Contributors to our blogs are faculty, alumni, and students of Seminary of the Southwest sharing their reflections from the context of a community of faith. We hope you enjoy reading, and we invite your comments.
“I have a dream.” The influence of these words by Martin Luther King, Jr was on full display Thursday night, January 15, at the 10th annual MLK Oratory Competition held at the George Washington Carver Museum. The room buzzed with excitement as it filled with parents and community members brimming with hope and expectation of what the young writers were going to say. The crowd slowly inched into the room with a dissipating hope of actually finding a seat. With standing room only, seventeen elementary school students, from different parts of Austin, competed in the competition as part of the annual MLK celebration presented by the Austin Area Heritage Council. In a five-minute speech, each speaker was to answer the question, “What message of hope do you think Dr. King would have for the world today?”
During the first week of January, I participated in the annual Interfaith Seminary Retreat sponsored by the Multicultural Alliance of Texas. This event brings together students from Christian seminaries in Texas with Jewish and Muslim seminarians from Los Angeles and Baltimore for the purpose of deeper learning and awareness of one another’s traditions. The focus of this retreat was the role of story telling. Stories were used not just to explain the various traditions represented but as a way of engaging one another in small groups and individually. The act of telling stories is a powerful way of humanizing those who might seem different from us. It allows us both to see what is distinctive about each of our journeys but also what are the commonalities that bind us together.
Today is Epiphany, when we celebrate Christ’s arrival among us, and revelation as the Savior of all. He came as a ‘mere’ child. Because of the recent visit of a young African choir, I am thinking today of the youngest and most vulnerable among us and the music they create.
There is a long tradition in the West of children’s choirs. Attached to cathedrals, colleges and universities across Europe, choir schools taught boys to read, write and especially to sing music for the liturgy. The levels of musical achievement were quite astonishing.
At a seminar on planned giving recently, I heard an estate planning attorney say something that tends to be at the heart of the challenges we all face in terms of creating or updating our wills.
His comment was, “Getting your will together is usually at the bottom of everyone’s to-do list.”
In an earlier blog post, I complained about the happy-ending, “fairy-tale” aspects of the parable of the prodigal son. Homecomings, I reflected, are rarely as rosy as all that.
But in the parable’s finale, when the resentful brother complains about the party, we feel right at home. Not only do we sympathize with him, we are him. “No fair!” we grumble over our laptops and spreadsheets while others watch TV. “No fair!” we grouse when another family member gets his favorite meal—again. “No fair!” we seethe in our cubicle as a new hire moves into the corner office. “No fair!” we whisper when a loved one dies and so many, many others do not.
It has been only 89 years since Pope Pious XI instituted the festival day of Christ the King, or more accurately, the day of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.” This Sunday festival is a dramatic, theological exclamation point, which brings to a close the liturgical year. Inherent in this quite lofty title is Matthew’s apocalyptic vision of Jesus coming into his glory as he prepares for the last judgment, dispensing punishment on his left and reward to those on his right.
It is interesting to note that we now understand that Pope Pious XI’s underlying reason for reminding the faithful of Jesus’ kingly role was not necessarily a liturgical announcement of the imminent season of Advent. It was more of a preemptive strike against an alarming increase in secularity and the very real threat posed by the then, fledgling Italian kingdom which was threatening to usurp the Vatican’s sovereignty and land mass. It was in part a political encyclical saying, “careful you earthy evildoers, you too will be judged by the real King.”
In spite of the air conditioning working overtime in Christ Chapel, I was sweating. It was August in Texas and I was wearing a suit, but I wasn’t sweating for those reasons. I was sweating because I was anxious. I wasn’t sure if I would fit in at the Seminary of the Southwest. I wasn’t sure if I would fit in anywhere. I felt this way ever since I left the Army about a year before.
The first week of October, my husband Doug and I went exploring. We headed to Zion National Monument in Utah and to the north rim of Grand Canyon. Our named desire was to be in majestic natural beauty. We hoped for wonder. We wanted to visit places we’d not seen before. I suppose we are hungry for wide open space. Something about aging seems to have set our palates for wilderness.
"We regard the martyrs with the same affectionate intimacy that we feel towards holy men of God in this life, when we know that their hearts are prepared to endure the same suffering for the truth of the gospel. There is more devotion in our feeling towards the martyrs, because we know that their conflict is over; and we can speak with greater confidence in praise of those already victors in heaven, than of those still combating here."
-- St. Augustine Contra Faustum Book XX
St. Paul addresses some of the early Christian communities as the Saints -- the holy, the people of God -- and we do well to think of our sisters and brothers in church in the same light. The gathered mystical body of Christ is one of the most profound glimpses of the Kingdom of God that we can have on this side of the grave, and it is literally holiness incarnate.
That being said, over the past couple of millennia, there have been a few Christians who have seemed to radiate God’s goodness to such a degree, that they lived as walking sacraments, showing forth God’s nature 24/7. For this tiny group, we reserve days of commemoration, seek to model our lives on theirs, and ask their prayers on our behalf.
"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark."
St. John of the Cross
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that “mindfulness” is the flavor du jour in leadership training. Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have been teaching it for decades, but just recently it has come into our collective consciousness. This does not mean that people are actually being mindful; it just means that lots of us are talking about it. It has been on the cover of Time Magazine and there is even a magazine called Mindful. This week Mindful is featuring stories like “Five Tips for Bringing Mindfulness to the Office” and “Free Mindfulness Apps Worthy of Your Attention.” Mindful is a helpful magazine that features some interesting articles but note the paradoxical nature of a “Mindfulness App.” It really is a perfect emblem of our times—a way to speed up one’s ability to be mindful, when mindfulness is all about stopping and stillness.