The college class of 2020 began preschool in the fall of 2001 in those weeks right before and after 9/11. And now, they’re graduating from college — online. When it became clear that this would be their commencement ceremony — for the first time, possibly, in over a millennia of universities, there would be no “wild rumpus” or caps and gowns, anywhere — they “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth” ... and the students were disappointed too! This class is being released into a world of pandemic, social distancing, death, an intensely polarized general election, imminent recession, and 15% unemployment. I think these graduates are entitled to a period of ennui and nihilism. But after two months, while some are facing new and immediate challenges, others I know are not claiming victimhood, or complaining, or particularly fearful. Some seem relieved to no longer be expected to compete to be the next masters-of-the-universe, but for now, to simply take care of themselves and others with patience and compassion. They have already reset goals and priorities, and some feel called to service. They have accepted the now as a new path, rather than a detour or derailment. This comforts and inspires me.
I hope that as they boomerang home, or go forth, we can walk beside them on shared paths as we recognize that we are all “freshmen” again together; the charter class of International Pandemic University. We have a historic opportunity to become or graduate together into something new, reimagined, and better — for everyone. Eastertide, graduations, plague: an unexpected trinity – of hope.
Congratulations, Class of 2020!
Interim Program Manager, Children and Families
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You Can’t Always Get What You Want — Or Maybe You Can…
Bob Scott, Director, Faith Formation and Education
What would you do if you could have anything you wanted? End the quarantine? Return everything to normal? Bring us to a new normal where the inequities and injustices uncovered by our response to the pandemic are healed? Give your friends a big hug?
“If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it,” Jesus tells his disciples (John 14:14). It may seem strange if I say I consider the line one of Jesus’ “hard sayings,” a term usually reserved for things like cutting off your hands or crawling through the eye of a needle. What’s “hard” about such a clear and appealing promise? How about the fact that the evidence of our lives suggests that it’s not true? Why didn’t I get that job I prayed for? Why did my father die when my devout mother prayed for healing? The list is endless.
The Broad Way Bible Study group wrestled with this question over the past two weeks, since the verse bridges last week’s lectionary and this one’s. Some saw it as an assurance that God answers prayer, even if the answer is delayed or comes in unexpected ways. It’s true that many of us have experienced wonderful yet utterly unpredictable answers to prayer. For others the verse felt like something the early church might have put into Jesus’ mouth in order to attract followers, akin to modern day click bait: “Do this one thing for a perfect steak every time!” To be sure, when proponents of the so-called Prosperity Gospel treat Jesus like a wish-granting genie, verses like this one give them ammunition.
Neither the Broad Way nor this reflection aim to settle scriptural questions. The goal is rather to open different perspectives and explore meaning in diverse contexts. In that spirit, let me share that I’ve come to read these promises in light of what some call “the transformation of desire.” The late Rene Girard was an influential scholar in this approach, with many theologians, philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists now carrying his ideas forward.
Girard’s core idea is that we humans want what others want — not because it’s so good, but merely because others want it. In nutshell: From infancy, the world forms us inwardly in imitation of what others desire. Think about advertising and social media, and the consumerist culture they fuel. Think about peer pressure. Think about wars of conquest and domination. Think about yourself. (For more on Girard, here’s a good overview.)
Jesus’ farewell discourse, the loving series of teachings that the lectionary is currently exploring, speaks of an alternate type of inward formation. You can feel Jesus’ deeply pastoral spirit as he prepares the disciples to go on when they no longer see him in the flesh. A simple thing will keep them connected: love. He’s given them a new commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34). He’s asking them to love in imitation of Jesus. Now he adds that he will be inside them, helping to make that possible. “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (14:20). Just as his love flows from the Father, their love will flow from him — a virtuous circle of the highest order.
In one of the visions 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich describes in Revelations of Divine Love, Jesus tells her, “I am the ground of your beseeching.” He goes on to reveal that he is within her, willing her to ask for what he wants to give her, so why should she not expect to get it? (Vision XIV) We encounter a similar mystical view in Jesus’ “I in you and you in me” language. His love is transforming us from the inside, so the “anything” we ask for in Jesus name will be what God wills already. In this light, Jesus’ promise to do what we ask in his name makes perfect sense. We’ll be asking for God’s will (think of the Lord’s Prayer).
God’s love transforms both what we seek and how we seek it. Today we’re seeking to see what the pandemic reveals about our society and to discern what we can become. In v. 17, when Jesus says that the world can’t “see” him, the Greek word theóreó means to gaze, contemplate, and look for meaning. When he says the world won’t “know” him, the word ginóskó connotes first-hand experience — the personal connection of love. And when he promises the Spirit of “truth,” the word alethea means becoming free of illusion.
Just as the disciples were enabled to see and know truth because of God’s love working in them, so can we. Like them, we can take action according to that same love. As we live and act in that Spirit, Jesus becomes the way, the truth, and the life in practice as well as in faith.
God who commands us to love, God who remains God with us: your answer, your solution, your remedy for our ills is not a product we can hold or a lesson we can recite. It is a life, a story, an ongoing relationship. It is a life that lives on for us. It is a story we can be a part of. It is a relationship we enter with you and with others. Help us remain together in love, responsive to one another’s needs, and changed by our one–ness in you. Amen.
—Alex Wimberly, Spirituality of Conflict
- Can you recall a time when you were facing a frustrating or aggravating situation and were able to reframe it through a lens of love? What was the effect? What new ideas or actions came to you?
- What causes you anxiety right now? What does love say in response?
Who Do You Want To Become?
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, Associate Director, Faith Formation and Education
Aristotle’s insight about the moral quality of life explains why consistent practice matters: We are what we do habitually. Long before we come to a moment of decision to “do the right thing,” there is the slow and steady work of the moral life: building character. Habitual practice of virtues or core values grows character, enabling us to develop a moral identity that guides our actions and moves us to do what we believe is right. Practice is the key. We tend to recognize a person of character because we notice patterns in their behavior; we have a sense — and an expectation — that their actions are and will be consistent with who they are. We say that such people can be counted on. We can observe in their actions a sense of direction, a vision, and an intentionality about how they want to live and grow. Such a person expressing herself in action, can see well beyond cultural aims of comfort, self-indulgence, or excess. Instead, the person focused on becoming views the project of living a good life in a broader context: the full flourishing of life in diverse community and in harmony with creation.
As we reflect on our commitment to living into our core values at Trinity — even in quarantine — we have many occasions to ask: Who do we know in our community who exemplifies a commitment to character, expressed in consistency of action and breadth of worldview? There are many whose committed lives-in-progress can teach others how to grow. I invite you to lift them up in your conversation and prayer. I invite you to reach out and ask them about their habitual practices. To study their character, their actions, and how they have grown through habitual action with purpose. These are not academic questions. They lie at the heart of who we want to become as people concerned with just human flourishing in a complex world, as people of God desiring to grow in alignment with God, whom we claim as our fixed point of reference.
Who do you want to become? How will you get there? None of us is there quite yet; be patient with yourself as you strive to grow. Each of us can make a plan to develop some habits that will build character. Take time to rest in God and consider where your actions can become more skillful. The world needs you to become your best self, now more than ever. Just as we teach our children: Practice. Practice. Practice.
Commencement 2020: Becoming Ourselves
Kathryn Carroll, Interim Program Manager, Children and Families
During my own teeth-gnashing, I wondered what online commencement speakers could possibly say. I pitied them almost as much as I grieved for the students. But now that the season has arrived, I am delighted and relieved to hear their messages which say, in different ways, that the graduates — and all of us — are individually and collectively poised to become ourselves in a new way.
Family Worship and Coffee Hour
Gather your family and worship together with Family Worship: Home Edition. Or join the Family Coffee Hour on Sunday at 12:15pm to watch and share together, live! RSVP to Kathryn Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org by 11am on Sunday. Come as you are from wherever you are. All are welcome!
Children’s Worship Bulletins
Each week, we’ll share a song of the week to help you go deeper with each Sunday’s theme. The playlist will be updated weekly, and the song of the week will sit on top.