Reason Anew

He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’
–Luke 10:27

What does it mean to love God with all our mind? In some ways, loving God with all our mind may seem like a contradiction. In many ways, God is the category representing that which we do not know while our minds accounts for those things that we know. This creates an interesting dilemma. Are not discussions of God and the use of our minds mutually exclusive operations? Do not conversations about faith in God and about intellectual reason belong on two polar extremes of a logical continuum, suggesting that the more you have of one the less, conversely, you must have of the other?

At least, in our modern presentation of the two categories such a duality seems only “natural.” Yet, before the advent of our current thought constructs, such polarity did not exist. With the rise of modernity and the Enlightenment, God and the mind were placed in competing corners, representing eternal pugilists battling against each other for our ultimate allegiances, possession of the truth, and a final, uncompromised, singular rule.

Such a dualistic framing of the world always seemed a little too extreme to me. Do not get me wrong, much has and is done in the name of religion that justifies our intellectual suspicion, if not outright rejection. Faith needed to be reined in and subjected to the intellectual scrutiny the rest of our lives require. However, this scrutiny can go too far. Sometimes the extreme reliance upon reason to provide truth results in a diminished appreciation for the persisting presence and necessity of mystery and faith, not to mention the upsurge of a dangerous overconfidence in our intellectual calculations.

Moreover, such a construction leaves our intellects devoid of the skills necessary to embrace and account for mystery that every rational discovery seems to uncover and encourage. From as diverse groups as mathematicians to physicians to physicists, the presence and necessity of accounting and accommodating for mystery is returning to scientific deductions. For instance, while I attended Duke, studies at the School of Medicine were producing results requiring some sort of scientific accounting for faith. In response, the Divinity School and the School of Medicine created a joint program for the study of faith, medicine, and their inevitable and mutually beneficial intersection.

In a similar vein, John Polkinghorne—famed professor of physics at Cambridge University—credits his study of physics in bolstering his own faith and eventual ordination as priest in the Church of England. As a result, he found himself in the unique position of holding chairs in both physics and theology at the storied institution.
Contrary to his own initial assumptions and to those of his fellow colleagues, his study of physics drove him towards faith rather than from it.

To account for this seemingly unintelligible outcome, Polkinghorne favors the concept known as perspectivalism, a kind of critical realism. Perspectivalism is a way to account for varying perspectives on reality that on one level seem to be contradictory while on another level are simultaneously and equally true. In illustrating this point, Polkinghorne tells the story of a pot of tea boiling on his kitchen stove. When answering the question “What is going on?,” one part of him describes the scene as the transition of liquid water molecules into vapor water molecules through the introduction of heat. Another part of him answers the same question by saying, “I am making tea.” While the answers are radically different, both are entirely accurate in their account. In this way, Polkinghorne labors to demonstrate how we might arrive at seemingly divergent answers while affirming both answers’ simultaneous validity.

While still a noticeably dualistic accounting for existence, perspectivalism is one way to help resolve the tension between faith and reason, suggesting the potentially intrinsic value for both. One shortcoming of perspectivalism is that it does not allow our divergent accounts to have much, if any, mutuality. It seems that for our lives to be whole and robust descriptions of our existence as fully heart, mind, and body, then we must embrace greater account for the mutually influential possibilities of faith speaking with reason. Perspectivalism puts us on the right trajectory.

The apostle Paul drew a similar conclusion. In his letters, Paul reminds his readers that central to Christ’s gospel is the transformation of our minds (μετάνοια) and the renewal of our body (σαρχ), as the incarnate body of Christ. In addition, central to that body’s mission is a ministry of reconciliation. That reconciliation takes many forms: God and humanity; humanity and itself; humanity and the rest of creation; Jew and Greek; slave and free; male and female; and (important to us) faith and reason. It seems that a proper reading of Paul assumes no dualisms. Our minds and our bodies, our mental and our material existence are discrete but singular. Our faith and our reason are not mutually exclusive concepts but potentially complimentary and mutually informative.

As a college of the church and a liberal arts college, such complimentarity must be second nature. Who we are as people requires that our spiritual, intellectual, and physical self be assumed, appreciated, engaged, and challenged throughout the educational process. Such integration is our mission: “Young Harris College educates, inspires, and empowers students through a comprehensive liberal arts experience that integrates mind, body, and spirit.” And, such integration is our appropriate vocation as a liberal arts college of the church.

This week, as part of our chapel service, we honor one portion of this connection by honoring through a worship service those whose academic achievements afford them entry into Phi Theta Kappa. Please join us for this service, a service that seeks to advance the value of an intellectual faith and a faithful intellect.

Trust Anew

AUTUMN CAME

By Mula Veereswara Rao

By ripping cheeks,

with cold breeze,

with twitter of sparrows,

Autumn came!

Autumn came to cover

shivering earth

with colorful leaves carpet!

Autumn floats

like sun’s epitaph

Autumn echoed

like farewell song of birds

in the evening!

Autumn touches

the breath of last leaves

on the verge of falling

with warmth!

Autumn challenges

the confidence of the tree

who hides buds in the heart.

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn. I love autumn: green becomes gold and red and orange. Cinnamon replaces the smell of suntan lotion. Air moves from an oppressive- blanket dripping with humidity to a welcomed companion offering a crisp, cool kiss. Town squares fill with apple cider and bails of straw. Thoughts of pumpkin pie and hot chocolate invite lingering, warm memories, prompting thumbing through receipt books and impulsive grocery store runs. It’s autumn. 
 Mula Veereswara Rao in his poem reminds us of the transformative character inherent in our thoughts about autumn. As he delightfully describes, thinking of autumn invariably prompts thoughts about color mutations and temperature reductions and seasonal migrations. But, in addition to change, Rao introduces another sentiment to this season. Rao introduces trust. The final stanza of his poem reads: “Autumn challenges the confidence of the tree who hide buds in the heart.” Each autumn, as trees let loose their leaves, it is not just a seasonal marker but also a sign of trust and hope. Trees’ leaves fall to the ground signaling the end of one season of life yet encouraging trust in the promise that enough energy remains in the tree to sprout new leaves in the spring that will come. The loss of leaves is a sign of trust that creation will be renewed and reborn despite the present, contradictory reality of death and decay that is autumn.
 The word trust derives from an Old English word, trēowe, meaning “faithful.” Trusting in the promised new life of spring in the face of autumn’s characteristic falling life is an act of faith. While we cannot see the hidden “buds in the heart,” we have faith that they are there and that provision will be made to see their potential translated into reality. So, in some ways, witnessing the advent of autumn has a sacred, iconic moment as creation reminds us of the greater, deeper meanings of life embracing us all. 
 Importantly, that Old English word for “trust,” trēowe, is also the word that forms the root for our modern English word “truth,” trēowth. This means that our notions for what we call truth are not exclusively found in the data of what is known but in the simple yet complex act of trusting. Truth is more relational that we often imagine. And, our trust in the hidden bud of promised spring is but a reminder that some truths are not so much known but hoped for and not so much a guarantee as a promise to keep. 
 In John’s gospel, we are told that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” There, John encourages his readers to embrace the relational reality of God, a relationship promised and restored in the words describing the incarnation found at the beginning of John’s gospel and at the end of John’s revelation. In those places, God is portrayed as coming to earth to “dwell”—literally to “pitch a tent”—with humanity. In this context, the truth of Christ’s incarnation is not so much about theological facts or doctrinal dictums but about restoring and establishing relationships between human beings, their Creator, and the rest of creation. The incarnation is a promise of reconciliation and relationships. This is the truth of new life, of potential life, of a promised spring. As we being autumn, that promise is renewed in falling leaves allow our absolute claims to fall away, beckoning our faith to fall into the arms of trust, a relationship that leads to a spring of new life and new possibilities. 
 Happy autumn.

Seeing Work Anew

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

(Genesis 2:2-3)

 

Tradition holds that the creation account ends with God’s pinnacle of creation emerging from the marrying stuff of the earth with divine breath, somehow mysteriously crafting human beings in the image of God. Tradition, further, maintains that on the seventh day God rested from the work of creating.  Derived from the Hebrew word shabbat, meaning “to cease,” this resting or cessation of outward work, became the “Sabbath.”

 

However, another tradition contends that God’s creating did not end with the creation of humanity, but, rather, that humanity is God’s penultimate creation.  This second tradition contends that creation continued with God’s ultimate work, i.e., God’s creating Sabbath or restful fellowship.  This last act of creation is not the lack of creation but the creation of a particular space and time, a space and time for refreshment and reveling with God and with all of creation. 

 

If this latter interpretation is the case, then it alters how we understand work and its place in our lives.  In other words, if creation’s pinnacle is refreshment and revelry, then a radical shift in our understanding of the importance of refreshment and revelry is needed.  Refreshment and revelry move to the fore as essential components of right relationship with our created purpose and our appropriately balanced work in the world.  This notion of a rebalanced work suggests that work, to be proper work, must be paired with inner refreshment and joyous revelry.  This reworking of work begins to distance work away from purely productive interpretations toward equally creative, introspective, and expository definitions. 

 

Such a re-conceptualization of work might be revolutionary in a culture that manages to commoditize everything, valuing those activities the most that are productive and profitable, representing “time well spent.” In overvaluing outward, productive actions, our culture devalues those activities that are more fanciful and introspective, calling them a “waste of time.”  (Here, even our words meant to describe the passage of time have been commoditize and valuated.) 

 

If the latter interpretation holds, then rest becomes an indispensable activity because in resting we are placed in alignment with our true intended being, helping each of us uncover our unique function in the world.  Such restfulness allows us to listen to others and ourselves, to pause from the busyness of life to look at our life, our loves, and our work.  The work of restful refreshment and revelry becomes essential because it connects us to God’s rhythmical habits of work and rest, merging inner purpose with outer production. 

 

This merging of inner purpose with outer production has the potential, as Matthew Fox interprets it in his The Reinvention of Work, to make all of our life’s work sacramental.  A sacrament is a visible expression of an inward reality or, in Fox’s words, a sacrament is “a symbol that accomplishes what it signifies.” This means that sacraments are those activities of our lives that manage to bring to visible, material fruition the invisible, spiritual truth of each of us, potentially exposing each person’s unique and collective purpose, each person’s unique and collective work.  Thus, all of life and our life’s work (whether you are a brick mason or a minister or a teacher or a technician or whether your life’s work in not found in your job but in your other, voluntary workings) has the potential to be sacramental.  Our life and life’s work might be sacramental if our outward work emerges from our restful discovery of our general calling to be refreshed by God and to revel in our particular place in communion with each other and the rest of creation.   Such a redefinition of work not only moves to the fore the potency and propriety of rest as an essential component of work, but it also banishes those ever looming dualisms that seek to divide the spiritual form the material, the practical from the prophetic, the inner from the outer, and the holy from the ordinary.  Such a dualistic construction of the world runs counterintuitive, it seems, to the vision cast in the creation stories, the narrative of salvation, and the eschatological musings of creation’s true end.  In each of those iterations, dualisms are expelled, allowing the sacred and mundane to dwell together with transformative consequences. 

 

Augustine of Hippo, one of the early leaders and continued authorities of the church, called Sunday the Eight Day of Creation because it was the day that creation was renewed in the resurrection, a renewal that reunited Creator with creation and creation with itself.  Such a renewal is embodied in the ritual of the liturgy that is practiced on those Sundays.  The liturgy is those collections of activities that we repeat as a means to reenact this salvific narrative.  It is also, not accidentally, a merger of two Greek words, laos and ergos, meaning the “work of the people.”  The liturgical work of refreshment and revelry is positioned at the start of the week and enacted repetitively to help train us and prepare us for our larger work in the world, a work meant to emerge from our inner lives and merge with our outer activities, permeating all that we do and coating our every activity with a thick layer of divine grace. 

 

It is no accident that the Ten Commandments link Sabbath habits with habits of living in the world and that the Greatest Commandment to love God is automatically paired with an equally important fiat to love neighbors, too.  There is a natural connection between our inner and outer work, a connection that requires careful listening and attuned introspection to find proper, meaningful expression in our public actions and discourse.  It is, also, no accident that the liturgy ends with our being sent back out into the world because we cannot remain cloistered if we are to remain faithful to our created intention.  We are meant to live and work for each other in the world.  For such a living to have potency it must find expression in a life that is shared.  

 

This week we look at work differently from the perspective of faith.  May our different ways of work be an expression of our inner most selves and understood not just as that which we do to make ends meet but that which we do to make the divine meet the mundane, graciously connecting you to me and God to everything.

Economics Anew

Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

—Luke 6.3-5

 

Here, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus concludes an encounter with the Pharisees via a tactic common to his conversations with those religious lawyers of his day.  Skilled in knowing and interpreting the law, Jesus confronts the Pharisees suspicion of his actions by citing the very law book they prided themselves in knowing.  He turns to a story from 1 Samuel where King David challenged the legal customs of his day by feeding his hungry men the bread reserved for the priests.  In that instance, David’s actions confirmed that real needs of a community outweigh the perceived religious necessities of the faith.   This citation furthers Jesus’ efforts to overturn the religious conventions of his day. 

 

Earlier in the gospel of Luke, Jesus ate with tax collectors, healed lepers, and questioned the validity of fasting.  The purity code of the faith has been shredded.  Having already dealt with the peripheral purity issues of the faith, Jesus in these verses turns his attention to the center of Jewish life, i.e., the Sabbath.  In this way, Jesus is challenging not just some of the practices but beginning to ask why some of the practices exist in the first place and providing an answer.  Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, too.

 

By moving his focus to the Sabbath and into a memory of an encounter in the “house of God” with the “bread of the Presence,” Jesus is positioning his challenge at the core of the faith, hoping to dislodge and re-imagine faith.   In other words, Jesus has come to question everything about the faith and to encourage his followers to do the same. This means that the practices and even the most sacred locus of the faith are re-presented in the person and actions of Jesus.  In this incarnation, faith is not about following certain (of the faith) practices for the sake of those certain practices.  Rather, certain practices exist to make us prepared to serve our God and others better.  Or as the gospels record elsewhere, we are not created for Sabbath but Sabbath for us.  This means that saving bread for the Sabbath is good but saving the hungry with the bread of the Sabbath is better.   

 

This idea that service, i.e., love of God and neighbor, is paramount shifts the interpretation of the laws and practices of the faith.  This is an alteration of imagination as much as it is an alteration of actions.  As practitioners of the faith, the faithful need to see the habits of the faith not so much as legal requirements to be mechanically followed but creative expressions to guide and propel us to a greater, more loving existence. 

 

Faith is a practice of (re)imagination. 

 

As we return to campus following a holiday birthed out of the Labor movement, that movement and its economic origins shift to the fore of our imaginations.  Briefly, I want to look at what economics is and how faith might help inform our understanding and concern for economics. 

 

Interestingly, the word “economics” comes from one of the same Greek words underlying the biblical text cited above.  In that text, mention is made of the “house” of God.  There, the word for “house” is “oikis/oikon.”  “Economics” is the combining of that term “oikos” with another Greek term “nomos,” meaning “rules” or “laws.”  In this case, the word economics emerges from the notion of those sets of practices that help in the managing and oversight of a household or estate. 

 

There is something interesting about this presentation of the term.  In this way, economics is not a solely private matter, i.e., about those things that happen just in my home, nor is economics a detached, statistical assessment and/or management of the resources and potential productivity of a people and place.  Managing a household or an estate has both a private and public character.  An intervening category seems necessary to help encompass the connotation of the term.  Essayist, farmer, and theologian Wendell Berry suggests in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community that just such an intervening notion exists in the form of community.  Community, for Berry, is both a personal place of meaning and belonging and, also, a public sphere for discourse and regulation.  And, community is sustained by very specific kinds of bonding practices called covenants.

 

Contrary to contracts that hold people together principally out of self-interest, covenants are those social arrangements that hold often disparate persons together for the sake of being together.   In other words, while persons usually form and remain in a contract to get out of that relationship something they want, persons enter and exist in a covenant for the sake of the covenant, i.e., the relationship, itself.  It is the relationship that matters not the perceived personal gain.  Such a basis for relating seems more appropriate when talking about a system emergent from a “household.”

 

Households are those places in our lives where messy, complicated social arrangements are far more common than systematic, calculated ones.  Furthermore, households cannot be sustained based on perceived personal gain.   Something stronger, more flexible, requiring more self-sacrifice than self-gain, and necessitating creative imagining is needed.  Covenants supply just such a binding, creative, imagination-forming practice. 

 

And, covenants are certainly practices central to faith. 

 

This means that as we turn to consider those economic practices of our lives we must name good those practices of our communities that sustain our covenantal bonds and help to shape us into the persons and communities we hope to become. This household underpinning reminds us that economics is more about people than profits and more about love than laws.  This means that economics, according to the faith, will be very messy and less than predictable.  But, as mirrors of our households (especially God’s household), our community’s economic practices might, also, be places where grace reigns, mercy intervenes, forgiveness under girds, and charity sustains.  Such a place with such economics might not be probable but it might provide an aspirational promise that will shape our imaginations and influence some of our practices, changing how we treat our neighbors and ourselves. 

 

In Jesus’ estimation, feeding the hungry was the best use of the economic, household resources available to the (religious) community regardless of how that feeding contravened social-religious norms.  Such an imaginative re-assessment of our own laws and practices within our communities seems necessary when so many around us struggle to choose between food and medicine or the mortgage and health care.  Like Jesus, we must seek to identify and correct those systemic failures that are legal yet self-interested.  Such a corrective effort seems only fitting for a covenant-king and that king’s kingdom.

 

Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

See Justice Anew

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:16-21, NRSV)

It is no accident, I think, that the first words of Jesus’ ministry are these taken from the prophet Isaiah. When confronting the powers that be, Isaiah and the other prophets of Israel were always first and foremost concerned about how Israel’s faithfulness to God shaped Israel’s compassion and love for the most vulnerable among them. For those prophets, a direct correlation exists: to love God and you must love your neighbors. To attempt to catalogue the number of references where a prophet of Israel assumed this connection would be exhausting. Let it simply be said that we cannot overestimate the import of this theme of love of God and love of neighbor. This theme’s frequency precedes, underwrites, and infuses all language about laws and salvation and eternal life and faithfulness. Jesus, himself, when asked to summarize everything about the faith draws the exact same conclusion (e.g., Matthew 22:34-39). So, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus begins his ministry not with a theological excurses on salvation and eternal life, not with a treatise on theodicy or eschatology, not with a debate over real or symbolic presence but with a declaration about justice. Everything else properly flows from this primary concern over justice for the marginalized, the oppressed, and the demonized.

Within the United Methodist tradition, this idea that faith and social justice directly connected lies at the heart of its doctrine and history. The Wesley’s assumed an indelible link between holy habits and a loving passion for transformation of the social order. In fact, the distinctive element of Wesleyan theology, i.e., Christian perfection, is defined by John Wesley as our being “habitually filled with love of God and neighbor.” In other words for the Wesley’s, a faith without habits of justice is no faith at all. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church—2004, the official deposit of United Methodist doctrine, verifies the perpetuation of this tradition. The Discipline reads:

Our struggles for human dignity and social reform have been a response to God’s demand for love, mercy, and justice in the light of the Kingdom. We proclaim no personal gospel that fails to express itself in the relevant social concerns; we proclaim no social gospel that does not include the personal transformation of sinners. (The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church—2004)

Personal transformation and reordering of our social systems is at the heart of the faith.

This week, as we approach the Labor Day holiday, our attention is directed to all those who struggle because of lack of labor, under employment, and economic hardship. Their plight compels us, because of faith, to ask questions: Why are they suffering, what went wrong, and how might we prevent future suffering and the inevitable personal and social cascade of consequences spilling out from such suffering? What social institutions need to change? What social institutions need to be put in place? Unfortunately, our faith communities often seem to make the suffering of others a secondary concern or of no concern. I believe that God is far less concerned about the things we tend to bicker over in our faith communities and more concerned about how our bickering over holiness and genuine orthodoxy distracts us from caring for the poor, the marginalized, the broken, the oppressed, and the disadvantaged and, even worse, how our bickering creates more poor, more marginalized, more broken, more oppressed, and more disadvantaged.

To correct his failure, we and our communities of faith need transforming. But, what needs transforming? Our sight needs transforming. We need to see those around us and the systems of our community, country, and world differently. We need the prescription on our lenses of faith adjusted. We need to see the doctor. As luck would have it, a doctor is making a house call.

On Wednesday in chapel, Dr. Walter Kimbrough will address how faith allows us to see justice anew. I invite the entire campus to join Dr. Kimbrough in reflecting on this inexorable connection and essential outcome of faith. I invite everyone to come hear his challenging message and, in the meantime, to reflect on these words penned by the lyrists Fred Pratt Green:

If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars
high above this hungry, suffering world of ours,
Lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.

See you Wednesday, if not before.

Strangers

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 22: 21, New American Standard)

The other day my wife and daughter dropped into work to join me for lunch in the college restaurant. Our daughter, who is three, entered my office announcing that we shouldn’t talk to strangers. Taken a little aback by the directness of her declaration, I thought that, generally, her statement made for sound advice but an odd greeting. My wife quickly explained that they had been watching a children’s program on PBS that had offered this advice. Our daughter had clearly been listening.

Then my daughter asked: What does a stranger look like? That, I thought, is a great question.

What does a stranger look like? I pass them every day. In fact, with all the new faculty, staff, and students at Young Harris College this semester, I think everyone of us pass innumerable strangers on any walk across campus. And, as has been confirmed on several occasions, I am one of them.

Strangers are people who are unfamiliar to us. They are people who might act differently from us. They might dress differently from us. They might talk differently from us. In general, there is something about them—from our perspective—that is “strange.”

Spotting a stranger is easy. Transforming a stranger into a neighbor, that is where true talent lies.

In the book of Exodus, Israel is admonished to treat strangers well. Included within a list of persons to be protected and explicitly cared for, strangers (or resident aliens or sojourners or guests as different translations describe them) were to be treated with a kind of radical hospitality because Israel had once been an entire nation of strangers in a strange land. Centrally placing the practice of radical hospitality as a cardinal characteristic of God’s people helped integrate an outside people into the community of God while connecting Israel with its defining narrative, i.e., the story of their exodus from Egypt.

In that story, Israel initially had been welcomed into the land of Egypt but shortly was demoted from guests in Egypt to slaves of the Pharaoh. Thus, by integrating the habit of radical hospitality into their central mandates for the followers of God, Israel was both remembering and reforming. They were remembering their betrayal by the Pharaoh but, also, their liberation and eventual welcome home by God. They were reforming their own potentiality to exploit the outsider, the vulnerable in their midst, as they had been exploited.

In other words, for strangers to become neighbors requires both the native and the outsider to change. Such communal and personal transformation demands intentionality. We do not accidentally develop good habits that change our communities and us. This kind of change requires good story telling and good practices.

As we seek to create a new, four-year community, several intentional habits must be central to who we are. One of those habits is the habit of radical hospitality. Radical hospitality is found in the stories we tell about who we have been and who we must become, in how we greet one another, in how we include each other in our conversations and activities, and in how we interact with each other in large and small ways. This will repeat the miraculous transformation of strangers into neighbors. The key to a great community is not whether its members can identify “what a stranger looks like” but if those members have the ability, first, to recognize strangers as potential neighbors, potential friends.

Have a great week, and don’t be a stranger.

I See All Things New

Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18)

As another academic year begins for YHC, so much has been done to make this semester possible. Students have been recruited and enrolled. Scholarships and funding have been found. People have been hired. Buildings have been tended to, cleaned, and supplied. Faculty members have written lectures. Staff members have made plans. Coaches have scheduled games. The college’s restaurant has stocked food. The library has been catalogued and updated. Accreditations have been obtained. With these tasks done, the first four-year college in Young Harris, GA for nearly a century opens for academic business, today.

Yet, despite the significance of this day, all this work necessary to mark the first day of classes for our newly-minted four-year collegiate institution would never have come about, would never have been seen as necessary, if an earlier work had not been accomplished long before we set foot on this beautiful campus.

Nearly three hundred years ago, two young brothers—John and Charles Wesley—and their university friends gathered together regularly for prayer, bible study, and mutual support at Oxford University in Oxford, England. This self-described “Holy Club” recognized at its inception the indelible connection between intellectual pursuit and spiritual discipline. For them, one could never be adequately realized without the other. The outgrowth of this “Holy Club” was the Methodist movement that became the forerunner to the United Methodist Church.

Throughout that movement’s ministry, it leadership never lost sight of the connection identified at its inception: that the pursuit of personal perfection was an integrated intellectual and spiritual endeavor. Early on, the leadership in this movement appreciated that for everyone to have the same opportunity to pursue perfection all would need equal access to the benefits of education. In other words, while the movement could teach personal disciplines for spiritual maturation, without an adequate intellectual foundation such pursuits were diminished if not entirely feckless. And, many in their communities had little if no access to education. Almost immediately, the leadership of the Methodist movement identified a connection between (1) personal holiness as a spiritual development and (2) a call to social justice for those denied access to the educational system.

It is no accident, then, that while the earliest Methodists were gathering for prayer and discipleship they were simultaneously founding schools like Kingswood and the Foundary in England and Cokesbury College in the United States. Our own college was founded in 1886 as a place to educate those who had no access to adequate education, continuing what had by then become a regular tradition of linking spiritual growth with academic opportunities and both with social transformation of a community, its institutions, and its people.

As we mark this new day for our college, I remind us of our heritage as a means to properly bring into focus our future. We are a people birthed from this tradition, and we must remember always to connect our academic inquiry with spiritual conversations, both inexorably linked to social transformation and issues of justice. Or, as our college’s slogan iterates this faithful vision for who we have been and who we must remain, we seek to Educate, Inspire, Empower.

The Office of Religious Life hopes fully to underwrite this vision through our shared work and ministry over the coming year. It is my prayer that our work and ministry offer an intellectual faith and a spirited intelligence that empowers us to engage our college, our community, and our world in active, transformative justice and wholeness for everyone.

The prophets of the faith summarized it similarly when they prayed:

Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

May their prayer, their vision, become ours.

Amen.