A Prayer for the Class of 2017

Winter Commencement, December 17, 2017

O Source of all Life,
The days of our lives seem to slip past
with ever increasing speed,
Too easily falling into the shadows of the past.

For that reason, we pause at the milestones of our life’s journey
that we might reflect,
that we might give thanks
before the day is consigned to memory.
And so, today we give thanks
for all that has been,
all that has led us here to this season.

For the families and friends
who helped to form our graduates
as they set out on this adventure years ago.
For the learning they have undergone in this place,
for the faculty who brought instruction,
for the staff who supported them in their need,
for their willingness to be open to new experiences,
new understandings.
For the friendships and the relationships that sustained them,
the times of joy and sorrow,
of triumph and defeat.
For all the threads of experience
that have been woven into the tapestry of their lives.
For all this and more we give you thanks.

O Source of all Light,
we gather this day
on one of the shortest days of the year,
when the night is long
and the darkness deep.
When worries about the world
and the troubles of an anxious time seem to weigh heavily upon us.

But here, today,
in this season of lights in the darkness,
and on this fifth day of Hanukkah,
we kindle another light.
For before us, robed in blue,
stands a bright light of hope,
shining out into the world.
And as it is with the turning of the year,
so too will this light only increase.

O Source of all Hope,
We pray your blessing upon our graduates and give thanks for all that will be.
For the difference our graduates will make,
For the creativity they will offer,
For the gifts they will share,
For the wisdom they will continue to acquire,
For the passion they will bring,
For the imagination they will employ,
For the fearlessness with which
they will face the future
For witness they will make
to justice, to peace,
to inclusive community;
For the way they will change the world itself.

And now, O Most Gracious, Most Merciful,
we pray that
in the times of injustice,
they may be just,
in times of fear,
they may sow love,
and in times of darkness,
they may be beacons of light.
And let us say: Amen.

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A Light in the Darkness

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
December 6, 2017
John 1:1-18, Qur’an 28:83-88

I. BEGINNING

Some years ago, I was involved in the process of finding a rabbi for a wedding. My then fiancée and I were looking to put together the perfect team of rabbi and minister to officiate our wedding. We wound up meeting with a rabbi who had had a lot of experience with interfaith weddings and interfaith couples. We enjoyed his wisdom and his reflections on the ways our children might find meaning across religious traditions. He noted, for example, that Jewish children could find a lot to admire in Santa Claus, who, he claimed, possessed a number of Jewish virtues. But then he continued by saying how much he himself enjoyed Christmas.

We were surprised by this but he explained: he’d grown up in New Haven, Connecticut and nothing was drearier than winter in New Haven. But when Christmas came along, suddenly the gloom of a New England winter was pierced through with light—there were lights everywhere!

That simple experience of seeing light in the midst of the darkness as a kid, some brightness to pierce the gloom, had had a lasting emotional impact on this man, such that Christmastime would always generate fond feelings in his heart. Continue reading

Made With Our Own Hands

Remarks delivered at “Critical Conversations: Gun Sense,” convened at the Baltimore-Washington Conference Mission Center by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, October 17, 2017.

Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe has spoken already to the policy and advocacy side of the question here today. I have been invited to address a theological perspective. As any good Methodist, I am naturally drawn to using the Quadrilateral and so, began my own reflection with the scriptures.

Scripture does not make explicit mention of firearms, of course, but it certainly has a lot to say about violence. And the scriptures are replete with references to swords—there are 407 verses that reference swords in some way, with the highest number in Ezekiel, followed by Jeremiah and 1 Samuel—books relating the story of Israel and Judah at war.

If one is to look for a consistent ethic, it is not always easy to find. There are certainly verses where God commands violence. There are verses in which violent retribution for some offenses is affirmed or tolerated. And of course, there are verses that counsel another way forward: Continue reading

Fearlessness

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
October 4, 2017
Exodus 1:15-17; Acts 5:27-35, 38-42; Romans 8:31-38; Qur’an 3:172-180

I. BEGINNING

Fear is hard-wired into us. It is a function of biology that we should be afraid. Very often, the things we are afraid of are the kinds of things that can kill us.

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Image courtesy wordle.net

We dread the dark for fear of what predators might emerge from it. We jump at sudden noises for fear of the danger that seeks to surprise us. We feel our hearts race as we move toward the edge of a precipice, sensing our lives are in danger. We grow anxious when we lack certainty about our surroundings, because unfamiliarity and uncertainty often bring danger and death. Continue reading

Lessons of the Past

Kay Spiritual Life Center
September 5, 2017
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Hebrews 11:32-12:3, Qur’an 27:67-73, 22:39-48

I. BEGINNING

A classmate of mine in seminary once told me that there’s a peculiar way that Southerners give directions. He was from eastern Tennessee and had observed this peculiarity having grown up in that region. He said that Southerners tended to give directions like: “Go down to where the Johnson farm used to be and turn left. Then when you get to the store that Mavis Williams used to own, take a right…”

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Image courtesy wordle.net

These are not directions that someone new to the area could possibly understand. They relied not just on good spatial reasoning and a good sense of direction, they relied on a personal experience of the history of the place you were in, which, if you think about it, would obviate the need for directions in the first place.

But I suppose I should not be quick to judge our Southern brothers and sisters, at least not as long as I keep referring to the East Quad Building as “the Old SIS Building” or struggle to avoid calling the American Café in Ward “Wagshal’s,” which it was called about a decade ago. And while we’re on the subject, it’s no longer the Ward building anymore, is it? It’s Kerwin Hall.

I suppose we all have an attachment to the way things used to be. We all have some relationship with the past. But do we have an honest relationship with the past? Continue reading

Complicit

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Center Brunswick United Methodist Church, August 20, 2017
Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, August 27, 2017
Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Samuel 16:6–7; Galatians 3:26–29

Genesis 1:26–27 • Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.” God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.

1 Samuel 16:6–7 • When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the LORD’s anointed right in front. But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”

Galatians 3:26–29 •  You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.

I. BEGINNING

I might be a racist.

I don’t want to be, but I don’t know whether I do enough to be sure I am an anti-racist.

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Word cloud courtesy wordle.net

I realize that sounds shocking, so let me break that down a little bit, because we in this country are terrible when it comes to talking about race, and we need to clarify a few things first.

White folks like me often get upset when we are accused of racism because we imagine ourselves to be good people who don’t wish anyone ill. And for the most part that’s true. But racism has nothing to do with our feelings. Continue reading

In Memoriam: Abbott L. Wiley

grandpa-army-lieutenantMy grandfather, Abbott Wiley, died today, one hundred years and eight months to the day after he was born.

My grandfather was born December 18, 1916 in a little town in Upstate New York, not far from the place he he would spend the majority of his long life. He was a World War II veteran and winner of the Bronze Star. He married my grandmother after having met her only 30 days before while he was home on leave. He was a local small business man, co-founding with his brother a successful hardware and lumber store that thrives to this day. He was a county legislator and active in local Republican politics, and a trustee for the Hudson Valley Community College. Continue reading