Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anger: Righteous or Not?

One of my dear friends, Brother Anthony, is a postulant in a Capuchin Franciscan friary in NYC. Being a postulant means that he is in the process of becoming a friar (sort of like a monk), similar to my process of ordination. Part of his postulency requirement is that he do service with those in his neighborhood who are less fortunate, and Anthony chose to work in a soup kitchen for his homeless neighbors called Neighbors Together. Last week, he blogged about having to turn people away who wanted second helpings, because more people were expected to come in later. He wrote,
Yesterday I was angry with myself for being angry on the serving line at the men who were angry at me because I could not give them more food. I told one of the men that "we're all hungry," meaning that everybody who comes to Neighbors Together is hungry and needs a meal. This man said to me that not everybody is hungry, meaning that not everybody has to come to Neighbors Together.
Anthony also mentioned that he asked his neighbors to write letters on paper plates to their Representative in the House of Representatives. He intends to mail them to the Rep. so that he knows how many people the soup kitchen serves. After reading the letters, he says he feels angry and frustrated at the inequality that causes some to be so poor and while others flourish.

I have to admit, sometimes I get angry about the inequities that cause my own neighbors to live on the street in Central Square, Cambridge. Last Saturday, I distributed sandwiches with a new friend from church, Sophie. At first, we wondered why we didn't see anyone. Then right before it was time to go, folks came streaming into the square. The Korean Presbyterian church down the street had been serving meals on Saturday nights, but the head chef's laptop had been stolen and they blamed the homeless guests. They closed the soup kitchen until a new security system with video cameras could be installed. Thankfully, we had plenty of food- folks took every last morsel we carried. That was their dinner. They had counted on someone else to give them a warm meal. That someone had the prerogative to cancel that meal with no notice and for any reason at all. Our neighbor's stomachs do not have the prerogative to just stop being hungry.

As always, I'm glad I participate in H-EUMC's sandwich ministry, and I was blessed by our interactions this week. But sometimes, like Anthony, I get angry. Sometimes anger can be righteous, like Jesus when he overturned the moneychangers' tables in the temple, and sometimes it can be unproductive, resulting in "hardening our hearts," as Anthony put it. It can be hard to tell the difference. So it's important to remember to use our anger as motivation to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. When we do that, our anger is righteous and is not unproductive or futile.

Have you ever felt angry about something that just wasn't right and you couldn't do anything about it? How did you respond? How do you think Jesus would want us to respond to these things?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An Interruption... Or an Invitation?

Vinita Hampton Wright over at the Sojourners blog caught my attention with her article "Life: Interrupted." It's short but profound. She writes:

I've come to believe that one aspect of maturity is the ability to see life's interruptions not as interruptions but as necessary events and journeys. If we think of the unexpected as an interruption, then our attitude will be to get rid of it as fast as we can-so that we can get on with our "real" or "ordinary" life... But most interruptions are not so easily dispatched.

Interruptions are life. The unexpected is simply the life you have but don't yet know about. The wise woman accepts that reality. What does she do with the unexpected, the disruption, the unwelcome call or caller? She engages with it, with everything she has. She looks for the layer of grace and God-ness that is always there, somewhere and somehow. She pays attention and looks for the wisdom waiting to be tapped in the day that has suddenly changed direction.

I am really stuck by the idea that interruptions are life, since I have always treated them as a bother. Recently, my life was seriously interrupted when we had to leave our apartment due to dangerous construction going on in our bathroom. I felt that I was displaced and have "lost" a week of productivity. In reality, the only thing I lost was my routine. That week was just as much a part of my life as every other week. Wright's article reminds me to adjust my attitude toward unexpected changes or interruptions. Difficult as it may be to change my attitude, doing so will make me a more mature person. Time to get to work- being interrupted!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9/11 Remembrance

I remember where I was when 9/11 happened. I was a junior in high school. I was in Mr. Burnett's second period history class taking a current events quiz. Mr. Fortune burst into the room and said, "Mr. Burnett, what are you doing in here?" He said, "Current events." Mr. Fortune replied, "Well you'd better turn on the TV because there's a current event going on right now!" When he turned it on, I was bewildered by the sight of the World Trade Center towers with smoke coming out of one. Eventually, the bell rang. By the time I arrived at third period A Capella Choir, a second plane had crashed into the second tower. Mr. Guiliano led us in singing "America the Beautiful" and then told us to sit, talk, and pray. Mercifully, my other teachers that morning actually taught class. The TV monitors in every room and all over the school, that were used as clocks, were all tunes to the news. When I got to lunch, the footage had changed. People were throwing themselves out of the Towers and into the street. I threw my nachos away untouched.

That evening, after praise band practice, I was looking at the Times-Gazette and talking to my mom while she made dinner. I asked her, "What's the use of doing something like that? I mean, bombing people? I don't see the point." My mom said, "I don't see the point either." I said, "I don't see a point to guns or bombing or anything that kills people. I guess I don't believe in killing people." Mom agreed. That day, in our kitchen, I became a pacifist.

 photo credit: Denise Gould

9/11 was a life-changing experience for me, as it was for so many of us. Last Sunday, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11th, Harvard-Epworth invited a special guest to come. Pastor Scott talked about the pain that Bostonians felt that day. I had forgotten until that day that the flights into JFK that crashed into the Towers came from Boston Logan. People in this area lost their loved ones who had been on those flights. The guest that Pastor Scott, and, I learned, my good friend Lane had invited to church was  Mr. Izhar Khazmi, a lay person from the largest mosque in Boston. I expected him to talk about something profound and spiritual, but he didn't. He just talked about what it was like for him and his family, who had come with him, on 9/11. He talked about how he works in Boston's financial district, and how the FBI had come to his office to interrogate him because he is Middle Eastern and Muslim. He said that was the only difficult thing he experienced at the time, and that his coworkers and friends were very supportive of him during that time. His son and wife talked about how grateful they are for the support of their neighbors, and how wonderful it is to be American. They said they were a little nervous about coming to a Christian church, but they were very glad they came and very glad to meet us. Mr. Khazmi's son is a BU student, like I was, and he was glad to meet me at coffee hour.

In a sense, it was a pretty extraordinary morning because it was a time of remembrance and interfaith learning and sharing. In another sense, it was pretty ordinary. We worshiped, sang, ate, asked questions, and met new friends. Just like any other Sunday. And then we all went back to our homes and took Sunday afternoon naps. I feel very fortunate that, 10 years after 9/11, we had such an "ordinary" Sunday. We have homes and places to nap. We have food and friends. 10 years later, we still have each other, we still have our safety, and we still have our country. It is still good to be American, as Mr. Khazmi reminded us. We have a lot for which to be thankful this week. It is time to remember, to love one another, and to forgive.

Where were you on September 11th, 2011? How have you remembered it this week?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Be-Attitudes

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of the regular school year for Harvard-Epworth UMC, and all the church's programs are gearing up for a new year. Unlike churches in the Midwest, New England churches tend to take a hiatus over the summer and many programs are temporarily suspended. It will be good to get back into the swing of things, see all my friends who have been away, and start fresh for the year.

This year, I am leading the Young Adult Bible Study during the Sunday School hour. I have never been a Bible Study leader before. I'm a little bit nervous, but more excited than nervous. Since I'm not sure what everyone would be interested in studying, we'll start with the Beatitudes, otherwise known as the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapter 5.

I think it will be a good starting place because they are immediately applicable to our everyday lives. I always think of the Beatitudes as Be-Attitudes. They show us the Christian way of being, thinking, and orienting ourselves to the world. They show us the upside-down Kingdom of God, in which those who are last- in life, in loss, in wealth- will be first in God's Kingdom. They challenge us to be peacemakers in a world full of war and conflict. The Beatitutes are an important part of the Gospels. In fact, my dad told me that in Jewish thought, the first thing mentioned is always the most important. And the Beatitudes are Jesus' first teaching in Matthew. It is pretty obvious that Jesus most wants us to know what God values and the kind of people God wants us to be.

Somebody on the web made a Wordle of the Beatitudes.
Wordles are not subject to copyright.

I hope that this year, I can live up to the Beatitudes. I hope that I can do more than just talk about peacemaking and thirsting for righteousness- I hope that I can do it. And I hope that my attitude will reflect the kind of person I am Be-ing, and I hope that I am being the kind of person Jesus talked about in the Beatitudes.

Do you have a hope for the upcoming school year? What is the hardest Beatitude to live up to and why?

Friday, September 2, 2011

"I'm not religious, I'm spiritual."

This week, a UCC pastor made a splash in the blogosphere with her article, "Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me." She discusses how she dreads telling her seatmates on airplanes that she's a pastor. She writes,
On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo. Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets...

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself. 
In many ways, I have had the same attitude as Rev. Daniel. As Christians, we are part of a spirituality that happens in community. We don't just go off by ourselves and be spiritual alone. We come together and learn and challenge each other. I have always been annoyed with my family members who refuse to talk about their spiritual lives because they aren't challenged, and as a result, don't grow spiritually. People who don't grow can become boring because they're so predictable.

Well, my friend posted this blog entry on Facebook, and I ended up getting into a long conversation with one of her friends who called out Rev. Daniels. She is spiritual but not religious, and she found the attitude of the post to be condescending. She pointed out that people who are spiritual but not religious struggle too. Maybe I just haven't met anyone who isn't religious and who still grows spiritually- perhaps my experiences have been limited. While Rev. Daniel's blog post was something that didn't challenge me, my interaction with a friend of a friend on Facebook did. Perhaps I can be challenged and encouraged to grow, even by someone who is not religious. Perhaps I can learn from everyone in my life. 

Have you ever learned something unexpected from someone who didn't initially take seriously? How has your attitude toward that person changed?