Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Seeking out the stories of those who are different from us

Anne Marie Roderick will be presenting on her interfaith work during Peace Forum in the ESR Dining Room on Thursday, January 31. Her presentation is one of several events taking place during Earlham College's Religious Emphasis Week, which includes a lecture by Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel. Below is a reflection from Anne Marie on what led her to pursue interfaith ministry.
When I was in middle school growing up in New York City, I had a Muslim friend named Salima.  Salima and I were close.  We ate lunch together, went over to each other’s houses after school, hung out on weekends.  When planes hit the World Trade Center towers On September 11th, 2001 we were both in eighth grade.  Our whole school was in panic; our principal told us that World War III may had just begun, rumors about the attack were flying from classroom to classroom; students and teachers were desperately trying to reach friends and family all over the city. In all the frenzy, I don’t remember talking to Salima much that day at school, but after I was safe at home with my family and some of our friends who couldn’t get to their own homes, I called her. 
         Everyone was somber, but Salima’s voice over the phone was trembling.  “Two of my cousins were in one of the towers,” she said. “They’re not answering their phones, we don’t know where they are.” In the hours and days that followed, Salima and I called her cousins’ cell phones in case they or someone with information about them might pick up and we put missing signs up around the city.  Weeks later I attended a public memorial service at Yankee Stadium with Salima and her family for all of the lives lost in New York on that day. 
Back at school, most things eventually returned to normal, but Salima’s life didn’t.  In addition to losing her cousins, Salima became the target of anti-Muslim slurs.  Kids at school teased her for looking “Arab” and she was afraid of being harassed or worse by people on the streets.  At the time, I didn’t have the tools to support Salima; I didn’t know how to stand up for her, how to challenge those around me who called Muslims and Arabs terrorists.  I thought it would all pass. I didn’t see that our world was entering an era of increased religious intolerance and violence that would continue into my adulthood.
I mark the events following September 11th as the beginning of my commitment to interfaith work, though I wouldn’t realize that until more than 6 years later, during my first year at Earlham. Now that I am attending Union Theological Seminary and preparing for a life in ministry, I feel even more passionate about the need for interfaith cooperation, especially on the part of those entering Christian ministry.
If we are connected to faith and spiritual communities we have a crucial role to play in promoting religious pluralism and engaging religious diversity in and around those communities. As current and future faith/spiritual leaders, our work can begin by claiming the stories that most inform our own faith journeys. Once we know our stories, we can begin to share those stories with others and seek out the stories of those who are different from us.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

New student introduction

We're excited to introduce to you some of our new students joining us for the spring semester of  the 2012-13 school year. Today's featured student is Christie Walkuski, who is an MDiv Cooper Scholar from Cornwall, NY.

Hello friends! I am super excited about starting my studies at ESR, and (even with the small thought that pops in: “what on earth am I doing?!”) trusting that this next adventure is the result of divine inspiration and leading. As the time is nearing for me to pack up and head for Richmond, I am a mix of wonder and gratitude and nervousness.

I have previously studied environmental science and policy, peace and social justice issues and movements, botany, Buddhism, poetry, and maybe most importantly, the workings of my own mind and heart.  I have worked mostly within the environmental and non-profit arena, recently for Hudson Link, an organization that facilitates college education programs within New York State prisons.

I want to study all of ESR’s competency areas, but a chaplaincy track through the pastoral care emphasis is the one I have decided on at the moment. I’m also very interested in the idea of writing as ministry, in conflict resolution and reconciliation processes, and interfaith understanding and activities.  I’m excited to approach learning in an environment that emphasizes my own spiritual development, and where I can challenge my own thinking about things like identity, the church, God, and what it means to live a spiritual life. 

Currently I have been inspired by the indigenous movement called Idle No More (www.idlenomore.com), emerging recently after the Canadian government passed legislation which cut treaty rights and land and water protections. The images, words and prayerful action coming out of this movement have caused me to reflect about the reality and legacies of colonization, genocide and institutionalized racism, and also, more importantly, about how to resist these forces, and about the need for different ways of knowing and being and thinking. Am I personally willing to walk in this largely unfamiliar territory?  Can I commit to an awakened life?   Am I courageous enough to be idle no more?  These questions and thoughts have converged with my discernment about entering seminary.

The answer is YES.  I trust that I will continue to find out what such a life looks like and how I can best be of good use and purpose as I navigate through it with all of you at ESR in this next part of my journey.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing as Ministry

By: Amy Lyles Wilson

Before I visited ESR for the first time in 2000, to attend the Ministry of Writing Colloquium, I’d already worked as a writer and editor for about 15 years. I had a master’s degree in journalism, and published credits to my name. Along the way, I had heard writing described as an art, a talent, a gift; maybe even a way to make a living, in a good year. But I had never heard it considered a ministry.

All that changed when I saw an ad in The Utne Reader for the Ministry of Writing Colloquium at ESR. I was not familiar with Earlham College, the Earlham School of Religion, or anything related to Quakers or Indiana. But something led me here.
Amy Lyles Wilson - 2012 Writing Colloquium

Since attending that Colloquium, I have come and gone from the sacred space that is ESR many times. I’ve taken classes, served as a writing fellow, presented at colloquiums. I’ve learned to sit in the silence without squirming (I’m a practicing Episcopalian). And now, the best gig of all, serving as an adjunct professor in the writing program.

In 2003, while on the ESR campus for a semester, I had the pleasure of knowing, and loving, Tom Mullen, the driving force behind the development of ESR’s writing program. He was my mentor, coach, teacher, and friend. His death hit me hard. To think that I might be able to contribute to his legacy fills me with gratitude, and, I must admit, a bit of intimidation. 

Whether you’re an academic, a preacher, a pastoral counselor, or one who labors in the field of social justice, your words matter. Effective, evocative communication is vital to our human connection, be it from behind the pulpit or on the Internet. I believe it is the sharing of our stories that saves us, and toward that end I “teach” writing—as much as it can be taught—in the hopes of helping people tell their stories in their own words, using their own voices. Most often, all that writers need to is space and permission, a dash of encouragement, maybe a few tools. The craft works itself out in the doing, through the day-in, day-out discipline of searching for the just-right word and developing the pitch-perfect sentence, one after another. It is in that laboring with the language that the spirit finds its way to the fore so that it might be shared with others.

Amy Lyles Wilson, M.A., M.T.S., is a writer and editor with more than 25 years of experience. She served as the Patrick Henry Writing Fellow at ESR in 2003, and earned her master’s degree in theological studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in 2007. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, as well as on NPR’s “This I Believe.” She will teach Writing for Publication and Writing Religious Fiction during the spring semester, 2013, as well as serve as the ESR writer-in-residence and offer workshops for the community at large.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Idolatry of God

ESR student and Raysville Friends pastor Michael Sherman offers a reflection on Peter Rollins’ new book, The Idolatry of God. Rollins will be on campus at ESR as the keynote speaker for our annual Willson Lectures on April 8. 

A friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook a month ago.  “The tragedy that happened yesterday has solidified my disbelief in an all knowing and all powerful entity.  Either your god isn't all-powerful and couldn't stop it or he is and sat idle while they screamed, probably for him.  Either way, I am firmer than ever.”
My friend went on to ask: “so, Biblically we are taught to believe that there was a divine plan that even though god could save the day and end the crucifixion at any point, that in order to fulfill the prophecy and save our souls that Christ had to die?”  This concept of God is fairly prevalent in mainstream Christianity.  It is, however, an idolatry of God.  It is a creation of an idea of God which isn’t true.  God’s presence or the acceptance of Christ into one’s heart does not change our reality.  We still suffer pain and loss.  God is not some talisman we can claim forcing all our enemies and travails to lay down before us.  An all-powerful, all-loving God is a beautiful picture but those terms and our understanding of them are laced with our human understanding of powerful and loving.  Personally I'm not ready to drop 'all powerful' but I wonder if God's all powerful is different than our understanding or wish for God's power.   It’s nice to have logical, reasoned answers but sometimes there are none for us to have, sometimes there is only mystery. 
Peter Rollins’ new book The Idolatry of God; Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction speaks directly to this topic.  Rollins has written and spoken about many of these ideas before.  In this book he ties many of his previous thoughts from his other books Insurrection and How to (Not) Speak of God together building a framework and foundation for moving faith forward. 
The starting point is Rollins’ definition of ‘Original Sin’ and its entanglement with the Law and subsequent construction of various idols.  He places the origin of sin in the moment as infants when the ego begins to form.  Initially an infant has no boundaries.  It is essentially, by perception, one with the world.  At some point a realization grows, identifying itself and the other.  It is a picture of separation.  Once separation is realized and we feel something is missing the awareness that something is lacking builds.  It is this perception of lack and our pursuit to fill a void that is not really there which is ‘Original Sin’. 
In the next move Rollins demonstrates the Christian Church’s use of the pursuit of God/Christ as the fulfillment of our lacking.  If you just had this one thing you’d be better - it will fix all your problems.  In using God/Christ the church never addresses the problem of our perceived lacking; it uses and preys upon our sin to sell itself, thus creating an idol of God/Christ.  If we just did all this Christian stuff better or prayed more or read more Scriptures then…but all of that falls apart.  There is no amount of prayer or reading which can bring us closer to a God who is already at hand.  The truth is there is no separation.  Jesus says “The Kingdom of God is at hand”, right here at our fingertips.  We cannot move ourselves to reach it, because it is already here.
Rollins closes his counter observation of the crucifixion with this statement:
The Crucifixion bears witness to a form of life that is free from our obsessive drive for the Idol, a form of life which our zombie nature (unthinking all consuming drive) is cured.  For to lose the Idol means to be freed from that drive that prevents us from fully embracing our life and taking pleasure in it.  It means giving up our desire for ultimate satisfaction and then, in that act, discovering a deeper, more beautiful satisfaction, one that is not constantly deferred but that can be grasped here and now.  Not one that promises to make us whole and remove our suffering but one that promises joy in the midst of our brokenness and new life in the very embrace of our pain (97).

Rollins’ understanding of the Crucifixion isn’t comfortable or comforting, but it is definitely freeing for both us and God.  It allows us to be honest.  It is this honesty which is at the heart of Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount:  For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20, HCSB).  The scribes and Pharisees were slaves to perception.  The picture they illustrated did not match the truth of their hearts.  Jesus wasn’t calling the disciples to be more ‘Law’ abiding than the scribes and Pharisees, but to be more honest about who they are and the truth of their hearts sharing both triumph and struggle.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New student introduction

We're excited to introduce to you some of our new students joining us for the spring semester of  the 2012-13 school year. Today's featured student is Michelle Wood, who is an MDiv student from New Castle, IN.

I’m so excited that God has guided me to Earlham School of Religion to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree.  I currently have a Masters Degree in Special Education and teach special ed in New Castle, Indiana.  I have a heart for the students that other teachers don’t want, the emotional disabled and students that just can’t make it at the regular school for various reasons.  My husband, Greg, of just under two years is a school principal at the alternative school in New Castle.  He is very supportive of me following God’s leading.  My 23 year old son, Josh, works in Indianapolis and my 20 year old daughter, Emily, is a pre-med student at Taylor University.  She is currently on a missions trip in Indonesia.  I have 19 year old twin step sons, Cody and Alec, at I.U. East in Richmond.  My home is filled with the pitter patter of five furry friends of both the canine and feline variety – Abby, Sadie, Simba, Petey, and Jack. 

My life’s passion is missions work.  I like to encourage everyone to go on at least one missions trip.  It is life changing; at least it changed my life.  I have a strong desire to bring joy to the hopeless and Christ’s light to a dark world.  I have spent time in China, Ukraine, and Pine Ridge Reservation.  My students like to hear my story about being on the run from the Chinese police.  They think it is cool that their teacher was a rebel but I believe in standing up for what is right, in a nonviolent manner of course, and the human rights violations in China are not right. 

One of the great things about a missions trip is learning about another culture.  I learned a lot about Native American culture while I was on Pine Ridge Reservation.  I learned how distrusting they still are of the white man, and I don’t blame them.  I spent time building a relationship with them and earning their trust.  A matter of fact, they trusted me enough to invite me to a sun dance.  This was such a privilege because it is not open to visitors or white men.  It was as if I was one of them now.  The sun dance is a highly religious ceremony and I felt honored to be included.  God may be leading me back to Pine Ridge permanently when I finish my degree but I know things change as time goes by so I am keeping an open mind and will try to discern God’s purpose for me throughout my education at ESR.

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New student introduction

We're excited to introduce to you some of our new students joining us for the spring semester of  the 2012-13 school year. Today's featured student is Marshall Jones, who is an MA student from Phoenix, Arizona.

My name is Marshall Jones and my Wife, Cathy, and I live and work in Phoenix, Arizona.  Thank you for giving me an opportunity to introduce myself!  I am excited about continuing my formal education by seeking the MA in Religion degree at ESR.  In the first half of life, I received an undergraduate degree in Business (Major: Healthcare Administration) from Oklahoma Baptist University and a MS in Management from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.  I think of this as practicing educational ecumenism!  

To say that I’m old may be a slight exaggeration but you should know that when I was in school, using a tablet was a reference to the Big Chief Writing Tablet!  Informed in those days by science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, I envisioned a future in which technology (aka, gadgets) would gradually dominate a heretofore analog world (see picture below).  In fact, it is this technological evolution that allows me to do the largest proportion of my studies as an ESR Access Student.  Happily, though, I still enjoy pen and paper, books with binding and the personal company of others in community.

At the heart of my personal community is my Wife of 33 years and our 3 wonderful children, Braden, Ryan and Garrett.  Our faith community has always been important and is formed within our lifelong United Methodist connection.  Cathy’s and my work in healthcare (she is a Registered Nurse/Certified Diabetes Educator) is both faith and mission dominated so community and service are central even in our professional roles.

Entering seminary at ESR in this season of life is wondrous.  While I, like others here, always felt a leading to pursue formal vocations in ministry, I don’t regret for a moment the time of preparation, wandering and growing that preceded this particular moment.  I am certain that God in God’s wisdom had a calendar notation that Marshall would enter seminary in 2013!  I am excited about beginning this chapter of life with my fellow ESR seminarians, professors and staff.  I am anxious to learn from all of you and hope to contribute positively to our collective experience as students and friends on the journey.

For the record, I have a tablet-device, a laptop, a Kindle, an endless supply of Moleskins and way too many bags to carry everything in!