Faith and College: Is College a 4 Year Vacation from Jesus?

Is college a 4 year vacation from faith? Or is it a 4 year adventure into the depths of religion that was never before explored? I don’t have a definitive yes or no answer to either of those questions, but I think either side is an extremely personal decision that differs based on each college student. I talked earlier about the relationship between religion and the Smithie, but is it possible for religion to spike and take off during college?

Don’t worry, this blog post isn’t going to be 1000+ words worth of mind-bending questions that send your brain into a major spin into the cosmos! But I want to ask the tough questions and encourage thinking to happen in ways that it never before occurred. Heck, I want to think about how my faith has expanded and changed over the course of my going-on 4 years at Smith College, and how similar my experiences might be to other college students as well.

As most of y’all know, I’ve been a church-going chick for my entire life. Almost every Sunday from my infancy through high school, I went first to the Episcopal church in my town, and then later on as a toddler to the RCA church, also in my town. I did the choir, church school, communion, confirmation thing, along with many of my school-mates. Later in High School, I began to look more at allowing God to become a bigger part of my life, rather than just my Sunday church friend. I had never really encountered the world where God existed outside the four walls of my church, and the fact that it was possible was mysterious territory I wanted so desperately to explore. This growth occurred around the time that I was investigating colleges, and looking back on it now, I realize how little church factored consciously into my college choice, but at the same time, how great an impact it has had on my faith as the experience comes to a close.

Unless you go to a Christian college, the likelihood that the average liberal arts college, private or state university will have a widely attended chapel or church service is quite slim. The same goes for Smith, but more so over the last year.

Last year, Smith decided that chaplains weren’t important to have on campus, and effectively eliminated them all. It is bad enough that Smith decided to get rid of the chaplains in the first place, but what is even worse is the message it sent to the students, including myself. I never expected that college would be the place that my faith would grow in leaps and bounds, but it has been, and with much thanks to Smith. It was at Smith that I heard my call to the ministry, and it was here that I felt the greatest amount of love from others not in my family. But at the same time, Smith has dissed its students like me who wish to explore faith during their 4 year term. Despite this, faith at Smith has by no means diminished or disappeared! My faith has grown in the interim, and with the help of bible studies, small groups and good friends, I have been able to explore what I believe and where that will take me in the future.

So…why am I writing about faith and college? I know I haven’t posted in a while (like 2 weeks practically)…but I’ve been thinking a lot about where my faith is going during my last semester in college, and especially as the days tick down to when I move into PTS in July hopefully. I am not able to attend the SCF (aka Smith Christian Fellowship) this semester because I have class from 7:30-9:30 on Thursday nights (aka exactly during their large group!). I’ve been going/involved solidly for nearly 2 years, so what does this mean for my own faith? Typically, I am less than enthusiastic about keeping up with the nuances of being a church-going Christian when I am flying solo. But this time is different, I think. Because seminary isn’t just a pipe dream anymore – it is a reality – I am able to connect differently with my faith, knowing that I am an entirely different person. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration, but I feel different knowing that I will begin my training in the fall, knowing that God will be at the center of my education. My purpose is different, I guess.

What does this mean ultimately for the trend between faith and college, anyway? Not everyone is going to go to seminary after their time in college…NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! But that doesn’t mean that faith can’t grow, change and develop over the course of your 4 years in college. Mine certainly has, no question about that. I think that my personal faith journey has been greatly affected by the friends I have made, some of which I see as my family after all this time. Because ultimately, faith is about family – a family united together under a set of beliefs. I am tied to my friends here at Smith because we have beliefs and faith of all different shapes and sorts. My college experience was the best thing for my faith – I wouldn’t be where I am today without having come to Smith. I guess the message I am trying to send is that college is the time where anything can happen, and you can be anyone or anything. I was able to find and explore my faith in a safe and fail-proof environment, around people who were interested in the same things.

Ok…enough for now! Happy Friday!

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Ordination…What’s Up With That?

Hey everyone! Sorry for the “radio silence” for past day or so…the snow slowed me down a little, and I had a few things to take care of at home!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction of this blog over the last few days or so, and what I’m going for by writing at all. Why write a blog, where everyone can read and share in my thoughts, hopes, frustrations and dreams? Why speak publicly as opposed to a journal that no one sees? These are all extremely challenging questions, and I don’t necessarily have answers to them at the current moment. But what I have realized is that by blogging and soliciting feedback from all of you, I am enabling the people I love and care about the opportunity to walk in my shoes for a brief moment, and to understand what is going on in my life now, and what is to come in the next several months. My faith was for the longest time something that I kept closeted, as I was always under the assumption that a belief in Jesus was a personal matter and not something that should be aired in public. But now that I realize how much of me it consumes (in a good, not bad way), it is important, if not critical, for me to discuss it with people that I love and trust. It is a part of me that is out there for all to see. I wear my cross on top of my shirt because my faith is something I am proud of, and one of the many ways that I identify myself with. In much the same way, this blog about my spiritual journey into seminary is my written cross – my outward verbal expression of my faith and where God leads me.

With this in mind, I suppose I should probably explain more about how ordination and being a minister works in the Reformed Church in America. RCA is the denomination I was raised in, and is the sister church of the more well-known Presbyterian Church (PC(USA)). The only difference the two churches have is that the Presbyterians came from the UK, whereas RCA came from the Netherlands. Theologically, it depends on the geographic location of the church, but generally it is a middle-of-the-road church, meaning that it is not completely conservative, but not completely liberal either. For the sake of the argument, I would deem it a moderate church theologically. (I’m not even going to address politics, as that is completely irrelevant here!) Both base their theology on the teachings of John Calvin and reformed theological beliefs. Whereas the Presbyterian Church is a more nationally distributed denomination (with a church in almost each major city and in most American towns), my denomination is located mostly in Michigan (where the main church governing body is located) and in the Tri-state area (New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey). I am extremely passionate about my denomination, but in the early stages of discovering my calling, I was worried that staying with my denomination would prove limiting career-wise. I have spent 18 out of my 22 years of life in New York, and have dreams of settling in Northern California when I am finished with seminary 3 years from now. I was most concerned that I would forever be in New York or New Jersey, where there are the most concentrated numbers of RCA churches aside from the Midwest. Further, the Michigan branch of my church is especially traditional, and as I am a woman (DUH!), I feared that I would never be hired into an ordained position, but rather limited to a youth pastorate instead (which is definitely not the direction I want to head in at this point in my life). However, after my summer in California, where I spent a lot of time investigating my various denominational options, ranging from Lutheran to Methodist to Presbyterian even to United Church of Christ, I realized that deep in my heart, God was telling me to stick with the family I knew, the family that has so much love for me already – RCA. Despite its size (SMALL!), and limited geographical locations (EVEN SMALLER…), it is what I know, what I am familiar with, and even more importantly, where I line up with theologically. The whole hymnal, liturgical calendar, sitting in pews, organ thing is exactly where I find comfort, where I find God. For some, this seems strict, and is the last place where God would be on a Sunday morning. But for me, this is always where God is, where He has been, and more importantly, it is where He found me some number of years ago. My faith grew in this tradition, and God isn’t done with me yet in it. I feel so convicted about this that I am willing to forgo many things that a larger denomination might offer me. The solidifying factor for me in this decision was the complete kindness shown toward me by everyone that I have met in RCA. People have bent over backwards to help me find seminaries, etc. They have cared about me as a person, and more importantly, have listened to my life goals, and where I would like to be in 10 years.

So, I suppose that I should discuss the concept of ordination and what it means. Christianity, and especially the protestant denominations have developed a “Christianese” language of sorts that is different for each denomination, and is challenging if not cryptic for anyone on the “outside” to understand. Some Christian groups, but not so much the mainline denominations (meaning the Methodists, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterians, RCA – not the Evangelicals, Pentecostals, non-denominational, etc) do not require their pastors to attend formal seminary programs in order to run a congregation. However, RCA does require its ministers to go through a 3 year seminary or divinity school program to achieve a Masters degree before they will consider the candidate for a paid ministry position. What this means is that they want their ministers to go through pastoral counseling, preaching classes, CPE, New and Old Testament, Church History, Systematic Theology, Greek, Latin and Biblical Hebrew and so on before they can lead a congregation. This is precisely what I will be undertaking beginning this summer. All of these classes will provide me with the proper training and understanding of my field so that I can best serve the group of men, women and children at whatever church I am offered a job at. At the end of 3 years, I will still have a masters degree, but unless I am offered a job, I will not be a minister. It is a complicated concept to get, but basically, here is how it is. In my 3rd and last year of seminary, I will begin to look for jobs in RCA churches somewhere in this country. If I am offered a job as a minister in one of those churches and I pass all of the prerequisite exams that my denomination requires, then I will be ordained. It is a beautiful ceremony where I promise to serve a congregation and God, etc. But unless I have a job coming out of seminary, I will not be ordained, and therefore cannot serve as a minister.

But what do I do in the meantime? I can’t just forget about RCA in the meantime, right? First, I need to “come under care of classis.” What is classis, you might ask? Classis is the regional governing body underneath the larger governing body that each RCA church belongs to. In order to “come under care,” or to be recognized as a minister-in-training by Classis, I have to be approved by my church consistory (or my church’s governing body, a panel of the church’s ministers, elders and deacons who have been selected by church members to make important church decisions), and questioned by important Classis members. This is perhaps the scariest part to date. I will be asked why I am interested in ministry, where I want to go, where I think God is leading me, etc. Essentially, I have to be interrogated before this whole thing will be made official and I can be recognized as a minister-in-training by the church government. I am nervous – ok, petrified – for that moment, but at the same time, that is the next step that must be taken in order for me to begin my training, and take one step closer to becoming a minister 3 years from now.

Next week, Classis is meeting at my church, and I have been invited to attend! BIG HONOR…like woah! BIG! Little me is attending the BIGGEST church meeting of the year. It is at this meeting that I will meet the “who’s who” of NY state RCA, and more importantly, it is at this meeting that I will make the necessary connections that will take me one step further in this journey. While I am frightened and nervous as all heck, fortunately, I will not be alone or thrown to the wolves at this meeting. Many familiar church members and ministers will also be attending, and I know they will keep an eye out for me and make the necessary introductions.

Well, that’s all I know at this point! Hope this shed a bit of light on what the process is for me over the next couple years and what exactly is going on in the ministry department for me at the moment!

If you want more info on RCA, I encourage you to look at their website…its got some great graphics and the images are stunning. RCA has a very active missionary and international ministry program, so they have planted churches all over the world. Their ministers are doing amazing things all over the place, so it is worth reading up on if you have a moment!

http://www.rca.org

Much love,

Liz

Running with Jesus: Seeking Faith’s Second Wind

A bit over a month ago, PBS released this amazing 4 hour documentary called “The Calling,” which profiled several young men and women of all faiths seeking a life in ministry. Most of the subjects of the documentary were looking at a life of chaplaincy, as that is where they felt their calling was, but nonetheless, I found their stories of value and great interest. (Shameless plug for PBS, people…) At the time this documentary was released, I was still in the process of committing to Princeton Theological Seminary, and still figuring out precisely which program I desired: a Divinity School versus Seminary education. Until even recently, I was not entirely sure what the difference was between the two titles, and at times, I am still not sure whether there is even a difference. Both schools offer an identical Masters of Divinity (M.Div) degree (the degree I am a candidate for beginning in the Fall…), and both seminaries and Div Schools are often affiliated with a specific denomination, meaning that a particular denomination provides a significant amount of financial assistance to the school and to particular students seeking ordination/long-term careers in that branch of Christianity. But one amazing thing this documentary did for me was it showed the high and low points of following my calling that is into ministry. I discussed in an earlier blog entry some of the challenges I expect to face in the upcoming years regarding my desires to become a minister, but this documentary showed them through real people, as opposed to as abstract, worst-case scenarios that they seemed to be. While someone might find them as a turn-off to ministry, I felt as though they armed me for the future – for future situations and problems that I may see in a church setting.

One extremely interesting metaphor used in that documentary is that of the “second wind” in faith. Anyone who has been involved in a physical activity understands the meaning behind this phrase – the body, in its reaction to complete physical exhaustion, releases a surge of endorphins and energy that allows for the body to continue the physical activity a second time. I have felt this particular physical phenomena on numerous occasions myself, and each time am shocked by how it allows me to continue for a short period of time as though I had not been exercising previously. I’m not going to bother to explain how the second wind works, because I’m not writing a sports or medical blog here, but it proves to be an especially interesting metaphor for Christian faith.

The idea of a second wind in faith can be interpreted in two ways. The first is the idea that the first wind, or the initial exercise if you will, was God’s creation of man in His image. This is when faith – first faith for all intents and purposes – began in its original form. Faith continued, but mankind’s dedication waxed and waned throughout time, producing and fostering the existence of temptation, sin and death. And then God sent Jesus down to us. We all know the story, so I’m not going to waste the time or space reiterating the whole story. But what does Jesus have to do with the idea of a second wind? Well, it is possible to see that the second wind was the simple introduction and existence of Jesus into society. When Jesus came, he revolutionized faith – he spread a revolutionary message of faith, hope and love that energized the faithful to embody their beliefs and share them with those around them. This is the second wind – Jesus energized the faith that God set forth in mankind during creation.

The second and slightly more applicable way the second wind can apply to this subject is regarding the every day faith of the average Christian. Throughout my days as a Smith student, I have felt my faith in waves. At some times during my student days, I have felt closer to God than ever, and yet at others, I have felt frustrated and far from God. But even at my most frustrated moments, I knew that God was the only way, and that ultimately, my faith would get me through anything. Eventually, I see a sign from God, or be encouraged by someone, and my faith would shoot back up to where it had been before. A friend of mine told me that it is not uncommon for our faith to be like the sea – it rises and falls like the waves of the tides, but no matter what, it is there all the time. The only thing that changes is our ability to feel and communicate with it. I was glad to hear that I was not failing in my faith, as I had so thought. This feeling would continue for a while, until finally, I would get my second wind. God would send me a message, telling me to do something or befriend someone, and all of a sudden, I would feel God on my shoulder again. My second wind is never the same thing – it could be a great movie with a renewing message, like “Letters to God” or “Facing the Giants” (Both corny and low budget, but sweet Christian Films), or a documentary about someone helping people, or my experience in the San Francisco Bay Area this past summer. Each time, I felt as though my faith had surged, my light shone brighter, if you will…(ala Matthew 5:14-16) Afterward, I felt strong and ready to fight again.

So what is the big deal about the second wind? Only I have experienced low points in  my faith, right? Bull! I beg to differ! We have all had moments where we have wondered where God was and why He wasn’t paying attention to us at that very moment! But eventually, we received some sort of inspiration that moved us back toward active belief…or whatever you would select to call it. That’s the second wind in action – it gets us energized to get moving again for God and Jesus. It is what makes us inspired to spread the revolutionary love, hope and promise that the original second wind brought to us 2000 years ago.

At times, my impatience to know what God’s plan for me right this very minute gets the best of me. But God sends a second wind, one that encourages me to keep moving, keep persevering, because eventually, when the moment is right, God will reveal a tiny glimmer of what He has in store for me, and it will be beautiful! So keep going! Keep looking for the next opportunity to seek God and the second wind of faith will come when you get stuck in a spiritual fog or cloud and can’t see which way is up or down.

God’s second wind comes at just the right time, and always when you least expect it! It could come in the form of a bright interaction with a long-lost friend, or a great sermon at church. But regardless of how it comes to you, God’s second wind (in the form of Jesus, of course) is strong and powerful, and lifts you up to where you belong. It is like the second wind I speak of is the arms of Jesus lifting you up off the ground and closer to Him. Its like a hug from God, telling you to keep running, to keep persevering toward following Him.

So keep running…keep seeking, because God is right there, waiting to catch us and give us His SECOND WIND!

All Revved Up: Strength in Numbers

I want this blog to be the optimal forum for my thoughts, fears, hopes and aspirations for seminary, but also as the place where I can practice writing mini-sermons of sorts on various topics important to Christians at this given time.

As for today, I want to talk about the idea: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS. I saw this phrase several places this past weekend, and I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to explore what it might mean to find strength in numbers, and why exactly Christians find strength and comfort in fellowships.

A while back, Smith’s Christian Fellowship discussed the power of small groups and Bible studies in the lives of Smith’s Christians. I myself have been leading a small group, and as I stated in a previous blog post, I found them tremendously valuable, regardless of what stage they are in in their faith journey. Whether you are a beginning Christian, or someone who has gone to church their entire life, being in the presence of others who are like you – who believe as you do, who ascribe to the same practices and so on – not only strengthens one’s faith, but also encourages further growth long into the future. All over the Christian world, pastors of all denominations stress the importance of Church Bible studies, youth groups, women’s book groups, Christian yoga even, all to bring together Christians of all ages, stages and walks of the community. The important term at work in this circumstance is the word “Fellowship,” which is used countless times throughout the New Testament in reference to the works and mission of Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is where Churches gain their enthusiasm for such programs as those listed above.

God calls us into a fellowship with His Son, Jesus so that we can grow and be faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:9) Further, it seems appropriate that this type of fellowship Paul speaks of is about the sharing of faith, beliefs and the participation in the worship of God and His Son. This community, having centered itself around the teachings of Jesus Christ, participate in the fulfillment of God’s will through word and deed. Now what does that mean, you might ask? Good question. I’m wondering precisely the same thing myself. I suppose, the best way to approach such a query is to break the statement down to its most basic elements. My understanding of the importance of group studies and church communities are based on my personal experience. For example, it was not until I went to college did I participate in Bible studies, book groups and fellowships. Until I did, I knew little to nothing about how important they are to those that attend them. Firstly, they provide a safe forum for Christians to come together to discuss issues prevalent among their families, children, even themselves with others who feel the same on a group of basic subjects. In other words, fellowships provide a social outlet for Christians to come together and meet other Christians, with the understanding that they can bond based on the fact that Jesus Christ died for their sins, and that there is no God but our God.

Where does this take us as Christians then? Should we all go out and join a Christian group just because?? I think that Christians should join together for several reasons. Firstly, it is the best way to keep faith growing and to strengthen beliefs that have already taken hold. Secondly, it allows for more experienced Christians to encourage those who are taking baby steps at the very beginning of their journey. A fellowship is the place where both groups of people are fostered, where both feel at home, despite the difference in their spiritual maturity. Another great reason is it gives Christians a reason to come together to discuss pertinent issues facing each and every person.

What I wonder is why more Christians don’t discuss environmental issues, such as pollution? Why shouldn’t we? After all, God created this world for us to live on, not simply for us to destroy. And also, why don’t we talk more about AIDS in Africa? Bono’s doing it, and he’s a Christian…Or poverty, starvation, malnutrition in our country? Are these not issues that face fellow Christians, if not many of God’s Children worldwide? Fellowships provide the perfect place for Christians to get together to talk about the issues using language that each of us understands.

Finally, I want to ask the question one more time: why do Christians gather? What power exists there? I think all the power in the world is formed when Christians gather together. We have the power to make social and cultural change. It has been proven in previous elections that Christians have made a great impact in political elections, but I would love to see 10, 15, 50 years down the line that Christians have had an even more substantial social and cultural change than political. We have the power and the strength, given to us by God and Jesus, to negotiate social issues that our brothers and sisters are facing on a daily basis. Rather than pass them by in favor of another subject, let us harness the strength given to each of us into a collective and use it to help those around us who feel as though no one has their back. I know that my friends have my back in times of need, but also, I know that there are Christians out there that also have my back, simply because of the beliefs we share. I have found that kind of love, strength and compassion within a fellowship, both at Smith and within my church in Bronxville. I encourage each one of you to seek out the same…somewhere. There is a fellowship for each and every one of you out there, just waiting to be found.

 

Loving Thy Neighbor: Our Number 1 Christian Duty Should We Choose to Follow It

So…I want to delve into a few Biblical themes over the course of the next few blog posts. The first one I would love to tackle is the idea of LOVE…and thy neighbor…Love Thy Neighbor. We read about constantly how Christians preach a message of love and acceptance, tolerance and hope, but how frequently do we see this lesson in action on the streets of New York, San Francisco or even Northampton? Do we even know what true love really looks like?

“love thy neighbor as thyself.” What has fascinated me most isn’t the verse itself, but rather how it is interpreted and taken into everyday practice. Even the most lapsed Christian knows this verse in Matthew (Matthew 22:27-40), in which Jesus commands the doubtful Pharisees how best to live according to the ways of the Lord. Jesus’ first commandment to the Pharisees is to first love their God with all their being, and second, to love their neighbor as they love themselves. This appears simple and straightforward enough for most; however, not only do the Pharisees struggle with the concept of loving their neighbors, but also do many American Christians and non-Christians as well. Much of this problem is derived not from the lack of understanding of that particular piece of scripture, but rather perhaps from the misinterpretation of the gravity and widespread intentions of Jesus’ commandment to his followers.

This past summer, I had the immense joy and incredible chance to work for the Center for Student Missions as a City Host, where I had the opportunity and responsibility to serve the underprivileged and ignored of the San Francisco Bay Area in the state of California. Part of this job required that I open the eyes of junior and senior high-aged students to the problems occurring in America’s cities, in the process breaking their hearts for the same issues that broke Christ’s. Much of this work meant revealing the problems that have resulted from neglect, both on the part of the houseless (a seemingly less degrading and problematic term than the standard, “homeless”) themselves, and also from their neighbors, both literal and metaphorical, as well. As I served in this urban area for over three months, I noticed at times the complete lack of care and regard for the physical, emotional, and even spiritual wellbeing of one’s neighbor. In response to this, I often faced questions from groups who wondered why exactly so many men and women in this country were living in complete poverty and even to the extreme point of homelessness, while others were living in mind-blowing wealth? To this question, I could hardly come to a deserving conclusion, leaving groups without a proper answer to their very important query.

As a Christian, I am called and commanded by God to serve my neighbors, whether they are the small family living in the next townhouse over from my childhood home, or the houseless man living back on the corner by my apartment in Oakland. Much in the same way, Jesus’ commandment to his disciples and followers to love their neighbor is not limited by geography or language, but rather is the complete and inclusive spiritual love for all of God’s children, regardless of race, walk of life, gender, religion or geographical location. This love does not necessarily mean that I am required to invite the houseless man living on my corner into my apartment to sleep in my bunk with my eight other female roommates. Rather, it could easily mean that I ask for an invitation to come into his living room – the sidewalk – and share a meal with him. By sharing something as simple as a sandwich and meaningful conversation with him, I am able to return to him the sense of humanity God created him with, but American society has removed from him over time. The problem with this scenario is that while it seems like a nice thing to do for a fellow member of God’s creation, it should not be an opportunity for a Christian to accumulate “Jesus points,” so to speak. Instead, it is our duty, backed by endless scriptural evidence, to come to the aid of our ailing, struggling or downtrodden neighbors. Despite how simple it may seem to come to the aid of those who are suffering around us, it is both easier and yet harder to ignore those around us who are suffering; much of this comes from a deep sentiment of guilt for perhaps contributing to the cause for their demise. And while this guilt is perhaps warranted, the solution to this demanding issue is far simpler than one might understand. Ultimately, God does not necessarily expect us as Christians – myself included – to change the world and end homelessness. Rather, I believe that He encourages Christians through His Word to show the same unconditional loving-kindness that He shows us on a daily basis. Because while a day may go by when I forget that God always has my best intentions at heart, there are some who rarely experience the physical manifestations of God’s love. I strongly believe that it is our duty to show that love to all, not simply to a select few.

I will confess that I feel an immense sense of guilt regarding my relationship to my neighbors and the love that I have shown in the past. I don’t claim to stop to talk to every person who is in need, and provide them with what they require. I make excuses, or look the other way. I can’t advocate for the giving of money to anyone, let alone everyone, but the most important thing we as Christians and non-Christians alike can do is start a conversation. Get the person’s name, a bit of their story, how their day is so far. Stuff that seems so inconsequential and minute to us can be monumental and massive to someone on the stereotypical “outskirts” of American society. In reality, they are no lower than we are, as we are all God’s Children, and therefore created equal (yay US Constitution, among others…), but society has programed into our heads that if someone hasn’t bathed in a few days, weeks or months, and sleeps in a box on the sidewalk, they are of less significance than say a man or woman who works on Wall Street or for the US Government. We are all equal in the eyes of God, and to ignore someone because they don’t have the same access to food or showers does not honor God. Ultimately, they may not smell as clean as you do, but they are a child of God, and have much to share and bless you with.

In my experience with CSM this summer, I met many men and women who were down on their luck, either with the downturn of the economy or suffering from mental health or addiction issues. I remember one time sitting down to talk to one man and to share a sandwich with him – he looked as though he had not eaten in a week. He first approached me on the street, asking for money so that he could get his prescription from the pharmacy. He showed me his hand, which was wrapped in a bandage. “I cut my hand real bad, and the doctor gave me medication for it,” he said. I believed that he was injured, but CSM encouraged us to help people with physical interactions, rather than with money. If we didn’t have enough money to help anyone, who were we to decide who was more deserving than other? I agreed with this, and it also made it easier for us hosts in the long run. I told Eugene (the man finally told me his name…) that I didn’t have any money that I could give him, but I had a sandwich that he could have. He accepted, and sat down and immediately began to eat. Eugene didn’t speak much, but I could tell that he enjoyed just having someone sit next to him. He was extremely dirty, and needed a shower desperately. I couldn’t help him with any of his immediate needs, but I could at least show him kindness and treat him like the child of God he is. At the end, I stood up, as I had to get back to my group, and as I went to leave, he said, “Thanks for chatting with me. No one ever stops and listens to me, let alone sits near me. I’m homeless, but today I felt human.” I remember what he said, because I left, feeling as though I had not done enough to help him. But something I love about our interaction is that during that time, while I didn’t blatantly talk about God or Jesus, I showed him God’s loving kindness through my actions, much in the same way that Jesus showed love to the outskirts of ancient society.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that you don’t need a million dollars or know important politicians to make a difference in your community. All you need is an understanding of what it means to “love thy neighbor.” By doing this, you are spreading the love of God to all people. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel through actions, and use words if necessary.” This St. Francis dude got it right – not only is he the namesake of San Francisco, but he pinpointed the best way to show the love and grace of God to people in a short time.

So remember St. Francis the next time you walk down the street of Northampton and people ask for money. You are not obliged to give them money, but show them some kindness. Give them a smile, ask them how their days are. Show them most importantly that they are not the dirt of the earth and not worth your time. Rather, show them that God is merciful and loves all of his creation, no matter where they live and work (or not…). If God’s grace includes you and me, it most certainly includes them as well. HE LOVES US ALL, no matter who we are!

Revving It Up: Exploring Women in Ministry

First of all, I just want to thank everyone for their support of my blog! This is a new adventure for me (chronicling my own personal adventure through the last semester of college and entering seminary!), and it is tremendous to have people who take time out of their break to read my blog! You all rock!

Obviously, the relationship between women and ministry is something that is close to home personally, as I want to be a minister when I graduate from seminary in 3 years (DUH!). More importantly, I am a woman, and I’m interested in ministry as a long-term career, so it therefore seems necessary to discuss the possible relationship the two might share, and also the conflict others find between them.

So, I’m going to take it back Biblical style, and use the Bible to examine how women have been involved in ministry, and where (if anywhere…) it says that women can and can’t become ministers. Hokay. Many people have asked me the question: should women be in positions of significant church leadership? Obviously, my argument is going to be, “why not?” But others disagree…quite loudly and frequently…and publicly too. Pastors (mostly men…) who ascribe to this particular argument use 1 Timothy 2:12-14 to support their opinions. It says: “But do I allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but remain quiet. For it was Adam who first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (NASB) Well, if one were to follow this particular thought line that Timothy lays out, then it is all Eve’s fault that man has transgressed against God, thereby falling from grace and out of the garden of Eden. Using the example of Adam and Eve, it is essentially saying that because Eve could not be trusted back in the garden of Eden, and since all are the product of the union between Adam and Eve, then all women produced of that union possess similar untrustworthy qualities. And therefore, because women are deceived and filled with the repercussions of the faults from Eden, then women cannot be trusted to properly preach and serve God’s community as the leader of a church. Hmmm…now what is this saying? “For it was Adam who first created, and then Eve…” So essentially, man (Adam) did everything first, but didn’t screw it up, the woman (Eve) did. It seems to come down to a matter of gender superiority going all the way back to the beginning of creation. This issue – women in leadership positions, not just simply women at the head of a congregation – has been in existence for all of time. It isn’t simply a 21st century issue. Men and women have been at conflict with each other over this problem, literally, forever!

Now, that is one side of the argument, but a few books earlier in the letters of Paul, the topic of women in leadership positions occurs again. In Acts 2:17, Paul discusses the various ways women have been of service to his ministry.

2:17: “And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of my spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Some theorists believe that Acts 2:17 is simply discussing social and cultural actions, not those occuring within the church. If this were to be true, then women could commune with and believe in God, but only on a cultural level, not as a leader in a church. This analysis is thin at best.

The worst of all arguments I have seen and heard is that to ordain a woman into a church pastorate would be to start a chain reaction to even worse things. I have been told on numerous occasions that by seeking a pastorate position after seminary, I would be any one of the following BAD things:

-a false prophet/preacher/minister

-the Devil/antichrist

-going against the teachings of Jesus/the Bible

…and ultimately…GOING TO HELL.

I mean, who says that anyway? That opens another whole can of worms (the whole, they condemned me to hell, thereby condemning themselves because only God can judge, thing…hmmm Biblical interpretation is complicated!). But many people believe that all women will make the same mistake that supposedly Eve alone made in the Garden all those many years back. But what they don’t understand is how women feel on the subject. The name I hate to be called most is a false prophet or teacher, because it belittles and demeans me. In fact, this subject angers me most of all because it is never women that are telling me that I’m a false prophet, but men. I was most challenged by this while working for CSM this past summer. I can’t pinpoint precisely why it came out most profoundly during this particular experience – perhaps it was because I was encountering such a wide variety of churches politically, socially, economically, etc. But who really knows? I have encountered friends who have told me that what I am doing goes against God, and that because of this, I will most certainly be punished with a lifetime vacation in Hell.

I know I shouldn’t let these sort of comments get to me, because the only person who will truly judge me is God at the end of my life, but the whole “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” thing definitely doesn’t apply here. I am offended when people tell me that women are not supposed to be in the ministry, as they are essentially judging my private and personal communications with God over the course of my entire life. What I say to God stays in confidence between me and him.

I believe that God creates each of us – men and women alike – for a specific purpose on Earth, and further, creates a certain set of circumstances that lead us to come to understand what our purpose is. I believe (and therefore it is important to me…) that God put me here to preach and teach in a church. I know this to be true in the depths of my heart. God has given me the gift of teaching and fellowship. What does this mean? To break it down, I love to teach, and I seem to be not so bad at it either (not to be arrogant…). But more importantly, people have given me the opportunity to teach out of the blue, not because they know that I love to teach. God made opportunities happen because He knows me  better than I know myself.

I mean, let me give an example. Last year, I started going to the Tyler House bible study on Friday afternoons. I realized how much I enjoyed attending small groups, but more importantly, how much I enjoyed teaching to small groups of women. When the leader of the THBS went abroad this year, I felt God telling me to pick it up and make it strong for her return as a senior after my graduation. It started out slow. Just me, another friend of mine, and this amazing sophomore from Tyler who is so strong in her faith in God. I was worried that this was how it was going to be. Just the three of us, with me not able to give to the sophomore all that she should be getting from the small group. I was about to cancel the group altogether, as I felt defeated and just drained by the whole experience when God gave me a sign that I should keep it going, even though it is a small group. Overnight, the group went from 1 other member to 4, all underclassmen from all over Green Street. I knew God would do what was best, but holy cow! God had blessed me with 3 other enthusiastic Christian women who wanted to study and fellowship with other Smithies. God blessed me through this small group. He gave me the strength to persevere when numbers were dwindling, and the strength to speak, even though it felt awkward at times. He gave me a group of other Smithies who could understand what I was going through and how I felt about being a Christian at Smith, and encouraged me to follow my dream and purpose to go to seminary. And in the process, I have had the ability to use my gift of teaching to start conversations about prevalent issues and on scripture. Thank God for God.

So. Where does this leave me? All this doesn’t justify either perspective. Obviously, I believe that women, when trained to the equal level as men, should be able to lead congregations as well as men. For me, I don’t think that anybody should lead a group having not been properly trained and examined for that particular position, man or women. But to simply exclude one gender for little or no proven reason besides the interpretation of the Word is ridiculous and unfounded. I am all for scriptural interpretation, but that is exactly what it is. Interpretation. The way that I read the Word will be different from the next person, because with it, we bring our own personal experiences and emotions, making our view different from the next person’s. I propose, therefore, that we preach the message of Love, not hate and exclusion. God created me for a very specific purpose: to preach and teach the Word of God to as many people as possible throughout my life. If that isn’t my purpose, I don’t know what is. But no matter how much doubt I encounter from others, I know God created me for that, and to doubt that women belong in such a profession is to doubt God. Because God doesn’t get it wrong. He doesn’t waste his time creating people with false purposes. He gets it right the first time, and the same applies to me. I wish that people would read the Bible and know that God gets it right. That God’s word applies to all people, not just to men, and that we are all his children, not just the men. I don’t believe – from the bottom of my heart – that God would have created me with these strengths and gifts if He didn’t intend for me to use the, and use them to the best of my ability. I would be dishonoring God and His creation if I didn’t use my gifts.

I encourage all of you to do the same.

 

Religion and the Smithie – The Relationship Between One’s Life as a Smithie and One’s Life with Jesus

One especially challenging aspect of this calling (meaning that my calling from God is to be a minister…Christian lingo)  is coming at it from Smith. Smith is a wonderful place, and fosters the growth and progress of strong and independent women, but at times, being a Smithie, and being religious seem to come into conflict with each other. It feels on occasion as though I am dating two people, or a citizen of two nations that are at war with each other at one time or another. I see the ability for Smith College to acknowledge religion as a strength, as opposed to a weakness, but I also see it waring within itself to do such. I remember nearly 4 years ago, when I entered Smith, I was just a baby in my faith (having only started reading the Bible and exploring the ways of Jesus Christ on my own two feet). I am not sure that I immediately wondered about how religion figured in the picture Smith saw of the world, but I sure did as I pursued a major in the subject. I have almost always considered myself a religious person, or identified as a person of faith, but it was not until I approached the study of religion in a purely academic setting did I see the stark opposition some have toward its grasps upon society. I saw this especially in one particular class, discussing the relationship between the studies of anthropology and religion. It was clear that a few of my classmates had either faced extreme persecution at the hand of religion, or feel as though religion clouds your ability to view the world in an objective manner, but who really knows, as they spent no time explaining their complete hatred for religion. At times, it is evident that the academic (and financial, political) institution that is Smith might feel in a similar manner. I remember some time ago, I was telling a fellow student about my career aspirations, and how important it was for me to go to seminary in order to fulfill them. Her response, let me tell you, was less than encouraging. The look on her face was simply priceless. It was as though I had a flesh-eating bacteria crawling all over my face, and it was rapidly consuming me. No “That’s amazing!” or “What a wonderful goal!” Just a look of abject horror, or even a look of sadness that read “Poor you.” I don’t think there is anything to be felt sorry about by becoming a woman of the “cloth” so to speak. Much of this confusion probably comes from their own previous experiences, but I wonder what is going on in their heads. Ministry is not an easy profession, and does not come without stress, sleepless nights, frustration and the like. But on the bright side, I will have the opportunity to speak to people constantly about Jesus, life, anything. People open up and show their true colors to clergy, probably figuring that ministers are men and women of God, and therefore, nothing can be hidden without incurring the wrath of God in the process.

Hopefully, by entering seminary in the fall, I can prove to other Smithies that my vocation, my calling, is not a denial of my education, but rather because of my education. I am able to enter seminary because of Smith. But I suppose that the greater student body at Smith might need some convincing, or some evidence to prove them wrong. My argument to them is that for me, ministry is not submitting to something ridiculous and unknown that will serve to cloud my judgment. Rather, for me, entering the ministry is the only way I can see to serve my God, and furthermore, it is what God put me on this Earth to do. I just want to open eyes and help people to understand how religion and faith in God is a good thing, not something detrimental to one’s citizenship or mental clarity.

So, I guess the final question I will ask is: Is it possible to be a follower of Jesus and also a strong and proud Smithie? Are the two simply in such conflict with each other that reconciliation is futile? I don’t believe so, not at all. Being a Smithie is simply one part of your identity, and does not have the ability to consume your entire being, as it certainly does not consume mine. I consider myself to be someone who wears many hats. I am a cyclist, a woman, a musician, a writer, a ski instructor, a Smithie, and finally (but not least of all…) a Christian. My faith in God and the words and deeds of Jesus Christ are a huge part of my existence; they tell me how to wake up in the morning, walk, talk, act, and go to bed at night. But they most certainly leave room for other things, like being a Smithie. I will forever be a part of the strongest community of women in the world that is Smith College, even when I graduate and move out in May. But never will being a Smithie allow me to forget who I was before I came, and even more importantly, who I will become after I leave Smith. Smith and Christ will always reside in me, even though I made promises to them both at entirely different parts of my life. Smith has taught me how to be a strong and confident woman, who is able to take on any fight that God might throw at me. In fact, I would even say that God made me to go to Smith, even though I thought otherwise. It was God’s plan that I went to Smith, and it is God’s plan that I will always remain a part of it, in spirit when the relationship is no longer directly physical.

Ultimately…I am strong. I am a strong woman because of Smith, and I remain strong because of God. I think the two fit nicely together, despite how trying their love affair may be at times. My faith has grown because of Smith – because of the people I have met and the friendships I have made.

Alrighty, enough for now. More Later!