The subject header read “Summer Greetings!” and it came from a person of faith I’d admired from a distance for some time. A mutual friend had recommended me for a 30-week course called the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a class at New College Berkeley (NCB) with which I was nominally familiar. The email writer made herself available if I wanted to chat.
It is the second Saturday of the month. Five individuals sip morning beverages and nibble on nuts, fruit and cheese around the kitchen counter. Greetings are exchanged. There is chatter: inquiries about trips and children, complaints about traffic and parking, upcoming events. Voices are friendly. Smiles and laughter are evident.
Imagine the couple fleeing Jerusalem after Jesus’ death. They’ve not experienced “Good Friday” as we do, already sending Easter cards and preparing for the celebratory feast. They’re engulfed in loss, grief, and fear.
We encounter them a few days after Jesus’ gruesome death as they’re walking to Emmaus. If Cleopas is the same person written about in John 19:25, it’s probable that the two people walking to Emmaus are Cleopas and his wife Mary, who stood at the foot of the cross with other women who loved Jesus. Remember the scene they’ve witnessed.
Please join us on May 11 for a workshop led by Dr. Kay: The Enneagram for Influencers—A Faith & Work Forum, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley ($15 fee; free for students)
Allow me to propose this unscientific experiment: If you’d like to know what intellectual and emotional pre-occupations the influencers of our culture are currently wrestling with, find a brick-and-mortar bookstore that sells only new books, then do a slow walk through the business and psychology sections.
*Please join us for a discussion and lecture with Dr. Willie James Jennings on Saturday, March 16. Find more information here.*
European Christian Missionaries and Their False Sense of Progress
What does maturity look like? Whiteness is a horrific answer to this question.
by Willie James Jennings
Can white people be saved? For some, the question is deeply offensive. It suggests that there is a category of people whose existence raises the question of the efficacy of salvation. But for now I am less concerned about the efficacy of salvation and more interested in the status of two keywords in the question: salvation and whiteness. These terms point to a history that we yet live within, a history where whiteness as a way of being in the world has been joined to a Christianity that is also a way of being in the world. It was the fusion of these two realities that gave tragic shape to Christian faith in the new worlds at the dawn of what we now call the modern colonialist era, or colonial modernity.
I looked around at my fellow passengers on a plane recently and thought, as I often have, “Everyone has a story.” Each person there was in the middle of something—preparing for an interview, traveling to visit a dying parent, fundraising for a non-profit, taking kids to Disneyland, honeymooning, celebrating retirement. The events that got them to that flight that day unfolded in the context of complicated lives full of turnings and decision points, disappointments and completions and new beginnings. Each of them could have told not one story, but many.
My last visit home to LA, I spent the flight back to the SF Bay Area crying as I processed what my mom had shared with me right before dropping me off at the airport. I had read and speculated about the increase in unrestrained overt racism and xenophobia in our country, but hearing from my own mother – who has lived in the U.S. longer than she has her heritage country of South Korea – of her recent experiences as a victim of dehumanizing, othering remarks, acutely pierced my senses. Feelings of sorrow and helplessness and anger and hatred swirled around inside of me. I had to ask myself: How will I respond? How am I called to respond?
We at New College Berkeley wish you all God’s blessings this Christmas as you “shake with joy” and “shake with grief,” bringing all of who you are and all the concerns you carry to Jesus, whose achingly human birth we celebrate.
We Shake with Joy
by Bonnie Howe
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.
Mary Oliver, Evidence
Thursday afternoon on South 3, the palliative care and hospice ward at Laguna Honda Hospital: I enter Betty’s room, which is now her home and where she will die. She is awake! She’s not been awake on Thursday afternoons for a month, and I am eager to see if she wants company, is at all available. I feel my eagerness, so remind myself to go slowly and quietly, gently.
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord. —2 Kings 4:42-44 (NRSV)
In my wife’s and my small group, we talk of “God sightings” as we daily abide in Him and discover His interventions in our lives. May I use that same theme in my life and tell you about my “Earl Palmer sightings?”
I have been leading a spiritual direction group for U. C. Berkeley college students for New College Berkeley for two years. The students gather with me at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley once a month, usually for two hours and sometimes for one hour. We typically meditate on passages of Scripture, poems, or any other material r that I prepare for the group. And then we share what has touched us after our individual time of reflection.
One day after the group, a student told me, “This meeting seems like resting at an oasis while I am walking in the dry desert of school.”
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley with the Hollywood Hills as a backdrop. So the terrain in Westerns always looked familiar—whatever the plot, whoever the stars.
My Christian parents were against “going to the movies.” This seemed “worldly” to them. But I did watch movies on TV. Classics like The Thin Man, Casablanca, and Gone with the Wind were rich fare for the imagination.
Years later, a stay at the L’Abri study center in Switzerland fostered a view that was less “Christ against Culture” and was more “Let’s engage and analyze the culture and form our own Christian response.”
We are delighted to be coming to the end of a significant, three-year grant project serving the U. C. Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union student communities, which was funded by the Lilly Endowment and friends of New College Berkeley, and to be on the verge of a new three-year season of well-supported ministry directed toward students!
The grants have enabled us to offer group spiritual direction, led by excellent spiritual directors, to undergraduate and graduate students. As far as we know, this is a pioneering work of spiritual formation with university students. We’re grateful for the experience, wisdom, enthusiasm, and capacity for improvisation that our spiritual directors have brought to this ministry, and they are Jill Boyce, Katarina Stenstedt, Naisa Wong, and Daeseop Yi. I, too, have led a spiritual direction group with law students at the university, and doing so has been invigorating for us all!
“This is what we want to do, and sometimes we are able to do it – just to say to Thee, Father, here am I. My life as it is at the depth I give to Thee. And I want Thee to hold it so that it is no longer my life to do with in accordance with my whims, my impulses, my desires, or even my needs, but to take my life and to hold it until it takes on Thy character, Thy mind, Thy purposes. If Thou wilt do this and if Thou wilt help me to do this, then I can be in myself what is truest and surest in me. And this, O God, is all, all, all.”
-Howard Thurman, an excerpt from “The Sustainer of Life” in The Centering Moment, 111.
After a recent session with my spiritual director, I decided to take the long way home, to have time to think and unwind, so I explored some Sonoma County roads I hadn’t gone down before. I took a road that wound past dairy farms with Holsteins grazing on lush green grass, and past apple orchards in their full-blooming glory. Then I took a more familiar road, the one that climbs up out of Occidental, towards the ocean. I know this road, so it evoked memories of many trips over the past decades. In fact, just when I was thinking that this road feels like an old friend, I came upon a huge yellow caution sign: