Every year at this time I have such bittersweet feelings, as a hectic year comes to a close and graduates begin their transition away from Lynchburg College. I am both exhausted and excited, grieving and yet grateful. I turn to this short reflection every Commencement week because it resonates so much to my own experience. I’m not sure who wrote it but I’m guessing they worked at a place much like our own Hornet Hive and I hope their words speak to you as well:
For many of you, these weeks are filled with exciting exits for your grads and others,
leaving you sitting in your office or some quiet place
wondering how the year went by so fast and how you feel kind of lonely, a bit left out and likely real tired.
Well done, good and faithful and creative and talented and accountable and underpaid
and very much appreciated changers of lives
(even if some of those changed lives don’t stop by to tell you so).
Get some rest, grieve as needed, rejoice as able,
keep the faith, do the job, and ask for help.
Thank you to all LC students and staff, faculty and administration for your faithfulness to our community. Have a blessed and renewing summer!
On Monday, April 27th our daughter returned to graduate studies in Baltimore after a weekend visit. By that evening we were watching media reports of riots, looting, and fires in the city she has called home for the past year. Protests had spiraled just hours after the funeral for Freddie Gray, who died of a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. By Friday she had joined thousands of peaceful protesters who marched for over six hours demanding justice. Many were celebrating state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby’s announcement that charges had been filed against six police officers involved in the arrest and death of Gray. As a parent I am grateful that my children participate in peaceful protest as a way of demonstrating the values they uphold and the solidarity they can express with those who struggle.
Over the past week I have read and watched countless reports and commentaries about Baltimore from every political and spiritual persuasion representing the far left to the far right. And I have tried to make some sense of it through the lens of my own experience and conscience. Two quotes have been especially helpful to me. The first is from Martin Luther King, Jr. who said “….a riot is the language of the unheard.” While never condoning violence himself, King understood that righteous indignation and anger are natural human responses to oppression and persecution. I am sickened by the number of tragic deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of those charged with their public safety. If I was the mother of Eric Garner or Freddie Gray or Michael Brown, I know I would be enraged, especially if I knew my child was but one of so many others in a litany of loss and pain. I cannot condemn the riots, the looting, and the arson if I am not equally willing to condemn the history of racism, violence, and corruption that often leads to such explosive responses. A riot IS the language of the unheard.
The second quote that resonates with me comes from Mr. Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” In the last week all kinds of people have turned out to help the city of Baltimore. While it might not be surprising that clergy of all faiths have been working together to help establish calm and to continue to work for racial reconciliation, helpers have come from unexpected corners as well. According to some reports rival gang members came together to protect local businesses from looting and vandalism. One gang member said they made sure no black youths, or reporters, were injured by rioters. Other helpers were ordinary citizens who came out to sweep up debris and to begin general cleaning of the neighborhoods. There will always be helpers and I will continue to look for them.
While some level of calm may have returned to Baltimore, the story is far from over. In the days, weeks, and months ahead much more soul searching still needs to happen in that community and in every community. May each of us in our own way listen deeply to the pain that underlies the anger, and may we be among the helpers who are trying to respond.
I am in the very early stage of grief. On April 2nd my brother Mark died suddenly at age 59 of a heart attack. We truly believed that he was the healthiest one in the family, so his death was a shock as well as a reminder of the fragility of life. During this time of sadness I found a poem by Pat Schneider to be especially comforting. I will share it with you.
Is there an angel in the house?
If there is,
come to me…
and if you aren’t too tired,
or otherwise occupied,
and if it isn’t too tacky a request,
please rock me.
I am bruised.
If you hold me until morning,
I promise I will rise and light the fire
and break the bread and put back on my shoulder
my corner of the world.
But for now I could use the shelter of a wing.
Is there an angel in the house?
Life sometimes brings difficulties that leave us bruised. I am comforted by a living God who heals and rocks me with many advocates. I have been rocked by friends, family, flowers, a beautiful memorial service with words of encouragement and amazing music, notes of encouragement, hugs and yes, the shelter of angel wings.
Grief is a complicated process and experienced differently for each individual. Loss comes to each of us in many different experiences of life. Each can leave us bruised. Consider… regardless of your belief system…to take the time to heal and be open to being rocked by those who care about you. There just may be an angel in the house.
I’m a bit puzzled about what to write about Earth Day. I always have to start the Chaplain’s Corner article several times. The first false start yesterday was about Environmental Theology and used some academic resources from a seminary class long ago. At this point in the semester I don’t expect anyone to read academic work that isn’t required. I took a carbon footprint quiz and it told me what I already know, I should bike more (if I could balance on one of those), that I should eat less meat, that I should drive less, and that the avid recycling that we (but primarily my mother) do at our home makes a huge difference.
When I was little, Earth Day was a day to head to the park and play games and learn at little kiosks about water and recycling. Today it means teaching my kids to do better than I have and about the interconnectedness of the whole of Creation. There goes the theology again. This year I have paused to reflect and produced a prayer to share with you.
Holy Creator, I wonder with awe about the intricacy of Your work. The magnificent views are breathtaking and the microscopic anatomy fit together perfectly. I wonder how the complicatedness of creation balances so well with the simplicity. I wonder about the diversity of the oceans and the land, the mountains and the vast flatness, about the rain forests and glaciers. I wonder why the sand of the deserts and beaches seem so alike. I wonder about the sea creatures that live in deep trenches still waiting to be “discovered.” I wonder about the abundance of mosquitos.
I wonder about my own self. I am wonderfully made with fingernails and ears, with a brain and a heart. There are so many parts all working together, so many fluids and cycles and mysteries. I wonder about disease and cancer. I wonder about personality and creativity and mental health.
I give thanks for my own ability to think for myself and for my own ability to co-create. I confess that I live selfishly and use more resources than I need. I confess that I confuse likes and needs and that I get consumed by worldly goods and ambition and ego. I confess that I ignore the fact that all of creation is intertwined.
Creator, I look around and see just enough order and just enough mystery. I look around and balance seems possible. I pray for our Earth, for the magnificence of it and the vastness of universes beyond. May I give thanks for Creation every day and work with all of who I am to preserve it, to be a true caretaker, and celebrate its beauty. AMEN.
May you find a few moments to wonder about creation today and consider how your life might celebrate the Earth.
I will never forget where I was or what I was doing on April 16, 2007. My husband and I had taken our daughter on a college visit to James Madison University in Harrisonburg. It was a beautiful day, and we were surrounded by hundreds of other hopeful young adults and their families exploring the possibility that this large state university might become a new home. We had been checking out the bookstore when I received a call from my sister in Kansas.
I was about to tell her all about our adventure that day when she stopped me short with the news of the tragic shootings in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech. At the time no one realized the full extent of the massacre. By the end of the day, 32 students and faculty members were counted among the dead. My husband and I had spent four years working with students at Tech as campus ministers in the late 80s so my sister knew we would be especially shaken by the news.
Like so many others I was shocked, stunned, and deeply saddened. I still am today as I reflect on the senseless loss of lives and the horrific grief that continues to paralyze so many families and friends. Each year, we pause at this time to remember and reflect and to honor the memory of all those who died that day. This week we recall not only those who lost their lives in Blacksburg, Virginia but indeed all who have died as a result of violence.
In a particular way we remember the victims of the Holocaust as the Jewish community observes Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah— in Hebrew literally translated as the “Day of (remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” This year Yom Ha’Shoah begins on the evening of Wednesday, April 15 and ends in the evening of Thursday, April 16. Whether grieving the loss of individuals or lamenting the genocide of entire communities as occurred in Nazi concentration camps, we come together for mutual support and spiritual solidarity.
George Santayana reminds us in his now famous quote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This Thursday we are invited to gather together at Friendship Circle at 12 noon to remember the past in somber reflection. We will call to mind those men, women, and children who died as innocent victims at the hands of violent perpetrators. We will honor their memory by prayerfully committing ourselves to be people of peace, reconciliation, and healing in our own families, on our own campus, and in our own communities. Please join us either by participating in the vigil or by taking time in your day for quiet remembrance and peaceful prayer.
Usually by this time in the semester I am feeling two wildly different opposite feelings. I get caught up in the rapid pace of the whole community speeding rapidly toward the end of the semester, preparing for commencement, hustling to get everything in. There are lectures and concerts and productions and inductions and students planning for summer. On the other end of things I feel like life is dragging a bit and that I am in a rut. By this time in the spring, I have had too many meetings (Dean on Call, Hot Names, and Cabinet) and too many lunches at my desk. Not to mention – enough trips to the hospital with students to get a bit too familiar with the ER “Ambassador Services” lady.
The good news is that this is Doggies in the Dell week! Some students actually miss their pets more than their parents, so come out and take a dog for a walk, throw a toy or just bring a blanket and rub some canine ears. Doggies in the Dell has the sole purpose of reducing stress. We are hoping for nice weather so that the dogs can hunt for Easter Eggs filled with treats and we can all get some needed fresh air. My dog, Snickers, loves students. She is usually exhausted for several days after a few hours with all her campus friends. Doggies in the Dell is good news for me because it is a change of pace and a chance to play together as a community. (See you Thursday!)
We are all called to live well and with intentionality every day, not just in the times that are fun, not just in the times that are easy. We have to live lives of love when everything is going our way and when monotony sets in. A friend passed this poem along this week and it speaks to me about faith in the ordinary times. The celebrations of Easter are over and we are back to live as usual, wondering what to do between the times of joy.
Sometimes I wondered if
I had any faith.
I sat down and thought about it.
And when I had had enough
of that I got up
and went on my way.
And that—the getting up
and going—was faith.
(by Mary Jean Irion)
Please take a deep breath several times a day in this final push toward May. Study hard, hold tight, meet all of your deadlines, and remember that sometimes getting up and continuing on is the greatest testament of faith we have.
Friday evening I attended the Amherst County production of The Wizard of Oz. Pulling into Amherst County High School’s parking lot I followed the car ahead of me, pulled out what I needed and began the trek to the auditorium. I took about four steps when I was attacked my one of my favorite little people. The youngest daughter of our pastor, Miss Emma embodies life. She says what she feels and acts how she wants to act. Miss Emma lives life fully and completely. One of my favorite qualities about her is she thinks “big thinks” for a second grader. Miss Emma asks why (and why not) and her imagination is limitless. After exchanging hugs with her mom (Miss Emma does not hug, willingly – she just wants you to know she sees you), we traveled together to the auditorium.
From the opening chord the night was magical. The cast gave 200% and the music was spectacular (the cowardly lion was incredible), but it was the Munchkins who stole the show. Comprised of community children (including Miss Emma’s sister) these little ones were animated, energetic and everything a Munchkin should be. As a group they were top notch but a few of them enjoyed the spotlight for their 15 minutes of fame. I laughed. I giggled. Tears came to my eyes as I watched these children live life fully and completely…putting all of themselves into the performance.
Later that night I began to wonder. At what age do we decide we cannot dance, sing and perform? At what age do we stop challenging ourselves and settle for the known and a life without magic and wonder and moments in the spotlight? At what age do we forget life is to be lived fully and out loud?
These are important questions. Religious traditions teach life is a sacred gift. Life is something to be lived fully and completely. Life is meant to be savored. Magic, imagination, wonder and moments in the spotlight empower us to become.
As Spring rolls into Lynchburg I double dog dare you to live life fully and completely. I dare you to use your imagination to dream dreams and try something new. I challenge you to step into your moments in the spotlight and lay hold of that which calls your name. I dare you to live the life the Sacred Divine gave you with audacity and boldness. I invite you to live life asking why and why not and then boldly dancing into the possibilities. I invite you to live.
Carpe diem, fellow Hornets. Seize the day!
This week I was fortunate to attend two different powerful presentations by women from different religious traditions but with very similar messages. On Monday, Christian minister Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock spoke about “Soul Repair” and the need for communities of faith to assist veterans in recovering from moral injury after war. The next evening Ellen Cassedy, noted Jewish scholar, playwright, and speech writer, shared her experiences of tracing her family tree in Lithuania and discovering the continued impact of the holocaust on both Jews and non-Jews in that country.
Both Cassedy and Nakashima Brock cautioned their audiences on the danger of glossing over, or worse yet, ignoring the impact of violence on those who experience war and other atrocities, whether as victims or as perpetrators or sometimes both. The two presenters would agree that it may take a lifetime to work through the complicated and messy wounds of violence. Post-traumatic stress syndrome is but one example of the consequences of horrible atrocities.
As people of faith, our task first involves a willingness to acknowledge that there are walking wounded among us. Some may be veterans of war, victims of anti-semitism, or others who suffer from violent abuse whether physical, mental, or emotional. Once we open our eyes to the hurting among us, we are then tasked with having open ears to listen deeply to their pain without trying to fix it, explain it, or dismiss it. With open eyes, and listening ears, we are better able to have compassionate hearts to help walk with others as they work through their own unique and sometimes lifelong journeys toward healing and wholeness.
To walk with others, to give witness to their struggles, to be willing to sit with them in times of confusion, despair, and even anguish is to participate in the powerful process of inner healing. As we prepare for the upcoming sacred season of both Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week, may we pray for and journey beside them – those whose lives have been forever marked by violence but who look forward with hope to a time of peace.
One of my guilty statistical pleasures is the data collected by the Public Religion Research Institute. For the most part church folk are not much about numbers. It’s about faith, not the number of people in the room. It’s about the experience of the divine and not the money in the plate. It’s about individual faith journey and not a building. It’s about social justice and not the light bill. I tried to be an academic and am more of a pastor at heart, but I still like looking at the numbers.
The American religious landscape is becoming more and more diverse. White Christians are no longer the majority in 19 states. In 13 states those who claim “no affiliation” (often called nones) are in the majority. White evangelical Protestants are the majority group in 15 states, (mostly southern states). In Ohio and Virginia white evangelical Protestants are tied with the nones as the largest groups. Catholics are in the majority in 17 states. North Dakota and Iowa are the only two states which have a majority of white mainline Protestants, and Utah is 56% Mormon.
On our campus the categories that we count are defined somewhat differently. We have a clear Christian majority with a large diversity of Christian flavors. The list below shows religious affiliation of our students as they self-identified.
Assembly of God 11
Church of Christ 11
Church of God 9
Greek Orthodox 6
No Preference 246
Roman Catholic 261
Seventh-Day Adventist 8
Please take the list as an approximation since our collection for this data has layers of complications, but it is helpful to have a snapshot of who we are.
Lynchburg College continues to be affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as it has been since “a group of Christian businessmen” founded Virginia Christian College, but true to that affiliation we also continue to celebrate our diversity and the opportunity for dialogue with those of other traditions. I am a third, maybe fourth, generation Disciples preacher, so I am very proud that the Disciples continue to prioritize higher education and diversity and that we live that out here at LC. With more than a dozen fellowship groups on campus, more than a dozen Bible Studies, three weekly worship services and bi-weekly Shabbat, you just might find our community a bit more religious than most places.
I have worked in Higher Education for over 30 years and today I felt a double blow as a professional whose lifework has been devoted to college and university communities. The first blow came when President Garren announced the abrupt closing of Sweet Briar College, an all-women’s institution founded in 1901 and nestled in the mountains less than 30 minutes from our own campus. The reasons for the closing were primarily financial according to all reports. “Few students are choosing to attend rural schools where options for internships and work experiences are limited, and even fewer want to attend a women’s college” reported President James F. Jones, Jr. I have friends who work at Sweet Briar and have met incredible young women who study there. I can’t imagine the grief and shock that currently rock that closely knit community of students and their devoted faculty and staff.
Later in the day I heard an interview on NPR of Kevin Carey who directs the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. In his new book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, Carey envisions a future in which “the idea of ‘admission’ to college will become an anachronism, because the University of Everywhere will be open to everyone” and “educational resources that have been scarce and expensive for centuries will be abundant and free.” Carey argues that a private liberal-arts education such as we enjoy at Lynchburg College is no longer financially viable or realistic.
I understand and appreciate that a growing number of potential students and their parents are primarily interested in a college degree as a means to simply get a good job. However, I still hold out hope that future generations of students and families will continue to see the value of the educational experience that communities such as Lynchburg College can provide. In addition to preparing students for future employment, institutions such as ours create lifelong learners with a curiosity and wonder about the world beyond the classroom. Within the classroom, engaging and challenging discussions, small group activities, and opportunities for oral presentations create an energy and wealth of wisdom that simply cannot be replicated online. In musical halls, on theater stages, and in studios of the arts, the creative spirit is allowed to flourish and thrive.
Outside the classroom students learn what it means to live together with civility and charity alongside those who may be very different than themselves. In the residence halls students learn conflict resolution and communication skills. On athletic fields and tracks, gyms and courts, sportsmanship and teamwork abound. In coffee houses and dining halls, fitness centers and trails by Beaver Point, on the porch of Hopwood and in red chairs on the dell, lifelong friendships are formed and nurtured, creating bonds that neither time nor distance can ever erase. Special relationships that cross the boundaries of students, faculty, staff, and administration form the heart and soul of the Lynchburg College experience, and we are indeed blessed and graced to call this campus our home. May we never take for granted the gift that we enjoy in being a part of the Hornet Hive, and may we do our best to continue the LC legacy for many years to come.