  And so many of the recumbents in this film are fitted with push-bars so that a stronger cyclist can help his/her buddy up the hill (pictured above).  These cyclists were linked by their experiences in war and their desire to come out the other side with a will-to-live.  They wanted to finish their ride (a 911 mile ride for September 11th), as a way of finding some healing -- and, perhaps, through their example, providing some healing for others. Another alternate universe that re-fires my longing.
        And, then again, as I was coming into work this morning. I heard a snippet of an 
interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain.  Reflecting on conversations between religious leaders, scientists and social scientists, he responded to Krista Tippet's question, "And different kinds of religious leaders, right, across traditions, as well?":

Totally. I mean, the thing that really, for me, changed my life, it was standing at ground zero, a couple of months afterwards. In January — well, it was January 2002 — together with the Archbishop of Canterbury and religious leaders throughout the world. And we were looking at this wreckage, this sheer harm that hate can do. And yet, at the same time, here we all were in friendship, fellowship, and shared prayer. And I just saw how clearly that is — those are the terms of the equation. Do we go that way, or we go this?
Do we go that way, or we go this?
           Rabbi Sacks didn't use the language of an "alternate universe", but he was clearly pointing to evidence that one may exist.  "Do we go that way, or we go this?" Do we put our hands on the backs of those struggling up the hill, regardless of our differences?  Do we dream of an alternate universe, or do we act as if we're living in it already?


Friday, October 30, 2015

Tell me about yourself.

      DU's Housing and Residential Education department has been running a photo campaign in the days leading up to Halloween called "My Culture is Not a Costume".  The hope is to raise awareness that dressing up as an individual from a culture not one's own does nothing to promote a culture of inclusivity.  Indeed, it can reduce a rich cultural heritage (i.e., that from which the "costume" is drawn) to a caricature.  And, once caricatured, such a group can easily be dismissed as less important.  The campaign has generated a lot of comment, both verbal and on-line . . . and well it should, I would think.  That said, I would hope the conversations have been positive and productive, but, from what I hear, they are not, always.       As I was thinking about the campaign and the comments, an article came into my inbox titled "What you are really asking when you ask 'Where are you from?'"  The author, Tanvi Misra, notes that the question may indeed be innocuous when people first meet, especially if it is in the context of group introductions.  But in a different context, the person being asked, especially if from a minority group, often finds that they are not being questioned out of genuine interest, but in order to be put into some kind of "box" in the questioner's mind.  In other words, as with the costume, caricatured, and, thus, made "worthy" to be dismissed.  (And, as with the conversations about the "My Culture" campaign, the comments on the article are not always positive or productive).        I may not have responded to the campaign or the article in quite the same knee-jerk fashion as many of the people who have commented on-line -- or at least I trust I would not have reacted the same way.  That said, both the campaign and the article caused me to step back and consider what I REALLY want to know about someone when I meet them.  And "Where are you from?" can often be an easy opening to a conversation; I'm generally fishing for a point of common-ground (I wonder, for example, if I've been there).  What I usually want to know, however, is WHO is this person with whom I'm talking? What makes them tick?  What are their hopes and dreams? What kind of family/families do they have? Are they a dog person, or a cat person (okay, stereotypes . . .)?  In short, I like knowing the complexities of the whole person, not just one aspect -- since none of us can be reduced to only one facet of who we are.       We are whole, complex, contradictory individuals.  I can't think of any creation narrative, regardless of religion or culture, that has human beings emerge as a horde of clones -- nothing to differentiate one from the other.  It is part of our make-up, reflected in those stories, that we ARE different, and that there is glory in that.  We cannot be reduced to a costume, or an ethnicity, or to geography, or a religious group.        I've been convinced.  It's not out of "political correctness" (as some of the nay-saying commentators on the campaign/article above claim), but rather a sincere desire to know the other person that I think I'll ask a new acquaintance: "Tell me about yourself!"  Where they choose to start the answer is up to them.  and where the conversation might lead is more hope-full.



Saturday, October 24, 2015

We ALL Matter!

      Last week, as many of you know, I was in Salt Lake City, attending the Parliament of the World's Religions.  It was an AMAZING experience (more on that in a bit)!  Prior to the beginning of the Parliament, however, I also attended the annual meeting of the Association for College and University Religious Affairs (ACURA).  This is the yearly gathering of my "peeps" -- those folks around the country who are University Chaplains or Deans of Chapels or Religious Life.  I'm always enriched by this gathering; it's so nice to be surrounded by folks who "get" what it is we all do, and who are willing to share questions/concerns/suggestions.
      A usual feature of our time together is a conversation about what has been going on at our respective institutions -- what are the hot-button issues.  As it happened, in my sub-group of 20 or so folks, the answers to the question began my left and continued in a clockwise direction.  In other words, I was the LAST person to be able to respond.  That not only gave me a lot of time to hear others' voices, but also to consider whether or not I would simply say "Ditto".  While I might have been tempted to do just that, since most of the attendees were from campuses east side of the Mississippi, their concerns were slightly different than mine.
       Given all that has gone on this last year that has made national news, a couple of the most frequently mentioned issues that galvanized campuses were (1) the Israel/Palestine conflict (and divestment debates), and (2) the "Black Lives Matter" movement.  I heard those numerous times as the answers were given around the circle. When it finally came to me, however, I had to say that, while these issues WERE present and discussed at DU, there were a couple of others that I'd seen/heard more often: the debate over our Mascot (or lack thereof) as well as our historical ties to the Sand Creek Massacre.
       As I thought about that discussion in the days following, and especially as I roamed around the Parliament with ALL of its diversity (racial, ethnic, religious, political), it became clear both (1) how intertwined are so many of our debates with our discomfort with difference, as well as (2) how singly we can be focused in one area that we miss how our concern THERE is not reflected elsewhere.  Yes, the "Black Lives Matter" movement was/is present at the University of Denver.  Yes, there IS concern about the Israel/Palestine conflict.  But I find it troubling that some folks who are concerned about the marginalized in those two current issues often do not extend that concern to more immediate parts of OUR history.  For example, some folks who might call for the removal of the Confederate Flag (in the context of "Black Lives Matter") miss the symbolism that clings to DU's former mascot.
        As I attended the various programs and events of the Parliament, I was overwhelmed by the goodness of all that I met.  Whether it was in the program on the "Three Forms of Prayer in Islam", or the one on how to support returning veterans, or the early morning Sikh service, or the exuberant singing and dancing of the devotees of Krishna, I became keenly aware that these people -- similar to, or different from, me -- had the same root qualities:  a desire for peace and fulfillment, an inherent goodness, a commitment to hospitality, and many more.  And I was humbled as I realized that I can easily see the goodness in one group, while missing it in another about which I know less.
        Leaving both ACURA and the Parliament was difficult.  I wanted to stay.  I wanted to learn more about all of those groups, all of those people, especially those with whom I had the least in common.  Our ignorance -- my ignorance -- does little but harm us all.  We ALL matter, and we need to live with that as a grounding principle.


PS   The photo above is of people at the Parliament standing in line to eat lunch at the "Langar", provided by the Sikhs. All who came were fed, no charge. Everyone covered their head out of humility. Everyone sat on the floor in parallel rows. Everyone was served by someone else. Everyone mattered.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Parliamentary Proceedings

          I have been in Salt Lake City since Wednesday of this week, attending the annual meeting of the Association for College and University Religions Affairs, and the Parliament of the World's Religions.
         The ACURA meeting was great, seeing colleagues from around the country.  And it was fun to see Roberts Rules of Order employed (and mis-employed); I do love parliamentary procedure!
         The Parliament of the World's Religions:  amazing so far!  And all that I have seen (and heard) have been the the entry ways, and the Opening Plenary.  And, who knew?  The very first person with whom I spoke at the Parliament was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who lives at a monastery in Morrison, CO!   When the peoples of the world, and the religions of the world, come together, wonderful encounters can happen.

        I will not offer a formal reflection/meditation this week, as there simply hasn't been time with all the conferencing (and I'm a bit overwhelmed with ideas/thoughts)!  But I am sending out frequent photos/updates.  You can find them either on Facebook or Twitter (@ChapGary).
        There is also a lifestream available of the Parliament, in case you would like to get a taste of what's going on:   ParliamentOfReligions.org/Livestream.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Who are your avatars?

      Just about every time I sign up on-line for a discussion board, I have to create a "profile" -- my name, email address, maybe city/state, interests, type of equipment I use, and, oh, my "username"--that moniker that will be attached to whatever posting I put up on the board. Depending on how much I want to self-disclose, I may use some variant of my real name, or I may choose something quite disconnected from my name, but related to my interests (e.g., I've used "fishoutawatta" in several places).  And, in addition to the "username", there is often an option to add in some little picture that can help signal my posts (as if others can't associate me with my name), i.e., my "avatar."   Like the usernames, I've had several I've used. Multiple discussion boards; multiple identities.       Of course, it's not just on discussion boards that this split-identity phenomenon occurs.  I have two Facebook pages/sites that I maintain -- with a mixture of personal/professional information that goes out on both.  AND I have a Twitter feed.  (And -- shameless self-promotion -- you can link to FB to the right!).  Often I find myself in the predicament of trying to remember WHICH avenue of social media I'm utilizing, which audience I'm targeting.  Or, put another way, which "Gary" I am assuming?  Do I speak as "Chaplain Gary" (icon at the top of this blog-post!), or "Boy Scout Dad", or "Fisher Dude", or "Road Cyclist"?  
      The flip-side, of course, of this multi-faceted self-presentation is that those who read my posts/status updates/tweets only see a portion of who I am.  And they may form their own "avatar" that they associate with me . . . an avatar that may bear little resemblance to my real, whole, self.  Any response some of them might make, therefore, is not to me
 but to a limited version of me.  And I am certain that I do the same!      I recall being part of an on-line bulletin board many years ago (WAY before avatars....I was using a 2400 baud dial-up modem!). It was a pretty active discussion group; we were all involved in religion and the academy in various ways.  Many of us were going to attend a national meeting in Washington DC, and we agreed to meet for dinner.  Despite how well we thought we knew each other from our on-line interactions, seeing each other face-to-face was a wonderful experience.  The added nuances of body language and facial expression simply increased the depth of our conversations.  We began to know each other as real people, not just as characters at the end of a bulletin-board post.       Real conversation, not that mediated by technology, is the subject of a book by Sherry Turkle (at MIT):  Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. She argues that real, face-to-face conversations increase empathy and understanding. They also demand that we engage in some deeper self-reflection. Those qualities seem to be in increasingly short supply these days. Yet they are increasingly necessary in our segmented and polarized society.  It's probably time to put down the screens, and the images they project -- usually half-truths both about us and our "friends/followers", or the "other side".  And it's time to take up the hard work of real conversation, as challenging as it may be.        Contact a friend/acquaintance/colleague.  Pick a place.  Converse/connect...without electronics on the table. No avatars. Repeat.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Stealing the Future

       Yesterday . . . not the Beatles, but 10/1/15.
       Last night I was sitting in a room with a group of remarkable students, the DU Interfaith Advocates.  Part of our time together was spent discussing the Syrian refugee crisis.  And one of the students in attendance was at DU partly because of that crisis.  His family had fled Syria because of the violence there.  In the course of the conversation, he commented that what was happening there for many young people was that those furthering the conflict were "stealing our future".  They young men and women growing up in Syria had a vision for their future and their country's future; what the conflict was doing was robbing them of those dreams.
       Last night we also talked about the news of the day:  the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR.*  Details of the shooting are still coming out, but last night we knew enough to know that a young man decided, for whatever reason, to start shooting folks based on their religion (the news this morning confirms that he was asking victims if they were Christian before shooting them).  The school year had just started at Umpqua; the shooter not only destroyed the future for his victims (and himself), but stole much of the future for the survivors.
       Earlier in the day, before I had heard about the shootings, and long before the evening's discussion, I was listening to a podcast of the Brian Lehrer show (out of WNYC in New York). The particular episode was from September 11, 2015 (yes, I'm behind), and featured an interview with Farah Pandith, the first ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the US Department of State.  She no longer works for the State Department but is researching the reasons WHY some young folks (in her case, Muslims) are so readily radicalized.  She asserted that for much of their lives (i.e., since September 11, 2001), the front pages (paper and virtual) have been filled with negative news about Islam/Muslims.  This has created, she claims, a crisis of identity for these folks.  And it is that crisis that leaves these young people searching for meaning -- and groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, etc. promise meaning.
        Front-page news about religion in general, It occured to me, is rarely good (some of the coverage of Pope Francis' recent US visit to the contrary) despite the good that most religious traditions do as a matter of course.  I look at the statistics of "millennials" fleeing their religious roots and claiming, when asked about their religious affiliation, to be either "spiritual but not religious" or "None of the above", and Ms. Pandith's conclusions seem to extend well-beyond radicalization-prone young Muslims.  We have, unfortunately, produced (by many of our religious actions, non-actions, and subsequent reportage) a generation that wants little to do with the institutions that sustained their parents and grand-parents.  Yet, many of those young people yearn for something that might provide meaning and identity.  And the substitutes that often arise don't produce.  In a way, their future has been stolen -- perhaps not intentionally, but they are bereft nonetheless.
      In response to yesterday's shootings, 
President Obama challenged Americans by saying "our thoughts and prayers are not enough".  The time for action has come.  The president suggested some concrete ideas.  But it seems that there are some other ones, not necessarily related to gun-control or mental health needs (as important as those issues are).  I believe that it is incumbent on all of us, people of good faith, to speak out about the moorings our convictions provide. We must give up attacking others--by word or deed--using religious rhetoric to justify or bolster our bigotry and ignorance. We, who know better, must speak out; we must band together to speak in common.  In fierce contradiction to those voices that would drive us apart, that would steal our future, we must declare:  "We are better together! And, together, we will build a better, and less violent, world for those who come after us."


*As a native Oregonian, and someone who's been in Roseburg numerous times, this is particularly sad for me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Repent, y'all!!

      There was a LOT going on in the "religion world" this past week. (One might say, so much that it delayed the sending out of the newsletter!).  Pope Francis' visit dominated the front pages of newspapers (or the "trending lines" of social media).  At DU, we did a book discussion on the Pope's encyclical, Laudato Si. Our Jewish neighbors observed Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  And our Muslim neighbors were on pilgrimage to Mecca and/or celebrating Eid al-Adha, the Day of Sacrifice.  Additionally, as the fall equinox fell during the week, other religious traditions observed that annual event:  Mabon (for pagan/Wiccans in the northern hemisphere) and Shubun-no-hi (among Shintos).
       One theme linked several of these occurrences, although maybe not explicitly:  repentance.  And I'm not just referring to the clichéd religious prophet-holding-up-a-sign:  "REPENT, OR ELSE"!  I'm referring to something more basic, more universal.  And I think it came out most clearly in several of the speeches given by the Pope in various settings.  He demanded that we do some introspection about our way of life -- corporate, national AND individual.  The inference is that, if we really believe the things we say about ourselves (i.e., that we're good, caring, people), then our actions had better show it . . . and, currently, they often are NOT doing so.  That message comes across very potently in Laudato Si, for sure!  Yom Kippur is marked by fasting, prayer and repentance -- marking a new start.  And Eid al-Adha -- the feast of the sacrifice -- points to the need to put others ahead of oneself, i.e., a turning away from self-absorption. 
       That the theme of "repentance" is so enshrined in all religious traditions points to something basic about human nature:  we're fallible; we mess up.  And, yes, it is good to ask for forgiveness from those we've wronged, whether human or divine.  But, at root, repentance is about changing behavior going forward.  It is about "turning around" from the path that we've been traveling.  We see how difficult that can be just by watching our elected leaders' responses to the Pope's admonitions.  But none of us are any different.  We may just have other areas where our self-concern is focused -- so clearly seen in the various "shares" in our Facebook or Twitter feeds.  None of us are righteous all the time.
       Looking in the mirror might just be the best time to point and say "Repent".


Friday, September 18, 2015

Now, wait just a minute!

      It is only the end of the first week of classes at the University of Denver.  Yet, last night at a meeting with a group of students, I saw frazzled looks and heard whispers of time-related anxieties.  This morning, at a breakfast, a faculty person told me that he felt like it was Week Eight (of a Ten-week quarter).  And, I confess, when I'm asked by folks how the first week of the academic year has been, I usually answer "Hectic" or "Busy".  And I think that that's pretty normal -- I've been around schools/colleges/universities for the vast majority of my life .
       I have to wonder, however, how much of this is "manufactured" busy-ness -- and, whether or not it is, how helpful/harmful it might be.  Last Friday I wrote about students making their way from home to campus, and how that transition can be pretty traumatic or unsettling.  The next day, DU hosted "Pioneer Carnival" -- a massive resource fair for all of the (mostly) incoming students.  Student organizations and academic offices (including mine!) were plying their wares, hyping their programs, collecting names and email addresses, and encouraging students to attend their first gatherings.  The underlying anxiety (and I know it well) is that if you don't get the incoming students involved in the first two (at the most!) weeks of the session, you've probably lost them.  And that anxiety is transmitted to the new students:  "Golly, I've got to make a decision now, or I'll be adrift in vast of indecision!  And then what??????"  From separation-anxiety to affiliation-anxiety!
       I am certainly NOT immune to all of this.  I awaken in the middle of the night, fretting about things that "need immediate attention" (but about which I can do nothing at 3:30am).  I push others to get things done "Now!" -- not because they need to be done, but because I want them off my to-do list!  Every so often, however, I'm reminded of the old aphorism "Haste makes waste" -- and I know that's true as well.
      I am a bread-baker; I have been for years.  I've been able to ease, and speed up, the process slightly by using a Kitchen-Aid mixer (bread-hooks are marvelous things!)  But I've learned that I can't really speed up the leavening process.  Bread needs to rise, and it seems to take its own sweet time to do so (even fast-rising yeast isn't instantaneous!).  If I don't let it rise enough, the finished product just isn't "right".  I have to be patient if I want the right product, the right balance between density and fluffiness.

       I try to encourage folks (and, when I look in the mirror, myself) to slow down, to recognize that, in many areas of life, speed is NOT of the essence.  The "Hurry-up Offense" is only used for a portion of most football games (unless you're the Oregon Ducks!).  And, so, at this time of the year, I often find myself needing to re-read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Letter to a Young Man":

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability— 

and that it may take a very long time.*



*More of the letter/prayer/poem can be found here.