Holy Saturday Book Created By the Spring 2011 class of Introduction to Pastoral Ministry. Photos from students, 5701.wordpress.com, used under creative common license on flickr.com, or from Archival Photographic Files, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. Any uncredited photographs are from one of these sources.
Holy Saturday: Reframing Hope
All â€œThis I Believeâ€? statements are original writings; authors are credited in the book.
Meadville Lombard Theological School The March 2011 class of Introduction to Pastoral Ministry - This I Believe statements Edited by Lynnda White and Compiled by Shawna Foster
Compiled shamelessly by Shawna Foster, edited by Lynnda White.
Holy Saturday Reframing Hope
Holy Saturday: Reframing Hope Meadville Lombard Theological School The March 2011 class of Introduction to Pastoral Ministry - This I Believe statements Edited by Lynnda White and Compiled by Shawna Foster
Holy Saturday Reframing Hope
Holy Saturday: Reframing Hope Passages. We mark them in sundry ways. The joys and the sorrows. We mark them in our own lives, and we pay tribute as loved ones and friends move through the mottled landscape of light and shadow. In March 2011, Rev. Dr. Susi Pangerl taught at Meadville Lombard Theological School for the last time. Passages. Light and shadow. Joy and sorrow. Dr. Pangerl introduced concepts of ‘unknowing’ and ‘Holy Saturday’. When do we shed the comfort of what we know in order to transcend our understanding, to find our strength? These moments of suﬀering and uncertainty are our Holy Saturdays. Passages. Unknowing. Suﬀering and uncertainty. At the end of a pastoral care lecture on death and dying, hospice and palliative care physician Orlanda Mackie further illuminated the meaning of Holy Saturday: for those who keep the Easter tradition, the time between Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection—Holy Saturday—is a time when hope is reframed. Passages. Illumination and hope reframed. With this compilation of This I Believe essays, we, her last class at Meadville Lombard, want to honor and to thank Dr. Pangerl for sharing her gift of ‘unknowing’.
The Violin(ist’s) Lesson by Jim Foti When I asked my music teacher whether it was OK to leave my violin in my car, she oﬀered a helpful tip. Consider the outdoor temperature, she said, and think of how long you would let a person sit in a parked car. She didn’t specify what kind of person, but I assumed she meant a person I liked. And as a Minnesotan, I couldn’t imagine that there would be too many days, winter or summer, that would allow me to leave a person, a pet, or a violin unattended.
One March afternoon I wanted to stop at the gym on my way to my lesson. I didn’t want to drive back home to get my violin and I wasn’t going to bring the poor thing into the humid theft-prone environment of the locker room. The outdoor temperature was right around freezing, and I thought, “If I were to leave a person in my car for an hour, I’d want the person to have … a sleeping bag.” So I grabbed my army-green sleeping bag from the top shelf of the front closet, unfurled it in the trunk of my car, and tucked the violin case snugly inside. I acknowledged that I was taking something of a risk. My music teacher had told me a horror story about a violin left in a too-cold car – how the strings shrank, the bridge fell over, the pegs came loose, and the teacher spent most of the lesson putting the instrument back together again. I was almost positive that that wasn’t going to happen to my violin, but when I arrived for my lesson that day, I confessed to my instructor that I had conducted a bit of an experiment. I opened the case and... Everything was fine. The strings weren’t any more out of tune than usual, and the body of the violin wasn’t cold to the touch. I had a great lesson with my instructor and a refresher lesson on a few of my beliefs. I believe in the power of reason, and in critical thinking when I listen to authority figures. I believe in taking calculated risks to improve outcomes. I believe that, if we’re ever going to solve the myriad global problems caused by petroleum consumption, we’re going to have to be creative in how eﬃciently we use our cars. We’re going to have to be creative about how we live. And if I can save a few miles of driving by putting my violin in a sleeping bag, I believe I’ll do it again.
Photograph by Jim Foti
A Bigger God By Deb Rostorfer It was the week before Christmas 2004 and my car had broken down. I had to get to work somehow. At the time I was living in Orlando and working at a major theme park. In the morning I sold tickets at the front gates and in the afternoon I performed in the holiday parade, as a giant walking strawberry. Public transportation in Orlando is not like here in Chicago and I had never used it before. I was scared of this new experience.
The night before I was to ride the city bus for the first time I called my best friend. She said, “You haven’t had to go without food, you haven’t had to go without shelter, what makes you think God’s gonna drop you now?” Suddenly my belief in God went from foxhole prayer answerer to omnipotent, loving being. I was still scared but I was determined to trust in my newfound higher power. The bus pick up location was down a long stretch of street that ran alongside one of the biggest, oldest cemeteries in Orlando. I chose to run by the cemetery since it was quarter till six in the morning and I was imagining the Thriller video coming alive in the darkness. I got to the bus stop and waited for muggers to show up. While I waited for the muggers the bus came, I got on it and got to work on time. This test of faith had proven to me that I could trust in a power greater than myself to help me take the next healthy action. If not for this experience I may not have the belief in a loving higher power the way I do today. Sometimes I heard people talk about “getting a bigger God.” This experience was a test of faith for me. I got to get a bigger God. To realize for perhaps the first time that I was not alone. That faith and trust would carry me through times when my fear wanted me to run the other way or simply not act at all. Since then I try and remember to trust God and know that God cares about me.
Deb as a giant walking strawberry.
The Greatest Tree By Jim Magaw In the months leading up to the birth of my daughter, I was feeling thoroughly overwhelmed. I really wanted to be the perfect father, and I was profoundly aware of how imperfect I was in every conceivable way: I didn’t earn enough money. I was too self-centered, immature, impatient, unimaginative, lazy and ignorant. And I wasn’t all that good-looking either! So, given all these deficiencies, how could I even come close to being the father I wanted to be?
On top of all that, my partner Marta and I were so obsessed with having a great birth experience that we signed up for not one but two childbirth courses—a 12-week class in natural childbirth and a 5-week “hypno-birthing” class. As it turned out, we weren’t able to apply much of what we learned. About 4 weeks before the baby’s due date, Marta was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome, a life-threatening obstetric complication that required an immediate emergency C-section. After Marta was wheeled into the operating room, I was left to wait in a very small, very isolated recovery room entirely by myself for about 30 minutes. And it was about the longest 30 minutes of my life. I paced, I perseverated about my various shortcomings as a father, I tried to meditate, I paced some more, and in the end I wept and I prayed. Finally, I got word that everything was OK, but I remained in a state of heightened anxiety until an hour or two later, when the on-call pediatrician from the neo-natal intensive care unit visited us in Marta’s hospital room. (con’t on page 8)
But I do have these moments of clarity when I’m able to see what’s really important in my life. And, for those moments, I am immensely grateful.
He started out by saying, “First of all, I want you to know that this baby is going to be fine.” And after that, I pretty much stopped paying attention to what he was saying because I’d already heard what I needed to hear. Somehow, just hearing someone say those words, “I want you to know that this baby is going to be fine,” lifted a great weight from my psyche.
And it was a feeling and a moment that I carried with me for several months afterward and helped get me through some very challenging times. I’ve since wondered why this statement was so important for me to hear and why it made such a diﬀerence to me. I think it comes down to this: I so much wanted to have faith that what was truly most important to me would work out—that my daughter would be healthy—that I grabbed the first clear and concrete assurance anyone oﬀered me and held onto it for dear life. And, for that moment at least, I let myself forget about all my self-doubt and self-judging thoughts that I’d been spinning and spinning for months. And then it became clear to me that faith wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my competence or my worthiness or about my training or education. Faith and belief, for me, were—and are—about what I am committed to on the most fundamental level. My faith as a father is not a reflection of my parenting skills but is a reflection of my commitment to something outside myself. By honoring and returning again and again to my commitment to my child I am expressing my faith. There’s a story about the Protestant reformer Martin Luther: when asked what he would do if he knew the world were ending tomorrow, he supposedly answered, “I would plant a tree.” By far, the greatest tree I have helped plant in this world is my daughter. And my commitment to her well-being is my clearest statement of faith. After having become a father, I’m really no more patient or mature or clever or handsome than I was before. And I certainly don’t have any more money than I used to. But I do have these moments of clarity when I’m able to see what’s really important in my life. And, for those moments, I am immensely grateful. But I do have these moments of clarity when I’m able to see what’s really important in my life. And, for those moments, I am immensely grateful.
From 5701 Woodlawn blog
Transformed: I’ve Moved On By Ryan NeuCollins Just before I moved into third grade, my mother, father, and I moved into a new house on a lake. My father’s inherited chain of restaurants was doing well, and we could aﬀord to upgrade. Our lawn that swept down past the large maple tree to the lake, a hammock by its side; the field full of Queen Anne’s lace across the street; the lapping of the small, wind-driven waves, were a revelation. My sense of self developed here, and even, I would say, a sense of spirituality that shimmered, undefined and full of promise, in the heat of the summer days. The maple tree in the back yard had a tire swing on it, upon which I spent hours. One day I noticed a giant toad emerging from a hole in the base of the tree. From then on I sang songs to it, my tinny voice wavering thin and reedy and out of tune.
Four years later, the Detroit riots had destroyed almost all businesses dependent on downtown clientele. Debtors began ringing our doorbell and circling the house. My parents argued more frequently, and that Xmas Eve, my father didn’t come home until late—and when he did, the car window was broken and he smelled of liquor. At night, I could hear the ice cracking, startling and scary, and I dreamt of falling through. When spring came, I found a tiny frog beside the lake, and my hands cupped like a nest, carried it to the hole at the base of the Maple and prodded it inside, where I assumed the larger toad would care for it. Although I saw the larger toad again, the little one vanished as if it’d never been. Not much later, a For Sale sign was set up on our lawn. My father was attacked in a parking lot down town and became partially paralyzed. My parents’ marriage dissolved. I’ve discovered that whereas our emotions have no aﬀect on events--they continue, as impervious as drifting glaciers-the shock of realizing this prompts humility, and from this, a grain of wisdom. I no longer feel guilty about the little toad, although for a while I was wracked by images of toad cannibalism. I’ve moved on. My parents’ marriage—sloughed oﬀ like a shrunken skin, has blended into the ecosphere; they’ve made new lives...or have died, and the yard that I loved lives in my memory, and has achieved a poignancy there that it may never have had in real life. My old losses have twisted and turned in the years since then, morphing into bears that wake now...impatient, hungry, and padding out of their caves even as I write this, their eyes blinking in the sun.
I Hold My Future Deb Cole I believe in adventure. My whole life I have been an explorer. This deep exploration has not confined itself to the external world, but also includes exploring my inner landscape. As a young child, I often dreamed of flying like a bird. My mother says I would sit at the window and watch the birds for hours. My favorite book when I was young was “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”.
It was not just the bird theme, but the deeper meaning that caught my attention. With my interest in flying since childhood, working toward my pilot’s license at the earliest opportunity made sense. My first solo cross-country flight was a magical moment where I realized that I held my future in my own two hands. On that long flight, when the mechanics of flying subsided somewhat and I allowed myself to thoroughly enjoy the experience, it was transforming. I felt oneness, connectedness, and unbridled joy. So, too, the depths of the ocean were fascinating. I wanted to experience the deep and swim with the fish (a sensation like flying but without a plane), so I became a certified diver. The heights and the depths were symbolic of the deep internal exploration that was brought to light within me. In both instances, communication with others is diﬃcult – either because of the noise of a small aircraft engine or the separate quietness of one’s own breathing apparatus. Both allowed thoughtful time for self-reflection – contemplation of “What IS my place in this Universe? Who am I when I’m by myself? What is my part to play?” As I have grown older, my sense of adventure has continued more inward. The process of becoming a T’ai Chi Chih instructor, two years after starting my practice, literally shifted my perspective and changed my life. It has allowed opportunities for what I can only understand at this point as deeply spiritual experiences. It started me on a path of exploring my inner landscape that set the stage for my call to ministry. In fact, it was the week-long training that set up the deep hunger in me to find a spiritual community in which to grow and stretch and deepen the connection to meaning in my life diﬀerent from anything else I have ever known.
Part of the answer to fighting despair is to focus on the good things that can still be found in life, rather than surrendering to the bad.
I Must Oﬀer Hope By Doug Traversa I believe that true caring is the foundation for life and religion. I believe that the world is full of reasons for joy, but I also know I have had a fortunate life. Others are not so lucky. For them, I must try to oﬀer hope, and I believe hope comes from people in action. I believe that people’s pain cannot be ignored, but must be faced head on. I believe hope and caring must spring from love, and these things are the foundation for a relevant religion. The best way to approach people in pain is with honest caring. I don’t appeal to a deity for comfort or hope, though they might. Speaking for God is not my responsibility, and quoting scripture passages would ring hollow. What I seek to do, what I must do, is care for the people in my congregation. I seek to learn about their lives and help them when I can. I’ve done home repairs, watched pets, helped with yard sales, and given rides to those who need them. These actions, as well as actions of others in the congregation, are the source of hope I must oﬀer. The universe is neither safe nor just; terrible things happen to people each day, and sometimes those terrible things happen to members of my congregation. In this kind of world, it is the love of the community that matters most. I do believe that life is a remarkable thing, something to be treasured. Whether the source of life is a greater being or the randomness of an amazingly complex universe, we should be grateful to exist. This being said, I also know all too well that for many people, life is far more pain and sadness than joy and wonder. But even in war-torn Afghanistan, where I spent a year with the Afghan Army, I saw people in desperate straits who still found joy in life. Part of the answer to fighting despair is to focus on the good things that can still be found in life, rather than surrendering to the bad. I wrestle with knowing how much pain and suﬀering my life causes, whether it is animals dying to be my food, or people hurt by my words or deeds. It is easy to think the world would be a better place without me in it. Instead of despairing, I work to lessen the pain I cause, both through continuous changes in my lifestyle, and striving to genuinely care for those I know. By these actions, I find joy, even in the bleakest of times. By this I show love, and by this I might bring joy to others. This is my hope. This I believe.
Meadville in the Winter
The Path of Self-compassion By Tisha Moore I believe in the inverse of the golden rule. For myself and those I love, I want only this: that we would learn to treat ourselves as compassionately as we treat those who are dearest to us. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Those teachings do not say “Love your neighbor while completely neglecting yourself.” They do not recommend “Treat others great, yet treat yourself very poorly—worse than you would ever imagine treating anyone else.” These guidelines simply encourage us to treat each other and ourselves in the same manner. Yet many of us respond to our own mistakes and shortcomings with violent self-criticism that we would never express to those we care about. If a dear friend is in tears—even if they’ve made a serious mistake—we are compassionate and soothing. If we ourselves are suﬀering, that suﬀering is often met with a gruﬀ, “Pull it together.” I see myself as having been blessed by a life-altering accident—the kind of event that creates a “before” and “after” in one's life. While cycling to work in 2007, I noticed (too late) a looming pothole that I knew was impossible to avoid. In the ensuing accident, I fractured my skull, broke my wrist and was plunged into a visceral and enduring state of panic. Learning to be compassionate toward the anxiety that so fully colored my life was one of the most diﬃcult things I've ever had to do.
My favorite theme in the life of the Buddha is his ongoing relationship with the demon Mara. Mara is the figure who, in Buddhism, represents the forces of evil and delusion. Mara first appeared as the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree on the night of his enlightenment. Mara used various methods to distract the Buddha—fear, anger, seduction. Yet, the Buddha was able to withstand these temptations and he became free. But what I love most in the story is that Mara didn’t stay gone forever. He would reappear throughout the Buddha’s life and each time the Buddha would react in the same way. As his disciples panicked to see the demon arriving on the scene, the Buddha would simply say “I see you Mara.” And he would invite Mara to sit down for a cup of tea. This teaching gives us wonderful insight into how we should deal with our pains and our imperfections. First, we have to be willing to see them. Then, we need to get intimate with them, to understand where they come from and what it is that we need to learn.
Without clearly and compassionately exploring our own shadow sides, I don’t believe there is ever a way to be compassionate with the imperfections of another. How often—if we are honest—do the things that irritate us in others really irritate us most in our own minds and hearts? For me, learning to treat myself as kindly as I strive to treat others has been a painful and diﬃcult lesson. Yet, it is the single lesson that defines my call to the ministry. Stephen Levine writes in his book Healing into Life and Death that “it is only when you are able to sit with your own pain that you will truly be able to sit with another’s.” Because I chose this path of self-compassion and self-discovery, I now feel inspired to oﬀer this same compassionate presence and sensitivity to others who experience the deep vulnerability of a life crisis. I believe my commitment to myself must be every bit as strong as any other commitment I make in this lifetime—because my presence is all I really ever have to give. I believe I am the very being to whom I've been given the greatest access in this life—the being who allows me to best understand and love our shared humanity.
Rooted and Stretched By Jean Brophy In December 2008, I was in a period of transition. After reading William Bridges’ book titled “Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Challenges”, I decided to go on a weeklong private, silent retreat in the manner suggested in this book. I had never attempted anything even remotely like it. To say that I was nervous is an understatement! First, I researched retreat locations. I wanted a setting in nature, and a fireplace. After some time, I discovered a place called “Christ in the Wilderness” in western Illinois, and a two and a half hour drive from home. The name of the retreat center worried me (since leaving Catholicism in my early twenties, my beliefs around Christ have been uncomfortable and uncertain). There was also not a fireplace. Other than the name, and absence of a fireplace, the setting was ideal. I carefully planned my simple meals, and enough clothing to stay warm and dry in that snowy December. Bridges’ strong recommendation is a silent retreat (no music), and no reading materials. Other than clothes and food, the only other packing was my pen, journal and craft materials for creating art, if I wished. Oh yes, and candles. I brought many – to substitute for a fireplace. I arrived on Monday afternoon, and planned to stay the week. “Christ in the Wilderness” is an eighty-acre, beautifully wooded area, and there are three one-room private cabins plus the main house.
At most, there could be four residents of this retreat center at a time, plus a number of deer, birds and other wildlife. I knew right away that it was perfect. Sister Celia greeted me in her small, bright yellow Jeep, and helped me to haul my groceries and luggage to the cabin. After a brief introduction to the land, I was on my own. I’m recalling this experience in answering the question: What do I believe? Because it seems to me that my beliefs, and faith, are expansive. I grow, am more inclusive, more open, more questioning, more connected, more loving because of my beliefs and faith. It was a remarkable few days of simply being. One afternoon, I took a walk through the snow, up a steep hill, and came to the edge of the woods. There was a large field ahead, and the sun was directly in front of me and brilliant on the snow. With feet planted ankle-deep in snow, I felt deeply a part of, and connected to, the earth and the Divine. I stood there for a time, and felt myself rooted (through my legs) and stretched with arms wide open. I felt that I was, quite literally, growing. Faith, for me, is expansive, heart truly wide open, trusting and loving. I know when I’m living my beliefs, because I can feel the openness and the joy that it brings, and my actions sing the same tune.
Gratitude is a Spiritual Practice By Gretchen Weis I believe in gratitude. In giving thanks for the miracle that is this life, and for the countless miracles around me every day. For the moments that take my breath away – from the sound of birds greeting the rising sun to the power of an incoming storm or the quiet of nightfall and the rising moon and stars. I have so much to be grateful for – the love of family and my family of friends, my health, my education, my intelligence, my smart-aleck sense of humor, my spirit, my love for life.
For a rewarding 35+ year career and the gift of a second career to serve others through ministry. For financial abundance and a beautiful roof over my head in a world where so many live out on the streets. For the miracle of clean, healthy water coming out of a faucet anytime I want it. For the gift of healthy food when so many go to bed hungry. For the right to participate in the democratic process. To live with four turtles that make me smile and fill me with constant delight and gladness. Gratitude is a spiritual practice. The challenge is to write down three things that happened each day for which I am grateful. This ongoing practice has reshaped the way I look at my life, allowing me to identify and focus on the many blessings instead of scorekeeping the complaints. This work has also allowed me to be thankful for those many moments of doubt, loneliness, frustration, failure and emotional pain, as well. I have learned, as the Buddhists say, “to lean into” my pain -- to experience the miracle of my growing edges so I may learn what these divine gifts of emotional discomfort have to teach me.
Sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons we are all here is to serve as witnesses to life – to drink in all of the splendor, the horror, the tenderness, the triumphs and the unbearable suﬀering. To experience as much as we can and to shape meaning from what we witness – creating context and growth for our own lives as well as the lives of others. A wise Rabbi named Marc Gellman once observed that there are four types of prayers: “Gimme!” “Oops!” “Wow!” and “Thanks!” Yes, I’ve prayed “Gimme” and “Oops” asking God for needs met, or for forgiveness. But I pray that my life be filled with many more precious moments of “Wow” and “Thanks.” May we all learn to live our lives with praise and wonder for the gift of this world and for our place in this world, right here, right now. I believe gratitude can teach reverence for all that is our lives. To quote Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you’, then that would suﬃce.” Amen.
Yellow Rose of Texas by Gretchen Weis
Next Time, I’ll Ask By Sarah Richards I believe in seeking for truths, and that the search is more important than the outcome. I agree with the line in our Unitarian Universalist hymn We Laugh, We Cry, “even to question, truly is an answer.” Asking questions to further understanding, to challenge assumptions, to ruﬄe the feathers of the status quo, to confront authoritarian policies— asking questions and considering various answers, then asking more questions, acceptance that sometimes there are no answers, and asking still more questions--this balance of curiosity and ambiguity, faith and uncertainty in the world, is what I believe. The funny thing is, I often don’t know what the best questions are to ask. In my experience as qualitative researcher, the last question of the interview, ‘do you have anything else you’d like to say?’ often yields more insight into the issue at hand than all of those asked before. And sometimes, the unspoken questions that are answered through observation and emotional response get at deeper truths than anything I can ask about. Here’s another funny thing I’ve found—when I’m asking questions of others, I’m also asking them of myself. What do you believe? Why do you do it that way? How have your views changed over time? Those are the questions that wake me up. I believe in asking questions. I have learned this the hard way, in my personal relationships. I once dated a man for a year, and I was so afraid of the answer I might get that I never asked him about his expectations and desires for our relationship. In retrospect, I could have saved both of us at least eleven months of time and eﬀort, not to mention my own heartache and embarrassment by asking a few questions. I now recognize that if I’m afraid to ask questions, I’m not being my true self. I recently overheard two young women talking about their life philosophies. One said that she always asked questions and wanted to know more about everything. The other responded, but you can’t question God, He has a plan and you can’t question it. I thought to myself, if God created us, and gave us the capacity to learn by asking questions, wouldn’t He want us to use it? Since the two young women were airport janitors cleaning the women’s room, and I was sitting on a toilet at the time, I restrained myself from posing that question, but now regret doing so. Next time, if I have the opportunity, I’ll ask.
Once a Girl Scout.... By Lynnda White
This I believe: Once a Girl Scout, always a Girl Scout--if one is granted a little grace. After more than four decades, I can still remember the Scout promise. Of course, if you look on the oﬃcial Girl Scout website, the words will not be the same as they were when I was involved in scouting, but the sentiment remains the same. The Scout promise from “back in the day” was: On my honor, I will try to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Girl Scout Laws. I do not remember all the laws verbatim, but two that remain nestled in my consciousness are: A Scout is clean in thought, word, and deed; and A Scout always leaves a place better than when she found it. “Clean in thought, word, and deed.” Hmm. I tried to be “perfect”; I was a good scout, but I must have been a real pain-in-thebutt daughter and sibling. My mother, sisters, brother, and son still laugh when they hear me curse, which I have done on occasion of righteous indignation or sheer joy of leveling a gritty epithet. That leaves “thought” and “deed”— again, not perfect. I am guilty of having an imagination, being lured by temptation, and doing some things I would not like to confess in this (or maybe any) venue. On the whole, however, I think I have at least been a better and more controlled person by virtue of listening to my inner Girl Scout. Until a few months ago, I was a literal practitioner of leaving a place better than when I found it. At work, I straightened conference room chairs left akimbo by executives, as if their mothers would be in to straighten them up (the chairs, not the executives). In Paris, I picked trash oﬀ the front lawn of Sacré-Cœur Basilica and asked my traveling companions to help. At the welcoming ceremony for the second Meadville Touchpoint class, I picked a cup up oﬀ the beach, and when I threw it into the trash receptacle a wave of nasty liquid sprayed my face and my clothes. That was a good reminder not to congratulate myself for doing a good deed, but to do the deed because it needs doing. Then, a few months ago I thought, “Hmm. Leaving a place better than I found it means more than dispatching litter or straightening a room. I can leave a sacred space better if I provide a Unitarian Universalist service for a Boy Scout Jamboree rather than saying “No” because I oppose their rhetoric on homosexuality; I can leave a troubled place better if I act to interrupt oppression rather than hoping others will do it. I can leave the world a better place because through scouting and its principled intentions, I have matured into adulthood, mistakes and all, and through grace, I walk a trail that was always leading toward ministry.
Sarah Richards and Greg Pelley look on as Lynnda White (center) discusses family history as depicted in her geneogram. Photograph by Jim Foti.
Architecture at Meadville Lombard Theological School
It Matters What I Choose By Greg Pelley I met Caroline when we were both undergraduate students at the University of Illinois. As we would eventually discover, our meeting was unlikely.Â Objectively, some might even consider it inconceivable. We were both out of state students, she from Delaware and I from Arizona. My decision to apply and attend Illinois was complicated. Although I had dreams of going to Illinois for several years prior, I had many reasons to stay in Arizona. Along the way any of a dozen choices could have swung the decision in another direction. Caroline!s path to that campus was improbable. Her introduction to the University resulted from an impromptu side trip from a midwestern college tour she was taking with her father. While not on their itinerary, they decided to detour to Illinois to visit the campus that her grandfather had attended; a grandfather who had been killed in World War II and who neither she nor her father ever knew. From those choices, those chance decisions, and probably hundreds of little ones, the two of us found ourselves in the same place at the same time. I do not think that our improbable meeting was a result of providence or predestination. Rather, I believe in the power of the deep interconnections of life, the discreet choices we make everyday that have implications that ripple through time. It matters what I choose; whether to turn left or right, to take the chocolate or the vanilla, to speak or remain silent. Far beyond the immediate results, it matters in ways that are impossible to predict or discern. The movement of life is dependent on these ripples of implication: intersecting, overlapping, tumbling over and through each other. For me, this is freeing. Anticipating the surprise and synchronicity of future unknowable interconnections allows me joy in the choosing, and releases me from the bounds of regret. It gives me the kindness to allow myself mistakes or otherwise bad choices; for todayâ€™s error may connect my life to someone else!s and make a profound diďŹ€erence in both. Several consciously big decisions and thousands of unconsciously small ones rippled over time and placed two people in a room together at the same time. Caroline and I have now known each other for more than half our lives. A chance meeting followed by countless of joyous and unexpected implications as we move through time, together.
Choosing Family By Sara LaWall I believe in family and community. One’s family need not be blood-related. We can also choose our families and they can be made up of those whom we love and care for and thus our familial community can be quite large. But in that system, I believe that your family deserves your best self and care and attention. In many ways it is the village mentality of child-rearing. “It takes a village...” means we all chip in and help, we are all the guardians of our young and the pillars of strength for one another. We oﬀer our support and practical help whenever we can.
We have known our best friends for twelve years. We've had our children together and live 5 blocks apart. We cook together, clean up and help raise each others kids. We've traveled together, exploring some of the world's most spiritual places. Nothing brings you closer to people than hiking the 26 mile trek to Machu Picchu for five days without a shower or enduring an 8-hour boat ride on the Siem Reap river or experiencing the majesty of Angkor Wat at sunrise. We have changed careers together and supported one another through life changes. And sharing some of life's greatest moments together has only cemented my faith in the power of friendship. We would do anything for each other; we are each other’s village. There is extraordinary beauty and comfort in knowing people love you unconditionally no matter what and that those same people would not only drop everything to help you in a crisis but that they depend on you to do the same. They have not replaced my family of origin, whom I love and hold as dearly as I do my friends. The two combined have expanded my sense of what family means. I find religion in that expanded family. They remind me of the sacred and the holy and how together we tackle the big questions of life. They are my salvation and grace with endless love. Holding that love—truly cherishing it and sending back to them and the world—is the deepest expression of religion I can think of.
Fish eye of the outside of Meadville, from the archives
view from the stacks - by Shawna Foster
My Anger and My Love By Shawna Foster My son was born with a painful stomach disorder we didn’t diagnose for two months. His ill temperament matched his ill health. We could not go to restaurants because our son would fall into fits and we were the embarrassed people with the screaming baby. Lore says that children have terrible twos but my son was terrible at every age. While my daughter would cautiously open and close cupboards; my son would run headlong into traﬃc. Well-meaning friends suggested autism. We had him tested; the doctor shrugged and said, “Maybe oppositional defiant disorder? But no, not autistic.” At 18 months old the boy had figured out how to lock himself in his room, and in the bathroom. No threats or rewards worked. Everyday I dropped him oﬀ at childcare glad to be away from him and yet felt guilt, because he screamed in a violent tempest when I dropped him oﬀ. When I picked him up he would rage again that he had to leave childcare. He bit, hit, spat and punched me and my husband at every chance. We wore bruises of a child that was raging at something we didn’t know. This same boy delighted his caregivers and relatives with his personality. Once he fell into a fountain and disappeared under the water without a sound. While most children would be frightened, upon rescue my boy merely sputtered and smiled, and asked to be doused again. He always slept in our bed and hugged everyone he met. One day I realized I was making $1 an hour after childcare expenses as a forms analyst. No one benefited from me working. That night I had a dream that my son had the voice of God and asked me why I denied h(H)im. God’s voice lifted to the clouds and asked me what I was afraid of. My intense love for my son was reflected back to me tenfold through the voice of God. The next day I quit my job and started preparations to enter ministry. Now when my son is diﬃcult, I pick him up and hug and kiss him, tell him he will be ok, though I feel like hitting him or throwing him into his room. The tantrums ended, and my son dramatically improved. His bad behaviors ebbed away. And I have found that the trick of ministry is providing this love and forgiveness to more people than just my son. This I believe.