Tuesday, November 17, 2015

“God’s Call in Music” by Peter Hawisher-Faul

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases,  and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Luke 9:1-6

Last week at the CA we had the pleasure of hosting Adam and Andrea, a young married couple who travel around performing in a folk duo as “Adam and I.” Andrea and Adam shared with us their music as well as some of their story. Their story helped me to see how God’s call can reorient our goals.

They started writing music in Nashville, a city filled with inspired artists trying to find a way to turn their art into success. Adam and Andrea told us about a time when they had to decide for themselves not to chase after what brought success to others, but they instead decided to pave their own path to success on their own terms. For them, this means that they are willing to play music only in exchange for food and lodging if that’s what it takes to share their music with others.

Their identity as artists is shaped by their faith. They chose not to prioritize worldly success because their success in the eyes of God is more important to them. They choose to center their lyrics on hope and love because of their experience of Jesus’s love. While they may not be living as pastors preaching on the Bible, I think their lives serve as an example of ministry.

Most Christians may only go to church one day a week, but their faith can impact their whole lives. This might just mean sharing a love of neighbors through kindness towards coworkers. It could mean using personal gifts and resources to provide for those who are needy or to encourage a more just society. Sometimes we talk about this as “answering God’s call.” The intersection of faith and personal work can be what separates a career from vocation. For Andrea and Adam, they understand their vocation to be traveling and sharing their music while starting a family together.

As society changes, Christians must always stop and think about how their faith changes the way they go about their personal work. It could be, as it was with Adam and Andrea, that understanding our work as vocation can create a dramatically different vision than what is usually understood as “success.” For students at the CA and for all who experience God’s call on our lives, we have to think about how following Christ changes how we go about our lives.

Halloween and Resurrection by Megan LeCluyse

Given on October 28, 2015
Sermon on Ezekiel 37:1-14

“Bones, bones, bones.” That was pretty much how I translated verse 7 as I rushed to finish my final exam in Introduction to Biblical Hebrew during my first year of seminary. While not exactly the right translation, we certainly do have a lot of bones in this passage, but we also have so much more than that. In what several commentators referred to as a passage that captures the imagination, we read a vivid depiction of dry bones literally coming back to life. It’s the perfect Halloween passage; complete with skeletons and something that kind of resembles some type of zombie creature! What is going on here?

Well, first, let me place where we are at in our Biblical arc. After spending some time looking at the early history of the people of Israel and the Psalms, we have moved into looking at the prophets. The prophets play many different roles for the people of Israel, serving as both a voice of challenge and speaking hard truths, as well as a voice of comfort, pointing toward a future that is different from the present. Ezekiel did both of these things – first prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem, and then as an exile, prophesying words of comfort, words of life, like we find here in this passage. We find here one of the major themes of the Bible – as one commentator puts it:  “At the core of the Biblical narrative is the story of displacement – of having wandered a long way from home, and longing to return. This is the underlying plot of being cast out of Eden, of being foreigners in Egypt, of the journey to the promised land, of the longing of the exiles in Babylon to return to the land of their [ancestors].”

It is in Babylon that Ezekiel shares the vision that he has that we read tonight. The Israelites are in exile and wondering what their future will be. The Temple lays in ruins in Jerusalem. Spiritually the people were dry – if you want to get a sense of how in despair they were read Psalm 137 sometime. We too can find ourselves with dry bones, maybe from exhaustion, maybe from overuse, maybe from not taking care of our souls. For both the Israelites and us, “Can these bones live again?” can feel like a very real question. The same can be said when we look around our world today – in part I think due to some of the dark side of our technology and connectedness. Statistics show that we are living in a safer time than any recent time, and yet we believe it’s the opposite. Children are not allowed to play outside on their own, and we fear a random mass shooting. Climate change seems unstoppable. The world’s challenges can quickly make us feel like we are in a valley of bones.

What happens next is not zombie-ism. It is resurrection. What we have here is one of my absolute favorite Hebrew words – if you’ve heard me talk about it before, it’s still an awesome word and concept, if you haven’t, listen up. The word is “ruah”, and why I love it is that it means spirit, wind, and breath. And it doesn’t mean just one of these at a time, it can be all three intertwined. So when God says “I will cause breath to enter them,” what is really being said is, “I will cause spirit/breath/wind to enter them.” All three are one and the same, a life force, restoring not just breath, but flesh and being to these dry bones. This is also why I love the Hebrew Scriptures – I mean, talk about an image of hope and resurrection. In a valley of grim despair and death, God breathes a life-force that restores the dead to life. This is powerful stuff. For ourselves and for the world.

Do you ever have times where it seems like all your classes randomly come together, where some topic seems to just keep showing up in everything you read? The prophets talk about justice, and how we can bring hope to the world. One of the great places to find a prophetic voice in our time is Sojourners, a non-partisan organization that challenges us to think first about what it means to be Christian. In last week’s weekly e-mail, Jim Wallis talked about extreme poverty is being reduced, in powerful ways. The efforts of individuals and organizations are working. In 2000, the UN put out its Millennium Development Goals, which had a goal date of 2015, and they have made significant achievements. The number of children who die before age 5 has been cut in half. In the 1980s only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; that is now up to 80%. There is still work to be done, but change is really happening.

And you do make a difference. I read a daily Richard Rohr devotional, and right now he is talking about those individuals who have shown him what active non-violent resistance and change looks like. But he took the first day of this week to not talk about an individual, but to acknowledge that behind every great individual, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day being those he has looked at so far this week, our countless individuals also contributing to the work, who make it all actually work. We are those individuals. Aung San Suu Kyithe leader of the opposition movement in what was Burma, and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said, “Every thought, every word, and every action that adds to the positive and the wholesome is a contribution to peace. Each and every one of us is capable of making such a contribution. Let us join hands to try to create a peaceful world where we can sleep in security and wake in happiness.” 

When you are in the valley of dry bones, may you let God’s ruah restore life to you. And may you let yourself be God’s instrument to breath ruah into others and into this world. These bones will live again. Amen.

God's Presence in Job's and our Incomplete Wisdom by Peter Hawisher-Faul

Delivered September 30, 2015
Text: Job 38

Before we get into the scripture for today, I think we need to lay out Job’s perspective at this point in the book. Job was a man who did everything right. He feared God and he turned away from evil. He even offered sacrifices on behalf of his family just in case one of them sinned. He was pious and hard working. He was an accomplished businessman for his time, owning thousands of livestock. If he was a student, he would have worked his hardest to become valedictorian and get involved in an impressive array of extracurricular activities. If this story was set today Job might have cured a disease, been a master of invention, or maybe a political reformer. Whatever your picture of success is, Job had it. Job was a man who got everything you might hope for out of life.
At least, until it was all taken away from him. All in one day, thieves stole his livestock and killed his servants, fire came from the sky and killed servants and livestock the thieves didn’t take, and his house collapsed on his children, killing them all. Job still worshipped God even after that. Then Job’s body started to suffer. He got boils and blisters all over his body. From all appearances, Job went from being God’s favorite to being God’s enemy. Job began to question why this had happened to him.
Throughout the book of Job, three of his friends try to find any reason why Job might have angered God. Maybe Job did something wrong. Maybe, he was about to do something wrong. Maybe Job’s family had angered God. Maybe Job unintentionally or accidentally committed a grievous sin he wasn’t even aware of. Job’s friends use their best understanding of God to try to help their friend. From everything they knew about God, Job looked like sinner that had to be guilty of something.
Think of how you might react to a friend who starts to struggle with addiction of some kind. You might empathize with their pain, but you might still want them to recognize that they have a role in their own recovery. That’s what Job’s friends thought of him. They thought, surely there must be some reason Job has been punished. If Job could just find the reason and work harder, they were certain his life would improve.
Job however, defiantly assured them that he had done nothing wrong, and he surely hadn’t done anything that would deserve such a harsh punishment. What could he possibly have done that would justify killing his family, taking his possessions, and striking him with disease? As the book goes on, Job begins to demand a trial, between him and God. If Job is at fault, he wants to know what he has done. If God is at fault, Job wants to know why. Job is no longer certain of anything and he demands answers.
Eventually God shows up, which is where the scripture we read begins. God gives the personal audience Job demanded, but it’s not quite the trial Job imagined. God questions Job with questions he can’t possible answer. He asks (in my paraphrase), Where were you when I built the earth? Who laid the boundaries of the oceans? Have you been to their deepest depths? Do you even grasp how big the world is? I bet you couldn’t even imagine the universe. Do you know how water came to this planet? Do you know who birthed the ecosystem? Did you cultivate the planet with rivers as irrigation? Do you have the power to move the stars through space? Could you harness nature as a weapon? Do you have the power to sustain life on this planet?
What would you answer? What could you answer?
It might be tempting to list some of the impressive accomplishments of modern science, but every scientist knows we still have much to learn. We might be able to find some really good theories on the formation of the planet and the evolution of life, but we weren’t there. It’s not observable and repeatable. We can’t claim to have the knowledge and power of the creator of the universe.
God asks the questions rhetorically because the answers are clear. We are dependent on the tools, resources, and knowledge we have available. We are dependent on what we have been given. It’s part of the human experience. Part of faith is recognizing that we are dependent on God. We can only know so much, and that which we know is by the grace and creative work of God.
Using the image of a trial, God cross-examined Job and undercut his credibility as a witness against God, but God did not declare a verdict. God doesn’t judge Job for his anger, only his lack of understanding. Job may be innocent of wrongdoing, but that doesn’t put him on equal footing with God. Because Job does not understand everything that God does, he is not able to cast judgment on God.
But did God recount the awesome power of creation just to put Job in his place? I don’t think Job is the only audience of God’s speech. When God finally declares a verdict, it is cast upon Job’s friends. God declares, “My wrath is kindled against you, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Job was angry with God and demanded answers from God, but that’s an appropriate response to the suffering he experienced.  Job’s friends on the other hand used their theology to try to speak for GOD and find a way to blame Job, the suffering victim.
Job receives the audience from God and it is Job whom God addresses, but Job’s friends must also ask themselves, “Were you there at the creation of the world? Do you claim mastery over life and death?” Job’s friends claimed to know with certainty that fault must lie with Job, but that claim was beyond their understanding. Job was right to seek another answer.
It’s easy to criticize Job’s friends, but we come up with all kinds of ways to explain success or failure while claiming knowledge of divine or natural law. Sometimes we use God to blame someone for their own suffering through theology, but sometimes we use some understanding of the natural order. We might explain that some suffer because of the survival of the fittest, and we might say that others suffer because they did not work hard enough to deserve a better future, it’s still the same kind of thing Job’s friends were doing. When we do this we might need someone to ask us, “Where were you at the creation of the world?” Just as Job had insufficient understanding to judge God, we have insufficient understanding to judge others. Human wisdom has its limits.
Life isn’t always fair. So where is God in unjust suffering? According to the book of Job, God hears our cries for justice and can even find our anger to be righteous. God doesn’t need defending. Rather than claiming understanding of God’s plans or the natural order we ought to acknowledge our ignorance and the frailty of human wisdom. When faced with the power of our creator, our understanding will always be incomplete, but God hears us and shows up nonetheless. Thanks be to God.
For our response, I would like you to choose one or both: With Job’s friends in mind, Name one of the ways humans claim to have a complete understanding of God or the world. With Job in mind, Name a tough question you want God to answer for.

Listening for the Answer to the Blanks by Megan LeCluyse

Delivered September 23, 2015
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve started exploring the topic of filling in the blank by looking at a couple of major ideas. We looked at God as creator and artist, who created us in God’s image and invited us to be a part of creation. Then we looked at who God is, exploring Moses’ encounter with a burning bush from which God tells him to say “I am” sent me, I am who I am. As we work through the Bible and Hebrew Scriptures, we are going to go from the macro – God, to the micro, us, tonight. Similar to Moses, we are going to look at a passage where God comes and calls someone, but now we will focus on the individual.

Tonight’s story is about a young man named Samuel. Samuel had been a child incredibly desired by his mother, Hannah. Hannah had struggled to conceive, and had prayed to God, saying that if she had a child, she would dedicate the baby to the Lord. Which is what she did, she took her son as a toddler to the house of the Lord, where he became the student of Eli, who was priest. Samuel grew up there. So Samuel is sleeping one night, and he’s woken up by hearing his name called in the dark. He runs to Eli, thinking that’s who called him. Eli, probably wondering why he has now also been woken up, sends the boy back to sleep. This keeps happening, and on the third time, Eli understands that it’s actually God speaking to the boy, and instructs him what to say when it happens again. When God next calls Samuel’s name, Samuel responds, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

When we look at the blanks of what we are supposed to do with our lives, in both the big and the small sense, we find ourselves confronted with the reality that sometimes we are not the ones who will provide the answer, even though these blanks intimately impact our reality. As Christians, we believe that God gives us vocations, ways to use our lives that see added meaning to what we do. Instead of talking about your profession as a job, we’ll use the term vocation, but we also use it to encompass who you are in all aspects of your life. When is the last time you’ve sat, and waited for the voice of the Lord, and said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” as you figure out what career to pursue, or what to do with your weekend?

Now there is another important thing to note here – Samuel doesn’t understand what is happening at first. He only understands through the wisdom of Eli. When it comes to listening for God’s call, we also need to seek the advice of others, to ask for wisdom from those we trust, who may be further down the path of faith than ourselves. This external affirmation can also act as a “check” of sorts, helping us to more fully know and believe we are really hearing the call of God.

I’m now going to invite you to spend the next 10 minutes in silence. It may feel like a long time, and your mind may want to wander. That is why there are pens and index cards, if something comes up in your mid, write it down and then let it go. Try to posture yourself for listening, saying “Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening.” Try to be open, and listen. Maybe God has something, big or small, to say to you tonight.


"Backpacks and God's Love" by Kathryn Dewitt

There's a certain symphony to entering to the Christian Association that always makes me smile. The way the keys jangle or doorbell rings. The way the door creaks open. The way the CA steps creak as i make my way up the stairs to the Kitchen. But i don't notice the symphony today.

I'm here with one thing in mind, all the work that I haven't done yet for the week--the projects, presentations, readings, emails. These worries of the world weigh heavy in the form of my backpack. I don't go anywhere without my back pack, which has accompanied me since 3rd grade. Although it is no longer decorated with stuffed animal key chains, my back pack is the one thing that I know will hold all the things that I need throughout the day in classes, activities, and work. Notebooks? Check. Pens and pencils? Check. Charger? Check. Snacks? Check. Everything is where it should be, and correctly in order. No matter what, I can rely on my backpack because I packed it each morning with precision.

But my relying on my backpack is haphazard, because sometimes I forget to bring the assignment I labored hours for or the banner that everyone was counting on me to bring. Relying on backpack is relying on myself and forgetting the one who guides my steps. Yes, I have been given this backpack to carry the things. But God has given me something much greater that I can rely upon: God's Love. God's Love doesn't falter when I forget my notebook. God's Love is there when a zipper jams and I can't reach my PennCard.

And God's Love is letting others help me carry my backpack because I can't do it alone. God's Love remains when I ask to borrow a pen because I forgot one. God's Love envelopes me when I ask for help for the different mental health initiatives I care about so passionately. I cannot rely on myself alone (or my backpack for that matter) because I will fail. But God's Love never fails, and the CA is a community based on God's Love.

The CA's new seminarian, Peter, and Megan, the campus minister, recently mentioned that Princeton Theological Seminary has a tradition where students leave their backpacks outside the chapel. (Although I don't know if Philly is the place to experiment with leaving my backpack outside) this week, this month, this semester, I will leave the worries of my backpack outside of the CA. That way I can enjoy the symphony of entering the CA and take each moment to rely more on God's Love. 

"God is ______" by Megan LeCluyse

Delivered on September 16, 2015.
Text: Exodus 3:1-15

(Light match) You’ve probably heard the saying that if you play with fire, you’re going to get burned. Now there are a couple different meanings of burned, and this phrase can imply either. One is being burned by other people – someone who you thought you could trust stabs you in the back. The second is much more literal – if I let this match burn long enough, it could burn the skin of my fingers.

When it comes to our faith and being disciples, it is the second kind of burning, the really literal kind, that I am talking about, the kind that implies a kind of danger, but a danger that many of us are drawn towards. Following God is not supposed to be safe – I think it supposed to be a little bit like playing with fire. Fire is beautiful, it is exciting, it is mesmerizing. These are all things faith is meant to be. But fire is also dangerous, and the reality is, our faith can lead us to some unexpected, and sometimes unpopular or counter-cultural, places. When Moses encounters this burning bush, he is given some pretty challenging instructions!

But first, who is this God who Moses encounters, and why is this God so dangerous? Our passage tells us this is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel. In our overview of the Bible we are going to have to go through the Old Testament fairly quickly, but as we explore the identity of God, we can look at a few key points from the book of Genesis. The God of Abraham asked Abraham to leave his homeland and his former gods. There is a rabbinic story about this that depicts a young Abraham, maybe your age, going and smashing with some type of hammer the idols of his father, as he gave them up to worship Yahweh. That was not a safe or easy ask. The God of Sarah allowed her to conceive a child when she was about 90 years old. The God of Jacob came down and spent an entire night wrestling with Jacob, and when at dawn Jacob was still fighting, struck Jacob on the hip socket and gave him a limp. I’m not sure entirely what we are supposed to do with that, but clearly, following God has it’s dangers!

And so we get to Moses, a baby born and not meant to survive, put into a basket covered with pitch and floated down the river, his mother seeing this as his only chance for survival. Raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, he wound up killing an Egyptian who he saw beating a Hebrew slave. He fled the country, going to Median, where he married Mariam, the daughter of Jethro, and worked as a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks. Jethro is again an example of how this God works in some pretty unexpected ways, because Jethro plays several critical roles in the Moses story, and Jethro was not an Israelite. So Moses is out tending the flocks, when he sees a bush on fire, but not being consumed. 

Obviously, this catches Moses’ attention. God speaks to Moses through a burning bush, and this will change Moses’ life, in exciting and incredibly dangerous ways. It will shape the entirety of his life. God is aware of the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt, and God has chosen Moses to go and free them. Ok, so let’s pause there for a moment, because that’s not like saying, “hey, can you run to the store and get me some milk?” This is a huge ask! First, we find out in the next chapter, Moses has a speech impediment, probably a stutter. Moses, who is spending his time pretty much alone, maybe with another shepherd or two in the hills, who isn’t confident in his ability to speak, is being asked to go to Pharaoh. Moses will make a bigger deal of this point in Chapter 4, so God tells him Aaron will do the speaking. And what is the demand? To set the Israelites free. To change the entire economy of the country, to challenge a practice that has been going on for generations, and that the Egyptians see as the norm. Is it an ask about pursuing justice. Yes, it is. But one that would be terrifying to be the guy whose supposed to ask for it!

So Moses asks who should I say sent me? Give me something here God, something about your power, something intimidating. And what’s the response? “I am who I am,” sometimes translated “I will be what I will be” or “I am that I am.” When we ask who God is, the response is “I am.” How are we supposed to understand who God is then? In part, by looking to the past, and seeing who God has been. But I also think this statement is so broad because we aren’t supposed to have a full grasp on who God is. 

I am. I am not captive to your limited understandings, to your notions of who I am supposed to be, not going to fit in the God-box that you want me to fit into, I am not created in your image. I am not a God who wants blood sacrifice, I want you and your life. I am forgiveness and mercy. I am love, I am hope, I am liberation, I am joy, I am peace. I am the spirit that hovered over the waters of the deep, the spirit that gives you life and breath. I am the one whose image you are created in.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Susan asks Mr. Beaver who Aslan is. “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”
I am. I am the God who appears in a burning bush, calling you on an exciting and dangerous journey, and promising to be present with you every step of the way. Amen. 

"In the beginning, God created" by Megan LeCluyse

Delivered on September 9, 2015. 
Text: Genesis 1:1-2:4

Pretend you’re in an art museum. Only, it’s your art museum, so maybe it’s in your house, and you get to pick exactly what works of art are in it , even if they are already in museums. Maybe you even get to define the word “art” when it comes to your museum. What would you have in your museum? Maybe you would have some classics – I know in my art museum I’d like to have a Da Vinci or Michelangelo, and I’d also like to have a Caravaggio, who works often have a source of light that isn’t in the painting. I’d want to have a Vermeer, whose brushstrokes were so refined that they are virtually impossible to detect. My favorites would be the Impressionists – the vibrant colors of the thick globs of paint giving the Van Gogh’s their texture, a more refined Renoir or Degas, and I would have lots of Monet’s works – they would be in places I could sit with a cup of tea and a book. I’d probably go a little more recent too – Picasso and Dali would be great conversation starters. I’d also find some female painters along the way to highlight their work. I’m not big into Modern Art, but maybe some of you are – and would include some more recent works, a Warhol or Jackson Pollock. Maybe some of you would go way back, and have pieces from antiquity, artifacts from ancient cultures. Maybe some of you would venture into the current age of art, and have photography, or maybe even a Lego sculpture. Do you have some of the pieces that would be in your museum in mind?

“In the beginning, when God created.” God is an artist, and we see the works of art all around us, including each of ourselves. The creation poem we find in Genesis 1 is beautiful, itself a form of art one might say. I say this because it wasn’t written as a historical document, but as a poem, which meter and repetition, with symmetry. All of which we find in creation. All of which are explored in art. When we understand creation as God’s creative work of art, it doesn’t matter if it took place in 7 days or several billion years. Either way, God’s creative works range from awe-inspiring to “what??” I am grateful to have had many opportunities to encounter God’s creation, and one highlights both the majestic and the extra creative. I was on the Masaii Mara, or Serengeti, and got to look at the night sky. Very close to the equator and with no light pollution, the sky exploded with stars, and from a different vantage point than I’d ever seen them. We stood ducked behind a building – and started to worry about being bitten by bats, listening to the herds of wildebeests out on the plains, an ugly and unintelligent creature. I get the role both these animals play – but they are both more than kind of weird! God is a very creative artist is all I can say.

And God has invited us to be a part of the ongoing work of creation. When God created humankind, it was unique – instead of being just “good,” humanity is “very good.” God created you, and called you very good. And then God gave us a role, to be over everything else, not to dominate, but to steward. Then God rested, but that doesn’t mean creation is done, and in the creativity of humankind we see that indeed it is not. God filled in the big blank with creation, including you. You are invited to be a part of the ongoing work of creation. So now we get to look at how we are doing that. As we respond, I invite you to fill in two different blanks as you reflect on your life and faith: God created ________ and I am creating _________. Part of our journey is continuing to find the ways we fill in the blanks. Amen.

Fill in the Blank by Megan LeCluyse

The Christian Association’s theme for the year is “Fill in the Blank.” Over the coming year, there are a lot of different ways we are going to explore this concept. In worship we will be working through an overview of the Bible. On Monday nights, we’ll have a small group series where we can explore specific topics and “blanks” in greater depth and with more conversation. As we join with Penn’s Year of Discovery, exploring how we fill in the blank will allow us to go on our own journeys of discovery, discovering new things about God and the Bible, about our faith, about each other, and about ourselves. We’ll look at some of the blanks that are blanks because they are things we don’t often talk about. Some of these will be Bible passages that we don’t often look at, while others may be topics that we seem to avoid talking about in church. Some will be blanks that we don’t talk about in society in general, or maybe things that are taboo to talk about here at Penn. We will also look at the blanks that the Bible leaves for us to fill in, and how we can go about the process of filling those spaces.

We’ll look at the blanks in our own lives, and what some of those blanks might be. Most people are probably able to fill out forms with their basic info relatively quickly, name, age, address, etc. - they’ve got those blanks down. But what about when the blanks follow questions that probe a little deeper. How do we open ourselves up to examining those lines, and figuring out what we would write on them? How do you decide which voices in your life will be the ones that help you to define yourself and how you not only want the world to see you, but who you believe you truly are. How do we get to know other people in a way we get beyond the surface level identities?

And how do we know when a blank line really isn’t that important? Or is important, but is not as life defining as we think it might be. There are places in Scripture where Biblical scholars and theologians have spent tons of time and effort trying to figure out how best to translate something to be most accurate compared to the best of the oldest manuscripts we have to compare them with. I remember learning in Hebrew about a place where some manuscripts have a vav, the Hebrew character used for “the” or “and,” and some don’t, and we don’t know whether or not it was added in or left out by accident. Will the answer actually have a huge impact on our faith – highly unlikely. But how often do we obsess like that over the wrong blanks, the ones that we want to get filled in even though we may not be able to, and that won’t have all that big of impact even if we were able to. We do this both with our faith and with our lives.  

So we’ll look at blanks that are very important, blanks that define our faith and our own identities. We’ll look at what might be some of the blanks that we need to not hold as tightly too, that we need to let fall into their proper place. We may even explore some blanks that are not meant to be filled in. Filling in the blanks of our lives is part of the exciting work we get to do, and we need community in which to do so. Whether you are a Penn student who can come by the CA, or an alum or friend of the CA who will be connected to us via our blog and listserv, I hope you’ll join us on this adventure! 

The Fragile Beauty of Glass and Community by Megan LeCluyse

While on vacation last summer, I had the opportunity to make a hand blown glass ornament, with very close supervision and much assistance! It was a fun experience, which resulted in the ornament in the picture here. When you’re a pastor, you start to see sermon illustrations all around you. This experience did not fail to have life lessons of it’s own, lessons about what it means to form and maintain friendships and community, something most of us are engaged in as the school year begins.

One of the things I quickly learned was that even though the professionals make working with hot glass look easy, the process actually takes a lot of time, patience, and work! Building community takes all of these things as well. They take the stick to put the glass on, and dip it into 2900-degree furnace in which there is molten glass. In order to give the ornament color, you take the hot glass and press it against color chips based on what you want the end look to be. In making mine, we used white, and two shades of blue. Eventually, all these colors were swirled to make the one ornament. The colors remind me of the various things in life that swirl together to make us who we are, our academics, work, extracurricular activities, where we live, etc, and some may show up more prominently than others. It is through these things that give our lives “color” that we often find the people who will be our community.

I found, however, that while getting connected to these things may be easy at first, making something of them is actually quite hard! In order to give the ornament it’s shape, you blow throw the pipe. It’s a lot harder than blowing up a balloon! You are supposed to keep a steady, firm pressure, but eventually you need air, and it’s hard to figure out how to make it all work. Once you get it started, however, it becomes easy to get the glass to expand, with a time or two where it gets harder again. This too reminds me of what it is like to develop new friendships. Often, it can be hard in a new place or group to find friends, and it feels like it takes a ton of work. Then, something clicks, and it becomes easy, yet there are still times where it takes a little more work.

The end result reminds me of community too. It’s beautiful, and yet it will always be a little bit fragile as well. You can’t just throw it around, or drop it, or not take some care in handling it. As long as we respect its fragility, it really is quite something to look at, and adds beauty to our lives. As you begin your semester, and form new relationships, continue old ones, and probably work on maintaining long distance connections with family and friends, may you enjoy all that glassblowing and community can be, yes work, but also fun, exciting and beautiful!